Friday, September 29, 2017

Ashley English and a Year of Picnics

A couple weeks ago Greenville hosted the Southern Author Festival, a program sponsored by South Carolina Humanities, the South Carolina Arts Commission and the Friends of the Greenville County Library System. Events included events such as the “History of Barbeque in SC,” complete with a sampling of traditional SC BBQ sauces, and “Southern Foods and Film” with award-winning independent film maker Stan Woodward.

A favorite author and blogger of mine was in town for the festival! Cookbook author Ashley English was scheduled to speak at Hughes Main library, and I seized the opportunity to meet this local authority on topics ranging from homesteading to cooking and entertaining.

Source here

Although familiar with several of her cookbooks, I am most familiar with Ashley’s blog, Small Measure. The blog has it all – recipes of course, but also event & class announcements, and topics ranging from foraging and homesteading to being a mother. The author lives with her husband and two children in a small Western North Carolina mountain community, where she lives the life that she writes about; her Homemade Living book series showcases a variety of topics related to small-scale homesteading – chickens, canning, bees and cheese. Other books include A Year of Pies, Handmade Gatherings: Recipes and Crafts for Seasonal Celebrations & Potluck Parties, and Quench: Handcrafted Beverages To Satisfy Every Taste and Occasion. However her newest book is my favorite… A Year of Picnics: Recipes for Dining Well in the Great Outdoors offers 20 ideas for creative picnics including menu, activity and location suggestions.

I can’t wait to try some of what Ashley mentioned as being her favorite recipes from the book: smoky cauliflower spread for a twilight picnic complete with stargazing and firefly collecting. Chimichurri chicken for a table to farm picnic adorned with farm bouquets. Pots de Crème with Rose Whipped Cream for a romantic picnic. Arranged by season, there are plenty of picnic ideas currently bringing me inspiration; from the falling leaves picnic to the coffee break picnic, the gorgeous photographs by Jen Altman are drawing me into a world of leaf etchings and root vegetables as we plan our autumn activities. Ashley specifically mentioned this time of ‘confluence of summer and fall,’ talking about the return to slow cooking, the harvesting of muscadine and the invigoration the brisk fall airs brings, and I can’t agree with her more – this is my favorite time of year in the Upstate!
A Year of Picnics has already been penciled in as our cookbook club selection next Spring, when we’ll be itching to get outside after the cold months, as well as craving the fresh, seasonal foods that May brings. I’ll also be keeping an eye on her blog for announcements on the wild foraging classes she hosts on her property, and incorporating ideas from her Homemade Living series into our own raised beds/garden and menu.

Thank you to Ashley English for making the trip down to Greenville, and thanks to all the organizations that made the Southern Author Festival possible. Make sure to check out Ashley’s Instagram for a dose of inspiration straight to your screen! You can also follow the author on twitter, and her blog Small Measure can be found here.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Croft State Park

Croft State Park might best be known for the horseback riding and mountain biking trails that zigzag its 7,000 acres, but once you’ve fished one of the two lakes, hiked on the 12-mile trail system, or set up a tent in the campground, you’ll discover that this versatile State Park just five miles from downtown Spartanburg is a perfect day-trip destination!

We most often visit Croft in the autumn when cooler temperatures make hiking more enjoyable, and as the forest is predominantly hardwoods, the fall foliage can be quite colorful. This autumn color often stretches into November, being as the park is further south than its Upstate counterparts. 

A short history:
The area was once home to a farming community, and old farmsteads and cemeteries can be found throughout the park. Whitestone Springs was a tourist attraction in the late 1800’s, and the foundation of a 4 story hotel still exists in the park today, along with evidence of the bottling business that was fed by the spring. During WWII the park became an Army infantry training camp that housed 250,000 soldiers. The camp was closed in 1947, and after two years was opened to the public as a park; today it is one of the largest State Parks in SC.

Getting there:
There are multiple entrances into the park that are connected with the network of trails. Lake Johnson on the north side and the Southside Parking lot are not accessible from Park Road (the main road that leads into the park from Dairy Ridge Rd.) by car, so consult a map beforehand so that you know where you are headed. The camping area, the equestrian facilities, the park office and access to Lake Craig are all located off Park Road, as well the 1.5-mile Nature Trail, our favorite Croft trail.

Things to do:
Although all of the horse & bike trails are open to hiking, I find the terrain and length of Nature Trail challenging enough for my 3 year old, without the stress of equine encounters. Parking for this trail is available just adjacent to the horse show ring; directly across the road is the Fairforest Creek trailhead and the Nature Trail entrance just a few hundred feet further. The Nature Trail lollipop loop trail offers a stroll through an upland mixed pine and hardwood forest before descending to the rocky shoals of Fairforest Creek.

The headwaters of Fairforest Creek are up near the intersection of Interstates 85 and 26, and after flowing through Spartanburg and Croft SP it eventually becomes Fair Forest River before emptying into the Tyger River near Rose Hill Plantation State Historic Site. The creek is shallow and wide near the Nature Trail, with sandbars and large rocks that beg exploring; however, as with most rivers in the Upstate be warned that according to the State of SC “recreational uses are not supported at this site due to fecal coliform bacteria excursions.”

Upon emerging from the woods you’ll find yourself back at the Horse Show Ring. Horseback riding in South Carolina state parks is widely popular, and Croft is known around the region for its equestrian facilities and over 20 miles of trail open to horse traffic. The park regularly hosts shows in its arena, and has horse stalls available for those camping with horses.

Croft State Park also features 12.6 miles of the Palmetto Trail, the Mountains-to-the-Sea trail that will one day extend 425 miles from the Oconee County mountains to the Intracoastal Waterway in Charleston County. The Croft Passage of the trail utilizes the 65-ft Advance America Bridge over Fairforest Creek, the longest footbridge in the SC Park system.

A visit to Croft isn’t complete without a stop at one of the two lakes. Fishing is allowed on Lake Craig and Lake Johnson, and canoes, kayaks and jon boats (as well as paddles and life jackets) are available for rent.

A children’s playground and picnic shelters are also centrally located within the park. Croft does have a shooting range; for more information on any of the amenities, please visit the Croft SP website or stop in at the Park Office!

Monday, September 25, 2017

euphoria Greenville

Greenville has been vaulted into foodie fame in recent years, earning top spots in travel journal top-ten lists with rave reviews of up-and-coming chefs, hot new restaurants, local-sourced dining options and dozens of food-oriented festivals and events. However, what is possibly the most famous foodie festival here in the Upstate and one of the reasons for Greenville’s culinary acclaim is now in its 11th year - & still growing; euphoria shows no signs of slowing down, the 2017 festival once again selling out a majority of its events and attracting top chefs from across the country.

Founded in 2006 by singer/songwriter Edwin McCain and restaurateur Carl Sobocinski, the four-day event in September includes exclusive tasting events, live music, cooking demonstrations, wine seminars and multi-course dinners. Attendees have a wide range of events to choose from, and can select based on favorite chefs & restaurants, type of cuisine, budget and/or other interests.

Clockwise from top left: City Limits Barbeque (TX style prime brisket & sweet jalapeno cornbread waffles), refreshments, Biscuit Head (mac&cheese biscuits, pork belly beans, smoked local brisket & red pepper jelly), shredding pork

We saw the combining of Greenville’s two great loves – cycling and food – on Thursday’s “Cycling with George Hincapie” event at Hotel Domestique. A 30-mile bike ride with the cycling legend was followed by drinks and lunch prepared by Chef Graves at Restaurant 17. Thursday evening brought elaborate dining experiences at Grits & Groceries in Belton and American Grocery downtown, as well as a musical event at Revel and the kick-off party at the Old Cigar Warehouse.

Friday had a little bit of everything… A bike ride on the Swamp Rabbit Trail that started at the Swamp Rabbit Cafe ended at the Traveler’s Rest Farmer’s Market Pavilion with TR’s favorite eats. A walking tour of downtown Greenville was topped off by a multi-course wine lunch at Jianna. Taste of the South at the TD Stage and Wyche Pavilion featured 17 Chefs from Virginia to Florida & live music from Kakalacki Jones and Edwin McCain himself. On Saturday there was the Feast by the Field in the West End, with 60 breweries, wineries, distilleries, local restaurants and regional chefs. During the day “classroom” events taught attendees the secrets of barbecue, biscuits, Italian wines, chocolate-liquor pairings and pre-Prohibition cocktails, and in the evening the “Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner” held at the Commerce Club featured nationally-renowned pianist, Emile Pandolfi with multiple Chefs serving food & drink pairings. Other dinner options included Bacon Bros. Public House, Halls Chophouse, Stella’s Southern Brasserie, Jianna and the Loft at Soby’s, and a new event this year was the “Big Easy Bash,” a New Orleans themed party in Trailblazer Park in Travelers Rest complete with 10 chefs, a New Orleans-style jazz band and two food trucks & a dessert cart.

Carrot, sweet potato, raspberry and salted caramel mini cupcakes by Couture Cakes of Greenville

In addition to local restaurant celebrities, Greenville saw the arrival of famous chefs from around the world. At the “Seeing Stars: Michelin-starred Dinner at The Lazy Goat,” three Michelin-starred chefs were dishing up their cuisine: Curtis Duffy (3 stars; Grace, Chicago), Dominique Crenn (2 stars; Atelier Crenn, San Francisco), and Michael Mina (1 star; Michael Mina, San Francisco). In addition to the dinner event and other appearances, Chef Dominique Crenn made a special appearance at Michelin’s HQ to talk about her career, her life and the ingredients that have gone into her recipe for success. One of only three female chefs in the US to earn 2 Michelin stars (and one of only 25 total), Chef Crenn is a pioneer in her field and truly an inspiration.

Michelin-starred chef Dominique Crenn!

One event that offers the euphoria experience in a laid-back atmosphere that’s a good fit for families is Sunday Brunch: Fired Up! For the second year in a row, eight pit masters gathered in the West End for a BBQ brunch that included 15 local and regional restaurants, Bloody Marys and mimosas, music from Crooked Pine, and a culinary stage. The outdoor event was a great opportunity to sample food from a variety of chefs, and the portion size ensured that we all went home sated but not stuffed. This year a family 4-pack retailed for $120, and children 4 and under are free.**

Greenbrier Farms and the 'Savory Snow Cone' w/ tomato, cheddar grits, smoked chicken,
roasted okra & pablano ceam

Festival objectives, from the euphoria website:
To create a destination event for food, wine and music lovers across the country
To highlight the Culinary and Arts Community of Upstate South Carolina
To promote tourism in Greenville, SC
To raise money to give back to the community*

Omelette station by The Spoonbread Restaurant at the Westin Poinsett Hotel

* Proceeds from euphoria fund Local Boys Do Good, the 501c3 created to benefit local non-profit organizations that focus on: providing sustenance to those in need (food, hunger, and health), educating (through music, performing arts, or otherwise), or supporting children.

Richard's Southern Fried with their hot & smoked chicken 'n waffles

** Ticket prices for euphoria events range from $35 (classroom events) to $150&up for most of the events that include food. The Upstate's foodie festival Fall for Greenville is a little easier on the budget, and is coming up quickly, taking place from October 13-15.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Food on Friday: Deep Run Roots

Our old house had scuppernong vines enveloping the side fence, providing me my first encounter with this 'grape of the south'. The bronze fruit is actually a type of muscadine, 300 varieties here in the South. That summer I despondently waited for the grapes to turn purple, but soon the sweet-smelling, bronze berries were scattered in the driveway, overripe, fit only for the birds.

I was more prepared the next season, but then I had a newborn demanding all my time and we sold the house and we moved to France and my canning jars sat accumulating dust in storage.

Upon moving back to Greenville I was happy to see muscadine growing along the fence of our new home, and anxiously awaited summer, licking my lips in anticipation of toast and jam. But there were no grapes, and it was only after the second fruitless year that I did a little research and discovered we had a male vine. We promptly planted a mate, and come spring I marveled at all the flowers, once again anticipating a harvest that would put me in jam for the winter. Wouldn’t you know it a majority of the flowers never set, and by fall we had just a handful of grapes, quickly devoured by the boys leaving stained hands and mischievous grins that really were too easy to forgive.

But this year… this year I took no chances, hand-pollinating flowers and watering the muscadine until August when I found the first ripe, dark-purple berry. The boys have still snuck their share, but a majority have found their way into my basket when I go out to check the garden in the mornings. Once I had about 2 pounds, I set about making preserves, a recipe already in mind... Our upcoming cookbook club feast is Vivian Howard’s Deep Run Roots, a story of southern food filled with southern ingredients – including the indigenous muscadine.

Vivian writes that muscadine grapes have more health benefits than common seedless grapes, but that most of their fiber, vitamin C and antioxidants are in the tough, tannic skin or seeds. I was immediately intrigued by her Grape-Hull Preserves recipe, and one afternoon sat Vilis up on the counter while I squeezed and simmered, strained and sugared. The result was just as advertised; traditional, no-frills preserves that are the perfect accompaniment to buttered biscuits or toast. The boys haven’t yet gotten used to the texture of the skins, but in my defense the seeds are strained out – this is no cherry clafoutis baked with pits and all!

Howard’s other muscadine recipes include Kid Juice and Adult Juice; mulled muscadines and muscadine vinaigrette; pie and chicken thighs. However muscadine season is over and I’m turning my attention to the bushels of apples that came home from the orchard with us last week. Our cookbook club date fast approaching, I’ve still yet to figure out how to serve my preserves – maybe on ENC-Style Buttermilk Biscuits (p. 366) – and I’m itching to try out a couple more recipes: Peaches and Cream Cake (p. 460) and Elbow-Lick Tomato Sandwich (p. 262). The apple glut has me paging through the apple section (conveniently located right after the rutabaga section?), although I’m now regretting not having the book during blueberry season… should I use the last of this summer’s blueberries from the freezer for Blueberry Cobbler with a Cornmeal Sugar-Cookie Crust?

So tell me – do you have Deep Run Roots? What do you think? I would love to hear of any recipes you’ve tried and enjoyed in the comments!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A Walk in Kronvalda Park

Kronvalda parks (originally Strēlnieku dārzs) is a thirty acre park in Vecrīga, bordered by Kalpaka and Kronvalda boulevards and bisected by the Rīga canal.

The park is named in honor of Kronvaldu Atis, Latvian linguist, poet and teacher (1837-1875). The sculpture pictured above is dedicated to artist and founder of the Dievturu draudze, Ernests Brastiņš, who was deported and executed by the USSR in 1941. 

Another statue in the park celebrates Latvian teacher and writer, Morics Eduard Zilber (often better known as Sudraba Edžus), who lived from 1860-1941. 

The Ķergalvja lapene (pavilion) was a gift from master mason Krišjānis Ķergalvis to the city of Riga on its 700th anniversary.

To mark Rīgas 800th anniversary as well as 15 years of friendship between the Latvian capital & Suzhou, China, Sudžou built a pagoda on the shore of the canal, surrounded by Chinese-style gardens.

The pagoda faces the back of Rīgas brīvostas pārvalde, the Freeport of Rīga Authority building. The waters of the canal, the blue sky and the park is reflected in what resembles the silhouette of a ship.

In front of the Freeport of Rīga Authority is one of the 2014 “Mākslai vajag telpu” (Art needs a space) art installation snails that symbolize the slow pace of bringing public art to Rīga’s streets. The mirrored mosaic by Dārta Leiškalne is one of 15 snails from the installation completed by The Cracking Art Group out of Italy.

Last year the restoration of the fountain next to the Rīga Congress Center was completed. The largest fountain in Rīga is now uniquely interactive, the water rising and falling according to motions made by the ‘conductor’ over the sensor.

A most unusual statue is the giant monkey in a space suit. ‘Sam’ is a sculpture from the series ‘First Crew’ by Denis Prasolov, dedicated to the many animals used by the Soviet Union in space exploration during the 1950s-1960s.

A remnant of the Berlin Wall can be seen in front of the former Communist Party Central Committee building, the memorial erected in memory of the 1991 barricades; “…the Latvian people united for non-violent resistance to the repressive actions of the Soviet regime of aspirations of the Baltic States for freedom. The historical fragment of the wall safeguarded the access to the Parliament Building.” The memorial was restored in 2011.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Poinsett Bridge

The Calahan Branch flows west, connecting to the outflow of the North Saluda Reservoir to form the headwaters of the North Saluda River. Together with the Table Rock Reservoir (created in 1930) and Lake Keowee, the North Saluda Reservoir supplies the Greenville Water System with water. Also known as the Poinsett Reservoir, it was created in 1961 along with a 17,000 acre protective buffer. A portion of this buffer is 120 acres surrounding Calahan Branch: Poinsett Bridge Heritage Preserve.

Located between Chestnut Ridge Heritage Preserve and Pleasant Ridge County Park, Poinsett Bridge is easily accessible from the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway 11 and about a 40 minute drive from Greenville.

The main attraction of the Heritage Preserve is a 14 foot Gothic arch stone bridge which is believed to be the oldest surviving bridge in the state of South Carolina. Originally a part of the state road which linked Greenville to Asheville, NC, the bridge spanned what has also been known as Little Gap Creek, and honors Joel R. Poinsett, a prominent Greenville resident of the time. Once ambassador to Mexico, Poinsett is recognized for introducing the poinsettia flower to the US, now a popular Christmas decoration throughout the country. The bridge itself was constructed in 1820, and historians believe it was designed by Robert Mills, architect of the Washington Monument in DC. If you look very closely at the keystone, you might be able to pick out the date, carved in stone.

Historically, travelers from as far away as Charleston utilized this bridge as a connection with the mountain communities, in addition to access to North Carolina and Tennessee. Nearby Travelers Rest gained a reputation as a stopover before continuing the difficult journey through the mountains.

North of the bridge, the old state road continues climbing into the Foothills, ascending into the Blue Ridge Mountains. Following this road will take you on a strenuous hike, and portions connect to the neighboring scout camp, Old Indian. The bridge stopped carrying automobile traffic in the 1950s, and today most traffic keeps to N Hwy 25 that connects Travelers Rest with Interstate 26 and Asheville.

Although it may be tempting to explore the creek and small footpaths, please exercise caution. In places the creek runs across granite slides, and the rocks can be extremely slippery. In addition to venomous snakes (we saw multiple cottonmouths on our recent visit), the area is also known for its ticks, chiggers and biting flies. And finally, the Bridge and surrounding area is believed by some to be a prime candidate for haunting and paranormal activity.

Poinsett Bridge Heritage Preserve is owned by the State of South Carolina and managed by the Greenville County Recreation District and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.

Poinsett Bridge, Atlas Obscura

Friday, September 8, 2017

Lodziņš uz Latviju

Lodziņš uz Latviju, a literal ‘window to Latvia’ for Latvians living in the US! The monthly webcast incorporates political and historic info with fun facts and familiar faces, bringing a little bit of Latvia into our home.

Source: here

Living in South Carolina we have a small (though dedicated!) Latvian community; when it comes down to it, our children are not exposed to the Latvian language and culture as much as we were on a daily basis growing up. We speak only Latvian at home and to family, but another easy way to bring the language into daily life is through media. Some of the boys’ favorite movies are in Latvian (Lidmašīnas dzēš un glāb - Planes 2 and Ledus sirds - Frozen!) and we listen to a lot of Čikāgas piecīši, Prāta Vētra and other Latvian tunes. However, a more recent discovery is Lodziņš uz Latviju, and over the years the boys have grown to know and love Ilze Jegere and Jānis Labucs, the driving force behind what is now a familiar show at our house.

Interviewing Nikolajs Veidis

Prior to our recent visit to Rīga, Mikus and Lauris had watched one of the “GVV sveiciens” episodes, recorded especially for the Latvian Center Gaŗezers summer high school students. When their conversation turned to the places they thought Lodziņš uz Latviju should be filming, I suggested they write LuL with their ideas. We sent off a letter that was warmly received, and the hint that the boys best like views of Rīga was followed up with a backdrop of the Brīvības piemineklis in the next episode.

And then we were in Rīga, and I managed to get word to Ilze that the boys would like to meet the two stars of the show, and before you knew it there we were, being interviewed! (Good thing we brought chocolates!!) Here’s “GVV mini pēdejais,” the last episode of the summer:

Musical accompaniment for Lodziņš uz Latviju is provided by Imanta Nīgale and Katrīna Dimanta, otherwise known as dynamic folk duo Imanta Dimanta. Just out with a new disc (and now playing on spotify!), we managed to coordinate the interview with an autograph session... <Spoiler> The CD is amazing, we can’t stop listening to it!

It doesn’t hurt that many familiar faces and places appear on Lodziņš to Latvija on a regular basis, but the boys love watching and often request previous favorite episodes. Topics ranging from Porzingis to Dziesmu svētki to the weather to Latvian geography are covered (with material interesting to kids and adults), and it’s no secret that we are anxiously awaiting the new season.We wish Ilze and Jānis luck with their endeavor, and can’t wait to see what they’ve got in store for us next!

Filming with a backdrop of Bastejkalns

Here’s Ilze’s youtube channel: Lodziņš uz Latviju
You can also follow them on facebook for outtakes, live videos, links to interesting articles and alerts on new episodes.

Imanta Dimanta on Spotify, iTunes and Google Play, on facebook, and on bandcamp

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The oldest park in Rīga, Latvia - Viesturdārzs

Our explorations of Rīga have taken us to many parks and public spaces - from Vērmanes dārzs and Bastejkalns in the heart of the city, to Mežaparks in the further reaches - but somehow we had missed Viesturdārzs. The historic park that is located north of Vecrīga is within easy walking distance of the Art Nouveau district, and features ponds, alleys and sculpture in its 18+ acres, and was suggested by my brother as a beautiful park to visit with the boys. 

Also known as Dziesmu svētku parks (the Song Festival Park), Viesturdārzs is the oldest park in the Latvian capital. Built during the Great Northern War, it was designed by French architect A. Leblon following 18th century French and Dutch trends. At this time it was called the “Garden of His Majesty” (for Tsar Peter the Great) and was located on Gustavsala, an island on the Daugava. The island was also known as Pētersala (and later Andrejsala, depending on who was in charge), but in 1712 the branches of the Daugava river were transformed into swan ponds and it ceased to be an island. 3,500 different varieties of plants were imported, and the tsar’s country house was erected within park boundaries. To commemorate the Nietzsche Peace Treaty, the Miera goba (elm of peace) was planted on September 28, 1721; the current tree is the third reincarnation of the original, as elms readily send up new shoots from the stump when a tree dies.

After undergoing several more name changes, Emperor Nicholas I gave the garden to the city of Riga in 1841 and the park was renamed the City Garden. The park was divided into two parts: the first contained the General Governor's summer apartment (located in the former emperor's residence), and the second was open to the public. In 1873 the 1st Latvian Song Festival took place in Viesturdārzs on a stage specially constructed for the purpose.

After WWI the park was renamed the “Viestura garden” in honor of Viesturs, the ruler of the ancient Zemgaļi. Then, in 1936 it became home to the Aleksandra vārti that had been built in honor of the Russian victory in the war of 1812. “Alexander’s gate” (for Alexander I, Emperor of Russia) is classical in style, and is modeled after the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. The triumphal arch is the only one of its kind in Latvia, and while originally built on Brīvības iela near the Gaisa bridge, it was moved to Šmērļa street in 1904 some thirty years before it came to its current resting place in the Song Festival park.

During the Third Reich's occupation (1942) the garden was renamed Hindenburgpark, while on the centenary of the 1st Latvian Song Festival it was renamed Song Festival Park. It was at this time that the rectangular stone pool with seven fountains commemorating the historic song festival was built. The zigzag wall along the basin contains portraits and profiles of seven composers: Alfrēds Kalniņš, Emīls Melngailis, Jāzeps Vītols, Jānis Cimze, Jurjānu Andrejs, Emīls Dārziņš un Pēteris Barisons. The original text on the wall (“māksla pieder tautai” or “art belongs to the people”) was replaced with the text of the Latvian national anthem, Dievs, svētī  Latviju! (Baumaņu Kārlis) in the early 1990s, bringing the number of featured composers to eight.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Saulkrasti - a photo essay

The path to the beach leads through a sandy pine forest
A bridge across Pēterupe...
...and you're on the beach.
I spy a windsurfer riding the waves
Plenty of time in the surf and the sun.
The sun starts sinking in the sky...
...but the boys aren't ready to leave just yet!
Goodnight, Saulkrasti.
Goodnight, moon.
To read about the beach resort town of Saulkrasti, please visit my post from our visit two years ago… 

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