Monday, July 2, 2012

The Sweet Life in Saxahapaw

Featuring North Carolina’s Only Five Star Gourmet Gas Station

By Lynne Brandon

Featuring North Carolina’s Only Five Star Gourmet Gas Station
By Lynne Brandon

Entertainment, great food, music, and a laid-back life style all come together on the banks of the Haw River in Saxahapaw, North Carolina. Just minutes from Chapel Hill, the former cotton mill town is experiencing a revival. Once defined by the mill buildings, the quaint village has breathed new life into its repurposed structures which now are the scene of great concerts, businesses and residential living space.

The mill’s restoration was led by Mac Jordan, grandson of the late U.S. Sen. B. Everett Jordan, former owner of Saxahapaw Cotton Mill.  To move the changes along, Jordan recruited Tom and Heather LaGarde, a couple with ties to Chapel Hill (Tom was a former UNC basketball player and later NBA), and New York where they resided before moving back to the South.

The restoration took root and the Saxapahaw Rivermill was born complete with residential and commercial space. Others followed: Saxapahaw Artist Gallery, the life-size puppet theater at Paperhand Puppet Intervention, Haw River Canoe & Kayak Company, and the LaGarde’s Haw River Ballroom venue.

The Haw River Ballroom is a renovated textile dye house – perfect for concert crowds and other special events throughout the year. The popular venue brings in crowds from nearby urban cities to the rural retreat to hear live music shows from band members of the Old Crow Medicine Show, Kristian Matsson (who toured with Bon Iver), and other original artists. In a short time, the space has become a powerful entertainment venue and gathering place for the artistic community.

Work gets done in the off the beaten path community, but on Saturdays in the summer months, the community gathers for “Saturdays at Saxahapaw.”  Set on a rolling hill, crowds mingle first at the farmers market and sample local food products and then relax to a variety of live bluegrass, rock and other genres.

The local farm community has had its hand in the revitalization of Saxahapaw. The creative use of fresh, local foods has food lovers and critics turning culinary cartwheels over the gourmet cuisine choices in the unsuspecting setting. The restaurant/convenience store/gas station aptly named Saxahapaw General Store is the hub of the community where neighbors gather and new friends gather around the table to experience local food and beverages. It wasn’t always a hot spot.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Sweetest Onion on Earth - Vidalia

Perfect Vidalia onions
Candied Vidalia Cheesecake at Elements Bistro

Who knew a seemingly ordinary vegetable could inspire millions of chefs, and even inspire a museum? It's true. Throughout history writers Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charles Dickens, C.S. Lewis and scores of other famous figures have mentioned the special onion in their literary works. The revered object is none other than the sweet Vidalia onion grown only in Vidalia, Georgia where the sweet onion was discovered in the 1930’s. 
On a recent trip to Southeastern Georgia I visited the towns of Vidalia and Lyons to see the origins of the famous sweet onion for myself. The Vidalia (Vie-Dale-yuh) onions thrives in this trifecta of perfect weather, climate, and soil which makes for peak production. 

I visited two great farms during my stay, and enjoyed the onion in salsa, spreads, and my favorite of all, Candied Vidalia Onion Cheesecake. Enjoy reading about the sensory pleasures of the sweetest onion on earth.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Carolina Inn's Shrimp and Grits Throwdown

Culinary Tradition Meet Creative Carolina-Carrboro Chefs

by Lynne Brandon

Chapel Hill, NC -
Local residents and visitors from across the U.S. came out en masse for the first ever Shrimp and Grits Throwdown hosted at the historic Carolina Inn.

The friendly crowd had forks ready when “Eye of the Tiger” started playing and the seven Chapel Hill and Carrboro chefs vying for the title rolled up sleeves and started cooking. Shrimp sizzled, wine was poured and all had a great time tasting a myriad of recipes of the well loved southern dish. Every chef had to use two ingredients: shrimp and grits. After that all bets were off. Tabasco sauce, flash fried leeks, cashews, prosciutto bacon, corn, and other inventive ingredients permeated the air and whet appetites for the eager crowd. Northerners and Southerners compared notes and savored the moment.

After much sampling, local food writers and critics went with the creative style of Top of the Hill executive chef Trey Cleveland who showed his culinary chops from New Orleans and the Carolinas. Carolina Inn’s Crossroads Restaurant executive chef Jimmy Reale was a close second. Fans went with “heat” and chose the spicy Shrimp and Grits recipe from Vimala Rajendran of Vimala's Curry Blossom CafĂ© as the "Fan Favorite."

The first ever event was a culinary success that benefited a non-profit relief organization, and gave food aficionado’s the chance to experience a new twist on an old favorite.

Continue to read the winning recipe:

Top of the Hill Wild Mushroom Grit Cake with Shrimp

SoBo: Luxury B & B, European Cars and Sculpture

Where History and Love Collide
By Lynne Brandon
South Boston, Va. (Halifax County) - SoBo, or South Boston to outsiders, has a secret. Outside the small Virginia town sits a historic antebellum mansion once home to the affluent Bruce family in the 1800s. The mile-long driveway halts in front of the spectacular Greek Revival mansion that sits majestically on 685 serene acres dotted with native trees and magnolias.

Adjacent to the Dan River, Berry Hill is the perfect get-away for a romantic weekend, girl friend getaways, and yes, newlyweds. Brides have discovered Berry Hill, and in the summer the grounds are alive with laughter, love and celebration as families tie the knot under the wide open Virginia sky.

Leland Luck, the property’s faithful and enthusiastic historian, weaves a story of rich history in his tour of the “hidden in the hills” jewel. The great white home originates back to 1728 when it was first given to William Bryd II as a part of a land grant from England. Italian marble base boards, ornate ceilings and cherry floors connect the mansion to owners of prestige and good taste. The focal point of the house is the dramatic mahogany ‘horseshoe” staircase which displays the craftsmanship of freed Black cabinetmaker, Thomas Day.

In the late 90’s after lying dormant for several years, Berry Hill was restored to its former glory, making it a leisure destination and executive conference center.The mansion itself houses two large suites used primarily for wedding parties. Privacy lovers will enjoy the two smaller “mini-mansions,” small replica’s of Berry Hill on either side of the mansion, as well as 88 historic rooms with a view of the rolling Virginia landscape.

Rembrandt in America

Smithsonian of the South Pays Tribute to Master Artist
by Lynne Brandon

Raleigh's Museum of Contemporary Art hosted a rare exhibit that made a one-time stop in the South. For complete story, click on link.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Egg Nog Nation is Once a Year

Egg Nog Never Looked Better

by Doc Lawrence and Lynne Brandon

Doc is the supreme expert when it comes to wine, fine spirits and such esteemed beverages such as the sometimes elusive and always evocative egg nog. Cocktail lovers and those who enjoy fine vintage wines and other libations will learn that the often misunderstood holiday beverage has connections to a historical Civil War figure, a prestigious mixologist and even NASCAR

Photo: Chris Hannah of Arnaud’s French 75 Bar created the Blue Hawaiian Nog to win the Best Bourbon Spiked Eggnog cocktail at the Tales of the Toddy in New Orleans in 2011.

McAdenville: Christmas Town USA

Christmas Town USA

by Lynne Brandon

Make a Christmas memory you will not soon forget in McAdenville, NC. The little town is on the top ten Yahoo Travel list for Christmas light destinations in the U.S. Put it on your list for 2012.