Sometimes work is work. Sometimes work is play. A lot of my work falls into the latter category. (I'm lucky, I know.) Example: my recent visit to Highlands, North Carolina. This little town tucked high in the Blue Ridge Mountains is one of my favorite places. Most of my trips involve rambling around the area's miles of trails in search of waterfalls, wildflowers and picture-perfect views. (I also really want to see a bear, a happy, mild-mannered bear that will pose for photos.) But this past weekend the only thing on the agenda was eating, eating, releasing a deep breath and then eating just a few bites more. I was there to cover the 8th Annual Culinary Weekend, and I did my job diligently. Here's a list in photo-essay form of almost everything I managed to ingest during the three days I was there. While I am not a skilled photographer, I hope the pics inspire you to check out the event for yourself next year. I'll be there -- and I'll be armed with Pepto and the most fashionable stretchy pants I can find.
The eating extravaganza began with an event on Thursday night featuring bits and bites from area restaurants as well as generous pours from multiple wineries and the town's only brewery, Satulah Mountain Brewing. The winner here was Kilwin's ghost chili dark chocolate. This local candy store (that I only visited four times in three days) amped up the flavor of a classic with a sprinkle of chili-infused sea salt. I popped these little squares in my mouth as fast as the guy working Kilwin's sample station could put them out. (When he could tell I had no intention of abandoning my post by their table, he politely informed me that they had plenty more at the store.)
Friday night was the farm dinner at Old Edwards Inn's barn. Draped in fresh greenery and lit with the glow of a thousand candles and twinkle lights, it makes the over-used phrase "rustic elegance" okay to use just one more time. The spread prepared under the direction of OE's executive chef (and all-around fabulous guy) Johannes Klapdohr was as massive as it was delicious and almost more than my tummy could hold. But I pushed myself and tasted it all. It's all about dedication, y'all. Let's just say the folks at my table were really impressed (or appalled, I'm not sure which).
These sweet potato crisps topped a pumpkin cream soup that I forgot to photograph before I picked up my bowl and drank it all, um, I mean ate it slowly and in a ladylike fashion with a spoon.
Put an egg on top of almost anything, and I'll eat it.
From bourbon-laced cider, local honey tastings, fresh-from-the -stream rainbow trout, truffled mac 'n cheese and hands-down the best succotash I've ever had to beef tenderloin, maple-glazed pork belly and pecan-crusted quail schnitzel, it was a feast I (and my waist-line) won't soon forget.
Saturday night brought the five-course Davis Family Vineyards wine dinner at Lakeside Restaurant, a Wine-Spectator-award winning eatery with romance and charm to spare.
If all they'd served were these dainty oven-roasted oysters with apple-fennel compote, I'd have gone home happy. But wait, there's more...
Smoked pork rilles with crisp-tart pickled celery root and a 2012 Old Vine Zinfandel. Perfection on the plate and in the glass.
And that's it folks. It's not all I ate, but I think I hit the high notes. And in a special spot like Highlands, the high notes soar so far above the rest.
You can read more about the event in the article I wrote for Southern Living magazine's Daily South blog.