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. Every time we headed north from Florida, we had gone 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, it was already end of summer. Fall brings cooler temperatures and beautiful fall colors, and then it was time to head south to warmer climes.

 The Chesapeake Bay is about 200 miles (300 km) long, stretching from Havre de Grace, Maryland on the Susquehanna River to Norfolk, Virginia on the Atlantic Ocean. It is the largest estuary in the United States. Its shores are dotted with quaint towns, rustic farms and beautiful sceneries. Limitless miles of serpentine tributaries provide countless coves for gunkholing, making the Chesapeake Bay a wonderful cruising ground. With gentle waters, and creeks teeming with wildlife, oysters and blue crabs, it is no wonder the early settlers came and never left.
Steamed blue crabs. Yum!
Our mission was to explore new anchorages and look for the quintessential Chesapeake Bay crabshack. We found the latter at Sandgates Inn in Mechanicsville on the Patuxent River. It serves the best steamed blue crabs and soft-shelled crabs. The side dishes - cole slaw and French Fries were excellent too. As for anchorages, there were so many in the Chesapeake Bay! Our favorite is the picturesque Gibson Island.
Sunrise at Gibson Island
Crab traps and work boats on Tilghman Island
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.

One morning, we were walking the marina neighborhood when my sister-in-law, who was visiting, spotted 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 my husband's 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!
This post has been entered into the Grantourismo - HomeAway travel writing competition for September.

You might also like:
Heat Wave in Paris, France Small is beautiful Picking pecans in the fall

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...
You might also like:
The best vacation destinations in Tennessee, part 1 (Chattanooga) A walk down memory lane ... in Boston Savoring the last days of summer

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Cruising the Tennessee River at 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.
passing by the ubiquitous see Rock City sign
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.
Embayment at the base of Little Cedar Mountain
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.

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).

Glenda and Steve joined us on their houseboat 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.
Morning scenery
Anchored at Little Cedar Mountain
A refreshing swim on the river

How was your weekend?

You might also like:
Now You See It, Now You Don't Port of Call: Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts Cruising during the dog days of summer

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 our favorite things to do in Chattanooga, many of which are free.
Chattanooga waterfront at dusk
Coolidge Park at night
The Battle for Chattoonoga during the Civil War on Lookout Mountain
The Tennessee River Gorge from Raccoon Mountain
Cruising on the Tennessee River

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

You might also like:
Fall Foliage in Chattanooga, Tennessee Hiking in the fall at Stringer’s Ridge Riverbend Music Festival in Chattanooga, TN