Simple treasures: The best BLT ever

For a very brief time, Hubby and I owned a home in the triangle area of North Carolina. Although our plans to relocate there changed, we like to visit now and then. When we do, the one stop that’s always de rigeur is Merritt’s Store and Grill in Chapel Hill.

Apart from the fact that Merritt’s is a delightful, welcoming place, where both staff and customers always greet you with a smile, the truth is that it’s the home of the best darn BLT in the USA. Honest. With all the fancy restaurants in Chapel Hill, the only one that calls to us, every time, is Merritt’s.

I’m not sure what they do to make the BLTs so good, so remarkable; but I can tell you that you won’t be disappointed if you try one. They are brimful  with bright green leaf lettuce, a generous serving of perfectly crisped bacon, and big, beautiful tomato slices that taste great even when tomatoes aren’t in season. I’m not sure how they manage that.

And, of course, there’s mayo, and, yes, it’s probably Duke’s, which is a veritable institution down south.

The bread, made fresh daily at The Bread Shop is nearby Pittsboro, is great, too. My preference, sunflower, is another North Carolina institution. There are other possibilities, including a gluten-free option. You can add on to your BLT if you prefer—that Southern invention, pimiento cheese, or avocado, for example. In my humble opinion, however, adding anything to a Merritt’s BLT is gilding the lily.

And here’s another reason to visit Merritt’s. If you time it just right, you can enjoy some fantastic old-time fiddlin’, pickin’, and singin’. Check Merritt’s website—link above—or Facebook page to find out what’s going on.

merritts

Nothing fancy—just good things to eat.

merritts crew

The gang you can thank for those BLTs.

I dream of Italy

When the weekend approaches, I often find myself daydreaming about all the wonderful places we’ve been. I’ve got Italy on my mind today, perhaps because it’s so warm and sunny here, perhaps because there are beautiful fresh tomatoes on the counter and basil thriving in the backyard, perhaps because there’s a field of sunflowers nearby, perhaps because I never really get Italy (or France, for that matter) entirely out of my head…

So today I’m sharing a few photos of our daydream-worthy visit to the remarkable, enchanting Cinque Terre. I’ve shown you photos of some of the food we enjoyed in this magical region in a previous post, but this time it’s all about the views. Do enjoy, and do visit if you’re lucky enough to be in Italy.

 

Cover photo: “Modern” recreational vessels punctuate an ancient seascape in Monterosso al Mare. Each of these photos is my own work.

Mystic-ism

I’d wanted to visit Mystic Seaport in Connecticut for years by the time we finally got there on a misty (sorry—I couldn’t resist) day a few summers ago. Mystic is a delightful trip back in time if you appreciate the American Colonial period, and a great history lesson for kids. It’s easier to enjoy in spring or fall, when the tourist volume is lower. Earlier today, I was going through my photos and thought you might enjoy these.

Mystic schooner

 

 

O Canada!

Next to France and Italy, which for me is a toss-up, I love Québec best. I won’t speak for Hubby, but I believe he feels pretty much the same way. Therefore, in honor of Canada Day, and all things Canadian, here are just a few photos from past summer trips. In the cityscape cover photo, you can see almost all of the walled Vieux Ville, the old city, with the Château Frontenac at its heart on the right, overlooking the St. Lawrence. It is all so lovely. If I could just wish myself there, right now…

 

Dutch country ‘Roots’

Even when you’re not completely #retired, there’s more time for spur-of-the-moment adventures.

Finding ourselves with an obligation-less day, on Tuesday we set out for the legendary Root’s Market in Pennsylvania Dutch country. There were other possibilities, of course, but Root’s is open ONLY on Tuesdays, and we knew it would be an easy ride that wouldn’t consumer the entire day.

Farmers’ markets are ubiquitous in this part of the world. Central Pennsylvania, once you get out of its small cities, is still replete with farmland even though much of it, sadly, has been sold off for development. In the summer months, we never buy fruit or vegetables in the supermarket—we go right to the source. There’s a farm market not too far away that has been in the same family for more than a century. More about that one on another day as it deserves its own post!

People have been telling us about the wonders of Root’s for years. Even though the best of the summer bounty is still a few weeks away, we thought that it might have something unique to offer.

And, in a way, it did: a cast of thousands. Shoppers, that is, purchasing everything from $1 boxes of assorted school supplies to fruits and vegetables to locally smoked meats  to flowering plants… and then some. Although disbursed through several buildings and the outdoor areas between them, the crowd was thick and slow-moving. And it was hot.

I made a few discoveries:

One is that even the Amish have discovered the selling power of designer coffee.

Another is that if you have a grandchild who likes matchbox vehicles, you can find them there, “at a good price.”

The third is that the larger the market, the larger the crowd, the more overwhelming the display, the less inclined we are to buy anything. Hubby and I are very much alike in that respect.

And so, we’ve done Root’s. Our next fruit-and-veggie buy will be at one of our local farm stands. And our next spontaneous day trip will probably be to a rose garden.

 

 

One in a thousand

It’s a gloomy Friday. While I appreciate the good things that rainy days do for the water supply, the bounty of fruits and vegetables our farmers will be harvesting soon, and the flowers and shrubs in my “dooryard,” as my Maine relatives call it,  I would prefer some of that sunshine we had a few days ago.

So I guess I’ll just have to create it for us, with a photo tour of our cruise on the 1000 Islands a summer or two ago.

The 1000 Islands, on the Canadian Border in northwestern New York, had been on my you-know-what-list since roughly 1971, when I worked with a well-known photographer whose family had a summer place on one of the islands. Stunned by his photos and fascinated that there were not one, but two, castles there, I determined to see them someday. More than 40 years later, Hubby and I were on our way.

To start with, it was an easy ride north, straight up 81. And every day after that was easy and relaxing as well. The St. Lawrence, which surely must be one of the most beautiful rivers on the planet, is one of the longest and most complex water systems in North America. The water is French marine blue and the air is crisp and clean. This is one of the few tourist boat excursions you absolutely should take—totally relaxing and well worth the price for the history and lore you hear along the way.

We always do road trips in September, to avoid the summer throngs. If you like more activity, such as summer festivals,  you won’t find much to do in the 1000 Islands after Labor Day, save to enjoy the considerable natural beauty.  That was fine for us, especially for a first visit. We stayed on the US side but did drive across the bridge to Ontario to visit the charming town of Gananoque. Yes, that’s a French name, and there’s a French festival in Cape Vincent, on the US side, every July. If we ever go back that way, I’d like to be there then, crowds or not, loving all things French as I do.

There are actually 1,864 islands in the archipelago; the qualification for island status, as you will find on the website linked above, is that the island must be visible 365 days per year and must have at least one tree. And yes, the salad dressing probably originated there.

If by chance your weather is as dismal as ours, or even if it isn’t, perhaps you’ll enjoy some photos from our cruise. Perhaps you’ll plan your own visit if you haven’t been there. The cover photo, above, is Boldt Castle.

 

 

 

 

Right under your nose

When I was a kid burying my feet (thankfully, not my head, although I’ve been accused of that on occasion) in the sand in Ocean City NJ, I used to love watching for the banner-towing planes that flew back and forth over the crowded beaches.  The sky banner I remember most vividly advertised a nightclub in “wet” Somer’s Point, just outside “dry” Ocean City:

Your Father’s Mustache… where the time of your life is right under your nose.

I’ve pilfered that versatile slogan time and time again. So many treasures and curiosities lie just beneath the visible surface of our everyday lives—just under your nose, in fact. When you’re #retired, you have time to search them out. And so I did today.

My initial goal was to locate a photo of the restoration of a historic church in Harrisburg, PA, where I was raised but not born (that was Boston, remember?). My uncle, an Old World-worthy stonemason, had rebuilt the brickwork some 50 years ago. While my search for the photo proved fruitless, in the process I stumbled on an interesting website—The Historical Markers Database, “an illustrated searchable online catalog of historical information viewed through the filter of roadside and other permanent outdoor markers, monuments, and plaques” produced and maintained by an “organization of self-directed volunteers” and over 500 “contributing correspondents.”

Within the database listing for “Old Salem Church,” I found nothing about the  church’s restoration, but I did find links to other historic sites in Harrisburg, including “The Peanut House.” My mother had often talked about the little store at 2nd and Chestnut Streets, run by  Italian immigrant Salvatore Magaro, and for years I’d thought the owners were cousins. The digging I did today leads me to believe that they probably were not. What I did discover, however, is that “The Peanut House,” in a prior incarnation, figured in the genesis of our National Anthem. Here are excerpts from the inscription on the marker:

On this site for nearly 180 years stood a two and a-half story brick building with ties to local, state and national history. Initially the home of early settler John Frey, the house was sold in 1817 to a noted clockmaker, Frederick Heisley, whose son George is linked to the National Anthem. George Heisley, during the War of 1812, was a member of Pennsylvania’s First Regiment. At the siege of Fort McHenry in Baltimore, September 1814, he reportedly provided Francis Scott Key with music for the Star Spangled Banner.

The house later was owned by the Boyd Family, then a succession of merchants. At various times it was an oyster house, a dry cleaning business and a restaurant. Its nickname, “The Peanut House,” comes from Salvatore Magaro, an Italian immigrant who came to America as a stowaway at age 17 in 1889. In 1921 he leased the building and turned it into a grocery store and living quarters. His store, “The Buzy Corner,” lasted 70 years and earned a reputation and a name for its fresh vegetables and its nickel-a-bag fresh-roasted peanuts.

Considering that I’ve lived in Central Pennsylvania for so much of my life, it’s pretty sad that I know so little local history, and that local history as a discipline gets so little attention. So—here’s an idea for those summer days when you’re looking for something to do with your partner, your pals, or your grands. Go to the Historical Marker Database, pick a location near you, and head out the door. You may be pleasantly surprised at what’s been right under your nose all along.