Thursday, 17 July 2014

Nashville for Foodies

James and I were lucky enough to be invited to Nashville last weekend to visit my best friend Casey and her husband Ryan. They have a beautiful, brand new house located in the 12 South area of Nashville. The neighborhood is awesome. We were able to walk to coffee shops, hip decorating spots, amazing restaurants and a huge park. Love it there! Also lucky for us Casey and Ryan are also foodies and took us to amazing spots. Here's a roundup of some of them. 

On our first evening in town we went to an adorable vintage cinema (the historic Melrose Theater) that has been revamped into a cocktail lounge upstairs and a restaurant downstairs. It's called Sinema and has the original grand, curved staircase in the lobby and plush booths upstairs. Oh and did I mention the cocktails? Inventive and delicious. 

That night we ate at Burger Up on 12th Avenue. Keep in mind that everywhere we went there was a wait because the places are so fabulous. Casey and I were able to get a spot at the bar while the guys parked the car and we were seated shortly after. James ordered the Bison burger and loved it. Casey and I split a burger topped with red onion and pimento cheese (yum!) and I opted for a side of the heirloom tomato salad. It was fantastic. We sat on the patio but it was fantastic because (get this...) there is air conditioning on the narrow patio. It was fantastic to people watch in this great neighborhood. (Photo from Burger Up's website.)

Casey and I went to Pure Barre the next morning for an hour of an intense workout. There are no Purre Bar studios in Knoxville but I noticed they have a few in Columbus. I'd like to sign up for regular lessons but wow - I was in pain after just one hour. After our workout, we stopped by Bliss Home. The owners have a new (huge) shop in Nashville now. The business opened in Knoxville first so I'm excited to support its growth. 

For lunch (yay, back to food) the four of us walked to Edley's BBQ. It is also in the 12th South neighborhood and serves amazing food. When we arrived, there was a huge line to the door of people waiting to order barbecue but since we were with people in the know we by passed the line and grabbed a table in the bar area. There, we were able to order food and a beverage without having to wait. If you go to Edley's, sit in the bar area! 

James and I split the chicken platter and that was plenty for us to eat! It came with two huge pieces of chicken, a piece of spicy cornbread and two sides. We tried the mac and cheese and baked beans. The platter was just $9.99! I would love to return to Edley's and try more of the dishes. I'm not even that big of a BBQ fan but I'm sold on this place. The service was also surprisingly good even though staff was super busy on a Saturday at lunch time. 

Later that day we went to a community festival in the park near where Casey and Ryan live. The event was called Red, White, and Brew and benefited The Tomorrow Fund. This was a fun time. Why? Food, food trucks, beer, live music, and drawings to win prizes. Patrons received an arm band and two drink tickets. We also got little cards with a listing of all the restaurants that were there to offer samples. Volunteers punched a hole in the card when we received a sample. Check out these little cups of cake. I love how they served them on a circle of wood. 

We were all wild fans of the little pieces of cake from Nothing Bundt Cakes (see below picture) and agreed that it would be a great company to try for parties or a small wedding. 

Another fun sample came from a booth serving corn on the cob. They added cheese and chili powder to the corn and James said it was very tasty. 

The festival also hosted a couple of food trucks (all of the hip cities have them) and we sampled lemon crepes and Chinese sweet bean dumplings. 

The food tour continues... That evening, even though we didn't feel like we could eat another bite of anything, we surprised ourselves and ordered amazing dishes on the patio at Rolf and Daughters

The food really is fantastic. We tried seasonal items such as southern peaches with cream, peppers, and pistachios. WOW! Casey ordered the seaweed butter (very good) and we tried the heirloom tomato salad. Entrees were delicious pasta and we ordered a Carolina rice pudding for dessert. I had no clue that rice pudding could be so delicious! 

Husk is another Nashville favorite and I think I've posted about it before but who can have too many food posts, right? I adore going to brunch and so does Casey and Ryan so we went to the restaurant which is located inside a renovated mansion. The menus are different each day in order to take advantage of local ingredients. Ryan and I ordered a Bloody Mary and it was fantastic - served with a pickled okra and proscuitto. 

We ordered a few plates to share to begin with such as the deviled eggs (love how they are presented), little rice balls that are fried like donuts, and pepper sausage gravy with biscuits. 

My "entree" for brunch was the Husk omelet with three eggs, herbs, and a delicious bit of cheese. The side salad was fresh with ingredients out of Husk's own garden on the property. 

We need to plan a trip back to Nashville soon. But first, weight loss time... :)

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Chitabe Lediba Camp

Out of the three camps that we stayed at, we loved the rooms at Chitabe Lediba the best. They were large, well-appointed and had amble space to unpack your clothes for safari. Because you are only allotted so much weight for your bags, you have to have laundry done almost every day and it helps to be able to lay out your things so you can tell what is clean and what is dirty.

The rooms had lovely, large verandas that looked out onto fields where birds fed and Verdent Monkeys played. The tents do not "lock" so all valuables go into the safe but they all have a latch on the outside to secure when you leave. Why? The monkeys are so clever that they'll open the doors to go inside and look for food and wreak havoc. 

Here's what they look like. Aren't they so cute? I could sit and watch them for hours. They are so agile. 

One morning, at the Xigera camp, just before dawn, I was nibbling on a muffin and sat it down to drink some coffee. We were all having breakfast before leaving on a boat ride to see wildlife. I was watching a monkey that looked pretty brave. He climbed down from the roof of the main building and scurried along the rail coming towards me. Before I knew what was happening, he boldly looked me in the eye and snatched the muffin right off of my plate! It was hilarious and we laughed about it all day. The animals seemed to grasp that I was the weakest link of the group.

At Chitabe, we went out in these vehicles before dawn every morning and then took an afternoon drive until about dusk in the evenings. We would get a break for lunch and siesta. The point of going out at these times of day is to take pictures of animals in the best light. 

One afternoon, we had what I thought was one of the best wildlife encounters of the trip. We spent time with a handsome, male cheetah! Before spotting him, we encountered black-backed jackals playing. (That is rare to see in daylight.)

But back to the cheetah... our driver, B.B., noticed some cheetah tracks while driving and we began to follow them. As he was scanning the horizon, looking at the base of trees on little hills, he noticed the outline of the cheetah. It was pretty far away and we were all very impressed. Animals can be very difficult to find in the wild, but once you spot them, they are fairly easy to view at a close distance. 

Isn't he gorgeous?! I cannot understand why some people hunt big game such as cats, elephants, and rhinos. The populations do not need to be culled and they serve specific purposes in the intricate African ecosystems. Anyway, we spent about an hour and a half with this beautiful boy. Notice that the dark spots on his neck have longer hair that the lighter fur. So interesting! 

I was able to capture some great footage of this cat and put together a little video. The music is recorded from a special dinner where the staff performed native songs for us.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Teeny, Tiny Airplanes

Here's something that I struggle with when it comes to fear: flying. This fear has only developed in my 30s. I used to be afraid of nothing (except spiders) but after years of covering news, and Cessna plane crashes with no survivors, I become pretty nervous during take-off and landing. 

So, something you have to brace yourself for on safari, is riding in teeny, tiny airplanes. The first flight we took to Botswana was in this itty bitty plane (above) that is apparently an Australian version of a Cessna. There were only six seats and I stupidly sat directly behind the pilot and could see everything that was going on. 

The irrational fear feed in my mind went like this: I am really not ready to die yet. I probably should have just stayed home. Wonder what it will feel like to crash. Is this pilot any good? He looks really young to be flying a plane... and so on... The embarrassing part was that tears just started running out of my eyes as we taxied for take-off. I looked out of the window and James politely patted my hand a few times. We made it but I was sick to my stomach the entire time. I did some deep breathing and kept telling myself that I was not going to vomit in front of James' parents and our guide. I didn't! 

Our next three flights were in larger planes (thank goodness) and I didn't have to cry or throw up. Winning. 

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Birthday dinner at DeepWood

My parents treated me to a lovely 35th birthday dinner with last night. Dannen and James joined us and we went to DeepWood Restaurant on North High Street. We enjoyed a fantastic atmosphere, professional service, and delicious, inventive food. Mom even ordered flowers for me from Oberer's Flowers

We started by ordering charcuterie that is made in the DeepWood kitchen by Chef Brian. We tried lamb sausage, duck proscuitto, and bacon terrine. It was fantastic. Dad, Dannen, and I also tried raw Prince Edward oysters. Very tasty.

The chef sent out a starter of watermelon, pickled watermelon rind, balsamic reduction and kalamata olive stuffed with goat cheese!

For my entree, I tried the rabbit "porchetta." It was served with spring vegetables, pistachio, anise grissini, and carrot/fennel puree. 

We also ordered Two Messengers pinot noir from Willamette Valley, Oregon. I've never had this before and we loved it. I lived near the Willamette Valley and always try wine from the region when I can.

We had such a great time together. Many thanks to my family for the special night. 

Xigera Camp, Botswa

After staying at the Selinda Camp, we moved on to Xigera, which is a camp that is based on the water. We were able to see lots of birds and beautiful groves of papyrus. The rooms were pretty and well appointed.

We loved the deck in front of the room. It overlooked the water and was very peaceful. One night Verdent Monkeys were playing on our deck and we watched them from a distance. 

The "Do Not Disturb" signs were adorable. You just put these across the walk way to your tent. 

One day we took a boat ride to bird watch and take pictures of big game from the water. We were able to get pretty close to a huge old bull elephant. He was magnificent! 

 After our boating trip, we ate lunch on a little island, set up for us by the fabulous Xigera staff.

Here's a look at some of the beautiful birds we saw on our adventure:

Saddle-billed Stork

James :)

Lilac-breasted Roller

African Fish Eagle

Grey Go-Away Birds

I put together a short video of elephant clips including shots of the elephant we watched on our Xigera trip.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Lion tracks and a big Hippo

On another day while we were staying at Selinda Camp (in Botswana), we had a perfect morning on the water. We left at 6am from camp and took a boat to the camp's boat launch at another site. The clouds reflected on the water and all around us the light was dim enough for the water to look like a smoky mirror, perfectly reflecting the clouds. We we made it to the jetty and loaded into the truck, our guide noticed fresh lion tracks. I photographed one to show the size perspective as compared to a human female adult's hand.

The tracks were from an adult female lion. (I'm wearing gloves in the photo because around 6:30am in Botswana in June, it is in the 40s).

Before we even left on our game drive, we had quite the excitement. Our guide collected us from our tent and then we gathered James' parents from their tent. At 6am, it is dark and Grant led the way to the breakfast fire where coffee was waiting (thank goodness). Before we made the last turn to the main lodge, Grant stopped us and said in an unconcerned voice, "Hey guys. Just stop here and slowly back up to that large tree there. There's a hippo in the path and it would be great if you could wait behind the tree." I was right behind Grant on the path. He shined his flashlight on the huge beast and I couldn't believe my eyes. Hippos are enormously round. Who knows how their seemingly small legs hold them up. Maybe that's why they spend most of the day in the water. Their skin doesn't do too well in the sun either so they usually feed at night. 

We backed up behind the tree as instructed and Grant moved ahead with his flashlight on high beam, shining it back and forth across the path while clapping and talking loudly to the hippo. She looked at him, had another bite of tasty tall grass and slowly moved away. Grant called us to come on and we moved quickly, without a word.

On the day of this encounter, in my journal, I wrote that game drives can be fairly boring. It's true. You can drive for hours while only seeing a few birds and impala. That's the joy of safari, however. Around the next corner, life is different! While driving on this particular morning we saw another hippo out of water and some wildebeest. We were almost nodding off in the vehicle when our guide suddenly noticed two male lions walking in tall grass. They were following a pride of lionesses, attempting to catch their scent and possibly even mate. 

Most of the lionesses were having none of it because there were a few cubs in the pride. Male lions often try to kill cubs to eliminate competition in the wild for food. These two moved a bit slowly because one seemed to have a sore elbow but they pursued the ladies for a couple of hours. Then, it was nap time. 

I captured some video of the beautiful boys and put together a short video using a Sony NEX-5 and iMovie.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Warthogs, Lions, Wild Dogs...

I've already droned on about it… but I may never get another chance to go to Africa on a photo safari so I'll be sharing a few more details for the next week. I understand if you are getting bored reading about it, but please check out my videos. The animals deserve it! I mean, look at these lion cubs nursing:

At Selinda Camp (in Northern Botswana), a staff member would bring us hot coffee at 5:30am with our wake-up "call." I think it is so funny but even though there is nothing to knock on (we stayed in tents), the person would say "Knock, knock" when they came to get us. At 6:00am, our guide Grant Atkinson of Atkinson Photography and Safaris would pick us up at our tents while it was still dark out.

From there, we'd have a quick breakfast by the fire and leave for our game drives at 6:30am sharp. For the first 30 minutes we wouldn't see much at all (the animals must love to sleep too) but then as the sun would start to make its presence known over the horizon, we'd invariably start to see big game.

Here's a look at the vehicles that we'd jump into early in the mornings:

On our first day we were able to see a Wild Dog pack! They are rare to see in the wild but after tracking them for an hour, we found them (barely) but noticing the black color on their coats in the grass. Their size is comparable to a medium-sized dog, about 50-60 pounds. Their ears are so funny though, shaped like big cups. 

The pack that we spent time with was made up of a few females (as well as one alpha male, I think) and they had a den nearby. Grant explained that a female can have a litter of 12 puppies at one time. The dogs make a twittering, high-pitched sound when interacting. They hunt impala and apparently have large hearts so that they can run long distances while hunting (up to 15k!). They are difficult to domesticate, however, because they nip each other when socializing. 

Also on our first day we tracked (this means that the guide watched for tracks and drives in the direction the animal seemed to be headed) lionesses to a kill. It was incredible. We found them and there were at least eight lionesses with a few cubs chowing down on a wildebeest. It was almost finished but what a sight! 

In the journal I kept during my time in Africa I wrote on the first night:

Absolutely amazing day. I'm sitting in the lodge now under one of the few sources of strong light while everyone is gathered around the fire. I can hear frogs on the water and their calls sound like delicate bells ringing slowly. We saw so many animals on our drive including jackal, lions and cubs, giraffes, warthog, wild dog, hooded vultures, and African Fish Eagles.

On this trip I got the bug back for video work and would take a few clips when the animals moved. I hope you enjoy!