A Camping Trip, A Birthday and A Blogging Anniversary!

Finished2 Happy Summer! 

These last few weeks have been filled with events—a lot of work, a little travel, a little cooking, a little hiking and some little cakes.

My posting has also been a little less frequent lately, so it’s time for a series of “catching up” posts on what’s been going on. Sit down with your favorite warm or cold beverage and come along with me as we explore some of the wonderfully wild and incredibly beautiful National Forests, Recreation Areas and State Parks of Northeast Georgia, United States.

My husband’s birthday was June 5th and he wanted to take a 3-4 day tent camping trip up to the mountains, which has become our ritual around his birthday. It’s a nice time to go because it’s just before the arrival of crowds, pesky insects and the super hot weather.

Full disclosure here: We have a very large tent that we jokingly to refer to as “the condo,” an inflatable queen-sized pillow-top air mattress, a clip on “ceiling fan” with a light, a two burner propane stove top, lanterns, chairs, a grill top for fire pits and an inflatable class IV rapid Sevylor two person travel kayak that we’ve taken out on lakes, rivers and the ocean. We only camp where we can car camp and there’s at least one “facility” close by. So before anyone says “I can’t believe you camp in a tent for fun and relaxation,” this is our version of “glamping!”

On this trip, we spent our time in and around Lake Rabun, camped in a National Forest Recreation Area close to the lake. Lake Rabun is the third of a series of six manmade lakes in North Georgia, owned and operated by Georgia Power who built damns in this area to create lakes that generate hydroelectric energy for Atlanta. Rabun is our favorite of these lakes and we always enjoy some of the small amenities in the area including a couple of restaurants and an inn or two, a grocery store, a marina and a local vineyard. It suits our glamping style quite well! On this trip in addition to swimming in the lake, we did something we don’t normally do up there while camping…trail hiking. As many times as I’ve been in that area, I had no idea there were so many beautiful trails so close by.

Of course the Appalachian Trail runs through Georgia and there are trailheads for it throughout our mountains, but in our case we were interested in smaller looped trails for short day trips. One we discovered that has now become a particular favorite of ours was Warwoman Dell. It’s a beautifully scenic recreation area along Warwoman Creek, featuring a small nature trail that leads to a waterfall surrounded by wildflowers and other fauna, and also access to the 37-mile long Bartram Trail, which runs through this area as well. We packed a picnic and hiked around through the dells along a small section of the Bartram Trail, then headed down the nature trail to the waterfall, snapping pictures as we went. It was so idyllic and peaceful…very “Middle Earth,” and I’d go back there in a heartbeat. Here’s a slideshow of our Warwoman Dell adventure.

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I hope you’ll take a moment to follow the links associated with the name of each spot and find out more about these scenic areas…and maybe even check them out for yourself if you live in this area. I’ll be sharing the rest of our trip and some sights in the next post, so stay tuned.

We actually had so much fun hiking while on vacation, that we’ve now decided to take one hike a week, but not necessarily in the mountains. You see, we are blessed with such a diversity of ecosystems here in this state, as well as having a plenty of State Parks and National Forest areas. There are actually 60 hikes within 60 miles of Atlanta, and 30 of them are within 30 minutes of our house! We’ve been doing more hiking since we returned from this trip and I’ll share some of the best of those with you over time.

In addition to celebrating my husband’s birthday, last Sunday (the 15th of June) was my 3 year blogging anniversary! My goodness, what a full 3 years this has been. And while my posting has suffered a bit lately, let me assure you that I’m here to stay and I hope you’ll keep on reading and commenting with me for the next 3 years. Thank you for joining me on this wonderful blogging journey!

This post just wouldn’t be complete or true to the tagline of this blog: “Where all trails lead to good food,” if I didn’t share these deliciously quick and festive mini-cupcakes I made upon our return home to celebrate my husband’s birthday and my bloggiversary. This devil’s food is rich and dark, with the addition of coffee to really liven up and enhance the chocolatey flavor. And my easy Vanilla Buttercream frosting is a recipe I’ve made since I was a child. It’s a perfect foil for the devil’s food cake.

Cheers, happy eating and happy hiking!

Easy Devil’s Food Mini-Cupcakes with Easy Vanilla Buttercream Icing
Makes 32 mini-cupcakes or about 8 regular-sized cupcakes

For the cupcakes:
2 ounces of unsweetened baking chocolate
1 scant cup of granulated cane sugar
3/4 cup of all purpose flour
1/4 plus 1/8 teaspoon of baking soda
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup of hot brewed coffee
1/4 cup light sour cream
1/4 cup canola oil
1 egg, lightly beaten
1-24 cup mini muffin tin and 32 mini muffin paper cups

For the icing:
1 3/4 cup confectioner’s (powdered icing) sugar, plus a bit more if needed for consistency 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2-3 Tablespoons of milk
1/4 teaspoon good quality vanilla extract, I use Madagascar Bourbon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line your tin with 24 muffin cups, reserving the remaining 8 muffin cups for the second batch (I do this in two batches, but if you have two pans by all means do one batch.) Melt the chocolate over very low heat, stirring constantly, then remove it when it is smooth and set aside. Sift the sugar, flour, baking soda and salt together into a medium bowl. In a large bowl, whisk together the coffee, sour cream and canola oil. Gradually whisk in the egg, then stir in the chocolate. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, stirring until smoothly blended. Drop the batter by tablespoonfuls into the muffin cups, filling them 3/4 of the way full. Bake the cupcakes in the oven for 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. (Larger cupcakes will take 20-25 minutes.) Remove the cupcakes from the pan and allow them to cool upright on a wire rack, until they are completely cooled. If doing two batches, repeat the process with the remaining batter and cups.

When the cupcakes are completely cooled, make the frosting. Place the softened butter into a small bowl. Beat a small amount of the powdered sugar into the butter with a hand mixer fitted with beaters and on low speed, until well blended. Continue to add the sugar alternating with the milk until the icing is smooth but stiff enough to spread. Add the vanilla and mix well. Add more sugar if the mixture is too soft, or a tiny bit more milk if it’s too stiff. Use a small spatula to spread about a scant tablespoon of icing onto each cupcake. Serve with celebratory candles, sprinkles and ice cream! These will keep at room temperature well covered in plastic for a couple of days…if you have any left.

Campout

Is there anything quite so mesmerizing as a campfire?

Fall is now definitely in the air, and with it comes my desire to enjoy the cool breezes, see the leaves turn and give a sigh of relief that the heat of summer has come, and hopefully gone. It’s my favorite time of year, and since the first of October is my birthday, I always want to get away and do something outdoors to celebrate. And this year, I thought about how nice it would be to get away from the city, from the noise… from the computer, even…and go camping!

Now I know this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea or coffee, but we happen to like to camp…as long as it’s on our own terms, and that means a rather gourmet form of camping. I’m no longer in a frame of mind or of an age that I care to really rough it when I camp, but am completely on board with car camping as long as I can have the “necessities” close at hand! Usually I’ll do a fair amount of gourmet camp cooking when we’re camping, including egg sandwiches or omelets for breakfast and meat or fish and roasted campfire veggies or pizza for dinner. After all, I have a two-burner propane stove, camping pots and pans I keep in a pre-packed camp kitchen, a French press for breakfast coffee, glassware and plenty of coolers. We even have some champagne glasses dedicated for camping, naturally! And we do tent-camp. Ours is a “condo-like” spacious tent that you can stand up in and easily change your clothes. It accommodates our inflatable queen-sized pillow-topped air mattress and we have a ceiling tent fan with a light. We also have a boat—a traveling inflatable Class 4 Rapid, two-person kayak that we’ve taken on lakes, creeks, rivers and oceans. I told you it was gourmet camping!

The condo.

I guess the thing I like the most about camping is that you get to experience nature in a way like no other, up close and personal for the most part. We’ve seen all kinds of wildlife from hawks, owls, geese, ducks, eagles, egrets, herons and painted buntings to frogs, turtles, rays, crabs, whelks and amazing fresh and salt water fishes. And of course there’s the scenery, from mountain to shore. North Georgia provides many places close by that we like to visit. There’s Lake Winfield Scott, which I’ve mentioned before, and where we had a “Close Encounter of the Black Bear Kind” a few years ago in our campsite during a stay in June for my husband’s birthday. Yep, you heard me say it…a bear! A young black bear came into the site next to our tent to wish Dave a happy birthday, waving his paws, sniffing and drooling in anticipation of some sun-dried tomato turkey burgers cooking on the campfire (at least that’s what I think he was drooling over). Boy was that a surprise! But fortunately he ran away while we were running in the opposite direction…and all was well. He was a cute bear, but I don’t care to see one that close up again.

French pressed coffee and toasted bagels are a must, even in the middle of the woods!

Just happened to have some Humboldt Fog goat cheese and Drunken Fig Jam to have with that champagne. Love that stuff.

This time we decided to go to Lake Rabun, which is located close to several places where we enjoy taking day trips, and so that we could take out our kayak and possibly go for a swim. Since it was my birthday weekend, I chose not to try and cook very much while camping, and instead made and purchased some food in advance to take up with us so I could spend my time enjoying nature and the scenery. Some of the food highlights were my couscous salad—great for any occasion, Karista’s wicked Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Brownies...terribly addictive in the best kind of way, and my Kitchen Sink Campy Sloppy Joes for which you’ll find the recipe at the end of this post. And of course, some champagne!

This is a finger of the lake where we put in our boat with a view towards the main lake, which is around the bend.

The view in the opposite direction towards Seed Lake.

It turned out to be a cool and lovely weekend for the most part, a little too cool for swimming and only one day of sun, but great for boating and camping and there were very few people. The leaves were just beginning to turn, several festivals were going on in the area including “A Taste of Clarksville,” in the small artist’s community of Clarksville, Georgia, and the Sautee Jamboree Music Festival in Sautee. There were also some wineries in the vicinity which were open for tastings. We visited the relatively young Sautee Nacoochee Vineyards and enjoyed tasting some of their wine and looking out over the small vineyard while listening to live music. Tiger Mountain Vineyards and Habersham Vineyards are located in and around this area, too.

View towards the vines at Sautee Nacoochee Vineyards.

The Tasting Room at Sautee Nacoochee Vineyards.

Cheers!

For those folks who love the mountains, love nature, but don’t want to camp or cook, there are two nice places to stay around Rabun that I can recommend. The historic Lake Rabun Hotel and Restaurant has been completely renovated and now includes a spa and a very good chef. Sitting out on their porch overlooking the lake is definitely the spot for dining. And slightly south of Lake Rabun lies Glen Ella Springs Inn, known for it’s food, beautiful foliage and pastoral scenery.

A covered bridge just outside of Sautee, Georgia.

According to the sign it was once used as a set location for the 1951 movie “I’d Climb the Highest Mountain” with Susan Heyward. Unfortunately it has become a target of graffiti.

The weather held for us to enjoy a nice long boat ride and some great sight-seeing over the weekend. After breaking camp on Sunday morning, we ended our trip with a drive up to Highlands, N.C., which is only a 45 minute drive from Lake Rabun. We spent a few hours there window shopping, and went to see the American Craft exhibit at The Bascom. The Bascom is a nonprofit center for the visual arts in Highlands, where individuals can come together to participate in studio art classes and public programs, share cultural experiences, and enjoy the synergy of art and nature. The complex is made up of several historic buildings amidst beautiful natural surroundings. If you’ve never seen HIghlands or The Bascom, I highly recommend adding it to your trip list. I’ve posted about Highlands before, and you can click here to see and read more about our trip there last year.

Entrance to the Bascom. They had a huge fundraiser and silent auction the night before…normally there are no tents.

Lawn sculpture at The Bascom.

The Bascom Pottery Studio.

All in all a very nice getaway and great way to welcome a birthday!

Stirring the campfire.

So I have to ask you, do you like to camp? Have you ever done it?

Tell me about it!

Almost ready!

Kitchen Sink Campy Sloppy Joes
Serves 6-8

You can leave out the chipotle peppers (smoked and dried jalapeno peppers) if you or your kids can’t take the heat with the sweet, or use hotter peppers if you like more heat, to taste.

1 1/2 lbs. of ground beef
1 1/2 to 2 minced chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
1 1/2 cups chopped sweet bell peppers (I use a mixture of green and red)
1 large onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
2 Tablespoons of minced fresh garlic
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon Chinese five spice powder
1-15 oz. can no salt tomato sauce
4 rounded Tablespoons of tomato paste
3 Tablespoons brown sugar
juice of 1 lime
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce (can use more to taste)
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Onion hamburger buns, or your favorite

In a large skillet, brown the ground beef over medium high heat. Drain off all but 1 1/2 tablespoons of the fat. Add the chipotles, sweet bell peppers, onions and garlic, and stir over medium heat for about 3-5 minutes, allowing the vegetables to soften. Add the oregano, cumin, chili powder, Chinese five spice powder, and salt. Stir for 2 minutes to cook the spices, then add the tomato sauce, tomato paste, brown sugar, lime juice, Worcestershire sauce, mustard and balsamic vinegar. Cook the mixture until it is thick and saucy over medium low heat, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Remove from the skillet and serve open faced, spooning the mixture over toasted onion buns. This freezes beautifully for camping and reheating, or to save some for another quick weeknight dinner.

Great for campouts and camp-ins!