Recipe for a Blue Ridge Birthday

2013-08-05_13-13-54_963

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.

2013-07-30_20-56-13_543

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.

2013-08-04_11-17-28_772

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.

2013-08-04_11-17-48_981

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!

2013-08-04_12-53-05_645

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.

dbbc

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!

2013-08-05_10-51-49_225

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.

2013-08-05_12-51-14_33

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.

2013-08-05_13-13-47_466

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.

2013-08-05_13-15-41_777

Advertisements

Planning and Playing in Charlottesville

2012-04-03_15-58-40_95

It has been a little while since I have done a wedding planning update. I’m not ready to share all the fun details quite yet, but I wanted to show you some of the things we have been up to. The wedding is just over 6 weeks away (aaahhhh!) and we have been spending a lot of time in Albemarle and Nelson counties, planning, making decisions, and putting the finishing touches on our wedding details.

One of the more interesting tasks was our pie tasting with Lynnette from Family Ties & Pies, who will be making the pies for our dessert table. I have mentioned before that we are planning a seasonal meal for our reception that will incorporate as many local ingredients as possible. For dessert, we have opted to do assorted pies instead of a large decorated cake.

2012-08-23_19-02-26_465

We are thrilled that Lynnette uses a lot of local ingredients in her pies and tries to make them a tad healthier by substituting natural sweeteners in place of refined sugars. The tasting got us really excited and committed to the dessert plan. When my Dad sent me this great article last week, I felt even more strongly that we had made the right decision!

2012-08-23_19-17-00_859

I don’t know (and frankly don’t care) if anyone else will be missing the wedding cake, but we are absolutely sure that we will not miss it one bit.

Resampled_2012-09-01_12-53-42_829

Last weekend I had my hair test in Crozet along with a few other meetings and had to spend Friday night out near Charlottesville. I was able to convince some friends to join me over the holiday weekend, and we rented a cabin in Afton for two nights.

Resampled_2012-09-01_08-07-02_156

It is amazing how two nights can feel like four or five when you don’t have TV or Internet access. It was positively blissful and exactly the recharge that I needed. I enjoyed my morning coffee with a fantastic view and the sounds of nature all around me, and spent my evenings playing games in the cabin and roasting marshmallows around the outdoor fire pit.

Resampled_2012-09-01_11-50-24_113

We even squeezed in a hike at Crabtree Falls to work off the beer we drank on Friday night. I did not get the full benefit of the activity because I had to stop about two-thirds of the way up, turn around, hike back down and head to the cabin to shower and get out the door for an appointment. Although I missed the view from the top this time, I am still grateful to have had the opportunity to get out there on a beautiful morning.

Resampled_2012-09-01_12-08-26_652

We met up with friends later at one of our favorite spots, Blue Mountain Brewery, for an early dinner.

Resampled_2012-09-01_17-01-46_302

The veggie pizza was delicious, as always, and of course we had to get a sampler flight and some growler fills while we were there.

Resampled_2012-09-01_17-08-39_284

Most of our recent trips to Charlottesville and Afton have been very rushed. I was really happy that we had the chance to stop and smell the roses (or hops as the case may be) this time around. My next visit is in a week, and then again the week after that. By the time I walk down the aisle in October, I’ll almost feel like a local!

Resampled_2012-09-01_16-55-12_453

When I returned to Richmond from this last trip, I had about 36 hours to unpack, do laundry, tie up some loose ends at home, and repack for a weeklong business trip. Luckily, I managed to get the last of the wedding invitations out before I hit the road again.

2012-09-03_17-36-29_337(1)

45 Days!

Chatting and Chewing with Local Bloggers

Resampled_2012-07-10_19-04-25_351

So far I have had a great week full of fun and food with some fellow Virginia bloggers. On Tuesday, Brittany of Eating Bird Food and I hopped in the car to go to dinner in Charlottesville. I still kind of can’t believe we went to Charlottesville and back in one evening just for a dinner, but I am so glad that we did. I was a little overdue for a break from work, and our mini road trip helped me shift gears to focus on what really matters: wedding talk, local food, and blogger bonding.

Resampled_2012-07-10_18-59-28_677

The Scene:

The venue for the latest Virginia Bloggers event was The Local, a restaurant in the Belmont neighborhood of Charlottesville, VA. I had been here once before to have a drink while waiting for our table at Tavola next door. It looked really cool the first time I visited, so I was happy to see Sarah choose it for our blogger dinner.

The Cast:

The Story:

Gift bags. Drinks. Delicious local food. Laughter. Photos. Raffle. Great conversation with new friends.

Resampled_2012-07-10_19-12-06_460

The quinoa and goat cheese stuffed zucchini was fantastic. Fresh local food and great plating made this meal feel worth the drive.

Resampled_2012-07-10_20-02-14_867

Isabelle thought I brought the goodie bag home for her. She’s not getting a lick of my nutty butter.

Resampled_2012-07-10_22-33-48_171

Every time I try a new flavor of Sarah’s Nutty Butter, I think I have found my new favorite. This oatmeal raisin cookie nutty butter is awesome on overnight oats. Now available for purchase from The Smart Kitchen!

Resampled_2012-07-10_22-34-29_839

Thank you to Feast, The Spice Diva, Great Harvest, Cville Candy Company, and of course Virginia Bloggers (#VAis4Bloggers) and The Local for a wonderful dinner! I seriously think I might have to drive to Charlottesville for dinner more often. Where to dine next?

The second blogger meetup I attended this week was an informal gathering at the VMFA Best Café for happy hour on Friday.

Resampled_2012-07-13_17-40-56_736

The Scene:

I nervously exclaimed on Twitter, “I’m new to drinking in museums!” and now I am really glad I gave it a try. The VMFA Best Café has a half-off wine happy hour which involved a few $12 bottles of wine. The space was light and airy, very modern, with a nice view of the sculpture garden. All of the bright white made me feel a little less like I was in Richmond and a little more like I was at the MoMA. A few of us wandered over to the Richmond Food Truck Court at the Virginia Historical Society for dinner after the wine stopped flowing.

The Cast:

The Story:

Wine bottles. White tables. Pour. Hilarious anecdotes. New friends. Pour. Blog talk. Laughter. Walk. Food trucks. Sweet spicy vegetarian food. Cool grass. Hot pizza. Great music and conversation. Weekend!

Resampled_2012-07-13_20-27-45_998

Liz and I split a pizza from Pizza Tonight, that was served by the guy who routinely takes my order at Café Ole downtown. This guy is like my tasty food fairy godfather. He is everywhere I want to eat. I think his name is Tim. This pizza was perfect.

Resampled_2012-07-13_20-42-05_523

We also split a Dill Presidente sandwich from Rooster Cart.

Resampled_2012-07-13_20-38-08_226

They ran out of avocados and had to substitute watermelon salad. Why isn’t the Presidente made with watermelon salad all the time? Seriously, the sweet, crisp watermelon was amazing with the hot and spicy vegan chorizo. Please run out of avocado again!

Resampled_2012-07-13_20-42-47_260

This was my first time to the food truck court (I know, I know… I don’t know what took me so long). There were so many vegetarian options, I thought I had died of a wine overdose at the VMFA and gone straight to veggie heaven. We spread out on the lawn and listened to live music. It was a very chill vibe and I had a great time.

Resampled_2012-07-13_20-43-18_818

And it’s not over yet! I have another blogger meetup on Saturday afternoon for Can It Forward Day. I’m looking forward to finally trying my hand at canning with Brittany and Liz! It is so great to find people who share my interests in blogging and vegetarian eats. Makes me feel a little better about the obscene amount of time I spend taking and editing pictures of food.

We talked tonight about the best vegetarian restaurants in Richmond. It’s hard to pick just one. Which are your favorites?

Wedding Planning Update – 4 Months to Go!

ri_ img_8434

It has been awhile since I have written about my third job: wedding planning. You may recall the wildly popular Engagement Tofu post, in which I announced my and Kyle’s engagement.

2011-12-11_16-43-54_973

Since then, we have done a ton of research, made hundreds of decisions, and planned many major aspects of our wedding, which is just four months away! One of the main guiding principles of planning this event has been sustainability. Most people will only plan an event this large and expensive once in their lives. We take the decisions very seriously, and we see our wedding as a huge opportunity to partner with people and organizations that have the same values as we do. We try to support local businesses, promote sustainability, and minimize our impact on the environment in our everyday lives. We are looking forward to maintaining those standards in our wedding, and perhaps teaching our friends and family a thing or two about why we make the choices we do.

Resampled_2012-06-15_14-13-46_657

Before we did anything else, we chose the wedding venue. We picked our place before we even chose the date! Kyle and I knew we wanted to get married outdoors and, with the help of some friends, made a list of pro’s and con’s for both the beach and the mountains. In the end, the Blue Ridge Mountains won, because we love to hike and visit there year-round, the area is home to a lot of agriculture and interesting food, wine and beer, and we knew it would be absolutely beautiful in the Fall. We decided on Afton Mountain Vineyards in Afton VA, which is just a stone’s throw away from where we went on our first hike together. As long as the weather cooperates, we will be getting hitched in front of the view you see pictured above. We are so excited to share this very special place with our friends and families.

2012-03-24_10-00-07_397

One of the most important decisions we have made so far (aside from the one to get married), is what food we will have at the reception. I spent countless hours researching, interviewing caterers, and reviewing proposals. I knew that the food would be very memorable (at least for me), so this is an area that we decided we could splurge on just a little. Kyle and I are vegetarians, but our menu will feature both vegetarian options and options that contain meat that was raised locally and humanely. I don’t want to give away too many secrets, but we are planning a seasonal menu with a strong focus on locally sourced foods. You can expect some global cuisine, including Middle Eastern, Latin and Moroccan flavors. Hopefully this will showcase how creative you can be with locally sourced ingredients. Our outstanding caterer is Beggars Banquet from Orange, VA and we are thrilled to be working with them!

ri_ img_8374

Our photographer is the incredibly talented John Robinson of Robinson Imagery. Kyle and I are falling in love with Robinson Imagery almost as quickly as we fell for each other six years ago (ha!). The photos from our engagement session were gorgeous, and John’s personality makes it easy for us to be ourselves in front of the camera (corny jokes, gap teeth, goofy smiles and all). All of our pictures so far look so authentic, which is exactly what we want. I know that our whole wedding party will be just as comfortable with John, so we are expecting great, natural photos of everyone on the big day. And just in case anyone is shy in front of the cameraman, John is bringing a photo booth set up for guests to take pictures of themselves via a remote-controlled camera with a backdrop and props. I can’t wait to see what silly poses our friends come up with.

2011-05-28_14-58-22_734

Our flowers will be provided and arranged by Sarah Pollard Chiffriller, whom you may know from the Twigs line of local floral arrangements at Ellwood Thompson’s. I found her through Amy’s Organic Garden, which is an organic farm that sells delicious vegetables and gorgeous flower bouquets at our local farmers’ market. We are taking a risk with locally sourced arrangements in mid-late October, but we are committed to sticking to the plan. I am hoping for some bright marigold colors when the wedding date rolls around, but if a hurricane or an early frost wipes everything out early like it did last year, then we’ll just have greenery and herbs in all of our bouquets, bouts and arrangements. We’ll just deal with what we’ve got come this Fall.

Resampled_2012-06-15_14-14-06_646

We have a few other things nailed down that you might be interested to hear about. For colors, we are planning on dark teal with pops of marigold and accents of crisp white and sage green. I think the teal and marigold color scheme will be beautiful with the changing leaves and the blue-gray mountains in the background.

One of my favorite ideas so far is our guest book. We will have an artsy book with a lot of white space in it for guests to choose a page that they like and write a note on. This alternative to the traditional guest book will leave us with a keepsake that will look great on our coffee table for years to come. I could divulge the title of the book we will use, but my lips are sealed. We must maintain a little element of surprise for the guests!

Now while we’re talking about coffee tables, let me tell you about our favors. We are sending guests home with a custom blended and locally roasted coffee from Blanchard’s Coffee, which is located just a few miles from our house. If you know me and Kyle at all, you know we are coffee fanatics. We even met while working in the same coffee shop. So how cool is that?

Resampled_2012-06-15_13-55-36_141

There are still a lot of things that need to be worked out, but I think that our plans so far are pretty stellar. Maybe you readers could help us out with some suggestions.

We are thinking of doing an iPod playlist for our reception in lieu of hiring a DJ or band. However we would like to have live music for our cocktail hour. We have talked to a few jazz and samba bands and we are still trying to make a decision. Send me an email if you know of any budget-friendly bands that are local to the Charlottesville area that would be good for an hour-long cocktail reception.

The wedding cake is still a big question mark (I know, I know, we are late on this). We aren’t really cake people so we had considered doing pies instead. However if we found a good local baker that uses local, all-natural ingredients and has interesting flavor combinations, we could be persuaded to go the cake route. Does anyone know of a great cake shop in Afton, Waynesboro, Staunton or Charlottesville? Even Orange would work.

We are just about decided on our honeymoon and we are leaning towards Colorado. Has anyone been in October? I have done a ton of research but I would be interested in hearing from anyone who has recommendations for Denver, Breckenridge and Boulder. We are looking forward to mountain views, hiking, hot springs, and craft beer tasting.

I will leave you with just one more photo of the beautiful Afton Mountain Vineyards, because I can’t resist.

Resampled_2012-06-15_13-55-14_232

A Few of My (New) Favorite Things

First things first, I have to give a shout out to John Robinson of Robinson Imagery, who posted a preview of our engagement photos today. Kyle and I had a blast during our engagement session this weekend, and we can’t wait to see the rest of the photos soon. Thanks John!

**************************************************

I treated myself to a little spring break last week and I had ten consecutive days off work. Please don’t tell my boss; the time off was legit, but I don’t think anyone had really counted it up yet. Ten days is a lot of time, so I avoided announcing the total, in an effort to keep from shocking him and thereby causing him to change his mind. Perhaps even more shocking is that until day one of vacation, I didn’t have many plans for my time off. For the first time ever, Kyle and I both took off work and did not plan a trip. We just kind of winged it. . . and it was fantastic! A ten-day long staycation allows for a great deal of thoughtful reflection and self-discovery. Also, it provides you the opportunity to do some exploring close to home and to try out things you never had before.

New favorite thing: yoga on mountaintops.

I thought it would be fun to share a few of the highlights, so that you locals may discover some new activities and places to visit in central Virginia. If you’re not local to central Virginia, either bookmark these for your next visit or use them as inspiration to find similar things near your own “close to home.”

The Monument Avenue 10K

You would have to be a real Eeyore to not feel encouraged during this race. I really don’t like running, but I loved doing this 10K. I walked most of the way, as planned, but even as a walker you feel like a rock star. There were so many clever signs like the one above, and tons of people cheering you on from the Monument Avenue median and sidewalks. The excitement and energy was inescapable the whole way. This race really was a party, and I am so glad I did it for the first time ever this year.

Patios South of the River

I have been to Legend’s deck before, but as a new resident of the Forest Hill area, I have developed a new appreciation for the space. In the Fan and Museum District, every other restaurant has outdoor seating, and nearly every residence has a porch or balcony. This is not the case south of the James. Legend Brewing Company is my new top choice for patio drinking and dining, for their delicious locally brewed beer and for their fantastic view of the downtown Richmond skyline. Also, this is a great spot for a little carbohydrate replenishment after the Monument Avenue 10K.

Crossroads Forest Hill is also a great happy hour spot with outdoor seating and live music on the weekends. Their beer list is so good that I often think I’m dreaming when I read over it. They have a consistently excellent selection of beers there. They also serve wine and small plates during their happy hour from 4:00 to 7:00 PM.

Flight Night at Secco Wine Bar

Right now you may be thinking this post is getting a little alcohol-heavy. And you would be right. It was vacation! I’m no saint! However I promise we will get to less alcohol-centric activities soon.

But first, allow me to introduce you to Flight Night at Secco Wine Bar. Every Monday, Secco features 3-glass flights of wine. I checked it out last week with some of the VAis4Bloggers crew. For $10 you could order Dealer’s Choice, which was a mixed bag of 3 random wines. For $11 you could get the Flight of the Week, which was Spanish Reds last week. That’s what I ordered and I was not disappointed. For $12 you could choose your own 3 wines off their extensive menu. They were pretty good sized pours and I had a great variety of wines to try. It was a wonderful way to start the week. Check it out!

Homemade Non-Dairy Milks at Para Coffee

After all that booze, shall we get a tad more wholesome? Nah, that’s impossible when you’re talking about nut milks. I had to title this section Non-Dairy Milks because Kyle chuckles every time I say “homemade nut milk.” But that’s what it is! Para Coffee in Charlottesville has started making their own nut milks from almonds, walnuts, pecans and pistachios, and they offer these non-dairy options in their lattes and other milk-based espresso drinks. I stopped in last week and had an iced pistachio milk latte and it was a real treat. I don’t even want to see the nutritional information, so please don’t tell me how much fat is in a cup of pistachio milk. I’m not interested. That said, I personally would not have one of these nut milk lattes every day, however this is something I will try again soon. It’s so different, you have to try it at least once.

Spice Diva

I have wanted to visit Spice Diva in Charlottesville for awhile and I finally got the opportunity last week. All the spices smell so good and they offer a wide variety of things that I hadn’t seen elsewhere. The blends are really unique too. I picked up an African style curry powder, applewood smoked sea salt, and a spice rub meant for meat that I want to try out in some vegetarian dishes soon. The owner couldn’t be more friendly, and I am excited to test out the exotic spices I picked up on my first trip there.

Hiking in Nelson County, VA

I already knew I loved hiking in this area, but recently I have found several more hikes that I want to try out. We have done Humpback Rocks (a few times), Crabtree Falls, and Spy Rock (as of last week). Next I want to do Cole Mountain and Mount Pleasant. I am addicted to the gorgeous mountain views that are your reward for making it to the top. What other hikes should I put on my list?

 

I have held back a few more food adventures and day trip activities that I plan to share in a separate post. My ten days off work were so packed with fun discoveries that it feels like my break was even longer than it was. We considered so many different vacation destinations before settling on staying close to home. I can’t believe I would have missed out on all the things our area has to offer, while in search of greener pastures, a plane or train ticket away from here.

Have you taken time lately to explore your own backyard?

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.

VAis4Bloggers Meetup at Feast! Charlottesville

Kyle and I ventured out to Charlottesville this weekend to meet with potential caterers and photographers for our wedding this Fall. I also had the privilege of meeting up with some great VA bloggers at Feast! Charlottesville. How have I never been to this place before? Clearly I need a Cville tour guide to reteach me all the great spots around town.

Feast! is a market and lunch-counter-style restaurant that shares a building with a kitchen supply store, a wine bar, a chocolate shop, and a few other food-related local businesses. As bloggers arrived, we hugged, shook hands, took pictures, and moved tables to make a little corner of the restaurant our own. Like a group of America’s Next Top Model contestants, we struggled to “find the light” to get great shots of our food, our friends, and, well, everything. Every time I meet up with bloggers, I get a kick out of being around other people who will stop traffic to get a good photo of their food. I don’t think we turned the place completely upside down or anything; we were all very respectful and the great people at Feast were very accommodating.

Everything on the menu looked positively delicious and I had a difficult time deciding what to order. I was ultimately very happy with my decision: a cup of the vegan spicy chickpea and local chard soup and a half winter salad.

The soup was very filling and had just the right amount of spice. The winter salad featured arugula, roasted butternut squash, curried lentils, chevre, and a white wine vinaigrette. Do these people do catering? I am starting to think that I should have contacted them to do our wedding (there is still time…). This is the kind of food I love. Fresh, seasonal, wholesome food. Delicious.

And there were gifts!

Sarah brought us homemade peanut butter in adorable little jars.

And Brittany made Heady Goo Balls, which were so tasty! Check out the recipe that she posted here: Energizing Heady Goo Balls. These sweet little treats have all kinds of healthy stuff in them, including Amazing Grass. One of my favorite moments of the VAis4Bloggers meetup was when a fellow blogger (who shall remain nameless) bit into a Heady Goo Ball and exclaimed “I can taste the grass!”. . . (snicker). . . I assure you that while these delightful little goodies were delicious, there was nothing “special” about them, if you know what I mean. Totally legal.

I had a great time catching up with old friends and meeting new ones. I recommend that you check out Feast! the next time you are in Charlottesville. It seems like a place that would have something for everyone. And a special thank you to Sarah of The Smart Kitchen for organizing the outing.

Check out all the ladies’ blogs here:

Hope you had a great weekend too!