A Farmtastic Weekend

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It has been really cold in Richmond for the last week, and I have gladly stayed bundled up indoors at work for a few days. I broke out my fleece-lined tights for the first time this winter, and I wore scarves in my office every day. Towards the end of the week, it started to warm up (a little bit), and a peek at the forecast revealed that we were expecting a sunny, chilly weekend, followed by a few days of icy rain. Early Saturday morning, I decided to seize the day and take full advantage of the sun while it lasted. First stop: South of the James Farmers Market!

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I wrote about my history with Haas Mushrooms last week, and writing that post made me realize how much I missed visiting the market every weekend. The stark difference between the cold weather outside and my warm and toasty bed inside has prevented me from making the trek to Forest Hill Park for several weeks. However, I used to make it to the market by 7:30 every Saturday, rain or shine, so this week I decided there was no room for excuses! It was below freezing while I picked out my mushrooms this week, but they were totally worth it.

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How cool is this funny looking guy? This is a lion’s mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceus), also known as a sheep’s head, hedgehog, or pom pom mushroom. I picked up a mixed bag from Haas and researched this odd looking mushroom that I found in my bag when I got home. Like many mushrooms, it has remarkable anti-inflammatory and antioxidative properties. This type of mushroom contains 20 percent protein and is specifically well known for its unique nerve regenerative properties. One article that I found particularly interesting was this one from Paul Stamets for the Huffington Post blog: “Lion’s Mane: A Mushroom that Improves your Memory and Mood?” The healing properties of food never cease to amaze me. I am so looking forward to experimenting with cooking this cool find.

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In other weird food news, it’s Romanesco Season! I could not resist picking up this gorgeous head of romanesco from Walnut Hill Farm Produce at the market this weekend. It was so cold out there that this thing had tiny icicles hanging from its florets.

After returning home and thawing out, I packed up my car, picked up a friend, and headed west to Powhatan State Park for a hike. It was only in the thirties, but the cloudless sky provided plenty of sunshine, which made me feel a little warmer on my trek through this fairly new state park.

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This park is about a 45-minute drive from Richmond and it offers hiking and mountain biking trails, campsites, playgrounds, canoe launches, and beautiful views of the James River. Established in 2003 and still under construction, the park’s facilities are in great shape. I paid $4 to enter the park and there were very few cars in the trailhead parking lots. My friend and I only saw one other hiker and one cyclist while we were there. We took the Turkey Trail and River Trail to a few gorgeous views next to the icy river.

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As the sun started to fall closer to the horizon, we headed out of the park and drove about 15 miles to Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery for their release of the Vanilla Virginia Black Bear Russian Imperial Stout.

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The brewery is located on a beautiful farm surrounded by rolling hills. We made it there in time for the sunset, and the enormous fire pit was our favorite amenity, especially as the sun faded away and the temperature started to drop. I have wanted to visit the brewery ever since they opened but had not made it out to Goochland to check it out yet. The farm and the brewhouse were beautiful and the beer was delicious. The owners and the other beer nerds in attendance were very friendly and the whole release party had a very laid back vibe.

I think I’ll really enjoy visiting the farm again when the weather warms up in the spring. I believe their next big beer release is in March. Now that I’ve had my fill of the great outdoors, and the forecast promises icy rain for the next two days, I’ll be drinking my stout indoors, in fuzzy bear slippers, until next weekend rolls around again. Cheers!

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Big Meadows Camping Trip in Shenandoah National Park

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Have you heard that it’s National S’mores Day?

What better day to tell you all about a recent camping trip I took in Shenandoah National Park? A few weeks ago, I planned a trip for six friends to go camping up in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I had visited and hiked in the Blue Ridge dozens of times, but I had never camped before. Planning a two-day camping and hiking trip for six was a daunting task, and I was a little nervous that, as the only one out of the group who had never been camping, I was doomed to miss a critical detail and therefore ruin the trip for everyone. So I did a lot of research and planning. If you know me well, you won’t be surprised at all that there were multiple checklists and maps involved, all important information lived in a “camping binder,” with plastic sheet protectors and all, and we packed the car to the roof with essentials and not-so-essentials, “just in case.”

Kyle and I bought a Marmot tent at REI earlier this summer and we were excited to finally put it to good use. The night before we left for our camping trip, we unpacked the tent and set it up in the living room, just to be sure that we had everything we needed and that we wouldn’t look too foolish to the other seasoned campers when we arrived at our campsite.

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I believe the above diagram shows that no one can stand in this tent unless they’re under 5’1”. At first I took the other pictures to mean that the tent would fit two yogis or four mummies, but now I realize that they indicate that the tent will fit four people sleeping and two sitting up. I am new to this camping thing, but I think I’m starting to get it down.

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We arrived at Big Meadows Campground about two hours before sundown on a Friday night. Kyle and I focused on setting up our tent first, and then we started to get dinner ready. Among our team of six, we had a few vegetarians, some vegans, a gluten-free restriction, a nut allergy, and a carb counter. You would think that would present a big challenge, but it really wasn’t that hard to accommodate at all. I made a burrito bar for our first dinner, which worked out really well because each person could make his or her own meal from the options provided. We had low-carb and whole wheat tortillas, black beans, sauteed zucchini, squash, and onions, salsa, sour cream, and cheese.

For dessert, we made s’mores (of course), and created the most amazing campfire snack I have ever seen. Behold. . . the S’moreo.

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Simply twist two halves of an Oreo cookie apart and press a toasted marshmallow between them. For the record, Oreos are vegan. Marshmallows are not, due to the gelatin, unless you buy special vegan marshmallows.

We sat around the campfire the first night, laughing, telling stories, and scaring ourselves about the possibility of black bears crashing our party. We couldn’t believe how cold it was up in the mountains – around 60 degrees at the campsite at 3600 feet of elevation – while it was 75-80 degrees in the valley. Just as the fire started to die down and we began packing up to head to the tents, it started raining.

It poured all night long, hard driving rain, that never let up. We stayed completely dry in our tent, although there was one section on the corner above my head that was not completely taut, so it gathered a pool of water and then dumped a loud, sudden shower off the side of the tent about every twenty minutes all night long. Between the sudden “swoosh” of water right next to my head, jitters about sleeping outside for the first time ever, and weird sounds in the woods that my exhausted brain was convinced were from bears, axe murderers, or axe murderous bears, I hardly slept that first night.

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The next morning, the rain let up a bit and then cleared up completely for our tubing trip on the Shenandoah River. After the cool, rainy night, we second guessed ourselves all morning on whether a tubing trip was the right plan, but when we got to the river, the sun was shining and it was a nice warm 80 degrees outside. The river was cool and refreshing, as were the beverages we packed into our cooler tube. I have gone tubing with Shenandoah River Adventures twice now, and I highly recommend them. We had a great experience!

When we headed back to camp that afternoon, it started raining again, so half of the group worked on setting up a tarp shelter for us to hang out under. The camp store at the Big Meadows Campground stocks a lot of supplies at very reasonable prices. We had brought an extra tarp with us, but we decided to buy a second one at the camp store to make an even larger shelter in case it rained for the next several hours. The other half of the group started washing and chopping vegetables for a giant tray of “hobo meal,” as Al called it.

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Those are vegan hot dogs on the fire, next to a huge foil roasting pan full of potatoes, onion, carrots, zucchini, peppers, squash, salt, pepper, and oil. After about an hour directly over the fire, the “hobo meal” was done, and it was fantastic. Who says you need to have meat to make a hearty meal?

The rain slowed down before bed time that second night. We made more s’mores, left a huge dent in the beer supply, and played games until we were falling asleep in our camp chairs. I slept like a rock that night, no longer worried about homicidal maniacs or bears, and finally comfortable sleeping in a tent. Progress!

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For breakfast both days, we had bagels (toasted over a campfire) with hummus or cream cheese, and fresh fruit. I made a batch of cold brew iced coffee concentrate at home and brought it with us for morning coffees. I don’t drink mine black, so I brought shelf stable milk in Tetra Paks, and on Sunday morning I discovered the joy of Silk chocolate soy milk in iced coffee. A little leftover “hobo meal” stew helped bulk up breakfast on the second day and gave us extra fuel for hiking later that day.

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We headed to the Hawksbill Summit Loop Trail, about five miles north of Big Meadows Campground. Hawksbill Summit is the highest peak of Shenandoah National Park, at 4,049 feet. We accidentally hiked the loop backwards, making a very steep climb straight up to the summit, then meandering back along the Appalachian Trail at a slight downhill grade, with a lot of switchbacks and beautiful scenery. There was a lot of cloud cover all morning so we were not sure how much we would be able to see at the summit.

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When we arrived at the top, it looked like we had reached the end of the world. We were standing in a cloud. It is pretty hard to describe the feeling of looking down off a cliff at nothing but thick white clouds. This picture that Kyle posted to Instagram demonstrates that a picture is worth a thousand words: Al at the Summit.

Within ten minutes of our arrival at the summit, the clouds began to break, and we could see the vast valley below.

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There were these amazing little succulents growing out of the rocks at the top.

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Adrienne took a yoga break while we took in the panoramic views.

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Having the clouds break right as we reached the summit was a great end to a trip that was perfectly timed. . . no thanks to all of my meticulous planning. It was overcast and rainy for most of the time we were there, except for three distinct and brief times that the clouds cleared up and the sun shone down on us: when we first arrived and set up our tents, when we ventured out on our tubing trip, and when we reached Hawksbill Summit. These were the only three times we really needed the sun, and somehow it all worked out. There is no way I could have planned that.

At a time that I am reminded how much I am not in control, these brief moments of sunshine and intermittent rain made me even more grateful for the opportunity to explore all of the natural beauty we have in Virginia, just a two-hour drive from home.

You know it was a good trip when you haven’t even made it off the mountain yet before everyone starts asking, “when can we do it again?”

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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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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!

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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.

Asheville-Like-A-Local in 36 Hours or Less

Kyle and I took a road trip last month to Asheville, NC and while we spent about 3 beautiful days there, I think you can get a great Asheville experience in 36 hours or less. Keep reading the longest post in vegology history below to see how to enjoy a weekend in Asheville like the locals do. If you want to read about our first 24 hours there, check out this post. For the story how of we got to Asheville on the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway, read ­­­­Spring Road Trip and Road Tripping Roanoke to Asheville.

We woke up on Saturday morning, after a night of drinking and cheering on the Pittsburgh Penguins, to overcast skies. We had planned to go hiking that morning, but we were feeling the after-effects of all of the local beers we had sampled the night before and there was rain in the forecast, so we decided to check out another brunch spot instead.

We ventured on over to Sunny Point Café, where there was a very long wait. It wasn’t so bad though, because while we waited we enjoyed self-serve coffee on their garden patio. This was seriously such a good idea. You sign in to put your name in for a table and then grab a mug and help yourself to fresh brewed coffee. A sign on the coffee urn instructs you to notify your waiter when you are seated and they will add the bottomless coffee to your bill. Ingenious!

When we were finally seated, we enjoyed some awesome breakfast food. Sunny Point Café sources a lot of their ingredients locally and sustainably. Kyle ordered a breakfast sandwich on a croissant, with a side of stone ground chipotle cheese grits.

I ordered the MGB (mighty good breakfast), with two fried eggs, chipotle grits, vegetarian sausage, and a warm biscuit. Delish!

After brunch, we headed to nearby Black Mountain to check out Pisgah Brewing Company. Pisgah is an organic brewery with distribution only in western North Carolina. They have won a ton of awards for their beer and we were excited to see what they were all about. Our GPS took us to an industrial park hidden in the mountains off of a state road. We were wondering if we were in the right place when we parked in a gravel lot next to a commercial kitchen appliance distributor. We rounded the corner and saw this.

We found the brewery! After a quick tour and Q&A session with one of their marketing guys, Kyle and I hit up the on-site bar. This tasting was one of the highlights of our vacation.

If you are planning a visit, please taste some of their beer. A free tasting is not included in the tour, so you will have to purchase some beers at the bar. It is important to note that they accept cash only and they do not serve food, so have a snack before you arrive and bring cash. Pisgah offers pints, half-pints, and samplers that feature a 5 oz. sample of each of 4 beers – your choice. They also sell growlers of all of their draught beers, with varying prices depending on the beer. We ordered two samplers and got to taste eight beers. They were all delicious! I am so sad that we can’t buy Pisgah Brewing Company beer here in Richmond.

Beer tears aside, we had a great time and can’t wait to go back again in the future. At this point we had about 30 hours left in Asheville, so we had to boogie. Onward, my friends, to downtown Asheville! Downtown offers a collection of boutiques, restaurants, and coffee shops. There are cute little park areas with street performers, and there is endless free entertainment in the form of people watching. It started to drizzle so we ducked into World Coffee Cafe to grab an espresso con panna and a croissant.

I wouldn’t normally get whipped cream on my espresso AND get a buttery croissant on the side, but we were on vacation! Kyle and I sipped our espressos while watching the locals and tourists stroll by the front of the shop. Although it was raining, it was a beautiful 80 degrees. It was the kind of spring rain that was more a refreshment than a nuisance.

When the sun broke through the clouds, we walked over to the Grove Arcade, a large historic building filled with shops and cafes. The architecture was gorgeous but the stores left something to be desired. Many of the storefronts were closed (on a Saturday afternoon!) and the “farmer’s market” was a sparse array of prepackaged foods and produce from near and far. I am confident that the ramps were local, yet I have never seen an orange grove in North Carolina so I believe the fruits might have been shipped in. Although it is a grab bag of specialty shops, the Grove Arcade is worth a peek inside. And if you are interested in furniture, or men’s suits, or any of the random retail that the shopping destination offers, you might be in for a treat.

After wandering around for a bit, the buzz from both the Pisgah tasting and the doppio espressos had worn off, and we decided to move on to the next beer tasting opportunity. We walked to Jack of the Wood to try some more local beers. If there is one thing we learned about the people of Western North Carolina, it is that they love to brew beer. If there are two things we learned about the people of Western North Carolina, the second is that they love to bake. And I’m not talking about the kind of baking you do with flour and sugar. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, visit the hippie towns of Asheville and Boone, and you’ll soon catch on.

Where were we? Oh yes, Jack of the Wood Pub.

Here we tasted beers from the local Green Man Brewery. We had the ESB, IPA, Porter, Stout, and Cask Irish Stout. They were okay, not great. After the amazing experience we had at Pisgah, the Green Man beers couldn’t really compete. However the service and atmosphere at the bar were great, and if you’re looking for a dark, oaky, underground pub in downtown Asheville, definitely make a trip to Jack of the Wood.

You could have dinner at the pub, but we were looking for something a little more inspired than nachos or potato skins, we ducked out and walked to the other side of town, to one of the most renowned vegetarian restaurants in Asheville, Rosetta’s Kitchen. This place came highly recommended so we had to fit it in. When you enter the restaurant, you go immediately up a brightly painted flight of stairs, and turn left into the colorful dining room. Past the dining area is a chalkboard menu and counter where you can order your food.

love this poster!

There is also a case of baked goods that all look utterly delicious. I noticed several vegan options, and I loved that they included an ingredients list on most of the labels.

When your food is ready, the friendly staff brings it out to you. While you wait, you can sip a local beverage (the theme of the day was beer, okay?) and enjoy the scenery.

I ordered the Buddha Bowl,  “organic spring mix, organic brown basmati rice, sea veggie salad, tomatoes, avocado, mung bean sprouts, and grilled smoky tofu topped with our sweet tahini BBQ sauce.” Wow, amazing. Loved it.

Kyle ordered The Mountain, “layers of long grain brown rice, sautéed kale and fried local made tempeh topped with our sweet tahini BBQ sauce.” His was also fantastic, although a little simpler than mine.

Okay so here’s my take on the vegetarian food in Asheville. There were so many delicious options everywhere, that it really felt like I was dreaming. I loved the Laughing Seed, and Early Girl Eatery, and Sunny Point Café. I think you should try them all, and there were even more restaurants that we didn’t get to try that I would love to visit next time. However, if you are a vegetarian or vegan visiting Asheville, do not leave without going to Rosetta’s Kitchen. They have a great variety of dishes that are so difficult to choose from, and their creative menu will inspire you to cook more interesting food in your own kitchen. Vegetarian and comfort food are two terms that don’t usually go together, but at Rosetta’s they do. GO there!

At this point, we are about 14 hours into our 36 hour (or less) journey. You’re already downtown, so go visit a bar. If you’ve had enough beer (like we had), go to bed. But before you go to bed, run to the grocery store to get breakfast food because you’re going to need fuel in the morning. Kyle and I had postponed our hike until Sunday morning, so we stopped by the local grocery store, Ingles, to pick up pre-hike breakfast food and post-hike picnic lunch food.

When we woke up on Sunday morning, we assembled our fruit, yogurt and granola bowls and packed up our things to check out of the hotel room.

I was sad to say goodbye to our luxurious hotel.

Just kidding, we stayed at the Courtyard. Although the Mountaineer Inn might have truly been an unforgettable experience. At hour 24, we grabbed coffee on the way out of town and got back onto the Blue Ridge Parkway to drive to the Mount Pisgah Trail.

Well rested and excited for the views that the trek promised, Kyle and I slung our backpacks over our shoulders and started the climb.

The trail is definitely steep in spots, and most of it was rocky, which helped us get our footing. If the trail had been a dirt path, we probably would have slid back down it!

I made the mistake of forgetting my sunscreen, not realizing that most of the trail would be open overhead. I imagined the leaves on the trees would protect me, but we hiked most of the path in direct sunlight. I had some pretty adorable backpack and sports bra tan lines by the time we got to the top. After the climb back down, my shoulders were getting crispy. We had a perfectly clear day, so I could feel the strong sun on my face and shoulders as we rounded a corner and realized we were getting close.

About ten minutes later, we were at the top and enjoyed a 360-degree view from the octagonal observation deck that had been built by local Boy Scouts. It was quite a reward for one of the most strenuous hikes I have ever completed.

The views were breathtaking!

Okay, the hike was breathtaking. But once I got to the top, sat down, and caught my breath, the views were still pretty amazing. Kyle and I spent about 30 minutes at the top. We ran into a couple from Tennessee who had each hiked 500 miles last year. They offered some great suggestions for hikes in the South. When we felt like we had taken in enough of the landscape, Kyle and I trotted back down the mountain for a victory lunch at an overlook off the Blue Ridge Parkway.

That brings us to about 30 hours in Asheville. At this point, Kyle and I hit the road for a 6-hour drive back to Richmond. Overall it was a lovely vacation, and on the 5 year anniversary of falling in love with each other, we fell in love with Asheville, NC. We wish we could have stayed another week (or year!) but that wasn’t in the cards for this trip. If you are lucky enough to have more time in Asheville, check out my Travel page for more ideas on what to do while you are there.

Road Tripping Roanoke to Asheville

If you haven’t read the first part of our road trip story, check it out here. We left off in Roanoke, VA heading down the Blue Ridge Parkway at the end of day one. On the second day of vacation, Kyle and I woke up early to drive south on the BRP to our first hiking destination, Smart View.

We threw some snacks and water in our packs and suited up for the moderate 3 mile loop that promised an amazing view at the end of the climb. We were surprised to find three separate mountain vistas along the way to reward us for our hard work. There was also an old cabin built in the 1890’s to explore while resting at one of the overlooks. The trail was well-maintained with benches along the way for taking in the scenery. With temperatures hovering around 65 degrees F, we had a very nice trip up the mountain, over the creeks and back to our car.

After completing our hike and scarfing down some granola bars and fresh fruit, we got back on the parkway to drive to North Carolina. Our goal was to make it to Asheville, NC by the end of the day, driving over 250 miles in an afternoon along the winding mountain roads on the Blue Ridge Parkway. We saw some interesting sights along the way, like a treble clef made out of shrubbery…

Mabry Mill, an iconic landmark along the parkway…

And the North Carolina state line! The National Parks Service had actually painted a line across the road to signal our arrival in the beautiful state of NC.

We soon arrived in the adorable town of Boone, NC for a 3:00 lunch.

Boone is the home of Appalachian State University. Remember when I told you to seek out college towns for vegetarian dining while traveling? Boone did not disappoint. We found a very veggie-friendly dining scene with several options for us to try.

We settled on Black Cat Burrito, which makes all of their enormous burritos meatless upon request. We could substitute tofu for meat on anything, and they even offer a separate vegetarian grill to ensure that none of the components of your burrito touch residual meat grease on the main grill. Black Cat Burrito also has amazing salsa that is packed with delicious fresh cilantro. Along with my “Don’t Be A Jerk Burrito,” I enjoyed my fist Magic Hat Vinyl of the season. Man do I love this beer. I was happy to embrace the fact that Kyle would be taking a turn with the driving soon.

After lunch, Kyle and I walked around the town and picked up a few souvenirs from the Mast General Store. I brought home a coffee mug (you can never have too many), a jar of local concord grape jam, and a bumper sticker that reminded us of canoeing on our summer 2010 trip to the Shenandoah Valley: “Paddle faster, I think I hear banjo music.”

We left Boone, NC and continued our journey along the BRP, passing several beautiful overlooks along the way. We stopped at a few to stretch our legs and take some pictures, but the third leg of our journey on the second travel day was a little more rushed than the first two in the morning. I wanted to get off the parkway at milepost 385 before it got dark, because the mountain roads can be dangerous to drive, especially while tired and driving with limited visibility. As the sun started to set and we hit milepost 350, we stepped out of the car to take a few more pictures, knowing that our drive on the BRP was almost over.

And then our trip took a crazy turn. As we prepared to complete the last 35 miles of our drive, with about a quarter tank of gas (4-5 gallons in my SUV), we did a few quick calculations and determined that we would get off the parkway in Asheville in less than an hour, with enough gas to get us to the hotel for the night. I started daydreaming of Asheville vegetarian eateries and planning our dinner as I drove.

As we came upon milepost 350, the parkway was barricaded with a sign that said “Parkway closed.” There was a nearby entrance to state park that closed at 8:00 PM. It was 7:45. We had no choice but to turn back. We couldn’t get a signal on the GPS and the next major road was about 12 miles behind us. As the sky grew darker, I drove back to the last sign for a major road that I had seen, passing the overlook that was the site of our last photo op, and praying for some guidance to get us off the mountain without running out of gas.

We got a signal on the GPS when I exited the parkway and it instructed us to take the exit road 10.5 miles down the mountain before we hit the next intersection. It got very dark and the road snaked its way down the mountain, as our ears popped, my fuel gauge came dangerously close to “E” and the constant braking sent a strong burning smell into the air vents. I remember telling Kyle “if I get you off this mountain alive, you better never let me go.”

Panic and threats. Qué romantica.

We passed shacks of homes, broken down trucks and, surprisingly, several “trout farms”. Hm. All I could think of was passing black bears, shotguns and locals who had little appreciation for my high beams streaming into their living rooms. I made Kyle count down the miles left until we hit the main road. When my low fuel light had not come on yet, the brakes had not failed yet, and we had just one mile to go, a huge wave of relief washed over me. Of course when we got to the “main road” it was several more miles before we saw houses, businesses, and a gas station that didn’t take cards at the pump. Thank goodness there was a friendly attendant inside who helped us out.

We made it to our hotel in Asheville, with a little assistance from the GPS, in about 45 minutes to an hour. Kyle and I dragged all of our stuff into the chic, modern lobby of the Courtyard by Marriott, still dressed in our hiking clothes. After throwing all of our stuff into the room and changing into clean clothes, we realized it was a few minutes til 10:00. All of my daydreams of vegetarian havens in downtown Asheville went out the window with our plans to drive the last 30 miles of our journey on the BRP. We slipped on our flip flops and walked a quarter mile to the closest sports bar for some grilled cheese sandwiches, dragged ourselves back to the hotel, and got a good night’s sleep.

The next day held all the creative vegetarian food our little hearts desired, along with beautiful scenery and relaxing activities for the whole day.