Thursday, December 3, 2009

What a (solid) waste

"We encourage those folks to call us to get that extra cart because we want our tonnage to go up as high as it can go," says Durham's Solid Waste Management director Donald Long. What's he talking about? Getting people to recycle as much as possible! Who are "those folks"? Residents who are recycling so much that they need a second 95-gallon cart!

WOW! They need a second cart because they are recycling so much! That's awesome! People are keeping more waste out of landfills and helping the planet. How can we reward them for this effort? Let's see how director Long chose to do it:
To accommodate people who find that their bins are overflowing with materials by the end of two weeks, the city has started renting out extra containers for $18 a year.
Nice! You're doing such a great job that we would like to make you PAY for it! Well done, Durham, pat yourself on the back for this one.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Changes at Watts Grocery

Watts Grocery, the Broad Street haven for Durham foodies, has a few changes coming up. First there are the usual seasonal menu changes which include:
  • Braised lamb shanks with Sea Island pea ragout
  • Southern Fish and Chips (at lunch only) with catfish fingers and house cut fries
  • Caramel Cake with cranberry compote
  • Oyster, Shrimp, and Andouille Jambalaya with short grain rice
  • Warm apples with Mas de Lavail ice cream and crisp walnut cookies
  • Roast poulet rouge de Piedmont with Lee Brothers' pimento cheese potato gratin and pecan pan sauce
Mmmmm, pimento cheese anything sounds good to me, so I'm looking forward to the gratin. I wonder if it's offered as a side, though, since I doubt I'll order the chicken. And I love the Southern Fish and Chips idea -- hope there's the requisite Southern fried seafood condiments of cocktail sauce and tartar sauce too.

One other big change for WG is the axing of the late-night hours. I asked chef/owner Amy Tornquist about this by e-mail and she replied that it wasn't working as well as they would have hoped and that "it always seemed a little bit of a painful shift for the front of the house" because of the small WG staff. Amy's willing to reconsider in the future but only if there's a way to do it without taxing everyone. It'll surely be a loss for Durham's late-night offerings but will still remain a superb option for lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch.

Amy was also kind enough to share the full new menus (which haven't been posted on the WG site as of yet) so here they are: Lunch/Dinner and Brunch/Dessert. Enjoy!

(photo via

Saturday, October 17, 2009

KIng's Sandwich Shop -- still in progress

I noticed yesterday that the renovation of King's Sandwich Shop has moved forward one more step -- note the cool new logo on the east side of the building:

Here's an artist's rendering of how the new place will appear when complete:

(from August's Durham Magazine article)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Help students learn more about the Constitution!

A shameless request for you to jump in the fun and help 10th grade students in Durham learn more about the US Constitution in my Civics and Economics class. C&E is required for graduation in NC and there's also an End of Course test that the students need to pass to get credit for the class. I've created my first DonorsChoose project to get a class set of this graphic novel adaptation of the US Constitution.

It's a terrific new way to tell a 222 year old story: how can a document that old still be relevant to our lives and our government? Through amazing images and words Jonathan Hennessey and Aaron McConnell vividly describe not only that summer in 1787 but also important cases that have tested the Constitution in the years since. I'm hoping that this innovative method of storytelling will make learning more interesting and fun!

If you can, please click this link to give $ to my project so that my students can use these texts to be the best C&E students they can be! I thank you in advance and my students will thank you directly if you can help us. --Steve

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Don't call us Durham, call us Raleigh-

Today's Wall Street Journal has an article on the "next hot youth-magnet cities." The usual suspects of Washington DC and Seattle are tied at #1 but look down at what's tied at #7 .... it's, um "Raleigh-"? And that picture is um, Raleigh's Brightleaf Square? Nope, sorry, that's Durham people, and I'm assuming the "city" in the print version is Raleigh-Durham. Sigh. The depressing text of the "city" description is below as is the screen shot that shows both "Raleigh-" with the thumbnail of the same photo at the bottom identified as Durham.

I'm sending a note to the reporter for clarification. Stay tuned.

A relatively low cost of living and a highly educated population help make this Southern city appealing.
The smallest city on our panelists' list, with fewer than 400,000 people, Raleigh has job opportunities in tech and research and a strong university presence. It offers outdoor recreation and a lively music scene. Also, Fort Bragg is expanding, signaling more jobs and more spinoff employment. "Raleigh's future is so bright that it ought to wear shades," says one panelist.
Downside: Raleigh has few critics; the worst panelists could say is that it wouldn't be seen as the hippest locale on the list.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

U2 conference looking for you, too to be a sponsor.

NCCU is the home for the first ever academic conference exploring the music, work and influence of U2 from October 2-4, 2009. The conference organizers just tweeted that they are looking for one more Gold ($5K) or Silver ($1K) sponsor for the conference and are promising to give away a free trip to Durham plus free tickets to the U2 show in Raleigh on October 3.

From the site, on how to find a sponsor:
The best way to connect to a business is by a personal connection. Do you work for someone who has a soft spot for U2? Or for arts and music education? Or for Africa? Or for AIDS treatments and research? Or cares about promoting Durham, North Carolina?
(How they know that Twitter-reader A is the person who connected them with Sponsor B is beyond me ... I'm just passing on the info. I don't need a free trip to Durham NC thank you very much nor am I likely to go to the concert.)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Sorry Herald-Sun but you're getting pwned

So whose idea was it to redesign the Herald-Sun's site so that the right side of the screen is a text message space where anyone can post comments? Tonight I logged on and saw this message:

Obama calls Kanye West a donkey rear -

followed a few hours later by this one:

your mama calls your daddy my name by mistake....get over it

Nice. Your writers and editors must be so proud. Screen shot is at the bottom.

And -- the N&O's new redesign is in beta these days. Maybe they'll also have another great feature like the Herald-Sun's?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Congratulations Joe!

Today's the day -- Durham's own Joe Liles is expected to summit Mount Katahdin in Maine some time today to complete his 2,175 mile thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail! Liles was one of the founding faculty members of the NC School of Science and Math and following his retirement in 2008 decided he wanted to take on the challenge of hiking the trail. He began in March -- back when hiking the Appalachian Trail only had one meaning -- and was a popular hiking companion (according to trail reports) with his singing and harmonica playing. As you may know thru-hikers pick up a nickname during their adventure and Joe became Braid for the last six months, a fitting moniker for Joe's extended ponytail.

A thorough web and Facebook presence has tracked Joe all the way, thanks to Colin Law (NCSSM '86). There you can find video, stories and of course, given Joe's immense talents in photography, some terrific photos. I'm looking forward to the coffee table book myself.

Way to go Joe!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A walk around downtown Durham

I spent an hour on Friday afternoon (9/11/09) walking around downtown Durham and taking pictures with my iPhone as I went. I was surprised by how well they turned out. Anyhow, the photos should appear as a slideshow below. Enjoy!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Man v. Food: "Durham" mini-review

Okay, since I mocked the social media marketing folks in the last post I figured I owed it to teh Internets around the globe to at least watch "Man v. Food: Durham" and give a review. And I must say that eh, it's not the show for me. For some reason a show about a chubby guy who has an enormous appetite and doesn't mind looking stupid seems a little too familiar. I hadn't seen an MvF episode before and I doubt I'll watch one again.

On the other hand, I definitely enjoyed the Durham parts. The owners of both Backyard BBQ Pit and Wimpy's were charming, enthusiastic and had a great sense of humor. It was also nice to see the Doughman competition as I'd only heard of it before but never attended. And you can never get enough of a charismatic host saying "I love Durham" several times.
On the MvF website there's also a nice piece on Ninth Street that features Native Threads, the Duck Shop, The Regulator and a fun mini-interview with Carol Anderson of Vaguely Reminiscent. Click on the photo of Carol and Adam above to see the clip. There's also a very gracious "vlog" (people still use that term?) in which Adam is shot sitting mostly in the dark in his hotel room (?) singing the praises of every one he met in Durham.

Finally, this: in the transition shots between segments there were two shots of Raleigh. I assume this was filmed when they were in Raleigh last year, but seriously. How hard is it to shoot ten more seconds of footage from the city you're in? As proof here's a screen shot from the website. Note the CAT (Capital Area Transit) bus in the picture.

All I can say is -- thanks, Allen. (Allen, Adam -- what's the difference?)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Man vs. Social Network Marketers

[Something tells me this is not going to go as planned.*]

The next stop on my new status as a member of the media elite (for those of you with wee memories visit my wayback machine for The Nasher, Picasso and Me): I got an e-mail today from someone named Wendy from Room 214 urging me to blog/tweet about the show "Man v. Food." Honest to Freud I've never seen this show before and only barely have some memory of this guy appearing in Raleigh last year to eat 3000 hot dogs or something like that.

Anyhow, the episode Wednesday night features this wild man's adventures in eating in Durham, or so that's what the release I got said. I'm sure it's going to be a fascinating show but today kids I'd like to talk about this press release-e-mail-thing. Here are some snippets that I really enjoyed:

Durham has been called the "Cradle of Cue", so Adam starts his journey with a search for some good ole Eastern Carolina BBQ.

Oh, where to start. To my knowledge Durham has NEVER been called the "Cradle of Cue." After Googling I found that North Carolina has at times been called the "Cradle of 'Cue" (note the apostrophe, Wendy!) but Durham? Locavore? Sure. Foodie? You bet? But I doubt we'd even make the top 20 in barbecue localities in the state. We certainly get no love from my new favorite food site BBQ Jew. Regardless, if you make it all the way to the Triangle, you pick Backyard BBQ Pit?

And "good ole?" C'mon, Wendy, y'all not frum 'round here, huh? And it's eastern, not Eastern. And it's eastern North Carolina, not eastern Carolina. Catching on?

They're known for their chopped BBQ pork, which btw isn't really chopped, it's stirred (that's how tender it is!). In Adam's own words, the pork "coats your tongue like velvet".

btw? Are we under Twitter length restraints now? And, um, if it's not chopped, it's not chopped. Find me some other NC barbecue restaurant that refers to their meat as stirred. Also, the last word you should ever use to describe eastern North Carolina barbecue is velvet -- that's for fine paintings, not food.

Next up, Adam heads to Wimpy's Grill which is known for big breakfasts and big burgers.

Okay, I've had a burger or two at Wimpy's, and I enjoyed them, but they weren't ecstasy-producing. In the YouTube clip Wendy sent along the focus at Wimpy's is far more on the toppings than the ground-at-Wimpy's hamburger. Look at all those toppings! And more toppings! They're messy.

Also, they serve breakfast at Wimpy's? Maybe they do, but never in my life have I heard of Wimpy's as being "known for big breakfasts." You?

And did you know Wimpy's ...

"is a hot spot for tailgating?"

View Larger Map

WHERE? In that incredibly narrow all-asphalt parking lot? Or does she mean the Dukies are all grabbing some burgers on their way to the big football games? (Insert your own Duke football joke here.)

This burger is so messy Adam says, "I feel I ned to eat it in the shower".

Ned? And proper use of quotation marks?

On a more personal note, I hope you do not find this email offensive. I try to reach out to people who would be interested to know that Man V. Food is coming!

No, Wendy, I don't find this offensive at all. I do worry that in the battle of good writing vs. social media that social media seems to have the upper hand at the moment. Good luck wherever the next episode takes you.


P.S. Oooh, that Room 214 group seems a bit, I don't know, white, don't you think?

[*On the other hand, I'm writing about -- and you're reading about -- a show I knew nothing about mere hours ago, so perhaps their job is done. Someone at Room 214 is no doubt smiling and noting the irony ... while sending someone else to pull up the clip of "Reality Bites" where Ethan Hawke defines irony so everyone remembers what it is.]

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Durham Bulls via Twitter

In the old days if you weren't at the ballpark the only way to follow a baseball game was to listen to the play-by-play on the radio. Then came the advent of television and later the Internet, so one could be anywhere in the world and keep up with each pitch and crack of the bat.

And now there's Twitter.

I've been following the Durham Bulls Twitter feed for the past couple of months, mostly out of curiosity as I'm just a casual fan. But this morning I work up to see the overnight feed from TweetDeck and was stunned to see 17 posts from last night's Durham v. Gwinnett game. It was so much fun to read them and see the final result that I decided to repost them all below. It's not quite like being there but I think it's a close approximation!

* Gwinnett scores a run in the top of the 1st with no hits. Lead 1-0 with the Bulls coming up.

* Riggans yard. Tied at 1.

* Gwinnett has taken a 3-1 lead thru 4.

Bulls trying to get back into this game. Scored 2 in the 6th and now trail 6-3.

Bulls are 2 for 9 with runners in scoring position so far tonight. Need to change that.

Make that 2 for 10 with runners in scoring position. We need a clutch hit from Reid.

Reid did come thru and the Gwinnett lead has been cut to 7-5. We still have runners on 1st and 2nd with only one out in the 7th.

A comeback tonight is big because Syracuse swept a doubleheader tonight. The loser of the game will only be 3.5 games up for the wild card.

Heading to the 9th and we are still trailing 7-5. Need another 9th inning rally.

2-outs, 2-strikes bottom of the 9th and Reid just crushed one into the RF stands. We are now tied at 7 and will head to extra innings.

We head to the bottom of the 11th with the score still tied at 7.

We now head to the 13th and we have run out of pitchers. Ray Olmedo is now our pitcher.

We now head to the 14th. Crazy, but Ray Olmedo is back on the mound. Can he hold Gwinnett again?

Timmons just hit a solo shot off Olmedo. Gwinnett leads 8-7.

Need another 2-run miracle in the 14th. Olmedo did all he could, but Gwinnett scored two and now lead 9-7.

Bottom of the 14th and the Bulls have runners on 1st and 3rd with one out trailing 9-7.

Elliot Johnson has just struck out for the 5th time tonight, but this time the bases were loaded. We are down to our final out.

Unbelievable. Weber did it again. Full count, 2-outs, bases loaded in the bottom of the 14th and Weber hit a walk-off double. Bulls win 10-9

Amazing! Check out the video of the late-game heroics on the Bulls' website. Go Bulls!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Wikipedia and Bev Perdue -- where's the love, y'all?

So I'm looking for a factoid this morning for a fun (!) civics getting to know you activity and I thought I'd throw in something about NC Governor Bev Perdue's former career as a teacher. I was just a little surprised, then, when I surfed over to Wikipedia and read this statement in her bio:

"Due to her uncanny resembalince the the Joker character from the Batman movies, she has been cast in the upcoming film. She needs to make up to render her face hidious and deformed, and her smile is a vivid portrayal of evilness."

Wow. That's a little harsh, don't you think? And there's no reference to which cinematic joker she might have a "resembalince" to so compare the three images below and state your preference:
Naturally in Wikipedialand the change (which was made earlier today) has been scrubbed from the current view but it can be seen in this history page. Another interesting fact about Perdue was also on an earlier version of the page today:

"She was soley responsible for the murder of young Emmit Till, a truly heinous act of American racism for which she recieved a 25 year suspended prision sentence."

Whoa. What's up with this? Looks like the changes were made by the IP address Internet sleuths -- what can you say about this?

P.S. to Wikipedia: you know that "flagged revisions" idea? Better get a move on that.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Previewing: Picasso at the Nasher

I was invited to the press preview today for the "Picasso and the Allure of Language" exhibition at Duke's Nasher Museum of Art. Moi, the press? Yup. Turns out the good people at the Nasher were willing to expand their definition this year to include local folks who use social networking tools, so as a renowned (cough!) Durham blogger I got the call. And yes, I took pictures -- there are plenty below after all the verbiage.
More about the meta-experience later. The exhibition itself is really well done. It's an attempt to not do "just another Picasso exhibition" as one speaker put it, but to really examine the ties between his art and language. This included things such as correspondence from his friendship between Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas (note the collage above) to the way that his doodles in his art became like handwriting at times. My friend Xan always refers to his cultural reflections as "Unsophisticated Art Reviews" and in that vein I will share that I can't always define what a good exhibition is but I know one when I see one -- and this was it. In fact, my only questions came when I saw pieces that were fabulous but just seemed to be great works of art; in some sculptures and paintings I failed to see how they really tied to the theme of "the allure of language" but for most it was quite clear. So should you see this? Absolutely. It's worth the $10 admission charge (tickets here) or you can wait until the free community and family days this fall (very nice move, Duke!).

Now to the experience of the press preview. First, I was delighted to strike up a lovely conversation with the delightful Blue Greenberg of the Herald-Sun before the event began. Second, I enjoyed hearing the curators speak about the themes they found in the works (conversation, inscription and fiction). Third, it was nice to be greeted by Wendy Hower Livingston of the Nasher who invited me to be there and in addition to providing me with a nice press kit also made sure I used the appropriate hashtag (#nasherpicasso, FYI). So when I was listening to the curators and the other introductions I pulled out my iPhone and sent off a couple of tweets about what I was hearing. (I would've sent more but the vaunted 3G network disappeared after ten minutes. Shrug.)

But the most fun was yet to come. As I was walking out Wendy stopped me and asked if I was Mr. Jones and if I had been tweeting -- oh, she means @mistajonez, I realized! -- and that some people wanted to meet me. Wha? It turns out that the delightful @10ch who I had exchanged some direct messages with about the Museum of Life and Science was there and she wanted to meet me! She'd seen my tweets with #nasherpicasso and so had @negaratduke, a Duke professor who was there. It was delightful to meet them in such a, um, social manner. I got to talk to @10ch for a while and not only did I enjoy our conversation but I got to see her amazing sketches of what she experienced at the exhibit. I will link to them both here but you should click through to Flickr to see them both larger -- they're amazing!

So, to sum: exhibit GOOD Picasso GOOD social networking GOOD. Pictures below.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Don't forget the bulky items

In addition to the woes of the new Durham recycling program that Bull City Rising has noted, up in "blue" North Durham we're having issues with the bulky item pick-up. As you know, this new innovation was rolled out with the new blue recycling carts but in a really odd way: you have to put the bulky items at the curb before 7 a.m. of the day your garbage is picked up, but it won't be picked up until the next day.

So last week our neighborhood put out bulky items on Wednesday so they'd be ready for the Thursday 7 a.m. drive-by in order to be picked up on Friday. (Got that?)

And naturally, as you'll see from the pictures below taken today, it's all still there.

I called Durham One Call about 10 a.m. on Monday and was told that they were "backed up" and they would get around to it when they could. I was also told I was the 3rd person on my street to call.

Trash was picked up as normal today. Any guess as to whether the bulky stuff will be picked up tomorrow?

P.S. If you visit the page linked above to the Durham Solid Waste division, you'll see at the end of the paragraph about bulky items is this sentence: "It’s that simple."


Monday, July 20, 2009

A walk in the park

This morning I was on a long walk from downtown Durham back home and as I passed near the Northgate dog park area I noticed an older woman up ahead of me. She appeared to be near the area for the larger dogs but didn't have a dog, which I thought was odd, so I just shrugged and headed around the park. I then realized she was calling out to me, so I paused my iPod and walked towards her a bit. "Ma'am?" I said.

"Are you walking through?" she said, pointing to the direction I was going.

Weird, I thought. "Yes," I answered.

"Good! Then I'll walk with you," she said.

Um, WEIRD. Right? But I waited for her to walk over to me. She was probably in her late 70s or early 80s, white hair, blue oversized workshirt, pinkish pants and a broad-brimmed hat. She wore athletic shoes and carried what I thought was a strange looking walking stick in her right hand.

She then walked with me as we passed from the dog park up past the infamous Museum of Life and Science bronto. She said that she often used to walk this way with three or four other women, but that they hadn't done that in a long time and this was the first time she'd walked down this path in six or seven years. She said that she used to volunteer for Meals on Wheels, five days a week from 8:30-2:30 (!) but that she had given that up recently since they moved from the downtown senior center. Her original plan, she said, was to go there and walk on the treadmill this morning, but that she really felt like getting out and walking around the neighborhood instead. We continued walking slowly -- "now you walk on ahead, don't slow down for me," she said, but clearly I wasn't. I was a little worried that she might stumble and fall on the uneven path, but she was pretty steady. "I brought my old broomstick to keep me steady," she said, identifying her strange walking stick.

As we neared the bronto she talked about the recent attack on it, noting that "there are terrible people in this world." We saw the newly reattached head in place and she said that it looked good. "Hello! You look so frisky this morning!" she said to the bronto. And I think she was right, it did look a little more jovial than usual. Maybe it's just me but it looks like the head is a little more turned now, a little more, um frisky.

We got close to Murray Avenue and she asked where I was headed. "Way up near the Eno?" she said. She and her walking friends used to continue on the trail past the museum and on up to the hospital, but she decided that she would just turn on Murray and head back towards her home. We spotted a man walking his dog about to cross the street, and she inquired if he was going to walk on the path back to the dog park, but he said he wasn't, so she continued up Murray.

"I enjoyed our walk!" she said to me as she left.

"I did too, ma'am. You have a nice day!" I said. And I continued on my way home, still trying to figure out exactly what had just happened.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Tearing it up in Durham

This morning I veered off my usual routes around downtown Durham and found myself smack in the middle of a demolition zone. The former Fayette Place public housing complex (at the corner of Umstead and Grant) was bought by a Philadelphia developer, Campus Apartments, and currently Raleigh's EHG is handling the demolition. Campus Apartments develops complexes for colleges all over the country, and this one is going to provide extra (for-profit) housing for Central. (If you'd like to know more about development in general in the Fayetteville Street area, check out the Fayetteville Street Planning Group.)

There were a couple of EHG guys who I spoke to for a bit on my walk around this enormous block. They said that the project would take at least a month, and in response to my question, that they were recycling the concrete and brick. There was a separate crew going through buildings with plastic sheeting while the workers had on thick overalls and heavy-duty masking systems -- I'm guessing that was for asbestos abatement.

Enjoy the pictures I took on the walk around the block!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The truth about blackberries in Durham

There was a great post on the Duke Park neighborhood e-mail list this week about the joys of picking blackberries in Durham. I enjoyed picking them when I was little but haven't thought much about it lately -- but now I'm inspired by Tom Whiteside! Read below for more. (And the photo above of a Durham blackberry patch was snagged from the Durham blog Shift of Tow posted last year on July 4.)

Dear Neighbors -
The fruit, not the gizmo. We are in the middle of blackberry season, and as usual my fingers are purple and my arms are covered with tiny scratches. My freezer is filling up. I am very happy. This wonderful fruit is everywhere, we have an inner city abundance of a culinary treat and it is a blessing. I've got a day off work, what the heck, I am going to spread the word about blackberries. In case you're interested, I offer Blackberry 101.

The stalks and brambles grow wild all over the place, you can find them along railroad tracks, behind buildings, alongside parking lots, in various places along the American Tobacco Trail, on the roadcut hillsides above 15-501 bypass in the vicinity of the intersection with the Durham Freeway, all along the Durham Freeway, on the hill across from Sam's, etc etc etc. I get a few, wild, in my backyard hedge. Look around carefully and you will find plentitude. They are easiest to spot in spring when the white blossoms on bending stalks stand out at a distance. This is, by definition, a common weed. These days I don't go more than a mile or two from my house for blackberries. Working at a leisurely pace I can pick a gallon in about an hour and a half. If I wanted to do this every day it would be easy. There are plenty of berries, plenty, plenty, plenty.

The fruit turns from green to red to black. Right now you will find all three colors on the same stalk. You can pick berries for several weeks, going back to the same place every few days to get what has ripened up. (They are not bananas, they will not ripen off the plant.) The berry is ripe when it is completely black. A ripe berry will come off with a gentle tug; if you have to pull it excessively hard to detach then it is not ripe As you pick you will find that some black ones still have one or more bright red little globule things, that's fine, it's ripe enough. But if you see a lot of red mixed in with black on the same berry, leave it for tomorrow. Ideally the ripe one is solid shiny black, and it comes off readily in your hand. If you find one that's more of a dull black, a bit past ripe and mushy, go ahead and taste it - sometimes these are already fermented on the bush, it's like a very fresh shot of blackberry vodka. (more on that later)

The bad stuff - blackberry thorns are wicked. As a wild plant that likes to grow back into space that's been cut, the blackberry often shares habitat with poison ivy. (For example, there's plenty of blackberry between the Wachovia and the old Kmart, and there is some absolutely spectacular poison ivy, too, with purple rusty stuff growing atop the leaves. I'm not picking there anymore.) More often than not it's decent territory for snakes, too. So generally I wear long pants and work boots and a heavy long sleeved shirt. Most days it's not much fun at 3:00 in the afternoon; early morning is best to stay out of heat and sun. I usually go before breakfast, this morning was absolutely perfect weather. I take plastic containers with lids, because it sure is a drag to spill a quart of berries. Just in case you don't like snakes or poison ivy, you can still pick blackberries - they are not always in the middle of brambles. Some of my favorite places are quite easily accessible and safe even in shorts and sandals, and no I'm not going to tell you where those are.

If you see a few ripe berries but not many, stay right there and look carefully. Look underneath. The ripe fruit gets heavy and pulls the stalk down, and you will often find the best stuff down in among other weeds. Sometimes the blackberry bush can climb up into small trees, so you can even find them overhead. But always look way down low, underneath everything else. It IS a jungle out there, so stay in one place and look low. Sometimes you find fruit on big established brambles, and sometimes you find perfectly nice fruit on rather lonely solitary stalks. At the end of the season you are picking the last black ones and there are no more red ones coming along. Even then, you might still find more berries nearby, on different plants in deeper shade.

People have said to me, "Oh I wouldn't want to take the food away from the birds." If you get into the bushes you probably will meet some birds and they might fuss at you, but that's probably because you are near their nest. If they are fussing badly you are probably too near, so try to back out carefully. Otherwise, you're not going to hurt them by taking "their" food. Once you see how many berries there are, and how many are inaccessible to you because you don't have wings, you won't worry about the birds.

So what to do with all this fruit? Wash it, drain it, eat it. Fresh with cereal, fresh with vanilla ice cream. Cobblers and pies are the best. The black turns to a beautiful deep purple when cooked, it's just an outrageously gorgeous color. Some people don't like the seeds, no problem, it's easy to take them out - make syrup or jelly. I like syrup, and it's easy - add 1/2 cup sugar to a half gallon of berries, a tiny bit of water, cook it down slowly and strain the seeds out. Refrigerated it lasts for weeks, it can be frozen. More or less sugar to taste. Cook it longer if you want it thicker, great on pancakes. Don't cook it so long and you've got an easy liquid form for making beverages. The taste is unique but is like pomegranate or black currants - that tasty dark fruit bitter flavor. For a soft drink I add syrup to regular ginger ale. For an adult beverage, add a splash of blackberry syrup to Blenheims ginger ale (hot hot or regular hot) and vanilla vodka. Careful, this is way easy to drink - very refreshing and it goes down like Kool Aid (and I mean that in a good way). If you freeze blackberries in a single layer on baking sheets they will stay like individual frozen berries when you bag them; if you put a few cups of fresh berries into a plastic bag and freeze them like that you will have one big clump of frozen berries, fine for wintertime cobbler or pies. BTW, we have a couple of Blenheim's bootleggers in the neighborhood, they make the run to South Carolina every once in a while and personally I am in good supply, but if anyone knows of a local retailer please let me know.

You can buy blackberries at the Farmer's Market and they look pretty good, all nice and big and shiny. The wild berries you forage for free might be smaller most of the time, but if you look around you can find plenty of impressive berries wild, too. Even the smallest berries cook down fine to syrup, I usually have two containers, one for juicy (to eat fresh or cobbler) and the other for not-so-juicy (for syrup).

So forage well. Here's a toast to the common-as-weeds blackberry, abundant as far as you might wander. It is a tough, scrappy and delicious part of our world. I nominate blackberry as the Official Duke Park Neighborhood Wild Fruit.

- Tom

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Bear in Durham!

Spotted tonight behind Edison Johnson!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Crime and punishment, Triangle-style

Items from recent crime news:
In Durham some kids in high school for a senior prank decapitate a local landmark and put the head on the giraffe (itself stolen from a putt-putt course a few years back) on their school's campus. Culprits are nabbed by the police. Names are not released. Debate ensues as to whether to even charge them criminally. Most likely they are 18 since they're seniors in high school.

In Raleigh a 22-year-old student takes some DOT barricades and fashions a scary monster out of them, creating public art and causing destruction to the barrels at the same time. Student is arrested by the Raleigh police, booked, named released to the public and charged with "misdemeanor charges of damage to property and larceny."

Um ... anything wrong with this picture? Or is it just me?

Friday, May 29, 2009

For goodness Snakes

The story on WRAL seems harmess enough: snake bites are on the rise in North Carolina. According to the Carolina Poison Control Center, "in April and May of last year ... 102 snake bites were reported. This year, 179 bites have been reported." Okay, check, I get that. But then comes the kicker -- why the increase? Here's the answer:
Experts say one reason snake sightings could be on the rise is construction, which can steer them away from their natural habitat.
Um, hello, "experts"? WE'RE IN A FRIGGIN' RECESSION. Where oh where are you going to find enough new construction from 2008 to 2009 to justify this? And where was the brain of reporter Beau Minnick when he typed this in? I'd love to know who these experts were and where their magic whiteboards showing this amazing increase in construction are.

[Photo above from the Eno River last month. Saw three over the course of two days ... but of course, I was in their backyard, not vice versa.]

Thursday, May 28, 2009

What does John McCann have on the Herald-Sun?

It's not enough that the Herald-Sun gives John McCann to spew his nonsensical half-baked ideas. Believe me, I'm all for bile-spewing columnists, I just want ones that actually know how to write. I am appalled by his anti-gay comments -- which keep me from actually subscribing to the paper -- but as Michael Bacon pointed out a few years ago, one of his columns was "not just bad because it is so casually yet stridently anti-gay, but because it adds absolutely nothing to any form of conversation on the issue." (Crap, that was three years ago?)

But with all the budget cuts someone got the bright idea to make McCann a courtroom reporter and the results have just been laughable. In this economy, with media jobs evaporating all around us, does McCann have some naughty photos of Paxton execs somewhere? Otherwise, how do you expain this lede?
The sister of the man who could spend the rest of his life in prison for allegedly slicing the life out of the man whose child she was carrying returned to the witness stand on Wednesday and told jurors the victim drank too much, did drugs and, in fact, was a cocaine dealer.
Nice work, John! Durham is so proud. And note to Paxton: seriously? With all the unemployed newspaper folk in the Triangle and this is one you kept?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Duke Tech!

I was browsing Google News today and a story in the Durham NC section caught my eye. "Duke Tech graduation tonight," read the headline from I e-mailed them a correction and before I could get home to get a screen shot they had changed the headline and the page title, but not the URL, as you can see in the address bar below:
The tags for the page still list Duke even now. Heh.

The irony is that this was apparently just a cut-and-paste from a Durham Tech press release, so did someone at MyNC just decided to shorten Durham to Duke? Weird. But with reporters dropping like flies at the N&O and the Herald-Sun, maybe this is just a sign of the times.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Eno River State Park

Sorry for the long delay, gentle readers. I am back to report some very refreshing jaunts this week (Spring Break, you know) at the Eno River State Park, a park that for some reason I have neglected for a long time. I visited the eastern and western divisions of the ERSP and hiked five different trails, and I can report that a) it was immensely satisfying and b) the snakes are out! Here are some assorted images from the park over the past three days:

The gravestone for Catharine Dunnagan (r) led to a fascinating post about racial history in Durham -- be sure to check it out.