Appreciating the arts in Asheville

Published 10:23 am Thursday, December 9, 2021

Today’s Special

Asheville, N.C. is a 6-hour drive from our house on the east side of West Tennessee.  So, after Thanksgiving company left for home, we had eaten most of the leftovers, cleaned up the kitchen, put away all the pumpkins and turkeys until next year, and delivered our doggies to the boarder, DW and I packed and loaded up the car.  

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We joined thousands of others (DW said it was tens of thousands) on I-40 and headed east on that Sunday afternoon. We wanted an early start the next morning for extra sightseeing time in Asheville so we stopped for the night in Mt. Juliet.  

It is a beautiful drive on to Asheville, around scenic mountains, over rivers and through tunnels.  Our ears popped as we drove higher into the mountains. It had been a while since we had made a road trip.  Thanksgiving was over, my Christmas spirit was taking over, I was anxious for what I might see.

And, I was excited to have more time to roam the narrow streets and quaint downtown area for fabulous food and interesting finds in Asheville.  That town of  about 92,000 has the reputation of being an “artsy” community and a mecca for foodies.  Because we had been there before we knew to have lunch at Tupelo Honey, starting with fried Brussel sprouts, followed up with the smothered chicken with milk gravy and meatloaf. Oh, it was all so very good. 

We walked off our late lunch while searching for local artwork — paintings, sculpture, photography, pottery, jewelry, furniture, clothing and much more.  It could be overwhelming, but I was up for it and DW was a good sport.  We found much to see and hear as the sidewalk musicians serenaded passersby.  A few handmade Christmas ornaments from the Kress Emporium came home with us.  With not enough time to go to all the recommended shopping areas, we decided on driving to Biltmore Village.  We strolled through an antique mall, saw more beautiful works of glass, paintings, pottery and a Christmas shop as the sun was setting and the holiday lights began to glow.  Here we were right outside the entrance to the Biltmore Estate.

The real reason we had come to Asheville. Though DW and I had toured the Biltmore home twice before, we wanted to see it at Christmas time.  DW had made our overnight reservations on the grounds and purchased the tickets online for the Tuesday 6:30 p.m. Christmas tour.  With shopping wrapped up and in the bag, we drove through the tall brick gates just before dark so to see the gorgeous property George Vanderbilt purchased in the late 1880s now adorned for the holiday.  Mr. Vanderbilt did everything on a grand scale, made possible by his family’s fortune in railroad and steamboat businesses that catapulted his worth to $220 million, unheard of wealth in that era.  There is so much to see in this incredible place. 

Immersed in art. Mr. Vanderbilt collected fine works of art his entire life so having Van Gogh’s Art Immersion Exhibit on the Biltmore grounds was totally in keeping with the artistic history of this place.  George would have agreed wholeheartedly.  

DW and I plus a bus load of senior citizens opened the doors for the first showing on Tuesday morning.  The exhibit was both touching and intriguing.  The artist’s works came alive as his larger-than-life sized paintings danced all around the room with added animation.  His quotes, self-portraits, thoughts and letters reflected his mostly sad life.  His life inspired his art, his ups and downs reflected in his paintings.  His beautiful and renown sunflower painting came out of his happiest days spent in Paris; and we exited the exhibit through a room of sunflowers leaving on a happy note. 

Much more…lights, holiday finery, delicious dining, comfortable accommodations, beautiful vistas and countryside and one gorgeous overflowing greenhouse…. yet to see and enjoy on our December trip.  And then the magnificent house.

Recipe of the Week

Milk Gravy

Try this creamy white sauce over fried or oven baked chicken.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

¼ cup all-purpose flour

2 cups whole or 2% milk

¾ teaspoon sea salt, or to taste

½ teaspoon black pepper

⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper


In a heavy saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Add flour, whisking to combine. Be very careful not to let the mixture brown, be patient. Increase the heat to medium low, stirring constantly for 2 minutes. Slowly whisk in the milk then add the salt. Continue whisking and cooking over medium heat for about 5 minutes and until mixture thickens. Add pepper and cayenne, stirring to blend, adding more salt here if desired. Remove from heat and serve. May also cool and refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 1 week.  Reheat gently to serve again, thinning with a small amount of milk if needed.