Finch

Fishing and the Fourth of July

We got up a little earlier than usual because we knew we'd have to go a good number of miles before we got where we had to be that night. I'd also been pretty disappointed by Whisk the previous morning, so I looked through all the food magazines in the hotel and found Brown's Court Bakery.



Bakery in an Old NeighborhoodFlourWorking SpaceFront Porch
It was a classical bakery in one of those classical Charleston floor plan houses, with the narrow front to the street, and the open porches and true front door on the "side" of the house, allowing for outdoor access year-round. The interior was wide open, too, employing the concept of hot air rising, to let all the hotter air in the house rise to the top floor and get vented up there. Tall vaulted ceilings in the top floor helped give more room for the hot air to be away from the people.

What I truly loved, though was seeing the flour in a pile right there in the front sales room. Jet got the tangy, buttery, sriracha croissant and a hot chocolate. I got a pecan sticky roll and a iced latte. John got the bacon cheddar scone with another hot coffee drink and we went upstairs to see more of the house and eat our goods. They were quite yummy.

And it was obviously all baked right there as they let anyone watch them in the bakery itself in the back of the house. The customer areas were lightly air conditioned, but with the ovens going full blast I could see why they didn't really want to cool the whole place as much. Well fortified for our drive north, we headed out.

CounterSliced brisketChopped brisket mini hoagiePulled Pork Plate
Three hours later John woke me up and we were at Dickie's Pit BBQ off the side of the freeway. It was a pretty overwhelming menu when we'd never been to one before, and the countermen were pretty patient with us as we tried to figure out what there was and what it was that we wanted to eat and how much. They sold a lot of stuff by the pound, but the meals could be just meat and sides or sandwiches and sides.

I got the fried okra and the stuffed mashed potatoes along with sliced brisket (the brisket was on special for the day). John got the chopped brisket mini sandwich, and Jet happily tried the pulled pork 'plate', which was served on a quarter sheet pan that I thought eminently practical as a serving plate. Both boys got salads. I didn't. *laughs*

It was delicious. I'd highly recommend them, and the prices were really good, too. It was obvious that the guys selling us the meats were really proud of their work, too, as one of them asked me how everything was when he met me as I was going to the restroom, after, to wash up. He seemed pleased when I said, "It was all amazingly good."

We stopped at a little pecan stand next door to stock up on some praline pecans and look around. The price on the cloth bag of white grits was about twelve dollars for a pound, and having seen the Mill's prices online, I knew well enough not to get them. *laughs*

Visiting Rod and Family
We checked into a hotel that John had gotten near Rodney's, and then we called them and went over to their apartment. Rodney, John, and I all went to Caltech at about the same time. I was in the class ahead of Rod and John's class, but we were all in Lloyd House at the same time. Rodney's married, with two kids, and is a professor in Japan. But we still kind of interact the ways we've always interacted. Just friends, who know each other, can egg each other on, and just talk with each other.

It was great.

He, his mother, his two daughters, and their neighbors put together a little grilled dinner with us, and we put on bug spray and ate outside of their apartment in the park/picnic area. He's here for a year's sabbatical, working at Duke as an exchange professor for the year. His mom was visiting, and was going to take a daughter for a mini-vacation the next day so we got to talk with both of them that evening, too. So that was really good. One of the interesting things was Rod saying that one of the things he saw as a difference between Caltech graduates and the graduates of other universities is that he'd seen Caltech grads be more accepting of the times when they're wrong.

Visiting Rod and Family
We speculated some on the reason, but one of the interesting theories was that because we're so used to being outclassed completely by other students on various subjects, we're willing to be wrong to learn what's right. The professors were also good about giving us problems we couldn't always be right about, and had to go through them to learn how to learn from our mistakes. It's an interesting concept all in all, as it is something that's been very good for me throughout my life. It's a LOT easier to fix a mistake if one can acknowledge that it's a mistake in the first place. *laughs*

We had a great time with them, and we want to do that again. It would be fun to plan a trip to Japan to visit with them for a while, and even stay with them for a day or two if it's possible. It'll be a little crazy, but good, too. We had dinner with them, visited with them, and walked up to their frozen yogurt place with them. And after all that, we went back to the hotel and slept.

SouthernThe WheelModern Mills
We had to go to Joanne's to pick up Katerina later in the day, around 3 or 4 in the afternoon, so we had the whole morning and early afternoon to kill. So we decided to follow our Quest to find real Carolina grits. I'd bought some Tennessee grits from Falls Mill, but it included the chaff, so you had to wash the chaff off of the grits before you could cook them, and separating them was difficult.

The grits Brenda had brought didn't need to be washed, and they were from the old Guilford Mill. It wasn't that far from her house or Joanne's, and so we took the map from the back of the bag of her grits, looked up the web site and address and John took us there. The three of us had a fun time looking at the old water wheel, which was still driven by water from an uphill stream. The water drove the wheel, which drove an electrical generator, and that powered all the equipment inside the old stone mill. There were three ladies on the front porch when we drove up, in long dresses, and they were making mixes in the mill from their flours.

The Store
There was an enormous sampling of all their wares in the store. I bought both yellow and white grits, some plain yellow cornmeal, and I couldn't resist a bag of the sweet potato pancake mix. There were all kinds of mixes there, too, as you can see from the website, the shipping costs half again as much as the products themselves, so it really was best that we could bring them home in our luggage for "free."

John and I loved the sign, too. *laughs* There were also various historical markers outside the mill proper, and we got a nice distance shot of it, wheel and all. It was really good to go all the way out there, and to actually experience not just the mill but the customers that arrived, too. Two elderly men came in talking over the merits of yellow versus white grits, and walking out with ten pounds of each. That was pretty good.

The three ladies were very nice, too, one was obviously the owner and prominent on the newspaper articles about her and the restored mill. There were pictures of the water wheel in pieces and being put back together carefully by a very large crew of locals. They were also mixing gingerbread mix, and having to wash out the trough and mixer between that and a batch of scones. So it really connected the food with the people. I like doing that a lot.

Fireworks!
We headed back, and got to Joanne's way before our 3 pm meet up time, so we searched for and found a gas station and a fireworks stand. The boys went in and bought this nice big box of fireworks. Jet loves setting them off every Fourth of July, and part of the trip's plan was to not deprive him of that particular joy, so it was really good that we got the chance to find these.

I have to admit that I love these small fireworks as much as Jet does. Not so much the lighting of them as just watching how excited he and all the kids are to make their own show. I've seen a lot of professional shows. When we lived in San Diego, my parents have a view of most of San Diego Harbor, so we got to see five or six fireworks shows every New Years and Fourth of July. Sea World would light off a fireworks show nearly every night in the summer, so while I find them pretty, there's little that I haven't seen anymore, so far as they go. But there's something personal about getting to just make sparks yourself... *laughs*

Fishin'!
We got Katerina as planned from Joanne's, and headed out to Brenda's which was about forty minutes out from town. She and Tim have a large piece of land. So they have their house, which is built on the foundation of the house that was originally there, a separate workshop, a chicken coop, a large vegetable plot, and a big pond that they had built. It was built with a dam, and then dug out on the side that would get the run off, and it's a good eight to ten feet deep

They stocked it with catfish, bluegill, and bass fingerlings. The bluegill multiply easily and quickly in these conditions, and it's actually better for the pond to pull out any bluegill that get caught, and the small ones are very tasty and fry up crisp. The catfish are good eating when they're big enough, so they asked us to put small catfish back into the pond. The bass seemed to be just for fun and sport, not really that good for eating.

And the goal for us all was to get enough fish to feed everyone Friday night. Susan and Dorsey, Joanne and Leo, and a few other people were going to all be there for dinner, so we happily worked at getting enough fish to feed everyone.

A Catch!Jet's CatfishKaterina's CatchThe Haul
We caught fish. A lot of them. Everyone hauled in something, though Katerina got the first catfish, she was so thrilled and spooked by the first catch that when she almost got it to shore the line broke and the fish got away. Brenda said that Katerina didn't really want to catch it, which is why it got away. *laughs* I believe that.

I got my first catfish on that day, too, and I was thrilled. It was huge compared to most fresh water fish I'd ever caught, and we had to handle them very carefully because they have barbs on the ends of both front fins and on their top fin. There are poison sacks too, that inject through the barbs, so Tim was very careful to show Jet exactly how to hold the catfish for the photo. Jet then became our designated catfish wrangler when Tim wasn't around.

The bluegill reminded me of when I was a kid. Mom and Dad used to take us to a Chinese Family Camp every summer. The kids got to run wild, do crafts, play games, and once during the week we'd all go fishing at the lake there. I don't remember much about the accommodations, but I remember a common dining hall. And I remember the fishing. I remember putting worms on hooks and going out on a pier and throwing the line and bobber into the water, and pulling out flashing, flat bluegill. I didn't know they were bluegill at the time, but the sensation of catching, handling, and pulling hooks out of these little fish brought all those memories right back. I remember being one of the few girls that was willing and capable enough to handle worm, hooks, and fish, and how that thrilled me.

The parents would gut the fish and scale them and then fry them crisp for their "midnight snack" after dinner, and I remember as a kid thinking it was unfair that I'd do all the catching and never get to eat what I caught. Now I was going to get to eat these bluegill at last.

Brenda's "Lasagna"
At the end of our fishing day, Ted, Tim's brother, came by to cast for the bass. Then when it was starting to get dark, Ted said, "I don't think there are any really big fish in this pond. How about you show us what there really is in here?" And Tim laughed and Brenda had us all throw handfuls of fish food out into the pond. And up came monsters. HUGE catfish that looked a foot wide and as long as my arm, surfacing like dark behemoths to gulp the fish chow. Jet and John kept trying to throw a lure into their enormous mouths, but it proved to be more difficult than it seemed. *laughs* There really were monsters in the cloudy deeps of that pond.

That evening, for all that we'd caught so much fish, we had Brenda's lasagna for dinner. I had to take this picture of it, because it's amazing. Lots and lots of vegetables with the noodles and meat and the "sauce" wasn't so much a tomato sauce as it was tomatoes with zucchini, onions, and other good things. I loved that she actually made it in a roasting pan, it was so huge that about half of it fed Tim, Brenda, Katerina, Jet, John, myself, and Ted, Tim's brother. She'd also heated bread, made a beautiful salad, and I think it made up for my vegetable deficiencies from the last four days all in one go.

That is one thing about travel food, being able to find adequate fruit and veg is pretty difficult, and it was wonderful to take a break from the kinds of foods we'd been eating for Brenda's homemade goodness.

Cleaning Fish
After dinner, Tim and Ted got busy cleaning the catch of the day. They had an old plank out in the backyard, where they just got busy with their super sharp cleaning knives and they filleted everything that we caught. It was a really simple process, just cutting the fillets off from both sides of all the fish. No need to gut or take the head off the fish, just slicing the meat off and then taking the skin off the meat. They ended up with a big bowlful of fish, which went into the refrigerator for the next day.

I was very impressed at the efficiency, and how Tim said that Ted had taught him how to do the job a long time ago. They were both really good at it now.

Breakfast
We slept really well, and I slept in late and woke up in time for the second round of this amazing breakfast. I got a fried egg instead of scrambled, but we had the creamy Old Guilford Mill grits along with Brenda's amazing biscuits.

The new thing that we got was Tim's friend's homemade molasses, which tops John's biscuit in this picture. Tim has a friend who has a few sorghum fields, and he boils down the sap to make a sweet, almost creamy molasses that's not bitter and dark, but deep and almost fruity. It was a wonderful biscuit topping.

Brenda also had tomatoes ripe already. Her first, but I thought about the fact that I'd only just put all my tomato plants out into the garden, as there had been too much frost until recently. It was going to be at least a month and a half until my tomatoes actually came in, and they were already serving sweet corn that was grown locally, while we were going to probably be waiting until the end of July to taste our first kernels. They even had two batches of sweet corn in their garden, some that was about ripe and another that was about two feet behind on growth.

Fishing on the Dock
We spent another day out on the dock. Mostly fishing to start. When I finally got out there, I spent some time writing a few things, and then I asked John to prep a pole for me. He said sure. He cast his line out, handed me his rod, and went to put a hook onto a pole for me. The line tugged, so I pulled back, and then the line went whizzing out of the reel.

My Catfish
Big fish: a big old catfish that fought and swam and ran. I reeled and reeled and reeled, and then he started trying to swim underneath the dock. I got lucky and he didn't wrap around a dock pole, and I managed to drag him around toward the shore by going off the dock, reeling the whole time I was dodging posts and chairs. *laughs* John found the net, and netted the biggest catfish we'd caught, yet. It wasn't one of the monsters from the night before, but I was impressed that it was so long it was as long as the entire interior of the cooler, nose to tail.

Everyone caught catfish that day. I had one more. Jet had two, Katerina had a big one, John got three!! Brenda said that they'd never had anyone catch that many catfish out of the pond in one day. There was a time when they'd keep the caught fish in a net off the dock, and if they caught a catfish and put it in the net, they wouldn't catch another one so long as that one was still in the water. So we were keeping ours in water in a tin washbasin in the shade on the shore. This was also about the time hurricane Arthur was working his way along the coast. So we wondered, a little, that was influencing the fish.

Dragonfly?Closeup
Eventually, I figured we had enough fish for the evening, so I started just taking pictures. While standing on the shore and casting, I noticed these dragonflies with the black and white wings. I'd never seen them before, so I just waited and watched and finally got this photograph of one perched on the grass by the shore. There was also this one enormous bumblebee that kept bumping into Jet and I. We were wearing citronella bands to try and keep mosquitoes away, and it mostly worked, but one of the side effects seemed to be attracting bees. *laughs* This particular one was very insistent. I got the camera out, and it started bumbling into the lens!! So I snapped a picture of it while it was banging into the lens. It was so close the macro couldn't even get it, and it still makes me giggle whenever I see it.

Swimming!
Finally, it got hot enough that we just went back to the house, changed into our swimming gear and jumped into the pond. It's pretty deep, even around the dock. Katerina had a moment's hesitation given the sheer size of the fish we'd seen last night, but even she came in with good grace.

What surprised me was that the top layer of water was really warm, almost bath-warm, but about three or four feet down it was cool, almost cold. They were very distinct layers, and if I floated on my back or stayed mostly horizontal in the water, I could be as warm as I liked. It was a fairly cool day for them, in the high 70's and low 80's, so the warm water felt nice. Brenda said that when it's really hot it was much nicer to dive down and stay down where it was good and cold. She often does laps in the pond, finding the water refreshing and the length of it a good work out in the water. Katerina was running circles around the pond, and had asked what the distance was around it. I walked it with my fitbit, and using my usual estimate of my stride, it said that it was around .20 miles all the way around, so she used that as her estimate for her runs. It was fun to use the tools at my disposal to help her out with her workout.

Ice Cream the Old Fashioned WayFry Master
That night we got to eat the fish. Tim had this wonderfully simple breading. He just dipped the fish pieces in an equal mix of self-rising cornmeal and self-rising flour with salt and pepper to season. Then he dropped the pieces in canola oil and away they went. They came out beautifully light, crisp, and flavorful. The fresh fish made a difference, and the catfish was light and flaky, not muddy as it can sometimes be.

The bluegill was an experience. I hadn't had it before. It was delicious, sweet, tender, and with Tim's frying, so crisp on the edges it was amazing. The small chips of the tiny fillets from the little fish were the best, I thought, and I finally got to eat one instead of just catch them.

They also did a batch of their vanilla ice cream in the hand cranked maker. The kids always have a great time with that, and Katerina was surprised by how hard it was to turn once the ice cream was nearly frozen. It was real muscle work to get it to turn at the end. Susan made an apple pie that was topped like a crisp with oats and pecans. It went beautifully with the ice cream. And we ate our desserts by a campfire in the backyard. We just ate and talked and enjoyed the night air.

Had To Have
When it was full dark, it was dark. There were very few manmade lights out there, so we could see all the stars and the Milk Way above the trees. Tim found a couple of bricks to act as a smooth surface for Jet's fireworks, and John and Jet got the show going. There were intervals for sparklers and the smaller stuff, and Jet had a blast learning how to use a lighter to light the fuses for the big fountains.

There was a whole series of them, in all colors, some with whistles, some without. I like the ones that were just showers of sparks, and they ended with the biggest fountain of all. It was a big box with multiple compartments and there were all kinds of colors and flash bangs and whistles in it, too. It was the only one that made their little dog, Lucky, kind of upset at all the noise. He just curled up in Brenda's arms for all the others and seemed entirely content to watch the rest of the show.

It was a lovely Fourth of July, and we went to bed happily exhausted, and we might be forgiven that we completely forgot to check into our Southwest flight. *laughs* The next morning we took our time, let Katerina go out and sunbathe one last time while we got out all our Stuff and repacked it with the knowledge that we were flying out that afternoon. So all the food went into the checked luggage, along with everything else we'd accumulated over the last two weeks. Our carry ons were pretty light.

Tim's Shop
Once we were done and still had some time, Tim and Brenda took us out to their workshop to look around. The front part of the building houses Brenda's art supplies. Brenda was an art teacher who decided to retire after 20 years just this summer! So she had all her stuff from school in her work area, and while she said it was a mess, all I saw was a really beautiful place to make art. Tim's shop was filled with all the equipment he needs to make instruments. He makes banjos and zithers, and wants to learn how to make guitars in the long run. He does utterly gorgeous work, and knows how to play them, too.

He used to teach shop in middle school, and there are still remnents of his work all around. I loved that he taught Jet probably half a dozen things just showing us his tools. Jet was happy to see that Tim loved using a bandsaw more than any of the other saws, especially a tablesaw. Tim gave Jet a few pointers on how to be even more flexible with a bandsaw, and that was just cool to see. Jet's now all fired up about doing more of his woodworking, and between Walt and Tim, Jet's pretty set for some detailed, meticulous woodworking beauty.

One Last Time
We left around noon, taking Katerina to where Joanne and Leo were waiting for her. There was a local fair/musical concert/outdoor festival by one of the rivers running through Durham, which looked a lot like the Boulder Creek festival here, where people are in an out of the water, there's booths of all kinds of things. But in Durham it was all about the local music, which I guess is a bit like Seattle's Bumbershoot. In this case, however, all the proceeds were going toward restoring and maintaining the river, so it seemed like fun.

Our flight wasn't until almost 5 p.m., so we'd originally thought about going to the festival for our lunch and for wandering about a little, but we got going a little later than we thought, and we went to the wrong parking lot to begin with and lost a little more time. By the time we actually handed Katerina off to Joanne it was nearly 2 pm. So we wandered into town, found a fish restaurant, and had our last thorough taste of seafood before heading to the airport.

One Last Sunset
Our flight was a little delayed, but not too badly. And when we got to DIA, there was a snafu with the traffic direction for the luggage. So we had to wait a while for our last bag, of the three we'd checked. The very good thing was that it arrived. We've had luggage delayed or even redirected before, and it always works out, but it was nice not to have to deal with days of delay.

But by the time it came I was pretty hungry and low on blood sugar. Jet and John were doing all right, but they were great about looking for a Noodles and Co on the drive toward home, and we found one just twenty minutes into the drive. And I got to see this sunset while we were looking! So I took its picture, too, since we'd done so many sunsets on the Outer Banks. The food at Noodles was good, as always, and the carbs picked me up enough to get me home. We only unpacked what we had to in order to fall into bed.

Home again, home again... but it was nice to run about while we could.