Saturday, November 29, 2014

"Winter Lights" at the NC Arboretum Christmas 2014

Winter Lights, new this season at the NC Arboretum. The North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville, NC has joined with Jerry Stripling, former designer for Walt Disney World ®'s holiday decorations and special projects for a magnificent and unique Christmas Lights tour.  This is unlike any other light show in Asheville, combining the aesthetics of the landscape with the joy of Christmas Lights! Additionally, enjoy music, food, gifts!!  
Every night from November 22nd 2014 through January 4th 2014, I myself can't wait to go.  Tickets are limited nightly so be sure and make sure there is availability before you go (Sold out Saturday November 29th 2014).

Tickets are $18 each (12 years old and older), &$16 for children, 5-11years.  Children up to 4 years old are free.  Tickets are for specific dates and numbers are limited.  Be sure and call in advance,  800 514-3849 for information and tickets.  You may also book your tickets directly online.

The Arboretum is located at 100 Frederick Law Olmstead Way, Asheville, NC.  

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Asheville Bread Festival, 2014

The Asheville Bread Festival will again feature Artisan Bread making for two full days days, celebrating local farmers, millers and bakers, and the Artisan Bread Movement in Western North Carolina.  The Asheville Bread Festival is now 10 years old, having had its debut in 2004, and continues to be organized by the founders of the festival, Steve Bardwell and Gail Lunsford.  This year, from 10 am to 4 pm on Saturday April 12th and Sunday April 13th join again in the Magnolia Building on Asheville/Buncombe Technical College (AB-Tech) Campus.

Over 15 local artisans will be present on Saturday April 12th.  Stop by to purchase and sample their wares from 10 am to 2pm.  Enjoy lectures and workshops on this day as well from 10am - 4pm.  Taste bread, share ideas, meet growers, millers and bakers!  Be sure and visit the Asheville Bread Festival website to view more about the workshops, to purchase advance workshop tickets, class schedules and more.

On April 13th professional bakers may enroll in the 6 hour "Master Class" bakers intensive, and learn from the featured bakers who will be present all weekend, some of the most respected bakers in the United States:  Lionel Vatinet, Peter Reinhart, Dominique Homo and Harry Peemoeller.  Information about and enrollment into this workshop intensive may be made by emailing

The Artisan Bread Movement is strong here in Western NC and has thankfully brought bread making full circle - from pre-sliced white bread back to the old-world hearty and tasty whole grains!  And who doesn't love the smell and taste of freshly baked bread?  Western North Carolina is going strong with the resurgence of the craft of bread making with over a dozen bakeries making hand crafted loaves and some using locally milled flour.

If you are looking for a place to stay, Oakland Cottage Bed and Breakfast is about 2 blocks from the AB-Tech campus where the festival will be held.  Give them a call at 828 994 2627, 9am - 7pm daily to make a reservation!  Bread bakers welcome!!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Blue Ridge Parkway Overview from Mount Mitchell to Mount Pisgah, NC/ Asheville Corridor

Atop Craggy Pinnacle, looking down upon Craggy Visitor Center
If you are looking for day trips along the Blue Ridge Parkway from Asheville, NC, there is a beautiful 60 mile segment from Mount Mitchell, the highest elevation east of the Mississippi River at 6,683' (2037m) above sea level (about 30 miles north of Asheville NC) to Mount Pisgah at 5722' above sealevel (about 30 miles south of Asheville along the Blue Ridge Parkway).  There is a lot to do along this 60 mile section, which I call the "extended Asheville corridor" of the Blue Ridge Parkway, as it meanders from Mile Post Marker (MPM) 355 to MPM 409, about 30 north of Asheville to about 30 miles south of Asheville.

 The Asheville "commuter section" is right in the middle of this extended corridor from approximately MPM 377 at Craven's Gap and Town Mountain Road access, to MPM 393 at the North Carolina Arboretum and Brevard Road access.  The commuter section rarely if ever closes, but gates will close the Parkway on both ends of this Asheville, Blue Ridge Parkway commuter section.

If your not familiar with the Blue Ridge Parkway, know that it is not a toll interstate that you might find in other states - roads that are also called "parkways."  No, the Blue Ridge Parkway is a National Park and National Scenic Highway that is extremely rural, slow going and beautiful as it winds over the ridges across the back of the Blue Ridge, Appalachian and Smoky Mountains (all the same southern mountain range with different regional monikers).  It is completely free, i.e., no National Park tolls anywhere, no Eagle Pass needed, with limited access at various points, towns and cities along the 400 mile stretch; and it is the most visited National Park in the USA, with is northern terminus in Front Royal, Virginia and the southern terminus is in Cherokee, North Carolina, after over 400 miles of rolling ridge climbs and descents.

A few bits of information to help you enjoy and find your way along the Blue Ridge Parkway:
Mile Post Marker

  • There is a small mile marker (post) every single mile along the Parkway (MPM), with numbers increasing as you drive south. If you are cycling, you might just find this irritating as you slowly climb one of the many long ascents, praying for the next mile marker to pass you by.  Otherwise, the mile markers are extremely helpful in finding and keeping your way, looking for trailheads, specific attractions and or specific access/ exit points along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
  • There is limited access at various points and cities along the route and there are frequent road closures due to rock fall and inclement weather, particularly in winter months; be sure and check for road closures (click here) as you plan your trip along the Parkway and know where you would like to enter the parkway and where you might want to exit the parkway, as closures will indeed impact your available choices. 
  • Stores, fuel stops, restaurants, restroom facilities and lodging options are also limited and advertising is prohibited for driving aesthetics, so plan ahead and be sure and fill up your gas tank before getting on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
  • Speed limits are restricted to 35 mph and 45 mph, depending on where you are along the Parkway, so besides the fact that you will likely want to pull off at one of the many scenic overlooks, take a long or short hike at one of the many trail heads, know that automobile travel is much slower than one might expect.  A 30 mile drive could easily take one to two hours.
  • The "commuter section" of Asheville, from MPM 377 at Craven's Gap and Town Mountain Road to MPM 393 at the NC Arboretum is open year round and gates at these two MPM will close northern travel and southern travel much of the winter.
  • Weekends in peak seasons (summer and October) the traffic can be especially slow and may even be bumper to bumper.  Weekdays are always much less crowded.
Some of my favorite stops along the "Asheville Expanded Corridor" (my term) begin for me at MPM 355 and the entrance to Mount Mitchell State Park, about 35 miles north of Asheville and a wonderful day trip excursion from Asheville.  Once at the entrance to Mount Mitchell State Park, there is another 5 mile spur road that will take you almost to the top of Mount Mitchell.  The spur road is entirely paved and there is ample parking at the top.  There is a small concessions building with snacks available and a restroom.  Once up top, a quick, short and paved walk will take you to a scenic overlook structure with amazing views, especially looking northward towards Table Rock and the Linville Gorge.  Believe it or not, the elevation here can mean a big difference in weather.  It is often foggy and quite chilly, even in summer months, so be sure and bring a jacket, no matter the season.  In past years, the Blue Ridge Parkway, along the Asheville and southern side of the Mitchell entrance, has been under repair and often closed, so again, be sure and know if Mount Mitchell State Park is easily accessible and from what access point.

On top of Craggy Pinnacle - what views!
Craggy Gardens Visitor Center is located at MPM 364.  A not to miss hike is just north of the Visitor Center, a short trail about 1/2 mile in length will take you to Craggy Pinnacle - my favorite hike perhaps along the entire Parkway, beginning in a scrubby Mountain Laurel "tunnel," and opening up onto a rock bluff with incredible, incredible views of Western NC.  Parking for this hike is just north of a tunnel.  The Craggy Visitor Center is on the south side of same tunnel.  Restrooms and souvenirs are available at this quaint and historic rock structure, also with fabulous views as it sits on an exposed gap.

The Folk Art Center is right in Asheville at MPM 382 and easy access off of NC Hwy 70. There is an auditorium at the Folk Art Center, gift shop and gallery.  Local and high quality arts and crafts works are displayed and sold at the Folk Art Center.  Classes and speakers as well as onsite demonstrations by local artists are often featured, so be sure and find out about what is going on at the Folk Art Center before you visit - and know that the crafts for sale and on display are always worth viewing and purchasing!  The White Dot Trail or Mountains-to-Sea trail, goes right by the Folk Art Center and traverses along this section of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The Visitor's Center is at MPM 384 just 2 miles south of the Folk Art Center.  Wonderful and abundant information is available here, as well as an award winning 20 minute film about the Blue Ridge Parkway and a large scale interactive map along one of the walls within the Visitor Center.  Ranger programs are often available from here, especially in summer months and often on Thursdays.  Restrooms are available at the Visitor Center.

The North Carolina Arboretum may be accessed directly from the Parkway at MPM 393.  This is a beautiful facility that is a true treasure of North Carolina.  Enjoy gardens, trails, special classes, demonstrations and exhibits year round.  There are classrooms, restrooms and a cafe at the North Carolina Arboretum.  Bent Creek Experimental Forest borders the Arboretum and is also a wonderful area to explore with connecting trails, a small lake with a swimming beach (life guard onsite in summer) and fantastic mountain biking.  The Arboretum is a fee area if parking onsite ($8.00 per car) and if you drive into Bent Creek to the swimming beach at Lake Powatan, there is a $3.00 car fee.  

During much of the winter, from early November to mid-April, the gate at MPM 393 will be closed prohibiting motor travel south to the Mount Pisgah area; Pisgah Inn, the concessions store and
campground will be closed as well.

Atop Mount Pisgah - more great views!
Continuing south to MPM 408 will bring you to the Mount Pisgah area along the Blue Ridge Parkway and Pisgah Inn.  There are 11 tunnels along this stretch as you climb out and up from the French Broad River Valley in which Asheville lies.  The Hike to the top of Mount Pisgah is another favorite of mine, about a 1.5 mile hike up hill, with a spectacular view.  Bring your blueberry picking buckets in late summer months of July and August.  The Pisgah Inn is just a mile or so from the Pisgah trail head and picnic area, one of the four Park sponsored Concessions you will find along the entire 400 plus miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway.    Enjoy a small gift shop, inn and restaurant.  Fresh trout is one of my favorite lunches or dinners to order.  Large glass windows will offer the diner spectacular views of Looking Glass Rock and the Mountains.

Lots to do on this 60 mile stretch of the Parkway, making Asheville a wonderful home base from which to explore the Parkway.  And if you need convenient Blue Ridge Parkway lodging, call Vacation In Asheville and Oakland Cottage Bed and Breakfast, 9am too 7pm daily for various vacation rentals or an Asheville Bed and Breakfast lodging option;  all are within easy access to the Blue Ridge Parkway, 828 994 2627.  And staff at our offices are always happy to share information about Asheville and the Blue Ridge Parkway as we know it!!  

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Sweet Treats - An easy Recipe to Warm up With - Praline Grahams

Praline Grahams - a sweet and easy treat - this is an extremely SIMPLE and quick recipe for a delightful afternoon "sweet tooth" kind of snack!  Amazingly yummy.

One package of Graham Crackers (one third of a 16oz box)
3/4 cup butter (one and a half sticks)
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup chopped pecans

Ok, maybe we should call these Praline S'mores!

  • Separate the graham crackers into their four perforated sections
  • Arrange them in a jellyroll pan, approximately 15X10X1", with the edges touching.  
  • Fill the pan, even if it requires you to add a few more graham cracker sections from another package. 
  • Melt the butter in a one quart sauce pan  
  • Stir in the sugar and pecans  
  • Bring to a boil and cook three minutes, stirring frequently 
  • Spread the butter, sugar and pecan mixture evenly over the graham crackers
  • Bake at 300 degrees for 12 minutes
  • Remove from the pan and let cool on wax paper or cooling rack
This should yeild three to four dozen Praline Graham sections.  Very easy and very very yummy! You might just find these Praline Grahams served on a weekend afternoon here at Oakland Cottage Bed and Breakfast, in Asheville NC.  For reservations and information at our sweet little inn, just call our offices, 828 994 2627, anytime daily from 9am to 7pm, or visit our website!  In the meantime, enjoy this yumsty recipe.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

What's this about Asheville's Small Plate Crawl? February 25, 26 & 27, 2014

What's this about Asheville's Small Plate Crawl?

We had a heck of a week last week in our Asheville mountains, with snowstorms galore, yet sunny skies prevailed on Valentines Day and throughout the weekend.  I think it's always like that here in Asheville - warmth is somewhere here, or just around the corner!  Even in Winter.  Maybe especially in Winter!  And what better way to get warm in Winter than eating and drinking at some or many of Asheville's great little independent restaurants during the Small Plate Crawl?!!  At participating Restaurants, February 25th, 26th and 27th.

So, Asheville's Small Plate Crawl, what the heck is it, and how does it all work?  The Carolina Epicurian Epicurean and Asheville Independent Restaurant (AIR) associations are co-producing the Small Plate Crawl again this year and it is a great way to have fun visiting and sampling fares at as many or few participating restaurants as you would like.  Just print your AIRpass (click here) (on 81/2 X 11" paper, please) and take it with you.  Enjoy the "small plate menus" available for this event, just $3.00 to $8.00 each small plate, available on the 25th, 26th and 27th of February, 2014.  Many are downtown and in Biltmore Village, but satellite restaurants are also participating in North, South, East and West Asheville.  If your AIRpass is validated (by eating a small plate) at 5 or more restaurants, you will be eligible for a prize drawing, and if you are traveling with a group, if one person in the group eats a small plate, all passes will be validated!  Another tip - include a restaurant outside Asheville's downtown center to double your winning Prize!  Participating restaurants are listed on the AIRpass and special flags will be located outside each of these restaurants to indicate their participation as well.  To enter the drawing, just leave your AIRpass at the last visited participating Restaurant and you will be entered to win and notified by email, should you win!  For more details about prizes, schedules, menu's and more be sure and visit the Small Plate Crawl website (click here)

In addition, take advantage of the Biltmore Wine Crawl happening at the same time.  Many of the participating Chef's have created special "Wine Plates" to sample.  Just look for the wine icon on your AIRpass.  This will let you be aware of which restaurants are serving Biltmore Wine Plates.  With each Wine Plate you order, you will also receive a Token, that you will fill in with your name and contact information (on the back).  At the end of your three day crawl, if you have three or more tokens you may enter them into the Biltmore Wines Prize drawing, the more tokens you have,  the more chances you have to win;  A pair of Biltmore Tickets ($120 Value) will be awarded to three winners!

The Groundhog might have said 6 more weeks of winter, but who cares!  Come to Asheville this February 2014 and enjoy a delightful Small Plate & Wine Crawl and spread good cheer and appetite in our happy city.  No matter the weather (yes, no matter!) you will enjoy the great food and drink this dear little city is so well known for.

Need a place to stay?  Oakland Cottage Bed and Breakfast is ideally located, just one mile north of Biltmore Village and the entrance to the Biltmore Estate and just two miles south of Pack Square, Asheville's downtown historic center.  Room rates range from $95 to $149 nightly and include a delightful breakfast each morning.  Call 828 994 2627 for reservations and information, 9am to 7pm daily.  Coming with friends?  Inquire about Vacation Rentals in the area, 3 bedroom to 6 bedroom options.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Groundhog Day in and Around Asheville, NC

Ground Hog Day in Asheville?  Anything going on for our furry friends this February 2nd, 2014?  You bet!  Family fun for sure and a couple of options to consider if you want to celebrate Groundhog Day with groundhogs during your visit to Asheville.  It's always fun to get into the spirit of this peculiar little holiday.

Annually for the past nine years, Chimney Rock Park has brought out Grady the Groundhog to check out his shadow and predict spring.  You can even vote now on your prediction - shadow or not?  I have voted and I'm voting for no shadow,  mainly because I am always ready for spring!!  Chimney Rock Park is about 25 miles south of Downtown Asheville and you can see Grady step out on Sunday February 2nd around noon.  Enjoy Groundhog Day festivities at the park between 11am and 1pm (weather permitting).  And as always, Chimney Rock Park has trails, waterfalls and amazing views to take in as well.
The Western NC Nature Center is another great place to celebrate Groundhog Day this year - with Nibbles the groundhog - at 2:00 pm February 2nd.  Enjoy a whimsical presentation by Carlton Burke about Groundhogs or "Whistle Pigs," as they are often called here in the Western NC Mountains.   Learn about the folklore and history of Groundhog day.  And at the Nature Center, there are many other animals, walks and sights to see.  The otters are always a favorite and if the weather is a bit cold, the reptile center is indoors.

"Prickles" at Oakland Cottage B&B
If you need a place to stay Groundhog weekend, Oakland Cottage Bed and Breakfast is a wonderful family friendly B&B, with it's own backyard groundhog, Prickles.  So, if you stay with us at Oakland Cottage, you might even have a sighting right in the own backyard.  Give us a call if we can help you with a reservation, 9am to 7pm daily, 828 994 2627.  Enjoy the weekend and Groundhog Day!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Oven Omelet Recipe Courtesy of Oakland Cottage Bed and Breakfast, Asheville, NC

I rather enjoy baking this "oven omelet."  It's quite easy to be creative, and as is with baking, once in the oven, I can tend to other things (as long as I watch the clock and don't get sidetracked by my guests!!).  And, with the tomato's placed in a pinwheel design, I think it looks rather pretty!

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F
Makes 6 servings

  • 9 eggs
  • 1/2 cup sour cream, half and half or plain yogurt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • salt and pepper/ spices to taste
  • Onion flakes or 1 tablespoon chopped onions
  • Sauteed or marinated vegetables (mushroom, spinach, 3 thin tomato slices, halved)
  • 1-2 tablespoons of butter
  • 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • Canadian bacon, sausage or crumbled bacon - optional side

Marinate (or sauté) vegetables of choice with olive oil, onion flakes and spices to taste (I like to add a teaspoon or two of bacon grease and lime juice, and I prefer to marinate over night, but it's not required).  My usual vegetable choices are mushroom, spinach, onion and tomato.  Asparagus is great to use as well - anything goes, really!  Liberally grease an 8X8" baking dish or 10" round quiche dish with melted butter.  Place the marinated or sautéd vegetables in the baking dish and spread them evenly.  Add pre-cooked meat if you desire, or keep it vegetarian (leave out bacon grease for your vegetarians, of course!). 

Beat the eggs with the one cup of dairy mixture, whatever mix you end up choosing.  I really enjoy using 1/2 cup plain Greek Yogurt instead of the sour cream.  Cheeses may be added, and/or a few tablespoons of cottage cheese for flavor, but there are so many other cheesy egg dishes, I like to keep this one "un-cheesy" for variety and a less heavy option.  Pour the egg mixture into the baking dish on top of the vegetables.  Place the halved tomato slices pinwheel style and floating on top of the egg mixture.    Once baked, the tomato's will look very pretty this way!  Get creative with the design of your tomato's or other veggies you might use. 

Bake at 325 degrees for 35 to 45 minutes, until top is firm and golden brown.  Let cool for 5 to 10 minutes, cut into 6 pieces.  Enjoy!

We serve this dish at Oakland Cottage Bed and Breakfast quite often.  So you might enjoy this oven omelet if you stay with us!  Our reservation offices are open 9am to 7pm daily, 828 994 2627, or book directly online with us!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Valentine's Day Bed and Breakfast Package at Oakland Cottage Bed and Breakfast

From February 7th through February 17th, check out Asheville Valentine's Day lodging packages at Oakland Cottage Bed and Breakfast and beat the winter blues!  The Valentine's Day Package at our inn includes:

  • A two night stay at Oakland Cottage Bed and Breakfast for two guests
  • Breakfast each morning in the dining room (or served to your room, by request)
  • Two Biltmore Estate tickets, good for two consecutive days of entry to the house, access to the 8,000 acres of trails, grounds and gardens, Conservatory with Orchid and Palm collections, Winery, wine tasting and tour, Antler Hill Farm and Village
  • Bouquet of a dozen roses in your room for your arrival
Valentine's Day Package Costs:
  • King Bedrooms (Magnolia Suite #6 or Garden Room #5) - $380
  • Queen Suite (Dogwood Suite #3) - $350
  • Queen Bedrooms (Rose Room #7, Little Garden Room #4) - $340
  • Double Bedroom (Rose Room #8) - $330

Extra guests are welcome (although perhaps not quite so romantic!).  If you are traveling with an extra guest and/or pet, inquire about additional ticket and room fees.

Add 11% taxes to all totals.

AND/ OR Sign up to win a Valentine's Day Weekend Package (click here) at your bed and breakfast of choice!

In the middle of the cold of Winter, it's time for romance.  It's time to get-away.  It's time to eat amazing Asheville local food.  It's time to drink Asheville craft beer.  It's time to see the Biltmore Estate.  It's time to see a show.  It's time for Valentines Day weekend in Asheville, NC!

Valentine's Day Weekend in Asheville.  It's time to get out o the house and have some fun!  

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

January 21st through 27th, 2014 Asheville Restaurant Week, Warm up in Asheville this Winter!

Eat your way out of the winter blues!!! This coming week, from January 21st to 27th, 2014 will be Asheville Restaurant Week.  A GREAT WAY to pamper yourself and warm up with food, beverage and great company!  And all in the fabulous little town of Asheville, North Carolina.  The "farm to table" concept and practice is embraced by Asheville Restaurants, the local community as well as our beloved tourist community.  There's a reason the small town of Asheville has made the top ten list for food and wine destinations in the US.  We have over 250 independent restaurants, well over a dozen tailgate markets (maybe twice that), and of course, we can't forget the craft beer industry that just keeps on growing and growing.

Besides eating and drinking in the downtown area of Asheville, be sure and get out a bit to visit one or many of the small farms.  Explore the Asheville Cheese Trail of the area.  Check out the Asheville Ale Trail  and visit our breweries and tasting rooms.  Saturdays at 2pm, take the French Broad Chocolate Factory tour.  Hickory Nut Gap Farm is always a treat to visit.  Be sure and visit Asheville this upcoming week and enjoy food food food!  Not to mention the charm and atmosphere of our outlying farms.

For more information and ticket details regarding schedules and pricing for Asheville Restaurant Week, be sure and visit the website (click here).

And if you're looking for a place to stay, call Vacation In Asheville, Oakland Cottage Bed and Breakfast and Vacation Rentals in the Asheville Area, for your lodging needs, 9am to 7pm daily, 828 994 2627.  Oakland Cottage Bed and Breakfast is centrally located between the historic downtown Asheville, Biltmore Village and the Biltmore Estate, River Arts District and West Asheville areas.  Vacation Rentals are located throughout Buncombe county, all within 6 miles of Asheville City limits or closer.