Provisions for Your Great Escape!



I’m not sure if I was in my right mind when I let my two cousins convince me to spend a week with them in the cabin they rented in Blue Ridge last September. It started as friendly banter between us at the annual 4th of July family reunion. My Aunt asked me about my love life, and my cousins snickered. They accused me of being a workaholic. I assured them that was not the case. They asked me how much vacation time I had accrued at my job. I admitted to three weeks (It was actually 5). They challenged me to join them on their annual fall fishing trip, promised me the master bedroom, and said that if I’d agree to cook the fish they caught, they’d foot the bill for everything, all week. That included my choice of wines.

I contemplated.
I made them pinky swear to the wines of my choice.
My Aunt chided me when she kissed me goodbye that evening. “I look forward to hearing all about you great escape adventure”.

Happy friends travelling together by a car

Ten weeks later I was in the back seat of a jeep sans shock absorbers, my suitcase stuffed with ten books I had been collecting to read on the vacations I had never found time to take and my cast iron frying pan (because frying fresh trout in anything else would be a crime).

That evening when we arrived at Eagles Landing, all my trepidations about the “deliverance” experience were evaporated. This cabin was gorgeous. And true to their word, they dropped my bags in the upstairs master suite. I decided to explore the kitchen to see what might already be there to help me execute my “duties” in the next six days. I was impressed with the tools of the trade and took out my tablet to start to create my menu.

My cousins, Jake and Jeff are twins. My Aunt and her sister (my Mom) were pregnant at the same time. I was born a mere 34 hours after they were. At family reunions, we were referred to as the triplets. Growing up we lived just two blocks away from each other until we all left for college. Our families took summer trips together for as long as I can remember. Vacationing with these guys wasn’t going to be a new journey. In many ways, I was hoping it would be a rekindling of such joyful past adventures. While deciding on the culinary options, I knew what they’d eat, what they’d abhor, and what would make them gastronomically delirious.

The next morning I woke up to find the car keys on the counter and a credit card. The note from my cousins said their guide picked them up and I should feel free to take the jeep into town and shop for whatever was needed to keep us all well fed and hydrated.

I had done my internet research on possible provisions before our arrival. My first stop that morning: Out of the Blue. This is one of the finest gourmet shops I’ve ever had the pleasure of shopping, and now, on my cousin’s tab, I was going to indulge for all three of us.

Photo Courtesy of Out of the Blue

Sara, Out of the Blue’s founder, who travels all over the world to select wines from small producers, asked me my vin likes and dislikes. We also discussed my menu ideas for the next week. I settled on wines from three countries, craft beer for the boys from the region as well as from Europe, and a selection of cheeses that she packed on ice for me so I could continue on my shopping adventure. I left feeling accomplished and I also bid farewell with a promise to revisit before heading back to the city.

My next stops were Blue Ridge Olive Oil Co. and Tupelo Tea, two sister stores that abut one another. My morning rituals are always accompanied by at least one cup of freshly brewed tea so the first door I chose was Tupelo Tea. It was amazing; a “candy store” for tea drinkers. I browsed and sniffed and tasted. After having indulged in a cup of MOCHA NUT MATE, I left with pouches of PU-ERH HAZELBERRY and CHINA MILKY OOLONG, as well as a pump jar of honey. 

Photo Courtesy of Tupelo Tea

Next door, I found the Blue Ridge Olive Oil Co. to be more than irresistible. I wanted to taste-test every one of their 65+ olive oils and balsamic vinegar from around the world, but alas, the day was short and my palette overwhelmed. I had two salads and two appetizers on my menu that needed the right dressings. Two bottles of olive oil and two of balsamic seemed a bit excessive, but it was my cousins’ nickel. I added a small bottle of blood orange olive oil to the purchase and made a note that I was going to have to make a dessert with this that both of the guys would adore (recipe below).

Photo Courtesy of Blue Ridge Olive Oil Company

While downtown, I found my way over to Huck’s General Store. I nearly didn’t find my way back out of there. This is the kind of place that our parents would find on past summer trips, knowing that we kids would be occupied for at least an hour deciding on how we were going to spend the five dollars they gave each of us. Then we’d negotiate with each other for the rest of the trip, swapping pieces of candy and taking turns wearing the raccoon hat.  Even though the barrels of candy were overwhelmingly nostalgic, my adult tastes led me to the outstanding selection of rubs, sauces, jellies, pickles, and other canned delicacies. I took a long time deliberating before making my choices: pickled okra, habanero pickled garlic, and Huck’s sweet potato pecan butter. (recipes below).

Photo Courtesy of Huck’s General Store

Man (or in this case “men”) can not live on just fish alone, so it was off to find some scrumptious protein. I knew that easy grill meats were in order this week. These guys were going to want to just kick back with a beer (or 3) after trolling the fishline all day. I needed to keep it simple but succulent. I wanted a variety of sausages so my research took me to Margo’s Gourmet Polish Kitchen. Not only did I find a great selection of European weiners and sausages, but she also carried locally raised beef, pork. chicken and free-range eggs.

Photo Courtesy of Margo’s Bistro & Deli Polish Restaurant

Now it was time to take a lovely drive out to Mercier’s Orchard. Mercier’s started over 40 years ago as an apple orchard, but the second and third generations of the Mercier family have developed an amazing farm to table experience that draws visitors twelve months of the year, seven days a week, and from all over the world. I decided that I would have lunch in their café, and stuffed myself with a delicious salad and a fried peach pie. That gave me all the energy boost I needed to continue on my shopping throughout their huge market for the best of provisions.

Photo Courtesy of Mercier Orchard

Ladened with Mercier’s fresh produce, homemade cheese spreads, and a hefty selection of hard cider, I had just left myself enough time for my last stop of the day, Ingles Supermarket, Blue Ridge’s large grocery chain store. Trip Advisor reviews gave Ingle’s nearly 5 stars. It didn’t disappoint. I found all the rest of the staples on my list and made it home in time to sip a glass of fine wine while I read three chapters of my first vacation book before starting dinner.

The First Night’s Menu

Hordourves and Spirits

Snakebite Cocktail: Mix the following in a chilled mug: Six ounces of a dark German Guinness ale from Out of the Blue. A pinch of salt. A tablespoon of liquid from the jar of  Huck’s General Store pickled Okra. Stir.
Now pour six ounces of Mercier’s Sneaky Jack Hard Cider over the beer mixture. Serve with Huck’s Pickled Okra, (slit down the middle and scoop out the seeds)  stuffed with Mercier’s Pimento Cheese Spread. Shake a dash of Cayenne pepper over each filled okra.

Dinner

Garlic Mashed Potatoes: I cheated and bought Bob Evans family size at Ingles. You can’t tell the difference after I spiced them up with three minced cloves of habanero pickled garlic from Hucks and drizzled with Garlic Olive Oil from Blue Ridge Olive Oil.

Trout: What can one do to fresh trout besides adding a light dusting of flour, salt, and pepper then pan-fry in a hot cast-iron skillet and a large slab of Amish Butter? Well, I topped each filet with a tablespoon of Sweet Potato Pecan Butter from Huck’s General store. The guys devoured it all.

Vegetable: Steamed shredded red cabbage with a side of  Spice Apple Chutney from Mercier’s.

Dessert

Blood Orange Olive Oil Pound Cake

INGREDIENTS (Makes one 9 inch loaf)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, for the pan
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
3 large eggs
1 cup of sugar
1 cup of Blood Orange olive oil
1/2 cup whole milk
4 tablespoons brandy (or bourbon)
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
¼ cup of grenadine (maraschino cherry juice)
Frosting Ingredients:
¼ cup of sugar
¼ cup of orange juice

PREPARATION
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Butter a 9 × 5-inch loaf pan.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and 1 cup of the sugar. Whisk in the olive oil, milk, brandy, lemon zest, orange zest, and 1/4 cup of the orange juice. Add the dry ingredients and whisk to combine. The batter is wet. It’s okay.
Pour the batter into the loaf pan and bake for 1 hour 5 minutes to 1 hour 10 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the cake comes out clean. You will smell the cake when it is done. Remove the cake from the oven and let cool enough to handle, then flip over onto a rack to cool thoroughly.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup sugar and 1/4 cup orange juice. Turn the cake right side up. Using a pastry brush, brush the glaze all over the cake. Allow the glaze to harden some before serving.

Not a cook? Call the Chef!

Local area professional chefs will come to your cabin, prepare an incredible meal suited to your tastes and dietary needs, and the best part is they clean up all the mess! We recommend you consider one of these amazing options (listed alphabetically because we love all 3!):

Blue Duck Eats

Photo Courtesy of Blue Duck Eats

Steven Lash is a veteran of the the restaurant world having worked in some of the top kitchens in Atlanta for over 15 years. Steven’s food is best described as “inspired American cuisine” combining fine dining with local influence inspired by his extensive travel, passion for the outdoors, and hunger for understanding cultures.

Chef Jeff Servin

Photo Courtesy of Chef Jeff Servin

With over 15 years of restaurant experience, this 33 year old Executive Chef takes pride in sourcing his produce from local farmers, and bringing the best quality to the table for every plate he delivers, so you know it’s fresh!

Trey Griffith, cheftreygourmet

Photo Courtesy of Trey Griffith, cheftreygourmet

Using the freshest, often locally sourced ingredients, Chef Trey will create an imaginative menu for your family or friends, all in your kitchen. Giving consideration to food allergies or dietary restrictions is something he takes into account when writing the menus.

Conferring with Cupid



I’m often referred to as the “ Santa Claus for Lovers”. I have a little bit of a problem with that. See, the big guy gets to wear a full suit, hat, gloves, boots, and the whole bit on December 25th. I get to fly around, shooting arrows to connect the hearts of couples, which isn’t a bad gig if I didn’t have to perform it wearing barely a loincloth, my chubby body exposed to the elements, in the second week of February. 

This is one of the reasons I’m going to encourage you to cuddle up around the fire in your cabin on Valentine’s weekend.  Yes, the big day falls on a Friday this year, so you and the person you love most in this world get to spend the whole weekend together. And if you’ve chosen to be here in one of the comfy, cozy and romantic cabins in Blue Ridge, you’ve already set the tone for a weekend to remember. So, get the checklist ready.

Majestic Peace Cabin

Plenty of firewood.  Check.

Now we need something intoxicating. That could be wine. Out Of The Blue has you covered. They have an extraordinary selection of the finest wines, beers, and artisan cheeses from around the world. Chocolates are also intoxicating. Try the delectable hand-dipped chocolates at Chocolate Express. They are sure to win any heart. 

Photo Courtesy of Out of the Blue

Intoxicating. Check.

Let’s face it. You aren’t the only romantic out there. It’s a busy weekend and though spontaneity is great in the boudoir, some of the other activities just might need reservations.  I’m going to suggest you make arrangements with a private chef to have that quixotic feast for two, right there at your cabin. Chef Trey Griffith or Chef Jeff Servin can serve up a luscious feast, but they need fair warning. There are also very intimate dining experiences even in public eateries. The porch at The Black Sheep, with it’s towering flame heaters, is a place I’ve noticed lovers getting very starry-eyed over a plate of cold water select oysters.

Photo Courtesy of Chef Trey Griffith

Nourishment. Check

It has been my experience  (my parents are Mars and Venus, so I’ve been around the block a few times) that occasionally destressing from the cacophony of everyday life needs an assist. A Salt Cave Couples Massage at Serenity In the Mountains is an experience neither of you will soon forget. And it might just be your favorite activity away from home, ever. There’s also an opportunity to engage in public intoxication without being unlawful. Imagine indulging in wine with chocolates that have been paired by the connoisseurs at The Vine Wine Bar on Main St. in Blue Ridge.  This only happens on Friday evenings, so call for your reservations quickly. 

Photo Courtesy of Serenity in the Mountains

Destressing mode.  Check

Now. Maybe you’ve been together a very long time, like most of your adult life, and there needs to be more than a spark added to your relationship. You need an eight-cylinder rev to throw complacency out of neutral and into drive. That usually means you need to find a way to depend on one another again. Be a team. Find a new challenge. Like maybe drive a military tank together. 

No, seriously. 

And, why just drive a tank when you can crush a car with one? Get your heart pumping with 25+ minutes of driving excitement which starts with Tank Town USA’s exciting tank driving course and finishes with smashing a car. Yes, they have a couple’s package.  And if that’s a little over the top, you could be locked in a room together for one hour, with only clues as to how to escape. Sound like fun? Make your reservation with Escape Blue Ridge and see if the two of you can figure out how to outfox your captures.

Photo courtesy of Heather Drones

Team challenge mode. Check

If the two of you love these mountains, almost as much as you love each other, why not merge the two and enlist a professional photographer to help? The professional shutterbugs at ZoLu Photography know these landscapes well. They will take you to beautiful places to capture your love in natural light, to be viewed for many years to come. 

Photo Courtesy of ZoLu Photography

Photo memories.  Check

Before I mention the Hot Tub stuff, let’s be sure to talk about the one big event that takes these mountains by storm every February, that happens to fall on Valentine’s Weekend this year!  It’s the 10th Annual Fire & Ice Chili Cook-Off being held Saturday, February 15 from 11:00 am – 5:00 pm, in downtown Blue Ridge. The cook-off will happen come rain, snow or shine. You’ll enjoy live music, ice sculptures and amazing chili. You can purchase a $10 Tasting Card to sample the competition and vote for the People™s Choice Award. There will also be live entertainment from the Blue Ridge Community Theater actors. You’ll love strolling through an amazing display of individual and unique ice sculptures from the award-winning, National Ice Carving Champion Rock on Ice including several ice carving demonstrations. 

Photo Courtesy of the Fire & Ice Chili Cook Off

Fire and Ice Festival. Check.

Now let’s talk about the hot tub. Well…..

No, I think you already know enough about the hot tub.

The Overlook Cabin

Hot tub. Check.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Spa-cial Mountain Treatment



When you visit a new area, don’t you wonder where the “locals” choose to eat, shop and play? After all, they have the benefit of experience and “word of mouth” before they spend their hard earned dollars. If you are vacationing with us here in the North Georgia Mountains, and you want to know where the “locals” go to be pampered, we’ve already scoped it out for you. Today we shine the spotlight on Serenity in the Mountains.

Himalayan Salt Cave

If after a few days here you need a great change of pace to all the outdoor activities you’ve indulged, then may we suggest a session in Serenity’s Himalayan Salt Cave. During your 45 minute session, you can relax in one of the zero-gravity chairs, lay back and take a nap, or sit and enjoy the soft music and stress-free environment while benefiting from the Cave’s healing salt atmosphere. Serenity’s Cave was built by hand with pure Himalayan salt boulders, rocks, bricks and sand.

Spa Services

If you are looking for a new hair style, a total manicure and pedicure, body scrub or a special facial treatment/peel, you will find an amazing staff of creative and accomplished cosmeticians, estheticians and stylists, the caliber you would only expect to find in a metropolitan area.

Hey Fellas

Gentlemen, pay attention. Spas are not just for women. We know that you have bought countless numbers of pampering gift certificates for your Mom, wife and daughters over the years. And when you walk in to purchase it and you feel like a fish out of water, swiping your credit card on high speed just to get out of the girlie palace. Trust us. You won’t feel that way at Serenity in the Mountains’ Gentleman Spa. Serenity offers a gentlemen’s locker room with steam and sauna as well as a relaxation area.  While almost all of the spa treatments are personalized, they are tailored for their male clientele, including facials, manicures, hair styles and hair colors.

Ladies, maybe it’s time to treat your man to an awesome experience he won’t soon forget. Serenity has a treehouse massage room. Yes, built very high in the clouds, this childhood fantasy style treehouse is equipped with the finest equipment and therapists.

Massage

One of the most popular services vacationers take advantage of at Serenity in the Mountains is the Couples Massage. With cozy, heated tables, in beautifully appointed private rooms, two therapists will give you the massage style you each prefer. Then afterwards, you both can relax alone in front of the fireplace, making this a total romantic experience.

If you are looking for a fun indulgence for your bridal party or best friend weekend, then look no further. Serenity’s staff wants to help you create the perfect memory. They will help you craft the ideal signature spa experience. And be sure to let them know that you want ample time to enjoy the sauna and steam rooms.

5 Stars

The reviews are all five star, with lots of mentions of “warm cozy atmosphere”, “friendly professional staff”, and “reasonable prices” as the most commented remarks. Many note that just arriving in the rustic relaxation lounge with its comfortable chaises and leather sofas is a charming experience, and we can whole-heartedly vouch for that!

Serenity in the Mountains makes it easy to book an appointment online or you can call them at 706-258-2244. We recommend that you book early. This is one very popular pampering destination! Their services are offered Monday and Tuesday from 9am-5pm and Wednesday – Saturday from 9am to 7pm. They are closed on Sundays, but if you are here during the week, be sure to ask about the mid-week specials.

We humans are very much like diamonds. We are created through the pressures of our lives, and very much like these precious stones, we can be massaged, buffed and polished to our full beauty. You came to the mountains to relax and renew. Let Serenity in the Mountains pamper you to a new brilliance. Don’t be surprised when this spa experience becomes one of your fondest vacation memories!

Calgon, Take Me to the Mountains…What Moms Really Want



What Mom really wants for Mother’s Day might surprise you. It rarely has to do with those lovely wrapped little boxes from the jewelry store. And it has less to do with gift certificates to get body maintenance done, like massages and manicures.

It was 50 years ago that this iconic ad first ran. “Calgon, take me away”.  It still epitomizes what every Mom wants and needs – time away from the daily grind, if even for just time for a private, quiet bath. So, this Mother’s Day we think we can help you with giving Mom that Calgon moment she’ll remember for many years to come.

Mom with Little Ones

Daddy Daycare!

Mom is rising close to noon and not hearing a peep. As she clears the cobwebs from her sleep, she realizes that she woke in the cabin they came to last night. Oh, the bed felt so luxurious, and somehow, she was the only one in it. Next to the bed is a note from hubby. “The kids and I are gone for the day. White wine in the fridge with brie, apple, and crackers. The hot tub is waiting for you. Don’t forget your book at the bottom of the suitcase.  We’ll see you at 6. Bringing dinner with us. Relax and enjoy the solitude.  You deserve this. You’re the best Mom in the world. We love you.”  She looks out over the magnificent view of the mountains from her bedroom window. This is the best gift I could ever imagine, she thought. Six hours later the gang rolls in, running into her arms to tell her all about their visit to Lilly Pad Village, where they gem mined and went trout fishing.  After a great boxed dinner from Blue Ridge Mountain BBQ was consumed, they all packed up to head to the Swan Drive-in Theater for a nostalgic experience watching the 21st-century Avengers on the outdoor screen. (Did you know that you can choose from 177 of our properties that have at least two bedrooms and a hot tub?)

Mom with Teen-agers

Growing up too fast!

Mom marvels at how they are growing and maturing. She realizes that in just a few short years they will be leaving the nest. She wants to make these times away to the mountains something special for them all to remember.  They all agree that ziplining had been on their bucket list. But first, while the day was still cool, they’d challenge themselves to trek on the swinging bridge across the Toccoa River.  After an afternoon of adventure, they pull up to the Rum Cake Lady’s outdoor dining. Mom loves Cuban food, and they sit at the picnic tables all sharing their menu picks, joyful and tired. When they get back to the cabin, the fire pit is lit, the oldest son brings out his guitar, the youngest starts to make S’mores. Mom gazes at her family in the glow of the fire and wonders how she got to be the luckiest Mom in the whole world. (Thirty-eight of our rentals have either fire pits or outdoor fireplaces. Which one would your family choose?)

Mom with Grown Daughter

No matter how old you are, you’ll always be my baby.

Every Mom feels the same way once their chicks have grown and flown the coop. They yearn for one on one time with them again. When her daughter texts her to ask if she’d like to spend the weekend with her in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Mom searches to find an emoji that can express her excitement. She ends up sending 10 happy faces, and the words, “yes, yes, YES!”.  Saturday it’s a quick, trouble free keyless entry into their little lakefront cabin and off to the Himalayan Salt Caves for a 45-minute session of pure bliss, relaxing in zero gravity chairs, listening to soft music in a stress-free environment.  After, they head into downtown Blue Ridge and make a stop at Blue Ridge Booksellers. As different as they can be in many respects, Mom and daughter share a love for vintage bookstores. With just enough time, they make their reservation at Harvest on Main for a relaxing evening of fine dining. Back to the cottage, another glass of wine to top off the evening and a wonderful heart to heart chat on the porch overlooking the moonlit lake. They sleep in late, pack up their things, close the door behind them and take a lovely drive out to Mercier’s Orchards for brunch and then to pick strawberries together, a memory they share from a Mother’s Day trip 20 years before. Now, they head home and banter back in forth as to whether it’s biscuits or pound cake that will host these sweet, juicy berries.

We think everyday should be Mother’s Day! Thank you to all the wonderful Moms who celebrate their families with us throughout the year. We hope your Mother’s Day is a Calgon day for you!