Up Against the Wall

When the canvas is a load of bricks

By Jim Moriarty

It’s a small space to launch big art. Scott Nurkin, muralist and musician, keeps an office around the corner from a giant likeness of the late Dean Smith he painted on the side of a building in Chapel Hill just because he thought it needed doing. Behind his desk in the Mural Shop is a wall of books from Old Masters to birds; golf to jazz; The Beastie Boys to Ansel Adams. The latter seems particularly appropriate.

At one time there was a poster that hung in Adams’ darkroom — it may still — that was entitled “Ted Orland’s Compendium of Photographic Truths.” Orland had once been an assistant to the master landscape photographer. The highlight of the poster is a picture of Adams peeking out from beneath the cloth of his view camera that’s positioned to take a photo of what looks like a class of fourth graders. The caption says, “Even Ansel Adams had to earn a living.”

Nurkin doesn’t have a view camera. He’s got an old Ford Ranger that needs a little work and enough extension ladders to storm the Alamo. He was last seen in Moore County on top of a cherry picker painting “Pinehurst” on the side of the smoke stack at the new brewery. Hey, it’s a living. In Carthage, his work includes an ode to tobacco fields and farmers on the side of the Marion Building; a tip of the cap to the Tyson and Jones buggy company in the parking lot of Fred’s Low Price Leader; and an homage to a World War I flying ace on the wall by Dunk’s Gym. Hey, it’s art, too.

“You arrive on the scene and there’s a giant brick wall,” he says. “I pressure wash it and put masonry primer down. From there I have a drawing, something to go by. Then I sketch the imagery out on the wall and over the next few days, weeks, months, keep painting and painting and painting until you get to the finish line.”

Nurkin grew up in Charlotte, the middle boy in a handful (five) of them. He went to Myers Park High School and Charlotte Latin, then Rhodes College in Memphis. After taking a “Semester at Sea” circumnavigating the globe, Nurkin began searching for a university with a stronger emphasis in art, winding up at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he ultimately got his bachelor of fine arts degree. During his junior year he studied in Florence at the Lorenzo de’ Medici School of Art. “That’s where I really learned how to paint. It was intimidating as hell, going from being one of the stronger artists to a place where everybody in the classroom wants to excel,” he says. “I was terrified a lot of the time.”

When he got back to the states he began working as an intern for Michael Brown, a Chapel Hill mural painter 20 years Nurkin’s senior. Brown, also a UNC graduate, spent time teaching art in New York and working at the Guggenheim Museum before returning to North Carolina. “At some point someone asked me to do a mural. It was a big one, a four-story tall one,” Brown says. “So, I said, ‘OK,’ and the phone has been ringing for the past 30 years.”

After graduation in 2000, Nurkin needed a job and Brown needed an assistant. “After the apprenticeship I begged him to have me be his full-time apprentice, which he agreed to do for some reason,” says Nurkin. “At the time, I was also touring as a musician so I was really loath to get an actual job. I would work, go out on tour for a couple of weeks and then come back and work a little bit.”

Nurkin is the drummer in a pair of Triangle-area bands, Dynamite Brothers and the Birds of Avalon. Both released new CDs in the past year. A childhood friend of his, actor Ben Best, says, “He’s one of the best, if not the best, drummers in North Carolina.” Best is a graduate of the North Carolina School of the Arts and his friends there included Danny McBride and David Gordon-Green who made a show for HBO called Eastbound and Down. “When they first started out they didn’t have any budget for music so we did a bunch of music for them,” says Nurkin. “They’ve been good to us since then, put some of our songs in their show and some of their movies as well.”

In 2003 Nurkin and Brown went their own artistic ways, amicably. “I came to a crossroads when I left working for Michael. Do I want to do music full time or do I want to pursue art full time?” he says. At first, music won. “I started touring heavily. The Birds of Avalon had a modicum of success. We very quickly got signed to a label out of California. They sent us to Europe a couple of times. We got to tour with some pretty big names. The Flaming Lips. The Raconteurs. Big Business. MudHoney. We were the perpetual opener.”

In 2010 Nurkin married Erin, who he met at Chapel Hill’s now defunct pizza institution, Pepper’s. “Every Chapel Hill musician from the ‘80s on, some member of the band worked there,” says Nurkin. A year later they had their daughter, Finch, and the road lost some of its appeal. “We all kind of grew up,” he says. “Jumping in a van and touring, it’s just an insane thing to do in 2019. Touring is the one hour you’re on stage. The other 23 hours can be a nightmare. You’re in a van with six other people who smell terrible, you eat crappy food, you sleep on the floor. It’s not like we’re Led Zeppelin in a giant plane and bus. That one hour is the pay off and you go, ‘Oh, this is why I’m doing it.’ There was definitely a fire from 2005 to 2009. We were really hungry. We really wanted it. It just didn’t work out. I sure as hell tried. What’s living if you don’t do it?”

There remained that minor detail of making a living, and Nurkin refocused his energy into painting. “It would have been a lot easier over the last seven or so years if I hadn’t had a competitor,” laughs Brown, “but if you gotta have a competitor you might as well have one you’re proud to be associated with.”

Nurkin’s murals have shown up in places like the Bahamas — a friend from that “Semester at Sea” hired him for a couple of projects in Cape Eleuthera — and Coconut Creek in Florida. In downtown Chapel Hill he painted a mural-sized postcard “Greetings from Chapel Hill,” another labor of love. He was part of a mural festival in Charlotte. “They had 20 artists, five international, five national, five regional and five local. They give you a wall and you can paint whatever you want. We had three days to do a mural.” Nurkin devoted his wall to North Carolina’s endangered species. Because the painting had to be done quickly, he used spray paints, a technique he employed on his tobacco field in Carthage, too.

“I shunned it for so many years,” he says. “Then I started seeing these people doing these incredible, hyper-realistic paintings because, with aerosol, you can fade it in, spray it. The material works so much better for certain applications. You can work very, very fast.”

One of the stories Nurkin likes to tell is about an art professor at UNC who asked his students to raise their hands if they actually wanted to be a professional artist. Nurkin was the only one to put up his hand. It’s still there.

“Painting and drums were the two things I couldn’t not do,” he says. “It’s never occurred to me not to do them.”  PS

Jim Moriarty is senior editor of PineStraw and can be reached at jjmpinestraw@gmail.com.

In the Spirit

The Key to the El Presidente

A delicious and historically important style of vermouth

By Tony Cross

Not long ago, I made time to drive to Durham to visit an old friend, Campbell Davis. I’ve known Cam for about six years; we did business together while he was representing the wine distribution company, Bordeaux Fine & Rare. At the time, I couldn’t get any quality white vermouth. BFR carried the Dolin catalog, which is represented by another distributor, Haus Alpenz. When I found out that BFR was representing Haus Alpenz, too, I was thrilled. It meant quick access to a variety of quality vermouths, liqueurs, and other mixers. In the time since Cam and I met, I got out from behind the bar and started up Reverie Cocktails and, as of this year, he opened LouElla Wine, Beer & Beverages in Durham. Within five minutes of Cam showing me around his newest venture, he handed me a bottle and said, “I bet you haven’t had this vermouth before.” Damn, Cam. He was right.

To be fair, Cam could’ve handed me any number of bottles that I hadn’t had before. Admittedly, the longer I’ve been grinding with Reverie, the more out of touch I’ve been with newer releases in the spirit and fortified wine category. It doesn’t really matter though; Cam’s quick description had me sold from the get-go. “This is Comoz Chambéry Blanc,” he said. “It’s the second Chambéry vermouth to ever hit the market. Dolin probably purchased the company just to soak up its only competition. It’s really good, but kind of different. A lot of wormwood comes through on this one.” Sold! After I returned home, I decided to read up on the Comoz Chambéry, and see what it was all about. I didn’t have to go far — Haus Alpenz’s online portfolio does an excellent job describing their products, along with its history, and cocktail recipes to boot.

Jean-Pierre Comoz established the House of Comoz in 1856 making it, according to the spreadsheet from Alpenz, “the second vermouthier of Chambéry.” Dolin Vermouth de Chambéry is the oldest, dating back to 1821; Comoz just happened to be previously employed there. Jean-Pierre and company started producing a pale vermouth when they launched. But soon after in 1881, under the leadership of Jean-Pierre’s son, Claudius, they began producing a blanc vermouth, which contained flavors from a selection of wines, plants and fruits. They were the first producers of this crystal clear, semi-sweet vermouth. Dolin followed suit years later with their version of a blanc-style vermouth, sweeter and paler in color. Comoz Chambéry Blanc’s claim to fame was when it made its way to Cuba as the key ingredient (besides rum, of course) in the El Presidente cocktail. More on that in a bit. Unfortunately for the House of Comoz, sales and production declined in the mid-to-late 20th century. In 1981, the house shut its doors. They continued production under contract, but never really seemed to get rolling. In the new millennium, they were non-existent. Enter Dolin. Today, through Dolin’s acquiring of Comoz and Haus Alpenz’s distribution, you can enjoy this Bianco-style white wine for under $20 a bottle.

On its own, the Comoz is just a tad sweet with notes of cherry and stone fruits; it has a nice body to it as well. In a cocktail, I’d recommend starting with what it’s best known for — the El Presidente. Cocktail nerd, Camper English, wrote that, “The drink is credited to German bartender Eddie Woelke, who was working in Havana, Cuba. He may or may not have invented it, but it is believed he refined it sometime between 1913 and 1921.” He also goes on to say that the drink was probably named for President General Mario García Menocal y Deop. It soon became a favorite of the following president, Gerardo Machado. The recipe calls for white rum, blanc vermouth, orange curaçao, and grenadine. I would usually do a 2:1 ratio of rum to vermouth, but with this one, equal parts really let this vermouth shine. As you’re probably well aware, our local ABC doesn’t have much variety in quality rums. Start with Bacardi or Havana Club, but when you get a chance, grab a rhum agricole or a bottle of Caña Brava for a better quality drink. For the curaçao, use Grand Marnier. I don’t think the grenadine is a deal breaker, but if you decide to use it, make your own. It’s garnished with orange oil, with or without the peel. Personally, I like dropping a Maraschino cherry in mine. I’m not a huge fan of cherries in my cocktails, but I think eating it after having that vermouth is simply delicious. Now that the weather is warmer, it’s hard to have just one of these. For me, it’s a fast sipper. Nice and light with a ton of depth. You can pick up a bottle of the Comoz at Nature’s Own, but please, the next time you’re in Durham, stop into LouElla’s and grab one of Cam’s many offerings.

El Presidente:

1 1/2 ounce white rum

1 1/2 ounce Comoz Vermouth de Chambéry

1 barspoon orange curaçao

1 barspoon grenadine

Combine all ingredients in a chilled mixing vessel. Add ice and stir until proper dilution is obtained. Strain into a chilled coupe glass. Take a swath of orange peel, expressing its oils over the drink. You may discard or drop the peel into the drink. If you’re feeling feisty, go ahead and add that cherry. PS

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


Four Egrets at the Reservoir

Four great egrets,

the wands of their

slender necks waving,

wade through tall

reeds and tranquil

water to the sound

of a kingfisher’s

call. The tops of

surrounding trees

are lit from above,

and the ground below

them, shadowed.

All is serene, from

the gander swimming

in circles to water

striders, skating

across the reservoir’s

still surface. In

summer, lilies

bloom and multiply,

their petals a delicate

shade of pink. But

the wedding-veil-

white of the egrets’

feathers is stark

in early spring,

against umber,

sienna, and olive,

and the evening air,

cool and weightless

here, where egrets

come and go — like

darkness and the light.

— Terri Kirby Erickson

The Pleasures of Life Dept.

Be Prepared

Malevolent Mercury will strike again

By Beth MacDonald

I never gave any credence to things like virtual chain letters, ghost stories, urban legends, or certain celestial events that are credited with affecting our wellbeing. The dire consequences if we should fail to pass them along, conjure them through a mirror, or change our travel plans never fazed me. All of that changed when Mercury went into retrograde last March.

When Mercury goes into retrograde it’s like a fortune cookie telling you to hide under your bed in the fetal position until that pesky planet goes back into prograde, whatever that is. But, make no mistake, Mercury was out to get us. The Old Farmer’s Almanac practically said so directly. Prograde may sound like a cherry flavored sports drink crammed full of electrolytes, but according to Google it’s a real live astrological term. And we were in desperate need of it.

After having a series of impossibly negative days during this mystical Mercury interlude — the kind that makes you want to eat a pint of ice cream and cry into a bag of Doritos — I called my friend Sara. Everything was wrong. Whah, whah, whah. Her reply, “Mercury’s in retrograde.” Oh, fine. Would I be protected from it if I passed that message through Facebook to 10 friends?

I had to go to a legitimate, reputable, scholarly source to research this phenomenon. I went back to Google. Of course, my studies at the University of Google taught me to go to the first link that popped up. The Old Farmer’s Almanac: the preeminent source on all things astronomy. Indeed, Mercury was in retrograde.

That meant I could blame everything on that fact and that fact alone. Potential disasters included, but were not limited to, electronics going on the fritz; travel plans being disrupted; a state of confusion (how this differs from my every day life I’m not sure); and a preoccupation with the past. I’d also be blaming any future weight gain on Mercury. It still sounded like nonsense. I wasn’t a true believer until the Ides of March confirmed the credibility of my Doctorate in Googling.

On a brisk morning, after my usual Friday Trash Dash/Cardio HIIT, I was energized and up for the day, ready to do some work. I needed a pen from my car. How all the pens in my home ended up in my locked car is not relevant to this story but if you were to imagine the magic brooms in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice that’s not far wrong. I unlocked the car from the kitchen, proceeded outside, only to find the car door was still locked. I must have hit the wrong button. It was early. I’m blind. I went back in, looked at the correct button, watched the car unlock, went back out to the car, and it was still locked. Dang. Back outside with the keys. This time, I got a pen. Mission accomplished. Call me Ethan Hunt.

I continued on with business as usual. An old friend from 20 years ago messaged me about some people we used to hang around with and how she ran into one of them. We reminisced for a little while over that. Ah, the good ‘ol days. Was I preoccupied with the past? I decided to switch gears and do some writing on the back porch. I left my phone inside.

The second I closed the door I heard the wireless lock click. My eyeballs bulged. I checked my pockets for my phone. The only way to lock the door from the outside was with my phone paired near the lock. I pressed my face to the glass door; my phone was nowhere to be seen. How could this be? Now the dogs were barking at me from inside, like a chorus of lunatics. Fantastic. Surely, Mercury was to blame for this howling opera, too.

Why does Mercury have to be so singularly unpleasant? Why can’t it make my hair soft, my hands surgically precise with eyeliner, or my bank account swell? It should have enough power to, at the very least, make my TV work for me and not against me — the volume is either too loud or too soft; I hit the wrong application button every time, and never know where to find which program on whatever media it’s streaming on. Mercury must have dug in for the long haul. Maybe Skynet could take over Alexa and play elevator music 24/7 or Siri could reply to a simple question with a stream of four-letter words or Google Maps could give me directions to places I don’t want to go, like Detroit. 

According to “The Never Wrong Old Farmer’s Almanac,” Mercury was in retrograde for almost the entire month of March. I believe it. Worse yet, it would be back in this bothersome position in July. So, in preparation, I’m cleaning out the dust balls, abandoned dog toys and unpaired socks from under my bed. I plan to be there with a bag of Doritos, writing chain letters on the 4th.  PS

Beth MacDonald is a Southern Pines suburban misadventurer who likes to make words up. She loves to travel with her family and read everything she can.


By Ash Alder

The soft thud of a magnolia blossom crashing down upon the tender earth takes me back . . .

Rope hammock swing.

Soft light filtering through smooth green leaves.

Love notes tied with twine to sweeping branches.

We both knew it would not last. And yet we had our glorious season.

Life is like that. Fleeting as a fragrant white flower. And as May blossoms burst forth in jubilant splendor, we cherish the transient, intoxicating beauty of spring, and relearn the sacred dance of loving and letting go.

May is the beginning and the end.

On the bookshelf, Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac hasn’t been opened since the crash-landing of yet another bygone romance that died on Easter weekend, years ago now.

January, February, March, April.

Four cozy months of essays read aloud in bed, yet if we took any morsel of wisdom from Leopold’s poetic reflections of the natural world, it was this: Life is an endless dance of change.

This morning, I take the book to the front porch, turning to the dog-eared page of May — a fresh new chapter.

As a black-capped chickadee draws quick sips from the nearby birdbath, I read about the return of the upland plover, what Leopold refers to as the “final proof of spring” in rural Wisconsin.

Here, the final proof of spring is gone. We have landed on the fresh new chapter of May, a glorious season of its own.

Children are the anchors that hold a mother to life. — Sophocles

Cinco de Mayo

Mark your calendar. The Eta Aquarid Shower peaks just before dawn on Sunday, May 5. You could witness 10—40 meteors per hour. Not exactly the return of Halley’s comet, but it’s a chance to catch a glimpse of the famous comet’s debris. Find yourself a soft spot on the lawn. Breathe in the aroma of Southern magnolia. Enjoy the show.

The Mother’s Moon

The Full Flower Moon rises on Saturday, May 18. Also called Mother’s Moon, Milk Moon and Corn Planting Moon, this month’s moon illuminates red fox pups, fluffy cygnets, and wildflowers everywhere.

Speaking of lunar magic, The Old Farmer’s Almanac looks at the positions and phases of the moon to determine the “best days” for various activities. This month, the best days for planting aboveground crops are May 8 and 9 (plan now for July sweet corn on the grill). Plant belowground crops May 26.

Cut hay May 1–3.

Prune May 10–11 to encourage new growth.

Can, pickle, or make sauerkraut on May 26.


’Tis like the birthday of the world,

When earth was born in bloom;

The light is made of many dyes,

The air is all perfume;

There’s crimson buds, and white and blue,

The very rainbow showers

Have turned to blossoms where they fell,

And sown the earth with flowers.

      — Thomas Hood

Gifts for Mama

Mother’s Day falls on Sunday, May 12. I think of my fourth-grade teacher, who asked us to bring in one of our mother’s high heels. Yes, just one. We spray-painted it gold, lined the inside with floral foam, and proudly stuck a dozen plastic flowers inside. Happy Mother’s Day to all. May you walk in beauty.

Here are a few seeds of inspiration for the beloved mother figure in your life:

• Daylily bulbs

• Mexican tarragon for the herb garden

• Azaleas

• Ornamental pepper

• Wax begonia

• A new pair of shiny gold shoes


Reprieve at the Ryder Cup

When a hug is worth a thousand words

By Jim Moriarty

When the United States
Senior Women’s Open begins at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club this month, I’m going to be pulling hard for Helen Alfredsson. The Swedish star has had a stellar LPGA career statistically similar to our local major champion, Donna Andrews. In fact, Alfredsson was the defending champion in the Nabisco Dinah Shore the year Andrews won it. Reporters aren’t supposed to have a rooting interest in such things, but I do. And there’s a reason why.

Eons ago I was taking Alfredsson’s portrait for Golf Digest. In those days Helen had a reputation for running hot on the golf course. She was also into yoga. The conceit of the photograph was simple enough. She was to pose seated on a box draped in black cloth against a black background. With the help of a couple of clear tubes, some talcum powder and a bit of forced air, Alfredsson would appear to be floating in air, sitting in the lotus position in peaceful meditation, with smoke coming out of her ears. What could go wrong?


What started innocently enough turned out to be, without exception, the worst day of my 35 years in golf.

In order to make the photo look just right, it was necessary to hide the plastic tubes behind Helen’s ears. For some reason, I lit on the notion of Silly Putty. (Moms and dads, don’t try this at home.) I tested it on myself. Put a wad behind each ear. Anchored the tubes. Squeezed the talcum powder. Voilá. It worked.

I rented a conference room. Got all set up. Helen arrived. She got in position. I secured the tubes behind her ears, hidden in her lovely, long, strawberry blonde hair. As it turned out, there was one little problem I hadn’t taken into account. The warmth of her skin and the heat of the modeling lights melted the Silly Putty. It oozed into that gorgeous hair. There was no getting it out. The picture was terrific. Helen, not so much. When it became apparent what I’d done, I turned as pale as skim milk. She left in tears.

We called the Silly Putty company and asked them what to do. Surely, rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide, something, would get the damn stuff out. Nope, they said. The only thing you can do is cut it out. Oh, and they advised against doing it in the first place.

Now, you can’t write about golfers for 35 years without pissing off a few, but I’d never, ever, physically harmed one before. Awful doesn’t begin to describe how terrible I felt. The magazine sent her flowers. I sent her flowers. We offered to pay for a hairstylist. I wrote her a letter apologizing. No matter. Given what I’d so foolishly done, any gesture seemed woefully inadequate.

Well, months passed, maybe a year or two, before I saw Helen again. It was at the Ryder Cup at The Country Club.  I was in Boston taking pictures for Golf Digest. Unknown to me, Helen was also there doing color commentary — if memory serves — for Swedish radio. The media center was located in the curling rink. It was early in the week. I was coming out of the building and who should I see walking straight toward me but Helen Alfredsson.

I looked at her. She looked me. I didn’t know if she’d cuss me or walk right past me, but I knew I had to say something to her.

Before I could get a single word out of my mouth, Helen came straight up, threw her arms around me and gave me a big hug.

Since that moment, Helen Alfredsson has been my all-time favorite professional golfer. There isn’t even a close second.  PS

When New is Old Again

Living Good in This Hood

By Deborah Salomon   •   Photographs by John Koob Gessner

What’s going on here?

A row of compact houses set close together, no two alike, channeling the 1940s yet looking brand new. Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood? June Cleaver’s home sweet home? The MGM backlot?

Maybe The Twilight Zone?

No driveways, just a free-standing single-car garage accessed by a back alley. Some brick, some siding. Lots of covered front porches with tapered columns. But, once inside, Beaver’s mom would flip: granite countertops in open kitchens, mini-spa bathrooms, two-zone AC, recessed lighting, gas fireplaces, vaulted ceilings, porthole windows, gleaming hardwood floors.

These aren’t condos or golf pied-à-terres, although a low monthly fee covering landscaping and maintenance enables residents to lock-and-leave. Military mommies jog behind three-wheeled strollers. Retirees ride bikes. Children splash in the pool adjacent to the community room and terrace, with built-in barbecue grills. Friendly dogs, potted geraniums and picket fences complete the picture.

The Cottages on May is a concept development whose concept follows trends identified as new urbanism or urban redevelopment: living near downtown where services are within walking or bike range and neighbors within waving distance. Nobody narrates it better than Tim Venjohn, a South Dakotan who discovered Southern Pines while stationed at Fort Bragg. Now a Realtor working with designer Travis Greene of Legacy Home Construction, his explanation rings true:

“Ten years ago, everybody was building modern houses — but Southern Pines is a bunch of old cottages. We decided to design houses to fit the neighborhood, to look 80 years old like the houses on either side.” While such a cottage was under construction, Tim got a call confirming their success. “Somebody asked about that old house we were ‘remodeling.’”

After building about 20 cottages in the historic district bordering Weymouth why not reproduce an entire neighborhood?

Sounds good, if a bit risky.

The tract on May Street seemed perfect; its depth allowed walking trails that connect with downtown residential streets. Its location attracted Fort Bragg commuters. Some architecture reproduced existing one and two-story houses of an earlier era. Others featured a chimney, built for esthetic purposes only, and open rafter tails.

“We really had fun doing this,” Venjohn says. “It was a culmination of an idea.”

Small(ish) houses on modest lots, creative floor plans, quality materials and finishing don’t come cheap. However, Legacy had no trouble finding buyers for both spec houses and larger ones built-to-order — if the buyer prefers.

Which these homeowners did.


Although a lifelong horsewoman, as evidenced by her equine art, Beth Busichio’s cottage, done primarily in crisp navy and white, appears nautical: “Clean and classic,” says the graphic designer experienced in staging houses for sale.

Beth, while living in Florida, heard about Southern Pines horse country, came for a visit and fell in love. “But I didn’t want a (gated) golf course community.” Instead, the youthful grandmother looked for “the feel of a town, a place with low maintenance and young neighbors.” She didn’t need a horse farm but wanted something close to the boarding barn she visits daily.

Beth found, but lost, a suitable house further south on May Street, also being developed by Legacy, which is how she learned of the new cottages.

Because hers was built to order, “I did a lot of tweaking.” The coffered ceilings, a hallway picture rail, beadboard, a mantle in the kitchen, vaulted ceiling and living room fireplace walled over to accommodate an entertainment unit give an illusion of a space larger than 1,800 sq. ft. The rough-hewn barn door separating living area from the bedrooms adds “earthiness,” and is solid enough to be soundproof.

The parking area was adapted for a horse trailer. Other spaces were designed around Beth’s furniture, much of it painted white, or shaggy-chic upholstery. Together, they are a page from Wayfair, her favorite source. She chose louvers for the windows, reminiscent of jalousies popular in Florida. Throw pillows, her décor insignia, are everywhere.

Porthole windows in the master bedroom, which she admits is a little tight, mean morewall space for paintings and family photos.

Beth wanted a corner lot to accommodate a wraparound porch, with fireplace. Here, she sits with Panda, her fluffy Australian sheep dog, and watches neighborhood action.

“I love-love-love this house,” Beth says enthusiastically. “It has such a fresh, light feeling.”


Ashley Holderfield is also a designer with a black and white fluffy puppy who lives at The Cottages on May. There, the comparison ends. She and husband Casey Holderfield now occupy a second neo-classic cottage built by Legacy. Their first house was on East Maine St. in the desirable Southern Pines district above the tracks. Its floorplan and giant porch were similar to Beth Busichio’s but in dark woods with earthy brown and forest greens. But in 2016, after only a few years and one baby, the cottage seemed small.

“I loved living downtown but I wanted more of a yard,” Ashley says.

“We looked in Pinehurst but loved Southern Pines where you can walk or bike downtown,” Casey adds.

They already knew Tim and Travis — and decided to investigate the high end of the concept.

What sold them was the lot bordering a pasture with open spaces beyond, a forever view. Here, they conceived what Ashley calls a modern two-story farmhouse with circular driveway, a Juliet balcony and industrial décor carried out in white, grey, black.

At 2,600 sq. ft. the unusual layout accommodates the family, which besides 4-year-old Evie, now includes 10-month-old Willow.

“Notice that there aren’t any edges” on furniture or surfaces — a safety measure — Casey points out. Almost all the furniture and fabrics are new, in gradations of that industrial gray palette, including tufted sofas and a round leather ottoman replacing a coffee table. Notice, too, that the enormous white quartz island separating the stark white kitchen with ceramic tile backsplash laid in a “subway” pattern would never be found in a mid-20th century Carolina farmhouse. Nor would the metallic gold and silver fixtures. Certainly not the horizontal cable wiring replacing balusters on the stairway. Or the front door paneled in rain glass which admits light but distorts the view.

“Ashley has these ideas in her head . . . ” Casey says.

Separate dining rooms are phasing out, they noticed. Instead, a small corner of the open kitchen accommodates an oval hardwood table found at Habitat and painted white.

Farmhouse or not, the uncluttered visuals are not only stunning, but suited to a young family seeking togetherness in open spaces.

Equally iconoclastic is the layout with master suite and enormous bathroom with walk-in (no door) shower on the main floor. Toys are confined to an upstairs playroom, near the children’s bedrooms, with an office nook where Ashley can work with one eye on them. Throughout, white walls backdrop modern art by Ashley’s classmate, Lindsey Lindquist.

The Holderfields have chosen to use their heated, air-conditioned carriage house for fitness equipment and storage. The covered back gallery running the width of the house has a wood-burning fireplace and, over it, a wall-mounted TV. Evie can feed somebody else’s horses through the fence.

Ashley wanted a modern farmhouse that fit the equestrian landscape.

Casey didn’t want anything that looked brand new.

Both sought unobstructed views in a quasi-rural neighborhood close to downtown.

This was a one-in-a-million find, they agree.

The Holderfield home may not conform exactly to Legacy’s cottages-of-yesteryear concept but, with all satisfied, nobody’s looking this gift horse in the mouth.  PS

The Kitchen Garden

Strawberry Fields, Now

Savor the sweet Sandhills berries

By Jan Leitschuh

Peak strawberry time is now. You know you want some.

Though you’ll find local Sandhills strawberries at farm stands and markets in late April, this delectable expression of spring hits its flavorful red stride in early to mid-May, then tapers off quickly after Mother’s Day as the weather heats up.

So you’ll not want to procrastinate — though feel free to lollygag once you’re in your friendly neighborhood pick-your-own strawberry field, scooping up the juicy red berries.

Going out to the farm to pick your own berries is just one of those “must-have” experiences. Grab a bucket, your appetite and the nearest kid. This is the time to unplug and savor a sun-warmed, sweet berry, passing onto the next generation the pleasure of gathering wholesome food sprung from the earth — and helping a local farmer hang on to the family farm, in the process. Spring for a strawberry ice cream cone on the way out.

Yes, you see, we know you likely did not plant your Chandler, Camarosa or Sweet Charlie varieties last October, as your local Sandhills farmers did. You didn’t spend time and treasure enriching your soils. You didn’t need to hover over the weather reports and your strawberry beds all winter, covering and uncovering the young plants, trying to balance the frost protection versus the sunshine.

You could this year, though, if you wanted your own little strawberry bed in the backyard. You can get a flat of strawberry “plugs” next October and plant the crowns level with the surface of your rich soil, watering in well. If not trying to support a farm on the springtime harvest, you can skip the tedious covering and uncovering and let them ripen on nature’s schedule. Keep your little patch free of weeds, and “groom” off the old leaves during the first winter, pick off most of the flowers that first spring to give the plants a chance to settle in and grow strong. Some farmers swear an extra little hit of magnesium makes the crop sweeter.

Strawberries are one of the most expensive crops to plant commercially. “Out of pocket, before you pick your first strawberry, call it $11,000 an acre, with plants, labor, soil treatment, plastic and drip irrigation,” says Taylor Williams, Moore County’s agriculture extension agent at the North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Carthage.

N.C. Cooperative Extension has a list of local U-Pick strawberry growers. “We have seven in Moore and three in Richmond, three or four in Lee County,” says Williams, “one of which is certified organic, Olde Carthage Farm.” (Call the Extension at 910-947-3188 for more info on locations.)

Sandhills strawberries are true culinary lovelies. Unlike grocery store berries, ours are tender and fully sweet, bred to be picked at peak ripeness rather than harvested while still hard enough to ship across several time zones and two or three mountain ranges. Sandhills strawberries are juicy things, sweet because they have the time to further ripen into something worthy of your grandmother’s strawberry shortcake recipe.

“There’s a difference between one that is shipped across country firm and a little sour,” says Williams. “In the Sandhills, pick ‘em ripe, eat them within two or three days, then go back for more.”

Growing up in Wisconsin, we cooked up our sweet strawberries with tart, chopped stalks of spring rhubarb for a tasty compote or our very own “Beebopareebop Rhubarb Pie.” The perennial northern plant loves colder climates and marries well with strawberries, offsetting their sweet seedy pulp with a companionable tang. While I have grown rhubarb here in the Sandhills, it was on irrigation and in afternoon shade. These days, I just see it in the produce department of a number of grocery stores come May, same time as strawberries, and snag it quickly for a hit of nostalgia.

Bananas are another famous partner to strawberries. In season, use them together liberally on breakfast cereals or on morning smoothies as well as fruit salads and desserts.

And speaking of desserts and famous partnerships, whipped cream just has a creamy affinity for Sandhills strawberries. Slice a cake round carefully in half. Slather one layer with whipped cream and berries, top with the other half and add more whipped cream and berries. Or slice open your favorite biscuit for a shortcake. Even simpler: crumble a pound cake into a goblet, layering berries and whipped cream. Top with the perfect berry.

Strawberry pavlova has to be the ultimate elegant berry dessert. Whipped cream is nestled into a nest of crispy egg-white meringue, then the strawberries are ladled atop that. Add a dash of whipped cream to top it off, with a whole berry atop that. Yowza!

Some folks are allergic to strawberries — imagine that! I was one such child, and would break out in hives even as I stuffed myself. Thankfully, it was something I outgrew. Curiously, folks allergic to birch pollen, they say, are also likely to react to strawberries.

Berries are low-glycemic brain food. An excellent source of vitamins C, K, fiber, folic acid, manganese and potassium, they also contain significant amounts of phytonutrients and colorful flavonoids which make strawberries bright red. A springtime strawberry feaster may find that the fruit acids can be hard on your dental enamel, so be sure to brush after indulging and schedule your teeth cleaning after strawberry season when they might not be as sensitive.

Sandhills strawberries are tender, and turn to mush fast. Don’t let their plastic container sweat, if you can. Moisture is their downfall. I like to store berries, all berries actually, with a paper towel between each layer to get an extra day or two in the fridge. Strawberry secrets include not washing the tender berries until right before using because of this deterioration soon after rinsing. Wash and handle them with care.

Another flavor tip is to let them come to room temperature before serving — you get maximum flavor. Once picked, store in the fridge crisper and eat within a day or two. Strawberries do not ripen further so avoid those that are dull, or have green or yellow patches.

Assuming you went berry-happy at the U-Pick and returned home with more than your strawberry-cobbler-loving self could absorb in a few days — hey, no shame, everyone does — you can preserve the excess. Some people will put up quantities of jam. You can also freeze whole berries for later smoothies, cooked desserts or even later jam sessions — simply rinse, remove the green cap and freeze whole on a cookie sheet. After 24 hours, pack them in freezer bags and use within a few months to prevent freezer burn.

An elegant and clean dessert is a simple strawberry ice to celebrate the season. Grown-ups — just add a glass, a bit of rum and a little umbrella.

Strawberry Ice:

5 cups fresh or frozen unsweetened strawberries, thawed

2/3 cup sugar

2/3 cup water

1/4 cup lemon juice

Directions: Place the strawberries in a blender or food processor; cover and process until smooth. In a saucepan, bring sugar and water to a boil. Cook and stir until sugar is dissolved, about 5 minutes; cool slightly. Add to blender. Add lemon juice; cover and process until combined. Pour into a shallow freezer container; cover and freeze for 4-6 hours or until almost frozen. Just before serving, whip mixture in a blender or food processor. PS

Jan Leitschuh is a local gardener, avid eater of fresh produce and co-founder of the Sandhills Farm to Table Cooperative.

Wine Country

The Champagne Name

It’s not just any old bubbly

By Angela Sanchez

Champagne is classic, timeless, associated with elegance and class. It is a mark of distinction and celebration. The sound of the cork popping tells you something great has just happened. It gives you a feeling of fun and accomplishment at the end of something you have just achieved. The beautiful bubbles billowing up through the glass are a symbol of celebration the world over. There are countless bottles of sparkling wine made by various methods on store shelves and restaurant lists, but are they really Champagne? Of course not. Champagne is more than just a general term used to describe a wine with bubbles. Real Champagne can only come from one place in the world, made of certain types of grapes, with its production regulated by law. Champagne’s climate, topography and production — its terroir — are what make it unique from any other sparkling wine produced anywhere.

According to legend a monk named Dom Perignon accidentally discovered sparkling wine while making white wine in the Champagne region of France in the 1600s. While the story is a matter of folklore, his “method” is what we now consider méthode champenoise or the “traditional” method of making sparkling wine. Basically, a wine will undergo a second fermentation in the bottle, producing the bubbles we all love. All Champagne from the Champagne region of France is, and must, be made using this method. While other wines around the world are made similarly, it doesn’t make them Champagne. The method of production is the first key distinguishing real Champagne. The grape varietals and the growing region are the others.

There are seven allowed grape varieties in Champagne. The most well-known, and widely planted are chardonnay (adding acidity and structure), pinot noir (adding elegance, aromatic qualities and fruit), and pinot meunier (adding richness and darker fruit characteristics). The last four of the seven, pinot blanc, formenteau, petite arbanne, and petite meslier, while not as widely used — accounting for less than one percent of plantings — can add brightness, rustic qualities and additional structure and intensity. Most Champagne consists of the best-known varietals and most producers depend on them to develop a house style that will be the consistent base for their non-vintage wines. This way, you will always have a bottle of Veuve Clicquot or Tattinger non-vintage Champagne that is consistently the same year after year ensuring you get what you expect. Knowing what grapes will go into the wines is key for producers and knowing where they are grown is the root of the entire production.

The region of Champagne is located 93 miles northeast of Paris, an easy train ride away. It is 84,000 acres in total growing area and consists of four major growing regions, the Montagne de Reims, Vallée de la Marne, Côtes des Blanc and Côtes de Bar. The AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) for Champagne was established in 1927, codifying its distinction and classification by law. Since producers must only use grapes grown in this region to produce Champagne, the vineyard land is highly sought after and among the highest priced in the world. The region consists of 320 villages or “crus,” averaging 18 acres each. The limestone and chalky soils allow for great drainage and, because they are porous, act as water reservoirs for the vines. The cool climate of the region is why chardonnay and pinot noir do so well there and produce wines that have longevity. Location, location, location! The climate and rugged terrain are unlike anywhere else in the world.

It is special, unique, original. It is Champagne. The header on the Comité Champagne website reads “Champagne only comes from Champagne, France.” In no way does that diminish the beautiful and special sparkling wines made elsewhere in the world, festive and delicious in their own right. They can be consumed and enjoyed — perhaps even more often because of their easy access, price point and style — but should be called by their own names or style. Enjoy bubbles anytime you can. They make a regular day special and a special occasion more memorable, just don’t call them Champagne if they’re not. If you have never experienced the uniqueness and quality of Champagne, find a bottle and enjoy it. Celebrate its one of a kind style, history and terroir. That’s the best way to understand what makes Champagne, Champagne.  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 was lucky enough to travel the world drinking wine and eating cheese.

The Omnivorous Reader

On the Lighter Side

The study of humor can be serious business

By Stephen E. Smith

“Who was Alexander the Great’s father?” my 11th grade history teacher asked (this was back in the day when educators expected students to know a little something about world history). Before anyone could raise his or her hand, my friend Norman Alton, slumped in the desk beside me, blurted out his answer: “Philip’s Milk of Macedonia!”

Norman wasn’t the class clown. He didn’t make monkey faces or squawk like a jungle bird. He was the class wit, a usually subdued presence whose occasional response to teachers’ questions exhibited a startling degree of wordplay and a remarkable, if somewhat perverse, intellectual insight. Philip’s Milk of Macedonia: Everyone laughed, even the thickheaded ones. Even the teacher.

James Geary’s latest book, Wit’s End: What Wit Is, How It Works, and Why We Need It, explains how Norman’s agile, word-warping mind worked, analyzing the bits and pieces of intellect and psychology that conspire to make wit and its resultant humor a force in our lives. And Geary would seem to be the man for the job. He’s deputy curator of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard and the author of I Is an Other: The Secret Life of Metaphor and How It Shapes the Way We See the World, the New York Times best-selling The World in a Phrase: A Brief History of the Aphorism and Geary’s Guide to the World’s Great Aphorists.

The book opens with a dissertation on the pun. Punning is typically regarded as the lowest form of humor (make a pun and you’ll elicit a chorus of groans), but it isn’t a simplistic exercise; it involves two incongruent concepts connected by sound and, if it’s a truly clever pun, it demonstrates a degree of insight that delights with its absurdity. “Puns straddle the happy fault where sound and sense collide,” writes Geary, “where surface similarities of spelling and pronunciation meet above conflicting seams of meaning.” Philip of Macedonia and Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia have nothing in common except, when spliced together, an unexpected degree of silliness and a certain similarity in sound and structure.

Apparently, Geary counted the puns in Shakespeare’s plays: “There are some 200 puns in Love’s Labour’s Lost, 175 in Romeo and Juliet, 150 in each of the Henry IV plays, and upward to 100 in Much Ado About Nothing and All’s Well That Ends Well.” And he offers fascinating facts aplenty: Lincoln was an avid punster. The notion that Adam and Eve chomped into an apple is a misinterpretation of the Vulgate where the adjective form of “evil” malus, is malum, which happens to be the word for apple, thus fixing the misidentification of the apple as the offending fruit. Geary also includes enough obscure puns to last a lifetime, e.g., English essayist Charles Lamb was introduced by a friend who asked him, “Promise, Lamb, not to be sheepish.” Lamb replied, “I wool.” Lamb went on to write an essay entitled: “That the Worst Puns are the Best.” And when Groucho walked into a restaurant where his ex-wife was dining, he proved Lamb right: “Marx spots the ex.”  All right, you can groan now.

Geary then delves into “witty banter,” couching his observations in an original faux 18th century play riddled with contemporary allusions. Using research paper format (who among us wants to read another research paper?), Geary explains how the brain reacts to wit and humor, and in a slightly more interesting chapter he explores the neurobiological mechanism of wit — the ability to hold in mind two differing ideas about the same thing at the same time — asserting that comedians who are bipolar have an advantage over their less afflicted peers. If you’re an old-timer, you’ll be reminded of Jonathan Winters, who gave us Maude Frickert and Elwood P. Suggins from Bellbrook, Ohio, a yokel who’d seen “some 76” flying saucers. But Geary focuses on a more derivative and annoying comedian, Robin Williams, as a prime example of a bipolar individual who could make instant disconnected connections. He also presents numerous examples of individuals who suffered bouts of unrestrained wit, such as the case of a 57-year-old man who began constantly joking, laughing, and singing. “After the patient’s death, his wife discovered scores of Groucho Marx glasses, spinning bow ties, hand buzzers, and squirting lapel flowers in their garage. An autopsy showed asymmetric frontotemporal atrophy and Pick’s disease.”

Neurological mechanisms notwithstanding, readers are likely to find their attention waning in chapters such as “Perfect Witty Expressions and How to Make Them” (can we be taught to be witty?), “Advanced Banter” and “An Ode to Wit,” which falls with a predictable thud. In an especially cringe-worthy chapter on “jive,” Geary explains “Dozens,” a form of interactive insult which is “a part of African-American tradition of competitive verbal invention” in which combatants face off before a crowd and “direct aspersions at their adversary’s shortcoming”: Your mother is so ugly that she has to . . . ” He also includes a lengthy out-of-date jive glossary — “Cat: A cool, witty person,” “Chippies: Young women,” “Eighty-eight (88): Piano,” “Knowledge box: Brain,” etc., — which is completely unnecessary.

Do we need to understand the mechanisms at work in the creation of humor? Probably not. But quick-witted people charm and amuse us; we appreciate them, crediting them, whether they deserve it or not, with a high degree of intelligence. Any understanding of how the witty mind works only deepened our appreciation of their talent. And there’s much that’s entertaining and informative in Wit’s End; unfortunately, Geary’s use of various literary conceits and his incessant cleverness wears thin and eventually begs the question: Is it possible to be too clever when investigating cleverness?

My old friend Norman Alton, who is by now on a first name basis with Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia, knew a good quip when he’d delivered one. He didn’t push it. As we all cackled, he remained silent and straight-faced, accepting our laughter as praise. PS

Stephen E. Smith is a retired professor and the author of seven books of poetry and prose. He’s the recipient of the Poetry Northwest Young Poet’s Prize, the Zoe Kincaid Brockman Prize for poetry and four North Carolina Press awards.