Living In WNC

A Wild Day in the Country

I scan the ground at my feet and spy the green clover-like specimen I am instructed to look for. As I am encouraged to do by our knowledgeable guide, I pluck it from the grassy patch and pop it into my mouth. I taste a mild tangy lemon flavor on my palette. Not bad. “Welcome to backyard foraging,” someone next to me bellows. Despite the fact that I feel like I am eating weeds, well, because I am, I learn that this is yellow wood sorrel, a native weed in North Carolina, and is great in gin cocktails. Hmm… tell me more.
Our foraging guide is Becky Beyer from No Taste Like Home in Asheville, who has a master's in Appalachian studies and speaks across the Southeast on Appalachian folk medicine, wild foods, and ethnobotany (huh? the study of the region’s plants and their practical uses). As we walk along the edge of an overgrown field of wildflowers and weeds, we learn about how to steep white yarrow for a cold remedy tea, how orange daylily blossoms are delicious fried after being stuffed with goat cheese, and how sassafras makes a mean root beer and adds a tasty zest to gumbo. We encounter all sorts of wild edibles from greens to flowers to roots that can be used to infuse drinks, soups, stews, teas, and salads, and many of which can heal a bevy of ailments. Who knew?!
Our organizer and host for this day in the country called Foraging Adventure and Wild Food Lunch is Kristin Jorgensen, a talented cook, caterer, and event planner. Entertaining our group of twelve today at her charming event hideaway called The Barn just outside of Cashiers, Kristin has refurbished the old and once minimalist structure, previously owned by her grandparents for almost thirty years, into an inviting, shabby chic finished space where she hosts dinner parties, events, and cooking classes.
The Barn is where childhood summers spent with her grandmother were majestically filled with foraging adventures picking blueberries and apples, making jams and pies and sipping lemonade under the big oak tree. Her grandmother’s motto, “Found food always tastes best!” is imprinted deep in Kristin’s heart and for today’s event, Kristin shares this passion with us. She has turned an ordinary Sunday into an extraordinary Sunday that is well organized, educational, and delectable. Our diverse group, hailing from Atlanta, Asheville, and the local area, enjoys an enlightening foraging tour and then relaxing under The Barn’s signature oak tree sipping Kristin’s Wild Lemon Balm Mint Smash (see the recipe on the next page).
As the glorious smells of a wild greens pesto, country ham, and burrata pizza make their way from inside The Barn to the outside, our party takes its cue to head inside to eat. We gather around the state-of-the-art kitchen watching Kristin cook up some fabulous eats and gush over The Barn’s interior, lovingly decorated with antiques, linen, silver, wood, stainless steel, and glass. With many original effects of the barn still intact like the wide plank flooring, the original beams across the ceiling, and the powder room humorously made to feel like an outhouse (only with real plumbing), the place feels bucolic but refined. As the warm, gentle breezes of the day billow through the open doors and windows, the views of the pasture, fields, and distant mountains make for a surreal setting.
With the pizza appetizer happily digesting in our bellies, we are invited to sit down at a long, beautifully appointed table for our much-anticipated three-course wild foods lunch meticulously prepared by Kristin. Each course sticks with the theme of the day to include some sort of wild edible. Our starter is a delicious Magenta Lamb’s Quarter (yes, a weed) Gnudi with ramp butter and parmesan, a naked ravioli that melts in your mouth. The chatter dies down at the table as we all dissect and savor the flavors. Our second course of Sunburst trout with a wild sorrel mayonnaise with wild greens and field peas is equally as impressive. The trout is so fresh like all of Kristin’s ingredients, which come from sustainable sources from the surrounding area. Our third course, a dessert of wild lemon balm pannacotta and wild fennel shortbread cookies blows everyone away. It is the perfect ending to a perfect meal. As laughter and joyous conversation fill the room, I look down the table and see nothing but smiles. You almost want to shout, “We did it! We ate prepared weeds!” but really the meal is so much more than that because you can feel the love Kristin infused into each preparation.
Her intention to create a nurturing space for comfort, happiness and good food where people can nourish their bodies and souls has been accomplished. “I hope that [guests] too will be affected by the magic that my grandparents created here,” confides Kristin, “and for the simple rustic beauty…unplugged and off the beaten path…and sharing a meal together.” One guest, Carol Saul, an attorney from Atlanta, put her perspective into words, “The almost magical serenity of the Barn’s setting in remote and lush Western NC enveloped us as we were served an amazing meal incorporating native edibles from the surrounding fields.”
The event calendar is quite packed for The Barn this season with interesting workshops, cooking classes, kids camps, and dinners under the stars. Check out The Barn’s website at www.thebarnnc.com for more dates and information. 

Lake Life

It’s early morning and my senses are tuned to the quiet of the world around me. As I sit lazily on the dock in my Adirondack chair sipping my morning coffee, I watch the mist slowly rise off of the pristine lake before me, Lake Glenville in Western North Carolina. Hues of green and blue emerge as the soft water becomes dappled in the morning light. You cannot beat the tranquil sound of lapping water as it slowly rolls to shore. My family and most of my neighbors are still asleep with the exception of a few anglers in canoes off in a distant cove. The only significant signs of stirring are the tall trees caressed by a soft breeze and the gossiping birds that fill them. With each breath I take of clean, fresh air, the sun gains altitude and slowly shows itself over the blue mountain range in my view. The warmth of the sun soothes me. My cozy plaid wrap slips off my shoulders as I ease deeper into a meditative state of relaxation. Ah, this is the life—lake life in the early morning.


With each hour of the day, this lake takes on a different personality. In the early morning, it supplies fuel to the soul for early-risers. Shortly thereafter, the paddle boarders and kayakers emerge to take on the glass-like waters. Once the day warms, the powerboats pulling skiers and giddy kids on inner tubes arrive. In the early evening before sunset, you’ll see friends and family lounging in pontoon boats idling along the shoreline exploring the lake one neighbor at a time and waving along the way. As darkness descends, the smell of charcoal wafts through the air as people fire up the grill for a summer supper under the stars. Laughter fills the air as groups gather, and the happy sound ripples across the water.
In the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, second homeowners flock to these parts in the summertime for the cooler temps this altitude affords. It is a tough choice when buying a home here between mountain or lake views, although there are those lucky enough to have both. If you seek a low-stress life with a deep sense of peace, adventure, and community, then lake life might just be for you. 
A lake community is a deeply woven place centered on fishing, water sports, family time, and barbeques. Neighbors come together for cocktails on the dock, impromptu dinners, and toasting marshmallows on an open fire. Life is good on the lake.
Although there are many pristine bodies of water in the Highlands-Cashiers-Sapphire Valley area to consider, there are several lakes that have a great allure to many. A public lake offers lots to do and see all day, while private lakes cater to those looking for a quieter, more peaceful atmosphere with less distraction. Regardless, each area lake is unique with its own vibe, and the trick is finding the one that fits your dream of life on a lake.

The largest public lake in the area and the only one that allows gas-powered boats, Lake Glenville is an emerald gem offering a dynamic lifestyle. With the highest elevation of any lake east of the Mississippi River, a vast size, and tremendous depth, there is much to be found on this public lake aside from water sports. Packed with islands, beaches, fishing holes, and waterfalls, this reservoir calls to those who want to live in the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains while overlooking an unspoiled body of water. Residents marvel in the richness of flora and fauna, the landscape contrasts of mountains sinking into the water and the glorious sunsets glistening across the surface of the lake. 
Signal Ridge and Lakeshore are two marinas that help supply the fun for the community and visitors with boat and equipment rentals. From jet skiing to wakeboarding, one can find plenty of adventure on the water along with boats of all sizes and speeds. For anglers, Lake Glenville has a bevy of fishing holes teeming with bass, trout, catfish, and perch. Explorers will love the three big waterfalls and a hiking trail that leads to a fourth one (High Falls) with a breathtaking 150-foot drop. 
Golfers who have dreamt of living on a stunning 18-hole championship golf course while enjoying lake and mountain views have found their wish at Trillium. This private residential club is adjacent to part of the lake and offers a multitude of recreational diversions and amenities. 
For all lake homeowners, events of all kinds support the community including a season kick-off cocktail party hosted by Friends of Lake Glenville, barn dances throughout the summer, and the immensely popular Fourth of July fireworks show on the lake. 
It is important to note that as a public lake there is an active recreational park, campground, and beach on the northern end where day-trippers and vacationers enjoy quick lake access.

This historical 55-acre plus lake completed in 1896 was once land Cherokee and Creek Indian Tribes called home up until the early 1800s. Later in the nineteenth century, the land became the country’s primary mining site for gold and sapphires (word has it Tiffany & Co. once mined here). Just after the lake was created, a Victorian-style inn called Fairfield Inn on the National Historic Register was built and had a life on the lake, serving as a vacation resort for families looking for rest and relaxation in the mountains. Despite the diversified history of the land where the lake now lives, the sheer granite rock face of the beloved landmark, Bald Rock, has remained a constant. Standing watch over the lake, this magnificent natural sentry makes living near this lake all the more spectacular. 
As part of the Sapphire Valley Resort, Fairfield Lake is an exclusive attraction only for its lucky members. You can find anglers fishing for bass and bream, kayakers, sailors, and swimmers. A boathouse offers rentals of fishing gear, kayaks, canoes, standup paddleboards, sailboats, and electric motor boats. Residences high above overlook the gentle lake and have magnificent views of Bald Rock, the surrounding national forest, and/or the Blue Ridge Mountains. There are three miles of hiking trails around the lake and one steep trail leading up Bald Rock. Nearby are waterfalls, mountain bogs, Camp Merrie Woode (where the gem and gold mine once stood) and an old Wishing Well that was once considered a “healing spring”. 
Sapphire Valley has other private lakes such as Sapphire Lake and Hogback Lake. The latter, known for its fishing, is 35+ acres of pristine water surrounded by forest and Hogback Mountain. Charming residences and home sites are nearby with direct lake access.

The largest private lake in North Carolina laced with million-dollar homes is Lake Toxaway, a charming Southern hideaway for the country club set. Steeped in a rich history dating back to the late 1800s, prominent families like the Fords and the Vanderbilts summered on the lake for relaxation, fresh air, and golf. 
In the 1960s, the Lake Toxaway Country Club was founded with the same high standards in mind for family and friends to socialize in the mountains while living on an unspoiled lake. Members enjoy the 18-hole championship golf course with dramatic fairways created by Master Architect Kris Spence and a Tom Fazio Learning Center where golfers can perfect their practice. In addition, club amenities include a pro shop, clubhouse, fitness center, tennis courts, croquet, and dining. 
The Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests and mountains such as Hawk, Panthertail, and Mt. Toxaway surround the lake. Its high elevation with long and short-range views creates a beautiful landscape to enjoy outdoor leisure including hiking, swimming, fishing, kayaking, and canoeing. While much of one’s life here is spent outdoors, there is an active social calendar filled with soirees, social clubs, and events throughout the season. 

 

 

Focusing on Fish

Named to Monterey Bay Aquarium’s “Seafood Watch Blue Ribbon Task Force Chef List,” William Dissen, owner of Asheville’s The Market Place restaurant, is a major advocate for sustainable food policy reform in the United States. Working with a network of local farms, artisan producers, and sustainable fishermen to produce flavorful, fresh food for patrons of his restaurant, he has received several honors in regards to his innovative approach to sustainable cuisine. 
Growing up in the foothills of Appalachia, he watched his grandmother prepare meals straight from her garden. From an early age, he recognized there is no cuisine without gardens or farmers, which is why his menu changes based on readily available farm-fresh ingredients. 
Dissen attended The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, after graduating from West Virginia University, studying English and French. Apprenticing under Certified Master Chef Peter Timmins at the Greenbrier Resort gave Dissen the itch to hone his culinary skills. After his stint at the resort, he left for a taste of the Lowcountry of Charleston, South Carolina. It was here he worked under James Beard-nominated Chef Craig Deihl at the fine dining establishment, Cypress. 
He yearned for more. His thirst for knowledge and experience took him to the University of South Carolina, where he attained a master’s degree in Hospitality, Restaurant, & Tourism Management. From the beginning, he had always had a dream of having his own restaurant in the Appalachian mountains, which led him to start roots in Asheville with his Wall Street establishment, The Market Place. 
By creating taste bud swimming dishes from his heart and soul, Chef Dissen has paved a path in sustainable seafood stewardship without even trying. Keeping his values in the kitchen, he demands the best ingredients to create his menus. “Even though Asheville is four hours from the nearest ocean, it is equally important to know how and where your seafood comes from as it is to know the same about your produce and livestock. For me, it’s also a pledge to do the right thing for our planet and community so we have these resources for generations to come,” stated Dissen. Named as Seafood Watch Ambassador by the Monterey Bay Aquarium in 2009 for his pledge to serve, sell, and advocate for sustainable food systems and sustainable seafood, he has made a real difference, even appearing on the steps of Congress to influence legislators. 
Being named a Blue Ribbon Task Force Member by the aquarium was a proud moment for Dissen. He keeps integrity with all of his selections in The Market Place. One of the many things I admire about him is his relationship with Alan Musket of No Taste Like Home, a wild food foraging tour company. The Chef’s restaurant will allow No Taste Like Home attendees to bring their foraged finds to the restaurant to be prepared with their meal. In addition, Dissen purchases from many local foragers and farmers to always have the best of the best, whether it be chanterelles, ramps, lobster mushrooms, or everything in between. 
Having hosted two James Beard Celebrity Chef Tour dinners and multiple field dinners, Dissen is always working together with local, regional, and national Chefs to provide his patrons an experience, something I admire about the young Chef. He is a go-getter and has a deep passion for his craft, and for providing a total experience. He truly understands hospitality and tourism.
Chef Dissen recently opened a new restaurant in Charlotte in January. “Fresh, local and seasonal menus will be the driving force at Haymaker.  Our restaurant menus will be centered around our Woodstone hearth.  I would expect to see food that’s fun and refined, and showcases the best the region has to offer.”

I met up with William Dissen on my last visit to Asheville to get his take on his favorite dishes, vacation spots, and more. 

1- Where was your love for culinary arts born? 

My grandparents had a farm in rural West Virginia, and I grew up visiting their farm and eating fresh food straight from their gardens.  It wasn’t until later in life that I had a realization that if you want to cook great food, then it has to be prepared with the freshest ingredients. 

2- What is your favorite at-home meal to create?
 
My wife Jenny is from India, and we love to cook Bhindi Masala (or curried okra) and serve it with jasmine rice, whole fat yogurt, cilantro, and lime.  Super easy to make, super flavorful and good for you! 

3- Favorite vacation destination? Wait, do you get to vacation? 

I’m headed to Mallorca this week! (Mallorca is the largest island in the Balearic Islands archipelago, which is part of Spain and located in the Mediterranean.) I’ll let you know if I get some downtime!  My favorite vacation place is to get away from it all, such as fly fishing in Montana on the Madison River, or going to a beach destination like Tulum, Mexico and exploring the Sian Ka’an Reserve. 

4- What is your favorite experience in Asheville? 
Walking down the street on any given day and seeing the nun on her bike from the LaZoom Tour, walking past a bluegrass band busking on the corner that could have a signed record contract, and then three topless women on unicycles ride by drinking craft beer on their way to march at Pack Square. 

5- What is your favorite menu item and libation from The Market Place? 
I love our Pappardelle Pasta.  We take braised lamb shanks and make a ragu from it with roasted shallots and garlic, confit tomatoes, and roasted oyster mushrooms, and serve it with hand cut semolina pappardelle with parmesan and ramp pesto.  For me, it’s a modern interpretation of Appalachia.  
For libations, I love our Benton’s Old Fashioned.  Country Ham and Bacon King extraordinaire Allan Benton is a good friend of mine, and we like to take his bacon and add it to the classic old-fashioned cocktail through a process called “fat washing”.  It’s a great drink.  Smoky, sweet, and did I mention it’s made with bourbon?
What is sustainable seafood? The Monterey Bay Aquarium defines it as Seafood that is fished or farmed in ways that have minimal impact on ocean health and ensure the availability of seafood for future generations. 
Today half of the fish eaten in the U.S. is farmed, and the practice is growing fast. Just as we raise cattle and chickens to eat, we’re now raising seafood to meet the growing global demand. Aquaculture, or farming of fish and other seafood, is helping relieve increasing pressure on our ocean resources. 
Global aquaculture includes 100 species, farmed in everything from traditional earthen ponds to high-tech tank systems. Each farming system has its own distinct environmental footprint. By choosing seafood from better farms and production systems, consumers can play a positive role in reducing aquaculture’s potential negative impacts. 
How do you know which fish to purchase? Download the Seafood Watch App by the Monterey Bay Aquarium for your guide to sustainable seafood. The app will provide you with markets or grocery stores near you that participate in the program, as well as allow you to search all the various types of fish and their ratings. 

What do the colors mean? 

Green - Best Choice 
Yellow - Good Alternative 
Red - Avoid
White - Eco-Certification. In addition to “Best Choice” and “Good Alternatives,” look for certain eco-certified labels on specific seafood. 
 

Mountains of Youth: Finding Longevity in Mountain Living

At first glimpse of a mountain peak, I begin to feel it. I recognize it as a sensation of lightness, or possibly even giddiness. On my journey from the city to the Blue Ridge Mountains, my excitement builds with each mile marker. As my car climbs the first mountain to home, I notice a deep sense of calm sweeping over me. And as my breath deepens, I observe my racing thoughts slow and my blood pressure drops. My intuition tells me I have made the right move to leave the city behind and choose mountain living. While I trust my gut, some might need a little science to spur or confirm a decision.
It’s obvious that fresh mountain air, a slower pace, cooler temperatures, and green spaces are good for us, new research tells us living in the mountains has positive health benefits and could actually prolong our lives. A recent study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health concluded that living at higher altitudes creates a lower oxygen environment that mitigates heart disease. “Lower oxygen levels turn on certain genes, and we think these genes may change the way heart muscles function. They may also produce new blood vessels that create new highways for blood flow into the heart,” according to a study produced by the University of Colorado School of Medicine in partnership with the Harvard School of Global Health.
Furthermore, higher altitudes stimulate a certain hormone called leptin that is responsible for weight management, proper metabolic function, and balancing our energy stores. Possibly because of leptin production, lower rates of cancer and obesity were also found in mountainous communities. Lower mortality rates, greater levels of positive mental health, and lower levels of stress and anxiety were found in mountain residents compared to those living in more urban environments. I like this new evidence!  Who doesn’t want a healthier heart, lower risk of cancer, less stress, and weight loss? This green, mountain living could really be the fountain of youth! 
It is well known that living in a green environment is linked to stress reduction and well-being, and now it is concluded that a simple walk in the woods slows our heart rate and reduces anxiety. Using brain scans, heart-rate monitors, and behavioral tests on study participants, researchers, as reported by Scientific Reports, have proven the sounds of nature, like running water or birds singing, have restorative and positive physiological effects on our bodies and minds. 
The Highlands-Cashiers Plateau has a long history of people seeking wellness in the Blue Ridge Mountains, whether it is to get away from it all or actually convalesce from an illness. Known as a health resort in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, this area drew people from afar to rejuvenate in the invigorating, clean air. We even had the first sanatorium in North Carolina in 1908 during a tuberculosis outbreak. 
Things have not changed much over the decades as many people still come from far and wide to seek solace here. Of course, anyone who enjoys getting outdoors to golf, croquet, fish, hike, yoga, canoe, and camp can find all that and more in this area. Take away excessive light pollution and dangerous electromagnetic frequencies found in more urban settings, and you have found your panacea.
And as if this couldn’t get any more perfect, our mountains are host to the highest number of vortexes, or energy fields, in the country according to Asheville Magazine. A vortex is thought to be a physical location that harnesses a great amount of positive and rejuvenating energy. Twenty-four vortex have been identified near the Highlands-Cashiers Plateau, attracting people who seek emotional healing, spiritual awareness, and tranquility. Some might call it a “mystical Mecca.”
Just as the 19th-century naturalist John Muir famously penned, “The Mountains are calling and I must go,” many others are finding themselves “called” to this 400-million-year-old mountain chain. Once some of the highest mountains in the world, and despite being beaten down by time and erosion, the Appalachian Chain still proudly stands as the highest mountain range in the Eastern United States. The North Carolina Blue Ridge Mountains claim a good many of the highest peaks and have the blessed fortune of being a biodiverse temperate rainforest. 
Some of this may explain why more people are choosing to leave the urban jungles behind for a more relaxing quality of life in the lush, green forests, and mountains with a hue of blue. Yes, we have to travel a little further for an international airport or shopping at Costco, but as we trade fast-paced living, traffic, and smog for cleaner air, taller trees, higher altitudes, and mountain vistas, we relish in our good sense and science’s findings, to feel young and alive here on the Plateau. •

Camp Merrie-Woode: Following the Gleam

If you’re lucky enough to live above Sapphire Valley’s Fairfield Lake, you’ve heard the mystical sounds that waft from the water’s edge on many summer nights. It could be, of course, the sounds of “Follow the Gleam,” Camp Merrie-Woode’s traditional final pageant. It could be the score from a musical performed by the campers in the drama program or just the voices of tired campers singing around the campfire.  Either way, it’s pure magic.
The campus itself is a jewel in the already-breathtaking Sapphire Valley of North Carolina. Founded in 1919 by Mabel “Dammie” Day, Marjorie Harrison, and Mary Turk, the camp pays homage to Dammie Day’s British roots with designations like King Arthur’s Court for the building that houses the gym and climbing wall. The Castle is home to the Merrie-Woode stage and theater classes, while Merlin’s Alderley Edge houses many of the summer staff. The infirmary, said to be staffed with the nicest nurses ever, is called Cloud 9 and the camp’s directors live in a beautiful home on the property called Tintagel, named for King Arthur’s father’s castle.
The current residents of Tintagel are Jim and Denice Dunn, who took the reins as directors in 2002.  The parents of two grown sons, they are now summer parents to hundreds of daughters and embody the enthusiastic culture which drives Camp Merrie-Woode.  Jim, formerly the headmaster of Summit Charter School in Cashiers, and Denice, a former engineer for General Electric, have been instrumental in Merrie-Woode’s participation in the wider community, by supporting a campership program, which provides funding for children with exemplary qualifications who otherwise would be unable to attend.  In addition, they have encouraged the use of the campgrounds during the off-season, welcoming after-school programs for the Boys and Girls Club of the Plateau as well as team-building activities for the New Century Scholars of Jackson County.
Celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2019, the 435-acre campground has welcomed girls from around the mountain and around the world, holding fast to its original charter to encourage the empowerment of girls and young women through physical, intellectual, and spiritual growth. It is, perhaps, more than coincidence that the camp opened its gates the same year that women won the right to vote.
The campers who are lucky enough to spend their summer days here are designated according to age, as pages, yeomen, squires, and knights. And, in another nod to Merrie-Woode’s British roots, the centerpiece of the entire camp experience is the production of “Follow the Gleam” which reenacts the story of King Arthur’s quest for the holy grail.   
The alumnae are a loyal sorority. Many return to the camp as counselors, board members, or for reunions.  Dorothy Moss Williams, a curator at the National Portrait Gallery who spent more than ten years at Merrie-Woode, convenes with ten camp friends each autumn in the camp’s guest lodge, which is available to rent. Merrie-Woode is also a desirable venue for weddings, although the camp holds to a strict policy requiring that the bride be an alumna. Additionally, only four weddings may be conducted on the property per year and never during camp weeks.  The wedding of a former camper has been booked well in advance for the day after the August closing of this season’s final session.
Mary Leland Davenport Hutchison, who attended Camp Merrie-Woode during the 1970s and 80s, recalls a camp fundraiser she attended many years ago when she lived in Atlanta.  Husbands were invited and one seasoned spouse stood up to tell the gentlemen gathered: “You have married into a cult and the sooner you pull out your checkbook, the better it will be for you.” The camp’s alumnae have been faithful supporters of various fundraising efforts over the years, making possible such things as the 2005 acquisition of land across Lake Fairfield opposite the camp, which was poised for real estate development. To honor the 100th anniversary, a capital campaign has been launched to fund an endowment, as well as attend to several capital improvements. Hutchison, whose daughter Jane has also been a camper, says that raising money for Merrie-Woode is easier than most causes because of the common heart of the alumnae. “The Merrie-Woode connection is neverending. It’s just second family.”
Camp Merrie-Woode’s program today has four major components, each of which the campers may experience throughout their stay.  They are boating, horseback riding, mountaineering, and drama.  In addition, the girls have a chance to choose classes in multiple other sports, as well as traditional art courses such as dance, ceramics, and painting.  Knitting has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in recent years and is now part of the offering.  Depending on a girl’s interest, she can earn recognition in any of these disciplines through extensive study and practice over several summers.  One camper may pursue becoming a Horsemaster, for example, while another seeks to earn a King’s Player designation for drama.
Founded as a Christian camp, Merrie-Woode is nonetheless inclusive. All of the campers participate in daily devotionals, with various cabins taking turns in leading them, and a weekly chapel service is held every Sunday in the outdoor stone amphitheater.
Alumna Madeline Edwards, who today works as a journalist based in Beirut, Lebanon, remembers her experiences in the drama program beginning in 2005.  She recalls being named a King’s Player, the highest designation possible, and receiving the King’s Player necklace from her best friend at the honor ceremony.  Later, as a counselor, she was a ringleader for creative undertakings like decorating the dining hall for Harry Potter night.  Borrowing old wedding dresses from the costume shop and covering their faces with white face paint, she and the other counselors entertained the campers from the rafters. Her passion for drama was honed as she played the role of Anne Frank one summer and, another time, garnered the role of Mozart in a performance of Amadeus.  But despite these exceptional experiences, she concludes that her favorite memories were “just any downtime spent with my best friends.” Her grandmother, Nancy Edwards, adds, most emphatically, that Merrie-Woode made her the young woman she is today.

For others, the outdoor experiences inform their eventual life path. Holly Pierce Ambler, who lives in Boone, North Carolina, spent ten summers at  Merrie-Woode, as both a camper and later as a counselor.  She began as a very homesick ten-year-old, sending home several impassioned letters the first week, begging her parents to come get her.  But somewhere into the second week, the counselor who held her in her lap at the nightly campfire and the others who urged her to try outdoor activities turned the tide, and she was hooked.  She admits that prior to her camp experience she had very little outdoor experience, but the summers on Lake Fairfield were so influential that she eventually earned a college degree in outdoor experiential education.  Her first post-college job was as an instructor at the National Outdoor Leadership School. As is often the case, her aunt, sister, and cousins are also alumnae.
Sara Elizabeth Jackson, a sophomore at Auburn University, is returning this summer for the 11th time. It will be her third year as a counselor, an experience she has come to treasure even more than her time as a camper. She loves seeing the young campers return year after year, noting their development, and considers it a privilege to encourage and guide them.  She has become what is called the “Weaving Head” in the arts department and supervises campers as they make pillows and seats for chairs or stools at the camp.  A business administration major, she thinks her passion for this art has developed because it provides such a wonderful opportunity to get outside of her element.
Director Denice Dunn acknowledges that changing times have demanded adaptation.  One such change came a few years ago when the campus became “unplugged,” meaning no cell phones, no iPods, no computers.  The only exception is the iPod in each cabin which contains the music the girls have chosen to enjoy together during “downtime.”  However, earbuds are completely off limits and Denice confirms that as soon as the new rules took effect there was a noticeable increase in conversation and singing on hikes, on bus trips, and around the camp.
But many things have not changed. Uniforms are a tradition, and except for the substitution of shorts for bloomers, not a lot has changed over the past 100 years. It’s all part of a culture that encourages a young woman to throw on a uniform, pull her hair back into a ponytail, and get on with the joy of self-discovery, unencumbered.
Rudi Robbins Pillow, who attended camp for three years beginning in 1964, notes that today’s technical world has created an overly competitive environment for young people and cherishes the fact that Merrie-Woode is one of the few places where a girl has only to compete against herself.  She learned to love hiking and canoeing during her camp years and has memories of three-day hikes in the Smoky Mountains. Her three daughters attended Merrie-Woode, as have three granddaughters.  A resident of Killen, Alabama, she recalls a recent family wedding which was attended by six Merrie-Woode alumnae from all over the country.
This year, Denice confirms a wide geographic diversity will be once again represented, with campers from 38 different states and six countries. Over 140 people will be hired for staff positions, many of them former campers who are returning as counselors. The return rate is enviable and several full-time directors of the camp were at one time campers.
The camp’s centennial is a good excuse to look back at the vision of the three founders who wanted to offer young women a chance to explore their capabilities and challenge themselves in a nurturing environment.  That vision has become laser-focused as the years have passed.  Whether a girl’s dream is to hike Old Bald Mountain, sing her heart out in a musical lead, or earn a Captain’s Hat for accomplishment in the water, it will all be hers for the taking beginning this June, as a new century of campers follow the gleam. Girl power is clearly alive on the beautiful banks of Fairfield Lake.

Lunch off the Beaten Path

 

Journeying for lunch away from the 
familiar is a great way to learn about the area outside of your own backyard. While taking in the fresh, cool mountain air on your drive, you will come across spectacular scenery no matter which direction you venture. We have put together our top ten most interesting list of eateries with many being within an hour drive from the Highlands-Cashiers Plateau. As you meander toward your destination, take in the spectrum of color, the diverse terrain, and explore a bigger playground. Happy eating!

// Rizzo’s Bakery & Bistro
91 Georgia Road, Franklin, NC
Lunch Thursday-Saturday 10 am to 3 pm
rizzosbakeryandbistro.com, 828-369-7774

One of the closest destination lunch spots on our list, Rizzo’s is well known for their daily homemade breads and custom cakes, and most recently their mouthwatering lunch. With a daily changing menu, attention to detail is obvious with their creative use of locally sourced, seasonal ingredients. Make sure to save room for dessert!

We recommend: Baked In-House Tomato Tart or Quiche //Applewood Smoked Ham & Brie Cheese Paris Sandwich //
Barbara’s Meatloaf Sandwich

// Fortify
69 North Main Street, Clayton, GA
Lunch served Wednesday-Saturday 11:30 am -2:30 pm
fortifyclayton.com, 706-782-0050

Since the opening of Fortify in 2014, Clayton has never been the same. The dining scene was suddenly elevated by the partnership between award-winning Chef Jamie Allred and the seasoned restaurant manager Jack Nolan who teamed up to bring an inspiring new restaurant concept to town. Using sustainable practices by supporting local farms, this farm-to-table bistro offers New American fare in a hip, relaxed setting in the revitalized downtown of Clayton. With the success of Fortify, the owners seized the opportunity to grow into the next-door space with Fortify Pi, a gourmet pizza pub.

We recommend: Gouda Fritters // Fortify Reuben // Fried Oyster Plate

// Lake Rabun Hotel & Restaurant
35 Andrea Lane, Lakemont, GA
Open April-October for Sunday Brunch only 11 am- 3 pm
Reservations recommended
lakerabunhotel.com, 706-782-4946

A beautiful country road will take you around the magnificent Lake Rabun to find this well-hidden dining spot. While the historic hotel dating back to 1922 is interesting enough in itself, the superb restaurant is a recipient of several awards. Claiming to have started the farm-to-table movement in the area, the kitchen works with local farmers to bring the freshest of seasonal ingredients to their guests. Their adventurous cuisine is a fusion of American Southern with influences from France and the Middle East. On a nice day, ask for a table on the porch to sit under a canopy of trees and get a small view of the lake.

We recommend: Southern-Style Crab Oscar // Low Country Shrimp & Grits // Smoked Local Rainbow Trout Rillettes

// Fire & Water at Fire Mountain
700 Happy Hill Road, Scaly Mountain, NC
Open to the public seasonally for lunch only (call for hours)
Reservations required at least 48 hours in advance
firemt.com, 828-526-4446

Upon finding this magical spot just south of Scaly Mountain just off Route 106, you will be surprised you didn’t know about this well-kept secret. Opening as an inn some twenty years ago, a recent million-dollar renovation of the property allowed the owners to add a state-of-the-art kitchen, indoor/outdoor restaurant, and a chic water feature that breathes fire. The mountain views from this elevated plateau are spectacular. The ingredients are fresh and creative with all menu items sourced from their own backyard. It is nothing short of a peaceful, relaxed dining experience.

We recommend: Salmon Niçoise Salad // Vegetarian Club // Chocolate Mocha Icebox Cake

// Belle’s Bistro @ Chattooga 
Bell Farms 
454 Damascus Church Rd, Long Creek, SC
Open March 30-December, Tuesday-Sunday 11 am -2 pm
chattoogabellefarm.com/farm/belles-bistro, 864-647-9768

Along the Chattooga River at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, this 138-acre working farm is set in a historic area of South Carolina that was the largest apple-producing area east of the Mississippi in the 1950s. Belle’s treats you to a diverse menu of farm-fresh local ingredients in a unique spot to gaze out at rolling hills, fruit orchards, and green pasture. After lunch, visit their distillery and pick some of the many varieties of fruit from their trees to take home.

We recommend: Bacon Herb Burger // Portabella with Cilantro Walnut Pesto on Ciabatta // Roast Turkey with Apple (from their farm) with Pesto on Ciabatta

// The Phoenix & The Fox
14 S. Gaston St., Brevard, NC
Lunch/Brunch Monday-Sunday 11 am- 3 pm
thephoenixandthefox.com, 828-877-3232

The restaurant movement of farm-to-table and locally sourced ingredients is also a big part of this American gastropub’s mission. Executive Chef Miles Hogsed offers inspiring organic menu items from local farms and many vegetarian options. Unique craft beers and cocktails also flow freely from the bar. 

We recommend: Classic Crab Hushpuppies // Apple, Bacon, & Brie Burger // Shrimp & Grits

// Frog Leap Public House 
44 Church Street, Waynesville, NC
Lunch/Brunch served Saturday and Sunday only 11am-3pm
Reservations recommended
frogsleappublichouse.com, 828-456-1930

Finding a good restaurant in the bustling town of Waynesville is not difficult, but this eatery stands above the rest with its inspiring Southern menu that changes daily. Executive chef and owner Kaign Raymond says, “We prepare everything from scratch and use local products in our bar and kitchen every day of the year to produce innovative, but simple interpretations of traditional Appalachian dishes.” Enough said.

We recommend: Butternut Squash, Chard, Chipotle Quesadillas // House Smoked Pulled Pork Sliders // Devils on Horseback

// Guadalupe Café
606 W. Main Street, Sylva, NC
Lunch served Tuesday-Sunday 11:30 am
guadalupecafe.com, 828-586-9877

This casual, vintage style dining spot calls its food “Caribbean-inspired fusion cuisine.” Of course, it too is sustainable and farm-to-table, but out of all of our restaurant recommendations, this one offers the most unique menu choices including many vegan and vegetarian options. From tapas to entrees, their menu has something for everyone and even allows diners to customize their own quesadillas, burritos, and nachos.

We recommend: Curry Bowl // Huevos Rancheros // Pulled Pork and Dark Cove Goat Cheese Tacos

// The Bistro at the Everett Hotel
24 Everett Street, Bryson City, NC
Brunch only; Saturday and Sundays 8:30am-3pm
Reservations strongly recommended
theeveretthotel.com, 828-488-1934

With a philosophy of “Eat with Integrity-Live with Gratitude”, the Cork & Bean Bistro, simply known as The Bistro, wants you to have a dining experience that engages all of your senses. The chef strives for food that is organic, local and seasonal while being influenced by traditional Southern cuisine. 

We recommend: Eggs Benedict // Breakfast Crepe // Pimento Cheese BLT

// Pisgah Inn
on the Blue Ridge Parkway, Mount Pisgah, Milepost 408
Open April-October, lunch 11:30 am- 4 pm
First come, first served, so go on “off” times
pisgahinn.com, 828-235-8228

The furthest of all of our lunch spots (a good hour and a half trip), this historic inn sits on property once owned by the Clinghams followed by the Vanderbilts at an elevation of 5,000 feet on top of Mount Pisgah. It opened as an inn in 1919 as a resting spot for weary travelers. Sitting majestically just off of the BRP (that’s the Blue Ridge Parkway for newbies), the Pisgah Inn calls itself “A window on the world.” Often it’s crowded and you’ll wait for a table, especially on the weekends, but there is a reason people go-the view! It is worth the drive.

We recommend: Walnut Crusted Mountain Trout // Mountain Fried Chicken //Blue Ridge Mountain Beet Salad •

Pets on the Plateau

Lizzie Morse looks forward to her regular visits to the spa. There is nothing quite like the luxury of a gentle manicure, a stylish haircut, and a sumptuous bath. Her biggest concern of the day is which soap will be chosen: lavender and mint or aloe and coconut. Tipping may be appreciated, but Lizzie does one better: she leaves with her tail wagging.
Lizzie, you see, is one of many coddled pets of the plateau, a charming mixed breed rescue dog who hit pay dirt when she was adopted by Ruthie and Jack. Say what you will about the strong constitutions of mountain folk, when it comes to their pets, they are marshmallows.

To confirm this observation, go no further than The Village Hound, a home goods emporium in Cashiers which emphasizes canine comforts. Housed in a charming 1920s era building which is listed on the Historic Registry, the carefully culled inventory is a brilliant combination of lovely antiques and decorative dog-themed accents and accessories.
“Many of my clients are waiting for grandkids,” owner Lee Dages says, to explain the popularity of monogrammed dog blankets, sweaters, custom harnesses (fit is important for dogs!), and treats.
Lee is a passionate dog lover and “mama” to four rescue dogs who can be seen around the shop. Eve, for example, is a frequent sidekick, having been adopted by Lee at a Humane Society Gala where she lost her heart to the homeless chihuahua.
So passionate is she about dogs’ wellbeing, Dages began a dog biscuit company 24 years ago because she attributed dogs’ intestinal diseases to the ingredients in many commercial offerings. Made with quinoa flour, cut into fun shapes with doggy cookie cutters and never frosted, her treats fly off the shelves as testament to local owners’ devotion to their pets.
Dages identifies a certain personality who loves dogs as she does. “They’re homebodies,” she says, explaining that they love being in their home and that a pet provides the special ambience and good company to keep them there.
Cat lovers get a nod as well, as the shop offers cat paintings, a vintage cat calendar, catnip treats, and cat collars. But make no mistake, The Village Hound is first and foremost all about dogs.

Dages’ comments about the ingredients in dog treats leads one to Paws on the Mountain in the Ingles shopping mall, a friendly shop that caters to the responsible care and feeding of pets.
Matt Stanley, who with his wife Angel owns the Cashiers store, is a zealous proponent of nutrition for dogs, citing study after study revealing that dogs’ lives are shorter and more diseased today because of the processed ingredients in much commercial dog food. Stanley has a freezer brimming with organic meats and vegetables which clients from as far away as Greenville buy from him. He has developed a reputation on the Plateau for his passion for canine health and holds regular nutritional seminars.
But it’s not all serious, because he has a “self dog wash” in the back of the store, where for ten dollars an owner can bathe a dog using healthy shampoos (oatmeal and plum, for example), hair dryers, and big thick towels.
Dogs quickly learn that if they behave they will be rewarded with a treat for the ride home.
The store is also generously stocked with dog and cat toys and accessories.  One “regular,” a bloodhound named Star, very politely peruses the merchandise while his owner does a quick errand in the mall.

Not far away, on Highway 107, Woof Gang Bakery & Grooming is booking grooming appointments at a feverish pace. Julie Roberts, who manages the store, says that smart dog owners call in January and book for the whole season. Lilian Popescu, the shop’s groomer, who is certified by the Raleigh Grooming Academy, holds a record of sorts for having groomed seven Havanese in one day, which he says is almost as challenging as the two Newfoundlands he tackled in one day.
Woof Gang’s, which is one of 70 locations in the United States, also sells a wide array of pet treats, some of which are prepared in the Orlando corporate home office. But the oven in the Cashiers store sees lots of “doggy dough” as well, and the array of dog treats on a center table suggests a fancy bake shop.  Wolfgang’s is also a great stop for gifts for pet lovers, like the “sleeps with cats” nightshirt and the “no love like dog love” tee shirts.  

Another fun source for dog treats and accessories is Highlands’ Mountain Paws on Main Street. Check out the “chicken stogies” treats, that resemble cigars, and the wide array of treats from Smokey Mountain Dog Bakery. A line of locally produced “doggy cologne” is also available.
Of course, one can dial it up a notch and head for the nearest pet spa. Rayne Hellstrom, the assistant manager at Mountain Dog Spa on Highway 64 in Cashiers, oversees grooming, which includes “doggy manicures” and teeth brushing services, as well as boarding and, yes, day care. She says they have many regulars whose owners work outside the home, who are dropped off in the morning for the day. They are organized into play groups, based on size, temperament and energy and spend as much time outdoors as possible when the weather is nice. The hours of noon to two are sacrosanct, as the spa is closed to the public for “nap time.”
If you are boarding your dog, you can rest assured that regular play and exercise will be part of the day, and in the off chance that the power goes out in a storm, the spa shares a power circuit with Ingles so the lights will stay on!

Over in Highlands, Posh Paws Pet Spa also offers a wide variety of grooming services, from tooth brushing to toe nail service to a full groom service which includes a bath, blow dry, and full haircut. The spa does not board pets, but the four-legged clients awaiting service look very much at home beneath a floral fabric canopy in the window.

It’s also good to be canine (or feline) at Dogz Best Friend in Glenville, the personal passion of Susanne Anderson, a former physical therapist who opened the business four years ago. Her medical background makes her a natural for caring for pets who might need injections or medication for conditions like diabetes and epilepsy. Her cat guests hang out in the main office building, which has the feel of a comfortable family room, because they would find the dog kennel too noisy. The dogs have the run of a state-of-the-art kennel, which provides each pet its own indoor and outdoor space.  Pets from the same family share space to make sure they feel right at home.  All the dogs share a generous double-fenced outdoor play area, though they are sometimes separated by size and temperament. Susanne, who lives in a private home on the property, stresses that the animals are never alone, and that she monitors their wellbeing 24/7 with surveillance cameras.
Susanne has also been certified in dog grooming and says that her clients also tend to schedule their appointments for the year by February. But her first love is the interaction with the animals she boards, sometimes as many as 25 at a time. She points out Tristan, a gregarious poodle, whose “parents” are in Europe for three weeks. Tristan appears very much at home, as do the other dogs, some of whom are day care clients.
“The returning customers’ dogs get out of the car, realize where they are, and literally pull their owners in with the leash,” she says.

Humorist Will Rogers was quoted as saying “If there are no dogs in heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.” True, perhaps, but if you’re lucky enough to be a pet on the plateau, you may be experiencing a little bit of heaven on earth, right here and now. •

A Good Walk Spoiled: A Self-Proclaimed Duffer Continues Her Golf Struggle

By all rights, I should have given up the game of golf years ago. There was the time, in the beginning, when I dutifully followed my husband to the practice range and proceeded to hit every golf ball in my bag with robotic precision. It was only as I swung at the last one that I noticed the huge baskets of range balls provided beside me.
There was the time I unknowingly wore a pair of my husband's many golf shoes that I had nervously pulled from the trunk of our car upon arriving at a friend's course. It was maybe on the second hole when I noticed I was sliding a bit in my backswing and I was too embarrassed to say a thing. Note to self: I can play a full round in a pair of men's size 10 shoes, though not very well.
Perhaps I should have hung it up when I got a big laugh from my foursome when I asked my young caddy for my “five arm,” or the day I discovered that my 51 handicap was the highest of all the women in our club, including one extraordinary lady who happened to be legally blind.
Why, 35-plus years into my golf odyssey, do I continue the struggle? Quite simply, I live on this beautiful plateau in the Blue Ridge Mountains and giving up the game would be like cutting off the proverbial nose to spite my face.
It's not enough that drop-dead vistas of waterfalls, craggy mountains, lakes, and streams gift wrap each one of the public and private golf courses in the Cashiers-Highlands area. It's the rare place where you can ask a good golfer (of hole-in-one stature) to name her favorite hole, and she chooses a particular one because of the breathtaking flowers planted around the green.
It's the place where Justin Thomas can break the course record at Mountaintop Golf and Lake Club one day, shooting a 64, and a University of Alabama sophomore, Robbie Shelton, can go out the next day and shoot a 61, according to Micah Hicks, the private club's director of golf. He also remembers the Bryan Brothers (George and Wesley) agreeing to caddy for the club's member/guest tournament and using the time up here to shoot a trick shot video at Mountaintop and Old Edwards Club. The video went viral on YouTube, raising enough money for Wesley to go on tour, where last year he won the RBC Heritage championship.
There is a laid-back culture in this mountain air that attracts players of all levels. Tom Fazio, who is renowned as the golf course architect of more than 120 courses worldwide, is a part-time resident of western Carolina and a frequent local player. The designer of both the Mountaintop and Wade Hampton golf courses, he and his wife are partial to Mountaintop which allows family dogs to ride along on a round. Their dog Maggy frequently accompanies them and avails herself of the dog treats that are available at the course's comfort stations.
The setting here allows golfers to get up close and personal with all sorts of wildlife as well. Golfers at the Country Club of Sapphire Valley remember the year that a mother bear and her cubs took up residence in a covered cart bridge on the sixth hole. After several heart-stopping encounters with golfers, the mama bear was “nudged” to a more remote area by a team of maintenance staffers. 
For years, there were sightings of a three-legged bear called “Tripod” by the locals, and area golfers experience the occasional sightings of deer, bobcats, and turkeys. A sun-worshipping garter snake hung out on the same drainage pipe day after day one season, to the point that he came to be known as Freddie.
People like me, as well as the good golfers, find pleasure in the “good walk spoiled” as John Feinstein famously wrote in his book of the same name.
For someone new to the Plateau, there are numerous golf venues. The immediate area features 15 golf courses, three of which are public. The public courses are all different but together can provide an overview of the special nature of mountain golf.
v The oldest is High Hampton, recently purchased by Daniel Communities, which is planning an extensive upgrade of the golf course-among other major improvements. A fun local legend explains the fact that for years the golf course had only 11 holes. The story goes that a previous owner, E.L. McKee, got the bill for those first 11 holes, was shocked by it, and cut off the project there. It would be decades before the other seven holes were added. High Hampton boasts some recent color, too, as the television version of the classic Dirty Dancing was filmed there in 2016, and many people on the staff were enlisted as extras.
v Sapphire National Country Club offers a true traditional mountain golf experience. Rated four and-a-half stars by Golf Digest, the course showcases mountains, valleys, and waterfalls and a memorable fifteenth hole island green.
v For a real change of pace, check out the Red Bird Links in Sapphire Valley. An executive course, which consists of six par three holes and three par fours, it's a great course for beginners as well as more seasoned players interested in polishing a short game. A weekly golf clinic is available during season, as well as a junior golf program, and the winter finds the course used for “foot golf,” a family-friendly game utilizing soccer balls.
Like all golfing paradises, there are funny stories in those majestic mountains, another factor that keeps people like me coming back. One full-time resident, who has been know to tee it up on “mild” days in January, recalls an older gentleman who loved the game and had, in fact, “shot his age” several times. On one memorable outing, everyone drove onto the fairway from the tee box to hit their second shots. The gentleman struggled to find his ball, temporarily stopping the play, until he remembered that he hadn't hit a tee shot.
There are countless stories of determined golfers falling into water in search of errant golf balls. What these stories all seem to have in common is white pants. I also heard the story of one friend trying to help another who had fallen into a pond, only to fall in himself for a double-whammy.
Water, of course, is a huge component of the mountain golf scene, to the extent that one local golfer walks a course early some mornings, retrieving lost underwater balls as he goes. He donates his considerable yield to the First Tee Foundation which promotes values like integrity and perseverance in young golfers, a comforting thought to golfers like me who have left many a ball behind in the water.
Then there was a gentleman from Japan who had very limited experience with the game. His host explained that the containers of sand on the cart were for divots. At the end of the round, the host discovered that his guest had carefully placed each and every divot he made into the container.
As I write these stories, I'm beginning to feel better about my golf game. Did I mention the time I won a nine-holer season championship, only to be informed, post-award ceremony, that I had not played enough rounds to qualify? I can't make this up, but my Waterford bowl prize was taken away and handed to the second-place winner as I sipped my celebratory champagne. 
And still, as long as I live in this beautiful place, I can't find the heart to quit. Nine and dine anyone?