RUBBED AND ROASTED: A holiday ham from JV Farms.

Best way to quit the big box meat aisles

As a lifelong Arkansan who grew up on a chicken farm, spent a subsequent decade-plus as a hardline vegetarian and now loves the slow, delicate process of braising a pork belly as much as she loves the vegan offerings at Blue Sage in the River Market, my relationship with meat is, has been and probably always will be complicated. The reality is, most of us could stand to conduct our relationship with meat a little more thoughtfully, wherever we stand on the carnivore-herbivore spectrum.

Maybe you’ve been a full-time vegan since the days when people would pronounce it “vay-gun,” and in that case, right on! If you and your household aren’t quite ready to take that plunge, though, there are other options. Are they available at the rates you find in the mass-mailed coupon inserts? No. Local farmers with small-scale operations need to make a living, too, and often lose out to the rock-bottom price points Sanderson Farms and Walmart’s Great Value brand shout from signs along the grocery store meat aisles. Suffice it to say, when it comes to linking up low-income families in Little Rock with alternatives to factory-farmed meat, we’ve got some work to do.

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A monthly farm share isn’t as cost-prohibitive as you might think, though. It’s certainly the most economical way to buy locally farmed meat and, as opposed to that fresh produce that comes with a CSA share, it’s not likely to go to waste during a busy week because local meat is usually packaged to go into your freezer. Make the rounds at the Hillcrest Farmers Market on Saturday morning or at Bernice Garden’s Sunday market and ask the farmers what their shares look like. Talk to Travis Short and his crew from Farm Girl Meats (Perryville), or to Jay and Valorie Lee of JV Farms (Bismarck). Some, like the share I’ve been getting for a few years now, offer a full share for around $100/month and a half share for around $50/month, with all sorts of choices: vacuum-packed pork chops, half chickens, spare ribs, ground beef, T-bone steaks, bacon, minute steaks, chicken legs and thighs, all manner of sausages and other thrifty cuts (like chicken necks for broth, and livers). You’ll reduce the miles your food traveled to get to you, you’ll be able to customize your share to fit your family’s palates and culinary-skill levels, and best of all, you’ll get to breeze past the meat aisle at the grocery store.

Stephanie Smittle

A picture of Little Rock's Southern StudioBrian Chilson

Best Place to Get Your Craft On  

Many in Little Rock mourned when Southern Table restaurant closed late last year. However, the owner, Al Hodge, recently reopened the site as Southern Studio, a DIY arts and crafts center. “I started college in art school,” Hodge said, “but soon discovered I couldn’t raise a family on what an artist earns.” While he collected and supported the arts during his 35 years in economic development finance, his retirement has come with a mission: “I want to teach people that art goes beyond the work of the masters; that even something simple can still bring pleasure to your life.” Southern Studio offers open work space for various arts and crafts, as well as classes with local artists. Hodge has also retained his kitchen and liquor license and will happily prepare some snacks or a glass of wine or local craft beer to facilitate inspiration: “The point is to enjoy yourself.”

— Guy Lancaster

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Brian Chilson
TOUR DE FIFTHS: At Rocktown Distillery.

Best Places to Entertain Relatives from a Dry County

My wife and I are homebodies, but recently we had to entertain for a weekend family members who wanted to experience the boozy delights of the big city. Fortunately, Rock Town Distillery offers tours three times a day (2 p.m., 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. every day but Monday). Each tour highlights how spirits are made and aged, followed by a tasting of 10 different delicious distillations. At a cost of $10 per person, you can’t beat the value. The next day, we drove them out to River Bottom Winery at BoBrook Farms in Roland, which makes wine from various fruits they cultivate (blueberries, blackberries) and also offers more traditional grape wines they make using juice sourced from around the world. The winery features a spacious deck where you can relax with a chilled bottle of something sweet while playing dominoes. The family had a blast and left with their car filled with booze. Mission accomplished. 

— Guy Lancaster

FROGWARTS FILM: Closeups of butterflies feasting on scat.

Best obscure (and beautiful) nature email 

It’s unpredictable, infrequent and fascinating: It’s “Field-Notes from Frogwarts,” close-up photographs of butterflies and beetles and dragonflies and frogs and other faunal beauties captured by Keith Newton. Newton is perhaps best known for his fine hand at woodworking, making custom tables and cabinets and detailed carvings (like his carved pear wood lidded vessel in the shape of a cecropia moth chrysalis). But he’s also a photographer, and down in Calhoun County, in privately owned woods surrounded by the Moro Big Pine Wildlife Management Area, Newton likes to capture in close-up (he uses a Canon PowerShot X50) the critters that live there, write about what he’s seen and share it to those who receive the Field Notes. Like a fishing spider catching a ride on the head of a water moccasin (“I suspected it was a robberfly, and was expecting it to drill down into its brain like they have been known to do with their normal prey … but it turned out to be a fishing spider just going for a joy ride.”) He heads out before dawn to catch the moths and such that don’t move until the air warms up. Like a Cyrano darner dragonfly on what appears to be a sassafras leaf. A close-up of that darner’s “beautiful blue and brown” compound eye. And a close-up of two orange and black pearl crescent butterflies “sharing a happy meal of coyote scat.” Now who else is going to send you photos like that? Where else are you going to see a golden-winged skimmer covered in dewdrops? You can also view Newton’s photographs from the field as well as images of his furniture and woodworking on his Flickr page, but getting a morning hallo in your email from Frogwarts is like finding a bird-voiced treefrog sitting by your keyboard in the morning. Or a lunamoth on your shoulder. Pure wonder. To find marvels in your email, send an email to keithnewton@sbcglobal.net with “Add me to your Frogwarts list” in the subject line.

Leslie Newell Peacock

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COUNTDOWN: To the demolishment of the White River Bridge. Historic American Engineering Record.

Best reason to hurry up and visit Clarendon

The beautiful and incredibly long U.S. Highway 79 Clarendon Bridge will be demolished by the Arkansas Department of Transportation, at a cost of millions, if an early June Arkansas Supreme Court ruling stands. Preservationists hope to adapt the bridge — which spans the White River and is surrounded by woods and wetlands — for pedestrians, cyclists and birders.

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The bridge, which is more than three miles long, was completed in 1931 and is still in good shape despite little renovation. Preserving the structure has strong local support as well as buy-in from officials in Monroe County and beyond. “Never in the history of the Arkansas Delta has such a huge business development opportunity been thrown away and demolished by an agency of our government, the Arkansas Department of Transportation,” Porter Briggs — a member of the Friends of the Historic White River Bridge at Clarendon board — said in an op-ed for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “And we will pay over $10 million to do it. It’s an insult to the state.”

— Stephen Koch

Best reason to listen to commercial rock radio

Arkansas Rocks started on local radio with a soft launch at the end of 2018, and it’s since become our favorite outdoor project soundtrack. Commercial rock radio has been a snooze for decades, playing the same few hundred songs over and over. It got to the point where the only fun we had with it was making a game of guessing the song title and band within the first five seconds of hearing a tune. But Arkansas Rocks keeps listeners on their toes. And, with our ears long having tuned to newsy public radio — and more musically challenging community radio — we forgot how much fun that can be.

The “station” is actually several FM frequencies scattered across the state — Caddo Valley, Gurdon, Sheridan, Malvern, White Hall — and is also heard on the AM dial at 880 for a real blast from the past. It’s heard on 94.5 FM in Little Rock, 99.7 FM in Hot Springs, and at arkansasrocks.net.

Yes, you’ll hear Foghat, but stuff like “Driving Wheel,” rather than another slog through “Slow Ride.” And you’ll hear bands that commercial radio long ago abandoned: Blue Cheer, the Raspberries and Uriah Heep (which gave an astoundingly energetic show at Little Rock’s riverfront June 1). Then, just as you settle in to that vibe, they’ll throw in a Reagan-era curveball like “Dance Hall Days” by Wang Chung, “Mexican Radio” by Wall of Voodoo, or grunge or alternative rock from the ’90s. On the weekends, there’s Barry Mac’s Flashback Tracks and Tin Can Alley, giving us a real taste of what AOR (album-oriented) radio must have been like in its heyday.

Thanks, Arkansas Rocks, for reminding us that Steve Miller Band and the Doobie Brothers have more than just a half-dozen songs apiece — and how fun, and even vital, rock ’n’ roll radio can be. — Stephen Koch

Brian Chilson
BOOKS AND BARISTA: At the library, with Logan Garrett of Nexus.

Best place to drink coffee, listen to music and be surrounded by books you can’t buy

In the first few days of June we ran into Nate Coulter, the director of the Central Arkansas Library System, at the Main Library. He urged us to go “listen to the music” and he nodded a tiny bit nervously toward the mezzanine. He expressed a certain fear that he would get in trouble from some quarters for his new addition to the library. I had no idea what he was on about (music in the library?), but I thought it would be nice to get a tea from the Nexus Nook, the little sister to Nexus Coffee & Creative on President Clinton Avenue, and headed up to the mezzanine. That’s where I heard the music. A pretty piece — not elevator music, real music — was playing softly for the benefit of readers at the nook’s tables. A bookish bistro. Tea, music, a place to sit. Talk about alluring. Had I not been in a reportorial rush, I would have loved to sit in that soothing spot with a good read and maybe a turmeric tea and a good mystery, and bliss out, my savage breast charmed. — Leslie Newell Peacock

 

REANIMATION: Painter/collector Erin Pierce takes organic matter, living and expired, and transforms it into art.

Best Way to Break the ‘Take Only Pictures, Leave Only Footprints’ Rule

There’s awe and reverence  — and probably a good dose of biochemistry — in the ways artist Erin Pierce transforms odds and ends from the Arkansas backwoods into collectible curiosities. Under the moniker Organized Chaos, Pierce collects and preserves bits of bone, quartz, leaves and flowers and turns them into stuff you can actually wear, or hang on the wall, or mount in the windowsill. In her hands, maple “helicopters” and bits of fern get suspended in clear resin inside an embroidery hoop. Spider webs made by orchard orb-weavers get preserved in mid-air and grafted into gothic brooches. (Not to worry: Pierce carefully places the loose end and the spider on a nearby tree, she says, before collecting the web.) Air plants fan out from the bottoms of vintage porcelain doll heads. Retired moths get pinned and framed delicately — or depicted in a hand-painted, framed illustration. “My ‘natural relic’ series helps us to cherish nature up close and pay attention to the small things that make up everything around us,” Pierce told me. “Things we pass by or don’t even notice — or even see as nuisances — are actually important to the ecosystem and are beautiful, right here in Arkansas.” Put simply, Pierce takes the flora and fauna that most of us take for granted and elevates it into an art-nature hybrid. Pierce does custom work, too — paintings, custom flower presses or necklaces featuring specific flora. For brides, Pierce will soon be offering preserved wedding bouquets, collected after the ceremony, pressed in one of Pierce’s handmade flower presses and displayed in a shadow box for posterity. 

For anybody who’s fallen in love with the Organized Chaos collection at a pop-up (or at her Instagram account, @organizedchaoscollection), you’re in luck: Pierce just went brick-and-mortar, with a portion of her collection now up at Electric Ghost and Phantom Palm at 1218 Main St. in SoMa. — Stephanie Smittle 

Best homemade breakfast treats

I go through phases with my breakfast choices. I’ll spend a few months dedicated to toaster-oven waffles spread with almond butter and Nutella, or I’ll eat nothing but the Kroger-brand equivalent of the ambiguously-named Special K cereal with “Red Berries” for weeks at a time. But, really, what I’m looking for in a breakfast food is something that makes me excited to wake up. Two Little Rock bakers are making treats that hit that sweet spot for me, though I confess to eating their creations at all hours of the day.

Flake Baby Pastry — @flake_baby_pastry on Instagram — is the cottage bakery business of Monica Chatterton, who offers homemade tarts that are light years better than any store-bought Pop-Tart you’ve ever eaten. I hesitate to even put the two in the same category. Chatterton’s flaky babies are rectangular pockets of buttery goodness filled with combinations of fruits, jams and curds, finished with different glazes and sprinkled with unique toppings. The flavor combinations speak to Chatterton’s baking prowess — think strawberry-rhubarb-basil “babies,” or strawberry-white chocolate-rose tarts, or cranberry-cardamom pockets, or ones filled with a grapefruit-campari curd and topped with a campari glaze and fresh thyme. These babies, and Chatterton, mean business. 

For your carbohydrate needs on the more savory side of things, turn to The Bagel Babe, @bagelbabelr on Instagram. Baker Anna Connard cranks out several types of perfectly sized, perfectly holely bagels. There’s Connard’s everything bagel, with its signature combination of sesame seeds, poppy seeds and onion flakes; and her cinnamon raisin bagel that, when smeared with cream cheese, feels like a dessert in its own right. The Bagel Babe’s original flavors also shine: Her cheddar jalapeno bagels, absolutely caked with cheese, offer a little heat, and every day since I tried it I’ve been thinking about her recent special, a honey-glazed bagel topped with smoked balsamic sea salt. Connard also whips up some tubs of specialty cream cheeses, including a roasted garlic-and-herb spread and sriracha cream cheese, available by request. The Bagel Babe’s creations could quickly become a breakfast staple in your household. 

You can keep up with Flake Baby Pastry and The Bagel Babe on their Instagram pages, where they can be contacted for custom orders. Both Chatterton and Connard also sell their treats at the Bernice Garden’s farmer’s market on Main Street, which is open, rain or shine, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays until it closes for the winter in early November. 

— Rebekah Hall

Best not-your-grandfather’s-pest-control-service video

Bug Masters Exterminating Co., the Arkansas Times’ Best of Arkansas winner for pest control and termite service, has been doing the dirty and honorable work of ridding businesses and homes of all manner of pests and vermin since it began as Childress Pest Control in Des Arc in the late 1950s. Bug Masters is now based out of North Little Rock and serves customers in Arkansas, Tennessee and Missouri. In 2012, Bug Masters made a badass video to illustrate just how far the family business has come. 

To see the video, go to the Bug Master’s website; it’s within a miniature TV screen. The video takes us back to a simpler time. It’s 1959, as evidenced by the tracking lines, spots and sepia-tone imposed on the old-time- looking footage and the large “1959” that flashes in an old-time font at the beginning of the video. We’re traveling down a dirt road, seen through the windshield of a truck cab, while bluegrass music plays. An old Ford pickup with “Childress Pest Control” painted on the door pulls up to a cabin, and the homeowner gestures for the truck’s driver to come in. Once finished, the Childress Pest Control employee leans against the side of the truck, arms crossed, and nods in acknowledgement of a job well done. 

Then the bluegrass music fades, the sepia changes to color, and the humble truck is transformed into a time traveling machine. The wail of a guitar riff begins, and the truck sails through the decades. 1969, 1979, 1989 and 1999 fly by until we arrive in the year 2012 — as indicated by “2012” flashing over a shot of the current Bug Masters logo emblazoned on a new van — followed by three Bug Masters employees carrying their modern exterminating equipment as they walk in slow motion toward a job site. 

The rest of the video follows the Bug Masters crew as they inspect mattresses, put on rubber gloves, poke around in a dirty apartment, climb around on the roof an industrial-looking facility, and emerge from under a building with dead rats in hand. There’s also a gnarly shot of bed bugs crawling out of a mattress. The sequence ends as a Bug Masters employee leans against a work van and crosses his arms, the familiar gesture a signal to viewers that this is the very same employee who heeded a customer’s call in “1959.” The clincher reminds the audience that Bug Masters has stood the test of time, all while staying up to date on extermination technology and practices. Bug Masters both is, and isn’t, your grandfather’s pest control.

— Rebekah Hall