Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Vilis is 2!

The littlest of the boys is not so little anymore! Vilis turned two yesterday, although we’ve been celebrating for a whole week; the krustvecāki and the grandparents flew/drove down for the occasion!

the birthday boy blowing out his candles

On this particular birthday there wasn’t a set ‘party’ – it really spanned the whole weekend – but there was an afternoon spent decorating the house, setting the table and baking a cake and kliņģeris. I chose a woodland animals theme for Vilis, inspired by a visit to Ikea on our recent trip to Charlotte, and the Överlägsen party collection we found there. I didn’t buy the complete party kit, however I did splurge on invites, paper plates & cups, napkins and wrapping paper.

a new backpack and a new monkey!

We extended the woodland theme to the table with a nature-themed centerpiece consisting of pinecones, rocks, moss, Toob animals, a fern and lanterns with candles over a burlap runner. The contrast between natural and Ikea was interesting!

Anna and Andrejs put up streamers and balloons, and before too long balloons were being batted around by three enthusiastic party-goers, the rowdy carousing interspersed with pops when balloons were overinflated and overhandled.

the balloons definitely went with the theme...

We kept the menu simple. One night we had pasta: shells stuffed with ricotta, sausage from our Farm Tour visit to Happy Critters Ranch, parmesan, mozzarella & romano cheeses, and topped with marinara and parsley. For the party I had cooked up a big pot of chili out of Joy of Cooking, a filling dish that let me spend less time in the kitchen and more time with family.

now that he's two he'll be served like Lauris and Mikus

Of course there was traditional Latvian birthday bread, kliņģeris, prepared by the fantastic duo of Andrejs and vecmamma Inga. While they were busy doing that I was working on the cake…

a toblerone hedgehog cake

The recipe I used for the hedgehog cake is one of those that appears on epic-pinterest-fail blogs, but I forged ahead in a naïve belief that my attempt would be different, as well as the knowledge that Vilis is two – he wouldn’t remember a cake disaster. Switching out whipped cream for cool whip lite seemed like a good idea until the time came to smooth out the nose, and I’m pretty sure I could have used a whole bar of chocolate for the frosting, as the color of mine was closer to an albino hedgehog than the tan one in the recipe. However, the result was actually edible, there was just enough for the 10 of us, and the cake didn’t take as long to prepare as some of my previous undertakings. Plus, it’s the thought that counts, and I was thinking hedgehog.

Lauris getting a little help with his model racecar

As we shared memories of hilarious childhood moments and played cards long into the night, the hours quickly sped by until we were once again shedding tears at the departure of: the readers of books, givers of tačka and piggyback rides, fixers of technology, bakers of kliņģeris, experts at dīdīšanās, tellers of jokes, givers of the best gifts, blowers of balloons and all 5 million other titles earned over the weekend. If only it wasn’t such a long drive and complicated flight for everyone, we could do this more often…

the first reading of Sušķi no Šmucciema

A note for my vecmamma and other loyal readers - I hope to upload more of the pictures from the weekend over the next few days… I’ll be in touch!

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Tephra pop up at WolfOak

When the Charlotte-based Chef Shawn Harrison Tephra Vegan pop-up dinner at WolfOak was announced, the event quickly earned a spot in our calendar. Just having returned from an extended trip to Michigan, four courses under the enormous oak tree that gives the Piedmont estate its name was just the event to close out an epic summer.

The 7:00pm seating had a set four-course menu at $40 per head that was simply a steal for the 100% plant-based and gluten-free dinner, with drinks provided courtesy of WolfOak. Having arrived at the urban farm we were greeted by the 5 year old son of the owners and Cielito Lindo, a chestnut English thoroughbred from the Netherlands that is the newest addition to the WolfOak family. The Chef was already hard at work in the kitchen, an amazing aroma emanating through the house and making my mouth water when I went in for a glass of wine.

After the rest of the guests had arrived, Shawn and his fiancée set about serving the first course. The Bradford Watermelon agua fresca was topped with Barbee Farms canary melon foam, cantaloupe, coconut yogurt, chili threads and orange mint. The result was a light, refreshing soup, perfect on a hot summer’s night. The chili provided an interesting contrast to the sweetness of the melons, the tang of the yogurt mingling with just a hint of citrus from the mint.

Bradford Watermelon agua fresca

Next came a butterbean, heirloom corn and tomato succotash. Accompanied by sautéed spinach, purple basil and cast iron seared squash, the dish was topped with Brazil nut 'parmesan' and lemon oil. The outcome was complex and savory, a variety of textures and not overpowered by a single ingredient.

butterbean, heirloom corn and tomato succotash

cilantro pesto

My favorite was the third course, the braised carrot and chile roasted cauliflower with cilantro pesto. The avocado 'creme fraiche’ was so good I could (and did!) eat it with a spoon, and the cumin dusted beet chips and Makrut lime salt added more subtle flavors and beautiful color to what was an addictive dish.

creme brulee

The fourth course was vanilla crème brûlée, the unassuming dessert spiced up with cast iron roasted peaches, raspberry coulis and pistachio crumble. Usually not a pistachio fan as it can dominate milder flavors (especially in a dessert), I was distracted by the beautiful crust on the brûlée and its contrast with the peaches and coulis. A beautifully done finale, and thanks to Roberts I got a second helping… By this time a bonfire was lit, and we gathered around to digest and rest our palates under the night sky.

Harrison has worked in many restaurants over his 11-year career, and I am excited to have gotten the chance to experience the results of this evolution. Through this vegan pop-up dining series, Chef Shawn is trying to ‘elevate both plant-based and southern cuisines’; the WolfOak dinner was successful at both in my book. Hats off to the Chef and his lovely fiancée/team, and thanks for bringing the dinner to the Upstate! Meanwhile WolfOak was a great site for an event of this type, the laid-back, rural ambiance offering an unpretentious context for a genuinely unique dining experience. If you would like the opportunity to try some delicious vegan eats, you’ll find Tephra Vegan at the Chik'n & Waffles Pop-up at Trade and Lore in Asheville this weekend, and later in September at the 14 course pop up in Charlotte. To keep up with Tephra, visit the new website and follow them on social media (Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram), while WolfOak can be found on Facebook and Instagram

Friday, August 26, 2016

100 years of the National Park Service!

Yesterday marks 100 years of the National Park Service, stewards of our National Parks as well as our national monuments, battlefields, military parks, historic sites, lakeshores, seashores, recreation areas, scenic rivers and trails and even the White House.

Arches National Park

Our first National Park, Yellowstone, actually precedes the NPS by over forty years, established by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872. Yellowstone was followed by Mackinac Island (MI) in 1875, Sequoia, Kings Canyon and Yosemite in 1890, Mount Rainier in 1899, and a half dozen others through 1916: Crater Lake in Oregon, Wind Cave in South Dakota, Glacier in Montana, Mesa Verde & Rocky Mountain in Colorado, and what is now Hawai’i Volcanoes. On August 25, 1916 President Woodrow Wilson signed a bill into law creating the National Park Service to oversee all these national parks, with the mission to conserve our natural spaces for generations to come.

Glassy Mountain, Carl Sandburg Home NHS

Today the National Park Service employs more than 20,000 men and women in the 412 national parks (and monuments, battlefields etc.), and last year 307.2 million people visited our public spaces. With the 2016 Find Your Park initiative, that number is expected to be surpassed; Find Your Park encourages everyone to find the park nearest them and to share their stories.

My junior rangers at Big South Fork NRRA

In celebration of its 100th birthday, the National Park Service invites visitors to celebrate with free admission to all 412 national park sites through Sunday, August 28th. In addition there are hundreds of special events taking place across the US; check out your local park’s website for more information.

In honor of this historical day, here are a few of my favorite National Parks as visited by Femme au Foyer…

South Carolina’s only National Park is Congaree National Park. But we’ve got a bunch more NPS sites in our neck of the woods, including Cowpens National Battlefield and Ninety Six National Historic Site, and on the coast you’ll find Fort Sumter National Monument which includes Fort Moultrie.  Just across the North Carolina border are the Carl Sandburg National Historic Site and Kings Mountain National Military Park, and up towards Asheville and further north are the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Underground in Mammoth Cave

Of recently visited National Parks, Mammoth Cave is one of my favorites. We had just as much fun exploring aboveground as underground! I also enjoyed our brief tour of Everglades National Park, possibly the most famous of Florida’s national parks.

The view of Moccasin Bend from Point Park, Chickamauga and Chattanooga NMP

Roberts is a history buff, so he enjoys sites that document our nation’s history. One such stop was the William Howard Taft National Historic Site in Ohio. Another was the first (and largest) military park in the US, the Chickamauga and Chattanooga NMP with its combination of historical battlefields and scenic views.

Shenandoah NP's Blackrock Summit

Last fall we visited Shenandoah National Park, the vibrant autumn foliage just as breathtaking as the panoramic views from Skyline Drive. I recommend getting off the well-beaten path and getting in a hike or two, such as the Blackrock Summit Trail. On another recent trip we visited Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, which really could be a national park – it’s got the breathtaking scenery and the unique geological formations.

Big South Fork - Twin Arches
Last, but not least, the very first national park I featured on Femme au Foyer, Arches NP.

From this rather short list it’s easy to see the wide range of sites managed by the National Park Service, although not as obvious are the challenges facing the agency as climate changes, urban areas sprawl and budgets shrink. After celebrating the first 100 years of the National Park Service we must now look forward to the next 100 years of our National Parks, and what better way to start than to Find Your Park! Visit the NPS website for all sorts of centennial info, not limited to just events but including everything from the national parks postal stamps to IMAX films to historic pictures. And lastly, if you haven’t already, watch the absolutely magnificent videos by More Than Just Parks (most recently one on Grand Teton). Here’s the trailer for the “They are More Than Just Parks: A Centennial Celebration," coming out this fall.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Meet Stomper, the new mascot for the Swamp Rabbits!

This past Saturday the new Greenville Swamp Rabbits mascot was revealed at Haywood Mall, where the children’s area has a brand new look thanks to our hometown hockey team!

The play area sponsorship was announced simultaneously to the exciting news that ‘Stomper’ will be joining the Swamp Rabbits family as the team mascot; after narrowing down the submissions for possible names from 300 to 5, fans were given the chance to vote on their favorite. One name ‘stomped’ out the competition (that included the suggestions Hopper, Buster, Rascal and Bogs), emerging as the official Swamp Rabbits Mascot. We cheered on the announcement over the din of cowbells, and after meeting the mascot we had a chance to play in the Play Zone and even shoot a little hockey.

Hockey season starts mid-October, with the first home game Friday, October 28th at 7pm. For ticket info, a schedule of games and promotional info, check out the Swamp Rabbits website. You can find the Swamp Rabbits on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and Stomper on Instagram and Twitter

Get your ears on for an exciting season of Swamp Rabbits hockey! Go Greenville!!!

The Swamp Rabbits Play Zone - can you spot Stomper?

Monday, August 22, 2016

Hikes and waterfalls in Upstate SC and vicinity

We've seen many lists circulating the internet recently; you know the one, 'See all of the Upstate's waterfalls in 4.57 hours!', or '14 Trails in SC you must take if you love the outdoors!". However, after taking a closer look at over a dozen of these, I've come to several conclusions. First, the writers have never been to our beautiful state, second, many of the mileages and time estimates are wrong, and third, often the pictures don't match the description. I've seen articles urging hikers to visit Peachtree Rock - except it toppled over in 2013. Other pieces suggest visitors they should tackle Paris Mountain SP trail or Caesar's Head SP trail; each of these parks actually has a dozen hikes but the crazy mileages given don't correspond to any of them, and the beautiful views can mostly be seen without going too far from your car. And if you manage to visit all those waterfalls in 4 hours, well you should be driving for Nascar. 

View from Jumping Off Rock in Pickens County

After friends asked where my list is, I decided that I would at least have to put up a summary of the hikes and waterfalls I've already featured on Femme au Foyer. Although it's not a "17.5 Breathtaking vistas of the Upstate" or "83 shimmering waterfalls within walking distance of Pickens" article, it might get you started on your explorations of the Upstate. For simplicity, I've only included estimated mileages and approximate locations in this list - you should do a little bit of research before heading out with just a pocket knife and energy drink.

Falls Park, Greenville's crown jewel

Exposed beech tree roots in Falls Park

The Swamp Rabbit Trail, 21 miles: 
Lake Conestee Nature Preserve
The Swamp Garden
Swamp Rabbit Cafe & Grocery to Falls Park
Falls Park & Pedrick's Garden
The Falls Park to Cleveland Park
Swamp Rabbit Station
Furman to Traveler's Rest

The Swamp Rabbit trail entering downtown Greenville

Lake Conestee Nature Preserve:
Racoon Run - a little over 1 mile one way
Heron Circle - loop trail, under 1 mile
Swamp Rabbit Trail

Paris Mountain State Park:
Firetower Trail - utilizing a section of the Sulphur Springs trail (3.5 miles)
Brissy Ridge Trail - 2.4 mile loop
Mountain Lake - there and back to the lake, NOT the entire Mountain Lake trail, under 2 miles there and back

Paris Mountain - dam at Mountain Lake

Pelham Mill Ruins - Greenville, SC (0.2 miles)
Cedar Falls - Fountain Inn, SC (various hiking options)
Horseshoe Falls - Musgrove Mill State Historic Site (0.2 miles)

Caesars Head State Park

South Carolina Botanical Gardens - Clemson, SC (various trail options)
Furman University Lake hike - Furman (1.5 mile loop)
Bunched Arrowhead Heritage Preserve - Traveler's Rest, SC (1.25 mile loop)

Twin Falls

Jumping Off Rock - Pickens County, SC (difficult drive but short hike)
The Narrows in Eastatoe Creek Heritage Preserve - a strenuous, 6 mile hike that might just be my favorite place in the Upstate (Rocky Bottom, SC)
Sassafras Mountain - the highest point in South Carolina! The parking lot is only a few hundred feet from the summit (near Rocky Bottom, SC)
The natural waterslide at Long Shoals Wayside Park - Sunset, SC
Twin Falls - Sunset, SC (1/2 mile in and out)
Bull Sluice on the Chattooga River - a short hike with swimming hole near Long Creek, SC
Oconee Bell Nature Trail - Devil's Fork State Park, Salem SC (1 mile loop)

Oconee Bell

Pleasant Ridge Falls - Marietta, SC (0.6 mile loop or 0.25 mile in and out)
Wildcat Branch Falls - Marietta, SC (1 mile loop or roadside stop to see lower falls)

Falls Creek Falls

Falls Creek Falls - Cleveland, SC (2.6 mile in and out)
Jones Gap Falls - Jones Gap State Park near Cleveland, SC (a little over 2 miles in and out)
Rainbow Falls - Jones Gap State Park near Cleveland, SC (5 mile round trip)

Rainbow Falls

Caesars Head State Park - various hikes, but scenic views @ 0.2 miles
Raven Cliff Falls overlook - (2.2 miles one way) 
Raven Cliff Falls suspension bridge loop - Raven Cliff Falls Trail, Dismal Trail, Naturaland Trail, Gum Gap Trail and back out on Raven Cliff Falls Trail = a rather arduous 8.5 mile loop
Table Rock Trail - 7.2 strenuous hike with scenic view of the reservoir (Table Rock SP) 

View from Bald Rock

Bald Rock Heritage Preserve - Cleveland, SC (roadside attraction, but a steep descent to the base is an option)
Pretty Place - Cleveland, SC (Fred W. Symmes Chapel at YMCA Camp Greenville)

Pretty Place

Issaqueena Falls* - Walhalla, SC (0.2 miles to observation platform, no official trail to base of falls)
Stumphouse Tunnel - Walhalla, SC (0.2 miles)
Yellow Branch Falls - Walhalla, SC (3 miles round trip)

Yellow Branch Falls

Hatcher Garden - Spartanburg, SC (various trail options)

Dreher Island State Recreation Area - Little Mountain, SC (various options)
Congaree National Park - Hopkins, SC (various options)

Congaree NP boardwalk

North Carolina Arboretum - Asheville, NC (various options)
Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site - Flat Rock, NC (various options)

Glassy Mountain - Flat Rock, NC (around 4 miles, various trail options) (Carl Sandburg NHS)
Bearwallow Mountain - Hendersonville, NC (2 mile round trip)

Bearwallow Mountain summit

Looking Glass Falls - Brevard, NC (Pisgah National Forest, adjacent to parking lot)
Sliding Rock - Brevard, NC (Pisgah National Forest roadside attraction)
The Cradle of Forestry - Pisgah National Forest (various trail options)
Pinnacle Peak - Crowders Mountain State Park in Gaston County, NC (4 mile round trip)

Pinnacle Peak

Fern & Lake Trails - Crowders Mountain State Park (2+ mile loop)
Pearson's Falls - Saluda, NC (less than 1 mile in and out)
Little Bradley Falls - Saluda, NC (2 mile round trip)
3 waterfalls in DuPont State Forest - Cedar Mountain, NC (3 miles total)

Triple Falls, DuPont State Forest

Blue Ridge Parkway:
Balsam Gap to Devil's Courthouse - milepost 443.1 - 422.4 (various hiking options)
Sam Knob - milepost 420 (2.2 mile loop)
Mount Mitchell State Park - milepost 355.4 (various hiking options)
Linville Falls - milepost 316.3 (various hiking options plus campground)
Grandfather Mountain - milepost 305 (various hiking options)
Julian Price Memorial Park - milepost 297 (various hiking and camping options)

Blowing Rock

Blowing Rock - milepost 291.9 (private attraction)
Stone Mountain State Park - milepost 229 (various hiking options)
Cumberland Knob - milepost 217.5 (a scenic, educational stop)

Stone Mountain

Lake Lure NC (various options)
Chimney Rock State Park - NC (various options)
Rocky Broad Riverwalk - Chimney Rock, NC (1/8 mile long)

Chimney Rock & Lake Lure

Friday, August 19, 2016

What's new at the SRC&G plus the King of Pops!

It’s hard to miss all the changes that took place this summer at our favorite locally-sourced grocer, the Swamp Rabbit Café & Grocery. Just driving into the parking lot you’ll notice the large chain link fence is gone, and once you step in the front door you might wonder if you’re in the right place; the grocery portion has moved next door, leaving the café to utilize more tables and provide more seating to customers. A door has been built into the wall to the store next door, where local produce, meats, dairy and other products line the shelves.

The Swamp Rabbit Café and Grocery was recently awarded a $100,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Local Food Promotion Program which will fund equipment and personnel to increase the capacity to buy, store, process, and sell local foods. The expansion (which is now well underway) will more than double available space from 2,600 square feet to 6,100 square feet,  creating a delivery area for farmers, expanding the current kitchen area, and adding additional walk-in cooler and freezer space. By investing in storage and processing equipment, SRC&G will increase capacity by 50%, adding 20 new suppliers to the 150 local farmers and producers already supplying the business. 

the expanded seating area in the cafe

There is an obvious increase in goods in the grocery, with increased cold storage and freezer space as well as shelving and displays. In addition to the usual fresh fruits and vegetables, customers are also able to purchase house-made pesto and ready-to-eat items, made in the new kitchen facilities. Those facilities will soon be a space where farmers can make products to sell, and meanwhile the kitchen will also be used for cooking classes, teaching how to use local and seasonal ingredients to create meals from scratch. And the Swamp Rabbit Cafe & Grocery isn't stopping there; their newest campaign is aimed at bringing an outdoor brick oven pizza kitchen to the cafe! For more info on that, clicke here.

Our favorite SRC&G products are all still present: the delicious scones are served up in the café while the stecca can be bought either in the grocery or the café. And although we can still get the best summer treat of all (popsicles!) in-store, King of Pops has also expanded… to the space next door!

They’re not just popsicles – King of Pops are fresh, all-natural, frozen treats in unique flavors like blackberry ginger lemonade, watermelon mojito and salted caramel. The new kitchen and walk up window make trying every single one of their flavors easier than ever, although KoP will still be hitting the local farmers markets and festivals with their signature cart.

The best news; if you stop by the Swamp Rabbit King of Pops window and buy a popsicle at any point before 6pm this Sunday, you'll be entered to win a t-shirt or 12-pack of pops! I feel that if this heat doesn’t break, we’ll be there every afternoon! Their hours are 11-7pm Monday through Saturday and 11-6pm on Sunday… See you there?

the new door connecting grocery to cafe

Links: Swamp Rabbit Café & Grocery website, on facebook, twitter and Instagram,
  King of Pops website, on facebook, twitter and pinterest

  And more information on the Local Food Promotion Program here.

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