Sunday, October 12, 2008

Puppy Goes to the Mountains

This weekend we took our new puppy, Seamus, on his first little outing in the woods. We packed up and headed out to Paint Creek Campground near Greeneville, TN on the northern edge of the Cherokee National Forest. Paint Creek turned out to be a nice little campground very far off the beaten path. I can't believe that anyone actually makes it out that far, but lo and behold it was filled up by dusk. The only method we have for finding these campgrounds is a guidebook. But it looked like many of the other folks there were locals. Particularly the burly ladies I borrowed a can opener from (terrible packing oversight).

The little bugger was a pretty good boy, save for some unnecessary barking at neighbors, and a 2 AM out-of-tent rest stop. He liked the falling leaves and his first sighting of a large body of water (no swimming lessons yet). He's only about 5 months old, but soon enough, he'll get his own backpack and be ready to hit the trail for real.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

pizza! pizza!

I'm fully aware that with my decision to leave New York I have also forsaken the best pizza in the world. From what I understand it's futile to try and find great pizza in Knoxville, but on the other hand I've never met a pizza I didn't like.

My earliest pizza memory is sitting in the back seat of my mom's minivan after picking up two lovely cheese pizzas conveniently packaged together with paper and cardboard from the Little Caesar's across from Dobbin Center. It was my favorite, and damn was that ride home a long one.

For years I've been under the impression that Little Caesar's all but went under, existing only at the checkout of select K-Mart locations. Upon arrival in Knoxville, I found out that I was wrong. Little Caesar's still thrives in the American South! They've got a new gimmick now, you don't have to buy two pizzas at a time any more, but you also don't have to call ahead. They just constantly make pizzas, and they do enough business to have them "hot-n-ready" for pizza lovers with no foresight.

We got a pepperoni pizza, crazy bread, and even crazy sauce for $8.18. What a crazy meal it was. For the most part the actual pizza was just how I remembered it from childhood. There's sort of this thick shelf of cheese above the sauce, and it's prone to big burnt bubbles on top. So to all those I've discussed the extinction of Little Caesar's with, rejoice in the fact that I was wrong.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Grainger County Goodness

So one of the first things that I've grown to love about Knoxville in the summer is the Grainger County tomatoes. Grainger is the next county to the north, and they know how to grow 'em. So we decided to go to the source last Friday and head up to Ritter Farms about 45 minute drive north of Knoxville. They grow and sell wonderfully fresh produce, and cook up delicious meat and three lunches on weekdays.

The lunch we had there was the best. I had been craving some serious southern style meat and three since we got here, and this place serves the best for 5 bucks a plate (plus a dollar extra for the sweet tea). And on the way out we picked up a bunch of those tomatoes, some pickling cucumbers, half a dozen ears of corn, and some homemade apple butter. With a giant lunch for two and three grocery bags full of produce and preserves, it only set us back $27.

So what to do with this beautiful, perfect produce? Well, I'm in research and training for doing some real canning and preserving this fall, so with the cucs I decided to make some refrigerator pickles. I had done this before, but with a recipe from Roy Finamore's book that turned out too sweet for my taste. So this time, I had to turn to homemaker extraordinaire, Martha Stewart for a recipe. This one didn't have any sugar at all, so we'll see how they turn out. Only 5 more days to wait. I did half of them as spears and half as slices to see which work better.

As for the tomatoes, I've never made a real sauce before from real live fresh tomatoes. But I figured it couldn't be all that different from using canned whole tomatoes, especially if you simmer the hell out of it for a few hours. So I winged it and made a marinara sauce from the best fresh tomatoes I've ever had. It was absolutely delicious; I've never had a red sauce that actually tastes like all the vegetables that are in it. And I've got a freezer full of it.

Before the ol' blender stick went in:

And after:

Let this be the official beginning of my list- "Why living in Knoxville, Tennessee is the best" 1.) Grainger County Produce

Monday, August 18, 2008

First Weekend out in the Smokies

So here we are in Tennessee, and the Camry's official!

We got the first chance this weekend to head out into the hills and do some camping in Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Our first choice was Big Creek Campground, a quaint little 15 site walk-in joint. Alas, it was already filled by Friday afternoon. So it goes, and so we headed the 12 miles over the mountain to Cosby campground. Of the big national park campgrounds, Cosby is supposed to be one of the best. And it was nice, they were right. The trees were tall and it really was situated down in the holler between huge peaks. And plenty of room for pancake cookin' on the new stove.

The sites were a little packed-in and close together. But it turned out to be a pretty friendly tent campground with nice flat tent pads. If they had filled up every site, it would have been uncomfortably cramped, but as it were there were a lot of open sites. Some Texans moved in across the road from us, and aside from their pickup truck-mounted shower, they weren't too bad for neighbors.

On Saturday we took a nice hike from the campground to Hen Wallow Falls, about 5 miles round trip, 3 leisurely hours. The trails in the national park so far are really heavily used, but thus really well maintained.

Tree roots paved the trail.

Danny and the falls.

Catchin' crawdads.

Don't have to get your feet wet.

And the best part of the whole weekend? Not having to drive through Staten Island traffic to get back on Sunday night. Here's to many more!

Monday, July 7, 2008

A Permanent Departure

Yes, it's been a while since anything new has been posted up here. But, something substantial has been in the works. It's been too long now that we've been living unhappily in New York, and it's time to do something about it. It's now 100% official, we're moving to Knoxville, TN at the end of this month.

We found a little house in the North Hills neighborhood to rent from a super cool landlord (who's not out to rip you off like every landlord in NY). Here it is, 2454 Amber Street:

And so now that we won't be "escaping" from Brooklyn every weekend, but permanently, the nature of this blog will have to change. I'd like to keep posting updates here about our outdoor endeavors in the Smoky Mountains and little highlights of life outside of the Northeast. Cheers!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Spring in Macedonia Brook

Okay, so Connecticut is not a large state BUT the largest state park is Macedonia Brook. And boy, is it nice in the spring. The park is essentially two tall mountain ridges cut down the center by Macedonia Brook, a quiet little stream that snakes through a couple of miles of picnic areas and campsites. We visited last August, but our site wasn't nearly as idyllic as the one we stayed in this time. Oh site 43, you treated us well.

After a run-in with some angry teen girls who really wanted site 43, we were victorious. So we threw up the tent about 15 feet from the edge of the brook, just so the sound of the water could lull us to sleep. Cold sleep. It's still only May in New England. The site was nicely tucked away from other sites, and although this was by far the best in the campground- all the sites here are great. Compared to some of the dusty parking lots they're calling campgrounds up here, Macedonia Brook's sites are all nicely spaced out and wooded. Some are more private than others of course, but overall it's a really nice place to do some car campin'.

On Sunday the sun was shining and the trails were calling. There are many miles of trails all within the park, aside from the Appalachian Trail, which passes close by outside the park boundaries. We decided to stay in the park and hike up to the surrounding ridges right from our site. There is a 6.7 mi circular ridge trail that basically surrounds the perimeter of the park, with a bunch of other easier trails criss-crossing throughout. We ended up doing most of that ridge trail, but cutting off the north corner. We managed to hit Cobble Mountain though, which is the highest peak in the park, the route up there is a bit, let's say "rugged". When all was said and done it was 5.7 mi, 4.5 hrs. It was the first hike of the season and I felt it the next day, but it was a good first outing.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Big Trip - Part Two (Deutschland)

After Amsterdam it was on to Germany. We took a train into Bonn, a small city south of Cologne on the Rhine River, birthplace of Beethoven. It's also where I found my favorite beer of the trip, Boennsch. They serve them in these goofy little glasses, ergonomically designed to fit into your thirsty little fist.

After a scenic train trip down the Rhine the next day, we managed to rent ourselves a car...a Mini! And we drove south along a tourist route to the Alps, Romantische Strasse (Romantic Road). The first stop was Rothenburg an der Tauber, a medieval walled city that's crawling with tourists during the summer, but pleasantly empty in March.

The sweet specialty in Rothenburg is schneeballen, big old balls of dough with chocolate or powdered sugar. Mmmmmm...schneeballs!

The next day the Romantic Road carried us into the Bavarian Alps. It was really everything you would imagine, snow storm and all. But the Mini Cooper treated us right. We stayed the night in Fussen, at the "foot" of the alps. Since it was snowing, we couldn't even see the tops of the mountains, but it was pretty breathtaking regardless.

The last two stops on our grand tour were Munich and Nuremberg, a day in each. Lots of beer, old (rebuilt) architecture, and a little relaxing for the last two nights.

And perhaps the most authentic and wonderful food we ate was in Nuremberg at Zum Gulden Stern, where they've been grilling bratwurst on this grill since 1419. Unbelievable!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Big Trip - Part One (Brussels and Amsterdam)

After a few long, cold New York winter months our big trip has finally come and gone. This year we wanted to visit Germany and the Netherlands, so last fall we started looking at plane tickets. We ended up finding the best deal in and out of Brussels, which is obviously in neither Germany nor the Netherlands, but it's a cool city and not too far away. So we set out with 10 days, a round trip plane ticket, and a 5 day Eurail pass- other than that, no set plans.

This is the second year in a row now that Danny and I have taken a European trip in the Winter (Ireland in '07). Some people say it's crazy, but we've really enjoyed it. First of all, none of the cities we visited were as cold as the northeast US in the winter. But the best part of traveling in the off season is that you never have to make reservations. You can just roll into any city or town, big or small and find any kind of accommodations easily and inexpensively. Sure, some attractions aren't open yet, and you need to wear a coat, but for me it's completely worth it.

So on with the story. We flew in to Brussels on an overnight flight and stayed the first night at Hotel Barry near Central Station and the Grand Place. Nothing fancy, but a nice bed to crash in.

After a jetlag nap and some French TV, we headed out to see Brussels at night. The Grand Place was really pretty at night, especially after a rain storm. We had dinner nearby at a restaurant on Rue des Bouchers, a narrow street just packed full of bistros with menu boards outside and displays of all their fresh ingredients. Yes, I had mussels and pommes frites, and they were delicious, especially when paired with a few Belgian beers.

The next morning we hopped on a train up to Amsterdam. It was my first time there, but Danny had been two years ago. I actually did make an advance reservation for our nights in Amsterdam, since I knew it would be a Friday and Saturday and rooms tend to be expensive. It was the most we paid for any of the hotels on the trip, but it was worth it. Hotel the Crown was close to the train station and right in the middle of the Red Light District. Sounds seedy, right? No, it was awesome. We got the best room in the house, up about 4 or 5 narrow flights of steps with two big windows looking out on the canals below. These pictures are all right from our room window:

I had no idea how many British people would be in Amsterdam. Amsterdam is to drunk English dudes as New Orleans is to drunk American dudes. In fact, there were 32 drunk English dudes staying at our hotel for a bachelor party. There is a nice bar on the ground floor that they completely took over for most of the weekend. But we managed to find a few hooligan-free hours to hang out down there on Friday night. It was a great place to stay. If you're headed to Amsterdam I highly recommend it.

We got out and around the city a bit too- lots of great bars, restaurants, and coffeeshops. Very fun.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

The Holidays are Over!

Well, it's been a while, and it's been a very long holiday season. Happy 2008! Since the weather's been cold it's a lot harder to get away on the weekends, so escape attempts have been limited. Here are some brief highlights- Harper's Ferry, West Virginia over Thanksgiving weekend; and a snow-covered Lake George, New York over the New Year's weekend. Enjoying winter hibernation for the time being, because it means time for knitting and cooking elaborate things. Give it a few more weeks until that new-york-winter-fever sets in.

Harper's Ferry:

Lake George:

And one more, courtesy of the nutters in South Brooklyn (that's someone's home):