A Fall Evening at The Windover Inn Bed & Breakfast

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Snippet of North Carolina's Mountain-to-Sea Trail

We don't get out much during the busy season between Labor Day and Veteran's Day, so it was a real treat to finally find ourselves with the time to take a short hike on a small, relatively unknown part of an otherwise popular trail along the Blue Ridge Parkway near The Windover Inn. Even though most of the fall color is gone from the mountains, I think this less colorful canvass is still spectacular, maybe even more so, in revealing the contours and textures of the terrain, itself, just days after the trees have bared their last leaves.

We access the trail from the Black Balsam Knob road which turns off the parkway near mile marker 420 and park at the spot where the famous Art Loeb Trail crosses this road. The Art Loeb is a scenic hike that can take you all the way up to Cold Mountain. Backpacker magazine rates this 30 mile trail as the second most scenic 'big alpine' hike in the US. We head the other way down toward the Devil's Courthouse on the Mountain-to-Sea trail.

Immediately upon leaving the road we find ourselves in the middle of a mystical pine forest which even on a cool fall afternoon imparts a calming warmth to this hiker. The forest floor is composed of packed down pine needles which create a soft 'thud' as our guide's energetic boxer dashes back and forth in his frantic love affair with the great outdoors! We emerge from this primeval forest onto an open area with steep drop offs to our left toward the Parkway below and the occasional escarpment left behind from the last Ice Age. Soon we are enveloped by a similar pine forest. Further on rhody canapes allow daggers of sunlight to create a contrasting maze of shadows through the gnarly trunks, branches, and rhody leaves all around us. The trail rises and falls gently along narrow rivulets that, today, are puddled from recent rain, but still easily traversed. The trickiest part of the hike is to navigate between the exposed rhody roots and rocky outcrops that trip me up every now and then. But, overall, this hike of about two miles round trip can be rated as 'easy'.

After about a mile the trail opens to a rocky outcrop that provides stunning views of the entire mountainous region across and to the south of the Blue Ridge Parkway which meanders along below carrying the occasional vehicle and playing 'peekaboo' between the undergrowth. This is as clear a day we are likely to find, and we can easily see the town of Brevard about 15 miles away beyond the big rock in the foreground better known as Looking Glass Rock. It's too easy to use the word 'spiritual' in this part of the country, but that is certainly the feeling one gets here. The mile hike back to the car is spent thinking about how wonderful this part of the country is, and how I wish we could get out more!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

I Love Sharing My Culinary Heaven at Our Waynesville Bed and Breakfast

Some gardens are huge, like the size of a small farm. Some are postage stamp size. Most are somewhere in between. My little piece of culinary heaven happens to be just outside our bed and breakfast kitchen growing in two whiskey barrels each surrounded by a very small rectangle of soil. This is the area that makes up my herb garden here in Waynesville, NC and it’s my favorite place to play when it comes to ingredients for our dinner dishes as well as for many of our savory breakfasts.  I am an herb nut, just ask my four grandchildren (who may know the difference between Italian and flat parsley, or oregano and marjoram if they were listening closely to their Opa!). To me there is nothing better than picking a bunch of chives, thyme, parsley, marjoram and basil to use in one of our breakfasts for our guests, or in one of our dinners for ourselves.  One of Jen’s favorites is a penne pasta concoction I developed over many years of testing different herbal combinations (I’m still testing! It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it!). So, each dish is a little different from the one before. It’s basically julienned yellow onions and bell peppers sautéed in olive oil, with diced tomatoes, kalamata olives (if I have them),salt and pepper,  and … wait for it, the herbal blend du jour (i.e., whatever comes in from my herb garden that evening).  It’s therapeutic for me to chop the parsley, pull the tiny leaves off the thyme and marjoram stems, trim a handful of chives with a kitchen scissors a few millimeters at a time, and fold and cut the basil until I have a pile of green aromatic herbs on top of my onions, peppers and tomatoes! Can you smell it! I can!! They get mixed into the sautéed veggies with the penne pasta (al dente) with a generous grind of asaigo or parmesan on top. Yummy!

In cooler weather I make several soups and stews which I freeze (if they don’t all get eaten first).  Again, I use as many herbs in these dishes as possible. In winter my options are more limited, but I’ve been amazed at how many of my herbs can withstand hard freezes and come back for more here in Western North Carolina. It may be due to the usually balmy days (even in January and February) we enjoy even after a harsh sub-freezing night which allows the herbs to recover a bit. Simon and Garfunkel would be happy to know they include parsley, sage rosemary and thyme!  Even my chives usually survive until about Christmas.  As some of you know, I’m a vegetarian, so our favorite stew is a veggie root stew of potatoes, carrots, turnips, parsnips and a product from fermented wheat called seitan (pronounced like the devil, but not as nasty!).  I use the aforementioned herbs in a ‘bouquet garni’ which is just a bundle of these herbs rolled in a swatch of cheese cloth like a cigar and tied together at both ends with kitchen string. I toss this into the pot with the rest of the veggies, the seitan cut into pieces that resemble meat chunks, and simmer them in a broth of veggie bullion, diced tomatoes, and onions and garlic that were first sautéed in olive oil along with the seitan covered in flour, salt and pepper. My mother swore this was beef stew because the seitan fooled her into thinking it was beef chunks. She even thought she saw gristle!  This stew is good with a loaf of pumpernickel bread which I also make (if I’m not too lazy) in our 15 year old bread maker (thank you sister, Alice!).  Alice is also my seitan supplier since I like a certain brand of seitan (you can actually make it yourself, but…) called Ray’s Seitan which is available in PA, but not here. Wow! I almost wish it were winter so I could whip up a batch of stew right now. But, then we’d miss the beautiful views of fall of our Blue Ridge Parkway yet to come before the cold weather sets in.

Finally, as I mentioned I use lots of fresh herbs in our savory breakfasts. They include frittatas, stratas, and soufflé’s among other entrees. I also whip up herb omelets for folks who have dietary restrictions when we are serving a sweet breakfast they can’t have such as French toast or German apple pancakes.  I also just re-started my indoor winter ‘gro light’ garden, a Christmas present from Jen's mom (Thanks, Jeannine!), so I can have at least some of my favorite herbs year round.  This includes mint for Jen to use as garnish on some of our breakfast plates.  All in all I wouldn’t know what to do if I woke up someday without my herb garden.  It just wouldn’t be the same cooking without fresh herbs. I guess I would just have to adjust to using dried herbs. Nothing wrong with that…. I guess!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Western North Carolina Quilt Trail's Newest Addition

It's official!  We are now part of the Haywood County and Western North Carolina Quilt Trail! The Quilt Trails project got its start in Ohio when Donna Sue Groves put a block on her barn to honor her mother. From that simple act, the project has spread to 30 states and Canada!

It took us some time to select a quilt pattern that told a story about our home, but after we did, we couldn't image a better pattern for our bed and breakfast here in Waynesville

We selected “The Four Little Birds” pattern for several reasons.  If you've ever been here, you know that we have tried to create an outdoor sanctuary, not only for our bed and breakfast guests, but also for the variety of Western North Carolina birds that contribute to our guests' experience and the beauty of our gardens.  In particular, we think we may have the bird of prey, the Kestrel which is a member of the falcon family, on our property (we're trying to get some verification on this).  When doing research of the house's history, the only missing link was why the Howell's called the house Windover.  All we do know from the Howell's granddaughter is that there was an additional letter in the word Windover when it was initially selected.  In researching the history of the word Windover, we came across a poem written in the 19th century about the Kestrel, known in England at that time as the Windhover.  Although we don't know how Windover got its name, we feel initially selecting it for a bird that may have hovered over the property and was prevalent in the Smoky Mountains, and then shortening it to signify the winds it would ride over the property fits perfectly!  Finally, as the fourth owners of The Windover Inn Bed & Breakfast, we thought the pattern was very symbolic of how all four of us are connected by the history and preservation of our lovely home.

Here's the poem we found.  It was written on May 30, 1877, by a Jesuit priest named Gerard Manley Hopkins.  Dedicated “to Christ our Lord”, he called “The Windhover” “the best thing [he] ever wrote”.   

The Windhover

I caught this morning morning’s minion, kingdom of daylight’s dauphin,  
  dapple-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstacy! Then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend; the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wing. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird—the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!
Brute beauty and valor and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! And the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!
No wonder of it; sheer plod makes plow down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.
By Gerard Manley Hopkins (6/11/1844-6/8/1889).  Written in 1877, published in 1918.  

Along with our quilt square, there are 24 other locations in Clyde, Maggie Valley, and Waynesville that are part of the Haywood County Quilt Trail, and the larger Western North Carolina Quilt Trail. The quilt squares are all painted on wooden frames and installed on barns, public structures, shops, and other appropriate buildings around the community and each has its own story.  The website www.haywoodquilttrails.org provides block names, locations, photos and short stories about each block, and we have brochures here with the information so you can see all of the beautiful quilt trail squares for yourself!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Venus, Jupiter and the Crescent Moon

Photo in Waynesville, NC taken with my phone.
Last night I looked up to the sky and wished that you were here
To share the beauty of the sky and moon that seemed so near
The brightness of the stars above never seemed so clear
I realized they're in your sky too. Did you see them dear?

I hope you get to see this sight
And see the moon and planets bright
And know that sharing this with you
Is just as special as the moon
And stars and planets up above
Can't compare to your sweet love!

Hi Snookie, Sweet Pea, Bent Slinky and Sugar Plum!

The moon and what I thought were 2 stars were amazingly bright in the sky the day before Opa's birthday.  I know it's hard to see it in this photo, but I went online to find out what was going on. 

Here's the link I found that has better photos than mine. What I thought were stars were Venus and Jupiter! Pretty amazing!

Love and miss you!  Oma

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Cookies from Oma's Kitchen

For my birthday this year, I received a wonderful cookie jar that says "Enjoy cookies from Oma's Kitchen".  It conjured up wonderful memories of special moments shared with my grandmothers in their kitchens.  Whether I was helping with the dishes, helping them make something like cookies, or I was just sitting at the kitchen table while they were doing something, it always seemed to be the times we had our best talks.

Subjects would come up naturally in the process of whatever was going on, and they both always seemed interested in what I had to say.  Both of my grandmothers, although strict disciplinarians, were very tender and loving.  I can still feel now, how good I felt after talking with them.  It was like I was the most important person in the world to them.  They never made me feel like anything I said was silly or childish.  As a matter of fact, they seemed to be interested in anything I had to say!  (Of course I understand now, as a grandparent myself, it's a lot easier to be an attentive listener when you aren't the parent doing it 24/7!  I also understand after being a parent, that the time I spent with my grandparents gave my parents some well deserved time off!)

When spending time with my grandchildren, I try to remember those times with my grandmothers, and how they made me feel.  I want them to have the same sweet, warm memories of their Oma (German for grandmother) that I treasure to this day of my own grandmothers.  It seems harder to do these days though. Times are different.  (And now that I've made statements like that, it's obvious I'm old  enough to be a grandparent!)  But seriously, with modern conveniences and electronic entertainment, the numerous school activities and sports children can participate in, families spread out in different states, and a lot of grandparents still in the workforce, like this innkeeper, those "natural" times I had with my grandmothers are a lot harder to come by. 

But  it is doable, and I'm trying my best to make it happen whenever and however I can.  As a matter of fact, the cookie jar also sparked an idea - a new category to add to our blog . . .Cookies from Oma's Kitchen.  I'm going to try very hard to use the blog to share thoughts and feelings as they come up naturally that I want to share with my grandchildren.  They may not get to hear it naturally at that moment in time, but at least it will help me remember to tell them - another time. And who knows, maybe sharing some of the warm and sweet thoughts of them that come from Oma's kitchen, may spark some of our best talks ever!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Blue Ridge Parkway Winter Hikes - Part 2

In keeping with our mission to locate and hike as many (easy to moderate, thank you!) trails as possible again this winter, we hit the road last week and found another great trail, or should I say many great trails! Our theme here at the Windover Inn is "connections" and we have found that our lovely backyard of wonders here in Western North Carolina is also a place where trails flow into and out of each other creating unexpected and exciting connections of their own.

This year's first winter hike took us to Graveyard Fields, a popular destination which is accessible from the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP or 'burp'). Just a mile down the BRP an access road (Black Balsam) leads to a parking lot for trailheads to Sam Knob Summit, Flat Laurel Creek Trail, Graveyard Ridge Trail (which leads back to Graveyard Fields), Investor Gap, and the Art Loeb Trail (rated by Backpacker Magazine as the country's #2 trail in their "Ten Hikes to Big Alpine Views") which takes one to the pinnacle of destinations here, Cold Mountain, as well as to numerous feeder trails along the way. Meanwhile, the 530 mile Mountain-to-Sea Trail snakes along in the general direction of the BRP and connects with Graveyard Ridge Trail as well as many of the others mentioned above. So... here in the space of a few miles in what is know as the Middle Prong and Shining Rock areas of the Pisgah National Forest, we are able to access trails which can satisfy everything from a short bite-sized easy walk in the woods, through a major, hundreds of miles long march to the sea, or into neighboring states, with many, many others somewhere in between these two extremes. That's what I call hiking options! No wonder Haywood County boasts the second longest 'mileage' of trails east of the Mississippi!

Since the February weather continues to cooperate in keeping the BRP opened, we used the Black Balsam access road and chose the bite sized, but scenic, Flat Laurel Creek Trail which connects with the Sam Knob Summit Trail. Last winter we had accessed this trail from its opposite trailhead off Rt. 215 (yet another option!) and got as far as the Sam Knob Summit Trail, but we chickened out and didn't make the climb. This time we did! And what views! After a climb of about a half mile we reached the summit which is about a 500 foot climb. So, it is steep but features an accomodating mix of river rock, sandy soil, and some built in steps to soften the cardio. On the trip back to the parking lot the trail crossed a grassy field that offered scenic rear views of the pinnacle we had just descended. Pretty cool for a 3 mile walk in the woods of just over 2 hours!

Slow season's opportunity to explore and develop new day trips for our guests, always reinforces our "connection" philosophy as we take time to reconnect with nature and each other through this amazing landscape that first brought us to Waynesville and eventually The Windover Inn !

Monday, February 6, 2012

Graveyard Fields Along The Blue Ridge Parkway

It's that time of year again, and we're off to explore the beautiful vistas here in Western North Carolina. Winter hikes work out better for us since we're not as busy at this time of year. The timing might be involuntary, but this doesn't mean the views are any less spectacular than they are in other seasons. Each season reveals its own treasures, and winter is no different. Since there is no foliage to hide the views, the shapes of our mountain ranges are clearly defined in winter. This results in interesting images created by the mountain terrain. For instance we see the rumples of a large rug in some of the folds between the mountains.

We decided to visit Graveyard Fields near mile marker 419 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Blue Ridge Parkway is only open at the whims of the weather from November to April, but this year's warm winter has, fortunately, offered many days of trail access along the parkway. So, we decided to give Graveyard Trails a go! This is a popular trail that we often recommend to our guests but we hadn't hiked it, ourselves, since 2002 when we were still 'visitors' to the Asheville area. However, once we arrived and descended down the 'stairs' to the trail head, we instantly remembered why this is such a popular trail. It is a relatively easy hike made more accommodating by the numerous boardwalks and bridge upgrades over the muckier areas. It is relatively flat with only a 300 foot total rise over about a mile and a half. But be aware, this can be (and was!) a muddy hike at certain spots especially after the above average rains we had here in January. If we weren't careful, it could (and did!) become a 'slip and slide'! The trail basically takes you through a valley seam between two ridges with lots of interesting foliage and landmarks (even in winter) along the way. The namesake 'graveyard' mounds are evident and the sleeping vegetation is still pretty colorful even in February. The destination upper waterfalls announced itself well in advance as we approached, and upon our arrival the rushing waters marked this as a spiritual spot like so many others in this amazing part of the world. After enjoying the falls, we retraced our steps back the the parking lot resulting in a 3.2 mile leisurley hike that took us about 3 hours. What a wonderful way to spend a winter's day in Western North Carolina just about a half hour from the Windover Inn and Waynesville

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Healthy and Wide Awake at The Windover Inn

People accuse me of being an optimist, and by definition, I guess I am.  But even the most positive Pollyanna can be pushed to the point of saying, "Enough is enough!" - and this Pollyanna has had enough of negativity in politics!  And although my business training taught me the topics of politics, sex and religion are taboo when it comes to your business, it's hard in this political climate to contain myself (and Glenn's ok with it). 

I think one of the most important lessons I've learned in my life is that although I can't always control what happens, I can always control how I respond to it.  And my experience has been, the more positively I respond to something, the better the outcome.  It hasn't mattered what my role in life has been at the time, or what the situation has been, it has worked.  And in this case, it doesn't matter what party affiliation I have!

Has it always been easy to take this positive outlook?  I can't honestly say that it has been, or that I've always been able to accomplish my goal.  And, yes, I do understand that it's harder for some, more than others, to take this approach to life.  In this case though, I see this negative approach by politicians as a conscious marketing design.  It seems like someone, somewhere, seems to have evaluated what works and what doesn't, and determined that making people feel worse about their life circumstances, making the other guy look like a murderer instead of just someone with a different policy, frightening people instead of comparing real facts, pitting people one against the other, is what is going to win votes!  And why not?  Isn't that what the public wants on their television sets?  Reality TV is flooded with groups of people pitted against each other, whether it's on an island somewhere, a group of housewives, or single women looking for the bachelor of their dreams! 

But wait a minute, this is our government, not entertainment.  Or is it?  With social media and constraints of 140 characters, you gotta go for the sensational - right?  Who's going to tweet a policy issue? An Apprentice episode with presidential candidates competing - maybe, but Donald Trump as a candidate?  I'm suddenly feeling as George's character in a Seinfeld episode did, when he realized his world with his friends (Independent George) and his world with his girlfriend were colliding - will this too cause an explosion? 

Well, I guess that depends on us.  I for one am going to take the positive approach (surprised?).  Two can play at this game.  Positive people can blog, tweet, and write reality shows too (ok, maybe that's stretching it a bit).  So, all you fellow Pollyannas out there - let's get busy and flood the lines of communication with a more positive world view, not because we're not sick and tired of it, but because we're healthy and wide awake!