Thursday, January 31, 2013

Eating our way across the South, Part 1 Going East

The past couple of weeks Barb and I have been on the road, literally. By the time we got home we logged over 3,550 miles on our Ford Edge and passed through 12 states. On the way we have been eating very well, there will be many trips to the YMCA after we return. We drove to Durham, N.C. to visit my brother, but we took our time visiting friends and family along the way. We have tried hard to not eat at any national chain restaurants, unless they featured southern specialties.

Our first day we made it as far as Hartsburg, Mo., to stay with my sister and her husband. That night we dined on venison and wild turkey. The next morning we headed to Nashville via I-70, 64, 57 & 24. We had planned to eat at a Bob Evans, a southern staple, at Mt Vernon, Ill. However, construction at that exit changed our plans and we headed on down the road. Thanks to the iPad we decided to get off interstate at Benton, Ill. We went past all the typical fast food establishments and went downtown. The Franklin County Courthouse sits in the town center at the intersection of three state highways and the streets around the courthouse have become a roundabout.

One of the small shops around the courthouse housed a coffee house called The Buzz. For those familiar with Lexington, it was a slightly larger version of Madeline's. They have 7 or 8 sandwich choices, 3 soups and 4 or 5 salads on the menu. You can mix or match any of them for a great light lunch and according to Barb the coffee was excellent.

From there we headed on into Nashville to meet one of Barb's college friends for supper. She had a couple of suggestions, one downtown and one out by the airport. We decided against the downtown restaurant since it was close to the Ryman Auditorium, which was hosting the Grand Old Opry that night. We also discovered that Justin Bieber was having a concert downtown as well. So we headed to Monell's at the Manor, a southern family style restaurant in an old southern mansion. The food, atmosphere and company was great. As guests arrive they are seated at large dining tables. Food is served family style and passed around the table to the other diners. We dined with four college students and a couple of visiting engineers. Food included three salads, 3 meat choices, 5 vegetables, plenty of biscuits and cornbread, topped off with banana pudding for dessert. All was great.

Saturday we drove on down to Chattanooga to see Barb's cousin. Dinner was at a small pizza house on the north side of the river which is being redeveloped. We also went sidewalk shopping and took a trip across the Tennessee River on an old bridge.

While at Konnie's we enjoyed a pork dinner with a roast vegetable plate, breakfast brunch and finally Sunday night was everybody for themselves. Somehow we expected a great pork meal from a former Nebraska Pork Queen.

Monday morning we moved on to Asheville, N.C., to tour the Biltmore House. Lunch was at the Biltmore Bistro on the grounds around the Biltmore House. The tour of the house was fantastic. For those who don't know, the Biltmore House is the largest house in America with 250 rooms built for George Vanderbilt in 1895. These include 43 bathrooms, 65 fireplaces and a 70-foot tall ceiling in the dining room. During the 42-room tour we were reminded several times of the PBS show "Downton Abbey." While the gardens in the winter are fairly low-key at Biltmore House, locals and others who have visited assure us they are nothing short of fantastic during the spring and summer. But even in winter the Conservatory just below the main house is filled with plants and we did enjoy the orchids in bloom.

Supper that night was at a local Greek/Italian restaurant, the Apollo Flame Bistro. Again we enjoyed great food that is different than we can get at home. Barb had a gyro combo and I had the pasta combo. Yum.

Tuesday morning we shopped at Biltmore Village, a quaint shopping area designed by the same architects who designed the Biltmore House. The highlight was oil and vinegar tasting. For those of you scoffing, you really do need to try this sometime. We brought several bottles home including chocolate balsamic, which is out of this world when drizzled on vanilla bean ice cream. Lunch was at the Village Wayside Bar & Grille, which is in the old train station. We were told we had to try the onion rings, great choice.

Tuesday night we finally arrived in Durham, N.C. I'll talk about the Durham food scene in the next segment.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Farming and kids

Barb and I have been Ag Pen Pals with a classroom of Lincoln students for many years. We have had several teachers from several different schools over the years, but have generally had 1st, 2nd or 3rd grade students to write to.

First graders are a little difficult to write for because you know they don't have the language or math skills yet to comprehend much about farming. But they do enjoy talking about our animals. They are always amazed that farmers don't name every animal on the place, but when faced with a picture of 1,200 steers, they admit that would be hard to keep straight. We always loved the pictures they made for us to start the year.

Some of the schools we have written to are in areas of Lincoln with a high immigrant population. Not just Hispanics either, as one school had 25 different native languages represented in the student population. Many different backgrounds made our job a lot of fun, as usually one student in the group had been on a farm at some time.

When possible we schedule a visit with our classroom when we are in Lincoln for one of our many meetings there. That is where the real fun happens. Our students have spread the word through the school that we are coming, so when we show up everybody knows why we are there.

The current teacher we work with is a real gem. She has her students totally under control. They are learning manners, as well as numbers and letters. As an example, this year when we visited we were escorted to their room by two of the students who very politely asked us to follow them. When we got to their room another boy got up and asked us for our coats to hang them up and then escorted us to our seats of honor in the front of the room, all without any prompting from the teacher who was working with another student.

This class is a 3rd grade class and as you might expect is a little more fluent, but we were not ready for the level of questioning we got. The very first question was, "What is your favorite crop to harvest and why?" Another difficult question to answer was "What is alfalfa?" It is hard to describe without visual aids, and we had not brought any alfalfa pictures with us. At least several students had horses and knew what hay was so that helped. One bright young man noticed I am short one finger and asked about that. And so on.

We always try to bring a gift or memento for the students and one popular and easy to come by gift are farm caps. It took no time at all to locate 35 extra caps around the house, which were boxed and delivered to the classroom. While our class didn't have 35 students, we brought extras so the students could have a choice. You never know when they have a grandparent or aunt or uncle still on the farm and have already taken sides in the red-green controversy or someone in the family has an affinity for one seed corn brand or another.

When the 40 minutes that we were allotted had passed they sang a little song thanking us for coming to visit. How sweet. There is a good chance we'll get back one more time this year and one can only guess what questions they'll be able to come up with.

This is all part of the Ag Pen Pal Program, which in Nebraska is coordinated through the Ag in the Classroom program. If you are a farm family or a retired farm family and have time to write just three letters during the school year, you too could be an Ag Pen Pal. The program is always looking for more volunteers and will start you out with a class next fall. Just look up Ag in the Classroom on the internet and you can be connected or contact your local county Farm Bureau for more information.

If you are a teacher that would like to add this to your curriculum options let me know and I'll get you in contact with the right people. If you are a Nebraska teacher, you don't have to have a class in Lincoln or Omaha to be connected with an Ag Pen Pal. Any teacher in any classroom in the state may request a Pen Pal as we realize the need is just as great for ag education in rural areas as well. If you are reading this and live outside Nebraska many states have similar programs that we can put you in contact with.