Saturday, November 24, 2012

Thanksgiving Pictorial

Yes, the grand feast is over, and now we are faced with a week’s worth of leftovers.  Even now I sit here, slightly stunned by a third-day helping of turkey ‘n’ fixin’s.  All the same, I’m sharing some of the photos of our fantastic feast.

As usual, the highlight of the dinner was a locally raised heritage breed turkey.  Specifically, one of these.



“Lola,” as Carl decided its name should be, lived a carefree outdoor life until Monday.  We met Lola Tuesday afternoon, after feathers had been exchanged for chic transparent plastic.


Hello, darling, welcome to our kitchen.

Lola weighed a hefty 20 pounds, and was probably a tom.  Which makes the name lots of fun, if you are familiar with the old song by The Kinks.

Well I'm not the world’s most masculine man
But I know what I am and I'm glad I'm a man
And so is Lola

Normally Lola would have gotten a long, cold soak in a brine solution, but Miss Chef had to teach on Wednesday and didn’t have time to deal with Lola.  It wasn’t until Thursday morning that she started to break down the bird.

Here’s how she removes a whole breast (not for vegetarian eyes).


And a leg quarter.


Wait just a minute, you may be thinking.  That turkey’s RAW!  Ah, very perceptive, Grasshopper.  A few years ago, we moved away from the traditional whole-roasted bird.  Not that Miss Chef can’t pull it off (of course she can!), but it just doesn’t make culinary sense to cook the white meat and dark meat together, since they have to reach two completely different temperatures.  This was especially true with a free-range heritage bird that wasn’t brined.  Free-range birds tend to be a bit leaner and tougher, and without a brine to help retain the juices, the breast meat would have been pretty yucky by the time the legs were done.

Never fear, Miss Chef knew just how to handle it.  First, since there were only five at our feast, one breast and one thigh went into the freezer.  Then the other breast was seasoned and roasted.  The rest of the dark meat went here…


…to be braised in a seasoned stock.  This ended up looking like pulled turkey, all luscious bits and pieces.

Once the turkey was taken care of, Miss Chef and her chef friend Maria, got to work on the sides.


In front we have Maria’s succotash, a small pan of corn and the potatoes for mashing.  In back is about a quart of braising stock being turned into gravy, another small pan of peas with pearl onions, and the stock pot where the remaining turkey carcass is being turned into stock.

Then there was some action going on in the oven.



On top is the dressing (obviously, no way to stuff the bird, so this was moistened with stock).  Middle shelf has beets roasting and Miss Chef’s “I hope I’m remembering this right” green bean casserole.  The bottom sheet rack is two kinds of sweet potatoes—white and purple—and some carrots.  I should point out the beets, sweet potatoes and carrots were all purchased from the growers at the farmers’ market.

Of course it took hours and hours to bring the feast together.  I tried to stay out of the kitchen—it’s pretty small, and two chefs seemed like plenty.  I did a few dishes, got the table set, and eventually enjoyed the cheese tray Miss Chef set out to keep me happy.


The crockpot has mulled cider that we got from Skytop Orchard last month.  The flowers Mom cut from my front bed.  Yes, we still have a few summer flowers blooming here!  Galliardia and brown-eyed susans have been big winners in my perennial beds.

Finally, the feast was ready!  Behold the shortcomings of the panorama format!


Sadly, I didn’t notice the turkey was still covered in foil until much later, so you don’t get to see the luscious Lola.  But you can see the rest—including the double-exposed green-bean casserole.  Besides the dishes mentioned above, there are also brussels sprouts and homemade cranberry sauce.

And that, my friends, is how two chefs do Thanksgiving.


And this is how we did our Black Friday shopping.



Oh, and I put seven quarts of turkey stock in the freezer today.  Thanks again, Lola.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Fall Fun Part 4C: Artisanal

This installment concludes—finally—my documentary of our trip to the mountains near the end of October.  If you missed the other installments, click here to read about Grandfather Mountain, and here to read about Linville Caverns and Falls.

It was nearly a month ago that Miss Chef and I were drawn to Banner Elk by the presence of one her former colleagues.  Still, what with Thanksgiving just ahead, it seems appropriate to re-visit the feast we had at Artisanal.  This is a pure foodie post, consisting mostly of food pictures…so you might want to grab a snack first.

Let me begin with a little history.  Artisanal was originally opened in a smaller venue on the main road through Banner Elk, by a husband and wife team.  Though he is originally from this area, and did his training at the Culinary Institute of America, the two met in Charlotte.  Unfortunately for us, that’s not where they opened their restaurant.

Within a few years of opening, the chef’s talents were recognized by a very wealthy client, who turned into a patron and funded the construction of a new, dedicated building on a beautiful sweep of land. 

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You would never know this wasn’t a converted barn.  Inside, there is a very obvious horse theme, which only added to my fondness for the architecture.

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There are two other life-size horse sculptures by the drive as you approach the building.  I believe they and most of this building are made from reclaimed wood.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Miss Chef’s friend April, and her boyfriend Brian, are sous-chefs here.  They work 14-hour days, six days a week, from May through October.  It’s very intense, but it enables them to put out extraordinary food.

It was an amazing night for us.  Miss Chef had mentioned that this trip was for our anniversary, so April had the entire staff on high alert.  They must really like and respect her, because we got the red carpet treatment!  The owner introduced herself to Miss Chef at the hostess stand as if we were long-lost friends, and said she was excited we could join them.  Well heck, we were pretty excited, too!

After we were seated, and had ordered a drink each, the server told us April wanted to offer us our choice of a bottle of wine.  We had already heard a few stories about the sommelier the night before, as they are good friends and live in the same neighborhood, so when Gary came over to find out what we would like, we simply asked him to choose a pinot noir from Washington State. From what I remember, he did a very good job. ;-)

Once we got down to examining the menu, Miss Chef wanted to let Brian (main sous-chef) and April (garde manger/dessert sous-chef) send us out whatever they wanted, but at the last minute I demurred.  There were a few dishes I really wanted to try, and was afraid I’d miss out if we didn’t order them specifically.  So the waitress asked what I was interested in, and they put together a shared-portion tasting menu that included those, plus a few extras.

Are you ready!?  Fortunately for you, we kept a copy of the menu, so I can tell you exactly what each dish is.

The first course was one of the ones I’d wanted to try: Duck confit with house-made ricotta cavatelli.  Served with butternut squash, spinach, roasted sweet peppers.  Oh…and a flower.

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Doesn’t it just look warm and hearty?  The temperature outside had been steadily dropping, so this was a rich, welcome taste after a long day hiking the mountains.

Next up was a frisée salad with a quail egg, bacon and vinegar-glazed onions.

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Miss Chef was surprised I was interested in this salad, because frisée is usually quite sharply bitter, a taste I cannot stand.  But they must source some very young frisée, because there wasn’t a bit of bitterness in this.  The richness of the egg yolk played brilliantly against the acid of the vinaigrette.

You may have noticed these photos aren’t the sharpest.  That’s mostly because the lighting was fairly subdued—I don’t like to use the flash when taking pictures in a restaurant, so I just set it on low-light, turn off the flash, and hold my breath when I squeeze the button!

Our next course was Maine diver scallops, served with white cheddar grits, chorizo with black-eye peas and a tomato reduction.  Yes, scallops and tomato sauce!

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As you can see, the tomato sauce is lighter than you might expect, so it provided a light, sweet acidity to cut some of the heaviness of the grits and beans.  I really appreciated the way they used typical southern ingredients married with the northern scallops.  The fact that it worked so well together is a testament to the talent in this kitchen.

Now we were starting to get a bit full.  I forgot to mention that they start you off with house-made bread before your meal begins.  That is, three options of house-made breads.  There was a yeast roll, a soft herbed scone and a miniature iron skillet of southwestern cornbread with peppers baked in.  Though the cornbread didn’t really seem to fit the rest of the food, we did manage to finish all the bread off.

Fortunately, the service was paced slowly enough to give us a slight breather now and then.  Here’s a picture Miss Chef took of me “breathing,” using the panorama function of the camera.  This covers nearly 180 degrees, from left to right.  As you can see, we were given prime seats to catch the action in the open kitchen.  You can also see the character of the wood in the wall behind me.  Oh, and the concrete box behind me is planted with moss.  Pretty cool décor all around.

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That’s Gary, the sommelier, standing by the servers’ station to the left of the kitchen.  You’ll see him again a bit later.

Meanwhile, Brian and April were putting together a special plate for us.  Miss Chef had mentioned her love of foie gras, but they also wanted to send us some of the duck breast I was longing to try.  So they did a combo of the two, making perhaps one of the richest dishes I’ve ever been served!

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By the way, these are not shared plates; we each got one of them.  Here, the mid-rare duck breast is at the top and the foie gras at the bottom.  The presentation is a bit messy because we almost forgot to take a photo, and mine was the least bit-into plate! 

According to the menu, the foie gras is normally served with a sweet corn coulis, but I think they just used the sauce for the duck dish, a port wine and raisin jus.  (Don’t ask me the difference between a sauce, a jus, a coulis, a reduction…I just eat them!)  And that’s a baby carrot draped over my foie, not a jalapeno.

Anyway, this was Miss Chef’s favorite dish of the night (mine was the cavatelli).  The duck breast had a perfect sear, giving the skin edge of each slice a delicious caramelized crunch, and the foie gras was seared to perfection.  Miss Chef thought this was the equal of the dish we had at the Artichoke outside London last year.  We really are starting to become those kind of people…

At this point, I was totally sated.  I was stuffed.  Je n’en peux plus!  Remember, we had each had a drink before we knew we were also going to be drinking a full bottle of wine!  I tried a second visit to the ladies’ room, hoping walking around a bit might help things.   Then the server informed us that April wanted to send us a special dessert.  I decided to do some more walking around.

Here’s a closer look at the kitchen.

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While I was at it, I decided to shoot a video.  The chef/owner walks up to the counter on the left side; Brian shows up briefly on the right around 0:15, bringing a dish up to the expo station.  (Lingo note: “expo” is short for “expedite.”  This is the final station, where dishes are given a last check, wiped clean, and the last sauces and garnishes are added.)


Miss Chef wanted to show this video to her students, so they can see what a real working kitchen looks like.  Notice the urgency in the cooks’ movements in the back.  Few students seem to understand that!

Back at the table, getting ready for dessert—there’s a separate dessert menu, which we hadn’t even seen, so we had absolutely no idea what we might get.

When the server brought these to the table, we were so relieved, Miss Chef exclaimed, “It’s the perfect size!”

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It’s a bread pudding studded with chocolate chips and topped by house-made coffee ice cream.

Then a second server showed up with this!

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If you glance at the upper-right side of the picture, you can see how deep this dish is—at least we only got one to share!  Now, let’s see if I can remember what’s on here.  From top to bottom, it’s house-made donuts (yum!), a lemon curd cake with butterscotch ice cream…and, um, I think a pumpkin bread thingy with nuts and raisins.  I kind of got stuck on the butterscotch ice cream.  And you wanna know what’s funny about that?  I don’t like ice cream. 

(Note to self: ask Miss Chef to get butterscotch ice-cream recipe from April.)

We ate what we could—once I hit that lemon cake and ice cream, my poor bread pudding sat melting slow ice-cream tears.  I tried, but…ugh, my stomach hurts just thinking about it!  April and Brian thought they were taking it easy on us, since we had already told them of how our friend Luca over-feeds us when we visit his restaurant.

Gee…nice problems to have, huh?

The staff assured us we should take our time finishing up our wine, which we were happy to do.  When the bill arrived, it was a shock.  Not only had April paid for all our drinks (including a post-dinner cocktail Miss Chef just had to try), but she comped our dessert extravaganza too.  As a result, the bill was less than half of what we had expected.  I don’t know what Miss Chef did when she and April worked together, but she must have really made an impression!

And yes, I drove home that night.  In the fog, slowly.


Oh, but don’t think the story’s over yet!  Brian and April were disappointed that we hadn’t had a chance to see the downstairs party room, so the next morning April drove us back over to get a more thorough tour of the place.

The party room has a long table overlooking the ridiculously extensive wine cellar.  The floor of the cellar is pebbled—as April explained, it’s to protect accidentally dropped bottles from shattering.  Brilliant; who thought of that!?

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Think that’s a nice collection of wine?  Yeah, that’s just one of five bays!

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If you click on the photo, you can see it a bit larger.  You might spot Gary there near the left, taking inventory in jeans and a baseball cap.  Slightly different from the suit he was wearing the night before.

And if you count, you’ll notice there are more than five bays in this picture.  That’s because the last two are the private collection of the wealthy client who financed the building.  And here’s the door between the restaurant wine cellar and his private stock.

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Yeah, you may think we eat and drink well, but we’ve got nothing on this guy!

Just a couple more pictures…here’s a sitting area next to the party room.  I found out later these are all retired saddles.  There were more by the stairs.  Did I mention there was a theme to the décor?

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We also took a tour of the kitchen, but this is the only picture I took.

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That’s a heckuva lot of sheet and hotel pans.  And saucepans.  And stockpots…all the sauté pans I’d seen the night before were All Clad, which cost about $100 a pop.  As Alton Brown might say, these are some seriously good eats.

Finally we bid the restaurant goodbye.  I took a few last pictures outside…

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…and then it was time to get on with our day.  We did a little shopping at a pottery store April loves, and probably spent everything we hadn’t spent on dinner the night before.  Then it was to pack up and leave.

Yeah, I wish I could stay longer too, little dude…but believe me, we have every intention of coming back!

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Want to see more about Artisanal?  Click here to visit their website.

Thursday, November 15, 2012


I went to the mall the other day, and it was like visiting another country. Looking around, I wasn’t sure I spoke the language, and felt that I wasn’t quite in step with the common culture. Everywhere were unfamiliar objects of unknown use, odd-looking clothing, and shops offering bewildering services. A mother and her pre-teen daughters clustered around a small kiosk filled with glittery plastic Christmas ornaments, obsessively fondling everything they could see. Further down, in a circular, high-ceilinged intersection of two-story passageways, a lone man paced impatiently among several massage chairs that looked like they’d fallen from a passing alien ship through the frosted glass overhead.

I walked by tables covered with sausages and crackers, a man calling out to me and holding a small piece of cardboard, large panes of glass containing headless bodies and enormous photos of half-dressed women looking like they were about to pass out if they didn’t get a sandwich and soon. Eventually I entered the food court, trolling like everyone else from one collection of high-fat, high-sodium treats to the next. I settled in with my greasy plate of Asian noodles and bourbon chicken, and watched around me as men in dress clothes and parents with children sated themselves with hamburgers and chicken patties. I was one with them, all of us drawn to this bizarre bazaar seeking what we could not find elsewhere.

So this is America, I thought to myself. These are my countrymen. And this is what our American lives are about. Strong perfumes, tight clothes, shiny plastic possessions. Earlier I had stopped in the cosmetics area of a department store to buy my facial soap, and the bright light bouncing off the brilliant floors and glass countertops nearly blinded me. The saleswoman helping me reminded me a bit of the older version of a friend from graduate school—if she had not followed her calling, gotten divorced, and tried to fill her days with superficial chatter while covering her aging skin with bright colors. There is not a bright enough lipstick shade to cover a tightly downturned mouth.

It took me longer than I wanted to not find what I was looking for—comfortable, attractive black shoes without a heel. So I ended up wandering from one end to the other of this glitzy, glittering cage. At one time in my life, the opportunity to spend an entire day here would have been sheer bliss. I could have stopped in store after store, sniffing lotions and trying on new fashions in an attempt to keep up with my peers. New, sexy bras. Flashy, expensive sunglasses. Chic designer objets to display on wall or shelf.

Today I look at this stuff and realize not only do I not need it—something I always knew, at heart—but I no longer even have the desire for it. I like my quiet, simple life. As I strolled the reflective tile floors, what was on my mind was not a perfect knickknack to highlight the niche in the kitchen, but whether I had enough garlic from last year’s planting to set out a new crop. Everything I looked at seemed like it was simply fodder for overstuffed closets and shelves. Enough, I thought. I already have enough. In fact, I have too much as it is, and adding any of this would possibly make my house vomit from overindulgence.

So now Christmas is coming. The holidays loom in front of me like a mall-sized monster, composed of plastic toys and unneeded scarves, gobbling up shoppers in its path. Its venomous breath causes otherwise sane consumers to camp out on sidewalks in freezing cold, trample each other in their eagerness to worship at the monster’s feet, and toss themselves into the abyss of senseless debt. I have to try hard to see past the monster, to quiet winter nights, phone calls with loved ones and the small joys of sharing home-baked cookies with my coworkers. I don’t know what to do with the thousandth Christmas-themed coffee mug I’ll receive, the generically cheerful ornaments, the charming but useless holiday figurines. I truly appreciate the sentiments they all express, I do…I just wish our sentiments didn’t have to be demonstrated with molded resin compounds manufactured in China.

All this pondering has been focused by my recently spending a three-day weekend in my yard. I spent hours digging up the garden, raking and mulching leaves, scrubbing rain barrels and winterizing outdoor spigots. The quiet truth of earth, air, growth and death overshadows anything inside the smooth-sliding doors of the mall. That building and all that is within it will one day disappear, whether through changes in taste and lifestyle, economic depression, or end-of-the-world catastrophe.

 A thousand years from now, regardless of what we throw at it, the dirt will still be here, plants will continue to seed and sprout, and leaves will decompose into new dirt. My bones will be long disintegrated, as will yours, as will the computer I’m typing this on and the screen you’re reading it on. Our crumbling bones can feed the earth, returning to the system that produced and sustained them. But what of the computer? What of those glitter-covered Christmas ornaments? A thousand years from now, their bits will still be bits—separate from the giant biochemical factory that is this life-giving planet. Are those bits what we want to leave behind when we’re gone?

No, not me. I don’t want to leave anything behind that this earth cannot use again. As it turns out, the Christmas gifts being sent out from my home will be mostly biodegradable—homemade jam, local peanut butter, maybe a bottle of wine. Without intending it, I’ve stepped away from plastic gadgetry as gift. Maybe it’s a gift to the world I live on, but mostly it’s a gift to me.

Anything to stay out of the mall.

*Dépaysement centers on the French word "pays," country.  It indicates a sense of being outside of one's home place, of not belonging, of feeling alien.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

How To Tell If You're Living With A Chef

List is neither exhaustive nor exclusive.  Not all may apply in all cases.  Mileage may vary.  Warranty void where prohibited.

1. The evening pocket-emptying routine leaves a pile containing some of the following:
  • meat thermometer 
  • Sharpie marker 
  • finger cots 
  • utility knife
  • plastic tasting spoons
  • business cards from food vendors, wine reps or other chefs
  • any of these scribbled on the back of an old menu: recipes, new dish ideas, ingredient/shopping lists, phone numbers from potential catering jobs

2. You recognize other chefs by their pants, shoes or occasionally their stride.  (This is often followed by "Where do you cook?")

3. You find yourself responding "Yes, Chef," when your spouse asks you to do something for him/her.

4. You instinctively say "Behind you" when carrying a hot pan past someone to the sink.

5. When you hear the ding of one of those "ring for service bells," your first response is "Order up!"

6. Your grocery list says things like "chx," "toms" and "pots."  These do not include male cats or cooking pans.

7. When you read a recipe, you skip the ingredients and go right to the method.

8. Recipes are considered as guidance or inspiration, not actual directions.

9. You know the five mother sauces.

10. Not only do you know the proportions for mirepoix, you understand the relationship to things like sofrito and the Holy Trinity (the one from N'awlins, not Rome).

11. Your plastic wrap comes in 2,000 foot rolls.

12. You know the names of more chefs in your town than on your tv.

13. You are not surprised to have an extra course sent to your table when you dine out.

14. You know where to stand in a professional kitchen to be out of the way.  For a minute or two, at least.

15. "Stock" brings to mind giant pots of simmering liquid, not Wall Street.

16. You always ask permission before throwing out bones.

17. There is old, limp celery and/or carrots wrapped in plastic and stashed in your freezer.

18. The company holiday party is in the middle of January.

19. Obscene text messages between your spouse and co-workers make you laugh.

20. You are suddenly aware of all the food vendors' trucks around town, and can recognize their logos from a distance.

21. A free Friday or Saturday night with your loved one is considered a holiday.

22. When planning a vacation, you know where you're going to eat before you know where you'll sleep.

23. Your cookware cost more than your living room furniture.

24. When you do the grocery shopping alone, you spend half as much as when you shop together.

25. Your mother no longer asks if you're coming to visit for Mother's Day.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Fall Fun Part 4B: Linville

Our last episode ended with early-morning bedtime, snuggled in the guest room of April’s and Brian’s home.  We would see them briefly in the morning, before they left around 10:30 to head back to the restaurant.  They live a pretty intense life—at least between May and October.  During those months they work 14-hour days, six days a week, usually stopping into the restaurant on the other day to check on deliveries or some such.  From November to April, though, the restaurant closes, and they have five months of vacation.  As it turned out, the weekend of our visit was their last weekend of the season.

But more about that later.  We had an entire day to explore this new corner of the Appalachians.
The evening before over beers and story-swapping, Brian had mentioned Linville Caverns.  “I’ve never been,” he said, “but they’re supposed to be really cool.”  It sounded like a fairly standard cave tour, complete with the total darkness experience, but I'd never done it before, and Miss Chef was game.  So why the heck not?

While Linville looked like it was just down the road, it was a bit of an adventure to get there.  I’m still not sure we didn’t take a big spiral tour around the area.  Regardless, we finally saw the big sign and turned down an entry road tunneling through bright-leaved trees.

We arrived at a small parking area next to a ridiculously picturesque stream.  We spent quite a bit of time here, picking our way down the edge of the stream and just enjoying the quiet and beauty of nature.
And taking pictures, of course.

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Now before you get all excited…the pictures in the caverns didn’t turn out well at all.  I mostly didn’t use the flash, to try to avoid washing out the subtle colors, so there was a lot of fuzziness.

I was surprised how busy it was on a dreary Saturday morning, but I guess if the weather’s not cooperating, why not go hide inside a mountain?  The tours are led by guides—who all seemed to be in their late teens or twenties—in groups of fifteen.  There was a bit of a wait, the last part in front of this slightly ominous door.

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Note not only does this cave have a door, but a lock!

Yes, there are bats that hibernate in these caverns.  We were a bit early in the season yet, but the guides did inform us about the mysterious fungal disease that has been killing bat colonies all through the eastern US.  The brochure we received when we bought our tickets at the counter included a blurb about protecting other bat colonies by using a special bleach spray upon exiting the caverns.  The guide told us we simply had to wipe our feet on a “special” mat…which looked to me like a standard-issue commercial floor mat that was wearing away in spots.  Fortunately, I have no plans to visit any susceptible bat-harboring areas anytime soon.

So, into the caverns!  Linville Caverns were first discovered in the 1800s by local fishermen who noticed fish disappearing into the mountainside, and decided to follow them in.  There is still a colony of fish there, which I’m guessing is actually held in there by grates or something.  These were the only living things in the water I saw, and they were only by the entrance.

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I’ve had to bump up the brightness on all of these pictures.  I told you it was dark in there!  Unfortunately, the pictures do little to convey the experience. 

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There were spotlights throughout, many of them highlighting interesting formations of stalactites.  There was one that looked very much like an alligator (though I told Miss Chef later, if we were on the other side of the world it would have been a dragon!).  But taking pictures of these with a hand-held point-and-shoot camera doesn’t work so well.

Oh, look—a blob!

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Oooo, stringy blobs!

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And the biggest blob of all!  This thing was about four feet long.

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And these are the GOOD pictures!

This next one isn’t very good, but I have to show it to you, because it’s of the only bat that had shown up to hibernate.  Shockingly, it was no more than four feet off the ground, on the side of the passageway used by hundreds of tourists every day.  They told us it was the size of a chicken nugget, but we didn’t realize it would be the same color, too!

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Deeper in the caverns, just as I was starting to think about those 18th and 19th-century explorers delving their way through here for the first time without electricity or flashlights, the guides began the total darkness talk.  They turned off all the lights except for one which was about the same brightness as a typical lamp of the times.  Yup, it would have been creepy going into an unknown cave with that small sphere of lighted area around you.

Then, of course, all the lights went out.  The guides were very jokey about it, telling everyone to grab their loved ones beforehand so no mistakes would be made in the dark.  No, I didn’t grab Miss Chef’s hand, but I was surprised at how not-uncomfortable it was.  Sure, surrounded by other people, with a guide’s voice to focus on, and knowing illumination was only the flick of a switch away was some help.  But I guess I’m not nearly as claustrophobic as I thought.

I enjoyed our little trip through the caverns, but I imagine there are much more dramatic and exciting ones around the country.  All the same, it wasn't bad for a first-time experience.

Still, I was much more impressed by the scenery back outside.

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Our original plan for the day had been to check out Blowing Rock—which we knew as much about as we had about Grandfather Mountain—but once we were back on the road, Miss Chef suggested we see Linville Falls.  We’d seen road signs for the falls all around the area, but once again—we didn’t know squat about them.  But that’s what I love about traveling with Miss Chef; we can change plans and enjoy spur-of-the-moment side trips.

Fortunately, it wasn’t far between the two sites.  The falls are located in Pisgah National Forest, which covers over 500,000 acres—it’s the same forest we’d been to on our first visit closer to Asheville.  Regardless of what the falls might be like, I was perfectly content to just be able to hike around the woods, soaking up some nature.

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The trail to the falls started with a long, fairly steep downhill slope.  Which meant we’d be climbing up a long, steep trail on the way out!  There was hardly anyone else on it, but as we came closer to the falls, our path intersected with several others; one leading to a paved parking area,  and two others leading to three different lookouts.  There was a lot more foot traffic here, with visitors of all ages and seemingly all nationalities.

We started with the closest lookout, and continued down to a large rocky area projecting out into a small river.  First we saw this charming little falls:

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…and then behind us, this amazing slalom of a rapid!

Hmm…it was much cooler in person.  Anyway, at the end of that video, if you knew where to look, you could see the area of the next overlook we were headed for.  Unbeknownst to us, there was a lot of climbing ahead.

(Ok, imagine ten or fifteen minutes of huffing and puffing, some light muscle burn in the thighs…I couldn’t complain, though, because we kept running across quartets of fit, gray-haired couples coming the other way.)

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Throughout the weekend, we kept seeing these well-crafted stone walls, steps, berms, etc.  I can’t begin to imagine the amount of work that went into this, and I said a little prayer of gratitude for the men who built these for our enjoyment.  I also wondered if they used donkeys or mules to haul the stone and tools up these hills.  If so, a prayer of gratitude to them, too!

Once we had climbed to the top of the mountain (I guess), the first lookout was over the next valley.  It was like something out of a western novel, seemingly untouched by human presence.  Well, other than those of us leaning over the edge of the lookout wall.

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It was about this time Miss Chef discovered the panorama feature on the camera.

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I think if you click on this, it will give you a bigger view—the right-hand side is in the photo above, the rest is a bit distorted.

After absorbing this expansive landscape, we took another short path 180 degrees in the other direction…and found Linville Falls.

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What?  Can’t see it?  It’s right there in the…oh, here.

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It slowly dawned on me how far we had climbed…because the first lookout where we’d stopped was…down there.

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Now go back up two pictures, and you’ll really see what I’m talking about!  I’m really glad I had no idea how high I’d be hoisting my out-of-shape self beforehand.  But I’m awfully glad I did all that hoisting.  What a spectacular sight!

We played with the panorama feature some more, of course.

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We don’t know those people, but they add perspective…and they did entertain us on the way up.  They had two boys, one whining about the climb, the other asking questions about everything he saw.  Their dad handled them both really well, and the whole thing was rather amusing.  Now we’ll never forget them!

I haven’t mentioned that it was pretty crowded all along the way.  For a bunch of lazy, tv-addicted people, there are still a lot of Americans out there in our national parks.  Of course, there were a lot of folks from other countries…like the group of Asian students we crossed paths with on our way back down.

But wait…there was one more overlook to check out!  And it was all downhill from here, so why not?

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Obviously this was much closer to the falls.  And if you look near the top of the photo, you can see the crowd where we started out!

Here’s the view in the other direction.

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Man, next year we have to time it better, to see the fall leaves in their full glory!

Well, that was it for they day—who knew we’d spend the bulk of our anniversary weekend in Linville, a town we’d never heard of?  There must be a lot of other little-known gems left for us to discover.

In the meantime, we had to find our way home and get changed for our big dinner.  This is the end of the beautiful mountain pictures, but I know my audience.  You’ll want to keep an eye out for the next post, ‘cause it will be all about some beautiful food!

Bonus: I almost forgot to share this video from the last lookout.  There's a flock of pigeons doing aerial maneuvers above the falls.