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Tuesday, July 25, 2017


All Quiet on the Western Front and The Red Badge of Courage are classic war novels because they deal not with the war so much as with the men who risk their lives, often for a cause they don't fully understand--if, indeed there is a legitimate cause. The books have a universal quality because humanity does not change its yearnings.

Elizabeth Speller’s The First of July is a book in this classic tradition as it examines men of different backgrounds, in different countries, and of different ages, all who have a reason to enter the war as a soldier but whose reason may have nothing to do with love of country.  Each makes extreme sacrifices during WWI but each for a very different reason.  In that way, in particular, I was immediately reminded of All Quiet on the Western Front and The Red Badge of Courage.  Those protagonists were boys; that is not always the case in The First of July.

First of July becomes a superb study of human character and motivation, its strengths and weaknesses as well as the yearnings which sometimes lie so deep inside that we are not even aware. 

Following the characters’ individual stories and appreciating the uniqueness of each man becomes a sad joy as we learn their fates in the horribly bloody battles of WWI.  In fact, Speller sets her novel before the war begins and then in the time leading up to, and then shortly after, the bloodiest battle for the British of WWI, The Battle of the Somme.  Allied forces casualties numbered almost one hundred thousand.

First of July is exquisitely crafted.  The ugliness and grittiness of war is exposed in a descriptive but controlled manner.  We move through time when war lay only on the horizon until it is all encompassing. We learn each character’s background and reaction as the war moves closer and closer.  We get a glimpse into the distinct cultures of their different countries as well as of their personal relationships with others.  From a wealthy “runaway” member of British royalty to the son of a coffin maker whose greatest wish is to make enough money to buy a fine bicycle, we view every strata of society, different kinds of relationships from mother and son to husband and wife.  Some men are honest; some are not.  Some have been mislead.  Some are ambitious; some are not. In total, we are gifted with a perceptive view of Everyman meeting the horrors of war.  It is stunning.

The writing is excellent--descriptive yet right and objective. I will definitely read another one of Elizabeth Speller’s books of historical fiction.

Friday, July 21, 2017


Buttermilk Creek Farm in Burlington, North Carolina is open.  Peaches. Raspberries. Blueberries.  The nicest people you would ever want to meet.  We are going to make jam!

We first went there two years ago when we were house hunting.  We couldn’t be too ambitious in our picking then because we were heading back to New York and a load of peaches was just not in the cards. 

Buttermilk Creek Farm is beautiful: row upon row of peaches ripening throughout the season.  Butterflies, bees, green leaves, and yellow and red ripe peaches, or ripening peaches. 

Row upon row of peach trees making the air fragrant and the walk beautiful

Row upon row of green-leafed blueberry bushes with stalks bent over, heavy with fruit and beckoning your fingers which, somehow, can’t resist popping one (or two or more) into your mouth, marveling at the warm, tart taste that you never find in a grocery store. 

You can see the unripened blueberries.
Berry pickers were here bright and early.

Row upon row of blackberry bushes with fruit in all stages of ripening, so your eyes are treated to an array of colors long before you find the plump blackberry,

Picking fresh fruit right off the bush, vine, or tree, is a remarkable treat simply because most of us don’t have that opportunity often.  If you’ve never done it, you don’t realize that a ripe, sun-warmed peach or blackberry or blueberry does not taste like the fruits we buy in the stores that have been picked long before they are ripe and then ripen as they are shipped and then stocked on our shelves.  Eat a tree-ripened peach right in the grove where the air smells of peach, and feel the juice drip down your chin.  Pretty incredible.

While we visited Buttermilk Creek Farm on the first day it opened this year, there was sadness as well.  This past winter, as you probably remember, there was frost and storms.  Buttermilk Creek Farm lost almost 90% of its crop.  Trees were damaged as well.  They opened anyway so the fruits that were undamaged would be picked and eaten.  That’s a fact of life on the farm.  Good years and bad years with the hope that the good years outnumber the bad.

The owner, who we met on our first visit, looked at the fruit we picked which is sold by the pound.  As he put our fruit on his scale, he picked out a few peaches that didn’t look quite perfect to him.  “We don’t sell damaged goods here,” he said.  After weighing the fruit and quoting the price, he put the peaches back in our box.  “They’ll be fine,” he said.  But he did not charge us for them.  Principles.

He also told us an interesting story—from his perspective.  He can tell Northern transplants from Southerners by the berries they pick.  Northerners like blueberries, and he makes sure he has them.  But Southerners like blackberries and have plenty of recipes for them.  Can’t say this is gospel but can say this is one man’s feelings.  At any rate, this year we went for blackberries.

It was a wonderful experience.  If you are in the state while peaches are in season, visit one of the many farms.  You don’t have to get a lot, but enjoy the rich experience of picking from a tree and eating the warm, sun-ripened, globe of sweet delight.  And if you want to experiment, there's always peach jam to make.  It's yummy!!

Our first attempt at canning peach jam.
Edible immediately.
But some to save.
Absolutely yummy.
We're thinking of making more!

Friday, July 14, 2017


Isn't this how we feel these days--
the Dog Days of Summer?

Wednesday, July 05, 2017


Sitting on the beautiful deck of Persimmons Waterfront Restaurant overlooking the Neuse River in New Bern, North Carolina, eating a superb early dinner tastefully and creatively presented, and drinking vodka martinis and then a glass of wine is a perfect way to spend a late afternoon slipping into evening.  Trust me.  I’ve been there.

This New Bern waterfront restaurant is locally owned and is in every way worth a visit.  I’ll share with you the way we spent our time on the outdoor deck, but first I want to share a piece from Persimmons’ own website, a site I visited before our trip as I was compiling places we should add to our must-see list.  This excerpt explains some of Persimmons’ unique appeal.

“The most-asked question…”what is the origin of our name?”  When our building was originally constructed, we dredged the adjacent marina…one of the logs that was found was a persimmon tree.  We took the persimmon log down the street to Bill Nelson of Precision Molding, who milled the wood, which was used to create what is now our host stand found at the entrance…Persimmon trees…are one of the only fruits native to Eastern North Carolina.  The Roman name for persimmon means “fruit of the Gods.”

Intriguing?  For me, it set a positive tone.  This restaurant made the list.

The day of our visit was hot, as most late spring North Carolina days are, and Rob and I were ready for some liquid refreshment and, at least, some accompaniment.  We’d walked along the beautiful waterfront admiring the boats, the gorgeous homes across the street from the riverfront, and the magnificent river.  It seemed the perfect time for Persimmons.

It was late afternoon, so we initially had the deck almost to ourselves. We could sit back, admire the view, and have a cocktail as we perused a beautiful and too tempting menu.  The truth is we planned on cold oysters to accompany our martinis, but the offerings of Southern-inspired, locally sourced American cuisine, were so tantalizing, we decided on an early dinner.  Even the menu at Persimmons is lovely.  This is a restaurant where details are important.

From the Locally Inspired Beginnings, I chose the Fried Green Tomatoes and Pimento Cheese Beggar’s Purse (Arugula, Crisp Country Ham, Roasted Tomato and Shallot Vinaigrette)

I’ve found that in each restaurant in which I order Fried Green Tomatoes, I am served a different variation.  I love that.  These, at Persimmons, were extraordinarily different and absolutely delicious.  The presentation was lovely, and they were melt-in-your mouth spectacular.  The tomatoes were topped with a flaky, light, crisp “purse” surrounded by the complimentary colors and textures of the rest of the dish. This was true artistry on a plate and every bite was a delight.  Am I coming across as loving this?  Wow!

Rob has been anxious to try Shrimp and Grits, so he ordered the Carolina Shrimp and Local Stone Ground Geeche Grits (cave-aged white cheddar, Tomato Butter, GF).  How beautiful does this look?  And it tasted just as lovely.  Presentation is important, of course, but the taste buds make the final judgment, and Rob’s taste buds gave this dish a resounding TEN.

Oh, how we lingered.  This would have been enough, for as you see, these were hearty portions as well, but we had ordered dinner.

Rob chose the Grilled Ahi Tuna (Smoked Potatoes, Fresh Cherries, Petite Herb Salad, Black Garlic Vinaigrette, Horseradish Créme Fraiche, GF).  Artistically presented and prepared exactly as he likes the tuna.  My taste proclaimed it amazing. The tuna was done to perfection.  He loved it, and that’s the important thing. Delightful and satisfying.

I chose the Mountain Trout (Sugar Beet Risotto, Tomato, Marcona Almond, French Beans, Brown Butter Lemon Reduction GF) How tantalizing does this look?  Trust me.  It was that wonderful!  The fish was flaky, perfectly seasoned, and not dry.  The vegetables were fresh, crisp and seasoned nicely, allowing the vegetable flavor to dominate.

Isn’t the menu made more attractive by adding the details of each dish.  While I don’t look for it, I also noted that dishes were labeled GF—gluten free—as well.  The customer should not need to ask.

We ate slowly, enjoying the ambiance, the wine, the food, and, of course, the sterling company.  What is also lovely is that there is no pretense in any of this.  Persimmons is simply spectacular, and it doesn’t have to do more than be exactly as it is—natural, caring, professional.  A perfect early evening for us.  I highly recommend a stop there.