Monthly Archives: August 2014

Climbing Stone Mountain

mr. ali and us

It’s Throwback Thursday, and I thought I’d share these photos from June of last year when Big Man and I climbed Stone Mountain.  Our guide was a former colleague of mine whom I’ve adopted as a kind of surrogate grandfather to Big Man.   We’ll call him Go-Pa.  Go-Pa used to teach Math, build houses and did a stint in the Army back in the ’60s.   Now retired, he is an avid nature and still-life photographer who regularly swims, bikes, travels and climbs. 

Though I like to consider myself a bit of a “nature girl” and was actually the one who asked to tag along on Go-Pa’s hike, there were times during our adventure that I silently (and Big Man quite audibly) wanted to retreat to the cabana-covered picnic tables that we saw on our way up.  Pretty sad since the hike took only about an hour.  Yet my elder friend’s experience and patience (he didn’t seem to mind that our joining him doubled the time it would have taken him to climb solo) helped see us all through patches of woods, up slippery slopes and to the summit where we were able to see treetops and vistas of Atlanta. 

One of the reasons I wanted to go on the climb was to teach Big Man a lesson– one that he’d feel in his muscles and bones– about endurance and pacing.   I also wanted him to have a solid image in his memory bank of an active, intelligent and creative elder so that he knows that in time he can be that, too. 

That said, below are a few of the other photos that we took during our climb and our grubbing on pizza at Fellini’s afterward. 

mr. ali and us 3


mr. ali and us 2

climbing stone mountain

mr. ali and us 4


mr. ali and us 5


Easy Rice and Peas

rice and peas


Recently, we visited Togolese friends  for a day at their pool followed by (what Big Man called) a “family feast” of simple but delicious food:   herbed chicken, black eyed peas, brown rice, salad and a typical West African sauce made of pureed ginger, onions and tomatoes.  Instead of sauteeing the puree in palm oil, our host, Mimi, used coconut oil which  gave the sauce a slightly sweet, nutty flavor.  Others at the table immediately commented on the taste which was a apparently familiar.  Mimi confirmed that coconut oil is, in fact, a traditional cooking fat in West Africa. Our  Interestingly enough, a few days before this visit, we had taken our weekly cruise through Trader Joe’s and sampled Asian dumplings that had also been sauteed in coconut oil with equally-delicious results.

Both of these culinary encounters encouraged me to  try coconut oil for more than an ingredient to mix with melted shea butter to make it more smooth when I put it on my and Big Man’s skin and hair.  I think that adding it to the mix  is the secret to making a yummy, flavorful pot of rice and peas, a dish I’ve made for years but that never tasted quite like I wanted.  Try this easy recipe, and if you’re feeling kind, tell me how it turned out :).



Rice of choice
I used basmati for us.  I love the smell and also that it’s said to have low glycemic index.

Red beans
I used a can of dark red kidney beans.  Some people use pigeon peas.  Proportion is approximately half the quantity of rice.

Spices of choice
I used powdered garlic and onion and chicken flavored bouillon.

Scotch bonnet/habanero pepper (optional)–
Watch out.  This one is super hot.  If you want some of the spice, DO NOT cut or puncture the pepper.  Simply let the whole pepper cook with the other ingredients and carefully remove before serving.

Wash, rinse and drain rice and set aside.  Sauté the chopped onion and bell pepper in the coconut oil on medium heat.  Add rice and sauté.  Add two parts water to one part rice.  Add all remaining ingredients, stir well, cover and reduce heat.  Cook on low heat for about twenty-five minutes or until rice is desired tenderness.

Rice and peas image from

Destination: Asheville (Part Two)


Our visit to Asheville was very brief.   After Big Man’s dad picked us up from Greenville, we spent the night at a Holiday Inn Express that I found on Trip Advisor.   All I’ll say about our lodging is that it should have been better for what we paid, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.

We slept for about 8 hours, showered, ate in the hotel’s dining room, stocked up on fruit and yogurt and hit the road.   We ended up taking a back road from South Carolina into North Carolina–US 25, I think.  We wound our way through the dense green of the Blue Ridge Parkway and eventually found our way to their visitor’s center.  Incidentally, this was not where we needed to be.  Once we finally figured that out, it was easy enough to correct our course and find our way to the Asheville Visitor’s Center where we joined one of their hop on/hop off trolley tours.    (I’m now completely sold on city tours after the amazing time that we had last year in Chattanooga after taking Tennessee Riverboat and Lookout Mountain tours).



Big Man was excited to ride on the trolley bus and impressed by the amount of trivia and historical info that the guides had committed to memory. “How do they know all of that stuff?,” he whispered in wide-eyed wonder. (It turned out that one of the guides was actually a history teacher.) Some interesting tidbits that we learned:

* Asheville is jokingly referred to as the city built by TB.  The wealthy visited the city as a place to partake of pristine quality of air rumored to be found in that part of the Blue Ridge mountains.  Many would have their beds placed out on the verandas of their homes so that they could essentially be bathed in its purity.

* The Blue Ridge mountains are a sub-range of the Appalachian trail.  The Rockies and the Poconos are part of the same family of mountains.

* Many of the city’s architects were either from places further up the Eastern Seaboard or as far away as England.  Two of the architects were Richard Sharp Smith and Frederick Law Olmsted.

* Dogs are like honored citizens in Asheville and are welcomed in many public places, including upscale businesses like Battery Park Book Exchange, much to Big Man’s delight.

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We hopped off the tour to visit the exquisitely-preserved vehicles at the Estes-Winn Antique Car Museum, cruised through of the River Arts District  and Biltmore Village (which appealed to me more than I thought it would) and ended our day trip with a meal at a Cuban restaurant in Battery Park and locally-grown blackberries that we bought from a small market in the elegant Grove Arcade and took along on as dessert on our drive home to Atlanta.


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I must say that I saw few families with school-aged children walking about and even fewer people of color in Asheville.     Still, I would like to go back to stay for maybe a weekend to visit a spa, sample more of their farm-to-table cuisine and do a walking tour to get a better feel for the place.  Surely there’s far more to it than we could see in a day.

All in all, I think our Amtrak adventure was a good one and  may also  look into this Christmas Special Dinner Train run by the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum later this year.  We’ll see.

In the meantime, here is a sampling of books that relate to folk arts and crafts and culinary traditions, especially those of the Carolinas.


amtrak blog post (4)

splash of red

splash of red 2

philip simmons

amtrak blog post (5)


Asheville skyline image from .