Recipe for a Blue Ridge Birthday

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My birthday this year fell on a Tuesday, so I had the privilege of celebrating my birthday for a whole week, while I prepared for a weekend birthday trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Thank you, family and friends, for letting me get away with that one. Special thanks to my parents who actually kicked off the celebration a week early, with a trip to see the Garrison Keillor Radio Romance Tour at Maymont, and a gift of some seriously sweet cycling gear for my special day.

We lucked out with gorgeous weather and beautiful scenery all weekend, so I want to share some of the photos that I snapped with my phone. We ended up packing a ton of activities into each day and eating very late, so most of the food photos are nothing to get too excited about. However I will share a few food pictures, starting with my Tuesday birthday dinner. After work, I spent two hours in the kitchen and on the grill, preparing a perfect vegetarian midsummer feast.

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We enjoyed local No Bull gourmet veggie burgers with local tomatoes over fresh spinach, Eating Bird Food’s raw cauliflower tabbouleh, and local corn on the cob with smoked paprika and parsley butter. Kyle asked to take me out to dinner for my birthday, but I really wanted to spend it in the kitchen making the exact birthday dinner that I craved – is that weird? Kyle thought so, but when he took a few bites of this food, he stopped arguing, relaxed, and really enjoyed it!

A few days later, we packed the car and headed to Charlottesville, where we stayed in an apartment we found on AirBnB with my sister and her boyfriend. We arrived late and had a relaxing dinner at Mono Loco, complete with margaritas and cans of Tecate. I had the vegetarian special, a spicy mushroom tamale, which was great fuel for the next day.

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The next morning, after a quick stop at Bodo’s Bagels, we headed west to the Blue Ridge Parkway and did one of our favorite hikes, Humpback Rocks. It was my sister Meghan’s first hike, and she did great! At the top, we were rewarded with a beautiful view on a fairly clear day. The boys were very adventurous and climbed higher than I had ever been before. Fast friends, Kyle and Jake joked around and posed for pictures at 3,000 feet. It was 75 degrees and sunny the whole weekend, which made this top-of-the-world moment even better.

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One of the most exciting moments of the weekend occurred on the way back down from Humpback Rocks, when we saw a black bear beside the trail! I have been patiently waiting to see a bear while on a hike for two years, and I finally got my wish on my birthday weekend! I never would have thought that it would be on one of the most popular hikes in the area, Humpback Rocks. Wild!

After our tough climb and quick descent back to the Blue Ridge Parkway, we simply had to indulge in one of our favorite post-hike rituals, pizza and beer at Blue Mountain Brewery. It seems like every time we go to Blue Mountain Brewery, we run into our friends Brittany and Isaac, and this trip was no exception. We should probably just plan a trip out there together and carpool from Richmond to save on gas!

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Can you see the hops in the foreground? They’re getting so tall this time of year! We spent a lot of time at the brewery as Meghan and I caught up while Kyle and Jake played lawn games. We headed back to Charlottesville for showers, and when we realized it was too late in the afternoon for a winery visit, we headed back out to Devil’s Backbone Brewing Company for more beer tasting and appetizers, including some awesome hummus, giant pretzels, and Kyle’s favorite fried pickles. Oh, and of course we took couples photos at sunset, before Meg and Jake had to hit the road.

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The next morning, Kyle and I slept in late, checked out of our apartment, and headed to downtown Charlottesville for breakfast. The selection at Café Cubano on the downtown mall was perfect for carb-loading with reckless abandon in preparation for our next hike. No, we didn’t really need this many carbohydrates, but that hike made a good excuse for us to indulge. The coffee here is fantastic and I highly recommend it. If you go for the French toast, as I did, pay the extra few bucks to get the fresh fruit topping. You won’t regret it!

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After a filling breakfast, we drove out west again to Skyline Drive and tackled Turk Mountain. There were a lot of rocks along the trail which worked out my ankles the whole way up.

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You can reach a clearing with a view without having to do any serious rock scrambling, but for the very best view, you have to scramble over several vertical rock faces to get to the summit.

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Pretty nice view, if you ask me. . .

The vista at the top was one of the best we have ever seen, and we spent a good twenty minutes on a large flat rock at the very top, resting and taking in the view. After our second hiking adventure of the weekend, we meandered down Skyline Drive and headed back towards Richmond, with a stop in Charlottesville for a relaxing late lunch (or early dinner) at Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar. Sometimes it is hard to plan a great weekend in that part of Virginia, just because there are so many options for fun activities and delicious food and drink. We could have done dozens of other things and had a great time, but looking back now on that weekend, I wouldn’t change a thing.

For more adventures, check out my Travel page.

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Colorado Honeymoon

It has been about three weeks since Kyle and I returned from our honeymoon in Colorado, so I figure it’s about time that I share some pictures. We had such an amazing time and we felt so fortunate to take a weeklong break, surrounded by beautiful scenery, after all the excitement leading up to the wedding. I forgot to pack my phone charger so I was actually almost completely unplugged for the first two days of our trip. It was absolute bliss! I learned that I definitely need to unplug more often. We spent time in Denver, Breckenridge, and Boulder during our six day trip. This post is a long one, for your long holiday weekend. I hope you enjoy these highlights from our action-packed week!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Denver, CO

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We flew into Denver on day one. Unfortunately due to some extremely frustrating flight delays (grrrr. . .), we were about four hours late getting to Denver that first day. After a long day of travel, we gave up on our plans for a romantic dinner and opted instead to check into our hotel and order in some pizza and beer while watching one of the Presidential debates. Not the most luxurious way to spend the first day of our honeymoon, but it was actually really nice to just decompress together.

The next morning we headed downtown to the 16th Street Mall, which is a long stretch of stores and restaurants right in the middle of Denver. We stopped into a few stores and did some people watching while having coffee and breakfast. From there we took a long walk to the Denver Bicycle Café, which is a combination bicycle repair shop and bar that serves espresso, coffee drinks, beer, and light fare. We enjoyed looking at all the vintage bikes around the shop and the espresso was excellent. I wish our bike shop at home had an espresso bar in it!

We also checked out Watercourse Foods for lunch. We were very impressed with the 100% vegetarian menu at Watercourse. There were also several vegan and gluten-free options available. It was so exciting to be presented with a several-page menu full of things we could eat. We are so used to going to restaurants and having just one or two vegetarian choices, so it is always a real treat to have a lot of options. I don’t have photos of our food because my phone was dead at the time and I hadn’t figured out our new camera yet (I know, I’m such a grandma sometimes when it comes to technology). That was a real shame because these plates were gorgeous. I had one of the best salads of my life, and Kyle had a Buffalo tempeh dish. I have a feeling we could have eaten every meal of the whole trip at Watercourse Foods and would have been happy.

In the afternoon, we strolled around the neighborhood a bit more, did some sightseeing and shopping, then spent a ridiculous amount of time at Great Divide. True story: we got a little turned around while trying to find the Great Divide tap room. We were just two blocks away and could not figure out how to get there when we picked up on the faint smell of mash in the air. We literally followed our noses to the brewery and tasted several beers when we got there. The bartenders were super friendly and helpful. They were also extremely entertaining the entire time, as they engaged in such shenanigans as playing one of my favorite games from childhood: “the floor is lava.”

We only spent the day in Denver to acclimate to altitude, so that evening we hit the road for a two hour drive to Breckenridge. We were a little sad to leave Denver because we had a lot of fun there in just under 24 hours. Kyle and I were not expecting much from Denver, so we were pleasantly surprised to find such great people and places there. We felt like we fit right in in the mile high city.

Breckenridge, CO

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The main event was Breckenridge, where we stayed in a one bedroom condo for four nights. It was a much slower pace than Denver, which was very relaxing. We had sweet accommodations a few blocks from town, with a gorgeous view and many nice amenities like hot tub access, an adorable fireplace in the living room, and a full kitchen. Yes, I did cook dinner while on vacation. . . twice! We got a great deal on this trip because it was the off season: too cold for summer activities like kayaking and not cold enough for winter activities like skiing. Our goal was to do some hiking and cycling, so with a forecast of clear skies and temperatures in the fifties all week, we were excited to explore the town like locals during the seasonal lull in tourism.

One of my favorite places to eat in Breck was Amazing Grace Natural Eatery. We went here for breakfast on one day and lunch on another. They have a beautiful wood stove that heats up the whole café.

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For breakfast on the first day, Kyle ordered a breakfast burrito.

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I ordered “The Opus,” scrambled eggs with spinach and tomato on a homemade biscuit. The biscuit was out of this world amazing!

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While flipping through the local daily newspaper, I discovered this.

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Say what?! It turned out that the forecast had changed overnight, and Breckenridge was expecting snow the whole week. In a hurry to get our outdoor activities in before we got snowed in, Kyle and I found a bike rental shop and got advice on some local rides. We decided to bike from Breckenridge to Frisco, a 9-10 mile ride, have lunch in the tiny former mining town of Frisco, then bike back to Breckenridge. We lost 500 feet of elevation on the way down to Frisco, which meant our ride back was mostly uphill. Oh, and we were riding back into the wind as well. You better believe I had a huge bowl of soup for lunch to keep me warm for the return trip.

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I had never biked more than 10 miles in a day before, so logging 20 miles on our first day at high altitude was quite an accomplishment for me. Most of the ride was breathtakingly beautiful. I am sure that the diminished oxygen content of the air at 10,000 feet and my exercise-induced asthma were also contributing factors. Seriously, breathtaking. Some parts of the ride were extremely difficult for me, but I was determined to finish. The bike path was the nicest I had ever ridden, and even though the ride was a bit of an endurance test, I would do it again if I had the chance. I can’t put into words the feeling you get while biking a winding path over rolling hills in the majestic Rocky Mountains, with the crisp breeze in your face and the smell of snow in the air.

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As we biked back into town, the wind smacked into us and made my cheeks sting. When we arrived at the bike rental shop, the snow started softly coming down and it did not let up for a few days. When we woke up in Breckenridge for the first time, we looked out the window and saw the town covered in white.

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We decided it was unsafe to attempt hiking Mohawk Lake in the snow and ice, so we hung out in town instead.

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One of the highlights was our private tour of the original Breckenridge Brewery, which I will explain in further detail in a separate post.

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One of the vegetarian friendly places in Breckenridge is Lucha Cantina, which has delicious burritos and great happy hour specials. The prices are really reasonable and most of the dishes can be made vegetarian. I particularly enjoyed trying their four different homemade salsas.

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One of our dear friends bought us a couples massage at one of the spas in Breckenridge, which we thought was one of the coolest wedding gifts ever! After playing around in the snow all day and enjoying a few Breckenridge Brewery beers, we headed over to Ambika for a therapeutic couples massage. I wonder if the masseuses could tell we were just a little tipsy. . . It was a very relaxing experience.

 

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Another one of our favorite places in Breckenridge was Clint’s Bakery and Coffee House. This place has some awesome breakfast food, including a parmesan pepper bagel that will knock your socks off. One of the house specialties is a steel cut oatmeal with granola and dried fruit that was once featured in Bon Appetit magazine. The whole place smells like cinnamon, and there is always something baking. The coffee is pretty good too. It comes from a roaster in nearby Vail. This place seemed like the most popular coffee shop for locals but they were friendly to us out-of-towners too.

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Boulder, CO

On our third day in Breckenridge, we decided to drive to Boulder to visit Avery Brewing Company and check out the town which we had heard so many great things about. Hiking was still out of the question, as the snow was still falling and we didn’t want to become lost hikers out in the wilderness. Boulder supposedly draws a lot of active people and outdoor enthusiasts. We had also heard that it was pretty vegetarian friendly.

We were shocked at how many different beers Avery had on tap. We ordered ten different beer samples and still had not tried everything on the menu. I had to order the Lizzie Lee’s Riverside Ale; how could I not order a “wedding ale” on my honeymoon?

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After Avery, we headed downtown to Mountain Sun (another brewpub!) for tempeh reubens and some more local beer. We explored the downtown area for a few hours and visited some great stores. I was getting used to having the mountains on the horizon and I realized in Boulder that it would be really weird to return to Richmond, where everything is flat, in just a few days.

We wished we had had more time in Boulder because we really wanted to check out the Celestial Seasonings tour that we couldn’t fit in, rent a tandem bicycle from Bikesmith, and do some hiking near the flatirons. The snow was beautiful and persistent. While I was disappointed that it prevented us from doing some of the more active parts of our trip, I think the unexpected snowfall helped us get the rest we needed after a few very busy months. The winter wonderland was pretty magical, and the roads were maintained so well while we were there that we did not feel trapped at all. We were really free to explore and wander without a plan, which is pretty foreign to me, but it was exactly the break I needed.

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We are looking forward to visiting Colorado again in the future. For our first trip to the state and just 4 full days to work with, I think we did and saw a lot of the things on our list. On the drive back to the Denver airport on our last day, we even had time to stop at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre for a little while.

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Colorado was absolutely gorgeous and of course after visiting, Kyle has decided that he wants to move there. I say “of course” because he also felt that way about Charlottesville, Asheville, and New York City after we spent time in each place. I would like to think that, while we have visited some amazing places, it’s not just the towns that he wants to revisit, but the experiences. I think the nostalgia has something to do with being in good company, if you know what I mean. I am thankful for the opportunity to begin our marriage with such a beautiful and inspiring trip, and I am excited for all of the adventures we have yet to embark on together.

Crabtree Falls Hike

This weekend, Kyle and I completed a hike that we had been meaning to do for a long time. When we first started hiking, we were quickly made aware of a few really popular Virginia hikes and we put them on our list. Over the last two years, we have hiked several trails in Virginia and North Carolina, yet we hadn’t made it to some of the most popular spots yet. It seems like every time I tell someone that we are into hiking, that person asks me, “have you hiked Crabtree Falls?” Until Saturday, the answer was No. And that was starting to get a little embarrassing. So we went for it.

We didn’t feel like making a 5-hour round-trip journey in one day, so we made a weekend of it. We drove out to Charlottesville on Friday evening, checked into a hotel, and had a tasty Italian dinner at a cozy spot called Fellini’s #9. We had been there before for the Bloody Mary bar at brunch, but we had never visited for dinner. The pasta was fresh, the focaccia was warm and garlicky, and pianist Bob Bennetta was fantastic. We retired to our hotel then got up for a Whole Foods breakfast before hitting the road.

Crabtree Falls is a little over an hour long drive from Charlottesville. We arrived at the $3 parking lot, layered up, and threw on our packs for a brisk hike up the falls. One of the reasons this hike is unique is that you hike up and back. Many of the waterfall hikes that we have done in Virginia have been a hike down the falls, followed by a strenuous hike back up to your car. It’s usually a nice easy stroll down to the reward, then you pay for it on the way back, as the sun gets higher in the sky and muscle fatigue starts to set in. That buy now, pay later situation is a bittersweet way to enjoy the natural beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Several warning signs dotted the trail up the falls. I read somewhere that over 25 people have fallen to their deaths after venturing off the trail and onto the slick, algae-covered rocks. Observation decks along the well-maintained trail offer photo opportunities such that you shouldn’t need to put yourself in danger to get a closer look. A beautiful feature of this hike is that there are great views of the falls all along the way. There are some switchbacks that take you away from the falls, but you only stray so far from them that the sound of rushing water becomes barely audible, and then you double back to another breathtaking view.

The trail itself is very rocky, although there are stairs and railings in several places. It had rained the day before so we encountered icy mud in some spots for an added challenge. There is a good mix of rocks, ground vegetation like ferns and moss, and deciduous trees to make for an interesting landscape even at the end of winter, when most everything is dead. I am sure that with all the moisture in this area, the trail becomes even more lush and beautiful at the end of Spring. However the absence of leaves on the trees made for gorgeous views of the 1000+ foot falls all along the way. We could see exactly how far we had been and how far we had left to go, so we paced ourselves and had a little fun along the way.

It is 1.7 miles to the top of the falls, and of course some of the best shots are along the way. We were rewarded with the picturesque scene below just before we hiked the final stretch.

At the top of the falls, we found the final milepost right before we came to a large, flat area with benches, an observation deck, and a retaining wall. We stretched, rested and had a snack while we took in the cool mountain air.

It must have been at least ten degrees cooler up there. We were damp with sweat and enveloped in an endorphin high, and we laughed at how I was shedding layers while I could see my breath. After resting for about ten minutes, I re-laced my shoes for the descent (and replaced a layer or two) and we hiked back down to the car. After another few stretches, we hopped back in the car and drove to Afton for our favorite post-hike ritual: pizza and beer!

Blue Mountain Brewery is one of our favorite stops in Afton. There are so many great places to visit and beautiful sights to see in that corner of Central Virginia. I am so excited to get married this year in the area we love so much! I am still trying to figure out how to incorporate BMB into our wedding weekend. We know we’ll be serving their beer at our wedding; we just have to figure out how to squeeze a visit there too.

As we contemplated this and other things, I caught two waving hands out of the corner of my eye. Of course as I am sitting at the brewery restaurant, looking a hot mess of disaster with my makeup-free face, a sweaty topknot on my head, and muddy workout gear on from head to toe, I ran into some Richmond friends! It turned out that Brittany and Isaac from Eating Bird Food had the same idea and were chowing down at BMB at the exact same time as us. Small world, right?

After a tasty Evan Altmighty, a refreshingly hoppy Blue Reserve, and a huge veggie pizza, we hit the road again. Kyle and I tumbled inside the door just minutes before his friends showed up for a guys’ night. Then Kyle got a taste of what hosting guys’ night might look like for a married man. Beers on the back porch as Lauren hides in the office, reading a book. Revelry with the boys in the living room, as wifey hangs out in the kitchen, trying to stay out of sight while stirring a big pot of chili. As much as I tried to remain unnoticed so as not to spoil his fun, when dinner was ready the party moved to the kitchen. If you build it, they will come.

And that is how I crashed guys’ night. With free chili. Not a bad deal, right?

And so we sat after the last guest had said goodbye, snuggled up on the couch with a shared bowl of three bean chili. Tranquility had been restored to the homestead. Perfect end to a beautiful day.