Blog Archives

A Little Church in the Woods


St John's Episcopal Church near Valle Crucis, NC.St. John’s Episcopal Church is a little gem tucked away in the woods down a gravel road in Sugar Grove, NC.  Not far from its parent church The Church of the Holy Cross Episcopal* in Valle Crucis, St. John’s was built in 1862. It came about through the fortitude and aspirations of William West Skiles who gave his life to the church and was deaconate in Valle Crucis.  He served the people of this mountain region from 1847, often on horseback, until his death in 1862, just after the new church opened. Read the rest of this entry

It’s Fall Festival Time in the NC Mountains


Fall is a lot more than beautiful colors and cooler temps when you are in the mountains of western NC. It’s time for some unique and interesting festivals. There is something for everybody.

There is the Woolly Worm Festival for racing fans – that is if you like to race fuzzy caterpillars. woolly-wormThe black and brown “worms” are really the larvae of the Isabella Tiger Moth. The Banner Elk, 2-day event draws thousands to the cute town center to race their “worms” up long, taut strings. Winners compete for the $1,000 grand cash prize and the honor of predicting the weather for the upcoming winter. This year’s winner predicated slightly warmer temps and a bit less-than-average snow.  Catch the races in 2017, the 40th anniversary of the event:


Making Apple Butter.

One of my favorite events in the area is the Valle County Fair in Valle Crucis.  Sponsored by the Episcopal Church of the Holy Cross, it is a wonderful local event featured homemade baked goods, entertainment (including clogging), and decent quality crafts, in a perfect pastoral setting. I try not to miss it.  It’s always the third Saturday in October, the same mid-October weekend as Woolly Worm.

The Fair has become wildly popular, so go early; you will not only beatimg_7727 the traffic, but you will have the best selection of items to buy (and eat).  We always arrive just before the 9 AM opening.  All proceeds raised support the needs of local families in Avery and Watauga counties; last year $50,000 was raised and donated towards much-needed assistance.  Planning for next year?  Check out:


by Linda Altschuler

by Linda Altschuler

It’s a great time of year to take a leisurely Sunday drive into Asheville for the annual HardLox Festival to celebrate Asheville’s Jewish Food & Heritage. This year the single-day Festival coincided with the start of Sukkot, the Feast of the Tabernacles. Under a brilliant blue sky, in Asheville’s Pack Square, we listened to traditional Jewish music, meandered among the booths featuring information as well as crafts and Judaica.  Kids had a big play area, and parking and bathrooms were plentiful.

We learned about this festival first-hand from friends who img_7740have a home in Asheville.  Linda Altshuler is an accomplished artist who specializes in Judaica.  As expected, her booth was swamped with buyers snapping up her colorful prints, cards, glass cheese boards and other gift items.

Linda showing her Judaica art.

Linda showing her Judaica art.

But what Jewish festival would be complete without food, and boy did they have food.  It’s all very organized, a brochure explains what’s available and the prices, tickets are sold at a special booth, so it keeps the food lines moving quickly. There was pastrami, corned beef, chopped liver, bagels, Matzo Ball soup, Kosher hot dogs, whitefish, babka, mandelbrot, etc, etc. Even Dr. Brown’s sodas.  It was wonderful to have some of the delicious food we have dearly missed this summer.


For next year’s info, visit: and for more about Linda’s art:



Crab Orchard Falls in Valle Crucis


A short, but rigorous hike will reward you with views of the lovely Crab Orchard Falls. Even in this very dry summer, the sound of the water rushing over the rocks is powerful. The falls are extensive and have many levels, but from what I have read, have never been officially measured. Visitors park at the Valle Crucis Episcopal Church, in the upper parking lot.  It is well-marked where you should and shouldn’t park and signs will direct you to the trail leading to the Falls. dscn5296

The 1/2 mile hike takes you up 500′ to an elevation of 3,110′.  Benches are conventionality placed every 1/10 of a mile to take any needed breaks.  After reaching the top elevation, you will head down towards a network of boardwalks leading to the falls.  The boardwalks are not in the best condition and it seems some restoration work may be underway. In general, use caution due to lose rocks, prolific tree roots and the potentially slippery wood walkway.  It’s worth the trip.


Getting Personal with Farm-to-Table Cooking

Cookbook author Jill Dahan's new book on display at the Watauga County Farmer's market.

Cookbook author Jill Dahan’s new book on display at the Watauga County Farmer’s market.

I saw the Farmer’s Market through new eyes on a recent visit with cookbook author Jill Dahan. Through a class at the Kitchen at Little Pond Farm in Valle Crucis, we started our Saturday with a morning trip to the Watauga County Farmer’s Market in Boone.

Once there, Jill introduced us to farmers, bakers and vendors of all sorts. We tasted goat cheeses, honey, breads, and organic chicken. An egg purveyor told us that if you bake with duck eggs you don’t need to adjust ingredients for altitude (I’ll have to try out that one).

Local farmers have had a very tough year with the excessive rains ruining many crops, diminishing their usually abundant offerings. Thankfully, Jill had gone to the Market when the doors opened at 8AM to reserve some of the best produce for our luncheon class. We added tomatoes, cheeses, breads, micro greens, garlic, and onions to Jill’s reserve of kale, basil and beets.

Once back at Little Pond Farm, the festivities got underway. Under the guidance of innkeepers Gaye and Frank Luaces, Jill got to work in the Inn’s fabulous state-of-the-art kitchen. Jill is all about healthy eating with fresh, wholesome food. Her easy-going style and no-nonsense manner kept the class as interesting as it was educational. Classes at Little Pond Farm are as interactive as you want them. In the past I’ve helped chop and stir, but today the group of 12 enjoyed watching Jill’s prep work as we tasted each delicious course.

While we watched and chatted with Jill about her recipes, techniques and recipe substitutions, we enjoyed a light Rioja rosé wine along with some of the breads and goats cheeses we had selected at the Market. For lunch we had Tomato Pesto Tart (using kale instead of spinach in the pesto); roasted beets and onions served over delicious beet greens (I never thought of using beet greens for a salad); followed by a dessert of cheesecake with a crust made of almonds and macadamia nuts and topped with fresh-from-market raspberries.

Cookbook author and instructor Jill Dahan in the kitchen at Little Pond Farm.

Cookbook author and instructor Jill Dahan in the kitchen at Little Pond Farm.

Along the way, we learned about cooking with coconut oil and coconut sugar, some tasty new products and how to adapt recipes for fresh items found in the market on any given day.

Best cooking class ever.

A note about the Inn at Little Pond Farm: I have known owner/innkeeper Gaye for more than 20 years, from our days in Coral Gables, Florida. In those days she worked in interior design (specializing in old houses, of course) and jewelry design. I was delighted when a mutual friend told me Gaye had moved up to NC with her husband Frank and were going to open a very special inn.

A scene from the beautiful Inn at Little Pond Farm in Valle Crucis, NC.

A scene from the beautiful Inn at Little Pond Farm in Valle Crucis, NC.

The couple spent six years, planning, restoring and adding to the circa 1900 farmhouse that is now the serenely enchanting Inn at Little Farm Pond. I already knew Gaye was a perfectionist-extraordinaire and learned Frank was also a master carpenter. Their attention to detail permeates every corner of the Inn from the gleaming gourmet kitchen/class area, sophisticated décor, and peaceful five-acre grounds, to each of the six luxurious guest rooms.

With their talents and personalities, Gaye and Frank are a magical team. When you visit the Inn, I challenge anyone to find a speck of dust; and just open any cabinet to see the extent of the beautiful craftsmanship at Frank’s hand. The gorgeous floors were brought over from Provence and the entire Inn reflects a charming palate of soft grays and soothing shades of white. Those who stay at the Inn, or visit for the regular cooking classes, provide all the other color needed.

Perfect detail.

Perfect detail.

A few tips:
Watauga County Farmers Market is located at Horn in the West in Boone, 8AM – noon, Saturdays from May – November 828-355-4918

For a peek at the interiors of this beautiful Inn and a full listings of available cooking classes, check out: The Inn at Little Pond Farm, Valle Crucis, NC 828-297-1011

For info about Jill Dahan and some of her delicious recipes, visit: Jill’s cookbook  Starting Fresh, Recipes for Life is available through her website or on Amazon and will soon be at Earth Fare natural supermarkets.

You can find a lot more than veges at the Market: eggs, meat, photography, jewelry, handmade crafts, bread, honey and, of course, beautiful fresh flowers.

You can find a lot more than veges at the Market: eggs, meat, photography, jewelry, handmade crafts, bread, honey and, of course, beautiful fresh flowers.

Valle Crucis, NC: Charming Dining at 1861 Farmhouse (As of 2014, renamed Over Yonder)

Step Back to 1861
Your choice, lunch or dinner at the 1861 Farmhouse Restaurant & Winery is a delightful experience.  Located in beautiful Valle Crucis, owners Steve and Alison have worked hard to combine a gourmet dining experience with local country flair and Southern-style.

Built the year the Civil War started, the home belonged to Henry Taylor, one of the four founding families of Valle Crucis. He made the brick himself in his own brickyard, and used lumber from his land that was hand-sawn locally. Henry Taylor, who was married to Emaline Mast, may be better known for building the Mast General Store in 1882. After running the store he eventually sold a partial, and then full interest to W.W. Mast. The home was the first in the area to have indoor plumbing and a telephone, and also served as the local Post Office for many years.

The property remained a private home for the Taylor family until 1988, and in 2004 was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Steve and Alison opened its doors to the public in 2011, after two years of extensive restoration work to remove decades of material covering up the original beauty of the home.

From their famous trout to their wonderfully yummy banana pudding, the varied menu* has something for every taste; a gift shop and winery round out their offerings. Check their website of current days and times, since they vary throughout different times of the year:

*Priced reasonably with eager service.

Note: In 2014, the owners of the mast Farm Inn took over management of this restaurant and the name was changed to Over Yonder. Food, service and history remain the same.