I write to you from the mountains. The hill-song of the South. The Smoky Mountains bare (or should I say ‘bear’) its tranquility and peace unto my soul. Inspiration is striking deep. It soothes my spirit and breathes new life into my work. The words seem to cascade like water droplets off bending leaves. Everything about the mountains is as it should be. Purity and silence fill the space. Rustling branches and the flowing streams teach us to walk a bit slower and learn to pause and listen. Take grandeur of the woods and their shadows. The bending of light and the crossing of the day. Everything living kept in time to the rhythm of the land. The mountains seem to move to an almost unnoticeable beat. The mountains have given me an escape.
I’ve been on a small hiatus. After my most recent post where I collaborated with the Homer Soda Company, I closed my laptop, packed my bags, and set out for the mountains. My family and I took a week vacation to the Smokey Mountains. The past week was full of scenic drives, cast iron cooking, and moments in the woods. We lodged in a quaint log cabin outside Pigeon Forge for our stay. The area is rather touristy and diluted with overpriced dinner shows, corporate chains restaurants, and T-shirt stores with the words “Great Smokey Mountains” written in bold neon colors, all up and down the strip. I wanted desperately to get off the beaten path and experience the sounds of the forest, and luckily our cabin fit that criteria.
The trip consisted of hikes through the mountains, scenic drives through the park, tons of baking, morning coffee, moments of relaxation, and points of shameless self-promotion. I had the chance to go to two of the four Lodge Cast Iron outlet stores during our stay. I truly can’t say enough about the wonderful experiences I had at both stores. After a fail attempt to find the store in Pigeon Forge, we drove to the store in the next town over (in Sevierville). Here was the point where I got to die internally due to all the cast iron beauty. These stores had everything and anything cast iron. It was beautiful. I may or may not have screamed. The store manager Sandy and the rest of her staff were absolute joys to talk to and engage. I was even able to self-promote and to get a few more members to join the Natetion. After a collective of over $300 spent between Momma Crawford and myself, we loaded up our car to the brim with cast iron and set off on our way.
Things to see & do while in the Smoky Mountains area:
- Lodge Cast Iron store
- Old Mill Flour Company
- Wheels through Time Motorcycle Museum
- Gatlinburg Ober
- Moonpie General Store & Book Warehouse
- Laurel Falls
- Clingmans Dome
- Utilize stop-offs throughout the park (excellent photo opportunities)
Things to eat at while in the Smoky Mountains area:
- Pottery House Cafe & Grille: The 'Spinach & Artichoke Dip' and 'Pimento Mac & Cheese' are everything. Perfection.
- Bennett’s BBQ: One of the best ribs I've ever had.
- Moon Pie General Store: Never had a Moon Pie before stopping here. Definitely worth it.
- Mel’s Classic Diner: Southern hospitality lives here. One of the best food service experience I have ever had. The waiting staff is definition of service with a smile and subtle ya'll. The 'Biscuits and Gravy' are a diner classic. Don't forget to save room for dessert. Their 'Banana Splits' are legendary.
Check out my full photo gallery of my trip here.
Fun fact: I’m going to be doing a blog post in the coming weeks featuring one of Lodge’s newest products, courtesy of Sandy and the rest of the Lodge team. Check that out!
Even more fun news: While on vacation, I got two very exciting emails. Hopefully, some new stuff coming to the blog in the fall/winter season. Stay tuned for more info to come.
In honor of my first full week of being a real life adult living on my own, I decided to make some pasta. I adapted this recipe from Dana Cowin’s ‘Mastering My Mistakes in the Kitchen’. I won her cookbook off of her Instagram contest about failed kitchen stories. Flipping through the pages, I couldn’t control my laughter at the misadventures of Ms. Cowin. I found it hilariously ironic that the editor-in-chief of Food and Wine was less than a great cook in the past. Though she now has a killer cookbook. The original conception of this recipe is ‘Baked Ziti Arrabbiata’, but I thought I would play into the stereotypical college student persona and substitute the Ziti with Ramen noodles. The outcome was surprisingly satisfying. I didn’t have any nutmeg in the house for the béchamel, so I used the random assortment of spices I did have to make my béchamel sauce. This pasta dish is simple, easy, and perfect for a weeknight dinner or a guilty pleasure at 1 in the morning. No judgment.
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- ¼ teaspoon garlic or garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 can of diced canned tomatoes
- Pinch of salt
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 can evaporated milk
- Dash of pepper (or nutmeg, if you have it, preferably)
- 2 packages of Ramen noodles
- ¾ cups mozzarella cheese
- ¼ cup parmesan cheese
- ¼ cup bread crumbs
- Drizzle of olive oil
- Add olive oil to a sauté pan and heat on medium high until simmering. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper flakes and cook, frequently stirring, until fragrant, about a minute. Add the canned tomatoes, with their juices, and a generous pinch of salt. Turn the heat to high and bring the mixture to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer the sauce until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.
- Heat milk in a small bowl in the microwave, cooking in 10 seconds intervolves until the milk is warm to the touch, this helps the sauce thicken faster. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the flour and cook to make a roux. Stir until a smooth paste turns a slightly golden brown, about 2 minutes. Whisking continuously, slowly pour in the evaporated milk. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring, until the sauce becomes thick, about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and season with sauce with salt and pepper (substitute nutmeg for pepper if on hand). Set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 375°F. Brush a square 9x9 baking dish with olive oil. Cook the ramen noodles per the instructions. Add the spicy tomato sauce, the béchamel, pasta, mozzarella, and ¼ cup of parmesan cheese. Toss together in the casserole dish to combine. Top with bread crumbs and drizzle with olive oil. Bake the pasta until it is bubbling, and the top is crispy and brown, about 9-11 minutes. Let the pasta rest for 10 minutes before serving.