Thursday, November 24, 2011

Smoking Children

Cousin Amanda, smoking.
Nothing is more American than putting children to work at age six. WRONG. Smoking children hanging out in the trailer park while mammy pole dances at the strip club, now that's AMERICAN!  Here's a photographer Mary Ellen Mark's take on it:
Amanda and Her Cousin Amy, Valdese, North Carolina, USA, 1990
In 1990, Peter Howe at Life magazine sent me to North Carolina to photograph a special school for children with problems.

Amanda totally controlled her mother. She constantly gave her orders and proceeded to put on her mother's nail polish and makeup. Amanda smoked openly in front of her. Her 8-year-old cousin Amy was coming over, and she was very excited. All day long, Amanda and her cousin played like children. Every forty-five minutes or so, Amanda would take a break to have a cigarette. Her mother could say nothing; Amanda was the boss.

Just before I left, I looked for Amanda to say good-bye. I found her and Amy in the backyard. They were in a children's inflatable pool. Amanda was taking her regular cigarette break.

Bojangle's Holiday Turkey

Bojangle's Thanksgiving turkey,
 cooked up deliciously
with an odd spicy combination
of Cajun seasonings. It's not
 like their chicken, as you would think
 it would be, but a very spicy,
tangy taste as you might equate
with a roasted chicken.
This year's Thanksgiving turkey came from Bojangles. (It should be pointed out they do it for Christmas too.) Our family has been ordering them for several years. The turkeys are partially cooked already, and require a bit of warming but are otherwise a bullet-proof way to cook a Thanksgiving dinner without the hassle of a time-consuming culinary commitment. My dad simply picked up the reserved turkey from Bojangles on Thanksgiving morning, brought it home and baked it for just an hour and half before it was ready for the celebratory nature the day and our mass consumption.

Shannon of course works for Food Lion and they've ended their tradition of cooking turkeys for the public, so Bojangles remains one of the last frontiers for people who don't wish to self-torture themselves with a scratch turkey dinner. Let's be honest, it's 2010, so why would anyone waste their time spending three days of thawing, two days of marinating, and one day of cooking a flightless bird, for only thirty minutes of grunting, swallowing and shoveling, a meat stuffed carcase filled with bread crumbs, in our American pie holes? No this is America. This is the day we're grateful for deep-fried foods, stealing land from Indians, and Cajun turkeys that we can pick up in a drive-thru window. This is why I'm thankful.

It's a foolproof meal, with classic southern flavors that leave more time for family, and less time burning down the house because we forgot to thaw the turkey and doubled the cooking temperature.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Christmas Light Displays in Greensboro and 7 other ways to celebrate the holidays.

Is it a wonderful life?
Shannon my lovely spouse, once, I think, summed up America's fascination with Christmas as but some sort of psychological need to re-experience the perfect, original holiday, yet it's our being American that dooms our fantasy to being lesser than the original to begin with. To quote W.J. Cameron, "There has been only one Christmas, the rest are anniversaries..

The idea of a nostalgic Christmas in a small ancient village with my family sounds idyllic. We have been to Brugge and what a great experience that was. In all this cold weather I have been thinking about the hot cocoa "Belgian" style. Just the memory alone of the hot drink by the fire in the most quaint of tea shops warms me up. Strolling the cobblestone streets looking at wooden toys and cookie presses, snagging some chocolate ganache from the chocolatier in her closet sized shop made this whimsical place completely unforgettable. I can only imagine how wonderful it would be to visit during Christmas. All five of these European destinations at Christmas seem to capture all that we try to copy and paste here in America when we dream of the "perfect Christmas". 
Unfortunately in our version we try too hard and often overshoot. In all honesty what I dream of to create a magical memory for our children would probably end up in their disappointment. They would get cranky and bored and expect something more. We glamorize the idea of the holiday and the joy of creating gingerbread houses and watching old movies is short lived and often ends up with someone getting frustrated and a huge mess on the floor. But being the "dreamer" I am I will cling on to that hope that an old European style Christmas is still feasible.
 -Written by Shannon Jones
Here in North Carolina, like almost everywhere we have streets of Christmas lights, holiday foods and celebration. Perhaps it's not so much we're trying to re-capture the perfect "original" holiday, but that we're trying to recapture our childhood.

Christmas Lights and Activities for the Holidays

1) Winterfest Skating Rink 
Downtown Greensboro's winter wonderland skating rink opens November 16th for $8 per person. (N. Davie Street) Combined with the Festival of Lights, ( there's a lot going on downtown.

Take a nice walk down Elm Street to see the beautiful, cheerful holiday lighting and decorations. You'll also hear music playing and see strolling carolers as you walk around downtown. Hand bell choirs, UNC-G's tuba band, and local church choirs are some of the melodic entertainers. The Nutcracker on stilts, holiday characters and Santa should be there! Last year, in 2006, kids were given free holiday antlers!

Christmas Light Display in Greensboro
2) Kersey Valley's Christmas Zipline 
Fly like an angel over Christmas lights and an animated fire and ice laser light show. Strap your crotch to metal cable and fly like Santa through the suburb of Climax.

3) Candy Cane Lane (AKA Sunset Hills Neighborhood) Christmas Lights Display
Perhaps one of the most popular Christmas lights displays is the Christmas Balls that adorn Ridgeway and Greenway drive in Greensboro off of Market Street. Traffic is insane, and it may be worth parking on a side street and walking.

4) Southern Supreme Fruitcakes.
Berta Scott's dream came true with her fruit cake showroom.
Here is a box, a colorful box, wrapped up and ready to open. But this box can hide a secret inside. Can you guess what is in it today? FRUIT CAKE!!!

 First and foremost, I don't like fruitcake. I don't know anyone that does. They call this fruitcake, but what it is: is amazing.Tons of people make the annual pilgrimage to Southern Supreme in Bear Creek NC to pick these up, just 45 miles south of Greensboro. It's a local family owned fruit cake business which now does mail-order and phone sales on their world famous Scott family recipe of fruit cakes, and they're insanely good. The recommendation is the Southern Supreme which starts out around $7 for an 8 oz bar. The box warns the cake is "more nuts than fruit fruitcake", which is probably why everyone loves it.

Chocolate, nuts, candied peaches and fruit cake.
On a curvy road right out of Dukes of Hazzard, on a converted farm lies a Cracker Barrel looking warehouse and store. We pulled in, walked right up and found a bright and clean storefront with a colorful woman running around cheerfully welcoming us in a southern accent. At the door is a ledger to sign-in for their newsletter. Colorful boxes stacked like Christmas presents, baskets, and a taste-testing area fill the space. You might find it odd to walk into this kitschy Carolina favorite of locals and find huge shopping baskets, for fruit cake? But, it can't be helped... We walked out spending almost $70 at this place. You can't help it. Golden wrapped one and two pound boxes of fruitcake stacked six feet tall beckon you, call you, sing to you "Liv, this is your day, enjoy it!" This is your chance to be a kid in a candy shop, to be Willie Wonka. To realize all this can be yours with a credit card swipe on a magic machine. No wonder they have a dual checkout.

5) Tanglewood Festival of Lights. 
Munchies? Smores are delicious as the Festival of Lights.
A three mile drive-thru christmas light reserve in Clemmons serves as an annual tradition for residents of the Piedmont Triad. It's a truly unique way to see your seven year old daughter scream with excitment upon seeing the Christmas lights.

Even better you can stop by TJ's Deli, a former Greensboro institution, now only available in Winston Salem for a #60 Sicilian.

The best part of the Festival of Lights is the 3/4 point stop at the fire pit. They ask for $4.00 for a smore kit, and put a sign up guilting you not to bring your own due to the cost of operating the lights. (What's their power-bill?) It was too late for Shan who had meticulously planned out her clothing attire to hold a bag of marshmallows, a block of graham crackers, several Hershey's bars and quartet of coat hangers. Luckily no one commented, and we quickly constructed smores for our family, while remembering back in years past. Like the one when we brought a friend who had originated from the U.K. and was introduced to an American smore for the first time around that very fire ring at the Festival of Lights. Truthfully it never gets old. Still my favorite is the golfer, a football field long light display that interactively moves the ball from the swinging golfer across the green.

6) Chinqua Penn Holiday Tours
From November 25, to January 1st, Chinqua Penn, the closer, more redneck version of the Biltmore Estate is decorated for the holidays, including thirteen themed trees throughout the 27 room mansion. Go on a Saturday (Nov 27, Dec 3)  if you'd like a candle-lit tour, and enjoy live music throughout the manor. Be warned, at $20 a head, enjoying someone else's treasures aren't cheep. <more.>

7) It's a Wonderful Life at the Carolina Theatre
Sentimental, patriotic, "Capra Corn!"
Almost the entire month of December, The Carolina Theatre downtown plays Christmas moves like "White Christmas, and It's a Wonderful Life". In 2008, our friend Sanjuro wrote about his experience at the Carolina:

So last night I went with some friends to see "Its a Wonderful Life" at the Carolina Theater in Downtown Greensboro. They had an organist playing Christmas Carols on the organ which would have been a nice touch if the organ hadn't made them sound so creepy.

The theater itself (if you haven't been) is a real classic. Big balcony and ornate details add to the nostalgic feel. I was at first rather disappointed when I got my first glimpse of the screen. It was small (even for the films aspect ratio of 1:33) and there were visible defects. I really tend overlook such things at this venue though as one might argue that it could add to the ambiance. The seats were old and rocking. I'm sure that these were once a step above the average theatrical fold outs, but in the modern day of cinema they seemed uncomfortable and annoying. When someone would be walking behind you and reached down to brace themselves, you would flip backwards. Another annoying aspect of the seating layout and presentation were the heads of the people in front of you getting in the way. This could be fixed by simply raising the screen hight about 3 feet but I'm not sure that's feasible. They served alcohol which is ALWAYS a plus in my book, and the lobby was spacious and inviting. The staff was very friendly and the audience was enthusiastic.

Presentation aside, what made the night special for everyone was the audience. It was thrilling to laugh along with group at the humor and sniffle with them at the sentimental. Everyone was engaged and captivated by this film that most of us had seen a thousand times. What was interesting (and what I LOVE about the movies) is that you could hear the comments of the audience to the scenes.

I would hear "I don't remember this" or "Wow I completely forgot that" and not to mention the adults explaining some of the more intricate plot points to their kids, all reminded me that even though people had seen the film a million times, how many of those times had people actually WATCHED it? When it comes on TV every year we have cell phones ringing, email to catch up on, kids needing baths, and video games that need conquering. The magic of the theater is this: It forces you take time out of your life and engulf yourself in a story. You pick up on the details, you see things on the big screen you might never catch at home, and the emotional impact is often greater.

One of my all time favorite scenes in the film is when George (Jimmy Stewart) is at the train station to meet his brother who is coming back (or so he thinks) to run the Baily Savings and Loan. When he discovers his brother is now married, the camera pushes into George as the weight of what this means to his plans for the future sinks in. You can see his dreams extinguished as the world seemingly stops, and as the camera follows him for a beat, it pulls back to reveal the group again as he confirms what he already knows. Scenes like this will always look better on a large format. Im not sure I know why that is. Maybe its because it captures more of the nuances in those master actors that can handle the subtlety.

So, rousing applause at the films completion, and beers at McCouls finished the night for us.

So, although the Carolina has some technical issues, it was a real pleasure seeing this classic again with people I care about and my extended family of Greensboro. With that I leave you with this:

"Remember that no man is a failure who has friends. Thanks for the wings"

-Written by Sanjuro.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Chinqua-Penn Plantation

English style chestnut manor built by
Jefferson and Margaret Penn
According to SFI, (quoted below) Chinqua-Penn, the "red neck Biltmore castle" (my words) that was built on the money of tobacco, is about as much fun now as it was two decades ago- but worse:

So -- we went to see the place. Sadly, the mansion is STILL owned by a tobacco family, so our visit went to help enrich people who are already too rich for anyone's good. We met them, actually, as they were scurrying around with their little aristo-larvae, getting the place decorated for Christmas. I kept my mouth shut.

The tour of the mansion was performed by a young lady who had memorized a script, but had no real knowledge of the place. I expect that the stories behind the museum pieces in that house are lost forever. And, as if it wasn't bad enough that this place was privately-owned and partially subsidized by the government via tax breaks, the house has already had several changes made "by the current owners." In other words, it doesn't even serve as a museum to show how the noble Penns lived a century ago. It's now "Here's how the Penns lived, except for the new crap this other family has added to the mix.

Yeah - TOTALLY worth $20 per person...
Unlike the Penn's who travelled the world "collecting" priceless artifacts, I came back from my travels having learned it's not what you own, it's who you become. Oh and North Carolina, Egypt told me to tell you they want their King Tut chair back from the Chinqua-Penn plantation. I must admit it is quite ironic, $20 admission to Chinqua-Penn, and I spent less than $2 to visit the whole museum of antiquities in Cairo.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Nazareth Bread Company's Shawarmas | The Hottest new lunch spot in town.

Shawarma was amazing.
Rewind to about four months ago, and I'm wandering around the Middle-East and I was determined to get a shawarma from some back-alley street-vendor and try this legendary sandwich.  I'm not sure what happened on the trip, but I never actually got one, and I've regretted it everyday since. (There's also a baguette version in France akin to the Le Americain served with french fries on the inside.) Today, I got my wish when I visited Nazareth Bread Company and Middle-Eastern Bakery on West Market Street. This place has only been open for three weeks and there was a line out the door and every one of the customers was ordering, their speciality, the shawarma. Behind the counter is the schawarma altar, two of them actually, where the glistening lamb is attached to a vertical rotating apparatus (a spit) and heated by an element akin to your toaster. (Shawarma actually means "spinning meat") As the meat slowly rotates for up to a day, the fat and juices permeate throughout the delicious meat till it's shaved, then quickly, it's fried before being placed in an open pocket of flat-bread with grilled onions, hummus, tahini sauce, lettuce and tomato. (I go sans hummus.) Your right knee begins to shake at just the thought of this amazing sandwich, and your mouth starts watering like Pavlov's dogs at the sight of it. Even more amazing is at only $5.50, it's not like you're going to have to worry about the addiction this place is going to cause. Though we did see a homeless man on the corner of Muris Chapel and wondered if he got there spending all his money on shawarmas.

The Menu is not necessary: "one shawarma please."

It's like where Jesus first ate a Shawarma.

Interestingly the Wall Street Journal did an article on how shawarmas are becoming the de facto food as troops return from the wars in the Middle-East and demand their war time meals. America is developing a taste for the Arab cuisine.

Shwarmas are one of those world comfort foods, popular everywhere, (that up till now, America hasn't quite caught on to,) a bucket-list item if you haven't yet, and this place, Nazareth's, does everything right. Even the cook, a gentlemen of ethnic origin (which is how you know it's going to be good)  seems to actually care that you're there as he tells each customer despite how many times they've been there: "Ah! There's my favorite customer!" It's a friendly and welcoming place where food is the conduit to bring people together. 


If this is only three weeks, give them a year.
Interestingly, we also bought a Napoleon while there. Yes, I finally found my Napoleon, and it was good too. Not quite the one I had in Paris, but amazing in it's own right. (unlike that crap at the Fresh Market.) In fact, everything in the bakery, including the bread, was superb. Considering my reputation for writing reviews that put one bakery out of business (cough, Simple Kneads), perhaps you'll understand the gravity of my statement when I say that, this place, these breads, are the best in Greensboro. This is what good food is about, this place, Nazareth Bread- mark my word is destined for greatness. 

Okay, who robbed a Subway of their deli-cases?

Go and get a shwarma for lunch and a Napoleon for dessert (take some of their famous flat bread home for dinner) and tell me this, what other food in Greensboro can take you to another world for under $6? When did Greensboro, become gastronomically cool again? Apparently, about the time Nazareth Bread Company came to Greensboro. God, I love this place

Their famous flat-bread.
Napoleon dessert

FYI ) It was Supertaster who turned me on to this place. She described it as "epic", and I fully agree. Here's a re-post of her video:

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

36 Things We Love About Living in the South

1. Chicken fights and gang signs.

2. Love on kitchen counters.

3. Blankets for curtains

4. Playing "Slap the Sister."

5. Reluctant Smiles

6. "cell bar" wallpaper.

7. Camaros.

8. Electrical tape and razor blades.

9. No trespassing signs.

10. Mud

11. Cooler chairs

12. Modified cigarette lighters and home electrical repair.

13. Drunk children

14. Tattoos

15. High chairs, and lazy boys.

16. Cats eating from the table, children eating from floors.

17 Ring-Around-The-Trailer

18. Children with hot embers.

19. Big wheels and albino pit bulls.

20. Breastfeeding men

21 Parole.

22. Marijuana ball caps on our sons

23. Throwing Kenny.

24. Pride in building The Basketball Court of Death.

25. Can openers.

26. Ear wax.

27. Jeff Gordan hats.

28. Staring out the screen door.

29. Watching you while you sleep.

30. Conjugal visits.

31 Liquor Cycles.

32. Horse meat and glue.

33. Digging through other people's trash bins.

34. Budweiser horses

35. Freudian daddy problems when we grow up.

36. Hearing banjos in the woods.