Saturday, May 31, 2008

Blooming in my yard today.

Yes, I went out and actually paid a some attention to my yard, mowing it (electric lawn mower, ya'll!), trimming it, and beating back the pesky English ivy--which I think is possibly more invasive than kudzu.

Amaryllis, one I transplanted from my granddad's yard:

Butterfly Bush:

Rose Campion:

Friday, May 30, 2008

Ben Folds was "rockin' the suburbs" tonight.

I'm rocking the suburbs
I take the checks and face the facts
That some producer with computers
Fixes all my shitty tracks

Yes, we braved rush hour traffic on I-40 on a Friday afternoon to make our way to Koka Booth Amphitheater in Cary to see Ben Folds. We hadn't seen him perform live before and he's one of our favorites, so we got tickets for the lawn and trooped over. He said it was great to be back home in NC and that he'd spent the day in Chapel Hill, walking around, visiting his old house.

We were genuinely surprised at how many high school/college kids were there. Ben Folds is pretty much my age, but I think because he peppers his lyrics with the more-than-occasional swear word, the teens find this quite delightful. Or maybe they're into a 40-something year old dude who rocks the keyboard. Hard to say. They were into it, though, no doubt.

Folds was absolutely full tilt tonight and the crowd was way, way high energy. Much different than when we saw Elvis Costello play at Koka Booth last year with the North Carolina Symphony (which was very good actually but kind of low-key).

If you've ever seen Ben Folds perform, you know he really jumps and moves while he pounds out his tunes on the piano, seldom sitting down or sitting still. He goes so hard that occasionally he has to quickly push his glasses back onto his nose as he nearly plays them off his head. And he seems to love it all so much and is so into it himself, that he will quickly glance out to the audience as if to check to see if they are loving it as much as he. We are, Ben. Sham on!

This is just from memory, but he played Kate, One Angry Dwarf, Army, Landed, Still Fighting It, Underground, Rockin' the Suburbs, fantastic rendition of Not the Same, Zak and Sara, Gone, Bastard, Annie Waits, Narcolepsy (the keys were smokin' on that one), and to the delight of the teenagers, Bitches Ain't Shit (a tongue-in-cheek white boy rendition of Dr. Dre's song). I would've loved to have heard Mess, Selfless Cold & Composed, and Smoke, but I was happy with the show as it was. Mess has that great line "I don't believe in God, so I can't be saved . . . "

Cool thing about Koka Booth Amphitheater is that you can buy a bottle of wine to share over the evening, lounge on the lawn, and get just about any kind of food you can think of inside the amphitheater. We enjoyed a chilled bottle of French rose' and had some pizza, and later we got some Lumpy's ice cream. My ice cream flavor was "hippy mix" which was vanilla with cinnamon and trail mix with pockets of bright colors swirled in. It was good--but frozen solid raisins are hard on the teeth. Yowza.

I have to hand it to the Amphitheater folks, they know how to get you parked, get you in, get you fed, let you enjoy the show, and get you back out. A well run outfit, all in all.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Beautiful late afternoon on American Tobacco lawn

A friend emailed me midday to meet on the lawn at American Tobacco at 6pm and take in a beer and some music, so I did. This was "The Back Porch Music, On the Lawn at American Tobacco Concert Series" and the musician was Darrell Scott, who truly had some great tunes. The one I liked the most was Shattered Cross:
The AmTob lawn was as crowded as I've ever seen it, full of all ages, all colors, and every stripe and spot--as I've come to love about Durham. It started out sunny, but the long shadows overtook the lawn as the sun set. The water flowing by made it all very tranquil and everyone, even the little ones, seemed to be enjoying the music. One little girl nearby must've done at least 100 cartwheels showing off for her dad, who was lounging on a blanket listening to the music. Lots of people snagged take out food from surrounding eateries, making themselves an impromptu picnic.

Have I mentioned there is always something fun to do in Durham?

The stage under the Lucky Strike tower:

The stage, the lawn, the "river":

Darrell Scott:


Upcoming afternoons of music (click to make larger):

Monday, May 26, 2008

The foothills of NC as seen from Fancy Gap, VA

We spent a couple of beautiful and cool days "up the mountain" at Fancy Gap, VA just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, relaxing and visiting with family. Totally unplugged. No computer, no cell phone (Verizon Wireless is dead on that mountain, can't get in or out. Annoying and also oddly refreshing, that. The landline works fine at least.) No screaming cable TV. Books, CDs, a Weber grill, a deck with a view, and a bottle or three of wine.

Below, a pic from the deck Saturday night. If you click to make it larger, you can see Pilot Mountain in the distance, the lights of Winston-Salem on the horizon to the left of Pilot Mountain, and the bright lights of Mt. Airy, NC on the right, closer. (You can click it to bring up a larger picture.)

Sunday we decided to go to Foster Falls, Virginia and have a picnic. The New River Trail runs for 57 miles and 39 miles are along the New River, which may be one of the oldest rivers in the world.

You can walk all the way across the New River at Foster Falls on this, and other, ledges that form the gentle 'falls' here. It's fun to do, but the rocks can be slippery if you don't have on good, grippy sandals.

We went for a hike along the New River Trail and saw bicyclists, horse-riders, and other hikers. Below is the tunnel at Austinville on the New River Trail. I found out that Austinville was named for the Austin family who owned the lead mines at the river for a couple hundred years. Stephen F. Austin, the son, moved to Texas as a young man and later became known as "the father of Texas." You know, the guy that Austin, Texas was named for.

After a full day, we enjoyed brats on the grill. Yum. (Sorry, couldn't resist a food pic.)

The wild blaze azaleas and the rhodies are blooming right now too.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A true American hero was in Durham tonight.

Colonel Ann Wright. And I had the pleasure of seeing her and hearing her speak. She was at The Regulator bookstore on 9th Street speaking to a packed basement of folks--all chairs taken, people standing and leaning against the walls, sitting on the staircase. She's written a great book called Dissent: Voices of Conscience featuring people who spoke up and spoke out about the Iraq Invasion and risked their careers and lives in doing so. (It is meticuloulsy footnoted and has a superb bibliography of cited references too.)

Who is Colonel Ann Wright? She's probably most widely known for being one of three U.S. State Department officials to publicly resign in 2003 in direct protest of the invasion of Iraq. She gave up a 29 year career in the military and as a diplomat because she felt she had to speak out.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. -- Martin Luther King, Jr.

When she resigned, it was to Colin Powell with this letter of resignation, which is amazing.

She even has the distinction of having her microphone cut when speaking the truth to Bill "Falafel" O'Reilly.

Tonight she spoke about a few people featured in her book, such as Sibel Edmonds. She knows her stuff (facts, figures, people, events) cold about the run-up and aftermath of the invasion of Iraq. I got the feeling she could've kept on talking about it all for hours on end. It was almost unbelievable until you realize it really happened. To all of us.

The Indy also had a recent article on Colonel Wright here.

Always something interesting happening in Durham.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The turtle pond & the 36th parallel at Duke Gardens

We recently discovered a small turtle pond tucked away off the beaten path at Duke Gardens in the Native Plants section. Lots of turtles and and if you spinkle some cracked corn on the surface, they come gliding over, sticking their heads up to periodically to assess the situation. (If you want, you can click the pix to make them larger.)

Also, there at the turtle pond while I was taking pictures of the turtles, I was darn near standing on the marker below. I turned around and read it. It says: This is the 36th Parallel of Latitude, 3990 Kilometers, 2480 miles North of the Equator. So to a nerd like me, that was completely cool.

Looks like this Memorial Day weekend is going to be nice weather-wise, so I hope everyone gets out and explores the interesting and beautiful things all around Durham or wherever you find yourself.

Monday, May 19, 2008

I hated to see this on my car.

I got out of my car to pump some gas yesterday, and not only did the price of the gas make me feel like harfing, but a smushed bird egg was on my car. It was light blue and looked like a robin's egg maybe. Sorry mama bird, where ever you are.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Grand Asia Market in Raleigh

A friend invited me to join him on one of his regular trips to Grand Asia Market in Raleigh at South Hills Mall today. He'd previously told me what a fantastic market it is, and he was absolutely right.

From the time you enter this large store, you are bombarded with color, colorfully packaged Asisan products of every kind--sauces, noodles, cookies, candies, fresh produce, all kinds of tofu and tempura, a bakery, teas, a huge seafood section (with lots of live fish and shellfish), frozen foods. Everything. Even a cafeteria style restaurant that had me wishing I hadn't already had lunch.

I was overwhelmed and didn't know where to begin, but fortunately my pal patiently led me up and down every aisle and every section so I could see it all. This place was beyond my culinary skills (i.e. I didn't know what many of the items were), but I ended up with a couple of packages of rice noodles, some hot sauce, a package of spicy tofu, wasabi peas, and some interesting looking cookies. Next time I might have a better plan, but today I was just taking it all in.

Some pictures I took (you can click them to make them larger):

This nice gentleman did a demonstration of a tasty treat made of strands of honey. Yes, that's strands of honey.

eels strips and squid heads

live fish

tiny fish in oil

Frankly, it all looked delicious to me, even the stuff that might seem unappealing to some, I would have no problem trying. Now if I only knew how to properly prepare some of these items.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Peggy Noonan sees writing on the wall?

Normally I skim what she has to say, she being one of Reagan's speech-writers and (I think) the inventer of the "thousand points of light" meme for Bush that Dana Carvey made so famous.

But this caught my eye in The Wall Street Journal today entitled "Pity Party":

Big picture, May 2008:

The Democrats aren't the ones falling apart, the Republicans are. The Democrats can see daylight ahead. For all their fractious fighting, they're finally resolving their central drama. Hillary Clinton will leave, and Barack Obama will deliver a stirring acceptance speech. Then hand-to-hand in the general, where they see their guy triumphing. You see it when you talk to them: They're busy being born.

The Republicans? Busy dying. The brightest of them see no immediate light. They're frozen, not like a deer in the headlights but a deer in the darkness, his ears stiff at the sound. Crunch. Twig. Hunting party

Wow, I've never seen such gnashing of teeth since Clinton was elected. Except this time it seems like it's coming from a delayed realization that nothing has been accomplished in the Republican controlled years and (here's the worst part) people may be finally, finally catching on to it. Rest of the article here.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

So Costco has these freshly-made pizzas . . .

Not the ones at the front that you can buy by the slice, but the ones at the back near the cheese cooler. Just noticed one the other night. Boxed and ready to take home to cook--not frozen. Fresh basil leaves and slices of tomato and lots of cheese. We decided to give it one a try for dinner, so we put it in the 'fridge until dinner time. Later on in the evening, we gave it 16 minutes in a 400 degree oven, directly on the oven rack (as per directions). Very tasty indeed and super easy and not greasy. $9.99 for a big freshly baked pizza--not bad. I usually sprinkle some cheese and hot pepper flakes on mine, maybe even some extra garlic powder if I don't have to go out and breathe near people later.

So, if you were in Costco lately and saw one and wondered about them--yes, they are easy and tasty. And I suppose you could load some more stuff on them too, come to think of it!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Photoblogging Mother's Day family fish fry

The Durham Bull Pen family was at the coast over the weekend celebrating Mother's Day and hanging out with each other as a family. We decided a fish fry for Mother's Day lunch would be tasty.

My dad, ever the engineer, has his technique down to a T. So Sunday he did his thing with the fish frying, and I thought I'd snap a few pictures and share them.

First, he gets the oil going in his long-lived fry-daddy contraption on the screened-in porch. Screened-porch is best so the house doesn't smell like a fish-fry happened in it. Anyway, back to the basics. The oil must be 350 degrees. My mom lightly dusts the fish (we like flounder fillet best) with House Autry medium hot fish breader. Then the fish--not too many at once or the heat of the oil drops too low--go in. Once they are lightly browned, take the tongs and flip them over to make sure all sides are brown, then take them up. Wait for the oil to recover back to 350 degrees for the next batch.

Here he is with the fish:

Next a melon baller (not too small, not too large, he advises), to scoop out the hushpuppy batter (again, House Autry Mill hushpuppy mix). This blend he put some chopped jalapeno peppers into, but we had plain as well:

Hushpuppies are same deal as the fish, brown each side. They rise to the top when they are ready to take up. See, he knows what he's doing. Yum:

My mom fixed the cole slaw (hers is the best EVER, imho) and the tea. And also she fixed some steamed shrimp:

To top it all off, my niece and Mom made a lemon chiffon type of pie for dessert since she likes a lemon dessert with a fish dinner. It's not yellow, but it was deliciously very lemony:

The best thing about the fish and the hushpuppies is that they are not overly-battered or greasy. They are crispy and tasty. Better than anything I've ever been able to find at a restaurant!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

"Avenue Q" is excellent. Catch it if you can in Raleigh.

The Durham Bull Pen household has enjoyed several of the Broadway Series South shows in Raleigh lately. The touring companies do a stellar job (and we have seen several on Broadway in New York so we have at least some comparison ability). We agreed that the best we've seen so far from the Broadway Series South was Wednesday evening's "Avenue Q." Although "SpamaLot" was quite good too.

We previously noticed that the crowd is sort of mix of ages, but heavy on the Raleigh Junior League-y types with their sport-coated husbands. Season-pass goers, probably. I wondered as we filtered into the show how "Avenue Q" might be met by them. Having read about the show, and knew it was a hip, witty, but raunchy puppet show complete with bawdy songs and puppet sex, I was anxious to see the reaction. And looking forward to the show as well.

The show didn't disappoint. It was a delight, from the tremendously talented actors working the puppets to the brilliant songs they sang--some with lyrics edgy enough to make you squirm with recognition.

As the N&O's review noted here, there was a definite mix of reaction from the crowd. In fact, the well-coiffed couple seated in front of us left in a huff after the second song. That was fine by me, as it opened up our view to the stage quite nicely. Perplexing they didn't have the sense to look up a bit about the show, even from wiki where it's pretty clear the show is cutting edge. Be that as it may.

Not sure what we want to see next, but I did notice that Chicago is coming soon, and we recently caught the film Roxie Hart on television, so our interest is piqued.

To be perfectly honest, it has to be something pretty good to get us to drive to Raleigh, and these shows have been well worth it. It's only about 25 minutes from my door in central Durham, near downtown, to the parking deck at Memorial Hall/Progress Energy Center for the Perfoming Arts--how's that for a mouthful of a name? I do admit I enjoy the large fetching statue of Sir Walter Raleigh that greets us each time:

Looking forward to our own Durham Performing Arts Center to open here, just a couple of miles away.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

My mid-week haul from the Durham Farmer's Market

Wow, it was nice to drop by the Durham Farmer's Market after work and pick up some things mid-week. It was pretty darn busy when I was there and plenty of vendors were there too. Here's my haul:

Free range eggs, organic fresh strawberries, butter lettuce, zucchini, baby bok-choy, and a box of hand-made chocolates. Yum!

I love the way the fresh eggs look in my 'fridge.

Bon App├ętit, Ya'll.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Barack was in downtown Durham yesterday?

I had no idea. Apparently he was at Blue Coffee Cafe. Picture and article in the New York Times.

Click for pic for a larger view.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

American Tobacco Trail Bridge over I-40 in Durham

Here are the 3 designs that have been put forward for consideration for the bridge style in this pdf document.

I happen to like the second one, the "cable-stayed structure."

(Click on the pictures of the designs below to make them a bit larger.)