Decking the Halls in Sapphire, NC
For all our love of travel, Matt and I have NEVER gone away for Christmas. It’s just not what we do.
As a child, my family spent Christmas driving. We’d drive from our home to my grandparents in Tennessee, which was 4 hours in one direction. Then we’d load up and drive to my grandparents in Alabama, which was 4 hours in another direction. Instead of hot chocolate by the fireplace, my Christmas was more vinyl car seats and Waffle House.
This is why I declared, upon becoming an adult, that I WOULD SPEND CHRISTMAS AT MY HOUSE. ALWAYS.
It's a rule.
I decorate our big old Victorian house with all manner of glittery, twinkly, pine-scented things. I bake cookies. I make candy. I play Christmas music until Matt is singing Bing Crosby in his sleep.
Christmas is my thing.
So, when Matt asked if I’d be willing to go away for Christmas this year, I am pretty sure I started to hyperventilate.
Before I managed to work myself up into a full blown panic attack, I stopped to think what it might be like to go away. Maybe I could make this awesome? Maybe this could be even better than being at home? Was it possible?
Could I go away for Christmas?
After looking at hundreds of potential Christmas options, all of them wooing me with their cozy cabins and snow laden streets…..I decided on the mountains of North Carolina. In the end, being able to take the dogs and go somewhere we could drive to in case the weather was too bad to fly was more important than whether or not the destination guaranteed me a white Christmas, actual reindeer, or had “tap your own” maple syrup farms.
It was Christmas Eve and we were headed to Sapphire, NC.
Because we were driving into the mountains, I had stocked the car with anything we might need in the event of a snow storm: a shovel, sleeping bags, hats and gloves, a gallon of water, flares, and 18 granola bars.
Given that it was about 50 degrees outside, this was probably unnecessary.
What I should have packed were paper towels because we discovered on the winding, twisting, mountain roads that Rooby is prone to car sickness. She is also unable to hold her 5 month old bladder for 2 hours. We arrived at the cabin with Matt still trying to wipe the dog vomit off his arm with an old Dunkin Donuts napkin we found in the glove compartment. I arrived with a lap full of dog pee.
Things were off to a rough start.
But all that changed when we pulled up to the cabin.
I knew I had chosen the perfect place.
It was rustic, but luxurious. Crafted out of 150 year old hand hewn historic timbers salvaged from two old barns, one of which stood on the battlefield at Gettysburg prior to and during the Civil War. The other barn was built by Amish craftsmen. The salvaged materials were lovingly crafted into a cabin that can only be called a work of art.
While Matt got a fire going in the enormous fireplace, I set up a Christmas tree that I had brought with us. The end result was cozy Christmas perfection.
We had Christmas Eve Dinner reservations at Paoletti’s, an intimate Italian restaurant that has been a favorite in the small town of Highlands for over 28 years.
I wasn’t sure how I would feel about eating out on Christmas Eve, but we threw on something festive and stepped out into the crisp December air.
Paoletti’s was a warm and indulgent experience.
The restaurant was PACKED. All of the people made it lively and festive. There was warmth and laughter from every table. Candles glowed. Lights twinkled.
Seriously…..it was merry and bright! Corny, but true.
We started off with cocktails while we looked over the menu.
Dinner started with a tomato caprese, with fresh basil and balsamic, and an arugula salad with goat cheese and pecans. We followed the salads and cocktails with a bottle of red wine and some hearty pasta. I have a weakness for meaty red sauce, so I dove into the Spaghetti alla Bolognese while Matt opted for the Penne alla Vodka. We wrapped up the evening with tiramisu and chilled limoncello.
I genuinely thought I’d be a little sad that I wasn’t at home, but I can’t remember a Christmas Eve I enjoyed more.
We woke up to the smell of woodsmoke and had coffee and cocoa by the fire. The only thing that would have made it a more perfect Christmas morning was snow.
Christmas Day was a warm and cozy affair. There were presents and new toys for the dogs. I baked cookies. We simmered mulled wine. We took a soak in the big teak tub on the porch beside a roaring fire.
I made a big Christmas dinner: rolls with olive tapenade, a pear and goat cheese salad, green beans with bacon and mushrooms, honey glazed carrots, parmesan crusted mashed potatoes, and the two biggest filets I could find grilled perfectly on the outdoor barbecue.
Oh, and don’t forget the red velvet cake with a giant layer of cheesecake filling that I made.
Oh yes I did.
We wrapped up the night with snacks by the fire while we watched old Christmas movies.
The next morning brought a beautiful clear sunrise over the mountains and a hearty breakfast by the fire.
Thinking we would be cabin crazy by this point, we had decided to drive to Asheville for some massages, shopping, and food.
Things started off well with massages at the Grand Bohemian hotel spa in their rustic luxe surroundings.
We followed that by the best barbecue known to man at 12 Bones in the River Arts District. It didn’t look like much, but any place with a line has to be good.
Matt’s ribs were fall-off-the-bone tender and his smoked potato salad had chunks of smoked meat that made it maddeningly good. The jalepeno cheese grits were delicious. My pulled pork was so juicy it made my mouth water, making it hard to remember I also had mac and cheese and sweet vinegar cole slaw. The square of cornbread was so moist and so tender it was more like cake.
My favorite had to be the wedge salad, though. The menu described it like this:
Iceberg wedge with sugar bacon, tomato, cucumber, fried onions & spicy ranch.
What it didn’t say was that there was a plethora of crispy bacon…..that it was drowning in the most savory, spicy dressing that has ever existed…..and that it was BURIED UNDER A MOUNTAIN OF FRIED ONIONS.
FRIED ONIONS, GUYS!!!!! A MOUNTAIN!
This ridiculous pile of awesomeness is only $5.
Oh, wedge salad, will you marry me?
After the high of fried onions left us, things started to go downhill. Quickly.
Remind me NEVER to go to Asheville on the day after Christmas again.
Asheville, a tranquil bohemian downtown that I have come to love, was a thriving, fire breathing monster. There were so many bodies on the sidewalks, that you couldn’t move from one location to the next without getting jostled and shoved like you were trying to get the last loaf of bread at the Piggly Wiggly on a snow day.
It was horrifying.
We quickly cancelled our dinner reservations for that evening, ran screaming to the car, and made our way back to the peace and serenity of the cabin.
Were we becoming home bodies?
Why yes, I think we were.
A few more days and we'd be spending all day in elastic waist sweatpants and eating Little Debbie's while we watched the Home Shopping Network.
The cabin called to us like a siren. We couldn’t escape it. It was warm. It was cozy. The fire crackled and the sun glowed on the horizon as it set over the softly rolling mountains. The dogs sat curled up on the floor chewing all their new toys at once.
It was just a wonderful place to be.
So, instead of a dressed up night on the town at Limones in Asheville, I got creative and tried to figure out what to make from our Christmas leftovers.
Filet, mushrooms, green beans, and carrots were quickly sauteed in a skillet with some fresh rosemary I had from the potatoes:
Cream and butter were added, along with some spices, to make it creamy:
Then the parmesan mashed potatoes were placed on top, it was baked, and VIOLA!
A Shepherd's Pie, y'all.
Top that, Paula Deen.
Oh.....and smoked salmon canapes!
Not bad, if I say so myself. Maybe if Shelley Duvall has made Jack Nicholson something like this in the Shining, he wouldn't have gone cabin crazy and tried to murder them all.
Another beautiful sunrise greeted us the next morning. We knew better than to make plans that didn’t include spending 95% of our day at the cabin, so…..we didn’t.
Matt chopped wood. We ran around in the woods with the dogs. We read by the fire.
We made a quick run into Cashier’s for pizza and wine at Slab Town pizza. We even managed to stroll around in a few of the quaint shops before we literally ran back to the cabin.
Seriously. We loved it there.
In hindsight, we should have just had our last meal at the cabin, but I had only brought enough food to make one meal and we had already managed to get two out of it. Three was simply out of the question unless we wanted sugar cookies and scrambled eggs for dinner.
We had made reservations at the Brown Trout, primarily because I saw lots of white twinkly lights and a fireplace when I searched it out online.
And it did indeed have lots of twinkly lights and a fireplace.
Unfortunately, that is where the awesomeness ended.
The food was fine….spaghetti and meatballs for me (hey, there is nothing wrong with spaghetti, pizza, and spaghetti a 48 hour period….nothing…it was my Christmas and if I wanted to spend it eating spaghetti every day, I could) and the trout for Matt. It was good, not special, but good.
The problem was that it took an hour and a half to get our meal served in this very uncrowded restaurant.
An hour and a half for average food is not fabulous. This is Matt's "I'm unimpressed" face:
Maybe if my plate had been covered in fried onions when it arrived……
Our last morning dawned misty and cool. The fog rolled over the mountains and into the valley as we packed up Christmas and headed home.
When all was said and done, did I like being away for Christmas?
So much that we are already planning for next year.
Happy New Year!
Next up? We’re heading to Key West to EAT ALL THE FOOD.