The Butler’s Tour at Biltmore House in Asheville: a Footopian Paradise

Because I couldn’t possibly fit all the wonderful things that went on at the Food Blog Forum in Asheville, NC  into one post, I decided to break my account up into a few smaller, more manageable bites. This is the second post in my series on the 2014 Food Blog Forum in Asheville, and here’s a link to the first. I’m picking up my account at the end of a busy day at the Lioncrest property on Biltmore Estate, following a morning filled with hearing excellent speakers, a delicious lunch prepared by the chefs there at Lioncrest, networking with other bloggers, and getting to meet the folks from OXO and KitchenAid.

At the end of the conference itself, we got the scoop on some big news: Food Blog Forum 2015 will be held in Orlando, home to that famous chef, Minnie Mouse. Here you see Anne and me modeling reproductions of Minnie’s famous apron,- I believe the original apron is probably in the Smithsonian, next to Julia Child’s kitchen. Or not.


I'm hoping that divine light shining down from above means I'm destined to go to Orlando.

That divine light shining down from above might mean I’m destined to go to Orlando.

So, late Monday afternoon, The Biltmore Estate treated the food bloggers to a tour that would make ANY foodie or history buff drool: we were given a special tour of The Biltmore House, titled the The Butler’s Tour, which took me to a room I have never visited before, in all my visits to the house: the Butler’s Pantry.

Two floors worth of china and crystal! Photo courtesy of The Biltmore Estate.

Two floors worth of china and crystal! Photo courtesy of The Biltmore Estate.


The kitchen downstairs. All the beautiful pots and pans are original to the house. Photo courtesy of The Biltmore Estate. 

There are two special hidden doors that lead in and out of the butler’s pantry, and as you might guess, they are located off of the Breakfast Room, and the very large Dining Room. The kitchen staff prepared food in the spacious downstairs kitchen, and then loaded the large platters and tureens of food onto two dumbwaiters that run between the downstairs kitchen, and the Butler’s Pantry on the first floor. In the butler’s pantry, the food was unloaded from the dumbwaiters, and placed on an island in the center of the room. The walls surrounding the island on two sides were filled with beautiful sets of china and crystal – two floors worth of china and crystal! So, from there, the food was plated and made ready to be served in the dining room and breakfast room. Such a cool tour it was, for a foodie, a lover of Downton Abbey, or even just someone who loves history.

Obligatory statuary photo taken in front of Biltmore House: I call this one Anne, Fluffy, and Sooze.

Obligatory statuary photo taken in front of Biltmore House: I call this one Anne, Fluffy, and Sooze.

So, after our tour, we were driven up to the top of the hill that overlooks the house, (I believe they call that lot the Rachel) where the Biltmore Estate hosted a lovely reception for all the conference attendees. They had set up a massive tent, where the chefs from the various restaurants on the Estate had set up stations with delicious specialties from each of their restaurants. Here’s the view from the top of the hill: 

Our view from under the reception tent.

Our view from under the reception tent.

Obligatory Selfie.  As you do.

Obligatory Selfie.
As you do.

I wouldn't be a food blogger if I didn't show you my favorite bite: the short rib in the dish melted in my mouth. Popover with herbed goat cheese in foreground.

I wouldn’t be a food blogger if I didn’t show you my favorite bite: the short rib in the dish melted in my mouth. Popover with herbed goat cheese in foreground.

They served two lovely wines at the reception, a Pinot Grigio and a Pinot Noir,  that are made there on the estate. I enjoyed the Pinot Grigio, and I have to say that the quality of the wines wearing the Biltmore Estate label have vastly improved since I first tasted them, around 10 years ago. 

This was the wine I enjoyed at the reception that the Biltmore Estate held for us.

This was the wine I enjoyed at the reception that the Biltmore Estate held for us. Photo courtesy of the Biltmore Estate.

I do want to give my most sincere thanks to the folks at the Biltmore Estate. George Vanderbilt would have been delighted with the warm hospitality you showed your guests, by the excellent cuisine, and by the lovely wines you served. The Biltmore Estate is a destination I hope to visit again, and again. There’s always something more to see, something new to learn, and if I ever learned it all, I’d still have the gorgeous scenery of the Blue Ridge mountains to look at, the cool mountain air, and the warmth of the people of Asheville to enjoy. 


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Carpe Ovi: Seize the Egg Or How I Met the #MusicRowChicken

One of the things I love about Nashville is that it is still enough of a small town, that you can have the kind of experience that I had Sunday morning. 
All the way home from church, we kept laughing and shaking our heads over the wonder of it.. And driving home was a good 45 minute drive, too.
Even now, I almost can’t believe it happened.

Today’s story actually had its origins back in April, when I took a trip to Grand Cayman. 
Grand Cayman is a wonderful, magical, mystical place, and certainly worthy of being written about, and perhaps some day I’ll do that, but for now, let’s just answer this question:  How does TODAY’S story, which happened in Nashville,  begin in Grand Cayman?
I can sum it up in 3 words. Two, really, if you take the hyphen into account:

Free-Range Chicken.

Grand Cayman is a little island south of Cuba, and after Hurricane Ivan, when much of the island was laid waste, what wasn’t leveled got blown around quite a bit. Including the chickens. So houses and farms were flattened, but many of their chickens survived. True, they’d been tossed about much like a Chicken Caesar Salad, but they lived on. And the chickens not only survived, they thrived. So now, many, many chickens roam the island, oh-so-free range, mon. Pretty much everywhere we went, there were the chickens.

My favorite memory of Grand Cayman’s free-range chickens happened outside a restaurant that sold rotisserie chicken and side dishes, for a fairly reasonable price – because food on Grand Cayman Island will set you back a wing and a drumstick, if you know what I mean.  Anyway, we were in the parking lot outside this restaurant, called, perhaps unsurprisingly, “Chicken Chicken”, when what should wander by our feet as we stepped out of the van, but Chicken, Chicken, and his other brother, Chicken. Which got us to wondering if perhaps these particular chickens were suicidal, or guilt-ridden, and coming to turn themselves in. Or at least, risk-takers, perhaps playing Chicken. (“I dare ya to run up and touch the door!!! Whatsa matter? Too CHICKEN???”)

From that (chicken) meal on, we couldn’t help but notice the free-range chickens roaming about the island, wherever we went, and it was kind of fun seeing who could spot them first.

Which leads me to something that happened to me a few months later, about a month ago: I had exited the building where I attend church, which happens to be located on the very famous Music Row, here in Nashville. The neighborhood where we attend church is not downtown, technically, but is very, very urban – just up the hill from the downtown area. The neighborhood is called Music Row, and it is zoned at least partially commercially. It consists of old houses  that have been turned into offices for the music industry: publishing businesses, recording studios, music houses, and the occasional high rise. 

Walking to my car, what should I see in this completely urban area? A chicken. Roaming freely, right beside the the mirrored office building that belongs to SESAC (a performance rights organization). It was making its poultry-like way along on the grass beside the SESAC building. Flashback: Grand Cayman! I was so surprised that I did a double-take, just to be sure I was seeing what I thought I was seeing. I came home and made a Facebook status, as you do, about seeing a free-range chicken on Music Row. Right? Because you know you would have, too! #MusicRowChicken

A few weeks later, on a  Sunday morning: there that chicken was again! Patrolling the SESAC building. Weirdest thing!

Henry strutting her stuff on the street.

Henry, strutting her stuff on the street, as it were.

Henry reflecting on the demise of the SESAC building.

If you look behind Henry, you can see the reflection of both Henry and me in the SESAC window.

So, this week, my husband and I are sitting in the car, waiting for our daughter to exit her high school Sunday school class, and THERE’S THAT CHICKEN – AGAIN!!! Now this time, there were a couple of people watching it. They were on their phones, apparently, taking pictures of it. Not one to be scooped, but also not wanting to just be one of the flock, I waited till they were done, and gone, and then, taking along my trusty iPad, I walked over to the SESAC building and started shooting pictures. And this is what I saw.

Next thing I know, a guy approaches me, and says, “Are you taking pictures of Henry?”

“Why, yes, I am,” I reply. (making the leap that, hopefully, this chicken’s name is Henry.)

“Oh, she loves it out here by this building. Loves to look at herself in the mirrors.”  (The SESAC office building is completely mirror-tinted glass.)

Turns out, this guy is Henry’s caretaker. And Henry is a girl. 
A hen.

And he lives just a few doors down from the SEASAC building. 

Greg feeding Henry.

Greg feeding Henry her organic breakfast. Only the best! Yet the cost is mere chicken feed.

He comes out and feeds Henry, organic feed only (OF COURSE!!! This is Nashville! We have standards!!!), and in the course of our conversation, where he assures me that even though he believed at first that she was a rooster, Henry IS a girl, he then tells me that she sleeps in his house, at night, and that each morning, she leaves him a lovely egg. And then he says, 

“I’m not a vegetarian, or anything, but, they’re her babies, and I just can’t bring myself to eat them. I like eggs….but…they’re HERS!!!”

And so I ask him what he does with them.

“Well, I give them away to people. People tell me they’re really good. Would you like some? I have a bowlful in the fridge.”

I carefully begin weighing the risk/reward factor.

He COULD be an axe murderer. But Henry came to him when he called her. And she still has HER head. And surely her head would have been a likelier first option for his Chopping Block of Death, if he IS an axe murderer. Plus, my husband is in the car, watching us, wondering why in the world I’m talking to this guy in the T-shirt and shorts for such a long time.

What the heck. How often do you get offered free free-range eggs, am I right? Throwing caution to the wind, which in this case is related to counting my chickens before they’ve hatched, only different, I walk with him down the alley, and motion for my husband to follow us in the car, and we walk to Greg’s house.

He points to the other houses, there beside the SESAC building: “These are all going to be torn down in the next 90 days or so, you know. The SESAC building will ultimately be coming down, too, but later. They’re building a high rise condominium.”

“What will become of Henry?” I ask.

“Oh, I’ll take her with me, wherever I go. I’ll build her a chicken coop, too. Let me show you where she sleeps at night.”

By this time, my husband, who followed us down the alley in the car, has tentatively made his way into the house, and I have introduced him to Greg. Did I mention that the walls are covered in chicken art? Hens and roosters, on canvas, line the walls. 


Please note the art work adorning Greg’s walls.

The blue table is Henry's perch, from which she watches the people and cars of Music Row. The chair is her nest - note the indentation.

The blue table is Henry’s perch, from which she watches the people and cars of Music Row. The chair is her nest – note the indentation.

“So, here’s where she likes to sit at night. I put down diapers on the floor, but she likes to perch up here, and watch the traffic and the people go by. And here’s where she sleeps at night, ” he says, pointing to a chair beside the doorway.

Henry has her own gosh darn throne-perch, with a slight indentation in the cushion on which she sleeps. (I’m guessing that this is where she lays her daily egg, but I’m not positive about that detail.) There’s a little bowl of chicken food on the floor, and a little bowl of water beside it.

And then, Greg pulls the bowl of chicken-children-that-will-never-be from the refrigerator, and proceeds to wrap them tenderly in toilet paper, laying them on a paper plate-nest for us, and we thank him, and begin making our way back to the Boonies: that place we live, out in the country…where people have chickens and stuff. 

Because life had NO irony.

There are stories, all around us, everywhere, because there are people all around us, everywhere.  (And, apparently, there might be chickens pretty much everywhere, as well.)
Life is full of the extraordinary.
And I think you find the extraordinary, by appreciating the ordinary. 
If I’d sat on my tail, in the car, and failed to go enjoy that moment with Henry, I never would have had the delightful experience that I had today, nor would I have eaten the delicious Sunday lunch I just ate.
breakfast from Henry
(Thank you again, Henry. Your unfertilized children were delicious.)
It makes me wonder…how many experiences come our way, and slip right through our fingers, all because we aren’t open enough to take a tiny risk: to speak to that stranger, to ask a question, to take the time to really listen.
In the past, I’ve called those things divine appointments. Which I believe them to be.

Greg gave me a treasure today, and he didn’t know me from Chicken Little.
The Circle of Life goes on, deliciously, and I’m thankful to both Greg, and Henry.
I hope Greg and Henry find a wonderful new place to live, before the 90 days are up. 
Although I secretly kind of hate that Henry will lose her mirrored office building, where she could gaze upon her own loveliness. 
But it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if Greg put a up a mirror on the side of her brand new coop. 
Because he’s just that kind of a guy.

Life is short: carpe ovi!
Seize the egg!

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A Review of Train’s New Project: Bulletproof Picasso

 I participated in the Train Bulletproof Picasso album review program as a member of One2One Network. I was provided a free album to review but all opinions are my own.

It’s my pleasure to have the opportunity to review the latest project from the three-time Grammy winning San Francisco band, Train. Their newest album, Bulletproof Picasso, is available for pre-order at iTunes, giving their fans a chance to jump on board that Train a bit early, prior to its September 16th release date.  Heh heh – see what I did there? 

I loved so many tunes on this album: these guys are hook-masters. This project is rife with memorable, hooky, immediately singable phrases. Here are a few of my favorite songs: “Son of A Prison Guard”, “Bulletproof Picasso”, and then, there was the song “Don’t Grow Up So Fast”, which made me feel a little bit like Charlene Darlin’ of The Darling Clan on “The Andy Griffith Show”. (The girl who said, “Oh, no, Pa! That ‘un makes me cry!”)  I have a teenage daughter. What can I say? Watching them grow up so fast can be a deeply emotional thing.

Another one of my favorite songs, “Angel in Blue Jeans”,  quickly grabbed my sonic attention  by the juxtaposition of the sounds of an old western movie with a young hipster musical chant.  Even better, they created what I believe to be a very tongue-in-cheek video for the song,  which was released on Vevo, on July 15th. The last time I saw the starring actor, Danny Trejo, he wasn’t riding a motorcycle. His head was riding on the back of a tortoise, in the role of Tortuga, on the TV show “Breaking Bad”. So I find the sight of him singing with the voice of an angel (which is actually the voice of Train lead singer Pat Monahan)  absurdly ironic and amusing. And to top it all off, this crusty looking hombre gets the very gorgeous girl (Hannah Simone  from the TV show ‘New Girl’) in the video, besting the handsome sheriff (Pat Monahan). Delicious!!!

You have to watch!  

“Cadillac, Cadillac” reminds me stylistically of music from The Police, back in the day, but you decide if you hear what I hear.


If you’d like to pre-order your own copy of Bulletproof Picasso, here are some links you might find helpful: 

* iTunes:

 * Amazon:

Train will also be performing live on the QVC channel on September 5th, at 5PM, Eastern Time, so if you’re a fan of the group that gave us such huge tunes as Calling All Angels, and their global smash “Hey Soul Sister,” (which not only won a Grammy, but was a #1 hit and the biggest selling single of 2010), you’ll want to be sure to tune in. 


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