Monday, November 19, 2007

A last look at Beaufort, N.C.

My mother, sister, niece, and I had lunch in Beaufort again yesterday. We sat outside in the warm sun on the deck of a restaurant on the town waterfront, with a nice view of water, docks and boats. My sister know the chief cook at the restaurant where we ate, and he treated us to a nice meal. That was a good surprise and a very nice gesture on his part.

This is what my mother calls a "shotgun" house. It's one of the
more modest dwellings along the Beaufort waterfront these days.

Beaufort is one of the most picturesque and cosmopolitan places along the central coast of North Carolina, because it is a popular stopping-off point for people traveling by boat up and down the East Coast. For example, today at lunch there were two men at the table next to ours who were speaking French. From their accents, I could tell they were Canadian.

A monument to the county's Confederate soldiers in the Civil War

This area is a birder's paradise. Yesterday I saw egrets and a blue heron in the marsh behind my mother's apartment complex (she sold her house two years ago and moved into a retirement complex). There are flocks of geese and ducks flying overhead all the time, headed south. And there are so many sea birds — gulls, terns, cormorants, plovers, sandpipers, etc. etc.

I think these are cormorants flying low over the surface of the sound.

There are a lot of big old live oak trees along the N.C. coast. Their thick, arching limbs make sensuous shapes overhead and their branches and leaves provide much needed shade in the heat of summer.

Live oaks on the grounds of the Carteret County Courthouse

Beaufort is the county seat, and the big brick courthouse was built about 100 years ago. The county's population has doubled or tripled over the past 40 years, when development started in earnest. Retirees flood in, looking for a mild climate, low prices, and good recreational facilities.

The Carteret County courthouse in Beaufort, N.C.

One of the most impressive houses on Front Street in Beaufort is one that was home to the Carteret Academy, a boarding school for girls whose families lived on the N.C. Outer Banks in the 19th century. The classrooms were on the ground floor with dormitory rooms on the upper floors.

The Carteret Academy, a building that dates back to 1842

The ground floor, in brick, was built under the original house some 25 years ago, if memory serves. More and more old houses around Carteret County are being elevated so that they can withstand floodwaters. Newer houses are often built on tall pilings for the same reason.

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Starting Wednesday 21 November, I'll be blogging de nouveau at Living the Life in Saint-Aignan.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Grits Grill, Nags Head, N.C.

Do you eat grits? Have you ever eaten grits? Do you even know what grits are?

In Nags Head, North Carolina, there's a breakfast restaurant called the Grits Grill, where grits are the mainstay of the menu. The Grits Grill is open daily from 6:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m., serving eggs, bacon, sausages, biscuits, toast, and... grits.

A breakfast place in Nags Head, N.C.

Wikipedia describes grits as a "corn porridge" — think oatmeal, cream of wheat, and, especially, polenta. Both grits and polenta are made from ground corn, a.k.a. Indian corn or maize in some parts of the English-speaking world, maïs in France, and blé d'Inde in Québec.

The chef at the Grits Grill

The main difference between polenta and grits is that polenta is made by grinding up whole corn kernals and grits are made by hulling the kernals before they are ground. Polenta can be described as "yellow grits" as opposed to the white grits served across the Southern U.S.

When I was in college in North Carolina, way back when, "grits" was a term used by students from Up North to describe us Southerners. Then I finished college and moved to Champaign, Illinois, to continue my studies at the University of Illinois, and I knew I wasn't too far from home when I saw grits being served at breakfast in the university cafeterias there.

I'm not sure exactly what this means...

I had never heard of polenta until a guy I knew in Paris in about 1975 told me about it. He had grown up in southern France and he prepared a dinner of polenta with sausages (chipolatas, I think) in a tomato sauce. Now that I live in France, I know I can have (yellow) grits whenever I want, because they stock polenta at Intermarché and SuperU in Saint-Aignan.

I'll be flying back to France tomorrow. According to Walt's blog, it has been very cold in Saint-Aignan for the past few days. It's supposed to snow today and then warm up and rain for a couple of days. Walt will drive up to CDG airport Tuesday morning to pick me up.