Miranda Lambert’s lyrics are stuck in my head. I know they say, you can’t go home again. I just had to come back one last time.
We sat at the foot of the driveway, waiting for the large iron gates to swing open. This was new, formal in a way our home had never been. When Simmstown was ours, the driveway was an open invitation for friends and neighbors to stop by and sit awhile, maybe enjoy a slice of Mom’s seductive homemade bread, slathered with butter. Or her apple pie. Or even chicken and rice casserole. It was the 80s, after all.
Those soft black eyes, framed in brick and stone, peered at us from the crest of the hill. “This house has a soul,” Mom said from the backseat.
“Yes.” It’s palpable.
We were on a road trip—Mom, Elie and me—to celebrate Mom’s birthday later in May. A big one, I might add. With youthful energy and sassy style, my Mom grows more beautiful every year.
Following the furniture market in High Point, North Carolina, we took eight days to wind our way through the mountain town of Asheville, walk the streets of Music City, and then travel on to Kentucky and Cincinnati to visit Granny and old friends. Our soundtrack: a mix of local bluegrass and classic country (much to Elie’s chagrin).
If you haven’t yet visited the colossal Vanderbilt home, The Biltmore, it’s worth the entrance fee. It will spark your imagination and ignite the history and architecture buffs inside you as you wander the massive estate nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains just outside of Asheville, imagining the Great Gatsby-like parties that might have taken place there.
With only two nights in each city, we (read: me) agonized over dinner reservations.
In Asheville, Cucina 24 and Rhubarb were home runs. At Cucina 24, the burrata buried under a flurry of sunchokes—roasted and fried—needed only a little rustic bread to make it complete. We loved the free-form manicotti stuffed with fresh ricotta and local wild greens—almost too pretty to eat and fragrant with bright tomato sauce.
At Rhubarb, sitting by the open kitchen made ordering difficult, since we wanted to taste everything we saw. Our favorite dish was actually a salad (can we call it a salad?) of grilled romaine, roasted fingerling potatoes, smoked trout and a fried egg. Expect to see me recreate this one at home.
Asheville is a good breakfast town, with requisite buttermilk biscuits on every menu, and the ones at Early Girl Eatery and Over Easy Cafe both met flaky, buttery expectations. I always order my biscuits with a side of greens (for balance, of course).
You might wonder why we didn’t try a few other restaurants, just for fun? Perhaps a progressive lunch or dinner? Because we filled up at French Broad Chocolates, returning no fewer than four times (in two days!) for silky pot de crème and rich sipping chocolate. And shortbread cookies. And cocoa nib brownies. We needed snacks for the road, right?
In Nashville, we stayed with my friend Jen and her family. Our first night, Jen and her husband joined us for dinner at Rolf & Daughters. We were so busy talking and laughing we didn’t snap any pictures of the four of us. Or, maybe we were too busy eating the umami-rich sourdough bread slathered in seaweed butter, a shredded brussels sprouts salad showered in pecorino, fried (yes!) farro over roasted squash and a silky garganelli verde—fresh spinach pasta with pork ragout.
Are you hungry yet?
The next night we ate at Husk. Housed on a hill overlooking the Nashville lights, Husk lives in a restored historic home with playful contemporary fixtures. Also playful, the plate of Southern vegetables we shared for a first course, with contrasting flavors and textures of hot and cold, pickled and roasted, lean and rich. Their updated take on shrimp and grits should not be missed, either.
Either Nashville is not much of a breakfast town, or we were just looking in all the wrong places. We couldn’t find biscuits, but we did enjoy a lovely French-inspired brunch at Marché.
Leaving Nashville, we headed up Interstate 65 toward Kentucky. As we veered off the highway onto the country roads leading to Brandenburg and Granny’s house, there was an almost imperceptible shift in the air, like a summer memory of honeysuckle and hay. Like home.
We arrived with Granny waiting at the door to usher us in, the table set for Sunday supper. It was good to be home.
One night, we looked through a box of old letters and cards Granny had saved over the past 60-plus years. Letters from my Mom, detailing her trip from Brandenburg to Seoul in 1973 as she traveled to live with my Dad during his deployment. Letters from my Dad at boot camp. Letters from me at age four and 12 and 20. We sat in the basement for hours and relived our lives through our own words.
Another day, we drove a little over an hour to Springfield, the home of Simmstown. There we reunited with my childhood friends, Missy and Kim, and their parents, Meemaw and Peepaw, and other family—people who are family to us. Sitting around their dining room table made time peel away. I’ll tell you more about them in a future post: I have a recipe or two in mind. For now, let’s just say that whole family is very special to me and Mom, and our time together precious. Of course, they fell in love with Elie, instantly.
The time at Granny’s passed too quickly, and we ended our trip in Cincinnati, staying with Tara and her beautiful family. Tara has been my best friend since we were 14 and she has held me up and carried me through some difficult times in my life, sometimes with tough love and stern words. I needed it. Childhood friends know us better than anyone else, and they don’t mind setting us straight. There’s a history of shared growth that intrinsically connects us.
Which brings me back to Simmstown, as Mom, Granny, Elie and I sat at that gate, waiting to drive up and visit the house that had once been our own. As we walked through the rooms, it felt like the walls were whispering, telling stories of our time there, stories we repeated, laughing and reflecting as we drove back to Granny’s house that evening.
Walking through Simmstown again reminded me of how lucky I am to have experienced that home and that life—I’m woven into the soul of that house. Visiting reminded me in a vibrant way of why this blog is its namesake. Cradled in the arms of that home—with a loving spirit of adventure and boundless dreams nurtured by my parents—I started to become the person I am today.
At the end of the day, this trip was about Mom and a celebration of her life. I hope for Mom, going home also gave her a chance to reflect on where she came from, the houses that built her, and helped give her perspective on the incredibly talented and independent woman she is today. Happy Birthday, Mom. xoxo