I thought I’d seen almost all the interesting orchids there were to see. I’d been to several world-class botanical gardens, each with very fine orchid specimens. When I walked into the Fuqua Orchid Center of the Atlanta Botanical Garden, I knew from the outset that the collection was exceptional. What I saw was only a portion of the 2,000 species that the center cultivates. Come back in a couple of months and the display will be different. The gallery of images below makes no attempt at identification and certainly is a small portion of the (then) current exhibit.
It was a surprise to me—and probably a lot of other people, too—when I learned from my wife’s cousin that Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited in all of America. Even more than Grand Canyon, Yosemite or Yellowstone. Hard to fathom.
One big reason is that there is no fee to enter the park. Tennessee can be thanked for adding the free-access stipulation when Newfound Gap Road, then the main artery for crossing the southern Appalachians, was transferred to federal jurisdiction. Lying between North Carolina and Tennessee, the park has over 800 square miles of protected land that hosts an incredible bounty of plant and animal life. Ample rainfall exceeded only by my own Pacific Northwest has produced a temperate rain forest. All that moisture gives rise to abundant condensation, giving the appearance of the characteristic blue smoke that seems to hover over the mountains.
One of the best ways to experience this diversity up close is to take a hike among the 800 miles of trails. Being wildflowers enthusiasts, my wife’s cousin and her husband, who live in Asheville, took us on a couple of hikes that showcased some of the over 1,500 wildflowers that bloom during the year.
We were also taken on a drive along the Newfound Gap Road along which are high-elevation lookouts with spectacular views of the Smokies. Their gently sloping sides are indicative of extreme age; geologists estimate 200-300 million years old. In the early summer, the hills are literally covered with spectacular catawba rhododendrons.
Our brief visit here only whetted our appetite for a return visit or two.
I was surprised to learn that the Great Smoky Mountains have the most species of wildflowers of any place in North America. There are reportedly over 1,500 that bloom year-round, and all you have to do is take one of the many trails in the park to view them. Because my wife’s cousin and her husband live in Asheville, they take many of those hikes. They have become experts at identifying them and knowing what time of year the various flowers blossom. Since we were visiting them, they were happy to take us on a few trails.
Since we arrived in late April/early May, the literature points out that this is the time for what are called spring ephemerals, flowers that blossom as early as late winter and into early spring before the deciduous trees overhead leaf out, lasting only a month or two before they die.
The following are photographs that were taken on two separate hikes.
- Appalachian Trail – Romancing the flowers in the Great Smoky Mountains (writer77.wordpress.com)
Ever have a sour beer? Not one that’s gone bad, but a beer that’s brewed that way? It’s quite distinctive, deriving its sourness from lactic acid. Monk’s offers a Flemish sour ale that is made for them in Belgium. On first taste, the sourness is surprising, but it grows on you. It pairs especially well with the restaurant’s specialty, steamed mussels, which come in a variety of preparations. All the mussels are cultivated in the cold waters of Nova Scotia. The dish pictured above is the Red Light Mussels steamed in Belgian witbier (white ale), fumé blanc, toasted chile de arbol peppers, chervil and garlic. The mussel meat was small (the way I like them) and perfectly cooked, if somewhat gritty. All the mussel dishes come with Belgian fries, cut small and twice-fried for crispiness, accompanied by a tasty bourbon mayonnaise. A single roll is also provided for sopping up the delicious broth.
- Belgian Sour Beer at Brouwer’s (Seattle, WA) (zoomeboshi.com)
264 S 16th St
The hoagies of Philadelphia are justifiably famous. The sheer number of restaurants that serve them keeps the competition high. Besides Chickie’s, Carmen’s is a local favorite. I ate one of their sandwiches on our last trip to Philadelphia and was impressed. I ordered the same hoagie again, the Super Italian, filled with sweet sopressata, capocola, mortadella, tomatoes, onion, lettuce, and roasted spicy peppers, whose fire sort of sneaks up on you. The bread here was light, yet wonderfully crispy and seeded on the outside. I much preferred the bread here than at Chickie’s, which uses Sarcone’s. Here, on some sandwiches you can also add “extras” like sharp Provolone and broccoli rate, Philly favorites.
Carmen’s Italian Hoagies
51 N 12th St
Philadelphia, PA 19107
Between Arch St & Filbert St
Tommy Di Nic’s is another hoagie stand (Reading Terminal Station in Philadelphia) that appears on many favorite lists. They specialize in roast beef and roast pork, as well as pulled pork. I got the roast pork, plentiful slices that were piled into a light, crispy roll, mounded with sautéed broccoli rabe and sharp Provolone, and finally finished with pork gravy. This was a superb sandwich, with ingredients that typify the hoagie made in this part of the country (including Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware).
Adam Richman ate and praised this sandwich on his Man v. Food show back in 2009 (Season 2).
Reading Terminal Market
1136 Arch Street
12th and Arch streets
Philadelphia, PA 19107
Chickie’s is one of many restaurants in Philadelphia that make Italian hoagies. The veggie and tuna sandwiches are their two famous specialties. The vegetarian in particular has received several awards and media recognition. Chickie’s claims that even blue collar workers can’t resist it. Roasted red bell pepper, baked eggplant and sauteed broccoli rabe are nestled in a sliced and lightly toasted bread made by Sarcone’s, a long-time bakery in the Italian shopping district. Grated sharp Provolone and a vinaigrette dressing round out this delicious sandwich. I found that the bread suffers from a somewhat dense and chewy texture, like a baguette, with the result that biting into it causes the filling to be squeezed out at the opposite end. Other than that, this is a noteworthy hoagie. The tuna sandwich (featuring oil-packed tuna, which is much more flavorful than water-packed) will have to wait for another visit.
Chickie’s Italian Deli
1014 Federal Street