Magical Mountain Day: Waterfalls, Wine and Raptors

Frogtown4The last few weeks have been filled with intense work deadlines and long work days. It’s all good and the projects are exciting, but that does mean I tend to stick to my tried and true cooking repertoire, making it rather difficult to be new and inventive in the kitchen for blogging purposes…or any other purpose. It also means that I’ve had way less time to post, read and comment on other blogs as well, so forgive me as I try and catch up.

Spring is now in full bloom here in our big city, including our magnificent dogwoods, and I’ll show you some of those sights on my next post. However, just a mere 70 miles north of here, Spring is just beginning. That’s how close we are in proximity to the North Georgia Mountains, and yet that 70 miles, as well as the higher altitude, can make all the difference in the world to things like plant life-cycles, temperatures and weather. It was that very change of sceney that the mountains can provide that we sought out this past weekend.

While it’s too chilly and too early to swim in North Georgia, the mountain vistas are clear and the sight lines are terrific during this time just before all of the leaves fill in. And, given that we still have warm and cold days, there’s not an insect to be found…yet. Perfect conditions for a picnic. Since this was a spur of the moment idea and all about relaxing, I kept our picnic simple: some grilled balsamic chicken sandwiches with pesto, jarlsberg cheese, tomato and local lettuce on prairie bread, a little guacamole with crackers and some fresh fruit and Greek yogurt parfaits for dessert.

For our first stop, we landed at Amicalola Falls State Park and Lodge. After popping into the lodge to take in the vistas, we turned around and came eye to eye with this guy.

owlcapone1

His name is “Owl Capone” and he’s a Georgia Barred Owl—the same type we see often in our own back yard. “Mr. Capone” happens to be an important member of Amicalola’s Raptor Rehabilitation & Education Program. We’d unknowingly arrived just in time to see the Amicalola Naturalists make a presentation on these amazing birds up close and personal, where they go into great depth about the facts, and fiction, of Georgia raptors.

It’s illegal for Georgia raptors to be owned or kept, in whole or in part, and if one is found injured and can’t be rehabilitated and returned to the wild by a qualified wildlife rehabilitation center, they must be euthanized or in some few circumstances, become part of an educational program like these birds. These lucky guys get to be ambassadors for their species, living our their lives in comfort while educating folks about what they are and the important role they play in the ecosystem of our land and planet.

Please do take a moment and enjoy the slideshow below featuring: “Owl Capone” the Georgia Barred Owl who was hit by a car and blinded in one eye; “Zeus” the Great Horned Owl and undisputed king of the food chain (yes, including eagles); “Gizmo” the Red Screech Owl and “Goliath” the Gray Screech Owl; “WeeGee” the owl known as a Ghost-faced, Barn Owl, Screaming Banshee or Love Owl; “Sir Lands-a-Lot” the unreleasable Red Tailed Hawk; “Mospeed,” a Kestral, the fastest living creature on the planet; and “Fabio”, the misunderstood Black Vulture (because no, he’s not a buzzard, we don’t have those in North America) who imprinted on humans and thinks he is one…or that we are vultures! What a fascinating way to start the day, and this is just one of many nature programs at this state park.

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After seeing the raptors, we decided to have our picnic next to Amicalola Falls…a show all unto itself. At 729 feet, Amicalola Falls is the tallest cascading waterfall in the Southeastern United States. At the top of the falls there is a large green space with a magnificent view of the surrounding mountains—a perfect picnic spot. The top of the falls features an overlook bridge and a challenging trail with staircases that you can descend next to the falls for some spectacular views. Be forewarned though, the descent part of this trail is fine, but coming back up is not for the out of shape or faint of heart!

We left Amicalola mid-afternoon and decided to stop by a couple of our favorite North Georgia wineries on the way home. I’ve posted about these two before, Wolf Mountain Vineyards and Frogtown Cellars. Both have lovely views and some even lovelier wines. We’ve enjoyed revisiting them over the years to see how the vines and the wine improve over time. A glass of Wolf Mountain Blanc de Syrah Brut was a most enjoyable respite while taking in their lovely property from the tasting room balcony.

wolf

Wolf Mountain Blanc de Syrah Brut.

Upon departing Wolf around 4:45 p.m., we had just enough time to end our day at Frogtown Cellars with a glass of “Inclination”, their distinctive full-bodied white blend of Chardonnay, Viognier and Vidal grapes. Frogtown’s main tasting room and immense deck overlooking the vines was open to the public (they close it if there’s an event and open a tasting tent further up the property), and it was a beautiful place to watch the sun go down. We took a moment to inspect the barely budding vines on the way to our car, and as I looked down at the ground I spotted this 4-leaf clover peeking up at me from amongst the grasses. Good day and good luck, indeed!

The vines at Frogtown.

The vines at Frogtown.

Frogtown5

Inclination.

Inclination.

I looked down at my sandaled feet and there was...

I looked down at my sandaled feet and there was…

This! What a nice way to end the day.

This! What a nice way to end the day.

If you’re traveling in the state of Georgia and want more information on any of the places and events I’ve mentioned here, check out these links: Amicalola Falls Lodge, Amicalola Falls State Park and upcoming dates for Close Encounters of the Bird KindWolf Mountain Vineyards, Frogtown Cellars, and Georgia State Parks.

Betsy’s Grilled Balsamic Chicken Pesto Picnic Sandwiches
Makes 2 Large Sandwiches

4 slices prairie bread, or other whole grain seeded rustic hearth bread
4 Tablespoons basil pesto (mine was purchased as we don’t have basil yet!)
2 roma tomatoes, sliced
4 large leaves of lettuce such as butter or green leaf, preferably local or homegrown
2 slices of jarlsberg or swiss cheese
1 large grilled balsamic chicken breast, sliced (see marinade recipe below)

Spread one tablespoon of pesto on each slice of bread. Add one slice of cheese, divided in half diagonally, to two of the bread slices. Top each slice of cheese with half of the sliced chicken, then half of the lettuce and the tomato. Place the other slice of bread with pesto one each on top of the loaded slices, and cut each sandwich in half. Eat in an open air and lovely spot.

Betsy’s Sweet Balsamic Marinade/Salad Dressing for meats or salad
(For a less sweet version, use regular balsamic vinegar and don’t reduce it)
Makes 1 pint jar

1/2 cup very high quality sweet balsamic vinegar, OR you can reduce about 3/4 cup of regular balsamic vinegar over low heat until it just becomes syrupy in texture and the sugars become concentrated
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 Tablespoons prepared Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon dried and crushed tarragon leaves
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Mix all ingredients in a pint-sized mason jar with a lid, shaking it until it emulsifies. Keep in the fridge for up to one week.

For a marinade, use approximately 1/4 cup of the dressing  poured over 4 boneless chicken breasts in a plastic freezer bag. Seal and toss the chicken in the marinade to coat. Allow the chicken to marinate for 1-2 hours in the fridge before grilling, then grill over medium high heat until just done. You can use the same proportions to marinate vegetables for the grill.

Betsy’s Yogurt and Berry Picnic “Parfaits”
Makes 2

1/4 pint fresh blackberries or blueberries, washed
1 pint (about 8 large) fresh strawberries, washed and sliced
4 heaping Tablespoons Greek yogurt, divided
2 teaspoons brown sugar, divided
1 teaspoon freshly grated orange or lemon zest (optional), divided
2 pint-sized mason jars

Beginning with the black or blue berries, place 1/4 of the berries in the bottom of the two jars, then add 1/4 of the sliced strawberries to each jar. Place 1 heaping tablespoon of yogurt on top of the berries, a small pinch of zest if using it and and 1/2 teaspoon of brown sugar, then repeat the layers in both jars, beginning with the blue or black berries and ending with the sprinkle of brown sugar. Cap the jars and refrigerate for an hour or until ready to eat. The sugar will melt into the yogurt and make a syrup or sorts, which will mix with the fruit and zest as you did down into the jar with your spoon. Delicious and healthy!

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42 thoughts on “Magical Mountain Day: Waterfalls, Wine and Raptors

  1. What a lovely day and I’m so pleased to hear that Spring has finally sprung. One of my friends living in the US told me yesterday that it snowed where she is. I think she’s in Indiana. It’s really cooled down in Sydney so I’d be expecting your weather to be hotting up. I love the look of your chicken sandwiches and your blue nail polish and that’s very lucky to find a four-leaf clover – I don’t think I’ve ever found one. That’s a great name for an owl and he’s huge! xx

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    • Hi Charlie! Spring has sprung and yet this evening it’s going down to 31 degrees here. It was 85 on Saturday. A time of transition to be sure. That bird was big…they said he weighs 4 pounds but he looks so much heavier than that!

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  2. Owl Capone! You’re killin’ me!

    What a magical day. As your days get warmer and brighter, ours become cooler and darker here in the Southern hemisphere. It looks like you are deserving your weather though. You’ve done much more with it than I would have!

    Love the idea of combining balsamic and pesto. What a great flavour pairing.

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    • I’ve been making some version of this dressing for years and using it for marinades as well. This sweeter version is less usual for me, but it worked really well in this application. So glad you like the parfaits…I think they may be on the menu for dessert tonight, too! 😉

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  3. Great post, you sure had perfect weather and a fantastic day. If that was a simple picnic, would love to see photos of your normal picnic.
    Love your new header. I need to do something with mine.

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    • Thank you so much, Norma and I hope you are over all the trials with your home now. I have to confess that one reason it was a simple picnic is that I made the chicken the night before! 🙂 Also purchased the pesto and the guacamole. So it was an easy prep for a rather fine picnic. I’m so glad you like the header…I was thinking about changing it now to azaleas, but may leave this one up a bit longer. 🙂

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  4. What a great way to spend a warm Spring day, Betsy, especially when you’ve been so busy. It’s so nice that you both could slip away like that. And how special was it to stumble upon that raptor presentation, What a treat! I would have thoroughly enjoyed it. I may have even learned a few handling tricks while I was there. Lucy is certainly no raptor but my left hand bears the marks of a recent “disagreement” that we had last week. She does have a raptor-like temper! Your marinade sounds delicious and I’m definitely going to “borrow” it. Well, once we get past snow season. 🙂

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    • Hi John! You would have loved the raptor show I think. It was so interesting and I noticed they kept the birds in motion while holding them. My husband said that was part of the handler’s trick to keep them occupied. Don’t know if Lucy would find that interesting or not…but sounds like you may need a glove for her. 🙂 I hope you enjoy the marinade when you get a chance to try it. We loved it on salad and the chicken, and I make a less sweet version with regular balsamic all the time, which is good on most anything. Spring is coming…really it is. Of course it went down to freezing here last night after having an 85 degree day on Saturday.

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  5. What a fantastic day Betsy, I love those impromptu picnics; the sandwiches look and sound delicious, of course pesto on anything is TDF! I saw some of your pics on Facebook and was totally envious then, but since yesterday my envy had quadrupled because we had about 2 inches of snow! Even my feet are jealous of your feet…sandals are but a dream these days.
    There is one pic of a landscape with a beautiful tree on the right, it looks as if it’s cupping the billowing clouds! Perfect.
    I hope you bought a lotto ticket after you found that lucky clover.

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    • Snow again! Wow, you guys have had quite the winter this year. Yes, that was the first time my feet have been in sandals this year, and I had to change from tennis shoes mid day once it got warm enough. Actually it was 85 degrees in the city on Saturday and about 75 in the mountains, then last night it went down to freezing again and is only in the 50’s today. Everyone in Atlanta planted their gardens on Sunday and we all had to cover them up last night, LOL. I did buy a lotto ticket, but haven’t looked at it yet, so I’m still living the dream. Wouldn’t that be nice? 🙂

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    • Ha ha! Well, I thought it was a simple picnic for me because I made the chicken the night before, bought the pesto and guacamole, and I didn’t take 14 different items and enough food for 4 like I usually do, LOL. We still came home with one sandwich because they were so large. Yes, that is my new funky spring nail color, mint candy apple, but it’s the only time it’s been “seen” as it is mostly still too cold for sandals. It was 85 Saturday and went down to 32 last night…so still a ways to go for sandal weather. 😉

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  6. Hi Betsy – gorgeous photos. Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy and “spring-y” just looking at them. The owl photo was a big surprise. Was going past the other photos and suddenly “OH HI THERE”, big owl pic :D.

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    • Hi Charles, I’m glad you enjoyed the photos. Yes it was pretty amazing to get to see that owl so close up. He was a big fella, although they said he just weighed 4 lbs. so I guess a lot of him is feathers as you might imagine. It was a pretty cool day all in all. We’ve since had another cold snap and now warming up again. That pretty much moved our foliage into “post-spring” and everything is leafing out. Hope you’re having a good Spring so far in Sweden. 🙂

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  7. The picnic looks delicious, not simple! My idea of simple is a local deli sandwich so this was totally gourmet for me. Your day looks lovely and time spent sipping wine is always appreciated. Thanks for sharing the yummy looking marinade.

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    • Thanks, Geni! Well, it was simple in that I already had the chicken made so all I had to do was slice it, spread some pesto on bread, lettuce, tomato and cheese…but yes, perhaps not as simple as purchasing it all pre-made. 🙂 It was a lovely day and I look forward to going back soon. Hope all is well with you!

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  8. Of course, Betsy, I would love this one. The owl!!!!!! I cannot believe you could get so close or that he is real!!! I guess he is real! Amazing! Our backyard has a nest and we hear and see them very often. I love owls .Especially this kind!

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