Monday, February 28, 2011

Ramsey Cascades Trail - Big Trees and Waterfalls

We hiked to Ramsey Cascades in the Greenbriar section of the GSMNP yesterday. The trail is 4.0 miles long resulting in an even 8 mile round trip. We had rain showers on and off for the entire day but fortunately it was seasonably warm for the end of February with temps in the 60's.

The first 1-1/2 miles of the trail follows a gentle climb and smooth foot path along side the Middle Prong of the Little Pigeon River. The remaining 2-1/2 miles of trail climbs along the Ramsey Prong. Here is where the slippery roots and rocks join with a more aggressive elevation gain making the hike a little more challenging.
Several old growth giants line the trail, including some massive tulip poplars and eastern hemlocks. The trail is in good shape with lots of stone steps and a couple of  long creek crossing foot bridges. It's evident that a lot of work has been done on this trail over the years.

At the top of the trail is the beautiful Ramsey Cascades. It is a 90 foot cascading waterfall and according to the little brown guidebook, Hiking Trails Of The Smokies Ramsey Cascades is the highest waterfall in the park accessible by trail. It really is a spectacular sight and I'm sure that it gets crowded in the summer. There is a huge flat rock in front of the falls positioned perfectly for viewing. We didn't eat lunch there because of the cool spray and wind coming off the falls but I'll bet in sunnier weather that would be the spot.

This trail gains around 2200' in 4 miles. Black Betty rated it difficult. I would give it 2-3 Snickers bars using Nimblewill Nomad's  rating system. The rain did make the roots slippery and Black Betty fell on the way down spraining her knee. She was able to walk out so lucky for her I didn't have to tote her like a sack of potatoes.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Dutch Oven Braised 7 Hour Leg of Lamb

We received a call this week from our friends at Slagle Farms informing us our spring lambs were ready, so I ran down to take a look at the freezer and discovered that we still had one leg of lamb left from last spring. I decided to take the plunge and try a 7 hour wine braise on this one. I can tell you that I now understand what all the fuss is about. This is absolutely the best leg of lamb I've ever tasted. I did end up cheating a little, and although I used my good old 12 inch Lodge cast iron camp dutch oven, I cooked it in the oven instead of outside with coals. This was due to several things (other irons in the fire) I had going on, and I didn't want to have to spend the day babysitting the dutch oven.

bone in leg of lamb (4-5 lbs)
sea salt, black pepper, dried basil, 10 cloves garlic
olive oil
4 large onions sliced 1/2 inch thick
1 lb. bag of little carrots
6 potatoes peeled and cut into 1-2 " chunks
2 cans low sodium chicken broth
2 - 3 cups white wine (I used a Chardonnay)

Preheat oven to 300F degrees.
Stud the lamb with 10 or 12 fat garlic spikes.
Brush it with the olive oil and then rub in the salt, pepper, and dried basil. I would have used additional herbs but this was all I had in the kitchen.
Heat a few tbs. olive oil in the bottom of the dutch oven and brown the lamb.
Remove lamb from dutch oven and pour in wine. Heat to boiling and reduce. Meanwhile add remaining garlic crushed to wine. Add additional basil.
Add the sliced onions and carrots into the wine mixture.
Set browned lamb gently on top of onions and carrots in dutch oven.
Surround lamb with potatoes.
Carefully pour in chicken broth around the edges and continue to heat to simmer.
Add additional spices and herbs if wanted.
Place lid on dutch oven.
Bake at 300F degrees for 7 hours.
(After about 4 hours, I did carefully turn the meat over one time)

To serve:
This is a one dish complete meal. The meat is so tenderly braised that it does actually fall off the bone. I separated the meat from the bone and served it and the vegetables with the deliciously aromatic and flavorful juices.

The bottom line is that this lamb is tender, moist, and wonderfully delicious. As an added bonus, my house smelled heavenly all day while it cooked, and it was an incredibly easy one dish clean up.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Kimsey Creek Hike

Spring-like temps today put me and Cricket out in the woods on one of my favorite local hikes, the Kimsey Creek trail. Kimsey Creek is in the Standing Indian Basin and follows an old logging rail bed used by the Ritter Logging Co. in the 1920's. It is a blue blazed trail, which runs mostly along the beautiful Kimsey Creek from the campground to Deep Gap. The terrain is primarily a gentle climb over a sometimes wet and muddy rock path. The serenade of the crystal clear water rushing through the stream bed and the sight of the beautiful cove hardwoods and hemlock and rhododendron forests creates a peacefulness, which is not always easily found in today's hectic world. This area will break out into wild flower heaven in just a few weeks. It really is no wonder that I've spent many walks on this lovely trail over the years and keep coming back to it.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Big Daddy Bluegrass Band at Pisgah Brewing Company

We were stoked to be able to see the "next generation" of the Big Daddy Bluegrass Band at Pisgah Brewing Company last night in Black Mountain. As every music lover around western North Carolina is fully aware, no one can sing a song like Steve "Big Daddy" McMurry. The vocal harmonies with Robert Greer of Town Mountain and Jason Flournoy were spectacular to say the least and the licks were hot as fire! We are so fortunate to live in an area where such top-notch musical talent literally grows wild in the hills. Live music just doesn't get any better. Big Daddy Bluegrass Band is a must see!

Big Daddy Bluegrass Band features Asheville area musicians; Steve McMurry on lead vocals, mandolin, and guitar, Billy Cardine on dobro, Jason Flourney on banjo, Robert Greer on harmonizing vocals and guitar, and Jay Sanders on bass.

Here's a good read on the band The Laurel of Asheville.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Bartram Trail / Wallace Branch

It's all honey thick sweetness living in southern Appalachia when it comes to hometown hiking.
The Wallace Branch trail head of the Bartram Trail is a short couple miles away from my front door.
Eleven miles up the Bartram is Wayah Bald on the Appalachian Trail. At that point, if I turn and 
follow the white blazes north, I will end on top of Mt. Katahdin in Maine in roughly  two thousand and fifty miles. 
It can be a constant temptation, believe me.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Barn Cats // Clog Dancers

It seems that with the explosion of youth sport programs, traveling teams, and other after school diversions over the last 15 to 20 years that local clog dancing has experienced a general decline in popularity.
It's not been that long ago that every little community in the mountains had their own competitive teams. I can still vividly remember sitting in the bleachers at the Franklin High School Gym with my family and watching the best dance teams from the western counties compete. I'm sure that the rocking and stomping of the hard wood could be heard a block away. It was a site and a sound to behold, for sure.

I was pleased to see a few young clog dancers get up on stage with The Barn Cats last Thursday night at the Mountain Heritage Center at WCU and show their stuff. After all, music without dance is like peanut butter without jelly. It's just not right!

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Barn Cats at The Mountain Heritage Center

The Barn Cats performed last night at the Mountain Heritage Center at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, NC. The Barn Cats are the three piece band consisting of  Frank Lee, Issac Deal, and Bradley Adams of the Freight Hoppers. Even though though they were without David Bass on fiddle (he was out of town and unable to attend) their inspired passion for traditional music made for great times and great music.
It just doesn't get any better on a cold and rainy winter night in Appalachia.

From their website:
The Freight Hoppers: Bio  After more than a decade The Freight Hoppers have released their eagerly awaited fourth album Mile Marker. This collection includes music that was first recorded in the late 1920's and early 1930's, and spans geographically from Mississippi to West Virginia. The Freight Hoppers play hard driving old time music with an emotional, raw excitement that keeps one foot planted in the past and the other in the present. Of course that’s only when they keep their feet still, for this is high energy dance music of an older day played like there's no tomorrow. Finding their passion from a love of stringband music of the 1920's and 30's, The Freight Hoppers have been entertaining crowds of fans at festivals and music halls alike as they travel around the country. The heart of the band is held together by the powerhouse fiddle and banjo combo of David Bass and Frank Lee, while the rhythm section of Isaac Deal on guitar and Bradley Adams on string bass keep the groove moving. Add in the vocal duo of Frank and Isaac, and you've got yourself one of the most exciting traditional bands to come out of the woodwork. Based out of the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, The Freight Hoppers draw from a deep source of rural southern music for their inspiration, and are proud to present music that is still very much alive and meaningful to today's world.

The Freight Hoppers are:
David Bass fiddle
Frank Lee banjo, vocal
Isaac Deal guitar, vocal
Bradley Adams string bass