The Biltmore Estate and I go wayyyyy back. I am a house fiend, castle fiend, garden fiend and a history dork. So when we moved to NC back in the early 90’s, I was instantly smitten with the concept of the Biltmore. Mom took me there as a high school graduation trip from which I still have my demitasse from the gift store. And then a few years later, I won a two night stay at an Asheville B&B and 2 free tickets to the Biltmore at a Sea Turtle benefit at the Assembly Building and I took my sister as a birthday present. We were deep in our Frida Kahlo phase (the movie had just come out) and we managed to combine both with a lot of hilarity! Then I got a chance to go back to Biltmore in 2018 and after the most incredible horse back riding adventure, (when you ride a horse around Biltmore you can’t help but feel giddy. It was amazing.) we got the call the my most adorable niece was getting ready to make her entrance to the world and so we sped back across the state and made it in time for that momentous occasion!
You would think, with my love of England, jewels and castles then, that I would have been on the Downton Abbey bus the minute the show came out. Nope. (Claudia got me a “NOPE” t-shirt and it is my favorite mantra.) I JUST watched the first 3 episodes last month. I even had the complete DVD set from my brother as naturally, I should love it as it is all the things I love! But I am one of those stubborn weirdos that is always suspicious when the whole world loves something-same with books-and I will wait till the furor passes. Instead, I read so very many books about Downton and already knew some because when I was young, I thought the King Tut information the most intriguing bit of knowledge and so the name and family were familiar because of the discovery and THE CURSE.
But what I want to introduce (or re-introduce, perhaps) in this conversation are some true Southern Countesses of food and an English author who knows her way around a castle.
Karen Barker. You know this name, yes? She of Magnolia Grill, Durham, NC? I admit with deep regret, that I never got to go while the restaurant was open but I do have her 2 cookbooks which are some of my absolute favorites. This particular husband and wife team spawned many of today’s trendy people in the Triangle food scene and were champions of farm-to-table before it was “a thing”, really even, before Southern food took over the food scene the way it now has. All bow, as this lady could manipulate butter magestically. (I am editing this post as one of my readers kindly let me know Chef Barker died last year from cancer. What a terrible loss for her family and the world. )
And then we have Andrea Reusing, from Lantern in Chapel Hill. (Please click the link that is Lantern it is wonderfully fascinating, inspiring and they could use your help). I LOVE this restaurant and I ADORE her cookbook. Lantern was our go-to when we got to sneak out of town child-free and have a true adult dinner with impeccable table service and feel like grown-ups with some style for 5 minutes. Click this link to buy her book . (You are purchasing the book DIRECTLY from Lantern and giving them a little boost:)) It is a great read about all the delicious things grown in NC and how to put it into splendiferous meals. She is more the Dowager of All Things Delicious. And especially given that Downton was so self-sustaining and took immense pride in their fruits and vegetables, I think Chef Reusing would have enormously enjoyed access to those kitchens and ingredients, long ago.
And NOW to the goddess of children’s writing, DIANA WYNNE JONES. In your mind, hear peals of thunder and a thousand trumpets as you say this woman’s name. I shall send you to Wikipedia to read a short bio on this amazing woman if you know not of her. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diana_Wynne_Jones Have you heard of “Howl’s Moving Castle?” I freely admit I loathe both cartoons and manga (any minute one of my kids will come wheeling around the corner, incensed I am insulting these art forms) and graphic novels make me ill, I get that it’s a necessary evil to get kids who don’t like to read to read but still… ANYWAY, Howl’s Castle MOVES. And they made a movie out of it that was very well received but the BOOK!!! What a concept! To imagine a massive stone building twirling through the air and repositioning itself! Diana has written over 40 books and they are all mind-bending with the sheer imagination of them. While I am a huge Harry Potter fan, it doesn’t hold a PATCH on Diana Wynne Jones works. There a lot of other bloggers and fiction fanatics out there who are just as smitten as I am. When you read her books, when you finish, you are usually quite distressed to find yourself in your own chair in your current world and not, a witch. https://ghostgrrrl.wordpress.com/65-2/ https://www.npr.org/books/authors/138405268/diana-wynne-jones
It must have an impact on you, living amongst castles and ruins that are hundreds and hundreds of years old. Is that what inspired JK Rowling, Dahl, Jones, etc? Are you really imagining new things to write or are you simply able to re-imagine things that really happened? When you see these enormous structures and you see people around you struggling to simply, I dunno, NOT throw trash on the beach, orrrr NOT burn down a forest revealing the gender of their KID, you wonder how these buildings were built by sheer manpower all those many years ago.
Take the Triangle Of Magic, as I like to call it. What’s it from? What beautiful building would have had such an enormous iron and glass pyramid on top of it in Sneads Ferry?? Did it in fact used to be part of Howl’s Castle? I want to know. I also want to own it. The scale of this beauty is enormous and I pass it every day on my way to work and I have invented a different story for it every time I have driven by it! I have placed it next to Downton Abbey in order to inspire myself to magic up a castle to plunk this puppy on top of. So far, it’s not going well. Must magic harder.
You know what’s not a magical task? Trimming goat hooves. However, as a result of this chore, I did finally get my goat milking stanchion built, so that was exciting.
I have been trying to make the most of the available architecture in this neck of the woods, and though it’s not the same as tearing through the UK there is some undeniable charm and a lot of history around here. Have you driven through Camp Davis?
It will take you about 8 minutes to get there from the Island. There’s not a lot to see, but a lot of the old bungalows on the Island happen to be houses from this Camp. It’s a quick drive but it’s so interesting if you have read up on the history and can re-imagine it based on the roads and outlines still in it’s place.
Snead Ferry is very Biltmore Shabby, in the best way. Lots of Southern buildings, quietly crumbling to the ground, from industries long gone or crippled by technology and lack of interest. Take Yopp’s Meeting House, beautiful proportions, walls full of stories to tell and you can see weeds growing up through the floor and the back window has been shattered by vandals. The graveyard surrounding Yopp’s has graves dating back to 1735. And it is just there, so you can stop by and imagine a time when the Island and Sneads Ferry were not dominated by hideous Wings and Shark Attack and other shrines to disposable crap.
Ride around. Look beyond the constant new constructions (how many mini storages do we need people? I ask you.) to see the layers of history, the old barns, did you know there is a mill in Sneads Ferry that makes beautiful wooden furniture in the old style? That they save wood-drive to places to save beautiful singular trees that otherwise would be scrapped? There’s an old roller skating rink and theatre and down by the shrimp docks or out by Davis Seafood it is especially beautiful. (Davis Seafood has been there since 1949!!) AND DINOSAURS, I won’t tell you where, but there are 2, to scale dinosaur statues that are awfully fun to stumble across. (And if you happen to know who owns them, Logan is desperate to purchase one!)
Do take the time to read the books of these remarkable women. It will inspire you to throw on your tiara and magic up some delicious food with the lovely fall produce that is coming available!
In the meantime I will leave you with my Beef recipe that I like to throw in the crockpot so dinner is ready after my riding around. 1 3-4 pound sirloin roast, 1/2 cup balsamic reduction, 4 japanese eggplants sliced into 2″ chunks, 1 onion cut in half, 2 wands of celery, chopped, 1/2 teaspoon salt. Dump all in crockpot. Leave on low 6 hours. Let rest 20 minutes. Serve over mashed potatoes, rice or shred and use in beef sandwiches or on an Italian flat bread with mozzarella and sun dried tomatoes OR doctor up with Tajiin and use for tacos!