Monday, May 31, 2010

June 2010

I write to you on a rainy Asheville day. I must admit I’ve come to love rainy days because it means I can catch my breath a tiny bit.

Springtime and early summer are intense times for bee keeping. Especially in the spring, a lot of attention is needed, a lot of visiting, a lot of observing and adjusting. Ideally, these visits happen in the warmest part of the day because at that time, the bees are very busy, flying out on foraging trips, working in the hives. An intrusion at that time of day is not as noticeable, since everybody in the hive is so busy. For me, finding time in the middle of the day is a big challenge. I usually work during the day in Asheville and so scooting home to Weaverville during those crucial few hours is not always easy.

I have a mentor this year who is lovingly stern with me. I am, I must admit, not the sharpest student. I will report something I find and will hear his advice and will then, um, not do that advised move immediately. He’s gentle with his advice, you see, and I am not always attuned to the necessity of doing what he says as soon as he tells me. But he is not really suggesting, he is telling me what to do. And then, when he finds out I have not done that thing, well, he becomes more emphatic. I’m really learning by experience with this.

I’ve been feeling like the kid who, hearing that a hot stove is HOT, touches it anyway – and gets burned. A few weeks ago I noticed that the bees were making another queen. I knew, in the back of my mind, that was an indication that they were getting ready to swarm, which would take half the colony away. My mentor told me what I should do and, though I heard him, I didn’t do it (I don’t think I realized the urgency) and, sure enough, the bees’ new queen, hatched and left - with half the colony. Now it is like starting over, with a much smaller group of bees. I could have prevented it – but I didn’t.

At this time of year, it is important to see that all the colonies are lively, have a queen, are making babies, and are healthy. I now have four colonies. On last examination, I found two queens, signs of one more, and no indication that there was a queen in the 4th hive. Sigh. I need to check them again – soon – to make sure all is moving in the right direction. If that 4th hive doesn’t make a new queen it will not flourish, will not make it through the winter. If they don’t make a queen I’ll have to buy them one. And if I don’t find that queen in the 3rd hive, well, I might need to buy a new one for them too. The other two hives seem fine, but things can change quickly. My mentor is helping, watching, guiding. But it is intense right now, especially trying to understand what needs to be done.

And in my NOT bee time, it is the busiest time of year. We are in the midst of wedding season. We are in the midst of graduation season. We have a lot of regular catering to do. And, this week, I am going to the White House! Next week I am going to Iowa to present some honey recipes to some national magazine editors. My desk is full and so is my head.

And so, yes, even though the bees need a visit, I must admit to being happy (ish) that it is raining today and I cannot visit them. I’m going to go to sleep early and then, when it is sunny in the next couple of days, I’ll look in and see how they are. I hope they don’t mind waiting a little bit. Just a little bit.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

It's almost May

Hello to you from the end of April, looking ahead to May, my very favorite time of the year.

As I write, it is a beautiful day, a bit crisp, but full of promise. At my house, lilacs are in bloom, tulips are hanging on, dogwoods hover, and my bees are eagerly anticipating the Tulip Poplar bloom, due in a couple of weeks. This year, I hope, I’ll have “Stoney Knob Gold” – honey from my bees. Nothing will taste sweeter.

I’ve been traveling a bunch lately. I’ve recently completed trips to Newark, Las Vegas, Indianapolis and Providence. Tomorrow I go to Baton Rouge and, looking ahead I have trips to Des Moines, northern New Jersey, Pasadena and Tuscany on my list. Zounds! Each trip makes my time at home more precious.

These trips have a variety of reasons: helping spread the word about early detection of ovarian cancer; helping shape my professional woman chefs organization; speaking about bike rides; GOING on bike rides; celebrating my sister’s birthday; celebrating MY birthday; spreading the word about bees and honey. It’s a fun combination and keeps me on my toes, invigorated, and, for the most part, out of trouble.

With each trip I come home, sink into the familiarity of my deck and yard, my plants, the birds, my bees, my dog, my bed. Sometimes I do not want to leave. Actually, most times I do not want to leave. I love home. Love the smell and feel of the air. Especially now, with blooming lilac sweetening the evenings, leaving is difficult. My gardens are a mish mash of things, chaotic, rambling, unkempt in a vaguely orderly way. I tuck things in, making room where I can. Colors pile up, brighten corners, feed my bees.

The bees are coming along well. By next month I’ll have a third hive. Already their energy is palpable. They share a drinking fountain with Tye, the pup. Though there is water for them in three or four places around my yard, they choose the dish right by my front door for their most frequent visits. That spot is my favorite too and so, on a warm afternoon we all, the pup, the bees, and I, sit and nibble on lunch or sit in the sun or sip water. We get along very well and I miss them, all of them, when I go away.

Last week The Obamas visited Asheville. I was in Rhode Island but was giddy with the thrill of this special visit. And when I spoke about my home with my fellow chef/board members, and told them about what they would see on their visit this summer, I felt giddy again. I get to live in this place that is so special. I get to go home right here. I don’t need to travel to get any thrill. I’m happy to go other places but, as I continue to find, with greater and greater depth, everything I need is right here. Oh happy day. Oh happy home. Oh happy life.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Oh lovely day

April 10, 2010

Hello to you an a spectacular Saturday morning in Asheville. Last night was a bit chilly so I put blankets on the columbines I just planted. This morning I uncovered them. I might have to repeat tonight, but it promises to be a nice day and that sun will make the flowers come out. Bees love columbine, I hear. This year everything in my garden will be for them. Yee ha!

I go to Indianapolis this week to talk to a bike club about last spring’s cross-country ride. I still can’t believe I did that ride. Amazing to think that at this time last year I was in Texas. Whew! (Did I tell you I’m going to ride from North Dakota to Maine? 2011. Whee!)

And when I get back things crank up around here. We are headed into our busy season. I’m “omelet babe” for a Bat Mitzvah next weekend and then I head to Rhode Island for a board meeting for Women Chefs and Restaurateurs. We have a good string of weddings on the calendar, many of which I’ll help cook or serve. What fun.

But the very best thing right now is the pleasure of my garden and yard. This is the very best time of year. I have been cleaning out garden beds, one section at a time. On Wednesday I went to the nursery, cashed in the remains of a gift card, loaded up my car with herbs and geraniums and new toys and headed home. My pup helped me weed and watched as I gave the lawns their first mowing. Last weekend a fellow from here helped me move some heavy plants and a stone bench. On Thursday afternoon I dug around and smoothed things out and stuck those new things in the soft earth just before that lovely soaking rain came on Friday.

Now I go home, open the door and just leave it open as I putter around the kitchen. Almost everything in my house has now been dusted (I’m not the best housekeeper, but things are pretty tidy right now) and I am feeling clear and filled with that spring air.

My bees are settling into their new homes in my front yard. I’m getting more bees soon and have been assembling more bee hive parts in the early evenings. This is a calming thing to do. Listening to old-time music, tapping hive bodies and honey super frames together. Tye settles in next to me and all is good.

The other night I got to meet the man who made my bike. He’s one of my heroes and I gushed to him about my bike adventures, past and future. He probably hears that all the time but I felt very special, talking to the person whose company has been so much a part of me in these past years. I just bought a new bike for the next round of adventures and, now that my garden is clean, the biking can commence in earnest.

This afternoon I am a judge at the first “Cupcakes for Cures” contest at the Grove Park Inn. 54 cupcakes. Yikes! I’m going to NEED a bike ride by the time I’m done with all those tastes.

It has been quite a week. Full. Good. I’m glad it is spring. In many ways. I’ll be in touch next week.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Bees have arrived!

April, 2010

The birds’ songs are stronger and stronger at my home these days. They wake me up, perk me up, remind me that this chill is almost done, that spring says are just about here. Finally, I say. Finally.

The arrival of my bees highlighted this past week. I drove to Hendersonville last Sunday on a grey morning, wound up to the top of a mountain, and picked up my “nucs” (the nucleus of the hive.) Each nuc contained a queen and a whole bunch of bees, four frames loaded with workers, babies, a few drones, and a lot of promise.

I tucked the boxes into my car, trying not to be concerned about the few bees hanging on to the outside of the boxes. I need not have worried. All they wanted was to be inside those boxes. They were not at all interested in me.

We drove home, notifying my sister when we were nearly there. I am the new beekeeper but she is my security blanket, standing by, assuring me, silently, that all is well. In truth, again, I had nothing to worry about. The bees had been in their nuc for time enough that all they really wanted, I suspect, was to get out, stretch, settle into their new, roomier digs.

I’d spent the afternoon before their arrival painting, organizing, readying my property for their arrival. My hives had been in my back yard but, after losing them two years in a row, I decided to shift them to the front. It’s a sunny spot and I get to see them all the time. Much better. Much.

By Sunday my excitement took over, replacing any trepidation I might feel about the transfer, the opening of the nuc box, the handling of the frames of bees. The bees hardly made a noise as I opened the lid, lifted out a frame at a time, installing them into their new spot. I breathed more easily after I’d finished the first nuc, and by the second one I took my time, looking, noticing, enjoying the exploration. Queen! Worker! Baby! Wow!.

And on Wednesday my mentor came by to check. Together we went back in, opening up each hive, looking at each frame (there 20 in each hive), identifying, cleaning, checking.

All is good so far. My bees are healthy and strong. And I am determined to do whatever I can to make sure they stay that way. I’ll keep you posted – and will hopefully share some honey with you this season. Stay tuned.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

February Musings

February 12, 2010

G’morning! It’s a snowy, sunny day here in Asheville today. Cold but nice. We had a snowy night last night. It actually took me an hour to get home, a drive that is usually a ten minute breeze. But drivers, excessively cautious, crept along and slowed down at the slightest grade which resulted in them spinning and not moving and then creating small and then huge jams. It was a big mess. I was happy to get home and happy to stay there too. I built a big fire, cooked (!) and watched the Olympics. Funny, they have no snow. We have lots. Curious, that.

We’re setting up for a Christening today. This party was originally supposed to happen in December but we had a big snowstorm. Today’s the rescheduled event. The Garden Room looks so pretty. White tablecloths, pink roses, a festive buffet. Should be nice.

Later on we’re having a birthday party for someone who is turning 70 (or maybe 75, I’m not sure.) I like that. Both ends of the spectrum. Right here. This sort of thing makes me happy.

And we have a big week lined up. Old-time jam is the Tuesday night event. On Wednesday we’ve got the Outward Bounders coming. Next week is a Uke jam, a Safari Dinner, and some uke and fiddle music. We’re talking about doing a Truffle Dinner. Many things are in the works. It’s coming right along.

I’ve been studying to be a certified beekeeper. The test is next Friday and is, for me, a big deal. I’ve been trying to keep bees now for two years. I picked two very hard years to start. The first year we had a severe drought. The next year, excessive rain. The first years are critical for bee-keeping and mine have had a hard time. I attended Intermediate Bee School recently and am now nose-first into my books. MY there is a lot to know. But I am determined to be a good keeper of these magnificent creatures. They matter so much. So much. And the more I know, the better I’ll be (I hope.) The picture, by the way, is a little beeswax bee made by the daughter of our delivery gal.

I’m also starting to work with an old-time fiddle teacher. There is a subtlety to this music. It seems very simple. The tune repeats, repeats again. It is mesmerizing. A friend of mine calls it Mountain mantra music. But for the fiddle the signature comes from the bowing. If you get it, you can play these tunes. If you don’t, it just doesn’t ever get the groove that a dancer moves to. I’m trying to get it. Winter seems a good time. I’m home. It’s dark. The music fills me, creeps into my bow, and gradually, gradually starts to be a part of me. It’s good.

The other big thing right now is glass. I’m playing with it, working on making things symmetrical, thinner, even-walled. This, too, is a mesmerizing thing to do. Any lapse of focus ends up turning the glass into a useless mess. I love the focus of this art. The drawing in, the shaping, the making the piece match the image in my mind. I am moving in the direction of actually being able to make the thing I imagine. I have my first big commission and that is a charge. Ten or fifteen pieces. Somehow matching, yet all different. I’ll start on them very soon.

Life is good right now. Full and rich. Not every single thing is perfect but then, if it was, what would I try for? Hope all is well with you. Happy Valentine’s Day. Happy Mardi Gras. Laissez les bons temps roulez. Pourquoi pas?

Friday, January 15, 2010

New things for the New Year

We've been so full of ideas and activities that I've neglected telling YOU about them. We're now open until 8 during the week. You can come, have a simple meal with us before going to the movies or to a later-night show at The Orange Peel (for example.)

Here's a quick glance of what's going on these days.

MOST importantly, mark MONDAY, January 25 on your calendar. Abigail Washburn is going to be with us, playing her old-time banjo. She used to head up the old-time all-woman band Uncle Earl. She also plays with Sparrow Quarter (with Bela Fleck and Ben Solee.) This is a not-to-be-missed special show. We'll have simple supper and beer and wine specials for you. No cover charge, but plan on leaving her a gift in the tip basket.

Join in Music Jams on Tuesdays:
1st and 3rd Tuesdays play or listen to Old-Time Music.
2nd and 4th Tuesdays play or listen to Ukulele Music.

We're having Cooking Classes on Wednesdays:
(sign up for our e-mail newsletter (on our website) for up to the minute information
or visit the "newsletter" section of our website:

Come for a simple supper and a glass of something on Thursdays.
We call 'em Gourmet Comfort Tunes.
On January 21 listen to Rayna Gellert and friends. Lovely fiddle music.
On January 28 come hear Jenna Lindbo. Here voice is sweet and so are her songs.

Fridays are Lasagna Nights now.
Call to find out this week's special flavor.

And we're adding two "Big kid/Little kid" Cooking classes.
On January 23rd and January 30 we'll have a hands-on class. Starts at 10. Ends at noon. Bring a little kid and have fun together. The cost is 35.00 for both of you.
Want to sign up? Call us at 252-1500.

Finally, on Friday, January 29, we're having another of our Dinner and Conversations. this one will be "A Taste of Tuscany." I'll be cooking (in front of you!) This is a selection of my favorite Tuscan recipes, paired with some wonderful Tuscan wines - five different ones!!! Cost is $55 per person (+ tax). Reserve your spots at 252-1500.

See what I mean????

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Wearer of the Purple

I forgot to mention our most recent accolade:

Best Caterer of Western NC as voted by the Mountain Xpress Readers!

We all got to wear purple wigs, all of us winners, in the paper's phographs. I think we were among the first ones to don these lovely hairpieces because they were still in packages when the photographer arrived.

The other day, in the Asheville Holiday parade, I noticed that the float riders all wore purple wigs. yikes! Could these have been the same wigs that we, and everyone else in town, wore? I sure hope not. I'm especially happy that we were, I think, the first to put them on.

Anyway - happy Thanksgiving to you. I'll try to be a bit more prompt with my notes. Gosh, I get distracted and then I look and see it's been a MONTH or longer since I've written.