In the Spirit

Lock and Key

A very special birthday gift

By Tony Cross

One of my favorite traits that my best friend, Charles, possesses is his ridiculous knack for always making me laugh with his acutely dry sense of humor. That, and he can dish up killer Mexican food.

Before he was married, we lived together while working at the same restaurant. During our friendship, I developed a fondness for cocktails and used him as a guinea pig. Charles has always been very particular about what he drinks; he would (and still does) shoot straight with me when testing my humble cocktail creations. Over the course of the past seven years, I have never understood his disdain for mescal; how he always holds his liquor better than me (he’s had nine more years experience, mind you); and why he prefers The Black Keys to The White Stripes.

On the flip side of things, Charles has turned me on to a few things himself: Modelo Especials with a back of ice-cold blanco tequila, Mad Season, and close-to-freezing Ketel One vodka with fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice in the morning. When we were roommates, the ritual every year for birthdays and the holidays was the same: a nice bottle of booze. Usually it was high-end tequila or bourbon. However, there was a catch when I was on the receiving end of the gift giving. Every time I looked, my bottle of spirit seemed a little lower. I even made the mistake of asking my girlfriend at the time, “Have you been drinking my tequila?”

Oh, boy. Wrong. She exclaimed, quite matter of factly, “It’s Carter!” (OK, he goes by Carter. Charles is his government name.)

Many birthdays later, I don’t worry quite so much about anyone getting into my booze — unless you count my pup, Daphne, who on paper is extremely smart, but in reality is so, so dumb. When I arrived home one night last month, I could see in the distance, on my kitchen counter, a bottle of liquor that looked very familiar. It was Jefferson’s Reserve bourbon.

I had previously owned a bottle of Jefferson’s, but they have quite the selection, so I almost flew across my kitchen to see which one Carter had gifted me. In all, the distillery currently has 13 different offerings, everything from their flagship Jefferson’s Reserve, to their Jefferson’s Ocean series (barrels of Jefferson’s Reserve that sit, or rock back and forth, rather) on a ship for many months, each voyage crossing the equator four times and stopping at around 30 ports. They even bottle up their own barrel-aged Manhattans.

However, it was one of Jefferson’s Cask Series that ended up on my kitchen counter for my birthday. Actually, it was a week late. Ten-plus years of friendship, he still has a key to my pad and can’t get my birthday right.

There are five different whiskey experiments in the Cask series: Grand Selection Chateau Suduiraut, Sauternes Cask Finish, Grand Selection Chateau Pichon Baron Cask Finish, Groth Cask Finish, and the one now on my counter, the Jefferson’s Pritchard Hill Cabernet Cask Finish. Each cask-finished style starts with either the Jefferson’s Straight Bourbon Whiskey or the Jefferson’s Reserve, and fills up old wine barrels. They usually “hotbox” the barrels for the first few months, and then let them sit for another four.

The hotbox method involves increasing temperatures up to 120 degrees, in turn, bleeding out the wine from the barrels into the whiskey immediately. Afterward, it marinates, balancing the flavors of wine and whiskey. The Pritchard Hill starts with the Reserve whiskey, originally using a 15-year-old bourbon that makes up 50 percent of the mash bill (I’ve read that it’s a slightly younger aged bourbon these days), and then three more bourbons are added (anywhere from 8 to 18 years old). They take this Reserve bourbon whiskey and age it for one year in freshly dumped French oak casks that contained Pritchard Hill Cabernet Sauvignon.

The end result is very tasty, indeed. The barrels that bleed into the whiskey add notes of berries, chocolate, espresso, vanilla and clove. It’s not in your face; it’s subtle. Take your time with this whiskey — add an ice cube and let it open up. This isn’t a mixing bourbon, but if you must, just do an Old-Fashioned, or something where the other ingredient(s) will be minimal. Actually, I don’t care. Do what you want, but I’ll leave a recipe for an Old-Fashioned below.

There’s plenty of my newly gifted bourbon left. I have a decent collection of spirits in my kitchen closet and some, I could’ve sworn, used to be more than half full. Carter has had a key to my place for years. Alas, I better enjoy this bourbon while I can.

Old Fashioned

2 ounces Jefferson’s Reserve Pritchard Hill

1/4 ounce rich demerara syrup

1 dash Angostura bitters

3 drops Crude “Big Bear” coffee and cocoa bitters

Orange peel

Combine all ingredients except orange peel in an ice-cold mixing vessel. Add ice and stir until proper temperature and dilution occur. Strain over ice in a large rocks glass. Express oils of an orange peel over the cocktail and add into drink.  PS

Tony Cross is a bartender who runs cocktail catering company Reverie Cocktails in Southern Pines.

Wine Country

Dog Days and Cool Wines

Beat the heat with something refreshing

By Angela Sanchez

August can be brutal with its long, hot, humid days. If there’s rain, it’s usually in the form of a reckless thunderstorm, leaving the air even stickier. We need cool wines to keep us cool.

A few of my favorites are off-the-beaten-path wines with high acidity, fruit- forward characteristics and zesty herbal notes. Grüner veltliner and vinho verde are light and clean, offering enough flavor for the avid wine drinker in the summer and a chance for the novice to try something new.

If you haven’t heard of grüner veltliner, that’s not unusual. It’s a dark green, late-ripening grape varietal produced predominantly in Austria. The soil of the region is much like parts of France’s Burgundy. Limestone and chalk run throughout, and impart a characteristic minerality and acidity that make it the perfect wine for the hottest days of the year.

Grüner veltliner is a favorite of sommeliers the world over for several reasons. It’s not widely planted or easily found on wine lists, making it a great wine to recommend instead of better known wines like sauvignon blanc and pinot grigio. Also, its light, bright, zesty characteristics pair really well with foods that are not easy to pair with wine, like asparagus, artichokes and greens. It has the racing acidity of sauvignon blanc and the fruit forwardness of pinot grigio, but also a layer of minerality and herbaciousness with lemon and lime to grapefruit citrus, green pepper and lavage characteristics.

Pair it with a zesty green salad of buttery lettuce, asparagus and tomatoes topped with a beautiful cheese, or a cold pasta salad with buttery olives, marinated artichokes and cheese. And as long as you are going off the beaten path for your wine choice, try it with an equally little-known cheese. Calvander from Chapel Hill Creamery is an Asiago-style cheese with a creamy, buttery, nutty taste, perfect for grating over salads and pastas. It’s a raw grass-fed cow’s milk delight named after the crossroads just down from the creamery.

Another perfect wine for the dog days of summer and their relentless heat is the refreshing  vinho verde. Literally translating to mean “green wine” or “young wine,” this slightly effervescent Portuguese wine is a summer must. Produced in the north of Portugal to the border of Spain, it’s made to be consumed young, 3-6 months of production after harvest, and the addition of carbonation to add an ever so slight effervescence. The carbonation isn’t enough to categorize the wine as semi-sparkling, just enough to give a bright little lift on the palate. When it’s hot outside, the cool, clean, light, refreshing style of vinho verde is a welcome taste.

Obscure — at least to the rest of the world’s wine-growing regions — white grapes like alvarinho and louveiro make up the majority of the white vinho verde produced. Red varietals are used for both red and rosé versions of the wine. Vinho verde is almost like a wine spritzer, but the best ones have a dry fruitiness and little characteristics of citrus and peach. It pairs well with a ripe North Carolina peach salad that includes a fresh North Carolina goat cheese like Paradox Farm Natural Cheese Louise — fresh cheese at its best, with a creamy soft, almost whipped, texture. Its natural tartness and lemon character lend a lift to the sweetness of the peaches and complement vinho verde’s clean style.

Cool yourself off with the cool wines of grüner veltliner and vinho verde during the most intense days of the summer. Chill them down, set out a cold snack with North Carolina cheese and enjoy.  PS

Angela Sanchez owns Southern Whey, a cheese-centric specialty food store in Southern Pines, with her husband, Chris Abbey. She was in the wine industry for 20 years and lucky enough to travel the world drinking wine and eating cheese.

A Simple Moment

Finding life through the lens

By Will Harris     Photograph By Laura Gingerich

Outside the entrance of the only amusement park in Havana, Cuba, a photographer assembled a pop-up studio to take pictures of visiting families. He developed the film and sold the prints to them as they left, the keepsakes of a special day. That enterprising photographer was Joaquin Ruiz, the patriarch of a family of three generations of photographers. His granddaughter, Neily Ruiz, has journeyed a long way to arrive, at least metaphorically, in the same place.

“I grew up seeing the darkroom and the photography and all of it,” Ruiz says. “I fell in love with it at an early age. It pays my bills, and this is what I do full-time. But it’s more the happiness and the joy I get when I have that camera. I would do it for free if I had to.”

Ruiz, who is opening a photography studio on Pennsylvania Avenue in Southern Pines, immigrated to the United States when she was 15 years old. When she was growing up, electricity and fresh water were unreliable resources. When the water was running — sometimes as infrequently as once a week — the family stored it in a large cistern. During shortages the children showered together outside using buckets. When the lights went out, they invented games to pass the time.

Food was rationed by the Cuban government, allotted to families according to a prescribed formula. Each family could only buy what their particular entry in a notebook specified they could buy, no more. A few bottles of milk, a couple of pounds of rice and beans, and several ounces of oil were typical monthly provisions.

“And if you have five kids, how are you going to do it? They don’t care how many kids you have, it’s your problem,” Ruiz says. Playing childhood games with dead-eye purpose, she and her cousins threw rocks to knock mangoes and coconuts out of the trees. She remembers it fondly. “My childhood was so perfect; there was a lot of happiness. How do you grow up so happy, with so little?” she says. “It’s fascinating. I learned to appreciate things. It was always a creative moment.

“Maybe that’s what made me a dreamer. That’s where my creativity was born, out of the hard times.”

Ruiz’s father, named Joaquin like his father, was disenchanted with Cuba’s lack of opportunity. When Ruiz was 14 years old, Joaquin decided to take his chances in America. The only question was whether the family, including Ruiz’s 3-year-old sister, Leiny, could make the dangerous journey, too. Ruiz’s mother, Xiomara, left the decision to her.

“And she said to me, ‘If you want to stay, your dad is going to have to go alone. But if you’re going, I’m going. We are all facing the same fate together,” Ruiz said.

They were only too aware of the danger. “I had neighbors who died on the ocean. I had neighbors who were eaten by sharks. They were all together in a boat and a shark ate two of them, and the rest are going to have to live with that for the rest of their lives. We go through these things in Cuba all the time,” Ruiz says.

She decided to go. Her father made the arrangements, but they had to wait for months. Ruiz was away at school studying to be a teacher, when she woke up feeling very sick. She asked her father to come get her and take her home. The call came when they got there. It was time to go.

“A Blank Space”

Had Ruiz not fallen ill, she would have been left behind, unable to get home in time by herself. All family members packed a small backpack and they left that night, telling no one — not even Ruiz’s grandmother.

The family traveled to a coastal town outside Havana where two smugglers would pick up their human cargo from the end of a jetty. A flashlight signal from a 31-foot boat meant the way was clear. The family signaled back. The smugglers turned off the engines, and the boat drifted to the jetty. Seventeen people got on board. Nine were children.

“I don’t think my brain ever understood how I left alive, to wake up in a different place and call it alive,” Ruiz says. “That has always been a mystery to me.” She calls it “a blank space.”

“It was six hours and a half on the ocean,” Ruiz says. “I had my sister on top of me. I was talking to her and telling her we were in a train, and the train was going to get there soon. And we got here, and we faced this reality. There are no neighbors that we know, there’s no grandmother anymore. There’s no cousins and friends. We’re alone.”

The family settled in Miami. Her father had a difficult time finding a job, and no one in the family spoke English. Ruiz had two pairs of pants, one dress and a single pair of red shoes to wear while she attended high school. She was bullied along with other non-American students, in part because of the sparingly few pieces of clothing she was able to bring with her.

“It was brutal,” Ruiz says. “I cried forever. I wanted to be with my grandmother; I wanted to go back. Adjusting here was so hard.”

Ruiz got a job at a McDonald’s. She recalls one particular businesswoman who came into the restaurant frequently. She spread out her papers and worked for hours. The woman, a lawyer, told Ruiz that she, too, had worked at that exact same McDonald’s, and she came back to remind herself of her past. She told Ruiz that if she wanted to, she could do great things, a message Ruiz passes on whenever she goes to a McDonald’s now.

Photography Beckons

After high school, Ruiz studied criminal justice, though she remained connected to the art of photography, even taking a job in an Eckerd’s photo lab. She had nearly completed her criminal justice degree when she saw banners for a private photography school’s new semester. She left the criminal justice program and began formally training to be a photographer. Then she got a job photographing newborn babies at Miami hospitals for a private company. Soon after, she rented a space for her own studio photographing newborns and their parents. By 2005 she had become a citizen of the United States.

Ruiz got involved in the Spanish-speaking photography community through social media, eventually starting her own networking group when she moved to North Carolina. Through her connections, she began teaching technical classes for photographing newborns throughout the United States, Peru and Mexico.

“This has brought me to some amazing places. I never imagined that I was going to teach photography,” Ruiz says. “If I had the opportunity to choose again, I would be a photographer. And I would have started even earlier.”

Ruiz will be teaching a class in Cuba this October. In her Southern Pines studio she’ll photograph newborns and expand into fine art photography, weddings, and quinceañeras — Catholic celebrations of a girl’s 15th birthday.

“I was always in love with photography. It’s just incredible; you can do so many things,” she says. “Out of one moment there are so many images, so many ways of seeing an image. So many feelings you can capture out of one simple moment.

“It’s just amazing. I will always love it.”  PS

Will Harris served an internship at PineStraw to complete his business journalism undergraduate degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He works locally as a carpenter, enjoys playing tennis, sailing, and spending time with his dog, Bear.


Of Heat and Hummingbirds

Winged wonders evoke happy memories

By Tom Allen

T.S. Eliot called April the cruelest of months. I respectfully beg to differ. August gets my vote. Heat, humidity, and gnats, gnats, gnats. Tomato vines wilt, squash plants squeeze out their last fruits, and summer annuals droop, save the ones tended by those who brave the August oven to deadhead and water for late-season bloom.

Yet after canning your last quart of beans or freezing that final harvest of Silver Queen corn, August has its beauty, its small backyard wonders that, like those gnats, aren’t ready to make an exit. Unlike gnats, they are welcome guests outside our windows. Hummingbirds, those iridescent, winged beauties, just keep hanging around.

My hummingbird memories go back more than 30 years, to a summer evening in 1986, when my dad called my seminary dorm room. Rarely did my father ever call. Mom would call or I would call and Dad might pick up the line but this time, Dad’s voice was on the other end.

“Hey, son, how ya doing?”

“Good, Dad. What’s up?”

“Well, I’m gonna be on television, on Channel Four.” That’s how our family referred to PBS, public television. Someone called UNC-TV, told them about Dad’s newfound retirement hobby — feeding hummingbirds. A reporter was coming to interview him as part of a documentary on nature lovers in North Carolina. My father, a rather stoic fellow, sounded elated.

He crafted an unusual feeding station from an English clothesline — an octagonal-shaped contraption — and hung a dozen or more hummingbird feeders from the lines. My folks, as well as our neighbors, got a real treat watching scores of hummers, in a feeding frenzy, dart back and forth from feeders to trees.

I smiled at his phone call, and recall thinking (in my 20s at that time), how odd, how sort of old man-ish, to spend retirement days feeding hummingbirds. A friend invited you to go duck hunting in Canada, buddies invited you on a fishing trip to the Bahamas, and you’re feeding hummingbirds, playing with old bird dogs, phoning your dermatologist to make an appointment. He, like you, saves heirloom tomato seed. It’s time for a skin and a seed swap. How odd, I thought, some 30 years ago. Not how I’ll spend my retirement.

The documentary aired a few months after our phone call. Dad was so proud of his two minutes of fame. UNC-TV sent my father a videotape of the episode. He really wanted me to watch it, but I never did. After my parents died four years ago, and I cleaned out their house, no videos were found. Mom, in one of her spring cleaning modes, perhaps not realizing what she was doing, probably tossed it.

Funny, the odd things we do after a loved one dies, how we try to recapture a moment or a memory we somehow missed. Not long ago someone posted a video on Facebook of an English clothesline with hummingbird feeders and hummers in their feeding frenzy. It sparked a memory, so I emailed UNC-TV and asked about a documentary made in 1986, about nature lovers in North Carolina, and one of those nature lovers was my father, and he had this contraption he used to feed hummingbirds.

“I was wondering if you might be able to locate that clip?” The reply, “I’m sorry, we were unable to locate your request from our archives,” came a few days later. Sadly, I missed that moment of wonder.

But today, I have two hummingbird feeders, a bluebird box and lots of other bird feeders in my backyard, because they remind me of my dad, of how he so easily found wonder, in the world and people around him, and so, like him I seek to keep my eyes and ears open, because I don’t want to miss those moments of wonder . . . again. 

Hummers visit our feeders until the middle of October, then zip away to winter in warmer locales. Until they leave, almost every day I’ll catch a glimpse of one, maybe two ruby-throated wonders, vying for sweet sips before buzzing off to watch and wait. I’ll keep those feeders filled until the last bird is gone, store them until April when they return.

Like lots of folks, I’ll smile when I see my first spring hummer, but I’ll also be grateful for a father who was wise and kind and never, whether in April or August, in any way, ever cruel.  PS

Tom Allen is minister of education at First Baptist Church, Southern Pines.

Drinking with Writers

Southern Holy Smoke

Matthew Register’s quick rise from roadside to barbecue fame

By Wiley Cash     Photographs by Mallory Cash

For Garland, North Carolina, native Matthew Register, it all started with a dream, a dream of teaching his three young children how to cook barbecue.

“In eastern North Carolina, you’re always around barbecue,” he tells me on a warm July day. The two of us are sipping pale ales from Foothills Brewing on the back deck of his family’s vacation home in Kure Beach. “Soon I realized that I could stand outside and drink beer and listen to music and nobody would bother me if I was cooking. And then I read John Shelton Reed’s book Holy Smoke, and it changed me. I began experimenting with recipes and giving barbecue away. People started calling and asking if I’d make barbecue for their family reunions.”

Once the people of eastern North Carolina, a place so steeped in barbecue history and culture that it has its own style of barbecue, came calling, Matthew and his wife, Jessica, knew they were on to something. They opened a roadside stand and sold barbecue sandwiches for $5. They wanted to sell 30 on the first day; they sold 150 instead.

“We couldn’t believe it,” he says. “It all happened so fast.” And then the Sampson County Health Department got involved. “I have a really good relationship with the health department now, but back then they made pretty clear that I couldn’t be selling sandwiches on the side of the road.”

Matthew and Jessica began the search for a spot to open a small restaurant, and a former fish market seemed like the perfect place. In April 2014, Southern Smoke opened in downtown Garland, and the dream of teaching his children about barbecue exploded into something Matthew never could have imagined. Since then he has appeared on The Today Show. He has been featured in magazines and spoken at conferences around the country. And, in May, Register released his first cookbook, Southern Smoke: Barbecue, Traditions, and Treasured Recipes Reimagined for Today.

Even after all those hallmarks of success — a thriving restaurant, national acclaim and a cookbook — Matthew, as he writes in the book’s introduction, “didn’t set out to become a chef. In fact, even once cooking all day was my full-time job, I was uncomfortable with the title.”

I ask him if he has grown more comfortable with being considered a chef in recent years.

“A little,” he says. “When I think of the word chef, I think, that’s what Keith Rhodes is. That’s what Dean Neff is. That’s what Ashley Christensen is. I’m slowly growing more comfortable with it.” He takes a sip of his beer and looks at his book, where it sits on the table between us. “But now I’ve got this cookbook, and I’m dealing with those same feelings when people call me author.”

Make no mistake: Matthew Register can cook barbecue, but he can also write about it. While there are plenty of wonderful recipes in Southern Smoke, there are also the stories behind them. For example, the recipe for Smoked Chicken Quarters with Papa Nipper’s Church Sauce tells the story of Jessica’s grandfather, Jimmy Nipper, a man who “spent much of his youth shoveling hardwood coals into pits night after night, cooking whole hogs.” While he went on to join the North Carolina highway patrol, Jimmy continued to cook for fundraisers and church functions.

One of my favorite recipes is for Saltine Cracker Fried Oysters, which features a secret passed down from his great-grandmother Grace Jarmen Hart. The recipe also features instructions for making his grandmother Dorothy Hart’s tartar sauce with Duke’s mayonnaise, to which Matthew dedicates a short essay that argues for Duke’s being the best mayonnaise around. Don’t use it? “That’s a shame,” writes Matthew.

I ask him about the stories and historical information that accompany the recipes, and he tells me it was important both to honor his family as well as the diverse backgrounds of the people who have contributed to Southern cuisine.

“With Southern food, there may be five different wives’ tales about a dish, but you still don’t know where the food came from. A lot of people don’t understand how important West African food and culture are to Southern cuisine and vegetables like okra, for example. Our barbecue style is from the West Indies. A lot of our cuisine came from other parts of the world. But this is our story. This is what we are.”

Aside from writing the recipes, I ask him about the experience of making a cookbook. “We shot the photographs for the whole cookbook in four days,” he says, his forehead breaking out in sweat at the mere memory of it. “It was late July, early August, 100 degrees. We made 16 to 18 dishes a day. We just cranked out food.” Perhaps that is what Matthew is best at: cranking out food that is personal, consistent, and brimming with history.

“We opened Southern Smoke and had a long line on the first day, and the line hasn’t stopped,” he says.

Later, after telling Matthew and his family goodbye, I notice a plaque hanging just outside the front door. It reads, “Be careful with your dreams. They may come true.”

Matthew Register should have been more careful.  PS

Wiley Cash lives in Wilmington with his wife and their two daughters. His latest novel, The Last Ballad, is available wherever books are sold.

Out of the Blue

Chill Out

Some tips to beat the heat, or not

By Deborah Salomon

“Round here jus’ ain’t the place to be, come August,” the old farmer said. “Too damn hot.”

How true. I’m more cool cookie than red hot mama. I get nauseated just thinking about the poor souls left in the Sandhills, pre-AC, after the rich snowbirds flew home, or to Nantucket, or to mountain lodges overlooking frigid lakes. I remember childhood summers spent grudgingly in Greensboro with my grandparents, in the house on Lee Street where my mother was born. All we had were fans, popsicles and the occasional movie at the big theater with an “Air Cooled” banner fluttering above the marquee. Exiting, after we’d sat through the movie twice, was like hitting a wall.

If I were in the Oval Office, the Oval Office would be in Caribou and Florida wouldn’t have been admitted to the union.

At least an August oven is better tolerated elsewhere as summer’s last gasp. Here, suffering extends through September, sometimes later.

Which got me to ruminating on methods, real or imagined, for stayin’ alive minus AC.

Feet first: I remember the old folks sitting on the porch, soaking their feet in round porcelain basins (white, with blue rim and chips aplenty) filled with cold water. Only works up to size 9. Plastic isn’t the same.

Face second: Ever hear of a watermelon facial? Probably not, ’cause I just invented it. Cut a chilled small watermelon in half. Squish the interior of one half with your fingers until mush. Remove makeup, put on a shower cap, lean over and submerge face in mush. Come up to breathe only when absolutely necessary. Repeat until the cool trickles down your neck. Makes a mess, feels great.

Blowin’ in the wind: Find one or two loose, gauzy all-cotton tops and wear them every day. Who cares what people say? Guys, your operative is madras. If men in India don’t know how to stay cool, who does?

Hot to trot: Speaking of India . . . in the Middle East, North Africa and the tropics, folks sip hot drinks to cool off. The heat promotes perspiration, nature’s cooling process. Maybe for Lawrence of Arabia. I’m sticking with club soda and lime.

Peas, please: A bag of frozen peas is malleable enough to tuck anywhere, for a quick cooldown. Try the forehead, nape of neck, inner thighs, small of back. No cauliflower or broccoli. Too spikey.

The Real Thing: Locate some plastic or glass Coke bottles with waists. Fill three quarters full with water and freeze. Lie down; tuck bottles behind bent knees or elbows, maybe under wrists.

Fan-tastic: I am told that stepping out of the shower, dripping wet, buff naked, then standing in front of an electric fan going full blast works wonders. Make sure you lock the door.

Ticket to ride: On the coast of Maine, the surf is cold enough to anesthetize body parts in 45 seconds. Take a plaid jacket because the early maples start turning end of month.

Work on it: Get a job stocking frozen food in a supermarket. Offer to clean out a restaurant walk-in cooler. Enroll in med school; operating rooms are kept at about 60 degrees, year-round.

I’m not sold on mind over matter — especially heat matter — but if these handy dandy ploys fail, you could try closing your eyes and imagining giant snowflakes falling on your face, melting and running off like tears. For me, tears of joy when autumn finally arrives.  PS

Deborah Salomon is a staff writer for PineStraw and The Pilot. She may be reached at


Going Native

Be kind to our feathered friends by gardening with local plant species

By Susan Campbell

During these dog days
of summer, if you are looking for a reason to shirk tasks such as weeding or abandoning your attempts to grow the perfect lawn (not to mention spending less time watering), I may have some good news for you!  More and more folks are abandoning conventional landscaping to take advantage of local plants — from towering trees right down to ground-hugging grasses, even mosses in order to produce patches of native habitat. And this is very good news for our birds and our pollinators — actually an invaluable turn of events for literally scores of wildlife species.

Anyone who has been a backyard gardener will probably give you more than one argument for shunning vast lawns and alien ornamental plantings. The list is endless: pest problems, irrigation, expensive fertilizers, dangerous herbicides and pesticides, plus the cost and pollution from gas-operated trimmers and mowers. Using local species is not only likely to result in better success but it provides a “sense of place.”

But the real and lasting bonus to embracing native landscaping has a more global reach. It restores vestiges of original ecosystems — so much of which were lost as a result of agriculture, forestry and other land use changes since the Industrial Revolution.  All of those small patches of habitat being created represent a new hope for bees, birds, reptiles, amphibians and even mammals that have been displaced over the decades. Relatively few large tracts of land are available for preservation these days: Our best hope for the future literally lies in each and every one of our own backyards.

Dare I begin with exotics? Sadly, many have escaped and turned into an invasive species nightmare. Water hyacinth smother ponds. Rapacious Japanese wisteria or rampant Japanese honeysuckle gobbles up trees and shrubs. Popular privet hedges and the Bradford pears crowd out native species. Worse yet, the drought-tolerant nandina, whose berries are loaded with cyanide, can actually kill birds, including cedar waxwing, American robin, Northern mockingbird and Eastern bluebird.

Buy local and get good local advice on native species. Better yet, visit the N.C. Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill where you can see native flora growing during the course of the entire year. For a good online source, type “NCSU Native Plant Resources” into Google to get expert advice by region.

Finally, should you reside in a community with restrictions on landscaping that may make this sort of yard challenging (such as here in Pinehurst), I would suggest looking into National Wildlife Federation’s backyard certification program by typing “nwf certified wildlife habitat” into Google. With hope, an official designation as well as the signage that goes with it, your project will be justified and understood as beneficial by the powers-that-be.  PS

Susan would love to hear from you. Send wildlife sightings and photos to

The Accidental Astrologer

By Jupiter!

The large, jolly-old-elf planet moves direct from its retrograde phase, bearing gifts along the way

By Astrid Stellanova

Four months ago in April, Jupiter went retrograde. On August 11, Jupiter is going direct. This means (stellar Star Children that y’all are) that you can finally put to good use the knowledge you’ve been saving up for God-knows-how-long, but definitely too long. Mid-August, the full moon is in Aquarius. Dance on fertile ground and allow that psychic energy to rise up in you from your tippy toes. Meanwhile, don’t settle for humdrum but spice it up — douse them collard greens with peppers and vinegar!

Leo (July 23-August 22)

A tub of the world’s finest cellulite cream won’t straighten out the wrinkles from last month’s fiasco when your vanity got the better of you. A sweet-talking somebody sold you on a ridiculous number of superficial fixes. (Not literally, Sugar, the metaphorical kind.) What you really crave and need is straight talk. Learn to fight desperation with hope that ain’t found in a jar. Besides, a blind mule ain’t afraid of darkness.

Virgo (August 23–September 22)

You’re a creative spitfire, known to let the pot boil over when you are in the middle of a project. Virgo season begins August 23, and that will signify a season of planning and cogitating. Give your sensitive self the time to reach those who matter.

Libra (September 23–October 22)

You wiggled around an issue like a worm in hot ashes. Now get a grip, because you are so whizbang amazing at so many things you seem to fixate on those teensy things you aren’t good at. Sweet thing, move into the big picture stage of your life.

Scorpio (October 23–November 21)

Sulking and bitching are bad enough when you’re a teenager, but downright unattractive when you’re middle-aged. Don’t bother your besties unless you are on fire. Fergoddsakes give them a break. Buy ’em coffee, wine, whatever. Period.

Sagittarius (November 2–December 21)

You went all Jesus, judgment and cheetah print when under pressure. Back up and clean it up and say you’re sorry. If you can somehow remedy that situation, then you deserve a gold star. The next lesson is learning grace when things are going well. 

Capricorn (December 22–January 19)

This month may feel like a repeat of when you spilled sweet tea all over the place and it was noticed. The good news is your devoted friends just rolled their eyeballs. Now you get to return the favor when someone else spills something all over the place.

Aquarius (January 20–February 18)

Sugar bun, the full moon on the 15th is like magic time for you and the causes dearest to you. Use the light of the big, round orb to guide you and your steps. You have the platform to help those poor Muggles who don’t have your super powers.

Pisces (February 19–March 20)

Is there a loud, louder, loudest dog barking? Any signs of guilt you’ve overlooked? Be perceptive. Not to say jump to conclusions, just be aware. Late this month is a second full moon, which may give you surprising powers and light.

Aries (March 21–April 19)

You’re in for a spell of unexpected events, which is a lot like saying it’s hotter than hell in Texas. Aries born are born for the unexpected, which you will take to like a wizard to a wand. Fried okra and Jesus may figure into this month’s events.

Taurus (April 20–May 20)

If you practice and repeat your newfound skills, you have opportunities open that you have never experienced. The question is, will you, or is it irresistible to you to break wind in the spiritual elevator and pretend you didn’t?

Gemini (May 21–June 20)

There’s you, elbowing your way ahead, whether it’s a 75 percent-off sale or a spiritual crusade. Sugar, sometimes your ambition isn’t just blind — it is plain wrong. Bite back that impulse to power to the front and give somebody else an (unbitten) hand.

Cancer (June 21–July 22)

Now that you have survived a down-to-the-wire scary time, you look worse than death on a saltine cracker. Take care of yourself, put your face back on, pull up your britches and take a respite. Remember, you can almost always disarm with charm.  PS

For years, Astrid Stellanova owned and operated Curl Up and Dye Beauty Salon in the boondocks of North Carolina until arthritic fingers and her popular astrological readings provoked a new career path.


August Books


The Dishwasher, by Stéphane Larue

Set in the dark underbelly of a high-end Toronto restaurant kitchen, The Dishwasher is a tragicomedy that follows a down-on-his-luck 30-something artist with a fabulous taste in music and a little gambling addiction. As much a philosophical dive into life, love, trust, obsession and heavy metal as it is a good story, The Dishwasher will make you laugh, cringe, shake your head and drool over the amazing food. It’s hard to put this quirky but cool debut novel by Canadian author Larue down. Perfect for fans of David Sedaris or Anthony Bourdain.

The Passengers, by John Marrs

At a time when advances in artificial intelligence are making some people uneasy in the real world, Marrs has upped the ante in his new novel. Eight people are riding in their self-driving cars when suddenly the doors lock and their routes change. A voice tells them they’re going to die. The hacker who has trapped them leaves their fate to a committee of five and social media to decide which passenger should be saved. What makes one person more valuable than another? And what secrets are the hacker, the passengers and the committee hiding? The Passengers is thrilling ride!

The Swallows, by Lisa Lutz

In a blistering, timely tale of revenge and disruption, The Swallows shows us what can happen when silence wins out over decency for too long. When Alexandra Witt joins the faculty at Stonebridge Academy, she’s hoping to put a painful past behind her. Then one of her creative writing assignments generates some disturbing responses from students. Before long, Alex is immersed in an investigation of the students atop the school’s social hierarchy and their connection to something called the Darkroom. She inspires the girls who have started to question the school’s “boys will be boys” attitude and encourages their resistance. Just as the movement gains momentum, Alex attracts the attention of an unknown enemy who knows a little too much about her, and what brought her to Stonebridge in the first place.

Hollow Kingdom, by Kira Jane Buxton

S.T., a domesticated crow, is a bird of simple pleasures: hanging out with his owner Big Jim, trading insults with Seattle’s wild crows (those idiots), and enjoying the finest food humankind has to offer — Cheetos. Then Big Jim’s eyeball falls out of his head, and S.T. starts to feel like something isn’t quite right. His most tried-and-true remedies — from beak-delivered beer to the slobbering affection of Big Jim’s loyal but dim-witted dog, Dennis — fail to cure Big Jim’s debilitating malady. S.T. is left with no choice but to abandon his old life and venture out into a wild and frightening new world with his trusty steed Dennis, where he discovers that the neighbors are devouring each other and the local wildlife is abuzz with rumors of dangerous new predators roaming Seattle. Humanity’s extinction has seemingly arrived, and the only one determined to save it is a foul-mouthed crow whose knowledge of the world around him comes from his TV-watching education. Hollow Kingdom is a humorous, big-hearted romp.

A Nice Cup of Tea, by Celia Imrie

Foodie fun, a Cote d’Azur setting, five outrageous friends, and a rogue grandchild all combine to make this page-turning cottage mystery the absolute perfect choice for a day on the beach. The third book in the “Nice” series by Imrie, this continuation of the story of five expats who own a restaurant in the Bellevue-Sur-Mer also serves as a stand-alone, and will delight both series fans and those just looking for a quick trip to the South of France


The Mosquito: The Human History of Our Deadliest Predator, by Timothy C. Winegard

Winegard takes us on a fascinating and delightful journey through the annals of human history, showing us just how much we owe our existence to the lowly mosquito. Were it not for the mosquito, America, Britain and numerous other nations would not exist in their present form, and the victors of countless wars would have otherwise been defeated. No other creature has transformed human civilization and evolution so profoundly, and no other book has told this epic story from a global perspective in this extraordinary look at the mosquito’s impact on our modern world order.

The Ghosts of Eden Park: The Bootleg King, the Women Who Pursued Him and the Murder That Shocked Jazz Age America, by Karen Abbott

In this true crime story from the New York Times best-selling author of Sin in the Second City and Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy, a German immigrant named George Remus quits practicing law and starts trafficking in whiskey, quickly becoming a multi-millionaire, controlling 35 percent of all liquor sold in Prohibition-era America by 1921. The King of the Bootleggers, and his second wife, Imogene, have Gatsby-esque parties at their Cincinnati mansion, passing out party favors of diamond jewelry and cars. Pioneering prosecutor Mabel Walker Willebrandt is determined to bring Remus down, and she dispatches her best investigator, Franklin Dodge, to do the job. Remus is quickly imprisoned for violating the Volstead Act and, with her husband in jail, Imogene begins an affair with Dodge. Together, they plot to ruin Remus, sparking a bitter feud that can only end in murder.

NFL Century: The One-Hundred-Year Rise of America’s Greatest Sports League, by Joe Horrigan

The NFL has come a long way from its founding in Canton, Ohio, in 1920. In the 100 years since that fateful day, football has become America’s most popular and lucrative professional sport. The former scrappy upstart league that struggled to stay afloat has survived a host of challenges — the Great Depression and World War II, controversies and scandals, battles over labor rights and competition from rival leagues — to produce American icons like Vince Lombardi, Joe Montana and Tom Brady. Its extraordinary and entertaining history is recounted by Horrigan, perhaps the greatest living historian of the NFL, who draws upon decades of NFL archives. Compelling, eye-opening and authoritative, NFL Century is a must-read for anyone who loves the game of football.


The King of Kindergarten, by Derrick Barnes

The king of kindergarten eats a good breakfast, dresses himself, and has a loving mother to kiss him goodbye. He is confident, kind and open to new experiences. He rests a bit, plays a bit, and shares. He has infectious enthusiasm for learning. The first day will be a breeze for the king of kindergarten! This wonderful little book should be required reading for every new king. (Ages 4-6.)

The Pigeon HAS to Go to School!, by Mo Willems

What’s the best thing about school for a pigeon? The school bus! This fun new Pigeon book from the rock star children’s author Willems (Elephant and Piggie series) will have everyone excited about going to school in the fall. (Ages 4-6.)

Even Monsters Go to School, by Lisa Wheeler

A back-to-school book that’s out of this world, Even Monsters Go to School is just perfect for giggle-inducing, first-day-of-school reading. (Ages 3-6.)

Dog Man: For Whom the Ball Rolls, by Dav Pilkey

Howl with laughter with Dog Man, the No. 1 New York Times best-selling series from the creator of Captain Underpants. In the newest installment of the wildly popular series that explores universally positive themes like empathy, kindness and persistence, Dog Man must face his fears and Petey the Cat learns the difference between being good and doing good. Readers will enjoy taking part in Pilkey’s #DoGood focus for the fall by doing good deeds of their own. (Ages 7-12.)

Scouts, by Shannon Greenland and James Patterson

Annie, Beans, Rocky and Finn are scouts headed out for a hike to the perfect spot to watch a meteor shower, but when a meteor hits, they find themselves on a bigger adventure than they ever imagined. An awesome adventure book for kids who love the outdoors and are looking for a quick fun read. (Ages 9-13.)

Sorcery of Thorns, by Margaret Rogerson

As the only foundling ever to be raised in one of Austermeer’s Great Libraries, Elisabeth Scribner has strength and powers like none other, powers she has gained from living among the books, among the Grimoires, and from the ink that seemingly runs in her veins. And if Elisabeth is going to save Austermeer from imminent evil, she is going to need all the power she can muster. Along with her inherited sword Demonslayer, the handsome, clever, tortured Magister Nathaniel Thorne, his mysterious demon and a few helpful friends along the way, Elisabeth will give her all to save both the Great Libraries and the world she loves. Fabulous fantasy for book lovers and adventure seekers alike, Sorcery of Thorns is an absolute page-turner from the very first inky scene. (Ages 14 and up.)  PS

Compiled by Kimberly Daniels Taws and Angie Tally

The Heat Is On

The U.S. Amateur returns to the Sandhills

By Jim Moriarty

When the United States Amateur Championship makes its fourth trip to the Sandhills of North Carolina this August, it brings with it the promise of great achievement and the baggage of great expectations. Whoever survives two rounds of stroke play qualifying followed by six matches will have reached the pinnacle of his amateur career and earned the scrutiny that just naturally accompanies winning a national championship. August will bring the heat, but the U.S. Amateur brings a little of its own.

It has been won by mortals and immortals. It’s been won by the greatest players who ever lived — Robert T. Jones Jr. (five times), Jack Nicklaus (twice) and Tiger Woods (three times in succession). It has been won by players who capture the odd major championship without scooping up double handfuls of them and still other players who have solid professional careers, winning tour events here and there along the way. It was won in back-to-back years by one of Pinehurst’s favorite sons, Harvie Ward. It’s been won by players who disappear almost entirely from the golf horizon and by others who become barons of the game, say, a president of the USGA (William C. Campbell) or the chairman of the Augusta National Golf Club (Fred Ridley).

Labron Harris Jr. won the title on Pinehurst’s No. 2 course in 1962 with Dwight Eisenhower in the gallery. Hal Sutton lifted the Havermeyer Trophy — named for the first president of the USGA, a Wall Street sugar tycoon — at the Country Club of North Carolina in 1980. And Danny Lee pushed aside Tiger Woods’ record to become the youngest winner of the championship when it returned to Pinehurst No. 2 in 2008. It was a record that would last for all of one year.

This year’s championship will be conducted on Pinehurst’s No. 2 and No. 4 courses, the latter recently revamped by Gil Hanse. The 312 entrants will play 36 holes, one round on each of the courses, to winnow the field to 64 for match play. The first five rounds of matches will be conducted on No. 2, and the 36-hole final will be played on No. 4 in the morning and No. 2 in the afternoon, a first for the 119-year-old championship.

Sutton’s victory in 1980 was, at the time, thought to be mere prelude. That summer he’d entered five tournaments, winning four — Pinehurst’s North and South, the Western Amateur, the Northeast Amateur and the U.S. Amateur. He was unbeaten in match play. The only title to elude him was the Southern Amateur, a stroke play event won by Bob Tway. Sutton’s father, Howard, owned an oil business in Shreveport, Louisiana, and there was talk of Hal becoming the next Bob Jones, someone who could afford to remain an amateur and who had enough game to compete with the professionals. He was, in fact, an amateur long enough to try, unsuccessfully, to defend his U.S. Amateur title — something that won’t happen this year, since the defending champion, Norway’s Viktor Hovland, has become a pro.

Photo shows Hal Sutton at the 1980 U.S. Amateur. (Copyright Unknown/Courtesy USGA Museum)

After winning the PGA Championship at Riviera Country Club three Augusts after he won the U.S. Amateur, instead of becoming the next Bob Jones, Sutton was in line to be “the next Nicklaus.” Neither happened. He did, however, win 14 times on the PGA Tour, including the ’83 PGA, where he led wire-to-wire, holding off a charging Nicklaus, the five-time PGA Champion, by a single shot. He also won the Tour Championship in 1998 and The Players Championship twice, once in ’83 and again in 2000, when he outdueled Woods, the man who truly was “the next Nicklaus,” also by a single stroke. A clip of Sutton’s approach to the 18th green at TPC Sawgrass can still be found on YouTube. “Be the right club today!” has become Sutton’s trademark.

Sutton won the U.S. Amateur on the 50th anniversary season of the Impregnable Quadrilateral when Jones won both the U.S. and British Amateurs and U.S. and British Opens in 1930. Unlike Jones, there was no ticker-tape parade for Sutton, just dinner at the old JFR Barn. Sutton would return to Pinehurst in October to play for the Eisenhower Trophy in the World Amateur Team Championship on the No. 2 course. He won that, too, taking the individual title by six shots. The U.S. team won by 27.

“I just loved No. 2,” Sutton says. “It favored a real good ball-striker, especially a good iron player. It kind of weeded out the weak. I think that’s what really makes great golf courses; they’re fair to people that hit the ball where they’re looking, and they’re much more difficult for people that can’t.”

Sutton is one of the players who felt the burden that can accompany a U.S. Amateur title. “At the time it was by far the largest thing I’d ever done,” he says. “It was a sense of great accomplishment, I remember that. I hoped it would be the beginning of big things.

“Everybody that wins the U.S. Amateur, it elevates the expectations for them. It causes people to watch to see what you are able to do. I think as you age you begin to realize that the only expectations that really matter are your own. I was the turtle instead of the rabbit most of the time.”

Big Easy Ranch, Sutton’s hunting, fishing and golf academy, is about 70 miles west of downtown Houston. He suffered a mild heart attack in 2014, the same year he had his second hip replacement. Now 61, Sutton was sufficiently inspired by Woods’ 2018 Tour Championship victory to give the Champions Tour one last go. He dropped 45 pounds but, even so, the body wouldn’t cooperate. He played a few events but was forced to withdraw from his last two by a left knee that needs replacing as much as the hips did.

In the final of the 1980 U.S. Amateur, Sutton beat Bob Lewis, 9 and 8. Lewis was 35 at the time, a professional who had regained his amateur status. Lewis was hobbled by blisters on the backs of his heels, giving him a painful, bowlegged gait. “He wasn’t as old as I am right now,” says Sutton, “but health issues do catch up with us. We’re certainly not what we once were.”

Labron Harris Jr., the son of the legendary Oklahoma State University golf coach Labron Harris Sr., won the first U.S. Amateur held on Pinehurst’s No. 2 course, coming back from a five-hole deficit to beat A. Downing Gray, an insurance salesman from Pensacola, Florida, 1 up. “I went there with the idea of not winning,” says Harris. “I’d check out of the hotel every day and I’d keep winning matches and I’d check back in. You don’t conceive of winning the U.S. Amateur. You shoot your 75 on the right day and you win if you play someone that shoots 77. That’s the beauty of match play and the fallacy of match play.”

One of Harris’ victims was Morganton’s Billy Joe Patton, the local favorite. “It was probably the least popular victory ever in North Carolina,” says Harris.

Gray held a 5-up lead through 21 holes of the final match. He set his afternoon’s cascading misfortunes in motion with a poor drive on the fourth, losing that hole, and then dropping the next four straight to two birdies and two pars, squaring the match after the eighth. On the 11th, Gray drove it against a formidable stand of love grass and Harris went 1-up.

Former President Eisenhower watched only four holes in the afternoon, taking his leave after the golfers hit their tee shots on the par-3 15th. The commander of D-Day was in a golf cart back in the 14th fairway when the two players were invited to meet him before he left. Harris went.

“A USGA man says, ‘Do you want to meet President Eisenhower?’ I said, ‘Sure.’ I’ve got a picture right here in my bedroom, a young man shaking hands with an ex-president.” Gray, his fortunes dwindling, wanted to concentrate on his golf. The next day the headlines read, “Gray Snubs Ike.” Ouch and ouch.

Harris played on the PGA Tour from 1964 to ’76 and won once, beating Bert Yancey in a playoff in the 1971 Robinson Open Golf Classic. “I played good for about half the years,” he says. After his playing career ended, he worked for the Tour for five years.

“I was the No. 2 man (to commissioner Deane Beman) but there were only 10 people in the office,” says Harris. “I did everything. I did the scheduling; the purse negotiations; ran the qualifying schools. I developed the senior tour. The money breakdown they play with now is my money breakdown. I came at the right time to be pretty effective. I was fortunate I worked with good people.”

After he left the Tour, he was the executive director of the Kemper Open for five years. Oh, and he won the Par 3 Contest at the Masters in 1964. There’s no golden trophy for that, but there is crystal.

Danny Lee with the trophy after winning the 2008 U.S. Amateur at Pinehurst Resort and Country Club, course No. 2, in Pinehurst, N.C. on Sunday, August 24, 2008. (Copyright USGA/John Mummert)

When the Amateur last visited Pinehurst, it was won by an 18-year-old Korean-born New Zealander, Danny Lee, who beat Drew Kittleson, 5 and 4. Lee was six months younger than Woods was when he won the first of his three U.S. Amateurs in 1994. An Byeong-hun of South Korea blew that record out of the water the very next year, winning at age 17.

Lee’s professional career has been an up-and-down affair with an Official World Golf Ranking that’s gone as high as No. 34 (in 2016) and as low as 444 (in 2010). He won the Greenbrier Classic in 2015 and had seven other top-10s that year. He’s won once in Europe (when he was still an amateur) and once on the, now the Korn Ferry Tour. He shot an opening-round 64 at Bethpage Black in the PGA Championship in May to trail the eventual winner, Brooks Koepka, by a shot. On social media he’s best known for the practical jokes — traffic cones tied to cars; shaving cream in shoes; so forth and so on — he and Rickie Fowler seem to enjoy playing on one another.

In 2017, Lee suffered a torn ligament between L4 and L5 in his back. “I felt something and the only place I could go was lying on the ground,” he recalled during the PGA. “The next morning when I got up from my bed, I could not move my legs.” Since recovering, Lee has been working with California instructor George Gankas to get longer off the tee. “At first I wasn’t hitting it far enough to compete out here in a PGA Championship or U.S. Open.” Now he does.

That hasn’t altered the vagaries of Tour life much. “Some of the top 20 guys make it look easy, but it’s not always fairy tales and unicorns out here,” Lee said. “When you are fighting for your Tour card every year, it’s basically where you work. How would you feel when you lose your job tomorrow? And you put a lot of effort into it. You’ve tried your best and you did everything you could do and you don’t have a job tomorrow. That’s the same feeling we have. When the results are not there, it definitely gives you a little heartbreak and a little bit of terror, and some of the media is expecting me to do better than that.”

That’s a long way from 2008 when Lee, who had no intention of turning pro at the time, was reminded that the U.S. Amateur champion is traditionally paired with the defending champion at the Masters the following year. That just happened to be Woods. “Oh, my God,” he said. “That’s a special thing. Wow. I’m gong to beat him.”

Winning the U.S. Amateur is a great achievement, a long and arduous climb to the top of a grand hill — a vantage point where it’s possible to see just how heavy the mantle of potential can be.  PS

Jim Moriarty is senior editor of PineStraw and can be reached at