The Beauty of a Ballgame

I love baseball. I don’t really know why. I don’t follow it closely. I don’t know the names of all the teams, much less all the players. I don’t even know all the rules and ins and outs of it. But I LOVE going to a game. I sometimes like watching it on television, but never more than in October. I even like listening to Braves games on the radio in the car, but that’s another story for another day.

I love that things like this happen at a baseball game. I love how it feels on Memorial Day and Independence Day when they bring out a ginormous American flag that covers almost the entire field. It makes me cry every single time. I love the respect that is shown to my country and to its heroes. I love baseball.

I love that so many memories with this man are tied up in baseball. “Hey! We have kids here. Clean up your mouths!” “Did she just barf?!?” “Knock a homer, Chpper!” “I think we are in the old people section. Again.” “Can we borrow some sunscreen?” “That is one happy and agile old usher.” “Let’s try staggering the grandkids between us.” “Hey. The Wrigley Field usher just gave me a Reds baseball card!” “Beer.” (I suppose you don’t have to be too enthused when selling certain products at a game as they tend to sell themselves.) But I think my favorites are the trips to watch the Cubs on the 4th of July. Again, another story for another day.

Attending a Cubs v. Braves game at Suntrust Field brings up so many conflicting feelings.

First, there’s the teams. Here’s the thing. I’m first a Braves fan. Second a Cubs fan. Third a fan of whichever team is playing against the Cubs on the 4th of July. I was worried at this May Braves home game that I wouldn’t know who to cheer for, but throughout the game it was clear that the Braves will always be my favorite team. Conflict resolved.

Second, while I love going to Braves games, I go begrudgingly to Suntrust Park. The deal that was struck to get that ballpark built where it was built still stinks, and there just isn’t enough about the park to love in order to squelch the stench. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad ballpark, but it’s not great either. Unless you’re loaded. In which case it’s a great park with tons of perks. But that’s not what baseball is about. That’s what Cobb County is about. Conflict definitely not resolved.

Back to happy thoughts. I love food. I love food at a baseball game. Especially hot dogs. With lots of mustard. Or Italian beef sandwiches at Wrigley. But just say no to the nachos. And does any ballpark anywhere sell boiled peanuts as well as roasted?!? I mean we have a Waffle House and Chikfila at Suntrust, so why not boiled peanuts?!? Popcorn is always good, but really, too expensive considering you can bring some from home. I almost made my own, but this tempted me at the store before the game, so I grabbed a bag. Pretty good, but seriously, nothing tops fresh Garrett’s.

The moral of the story? There is none. Just that to me, a night at the ballgame is beautiful.

Pickled

About a year ago my husband and I discovered shrubs- a.k.a. drinking vinegar. Shrubs are often used in mixed alcoholic drinks, but we like to mix them with seltzer water. Jeff makes his way to the kitchen every evening about an hour before bed and concocts our evening soft drink.

There’s been a lot of chatter about the benefits of having a dose or so of vinegar every day. There’s discussions on what kind of vinegar, how much is a dose, and just what exactly are the benefits of swigging something that tastes that bad?

I don’t have all the answers. All I know is that we like it. We’ve found a way to drink it that is actually enjoyable. And we have seen benefits, the most pronounced being a lot less acid reflux in the night, and that alone is enough of a reason to keep going.

We first learned of shrubs when I found McClary Bros Old Timey Drinking Vinegars at Your Dekalb Farmers Market. They were pricey, but considering that the only other beverage we normally drink besides water is ginger ale, our budget had room to give it a try. We tried every flavor, and really loved the Michigan Apple Pie flavor the best. We even took it with us when we traveled.

This went on for several months, then suddenly I noticed that the quantity on the shelf at the market was getting smaller and smaller until it went out of stock. I checked into ordering it online, but the price doubled, and that was unacceptable. About this same time, I saw someone post about making their own shrubs, and I was intrigued. I tried to replicate the apple pie flavor, but it just wasn’t working. Then I read about making berry shrubs, and that opened a new window.

As many already know, Braggs has been considered the top dog in the healthy vinegar world, and I started out using it as my base for the shrubs. But, as many also already know, it’s also very expensive. So, I was pretty excited to find that White House has jumped on the organic, raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar bandwagon, and it’s considerably cheaper than its Braggs counterpart.

The berry shrubs recipes I found online had a huge amount of sugar in them, which is a part of what it means to make shrubs, but I was deterred by the volume of it. I have not cut sugar completely out of my life, (hello, donuts), but I do look for ways to cut back on it.

So, here’s my recipe, and even the hubs who doesn’t believe in cutting back on sugar ever, likes it!

Berry Shrubs (makes about 1 1/2 gallons)

  • 16 cups cut/whole berries
  • 8 cups sugar
  • 16 cups raw organic unfiltered apple cider vinegar

Clean, cut and prepare fresh fruit. The fresher, the better!

Sugar the berries in a large bowl. This quantity requires a really big bowl! Leave in the fridge for about 24 hours to allow the berries to sweat.

Add the vinegar to the sugared berries. Put back into the fridge for another 24 hours.

Remove the fruit from the mixture. I freeze this fruit and use it in my morning protein shake. Definitely adds some spark to my morning as those berries hold onto the vinegar!

Pour vinegar into containers (I literally reused the gallon bottles the apple cider vinegar came in). Leave in the fridge for several more days- about a week- to allow the sugar to completely dissolve.

When ready to serve, just pour about 1/2″ of vinegar into a juice glass, then fill the rest of the way with seltzer water. Obviously one can play around with the combo to get the taste you like, but this is how we do it. Or at least I think so, since Jeffrey is the mixologist at our house!

Enjoy!

Pay for it now, or pay for it later.

It seems we live in a world of borrowing on the future. We borrow money from our future selves in the form of financial debt. We borrow time from our future selves in the form of procrastination. We even borrow health from our future selves in the form of instant gratification.

I should know. I’m guilty of all three.

While I’ll never be ultra responsible in any of those areas, I can work on being a little better. I’m okay with who I am, but I also believe in self-discipline and development. Progress is the name of the game.

So recently I decided to get on the Whole 30 bandwagon for a few weeks. Here’s what I found out. You have to be rich to eat healthy.

This jar of almond butter was almost $8. Are you kidding me?!? And do you know how much almond butter is involved in eating healthy? Apparently tons of it. Like a small fortune’s worth.

I was so floored by the cost of this stuff that I started looking more seriously at recipes and wondering if I really could do it myself. I was skeptical as it seemed too easy, but maybe Pinterest and Google wouldn’t let me down?

And what about cost effectiveness? It turns out that a 3 lb bag of almonds at my local Sam’s club runs about $13, which would make a whole lot more almond butter than what was in that 12 oz jar.

I wasn’t ready to invest. I wasn’t sold. So, I looked in my pantry and low and behold I had a bag of raw cashews. Cashew butter is a thing, isn’t it? Not sure if it’s very healthy, but that wasn’t really the goal here. More like an experiment of sorts.

Sure enough, it is. Lots of recipes available, and really very simple.

Phase 1- toast the cashews! 375 degrees for five minutes. I was curious what they’d be like roasted a little longer, so I turned off the oven and left them in for a little longer.

Phase 2- blend the cashews! I got no photos of this in action as I was too enamored with the process to stop for pics. At first I thought it wasn’t working because it looked like coarse flour. Then, following the recipe (loosely), I added 1 1/2 tablespoons of coconut oil and a bit of salt- neither of which are very healthy or needful, but I care not. Suddenly cashew butter started forming in the bottom of the blender, and sure enough in just a couple of minutes I had a blender full of nut butter.

Phase 3- eat the cashew butter! I wasn’t sure about all of this in the beginning, but it really did turn out delightful. I then immediately used some to make this chocolate banana fudgy kind of stuff that was also delightful. But I’ll save that one for another post.

As for having to be rich to eat healthy, it may be more true in this day and age that you have to be rich to survive being sick. And to avoid being sick, you have to invest in eating healthy. But that investment doesn’t have to be made with a lot of cash. Maybe just a little, mixed with time. As I always say, it just depends on your resources. If you are going to spend it, spend what you have more of.

Sugar Sand?

Recently the hubs and I had the chance to get away for our own version of spring break and went on a jaunt down to Clearwater Beach, FL. We stayed at the Wyndham Grand right down on the beach- perfect view, accommodations, and weather.

We arrived on a Monday, right after the Pier 60 Sugar Sand Festival ended. While it would have been fun to see the sand sculptures, to be honest we were glad that the crowds were light.

It was a quick trip, but a much needed break for Jeff. We really just relaxed, ate too much, and got a bit of vitamin D. It was just right.

During our travels he keeps his eye out for auto repair shops, and I check GPS for quilt stores and donut shops. On this trip we stopped in at Rainbow’s End Quilt Shop for a quick look around, and on the last day we went to a donut shop I had spotted earlier in the week.

Admittedly, I had my doubts about this place. I mean, how good does a donut shop at the beach actually have to be to be successful? There’s an ice cream shop on every corner in Clearwater Beach, and every restaurant has the best grouper sandwich in town, but as far as I could see, there was only one donut shop.

As soon as we walked in the door, I knew this was not your average donut shop. There were no donuts. That’s right. Not a single one.

This place makes your donuts right in front of your face. No need to watch for the “hot donuts now” sign. And thank goodness because these are fabulous cake donuts, not the ultra sugary stuff from Krispy Kreme. And if you don’t know, I do NOT like KK. But I digress.

After a somewhat confusing order form involving a wide selection of donuts, icings and toppings, we watched as our donuts were fried and dressed to our liking. We got plain donuts, but prepared differently. Chocolate with sea salt, lemon with coconut, and lemon glaze.

One bite and that was it. Light crisp on the outside. Warm squishy cake on the inside. And hello. Lemon glaze that is actually lemon and not pretend lemon?!? Yes, please!!! How about the chocolate and sea salt? Jeff thought he only wanted a lemon glaze, but one bite of the chocolate sea salt and he ended up eating half of it. But only because that’s all I would give him.

Clearwater Beach- you have lovely palm trees, tasty grouper sandwiches, and beautiful white, sugar sand beaches, but I love you for your donuts. That’s my kind of sugar.

Keeping the doctor away.

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I learned how to do some home canning several years ago when I lived in south Georgia and had access to what is, I suppose, the breadbasket of the state.  There were a plethora of you-pick farms within a 30 minute drive of where we lived, and I spent the summers that we lived there knee-deep in produce.

Canning, or bottling if you live in the western US, is not something that I grew up doing.  My first experience with it was as a young Army wife stationed at Ft. Lewis near Tacoma, Washington.  I had four small kids in tow, and not a lot of budget, but a whole lot of a sense of adventure.  I had always loved blackberries and remembered picking them with my mom in Georgia when I was young, but the blackberries I saw in Washington were about three times the size of the ones I remembered, and were not only delightful, but incredibly prolific.  They grew wild everywhere, and it made me nuts to think of all that fabulous fruit going to waste.  So, I learned how to make blackberry jam.  By the time we moved from Washington to south Georgia, I had been bitten hard, and I wanted to can just about any fresh produce I could get my hot little hands on.

But these days I’ve learned that our family doesn’t really eat jams or jellies, so it’s not worth the time and money to make them. Pickles are more difficult to get right than one would think, so we just eat all the cucumbers out of our garden.  Freezing things like beans and peas is just as good as canning, and really much easier.  However, I am a stickler for bottled tomatoes, peaches and apples.  I am really picky about how ripe the tomatoes and peaches are when they are picked for canning, and it makes a big difference in the final product.

I’m also particular about apples, but it has less to do with ripeness and more to do with variety.  I like variety.  I like how mixing different types of apples gives even applesauce a little bit of complexity.  The funny part about buying apples in Georgia is that at the time we moved to Washington, I really didn’t know that there were apple farms in Georgia.  In fact, I was really excited to take the kids to show them where all their apples came from in the grocery store.  Of course, I didn’t realize that the apple orchards were quite a trip east from Tacoma, and we never did get to go and see them.  But, as they say, all’s well that ends well.

This year I wanted to do a little shopping to see what the price difference really was between buying at the local markets and driving up to north Georgia to the apple houses.  In the photo on the left above with the red apples, you see what a box of Zestar apples from Your Dekalb Farmers Market looks like.  They cost $46, and are from Minnesota.  They are also absolutely delightful, and might be my favorite.  The apples on the right with the mix of red and green are from some of the north Georgia apple houses.  There is a mix of Arkansas Black, Pippin and Braeburn.  Of these, I like Arkansas Black the best to eat raw.  But the Pippin is a nice, firm, tart apple, and is good for baking.  The Braeburn is a smaller, softer, sweeter apple, and adds nice balance to the mix.  The basket on the right cost about $17, and is probably about 1/2 to 2/3 the number of apples on the left.  At the apple houses in fall of 2017, the apples ran about $6 per 1/2 peck, $11 per peck, and $17 per half bushel.

I generally preserve apples just two ways.  One is to bottle pie apples using a recipe in the Heritage Cookbook, which is a community cookbook my sister-in-law gave me about 11 years ago.  It’s a fat little thing full of input from residents of Parowan, Utah, and the recipe for Apple Pie Filling is the one Judy used for the apples that grew on their property in Parowan, and the one two of my stepdaughters helped her to bottle.

I have plenty of pie apples on hand from past years, so this year I bottled just enough to send some to each of our kids as part of a November care package.  Conveniently, there are 7 kids, the recipe worked for 7 jars, and the canner fit 7 jars in a single swoop.  Done.

Apple Pie Filling

  • 4 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup corn starch
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 10 cups water

Mix together dry ingredients in large cooking pot and add 10 cups of water; cook and stir until thick and bubbly.  Slice tart apples and pack into quart jars.  Leave 1 inch head space.  Fill jars with hot syrup.  Process in water bath 30 minutes.

Other fruits and berries can be used in like manner, but when using peaches, add 1/4 cup more cornstarch.

The other thing I do with apples is to make unsweetened applesauce.  In past years I have made a lot of different kinds of applesauce and have tried lots of recipes.  However, I find that I like to preserve food as plainly as possible so that I have more options down the road.  If I want cinnamon applesauce, I can for sure add cinnamon to it after it’s been made.  Heat it up on the stove even.  But once it’s in there, it’s in there, and you got what you got.  Plain, unsweetened applesauce is a reasonable snack, is easy to dress up, and can sometimes act as a replacement for oil or eggs in baking recipes.

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I set things up pretty much the same every time I bottle something.  Some of the tools are different based on the produce, but basically, the kitchen always looks the same.  In the fall I don’t mind working a little later in the day, but in the summer, I’m usually at work canning by about 6:30 am before it gets very warm.

I know, there are lots of cool gadgets out there for peeling and coring apples, but for some reason, I still prefer to just use a simple vegetable peeler and an apple cutter.  Half of the time I don’t use the cutter- I just cut the apples in quarters, set them on a flat side and slice out the core of each quarter.  I also make sure I have some form or another of citric acid on hand to help keep the applesauce from turning brown too quickly.  As far as I know, turning brown doesn’t have a huge affect taste or nutrition, but it just doesn’t look very appetizing.

The beauty of making applesauce is the ease of the process.  Really, all I do is peel, cut, drop in a large cooking pot, and mix in some citric acid.  When my pot is almost full of apples, I add about 2 -3 cups of water and set them to boil.  It is important to watch them and stir them often for a couple of reasons.  One is they have a tendency sometimes to boil out of the top of the pot.  The other is they can burn on the bottom while the ones on the top haven’t even softened up yet.  Once I can see that they have started to boil, I turn them down to medium heat and cover, still stirring often, until the apples soften and simply begin to break down into applesauce.  I am happy with it at this point, but it is also possible to put them through a food mill for an even smoother product.

I like to bottle applesauce in single serving sizes, and it’s how I use up all those jelly jars that I don’t use for jelly anymore.  They stack very differently in the canner than their older cousins the pint and quart jars, so I have to make sure that when they are submerged in the water bath that the water covers the jars completely.  Also, while you can’t see it in the photo, the jar I am holding in my hand is chipped along the lower rim.  It went straight to the recycling bin as that one chip could cut someone pretty badly, and even if it didn’t, I worry that the chip could affect the integrity of the jar.

When my kids were younger, I used to make Red Hot Applesauce.  We would get Red Hot candies at the store, put a few in the bottom of the jar, then fill it with applesauce and process in the water bath.  The candies would melt up into the applesauce, and it had kind of a cool effect.  Plus, it added just a little something to an afternoon snack.  I tried to find Red Hots this year, just for nostalgia, but all I could find were Hot Tamales.  I figured they would probably work, and it was worth the try.

It worked exactly as I remembered.  Now I am all stocked up on applesauce for the season, and gratefully so.  If you would like to try to bottle your own applesauce, be sure to check out guides from places such as your local extension office, or booklets such as the Ball Blue Book of Canning.  The Ball Blue Book is where I started my canning journey, and I feel confident it will help you along the way, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Balance is the goal. The goal is balance.

I recently posted about some of the physical changes I have been making in my life, and I’ve been asked specifics on what program I am using and the like.  So I thought I would just share a little bit about what I have been doing and how it has helped me.

The biggest problem I have is that I have never really exercised in any meaningful way.  This means that I have terrible balance and coordination, not to mention a complete lack of strength.  That made the gym and any group exercise completely out of the question as I had no intention of falling down in front of people, or allowing anyone to see me stand there awkwardly while I tried to process how exactly the instructor was moving in three different directions at once.

I expressed my concerns in a group of friends that happened to include Becky Collins, a fellow quilter who has often supported fellow quilters in  their quest for fitness.  She started the #sweatnsew group on Instagram, and you can learn more about it by clicking here.  She listened to my concerns and recommended that I talk with Brandy Martin, a Beachbody coach.

I chatted with Brandy and we determined what would be a good program for me to start with.  I committed to Beachbody on Demand so that I could stream the workouts from my devices.  I started the 21 Day Fix program which includes a series of daily 30 minute workouts and a nutritional plan.  The nutritional plan teaches about portion control and balance, and includes a protein shake made by Beachbody called Shakeology.  There are a lot of Beachbody peeps out there, so this probably isn’t news to you, but it was totally news to me.

The 21DF workouts are low impact, have lots of breaks, and walk through each move in such a way that it’s not hard to follow what the instructor is saying to do.  The first few weeks I pretty much cried every time I tried to stand from a seated position.  I dreaded going to the bathroom.  I got through the workouts with modifications, and my body was screaming.  I did the same workouts week after week for months.  The workouts are still tough, and still make me sore, but now it’s because I have learned how to make my body push a little harder when the moves get too easy.  And I really like being sore.  It means I worked hard, and I feel like I’ve accomplished something.

Nutrition wasn’t a whole new world for me.  I love food.  All food.  Good food.  Bad food.  All food.  I wasn’t a stranger to things like kale and quinoa.  I like hummus and beans and avocados.  I also like chili dogs from the Varsity and a double patty melt from Freddy’s.  And let’s not get started on the donuts.

My real problem when it came to nutrition was portion control and knowing more about what I was eating.  Understanding that food is fuel.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love me some food.  And I still eat donuts and chocolate and a serving of fried zucchini at Brad’s Food Hut, but just not as often or as much.  I might order a sandwich, but skip the soda and the fries.

So what do I eat on a typical day?  I decided to document one day’s worth of food and be totally honest about everything I ate in that day.  So here goes…

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After my workout I make my Shakeology shake.  Currently I have been doing a recipe of Vegan Vanilla Shakeology, water, frozen banana, pureed pumpkin, frozen kale, PBFit, and pumpkin pie spice.  Years ago I used to puree my own pumpkin, but it is so much work to do and I find that the canned pumpkin is just as good.

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I have apples and peanut butter almost every day, but especially this time of year when there are so many varieties of apple available.  I have found that Smucker’s Natural peanut butter is my favorite commercial peanut butter.  There are a lot of natural peanut butters out there that are still loaded with sugar.  This one is just peanuts and salt.  I also like that the jar is glass and reusable with a full screw-on lid.  I can also get freshly ground natural peanut butter at Your Dekalb Farmer’s Market, but for some reason I just stick to this instead.  I think it’s because I like the jars.

Looking at this now makes me think that either this was too small of a serving, or this photo is deceiving.  I usually eat a bit more than what it looks like in this pic for a midday meal.  On this day I had a Mexican chicken with quinoa, brown rice, collard greens and cheese.  The Mexican chicken is just chicken breast, a can of Rotel tomatoes, taco seasoning and black beans prepared in the crockpot.  (I think it’s a variation on a recipe that usually also has cream cheese in it.  I just leave that part off.)  It is something that I make for dinner and have plenty of leftovers for a couple of lunches.

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Now a lot of people will look at this puny piece of chocolate and just laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh.  I get it.  But eating one small piece of chocolate is actually not a trigger for me.  It usually just quiets the craving for something sweet, and I can move on.  However, put a warm, soft piece of white bread in front of me and it’s game over, my friend.  There is no such thing as just one dinner roll in my world.  I’m learning a lot about what my triggers are.

 

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Dinner on this night was a huge plate of salad topped with salmon and kalamata olives.  I used lime and salt and pepper to season it, and had cottage cheese and berries on the side.  The salmon was leftover from another meal, and it was perfect served cold.  As a note, I know I still use way too much salt for some people.  All I can say is that I use less now than I used to, and my focus is not on salt right now.  It may be later down the road, but it isn’t right now.

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I know, I know.  Twice in one day.  But I said I was going to be honest, so here’s to honesty!  I was up late that night as my husband was out of town and I was having a bit of a sewing party.  Could I have made a better choice?  Of course.  But I don’t feel the least bit bad about the choice I did make.

For me the key has been just to think a little more before I eat.  Even before I begin my day.  Or my week.  What do I need to buy at the grocery so that I have better choices on hand?  What do I need to take with me in my travels today so that I am not stuck with only less than desirable choices?  And how do I maintain balance?  It is totally okay to have a donut.  It is totally okay to eat a piece of chocolate.  It is also totally okay to choose to fuel my body with protein and fruits and vegetables.  And to give my body a chance to prove that it can do hard things by working out regularly.  Do I workout every day?  Nope.  But most days.  The goal is 6 days a week, but I am cool with 5.  Not less than 30 minutes, and not more than an hour.  And if I miss some while traveling that’s okay too, because I will go home and get going again.

Balance is the goal.  The goal is balance.

A Few of My Favorite Things

This year has been an interesting one for me.  Let’s just say that 2017 has presented me with lots of opportunities for growth.  Don’t get me wrong, I have a wonderful life, and I am very grateful for every aspect of it, both the chuckles and the challenges.  But I have found myself as this year is beginning to come to a close taking time for a lot of personal inventory.  Asking myself questions like, “What am I supposed to do now?”  And hearing myself say things like, “Well, that didn’t go the way I thought it would.”  Midlife crisis?  I dunno.  Maybe.  I think I thought I was too young for that, and that really that only happened to men, but of course neither of those statements are true.  We all have to reevaluate ourselves from time to time if we have any hope of making any real progress in life.

So, for the last week or so I have kind of put the breaks on a lot of things in my life.  Not permanently, but just long enough for me to slow down and think more clearly.  But just because I said, “Whoa, Nellie” on certain aspects of my life did not mean that the blows quit coming.  A client who will not forgive me.  Difficulty and hurt in a relationship in my family.  Watching someone I care about struggle, and knowing there is nothing I can do.  Making another really big, really embarrassing mistake.  And then there was the trip to Utah.

That I am not on.

When this trip was scheduled, I was anticipating having a very different list of things on my plate, and I knew that I really couldn’t take the time to go out west with my husband for a long weekend and camping and hunting trip with the family.  A few weeks ago it became obvious that things were changing and that I really did have time to go, but I also knew that plane tickets are pricy, and we really do plan those kinds of things pretty far in advance in order to keep our costs as low as possible.  It was just too late.

Dropping Jeff and a friend off at the airport was feeling a lot like salt being rubbed into the wound that has been 2017, but I am pretty much over that crap.  No, I was not happy about missing out on a chance to see kids, grandkids, in-laws, nieces and nephews.  No, I was not happy about missing out on clear, cool mountain air, campfire smells, dutch oven cooking and more stars than I used to think it was possible to see in one night.  But there are lots of things to love right here in my own backyard.  Lots of things things to counteract salt, and bind up a wound.

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Doughnut Dollies is my most favorite donut shop ever.  It is also 46 miles from my house.  Obviously, I can’t make a trip to Marietta, GA every day or even every week just for my beloved donuts, but I can once in awhile.  We live south of Atlanta, and south of the airport, so I began my trek north for the day.  I went straight to Doughnut Dollies from the airport, and I couldn’t have been happier about it.

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Like I said on Instagram, caramel goes pretty dang well with salt, and even better on a donut, so a salted caramel donut it was.  And an orange gingerbread one for the road.  I know the question begs to be asked, “Why is Doughnut Dollies the best?”  I love their hip, crafty and creative takes on my favorite pastry, and the shop itself is an absolute delight, but really the reason I love them so is the texture.  I love bread.  Soft, fluffy white bread.  These donuts are much more bread-like than most donuts, and I love that the donut itself doesn’t seem to be as sweet as others.  The sweet seems to be more in the add-ons, and I just really like the balance.  (This may also explain why I hate Krispy Kreme donuts, especially when they are hot.  It’s like just eating fried sugar.  Bleh.)  Plus, the peeps that work at Dollie’s are really nice, so that’s always a plus.

From Marietta, I decided to keep heading north.  This weekend is the Georgia Apple Festival in Ellijay, and Gold Rush Days in Dahlonega.  The weather is beautiful and finally starting to be a little bit cooler and drier, which around here is nothing but good news and puts a lot of people in a good mood and stirs up a desire to head to our version of the mountains.  A lot of people.  Knowing that this weekend is festival weekend up north, I also knew that it meant the apples are in, and it’s time to make applesauce, but I wanted to get up there before the crowds.  So, I plugged in Sybil and headed up the highway.

From the Atlanta area, I just take I-75 north to I-575, and stay on it until it ends and becomes GA-515.  The first apple places you come to in Ellijay are on the right, Panorama and Penland’s.  I have to be honest, I always stop here, but it’s not really usually to buy apples.  My husband’s favorite hot sauce comes from this place, and they don’t take phone orders and they don’t ship.  So I stock up on it, and a few other gift items for the holidays.  I did buy a peck of Arkansas Black, and of course, some apple cider donuts.  They are my second favorites behind Doughnut Dollies.  Every time I go there I am greeted by busloads of seniors headed to Ellijay for the day, and quite honestly, I think that is their biggest clientele.  I don’t have any opinions about Penland’s, as quite honestly I’ve never been there.  I just get what I come for at Panorama, and then move along.

I keep going north on GA-515, then turn right on GA-52.  This is where the majority of the apple markets and farms are located.  There are little bitty, no fuss places like Hudson’s Apple House, and there are larger markets complete with petting farms and hayrides like Hillcrest Orchards, and there are several in between.  It really just depends on what you are looking for.  When my kids were younger, we went to the bigger places more often because there is a bit of tourism and fun about it, but nowadays I really am just going for the apples. I realized on my drive up that it was the first time that I had ever made the drive without my family.  It made me a little sad, but then I gloried in the fact that I could do what I wanted without worrying about this or that, and I got over it quick.  Apparently that’s the name of the game.

I love Hudson’s Apple House.  It might be my favorite stop of all.  It is small, and located in what looks to be an old service station.  The family is lovely, and I always like to visit with them.  There’s no fuss.  Just apples.  And kindness.  I wanted a tart, hard apple, but not just a Granny Smith, so she offered for me to try a Pippin, which was delightful.  If my family and other close friends are reading this post, they are probably laughing at that pic of the partially eaten apple.  I hate biting into food like that because I feel like I get it all over my face and I’m sticky and dirty and need a shower.  But, she wanted me to try it before I bought it, so I did, and I loved it, but I was really glad I had wipes in the car.

My other favorite on Ga-52 is the B.J. Reece Apple House.  It is one of the bigger places, and is a little touristy, but seriously has a really great selection of apples.  I think you can also pick your own here, and they may have hayrides and things like that, but I don’t really pay any attention to it.  I’m just there for some serious apple shopping, a jug of peach cider, and maybe some produce.  I didn’t buy as much as I usually do this year, something I will explain in another post, but I did pick up some Braeburn apples, which I am looking forward to using.

If I had the kids with me, I would have continued on southeast on GA-52 and gone to Burt’s Farm.  I took the kids there many times when they were younger to pick out a pumpkin, or just to take photos with the rows and rows of pumpkins of every size and color.  When they were very small, it wasn’t as well known, and it was easy to park, and there weren’t a lot of crowds to contend with.  It is still gorgeous. and lots of fun, but it is also a popular destination for school field trips, and is often packed with people at this time of year.  I did debate about going over to Amicalola Falls just past Burt’s Farm to climb the stairs by the falls, just to see if I could do it and not feel like I was dying like I did the last time, but I opted for a different route. I still think I might go back up sometime this fall.  I feel those stairs challenging me.

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Instead, where GA-52 takes a sharp left to head towards Burt’s and the falls, I turned right onto GA-183 and followed Sybil’s directions back south and into Atlanta.  When I got to Intown Quilters I shared apple cider donut and apple joy with Sarah and the crew, and they shared fabric and fiber joy with me.  It lifts my spirits so much to be with creative friends and talk about our passions.  I love this shop, and it’s crew.  I never leave there empty handed or without inspiration, and yesterday was no exception.  We laughed and chatted, and even disagreed, and in the end I left with both my hands and my heart filled.  It was a good day.

Even though 2017 and I have been battling it out, I know that in the end I will prevail.  I’m totally watching fireworks on New Year’s Eve this year because while 2017 is going down in flames, I will live on.  This year may have beaten me up a bit, but I’ve lived long enough to know that bruises heal, even the ego type.  It is just a matter of time, and as my husband says, learning how to fall so maybe next time there are no bruises, or at least smaller ones that heal faster.