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Photo Blog: Fall Camping at Max Patch

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After my horrific experience in Napa Valley of falling down the escalator…..TWICE…I decided the best kind of trip would be one that was as far removed from modern technology as possible.

CAMPING!

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We decided to go to Max Patch near Hot Springs, NC. An easy 1.5 hour drive from home, Max Patch affords all of the awesomeness of backcountry camping with only a 20 minute hike. Of course, the hike is STRAIGHT UP, but one can endure anything for 20 minutes.

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Max Patch is a grassy summit at an elevation of 4629 feet. It has a tremendous 360 degree view of the surrounding mountains and is adjacent to the Appalachian Trail. It is also dog friendly, which certainly made the Roobs happy.

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We decided to pack up some friends, the pups, and do nothing but lounge in the sun, drink boxed wine, and sit by a crackling campfire while nature put on an amazing display for us.

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10 Things I learned while camping at Max Patch:

1) Invite friends with kids. They are very good for carrying stuff you don’t want to carry, cooking, and generally assigning tedious tasks to. It’s easy to trick small persons into thinking that picking up sticks for firewood is a game.

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2) Taking dogs can be a good thing or a bad thing. It’s a good thing because you don’t have to worry about any strange animals or weird people getting close to your tent while you are sleeping. It’s a bad thing because they literally bark each time the wind blows…because…you know….they want to keep you safe.

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3) Camping on a bald during a full moon is an extremely cool visual experience. It is, however, not an extremely cool bathroom experience. No shrubs, no trees, lots of bright light all night long. Do you see the problem?

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4) Feet expand when removed from hiking boots. The same law applies to tents and tent bags, clothing and backpacks, and sleeping bags and stuff sacks. Nothing that comes out of a backpack can ever go back in.

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5) When one is in a zipped up sleeping bag, the urgency of the need to relieve oneself is inversely proportional to the amount of clothing worn. It is also inversely proportional to the outside temperature and the degree to which the sleeping bag is completely zipped up.

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6) 98% of the stuff you lugged up that 20% incline that was called a “hiking trail” could have been left at home. The 2% left at home is what you really needed.

7) The agony of the hike up, the misery of setting up your tent and trying to remember how all the pieces go together, and the frustration of trying to cook an entire meal on a stove the size of your fist completely vanishes with the first glimpses of sunset.

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8) The agony of trying not to pee in the middle of the night when it is 40 degrees and the wind is blowing at 20 knots, difficulty of sleeping with every rock and stick on the mountain ending up under YOUR sleeping bag, and the worry of waking up every 37 minutes because you are certain you heard something outside completely vanishes with the first glimpse of sunrise.

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9) All food tastes better outside. Ditto for wine. Even boxed wine. Especially boxed wine.

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10) You will not sleep well. You will go home exhausted. You will be dirty and your hair will smell like a campfire. But it will be the best weekend ever.

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Posted by vicki_h 12:37 Archived in USA Tagged mountains camping north_carolina nc wnc max_patch Comments (4)

I'm Dreaming of a Wet Christmas

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Matt and I enjoyed spending Christmas at a cabin in Sapphire, NC so much last year, that we decided to do it again this year. What we didn’t know was that the entire Southeast would be experiencing the most bizarre Christmas weather on record.

My visions of a white Christmas, of gazing out at snow frosted trees stretching as far as the eye could see while curling up next to a roaring fire were replaced with….

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Okay, so maybe the weather wasn’t entirely cooperative, and maybe I spent much of Christmas wondering if we were going to get washed down the mountainside in a mudslide, but even the weather couldn’t put a damper on our Christmas spirit, especially when spent at such a wonderful place.

Because we did nothing more than sit inside by the fire and stuff ourselves with Christmas cookies for 4 days, there isn’t much of a story to tell, but this place was so exquisitely cozy and lovely, that I feel compelled to share the highlight reel.

Here's the Christmas in Sapphire Top 10:

#1: Buying a Christmas tree from Tom Sawyer Tree Farm. Sure, I had already put up 4 trees at home, but what's one more, right?

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#2: Sapphire Heaven, the most wonderful cabin on the planet.

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#3: Cozying up by the fire with hot coffee, hot chocolate, cocktails, or my sweet pups.

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#4. Making goodies in the coolest cabin kitchen ever.

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(While I would love to take credit for this amazing red velvet cake, the credit goes to Magpies Bakery. All I did was make the trees! But hey, they are pretty awesome!)

#5. Wonderful dinner at Table 64 in Cashiers, NC.

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#6. Christmas Eve at the Log Cabin Restaurant in Highlands, NC.

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#7. Never getting out of our PJs on Christmas Day.

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#8. Christmas Dinner at the cabin, decorating with whatever I could find.

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#9. One beautiful day where the sun came out and we were able to host Matt's family for lunch (just before the torrential rains returned!).

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#10. A lovely dinner with Matt's mom at The Orchard in Cashiers.

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I hope each and every one of you enjoyed a very Merry Christmas and that the New Year brings you much joy and happiness!

Posted by vicki_h 08:47 Archived in USA Tagged mountains highlands north_carolina rustic blue_ridge sapphire cashiers log_cabin Comments (1)

Let the Shenanigans Begin: Girls Weekend Asheville!

When Matt told me he was going on a duck hunting trip with the guys in November, I knew it was time to plan a girls’ weekend. Travel in our household must be fair and equitable. It was necessary to keep the balance.

I immediately sent the Batsignal into the sky to alert the girls.

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Bags were packed, credit cards were shined up, and husbands were kissed goodbye. We left with modest goals: laugh, shop, and eat. With only 48 hours, it was best to keep things realistic. Finding a cure for cellulite or mastering Italian wasn’t within the realm of possibilities. This trip was for us. It was for reconnecting, renewing our bonds, and wearing pink wigs while drinking copious amounts of wine and beer.

We were headed to Asheville. Asheville has a walkable downtown that is packed with almost 100 eateries in only 1 square mile with everything from Indian street food to classic Carolina barbeque, two dozen breweries (it’s not nicknamed Beer City, USA for nothing), countless craft bars, and endless shopping. It was a perfect location, only 2 hours from home, where everything we wanted was stumbling distance from our loft.

We headed over in 2 cars in an attempt to minimize the mayhem that having all of us in one vehicle might create. This attempt was unsuccessful. Mayhem began almost immediately.

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My crew arrived slightly before the other car, and it was too early to check in at the loft, so we made the short walk to the French Broad Chocolate Lounge to kill an hour. We also managed to kill 2 glasses of wine, a cider float, and a dark chocolate pot de crème. Also massacred were my genuine intentions to “eat reasonably” on this trip.

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It was obvious that I would simply have to rationalize my eating. Chocolate comes from cocoa. Which is a tree. That makes it a plant. So chocolate is a salad.

It was a crisp fall weekend and fun was in the air.

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Within an hour, the rest of our group had arrived and we were able to meet at the Lofts at 16 Church for our check-in. Because our trip had been planned at the last minute (one needs a lot of advance planning time to book a place in Asheville, NC for a fall weekend), we couldn’t find a place large enough to accommodate all 7 of us. So, we had opted for 2 adjacent lofts.

It was perfect. The lofts were roomy and beautifully decorated. They also offered us some privacy and separation from one another in the event that we felt it necessary to segregate and talk about each other before the weekend was over.

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The original plan involved a 9:30 p.m. dinner reservation at the Admiral so that we could stay late and enjoy the “funky dance party” that takes place around 10:30.

I should have known that “plans” were not going to work with 7 women. At precisely 6:37 p.m. I received the following text from the downstairs loft:

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You don’t tell an apartment full of hungry women that they should just eat some crackers because dinner will be in 2 hours and 53 minutes.

Reservations were quickly cancelled and we made the short walk to Salsas. There would be a wait anywhere at this point, but at least we knew at Salsas we could get some chips to hold everyone over so that we didn’t have a “hangry” incident (hungry + angry = not good).

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Salsas had a cool outside window where we could order margaritas and chips and salsa while we waited for a table.

Salsas was a small, cozy restaurant that touted itself as “Mexican Caribbean.”

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The menu was a smorgasboard of things we couldn’t pronounce and didn’t understand, but that sounded delicious: molcajetes, pom pom poms, paquetes….we didn’t know where to begin.

We started things off with the Anafre Bean Dip, a savory mix of beans, ancho sauce, avocado sauce, queso, sour cream, and pico de gallo served with giant, warm corn chips.

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I went safe with the slow roasted pork quesadilla, but I have to give kudos to Alison who went bold with the pom pom pom, which turned out to be a pile of awesomeness crammed into a giant Puerto Rican pilon.

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After dinner, we grabbed some cocktails at MG Road, but even as mesmerizing as the giant disco ball was, we were tired from travel day and called it a night.

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Our original plans for breakfast the next morning were to head to Biscuit Head, but when we got up, we decided to find someplace that didn’t require driving. I mean, that WAS the point of staying downtown, after all.

I made a quick change and diverted us to Mayfel’s (SEE….I CAN be flexible. I can.)

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Mayfel’s is an eclectic little place that serves up some of the finest southern cooking in Asheville, served with a side of funky.

Breakfast started off with beignets and mimosas, or champagne for those of us who don’t really see any reason to mess up a perfectly good glass of bubbly with pulp. The beignets were warm and crispy on the outside and soft and doughy on the inside, dusted with powdered sugar and served with jam. They were almost as good as the ones from Café du Monde, but came without the mimes and trombone players or the hoarde of onlookers with cameras and sun visors glaring at you from the line on the street.

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The best things about breakfast at Mayfel’s: 1) You can order southern sides like collard greens and fried okra with breakfast and 2) the biscuits are as big as your head.

I had a giant biscuit topped with fried chicken and slathered in creamy sausage gravy with a side of smoked collard greens.

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I ate the whole thing because I didn’t want to look back later and say, “I could have eaten that.” I just can’t live with that kind of remorse.

It was time to do some shopping, so we headed down Wall St. only to find that some mad knitter had gone and covered everything with sweaters. Seriously. There were sweaters on the light poles, sweaters on the parking meters, there was even a sweater on the giant iron. The yarn bombers appeared to have left nothing uncovered.

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We spent the next few hours browsing through Asheville's quaint downtown, filled with unique shops, artisans, and street performers. As we shopped, everyone found something that matched her personality.

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After we were all shopped out (okay, that was a joke – that never really happens), I had a surprise for everyone. I had told all the girls to bring hats, wigs, boas…whatever tacky crap they had in their closet and throw it on.

Seriously, why do they always do what I ask? It’s like magic.

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WE WERE GOING ON THE AMAZING PUBCYCLE!!!!

What is the Amazing Pubcycle, you ask? Why, it’s a pedaling bar that blasts awesome retro music while you pedal around the city with drinks.

Why the costumes, you ask? Why, to add to the fun and levity of it all (or possibly so that no one would recognize us, should someone we actually knew be in the vicinity of said Pubcycle).

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I can hear you now, “Let me get this straight…You’re drank while pedaling your way through the city on a moving bar? How was this possibly a good idea?”

Because there's nothing quite like pedaling a giant mass of steel and wood uphill to the tune of cheesy '80s music while two fisting a beer or solo cup filled with wine. Everyone we passed….the drivers, shoppers, pedestrians, cyclers…..couldn't decide whether to laugh or be jealous and stare in awe. (Jealous. They were definitely jealous.)

Sure, our thighs were burning a little, but that was nothing a few drinks and a rousing chorus of "Girls Just Wanna' Have Fun" couldn't fix.

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I wasn’t sure how this was legal, but I didn’t care. It was a helluva lot of fun. I was shocked at how much I enjoyed it.

At least until we ran out of drinks. And then it was a bit like being in the gym, tipsy, if the gym was in the middle of the street.

As with all good things, the Amazing Pubcycle eventually came to an end and despite attempts at bribery, crying, and clinging to our seats, we had to get off.

It was someone else's turn.

And to avoid an uncomfortable scene where the bride-to-be and her bachelorette party starting beating us off the Pubcycle seats with their giant inflatable penis, we made the wise decision to scoot.

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We ran all the way to Barley's for pizza.

All the way across the street.

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After pizza, it was a quick change back into our respectable selves for a trip to the Battery Park Book Exchange, a delightful combination of champagne bar and old book store.

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After the champagne, I had another surprise for the girls. We were heading to the Wake Foot Sanctuary to reward our tired tooties for all the shopping and pedaling they had done that day.

None of us really knew what to expect. We were a little leery and after a few glasses of champagne, not sure how seriously we could take a foot spa.

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I turned out to be AMAZING.

I can't recommend this place enough.

We were each changed into slippers and ushered into a quiet oasis - a dark room filled with large comfy chairs, each with its own giant copper tub of warm sudsy foot soak. While getting a foot soak, each of us also had someone simultaneously giving us a head/neck/shoulder massage or a foot/leg massage, depending on our preference.

Wake was able to transition 7 loud, laughing, wound-up women into silence, relaxation, and serenity in a matter of moments. We all agreed it was one of the most awesome things ever.

It had been a pretty fabulous day. The only thing that could wrap this party up was a quest for the best burger in Asheville. We found it at the Rankin Vault Cocktail Lounge. This tiny hole-in-the-wall served up a monster of a burger with a giant side of tater tots.

The burger was a an oozing mess of cheese and bacon and it was absolute perfection.

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After that, the girls were nestled all snug in their beds while visions of tater tots danced in their heads.

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Sunday morning brought one final carb-loaded breakfast and Early Girl Eatery served it up just right in the form of the Porky Bowl, filled with grits, fried potatoes, barbecue pork, and an egg coated with Benton's Bacon gravy served with a giant biscuit and a gob of gooey blueberry jam.

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It was a delicious ending to a decadent weekend.

It was that kind of weekend where, when someone at work on Monday asks you what you did over the weekend, your first response is, "Why? What did you hear?", that kind of weekend that puts a smile on your face for the next 5 days, that kind of weekend that makes you laugh until you pee a little.

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Here's to the girls!

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What's Next??? Come with us as we escape to Tortola!

Posted by vicki_h 13:11 Archived in USA Tagged mountains north_carolina nc asheville girls_weekend girls_trip Comments (0)

What I Did On My Christmas Vacation.

Decking the Halls in Sapphire, NC

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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MERRY CHRISTMAS!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Oh, and don’t forget the red velvet cake with a giant layer of cheesecake filling that I made.

Oh yes I did.

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We wrapped up the night with snacks by the fire while we watched old Christmas movies.

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The next morning brought a beautiful clear sunrise over the mountains and a hearty breakfast by the fire.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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Cream and butter were added, along with some spices, to make it creamy:

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Then the parmesan mashed potatoes were placed on top, it was baked, and VIOLA!

A Shepherd's Pie, y'all.

Top that, Paula Deen.

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Oh.....and smoked salmon canapes!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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!

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Next up? We’re heading to Key West to EAT ALL THE FOOD.

Posted by vicki_h 13:40 Archived in USA Tagged mountains christmas highlands north_carolina asheville blue_ridge cashiers Comments (0)

Beating the Heat in North Carolina's High Country

Imagine how excited I was when I was asked by Highcountry365.com to do a guest blog for their website! We made a trip to Blowing Rock, NC in September and had a great time. Read that 4 part blog post here:

http://www.highcountry365.com/blog/beating-the-heat-in-north-carolinas-high-country-part-one/

http://www.highcountry365.com/blog/beating-the-heat-in-north-carolinas-high-country-part-two/

http://www.highcountry365.com/uncategorized/beating-the-heat-in-north-carolinas-high-country-part-three/

http://www.highcountry365.com/uncategorized/beating-the-heat-in-north-carolinas-high-country-part-four/

Posted by vicki_h 09:29 Archived in USA Tagged mountains boone blue_ridge_parkway north_carolina banner_elk blowing_rock Comments (0)

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