I remember when the arrival of Applebee's in Cabarrus County signaled how cosmopolitan we had become.
Now it's a different and amazing world I live in. I am an explorer of strange and wonderful new territory, right here at home.
The unknown resides in my own county and nearby. North of that mecca of international life, the Queen City, I now find places offering opportunities for adventure.
Recently I wandered into an Asian grocery in University City. Fond memories of my year in Taiwan flooded back the moment I entered.
There were signs in Chinese, bamboo plants near the door and a seemingly endless refrigerated row of fish.
Along one long wall of the store, unusual vegetables lay alongside some that I could recognize. There must have been five different varieties of bok choy, which is one of my husband Ralf's favorite veggies.
In a few cases, English signs told me what I'd find on the shelf. Most of the time the sticker on the package read, enigmatically, "Vegetable."
Yellow and red items, white tubular and round green unidentifiable objects, purple yams, all sorts of mushrooms, roots, peas in pods, smooth-surfaced articles and roundish things with spiny, prickly exteriors, all labeled "Vegetable."
I found cumin in three different places. No matter. Cumin is good.
A row of woks rivaled the size of my bathtub. Some folks must be cooking for a big family get-together.
Finding spices in seed form is now a special pastime. A spice grinder recently became one of my most valued possessions.
One of the best places for such foods is an Indian grocery I found on N.C. 49.
I stand in the aisles where legumes are found, meditating over the brightly packaged mung beans, lentils (red or white), yellow or green split peas, all near fresh or canned coconut, shallots and several varieties of tamarind.
The store owners are patient. They let me meditate. They explain what I am looking at when I am thrown for another loop.
"You like this?" one asked me as I carried a large bag of bright yellow turmeric.
"One of my favorite spices," I said, grinning.
(Little does he know: My family is now accustomed to the sounds of mustard seeds popping in the pan.)
These days I relax by reading recipes. Sometimes, before I sleep, I imagine menus. I am addicted to Indian, Caribbean and Thai dishes.
I can find everything I need to make all sorts of international cuisine. I can do it here at home.
Folks, go on out and explore the world that's been coming to us.
You won't have to go far.