Go take a hike at Fort Mountain State Park

If someone told me to, "go take a hike," I would probably push the sarcasm aside, and literally go on a hike. My favorite playgrounds are the woods, and that's exactly where I spent Saturday afternoon. North Georgia has so many great hiking trails to offer, so if you've been looking for a good day hike, the search is over.. head to Fort Mountain State Park.

The sun never made an appearance, but we didn't let the clouds steer us away. The weather actually allowed me to take some really ominous pictures, which I was psyched about.. never say no to a good photo-op!

The park has foot trails, and mountain biking trails [if you're an avid biker]. We decided to do the 0.9 mile loop, which is marked yellow. You can also venture off onto a red or blue marked trail on the yellow, but those eventually connect to yellow loop, so it's extremely easy to navigate.

I've seen stunning pictures of the West Overlook, but since our day was so cloudy, we literally could not see anything in the distance. There is a great wrap-around bench at the overlook, so it's a great resting stop for a little snack if you need it. There are also a lot of areas where you can explore beyond the trail and climb some of the large rocks in the neighborhood (below; right).  

One of the main features of this trail, is the stone fire tower and wall at Fort Mountain. There are a lot of theories on why the wall was built, and who actually built it. If you want to read up on some of these stories, you can check them out here. The stone tower is the tallest point in the park, and used to allow rangers to find fires up to 40 miles away. You can't climb up the tower anymore, but it's pretty interesting to see. 
Steps leading up to the stone fire tower
Fire tower built by Civilian Conservation Corps

I Brake For Estate Sales

One of my favorite things about Atlanta are the weekend estate sales. Not only do you get to see inside some of Atlanta's most historic and elegant homes, you get to buy stuff too! I spent a total of $28 for everything below. Yes, right now they look like they belong in the land of misfit decorations, but be on the lookout for upcoming posts, as I transform these guys and my home for the holidays.

Don't leave home without the trusty yard sale mapper app. You can plan your route ahead of time and see when sales begin, so you're sure to be the first in line.


backpack, backpack cont...

This past weekend was the annual birthday/anniversary celebration backpacking trip. My previous post, backpack, backpack, included a complete packing list, including food and recipes. However, with each trip, we learn something new, so here is my latest backpacking update:

We chose to go back to our favorite spot, Siler Bald.
siler on siler bald
As you begin the hike to the top, stop by the natural spring to fill your water bottle. The water is cold and crystal clear.
siler getting the first sip
We stopped by the shelter along the Appalachian Trail. A journal is kept inside for travelers to write in. There are some great entries to read as you relax by the creek.
shelter on the AT
We found a new spot to set up camp. Instead of turning right and climbing to the top of the mountain, you turn left, go through a small section of trees and a gorgeous open, flat field awaits. The wind is much calmer here and you still have a view thru the trees.

the perfect spot
I was so excited to have my sis fly all the way up from Ft. Lauderdale to join us. I wish she lived in Atlanta. Maybe one day my two sisters and brother will all come!

my sissy
We made an excellent dinner that night as we watched for shooting stars.

Cajun Camping Recipe
- 1 pack of sausage (pre-cooked)
- knorrs red beans and rice
- garden grown potatoes in foil with seasoning

Find the perfect roasting stick, something with enough weight, but small enough to carve a point on one end. Roast the sausage over the fire while the red beans and rice cook on the stove. Keep the potatoes wrapped in foil next to the fire for baking.

My dad tasted these guys, but none of us were brave enough to follow. He said they are perfect for sauteing. I'll let you be the judge of that.
wild mushrooms
One very important detail I left out from last time, is a must-stop at the farm fresh ice cream bar Spring Ridge Creamery, in Otto, NC. They have pumpkin pie and eggnog hand-dipped ice cream, which is always perfect after a night in the wild.
the creamery
Another great trip to celebrate an even better year!

Pumpkin Parfait

My favorite fall shows are back in full swing, and I am in dire need of a new sweet treat for my TV viewing pleasure. We recently received a request for a pumpkin dessert, and this was the opportunity to experiment! I hope you enjoy this pumpkin granola parfait! It does taste as good as it looks.

This parfait has a total of four different layers - pudding, yogurt, granola, fruit.

Serving Size: 2
The amount of ingredients in this recipe makes two complete parfaits. You will have a decent amount of pumpkin pudding leftover... an extra treat for later [I'm not complaining!].

  • Pumpkin pudding [recipe below]
  • 16 oz. container of Chobani vanilla greek yogurt
  • 2 cups plain granola 
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 6 oz. package fresh raspberries
Pumpkin Pudding Ingredients:
  • 1 package of sugar-free instant vanilla pudding mix
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 1/4 cup pumpkin puree
  • 2 t ground cinnamon
Step 1: Follow the directions on the box to make vanilla pudding. This involves whisking in your milk. Incorporate pumpkin puree and cinnamon. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes, or until cold. 

NOTE: The amount of pumpkin puree in this recipe is just under the amount of one standard 14.5 ounce can. Feel free to add more!

Step 2: Mix granola and honey in a separate bowl to set aside.

Step 3: Once pudding has chilled, it is time to assemble! In your cup, add a layer of granola, greek yogurt, raspberries, then pumpkin pudding. I was able to repeat this rotation twice in my mason jars.

You have creative license to assemble however you want... go crazy!

The Optimist Restaurant Review

According to my latest inbox distraction, Eater Atlanta, The Optimist is the latest must-try restaurant. I have been there twice over the past month and I must say I understand why.
The atmosphere is sophisticated industrial with an air of glamor and excitement. Regardless if it's a Tuesday after work or a Saturday night, make reservations if you plan on dining in the main room.

After visiting twice, I prefer the bar. Only small bites are available, which is perfect for a seafood joint. You get a little taste of everything without getting overly full. The guys at the bar are super knowledgeable on both the food and wine list. If you're up for trying new things, this is your spot.

Oysters - I grew up eating fresh oysters straight from the Apalachicola Bay for $30 a bushel, so I am not one to order a dozen for $20 at land locked restaurants. Once I saw the oyster bar at The Optimist,  my usual ways went out the window.
The Optimist has oysters from both the East and West Coast. Each variety has the perfect balance of salinity and most importantly they are ice cold. I typically don't eat oysters with crackers but The Optimist crackers are amazing, so ask for them on the side.
Drinks - I love reading the drink menu for the names alone. I admit I am a Costco wine-aholic, so when I see names like Alamos and Apothic Red on a restaurant menu for north of $20, I am quite disappointed. This was not the case at The Optimist. Our waiter recommended a Pinotage from South Africa, Dark Lady of the Labyrinth. With the rich flavor of this full body wine, I recommend starting with just a glass.
Food - once seated in the grand dining room, you are greeted with warm sea salt yeast rolls. Pour me some wine and call it a night - but there is more to come. The menu changes almost daily so every time is a new experience. From fried fish and chips to hush puppies covered in powered sugar, there is something delectable for everyone.

Don't expect a quiet romantic night at the Optimist. The loud atmosphere is a part of the whole thrilling experience. The 2-top tables are placed quite close together. So between the conversation about the elections and religion on my right and the awkward convo of a first date on my left, it was an amazing event and I plan on coming back for more!

Have you been to The Optimist? Let us know your favorites!

DIY Rockford Peach Halloween Costume

Growing up in Massachusetts, my sisters and I looked like the biggest nerds on the block [thanks, mom]! Because it's so cold this time of year, we couldn't be Jasmine from Aladdin without a frumpy turtle neck. Did you know that Little Red Riding Hood wore pink sweatpants with her cape?

Chubby Bunny
Little Red Riding Hood
By far, my favorite part about Halloween is seeing how creative people can get. Because it's only for one night, nobody wants to spend a ton of money to play dress-up. At-home costumes are the way to go, and pushes your creativity even further.

"All the Way" Mae
My DIY version of a Rockford Peach
A League of Their Own is my absolute all-time favorite movie. If there is any movie I can quote, it's this one! Here is what you will need:
  • Red hat [$7 - Walmart]
  • Red belt [$3 - thrift store]
  • Red soccer/baseball socks [$6 - sporting goods store]
  • Felt in cream/ivory [$1/sheet - Michael's]
  • Puff paint [$1 - Michael's]
  • Short sleeve dress [$5 - thrift store]
  • Needle & thread
  • TOTAL = less than $25
Step 1: The Dress
I bought my dress from a thrift store, cut off the length, and just hemmed the edges. You don't have to be an expert sewer to do this. You could even purchase iron-on hemming tape as an alternative.

Step 2: Rockford Peach Emblem
I started the logo for my dress with two different sized cans from the pantry. With a pen, I lightly traced the cans to get perfect circle shapes on my felt. After replicating the rest of the emblem as close as possible, I went over it with red puff paint. It's good to outline your design because you want to make sure your letters are evenly spaced. 
TIP: Count your characters, and start with the most centered, then move outward.  For example, the top of the emblem says "CITY OF ROCKFORD." The "R" in "ROCKFORD" is your center. Make that your starting point, then draw outward. For the bottom, start with "C" from "PEACHES," then move outwards with "A" and "H" (ect.).
I also sewed Dottie Hinson's #8 to the back of my dress using an extra piece of felt.
Step 3: The Hat
I also traced a can, and used red puff paint for the "R" on my hat. The hat I purchased from Walmart already had a team logo on it, so I made sure my Rockford "R" was larger, and just sewed the felt right over it.

Do you have a creative costume idea brewing at home?

The Ultimate Pumpkin Latte Test

At 128 Hours, every morning begins with a cup-o-joe. When we started getting emails from Caribou, announcing the arrival of their seasonal pumpkin drinks, we knew we had to do something special. We decided to go all over town to find who really serves up the best pumpkin spice latte. Here is what we found:

Java City - Chain
Java city is a coffee bar located on our work’s campus. This can be a dangerous distraction, yet so delicious and relaxing at the same time. Made from Java’s city own pumpkin blend, this drink is sweet but does not overpower the notes of cinnamon and nutmeg. Not only is Java City super convenient, the friendly smiling faces of the baristas make it even better.

Caribou Coffee - Chain
Both the pumpkin latte and the pumpkin chai latte were under scrutiny at this coffee stop. Though tasty, we did not get an overwhelming sense of fall from our drinks, more a sense of needing to brush our teeth. Balancing sugar with spice is an art and too much sugar can ruin a drink. Caribou’s cozy d├ęcor will keep us coming back but we will stick with our regulars for now.  

Starbucks - Chain
Not too strong, not too weak, not too sweet.. this one was just right! You can't go wrong with Starbucks coffee, so it's no surprise it was a top contender. We did go back on two separate occasions, and found it to be a little inconsistent, which is why this coffee house only received four stars. 

San Francisco Coffee - Atlanta, GA
If you have a sweet tooth, this is the place! Extremely tasty, but the pumpkin pie latte was far too sweet for our liking. To us, this was a dessert drink, and not one of fall's guilty pleasures. With fresh beans roasted just below your feet in the basement at their Highlands location, they brew extremely fresh coffee. Unfortunately, their pumpkin latte did not stand out.

Rev Coffee - Smyrna, GA
Nestled just outside the city, is the independently owned Rev Coffee. The first time we went to get a pumpkin latte, they were out of pumpkin flavor.. you know that's a good sign! The Smyrna shop has a friendly atmosphere and indie vibe. Rev serves the highest quality of beans during they're best harvest period, which is why this pumpkin latte topped the charts.
Photo from: revcoffee.com
Did we miss any big players? What's your favorite? We'd love to hear from you!