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O Pioneers! March 18, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I have been vacationing at our beloved Log Cabin Motor Court in scenic Asheville, North Carolina, where we stay in our own little log cabin in the woods. (You can see a selection of the cabins, interiors and amenities on their website, www.cabinlodging.com.) When we travel here, you can find us as often sitting in front of our cheerful wood fire with a book (or, in my case, knitting) and a cup of coffee or glass of wine as out and about enjoying the delights of Asheville.

This seems to bemuse our friends and loved ones no end. Just yesterday, one couple asked us why we were so addicted to the place. We gave them a tour of our current little cabin and raved on about the privacy, quiet, wireless access and other amenities, rustic charm, fully equipped kitchen, serene private porch with strings of little white lights, dog-friendliness, and the like. We even took them to the quirky, delightful Bavarian restaurant at the foot of the Log Cabin Motor Court, itself in a matching cabin. (See their website, www.BavarianDining.com, for menus and directions.)

Our friends were still bemused. Why didn’t we want to stay with them at the huge (and, to us, monstrously ugly) Grove Park Inn with its spa, restaurants, and boutiques instead? Or, if we were so addicted to the Log Cabin Motor Court, why didn’t we rent their two-storey modern cottage, which would give us more room, instead of a log cabin?

At the time, I didn’t know what to say to them. (OFB was too busy talking about the finer points of German beer with Doc, the owner of the Bavarian Restaurant, to pay attention.) Hadn’t I just explained?! It wasn’t until 4 a.m., when I was awakened by a crackling log in the fireplace, that I realized that I hadn’t really anwered our friends at all. You see, the whole point is that these are log cabins.

Most kids dream of being rock stars or sports stars or actors or doctors, lawyers, educators, or, say, inventors of the next iPad or big computer game when they grow up. But when I was a kid, I had no interest in any of that stuff. I knew exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up: a pioneer. I’d been raised with Fess Parker as Daniel Boone. I devoured every book on the pioneers I could get my hands on: The Last Trail; Wilderness Road, Virginia; Little House in the Big Woods and the rest of the series; The Deerslayer and The Last of the Mohicans; anything at all about Daniel Boone. My parents were constantly taking us to historic sites, most of which featured log cabins. These forays seemed to have no effect on my siblings, but I was a goner. I wanted my own log cabin in the woods.

I never did get that cabin (yet, anyway), but our forays to the Log Cabin Motor Court give me the chance to bring my childhood fantasies to life, at least for a few days every year. I wouldn’t trade that opportunity for a free stay at a Moroccan palace or a French chateau or a Mediterranean villa, much as OFB and I would enjoy any of the above. Luxurious lodgings in a beautiful place: incredible. The chance to make one’s childhood dreams come true: priceless.

                     ‘Til next time,

                                  Silence

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Away from it all. June 25, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in pets, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I have just returned from a trip to North Carolina to visit family in Greensboro, then spend a couple of days by ourselves in Asheville, one of our favorite places. And whenever we go to Asheville, we stay in our all-time favorite guest lodging, The Log Cabin Motor Court.

The Log Cabin Motor Court is a cluster of 19 adorable ca. 1929 log cabins tucked into a wooded mountainside on the Weaverville Highway. It’s a scenic, peaceful, private retreat back in time, but a 5-minute drive down the highway (also known as Merrimon Street) puts you in the heart of downtown Asheville.

The cabins are perfectly maintained, and have cable TV, wireless internet access, a/c, and heat. Our favorite cabin has a fireplace, gas flame heat, and kitchen. The furnishings are rustic, with lovely locally handmade quilts on the beds. Each cabin has a porch with chairs and a table for outdoor relaxing under the trees, and some have outdoor grills. OFB and I love sitting on the tiny porch with books and glasses of wine, looking through the feathery hackberry, white pine, and hemlock branches and watching the stars come out. Each porch is bedecked with a string of tiny white lights, adding a festive air, and many cabins have charming red shutters on the windows. For those who want to prolong their stay, there’s a laundry building, too.

A bundle of seasoned wood is provided for each fireplace (you can buy more if, like me and OFB, you just can’t resist watching the flames and breathing that fabulous woodsmoke smell morning and evening). As if all this weren’t enough, it’s pet-friendly, too! (Check out photos of the cabins and get more details at www.cabinlodging.com.) Oh, and did I mention the wonderful Bavarian Restaurant & Biergarten, also in a period log building, at the entrance to The Log Cabin Motor Court (www/bavariandining.com/)?

Over the years, OFB and I have stayed at The Log Cabin Motor Court as late as Thanksgiving and as early as March. This was our first hot-weather visit, so we had to skip the fire this time, to our great regret, and rely on the a/c and overhead fan to fend off the 98-degree weather (it did, thank goodness). My favorite time to go is in October, when we can enjoy the fall leaf show in the Blue Ridge, it’s cool enough to have as many fires as we like, I can sit and knit or cook to my heart’s content in the little kitchen, and it’s perfect weather for walking in downtown Asheville to our favorite stores—Malaprop’s Bookstore, The Grove Arcade, yarn shops, craft shops, Tibetan shops, you name it. Not to mention a mind-boggling assortment of great restaurants. (We have our favorites, but this trip, decided to try all-new restaurants and added some new ones to our must-go list.) But we haven’t had a bad visit yet.

However, the point of this post isn’t to urge everyone to go to Asheville and stay at The Log Cabin Motor Court, however special both are to us. Instead, it’s to talk about a feeling I get every time I stay there.

Picture our favorite cabin: There’s the little front porch with its cheerful string of white lights and its round table with two rustic rocking chairs. You enter the cabin and find yourself in the main room, which immediately surrounds you with the distinct and wonderful fragrance of logs and fresh mountain air (as opposed to, say, creosote or air fresheners). Behind the door is a suitcase rack and a wooden shelf; under the shelf and above the rack is a bar with coathangers so you can hang your clothes. (Since we drive, we travel with extra coathangers, pillows, and a large cooler and several tote bags stocked with provisions.)

Continuing to look around, you see the stone fireplace and mantel, with stacked wood and matches waiting for you. Next to it is what looks like a cute cast-iron woodstove but is actually the gas heat stove, which will provide realistic flames that you can enjoy on cold nights after your wood fire has died down. An antique (but fully functional and electric) lamp and rustic chair complete the picture. Oops, did I say picture? Yes, there’s an oil painting of a flowery field hanging on the log wall over the mantel.

Overhead is a fan light, gently moving the air in the room and illuminating the big, antique four-poster bed with its beautiful quilt and quilted pillow sham. A rustic log-stemmed light casts reading light directly over the headboard. Heading down the opposite wall, another original painting adds brightness to the logs, followed by a rustic dresser with another primitive light fixture, a shelf for the television, and then, on the wall with the entry door, a window over a round table and two chairs, with another log-stemmed light fixture on the wall like a sconce. Braided and rag rugs add more color and comfort to the homey scene.

The kitchen opens off this main room, and it has everything: a gas range, fridge, microwave, sink, cabinets, drawers, and shelves. A large double window over the sink slides to let breezes waft in through the screen, providing a view of more cabins stretching beyond but with cheerful checked calico curtains to give some evening privacy. A central ceiling light and an additional light over the sink, a gas heating unit that provides comforting flames, and a fully stocked set of dishes, glasses, cups, silverware, pots, pans, utensils (even a corkscrew!), coffeemaker, coffee, salt, pepper, hot mitts, towels and dishrags, dish soap, dish drainer, cutting board, grater, and etc. etc. complete the picture.

Off the kitchen is the bathroom, with a privacy-glass window that hinges open for fresh air. Shelves and racks attached to the logs provide space for toiletries and plentiful towels, washrags, etc., as well as a basket of Cashmere Bouquet soaps (whoa, that takes me back!). A huge shower gives ample maneuvering room, and a rag rug—along with the log walls!—adds great rustic atmosphere.

Can you see our cabin now? OFB and I come in, toss our extra pillows on the bed, hang up our clothes, stash our laptops, set out our essential toiletries. We put our books (and in my case, if it’s cool or cold enough, knitting) within easy reach. We transfer our beverages and other essentials from our cooler and bags to the fridge and counter. Then we head up the road to the nearby Ingles market to stock up on fresh produce, breakfast staples, and other essentials so I can cook the meals we want to eat “at home.”

One of the most wonderful things about The Log Cabin Motor Court is its easy access to essentials. If we didn’t have a car, we could bike to the big, well-stocked Ingles grocery. Two veterinary clinics and a specialty cat clinic are evern closer. Flea markets, antique and local craft shops, wine and liquor stores, greenhouses and garden centers (including one very upscale garden artifact shop) are closer still. Gas stations, pharmacies, upholsterers, car repair shops, and specialty shops of all kinds line the Weaverville Highway on both sides of the Motor Court.

And the restaurants! Asheville itself is renowned for its fabulous restaurants, from classic Southern cuisine to Indian, Thai, Middle Eastern, vegetarian, Latin, and far, far beyond. And we’ve enjoyed all of it. But we discovered this trip that we didn’t really have to go farther than the Weaverville Highway five miles on either side of us to find great food. Besides the really great Bavarian restaurant at the entrance to The Log Cabin Motor Court, there’s Mexican, Greek, Italian, Thai, classic Southern, classic family-style, classic breakfast, local-organic, pizza, hoagie, and many another choice, again within biking (and sometimes hiking) distance. And these are all unique, family-owned restaurants, not chains. Yowie!

Anyway, there’s an actual point to this post, and it’s not just that Asheville is wonderful or The Log Cabin Motor Court is a fantastic place to get away from it all while still enjoying plenty of comforts and conveniences. Instead, it’s about what comes to my mind every time we stay there.

Our friend Ben and I live in a modest cottage home, Hawk’s Haven, in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. It’s not anybody’s idea of The Biltmore Estate, a McMansion, or even a typical suburban home. As a child visiting us with his mother once enthusiastically exclaimed, “Momma! Can we get a place like this? It’s just like an apartment, but it’s a house!”

From the mouths of babes. But within the walls of this modest cottage, two enthusiastic collectors have built a framework in which they could showcase their collections and make them accessible: books, music, movies, chess sets, marbles, stamps, coins, rocks and fossils, shells, plants, cookbooks, Zuni fetishes, pueblo pottery, textiles, vintage clothing and accessories, decorated eggs, Christmas ornaments, one-of-a-kind furniture, original art, evocative photographs, acoustic guitars. Not to mention the raw materials for making wonderful things: beads, yarn, spices, cookware, fabrics, gardening supplies, pet supplies, aquarium supplies. And on and on. (And on.)

In a limited space, if you want to live an attractive, free, uncluttered life, you have two choices: Opt for extremely limited possessions, or (like us) devise ways to keep most of your possessions out of sight and to create large, spacious areas showcasing just a few of your choice objects at a time.

But when I stay at The Log Cabin Motor Court, I wonder. Could OFB and I really live in a cabin the size of the one we love year-round and make it work? We’d need to add shelves to the cabin walls, and either replace the TV with a CD player or add a shelf with a CD player in the kitchen. We’d need to trade the microwave in the cabin for a toaster oven. We’d need to limit ourselves to one dog, one cat, and one cage of birds (either a parrot or two or three parakeets). We’d have to forget about our aquariums—unless we could get really creative about adding one to the bathroom—and choose just three or four houseplants to keep us company.

But you know, I think we could do it. At least, I like to think we could. Yes, it would be nice to convert that grassy lawn at the very back of the complex to a community garden for the residents. Yes, it would be nice to win the lottery and buy the whole place, designating specific cabins for specific functions, such as the cooking/dining cabin, the library, the TV and games cabin, etc. And yes, it would be great to give cabins to our friends and family to use whenever they wanted. But just that one cabin, with its main room, kitchen, and bathroom, would probably be enough for me, our friend Ben, and our pets in the end. And that’s enough to really make you think.

                  ‘Til next time,

                                Silence

Grub: a recommendation June 17, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. As some of you may recall, our friend Ben and I were in Asheville, North Carolina—one of our favorite vacation spots—a while back. While there, we stopped at one of the few surviving independently owned bookstores (i.e., owned by real people and not a corporation), Malaprop’s, one of our “gotta go there” destinations whenever we’re in Asheville.

Malaprop’s actually selects its books based on what the owner, staff, and customers find interesting and worthwhile, as opposed to chain stores, which receive their books preselected by corporate “buyers” because they think they’ll be profitable. As a result, Malaprop’s book selection is interesting rather than predictable. It’s always fun to see what they’ve gotten in, and we’ve found some real treasures there, including Wild Fermentation (see the Wild Fermentation website on the blogroll at right for more on this). You just never know what you’ll find.

Last time we were there, I took the opportunity to stock up on some intriguing cookbooks. As you all know, I love cookbooks, and have a vast collection. I especially enjoy personal and personable cookbooks that tell a story along with the recipes, such as The Tasha Tudor Cookbook, Well Preserved, the original Laurel’s Kitchen, and Wild Fermentation. I love local cookbooks like Miss Daisy Celebrates Tennessee, Sauerkraut Yankees, Heartland Baking, Biscuits, Spoonbread, and Sweet Potato Pie, and A Tasting Tour of Washington County. I adore historical cookbooks, and can’t get enough of cookbooks that feature foreign cuisines, be they Caribbean, Mexican, Indian, Chinese, or Thai. I love cookbooks that bring out the sacred aspect of cooking, such as The Spirituality of Bread, Tassajara Cookbook, and Fresh from a Monastery Garden.

And of course, I love those funky old ’70s classics like The Moosewood Cookbook, The Vegetarian Epicure, The Political Palate, and (again) Laurel’s Kitchen. In fact, my most treasured cookbook, after my grandma’s battered 1943 Joy of Cooking, is a deathless find from a used book store: Vegetarian Gothic, a classic commune-era, peace-and-love cookbook that makes the original Moosewood look mass-produced. I also love their modern descendants, which stress eating seasonally and locally, such as Farmer John’s Cookbook, Learning to Eat Locally, and Simply in Season.

I could go on (and on and on) about the hundred-plus cookbooks I own and love, but hey, maybe I could make an effort and get to the point of this post instead (sigh). Which is, that the last time our friend Ben and I went to Malaprop’s, one of the books I returned with was called Grub

Now, Grub is not a name designed to endear itself to those of us who garden. Nor does it appeal to anyone with the least aesthetic sense—it’s surely one of the ugliest words in the language. What were the authors thinking?! It sounds like one of those disgusting acronyms that was twisted around and around until the words that were abbreviated lined up with an actual word, no matter how stiff and artificial they sound as a result. Ugh!!!!

In this case, however, Grub is not an acronym. The authors defend their choice of title by defining it as follows: “1. Grub is organic and sustainably raised whole and locally grown foods; 2. Grub is produced with fairness from seed to table; 3. Grub is good for our bodies, our communities, and our environment; *Grub should be universal… and it’s delicious.” The subtitle, “Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen,” further define the book while limiting it to city venues, and the authors make quite a big deal of saying that the book is “the complete guide for the young, the hip, the socially tuned in.” Gee, thanks too much, you condescending &*%$##@!!!!s.

But I bought it anyway. Why, you might ask. Three reasons: First, it’s coauthored by Anna Lappe, daughter of Frances Moore Lappe, of Diet for a Small Planet fame. Second, it makes a huge effort to present readers with resources and information that will help them find, cook, and eat organic, local, seasonal foods. And third, it has really wonderful recipes, with festive menus and recommendations for music and wine to enjoy with the meals. It’s a book with heart, a book written in a good cause, a book worth supporting. A book you could learn from, even if you’re not urban, hip, and “socially tuned in.” (Uh huh. I can’t wait ’til the person who wrote that has teenagers.)

I suggest that you, too, give this book a chance, whether you live in the city, the suburbs, or the country like us, whether you’re old, young, or in-between, whether you’re hip or so out of it you’re in. Ignore the hype and read the book. Like Barbara Kingsolver’s marvelous Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, it will inspire you to try to do better: to choose organic produce and dairy products, to pass up the fast food and the Frankenfood aisles, to view food as an opportunity for fellowship and fun as well as for nourishment.

Grub has some wonderful menus and recipes, thanks to its remarkable coauthor and chef Bryant Terry (okay, he’s also a native Tennessean, so no doubt I’m biased, but still, he is great!). From South of the Border to New Orleans, from the Caribbean to the tapas bars of Spain, from Rastafarian Ital grub to recipes for Rap and Hip-Hop stars, this food is good, and it refuses to be confined within limited definitions such as “vegetarian,” “vegan,” and the like. As long as you’re willing to choose organic food, the authors encourage you to eat what you want, be it meat, shellfish, or super-rich chocolate mousse.

Our friend Ben and I applaud this broadmindedness. We believe that people should be encouraged, especially when they’re trying to do something good, not pounded because they’re falling short of sainthood. (Don’t get me started on those bastards who attack recycling and the like. Clearly something died in them in childhood, and the poor things—the zealots, the intolerant—are less than human as a result. Not too bright, either.) So I enthusiastically recommend Grub, whoever you are, whatever you are. Ignore its snooty, excluding marketing spin and buy it. You’ll be glad you did.

And anyway, what are your favorite cookbooks? Please tell. There must be a few I don’t have (yet…)!  

               ‘Til next time,

                           Silence                 

An Asheville idyll. March 22, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in Uncategorized.
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Silence Dogood here. As promised, today I’m going to talk about one of our favorite places, Asheville, North Carolina. Our friend Ben and I are here on vacation, soaking up the mountain sunshine and the beauty of the area. If you’d like a wonderful East Coast mountain vacation spot, here are some things we love about Asheville. And if you’re a native Ashevillian who happens to be reading this, let us know what we’re missing!

* Asheville has a great visitor’s center. It has a wonderful selection of books by local authors as well as books about Asheville and North Carolina; lots of local music, art, and photos; even local treats! It also has an extensive collection of brochures on everything from art, events and restaurants to health, local farmers’ markets and orchards, and relocation.

* Who wouldn’t love a city whose motto is “Altitude affects attitude”?!

* Asheville (actually Weaverville, just a hop up the road) boasts the most wonderful lodging our friend Ben and I have ever discovered. It’s the Log Cabin Motor Court (www.cabinlodging.com), a cluster of little log cabins built in 1930 and cheerfully maintained to this day. Cabins are delightfully rustic and immaculately maintained, with log fires and gas “woodstoves,” lovely quilts, tidy little kitchens, and appealing porches. The feeling is wooded and secluded, but it’s on a main road into Asheville and just off several interstates, so it’s very convenient. We love coming here, provisioning the kitchen, lighting a roaring fire, and playing pioneers. It’s pet-friendly, too! Mind you, if we can’t get in next time we come ’cause I spilled the beans here, we’re not going to be happy…

* Another great feature of the Log Cabin Motor Court is the cabin-style restaurant at the entrance. It looks like part of the cabin complex, but rather than country cooking, it’s actually a wonderful German restaurant, the Bavarian Lodge, aka the Bavarian Restaurant and Biergarten (www.bavariandining.com). As you’d expect, it has a huge selection of from-scratch, authentic German food and an even bigger selection of beers. And you can take home some of their homemade bratwurst, excellent Bavarian salad dressing, Bavarian herb mix (our German friends say there’s no such thing, but it’s a delicious mix and makes great salad dressing as well), Himalayan salt, herbal digestifs, and other interesting healthful concoctions. Their entrees and desserts are also available to take home.

* The Folk Art Center and Allanstand Craft Shop. This fantastic Appalachian craft museum and craft center is located on the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway, and it’s one of our favorite stops while in Asheville. Not only are there displays of quilts, carvings, prints, ceramics, jewelry, and numerous other crafts, there are always folks demonstrating their skills live in the lobby (we’ve seen a calligrapher, quilter, carver, glassblower, and several others on previous visits). And the Allanstand Craft Shop is second to none—we, gulp, never leave empty-handed. The setting couldn’t be more beautiful for this wonderful place.

* Malaprop’s Bookstore in downtown Asheville is one of the few independent bookstores still in existence. Unlike the chains, the owner still chooses each book based on whether she, the staff, and her customers like it, which means you’ll get a very different selection than in a typical chain. And of course they like to feature local authors, so you can often find authographed copies of books like Cold Mountain. Real books chosen by real people–what a novel idea (so to speak)! We can’t stay out of there, and the car always seems to be riding a little lower when we leave town as a result. They have a coffeeshop, too.

* If you enjoy Middle Eastern food as much as we do, the Jerusalem Garden, also in downtown Asheville, is a must-try. Great food in a caravanserai setting, with billowing tentlike fabrics overhead, cushions to sit on, and huge brass trays as tables. Exotic and oh so good!

* Finally, there’s the Grove Arcade (also in downtown). It has lots of specialty shops and restaurants and is fun to explore. They also have an excellent craft shop, but our favorite stop there is an absolutely amazing rock and fossil shop, Enter the Earth. We also enjoy stopping in True Confections for a luscious homemade lunch.