Monday, September 27, 2010

Picking chestnuts in the fall at Solomons Island, Maryland

When we bought our boat, we chose Newport, Rhode Island as our hailing port, thinking we will spend our summers in the sailing capital. Little did we know. Twice we cruised north from Florida, and both times got only as far as the Chesapeake Bay. There was so much to explore along the Eastern Seaboard that by the time we got to the Chesapeake Bay, summer would be almost over. Fall brings cooler temperatures and beautiful fall colors, and then it was time to head south to warmer climes.

One September found Mai Thai docked at Solomons Island, Maryland. Located on the Patuxent River, this neat little place is a cruiser’s haven, abound with restaurants, marinas, boatyards, and marine stores. We were walking the marina neighborhood one morning when my visiting sister-in-law spied something spiky lying around two mighty tall trees. She picked it up, inspected it, and surmised it to be a chestnut. She was right! After this initial discovery, my sister-in-law would walk over to those chestnut trees every morning, and return with a large paper bag full of chestnuts. We dubbed her the bag lady, and joked that she was taking food away from the squirrels.

And what were we going to do with all these chestnuts?
Chestnuts, in and out of their burs
We had an idea. Every time our cousins visit from Paris, they always bring us gifts of dark chocolate and marrons glacé (candied chestnut confection, usually available around the Christmas holidays). Those delicious glazed chestnuts came to mind. We got a production line going in Mai Thai's tiny little galley. We donned gloves to remove the chestnuts from their prickly husks or burs. Then we washed them, and peeled off their skin. 
Washed, ready to be peeled
Glazing the chestnuts
Next, we boiled and glazed them with sugar, and spiked some with a hint of Cognac. Voilà, we got marrons glacé! Not bad for our first try at making a candied confection. We were quite pleased with the results.
Our candied chestnut confection - les marron glacé!

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Sunday, September 19, 2010

The most beautiful college campus in the South

Can you think of a top liberal arts college in the South?

Welcome to the University of the South. I first heard about the beautiful campus from a boater friend. The next time the name crossed my radar screen was when I saw it in the U.S. News and World Report liberal arts college ranking. The University of the South was built in 1857 by the bishops of the Episcopal Church. A stunning stained-glass Chapel with a 5,000-pipe organ and a majestic bell tower are among its unique buildings. Walking around the campus, you may get the feeling you are wandering around Oxford University. To this day, the professors and honor students still wear academic robes.

Sitting on 13,000 acres, atop the Cumberland Plateau between Chattanooga and Nashville, the University of the South has plenty of outdoor activities to offer its students, from hiking, biking to rock climbing. It is only half hour from our marina, and now that the weather is a tad cooler, we took the opportunity to explore the university yesterday. While researching for some hiking trails, I came across surveys and reports (Princeton Review, Sherman Travel) that listed University of the South as one of the top 10 most beautiful campus.

Take a look at the video and see if you agree...
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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Anchoring on the Tennessee River: Little Cedar Mountain on Lake Nickajack

The captain had such a good time swimming in the river last weekend he wanted to do it again. And why not? It's still hot during the day, with temperatures in the 90s, so we thought we'd get some swimming in before the summer’s over.

Less than five miles away from our marina is a little cove at the base of Little Cedar Mountain (green daymarker 426.9), where we often anchor on weekends. This lovely cove is sheltered, with wind protection from every direction except the south. Water depth decreases to 16 feet, 12 if you venture in a little more. This anchorage is big enough to hold several boats. A mid-size powerboat was already at anchor when we pulled in around 7 Friday evening. After we set our anchor, we hung out on the flybridge to enjoy the scenery and the tranquility of the evening. 
Anchored at Little Cedar Mountain
Embayment at the base of Little Cedar Mountain

Glenda and Steve joined us on their houseboat The Awfiss later that night. These are gung-ho boaters, known to boat even in the winter! Tonight they got off to a late start. We called and warned them about a gigantic log that we almost hit on our way here. Out in the channel, they reported winds that kicked up a 2-foot wake. Our anchorage was blissfully calm. We helped them tie up to our portside. The water that night was so still we thought we never left the marina.

A blue heron broke the silence when it let out a hoarse cry as it flew inches above the river across the anchorage. I am reminded of the time I first fell in love with boating – waking up in the morning to complete solitude, surrounded by nature.
Morning scenery
Minutes later, it started to rain. A good thing because Chattanooga needed the rain bad. So does our bimini top (we are in a covered slip, and spiders thrive on the river). Later that afternoon the sun came out and we enjoyed a refreshing swim on the river. 

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Exploring Chattanooga, Tennessee

It was unbearably hot all summer. Our boat A/C has been running non-stop since July. Coming into September, it finally cooled off. Some mornings and evenings were even a tad chilly. The afternoons still find temperatures in the high 80s. Such was the weather this past Labor Day weekend when a couple of friends came to visit. We showed them some of our Top 5 things to do in Chattanooga.

The Battle for Chattoonoga during the Civil War on Lookout Mountain
Chattanooga waterfront at dusk
Coolidge Park at night
The Tennessee River Gorge from Raccoon Mountain
Cruising on the Tennessee River

Frolicking on the Tennessee River
How was your Labor Day weekend?

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