Saturday, August 23, 2014

Swing Lowe!

Have you been to Lowe Mill yet? If not, you should definitely swing by.  This old cotton mill in Huntsville just southeast of downtown has been converted into a home for arts and entertainment and is billed as the Southeast's Largest Center for the Arts.

Enjoying Tea and chocolates!

The only reason I found out about Lowe Mill was because I was on a quest for tea.  After sampling that wonderful tea from Piper and Leaf at Huntsville's food truck rally, I was desperately wishing for some more. After doing some online research, I noticed that Piper and Leaf had a shop in Lowe Mill. I wasn't sure what Lowe Mill was, but Scott knew, so off we went. When we pulled up to the old cotton mill, we were a bit confused as to where to start looking for Piper and Leaf. No worries! The tea peddlers are almost the first shop you find when you leave the parking lot.  The shop is tiny and there were a couple of customers ahead of me so I looked around, checking out all the tea flavors and the eclectic decor.

When it was my turn at the tea bar I quickly asked for the Front Porch Special which is a blend of Earl Gray tea, jasmine and spearmint.  I had guzzled a gallon of this tea at the food truck rally.  One of the guys working there told me this was their most popular flavor. I absolutely love the quart sized canning jars they serve the tea in. They come with screw on lids with a hole in the tops for straws. How often do you go into a restaurant and wish they would just bring the pitcher? That's kind of what this is like because a quart of tea is a lot of tea! I left Piper and Leaf with my jar of Front Porch Special and a bag of the same blend of tea and spices for brewing at home. I will tell you that my brewing at home is not as good as Piper and Leaf's brewing, but it carries me through until I can get to Piper and Leaf again.

We left Piper and Leaf and meandered on through the old mill. That is when I made another happy discovery...chocolate!  Tea and chocolate, does it get any better?  Not for me! Pizelle's Confections has some of the prettiest and tastiest handmade truffles around.  With names like Green Dragon, Depth Charge and Sexyback and flavors such as cardamom, local stout and chipotle, I was overwhelmed in a very good way!  Since making decisions is not my long suit, I opted for a box of 12 different truffles so I could try one of almost every kind they had in the case. 

From left to right starting at the top, here's what I got...
Top row: Afternoon Delight, Sureshot, Steel Magnolia, ?, Depth Charge
Bottom row: Date Night, Goodbye Earl, The Holy Trinity, El Machete, Nut Job, 7th Street Truffle and Green Dragon.
The only one I can't remember the name of happens to be the one I loved the most. The fourth one on the top row with the flowers. Maybe someone from Pizzelle's will come on here and tell me what it is. It was slightly spicy and oh, so good! 

Rob waiting in Pizzelle's.
The Steel Magnolia was so cute I almost hated to eat it...almost!

With chocolate and tea in hand, we decided to scout out the rest of Lowe Mill to see what we could discover. We took this old cotton elevator to scope out all three floors.  See my friend on the elevator. He posed for me. We decided he looked like he was behind bars!  I loved the old elevator. It gives the whole place lots of personality.

I'm not sure what that old piece of equipment is, but I love that Lowe Mill is embracing its roots by leaving these pieces in place. The floors of the old mill are filled with vendors, shops and artists of every imaginable kind. We saw textile art, jewelry, paintings, name it! If it is art, Lowe Mill probably has it. 

I also understand Lowe Mill has classes, workshops, comedy, theater and concerts. I clearly need to make a return trip to Lowe Mill!

Three Friends and a Fork give Piper and Leaf and Pizzelle's 3 Creative Yums UP!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Scottsboro...Poised for a Brighter Future

Scottsboro, Alabama is a small town with a big decision.  The decision that lies before the historic town is one that has been faced by other small and not so small towns in the past.  In the coming days and months, the roughly 14,000 citizens of Scottsboro will have to choose what they want their town to look like in the future and what kind of Scottsboro they want to leave for their children and grandchildren.  Scottsboro is on the cusp of great changes or more of the same. Let's look at what Scottsboro has to offer, where it is now and where it could be headed if the right choices are made.

Scottsboro is a town steeped in history.  It sits on land that once belonged to the Cherokees. It was settled by early pioneers seeking a better life for their own families. The town has survived the struggles of the Civil War and Civil Rights. Scottsboro is a reflection of the dilemmas faced by our country both in the past and in the present. The people of Scottsboro are hardy and resilient.

The town sits in enviable surroundings.  One of the city's mottos once was, "Where the Mountains Meet the Lakes" and this is an accurate description of Scottsboro's physical setting.  Located in the foothills of the Appalachain Mountains, sheltered by the Cumberland Plateau and Sand Mountain and sitting on the banks of the Tennessee River, it is easy to see why Scottsboro's founder, Robert Scott, chose this location to settle down and raise his family.  The woodlands are teeming with wildlife...deer, turkeys, rabbits and squirrels... while the river provides abundant fishing opportunities.

Scottsboro is the county seat of Jackson county. The town of Scottsboro is situated on a square which surrounds the county courthouse. The square is made of brick and mortar buildings which were added at different times in the town's history.  Some of the buildings bear the names of the original owners and others give testament to their beginnings by symbols or dates which were added to their design when they were built.  For instance, Scottsboro's Safety First Services is located in the old Masonic Lodge as evidenced by the Masonic emblem near the top of the building. The square is quaint and picturesque, a bit of small town Americana. Shade trees provide respite from the harsh Alabama sun. The square has also been home to First Monday Trade Days.  First Monday used to be huge, with vendors and visitors coming from parts near and wide, but efforts to regulate the event back in the '90's nearly killed it entirely.  Currently, Labor Day weekend is the largest First Monday of the year.

Recently, the leaders of Scottsboro and Jackson County have fueled the hopes and imaginations of the citizens by securing two large grants for the remodeling of the square. More than a million dollars in grant money will be pooled by city and county governments to give the square an updated look with landscaping, new sidewalks and areas for seating. The possibilities for a refurbished square have citizens hoping for a newly energized downtown with an arts and entertainment district for shopping, dining and entertainment. Hopes are high that the city council will appoint a downtown redevelopment advisory board to help breathe new life into the historic old square.

Social media has played a huge part in fanning the revitalization flames.  REVIVE Scottsboro started the conversation and now, in a month's time, the facebook page has more than 1100 members. Realizing that REVIVE was generating so many ideas for so many different areas of town, the group Downtown Scottsboro was born to focus only on downtown revitalization. With the express purpose of supporting the creation of a downtown arts and entertainment district, this page has garnered more than 1300 likes in less than three weeks.  Three Friends and a Fork's earlier post about Scottsboro ( posted, in what seems like ages ago, on June 24, shows a Facebook reach of more than 20,000 with almost 2,000  post clicks and more than 500 likes.  Clearly, people are paying attention and interested in the future of the city.

So, the question is...what's next?  Will the citizens of Scottsboro be satisfied with the status quo or will they seize the day and become part of the solution? Will the square get new sidewalks, but fail to become an arts and entertainment district capable of attracting new business and growth to the downtown area? Will Scottsboro continue to be a "go through" town rather than a "go to" town? Will the downtown area continue to roll up the sidewalks at 5:00 pm or will it roll out the red carpet to more dining, entertainment and shopping possibilities? Will we continue to have a under-used Farmer's Market tucked off in an out of the way area or a lively and energetic place for farmers and shoppers to come together in the heart of the city? Will we let our proud First Monday tradition fade into the pages of history, or will we resuscitate it and give it new life in a bustling and vibrant downtown?

Now is the time to answer these questions. Scottsboro, the future is up to you.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Aloha, Hawaii

Our last two days in Hawaii were busy, busy!  The boys got up early and went surfing off the rocky coast of the Big Island on Thursday. I was completely amazed at how quickly they were able to stand up on the boards and ride the waves. They had a blast! In fact, JD said this was his favorite activity of the entire week. Tyler's favorite was biking Haleakala and Rob and Scott said their favorite was snorkeling with manta rays (more about that later) and for me it was the Old Lahaina Luau.

Scott and I managed to squeeze in one last shave ice. This time we went to the Anuenue Shave Ice Shop in the Kawaihae Shopping Center in Waimea. It was good, it satisfied our craving, but honestly, it wasn't Breakwall!  The ice wasn't quite as fine as the ice at Breakwall and the flavors weren't the same as the ones we had grown to love at Breakwall.  Also, there was no tiger's blood for Scott.  He was a bit bummed about that.  I did like the coconut ice cream, though. It had bits of coconut in it which gave it some texture. Don't get me wrong. If we had a Anuenue in Scottsboro I would totally be their best customer. Breakwall was just special.

Later that night we all went on a nighttime snorkel with the manta rays. This was an amazing experience and we all highly recommend it for anyone traveling to the Big Island. A boat took us out to the snorkeling site. As soon as the sun was completely down, we were all given wet suits, taken off the boat and holding onto a raft pulled by our guide, we were all maneuvered into our position just off the Kona Coast. There along with hundreds of other snorkelers and continuing to hold onto our raft, we waited for the mantas to show up. The guides all carried bright lights which not only enabled us to see the mantas, but are the reason the mantas show up at all.  The lights attract the tiny plankton on which the mantas like to feed. When the mantas finally did show up, we were all astounded. First, they are huge! Second, they performed their graceful ballet inches away from our noses. Seriously, I was pretty sure they were going to bump right into my face on several occasions. It was an experience of a lifetime.

The next morning, we had to get packed up for our trip back home. Before we left the Waikoloa Hilton, the boys were signed up to swim with dolphins. They had a great time with the gentle creatures.

After the dolphin adventure, we headed for a bit of exploring on the rainy side of the island. Scott wanted to find the Captain Cook monument. Cook was the first European to discover the Hawaiian Islands, which he named the Sandwich Islands.  He was killed by native Hawaiians when he attempted to take the King of Hawaii hostage.  

We drove through real Hawaiian neighborhoods in our attempt to find the Cook monument.  Far from the resort areas, we got a feel for what it is like to live and work in Hawaii. We were amazed at how much the climate changes from one side of the island to the other. The resorts sit in the western part of the island that is always sunny and dry. As we drove south, the weather became cloudy and rainy. We drove along winding, twisty uphill roads through neighborhoods and small towns. We found that we couldn't reach the Cook monument except by boat, but we did find Hikiau Heiau, an ancient Hawaiian luakini temple associated with funeral rites.

Heading back to the Kona airport to catch our plane, we had a hard time deciding where to stop for dinner.  Scott, Rob and Tyler ended up grabbing something from McDonald's.  I think the main reason is they were really wanting one of the Haupia pies, which are Hawaii's coconut version of the standard apple pie on the mainland.  

JD ended up at the #1 Yelp rated restaurant in the entire country...Da Poke Shack.  That boy could not get his fill of fresh raw fish! I couldn't tell you exactly what kind of poke he got, but it came with potato salad, crab salad and rice.  He enjoyed it, but he said he bet it would have been better earlier in the day. 

 So, by now you have figured out that everybody had eaten but me.  I wasn't feeling like McDonald's or poke, so we stopped by a little shack of a place near the airport where we could all sit and enjoy the view while I found a bite to eat.  It was called Bite Me Fish Market.  When we walked in, we were greeted by the host who wanted to know where we were from.  We told him and he told us he was from Destin! Small world! He seated us outside on the back patio overlooking the marina.

I know you will be SHOCKED when I tell you what I ate!  Ok, maybe not!  I had one of the best fish tacos I have ever eaten.  The fish was very fresh and perfectly grilled. There were two tacos
topped with shredded cabbage and a creamy Baja-type sauce. The tacos were accompanied by a fresh green salad, chips, salsa and guacamole made with local avocados.  I could only eat one of the tacos, so JD finished off the other one, plus the salad and about half of the chips and guacamole.  Yes, he had already eaten that huge poke plate, but that didn't slow him down!

By the time we were ready to head back home, the skies were clouding up and, you guessed it, the flood gates opened up just about the time we got to the airport. We were drenched! The rain didn't change the fact that it had been a wonderful week, however. Mahalo, Hawaii. We will miss you!

Three Friends and a Fork give Da Poke Shack, Anuenue Shave Ice and Bite Me Fish Market 
3 Hawaiian Yums UP!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Volcanic View

The reason we decided to hop over to the Big Island to begin with was because JD wanted to see the volcanoes.  So, after our lunch at Cronies in Hilo, we headed back to Volcanos National Park to get up close and personal with those sputtering mountains.  The terrain in the park is like nothing we had ever seen. Bare, rocky and black, you would think nothing could live there, but that is not so.  

Even in the most barren of environments, life tries to push through.  Scrubby, twisted trees, thorny little bushes and flowers!  Yes, flowers manage to bloom in the bleak landscape.

 Endangered Hawaiian nene geese roam over the lava flows in search of the tasty ohelo berries that grow abundantly in the park.  The nene are capable of distinguishing between the ohelo, which are related to cranberries and the poisonous akia berries which look very similar to the ohelo.  

Large cave-like openings in the landscape where lava once flowed are covered over with vines and ferns. Some of these lava tubes are big enough to walk through. 

We stopped at the Thurston Lava Tube and took the 1/3 mile hike through the lush fern forest that now inhabits the path the lava once took. It was a dark, cool and enjoyable least for two of us!  
The other three made like cross country runners and blazed a quick trail through the tube.  I am pretty sure they saw nothing as they ran through.  When we came out the other end of the tube, they were sitting there waiting on us, wondering what had taken us so long!

We climbed through some pretty desolate landscape to get a first hand look at the steam vents where the volcano makes its presence known.  The already hot day was that much hotter when we were standing in the rising steam made from ground water seeping down to the hot volcanic rocks below.  

From the steam vents, we drove down to the Jaggar Museum where we could get our closest look at Kilauea's summit caldera.  Though the boys were hoping to see giant plumes of lava shooting up to the sky, on this day, Kilauea was only puffing more steam into the air.  While we were at the museum, we stopped to talk to one of the park rangers.  I noticed that JD was particularly interested in the pretty berries we had seen growing in the park.  The ranger told us the easiest way to tell the difference between the sweet ohelo berry and the poisonous akia is to bite into one.  He said if you only see one seed inside you should spit it out, but if there are many seeds, it is safe to eat.  I thought it was peculiar that JD was so interested in the berries.  As we were leaving, I asked about the curiosity concerning the berries.  I really wished I hadn't, because that is when Tyler confessed that he had eaten a berry with one single seed inside.  I could not believe it!  Now I found myself watching him for the rest of the day for signs of berry poisoning!  

As the sun was setting, we made our way up to the park's Volcano House to eat dinner at the lodge. The Volcano House looks like a rustic 1940's lodge, which it is.  It sits on the edge of Kilauea's Halema'uma'u crater, the summit crater we had seen earlier from Jaggar Museum. We chose this restaurant for a couple of reasons.  First, it is the only restaurant in the park. Second, we wanted to experience dining with a view of the crater.  At night, the steam rising from the surface glows red, backlit from the glowing red lava below. 

We had been warned, since the restaurant has a monopoly on serving food in the park, that the food was overpriced and the quality was less than stellar.  One park employee cautioned us to stick to the appetizers and enjoy the view, which was our true primary reason for wanting to eat at The Rim.  I took that advice and made my selections from the appetizer menu.  I ordered Hawaiian avocado dip with Island chips and creamy Kabocha squash soup. The avocado and mango guacamole mashed with red onions, yellow jalapeƱos, cilantro and lime and served with assorted root chips was quite tasty.  I especially love the taro root chips with the cool dip. The Kabocha squash soup served with crumbled boar bacon, sour cream and Big Island garlic chives, needed some seasoning.  It could have been good, but it was desperately lacking the flavor that a few well chosen herbs and spices could have provided. My soup and avocado dip together totaled $21.  It was not a $21 meal.

Scott got two Asian barbecued prawns served with coconut jasmine rice.  He liked his prawns, but the appetizer was not worth $15!

JD, true to type, got the $19 sashimi sampler which included sesame seared Kona cold kampachi, ahi poke seaweed salad, soba noodles, infused soy, pickled ginger and wasabi.  After the stellar sashimi, poke and sushi he had at Mama's Fish House and Japengo, he really was not super impressed.  

Rob got a steak topped with crispy onion straws.  

He, too, was underwhelmed, as was Tyler, who chose stuffed Big Island chicken served with wild mushrooms and carrots. It was about the time his meal arrived that his bad berry kicked in.  He excused himself from the table for several long minutes, while I worried.  When he returned he felt much better, thank goodness. 


The boys sampled a few of the desserts beginning with a vanilla bean and mango creme brulee' accompanied by chocolate dipped coconut macaroons.  The creme brulee' was very good.

A banana coconut cream pie served with caramelized bananas.  It was creamy and delicious.

Finally, they tasted this cake infused with raspberry and chocolate sauces. This was probably the least favorite of the desserts, but it was still tasty.

The best part of the dinner?  The view of course! The glowing red steam made a spectacular appearance in the night sky.  

The final verdict?  Skip dinner at Volcano House and go back to Jagger Museum after dark to see the glowing steam.  Then go eat dinner somewhere else.  
Three Friends and a Fork gives The Rim 1 Yum UP.  The view is wonderful, but for food this pricey, the quality needs to be much greater.  

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