Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Hiking Greenbriar State Park -- Big Red and Rock Oak Fire Trails

Greenbrier State Park, just off  I-70, is another of Maryland's lovely state parks, and offers public recreation on South Mountain, just 3 miles northeast of Boonsboro in Washington County. The state park offers camping, fishing, a boat ramp, hiking trails, and a 42-acre man-made lake with picnicking areas and a sand beach that is quite popular in the warmer months.

The opportunity to enjoy nature, even in winter when it's supposedly "dead," is not to be missed. Hiking in winter allows me to remind myself of the wonder around us. And I get to see nature in new ways -- the shape of tree branches silhouetted against a deep blue sky, the contrast between the brown leaves, evergreen mountain laurel and grey rocks... the opportunity for a bit of solitude because fair-weather hikers stay cozy inside.

Winter is my preferred season to hike. The bugs are at a minimum, the air is cooling and fresh. No humidity. And the pleasure of getting out into the sun instead of being cooped up inside is priceless.

The plan was to hike the 4.9 mile Big Red Trail (red blazes), the park's longest, that takes you through the woods and ends with a pleasant, cooling-off level walk along Greenbriar Lake. It's inclines and rocky trail causes it to be described alternately as "difficult" or "moderate," although afterward, in looking at the alltrails.com reviews, the majority of hikers agree that it's a moderate trail.

Remnants of former residents? An old farm shed or hunting blind?

We parked at the boat ramp -- there wasn't a lot of boating activity so we weren't taking a spot from a kayaker or fishing boat -- and made our way to the trail head kiosk at the treeline.

There's detailed signage for the Big Red trailhead: you can either continue (left) along the lake or (right) into the woods. We opted for the woods, and that, we believe, was the wise choice.

There was a gradual but easily doable initial incline, which leveled out and then started a descent down the side of the mountain. We noticed the green-blazed Copperhead Trail as we traveled through. Mountain laurel thrive on the mountain slopes -- this would be a really pretty hike when the mountain laurel is in bloom!

Leaves frequently covered both the Big Red Trail, which made traveling on it difficult, as it was hard to see the rocky trail -- some of the rocks seemed placed with the intent to trip up the unwitting hiker!

Although initially we decided to hike the Big Red Trail, we felt discouraged by the trailhead sign describing it as "difficult." We headed in anyway, but when we encountered the Rock Oak Fire Trail (royal blue blazes), we turned left onto it, rather than continuing along the Big Red Trail -- probably shortening the hike by at least a mile and possibly two miles. The Rock Oak Fire Trail is a 1.5 mile "short cut" that connects two ends of the Big Red Trail, traveling along an old fire road.

The Rock Oak Fire Trail offers a wider path, and presumably because vehicles might be traveling along it -- or had at some point -- it was easier to walk along, with less trippy rocks jutting up. Once on the Rock Oak Fire Trail, it began heading sideways up the mountain, so there's still significant elevation gain until you land back on the Big Red Oak Trail.

Once back on the Big Red Oak Trail, we turned left to head back toward the lake, curling left on a fairly steep incline to then follow the ridge of the mountain, making for pleasant walking. Along both trails there was evidence of old farmers' field stone piles/fences. I wondered whether the park had once been farmed.

Soon enough you come within sight of the lake and then begin a rather steep descent down to it, which made us glad we'd opted to head straight into the woods for the more gradual inclines.

Greenbriar State Park's trails are easy to navigate with detailed map signage at all the trail intersections. The Big Red Trail is a loop around the park west of the lake, and the Copperhead, Rock Oak Fire, and Snelling Fire trails intersect the bigger loop trail at various points, offering shortcuts or, conversely, opportunities to significantly extend your hike by taking the Rock Oak Fire Trail, then turning right briefly onto the Big Red Trail and right again onto the Snelling Fire Trail (which sort of parallels the Rock Oak Fire Trail), back to the Big Red Trail, and then turning left onto the Big Red Trail and following it back to the lake.

The hiking trails at Greenbriar State Park are among the best marked I've seen anywhere, with the park trail map posted whenever two trails intersect. 

You can also opt for a more level and better graded 1.3 mile walk around the lake.

For the Big Red and Rock Oak Fire trails, you will need appropriate footwear (the trails can be very rocky) -- so ankle-supporting hiking boots -- clothing and gear, including drinking water for you and your pooch.

Know before you go: Dogs are not allowed around the lake between Memorial Day and Labor Day, which means that bring pupper along with you on the Big Red Trail during that time is also not allowed.

Getting there: 21843 National Pike, Boonsboro, MD 21713

Hours: 8 a.m. to sunset

Website: https://dnr.maryland.gov/publiclands/Pages/western/greenbrier.aspx

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Saturday, January 25, 2020

Exploring the Food Scene of Two South Jersey Towns: Collingswood and Haddonfield

There's something for everyone to love to eat in South Jersey, but Collingswood and Haddonfield in particular have a lot to offer the hungry foodie in search of a unique dining experience.

Collingswood is well known for its selection of shops and restaurants, primarily along Haddon Avenue, and was ranked as the "#1 small-town food scene in America" by USA Today in May 2018.

Haddonfield isn't as well known as Collingswood for its restaurants, but its foodie scene shouldn't be overlooked and as you walk down its streets, you'll encounter a number of fun boutiques to browse. Although the town's fortunes have gone up and down over the years, it's a quaint town enjoying a resurgence, and there is more to the town than an historic tavern! Populated by fun boutiques and interesting restaurants, it's definitely a destination for those interested in trying out different international cuisines.

Mexican street corn was one of the delectable offerings at the Haddonfield Farmers Market.

Tempted to make your own? No food is as good as that which you make in your own kitchen, and for the best and freshest ingredients, you should start at the farmers markets.

Farmers Markets in Collingswood and Haddonfield

There is no excuse not to eat fresh. And if you want to meet the folks who grow your food, then you should head to a local farmers market. South Jersey offers two exemplary farmers markets in the side-by-side towns of Collingswood and Haddonfield. The Collingswood Farmers Market is entering its 20th year in 2020; the Haddonfield Farmers Market is about to celebrate its 14th year.

So whether you're shopping for fresh fruit, looking for a beautiful bouquet of flowers, or simply want to purchase what's for dinner tonight, then you'll likely find what you're looking for. And in addition to homemade items, fresh produce, and treats for the family, there's usually live music!

Fresh produce makes up almost 60% of local sales at farmers markets annually, with the remainder coming from products such as meats, cheeses, jellies, breads, salsa, eggs, honey, homemade goods and yes, even homemade dog treats.

Collingswood Farmers Market
Getting there: N Atlantic Ave, Collingswood, NJ 08108
Hours: May to Thanksgiving, Saturdays 8 a.m. - noon
Website: http://www.collingswoodmarket.com/

Haddonfield Farmers Market
Getting there: Kings Court In the center of historic Haddonfield
Hours: mid-May - mid-October, Saturdays 8:30 a.m. - 1 p.m.
Website: https://haddonfieldfarmersmarket.org/

On the Town Food Tours

Want to try sample a variety of restaurants without committing? Try On the Town Food Tours to introduce yourself to South Jersey's great food scene, as you stroll from restaurant to restaurant, all the while learning about the town's history.

Check out On the Town Food Tours locations -- owner Audrey Wiggins offers restaurant tours in Haddonfield, Mount Holly, Collingswood, Atlantic City, and Bordentown, all led by guides who know the restaurants and restaurant owners and chefs, as well as the food industry.

The British Chip Shop

Looking for traditional British comfort food? Food favorites such as cottage pie or fish and chips? The British Chip Shop's got you covered. The cottage pie was positively stuffed with Angus beef, carrots, onions and celery topped with a cheesy mashed potatoes. At the British Chip Shop, you can find British pub standards such as fish and chips, but you'll also find Coronation Chicken Salad and Tikki Masala.

Getting there: 146 E Kings Hwy, Haddonfield, NJ 08033
Website: https://thebritishchipshop.com/

Sanook Thai Cuisine

Sanook Thai Cuisine offers traditional and Thai-inspired elegant dishes such as Tom Kha Gai, a creamy coconut soup featuring lemongrass, chicken and mushrooms, and a cucumber salad, refreshing and light with sliced cucumbers, red onion, and red bell pepper tossed in a chili lime herb dressing.

Getting there: 18 Tanner Street, Haddonfield, NJ 08033

The Bistro at Haddonfield

A few doors away from Sanook's is The Bistro, which specializes in Greek cuisine. We tried a full Taste of the Mediterranian plate, with roasted garlic hummus, tzatziki (garlic cucumber dip), ktipti (spicy feta dip), garnished with Kalamata olives, roasted red peppers and cucumbers and served with toasted pita wedges. Then came out a plate of falafel sandwiches, and finally, delightful watermelon salad, with mouth-watering chunks of fresh local watermelon, arugula, candied walnuts, and feta cheese, topped with a light honey drizzle, one of the restaurant's popular, seasonal specialties.

Getting there: 57 East Kings Highway, Haddonfield NJ 08033

Valente's Italian Specialties

You can pick up the makings for a fine Italian meal at Valente's Italian Specialties, where we learned to make fresh spaghetti and enjoyed it moments later with a simple marinara sauce, sprinkled with aged Parmesan cheese. Valente's offers fine fresh pasta, sauces, and cheeses, as well as other Italian specialties.

Getting there: 7 Kings Court, Haddonfield, NJ 08033

Sweet T's Bake Shop

Don't forget desert, and for that, head to Sweet T's Bakery, with a taste of two cake pops. Sweet T's specializes in all baked goods including cupcakes, cookies, cake pops, birthday, wedding and specialty cakes.

Getting there:  14 Kings Court, Haddonfield, NJ

The Porch & Proper

Collingswood is known for its restaurants, and Porch and Proper fits right in with a menu featuring a contemporary and ever-changing menu of globally influenced dishes. The dishes will seem slightly familiar, because it's upscale American cuisine, made with regional and locally obtained ingredients that change according to the changing season.

Although the building might be 100 years old, its comfortable and inviting interior is an eclectic blend of antiques, walnut trim, warm leather, crushed velvet and comforting black and white tile. That's the proper part of the restaurant. The porch is perfect for more casual, outdoor dining. Either way, the food is the draw.

When we were there, we sampled several of the small plates, including a wonderful shrimp dish, spicy wrapped asparagus, and a delightful refreshing cucumber salad.

Getting there: 619 W Collings Ave, Collingswood, NJ 08107
Website: https://www.porchandproper.com/

Haddonfield Inn

It's totally worth staying at a bed and breakfast inn -- just for the opportunity to enjoy the luxury of an historic Victorian home.

Breakfast?? That's just icing on the cake!

We loved our stay at the Haddonfield Inn during our exploration of the area. One of the best things about staying at a bed and breakfast inn there was  the breakfast -- and Haddonfield Inn didn't disappoint!! Our breakfast started with a refreshing appetizer, Tangy Fruit Salsa.

They graciously shared the recipe!


Cinnamon Chips
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
5 (7-inch) flour tortillas

 4 peaches*, peeled and chopped
 4 kiwi fruit, peeled, sliced and quartered
 1 teaspoon lime zest
 2 teaspoons lime juice
 ½ - 1 teaspoon sugar (according to taste)

  1. For cinnamon chips, preheat oven to 400°F. In a flour/sugar shaker, combine sugar and cinnamon. 
  2. Using a kitchen spritzer, lightly spray tortillas with water; sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar mixture. 
  3. Using a pizza cutter, cut each tortilla into 8 wedges; place in single layer on a cooking sheet. Bake 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned and crisp. Move to cooling rack and cool completely.
  4. Meanwhile for salsa, chop peaches. Slice kiwi fruit and cut into quarters. 
  5. Combine all salsa ingredients in a medium sized bowl; mix gently. Serve with cinnamon chips.
Makes approximately 4 cups salsa

* 2 cans (15 or 16 ounces) peaches in juice, drained and chopped, may be substituted for the fresh peaches, if desired.

The Pub

I can't talk about restaurants in South Jersey without mentioning a very special place in Pennsauken: The Pub. But hello, the 70s are calling, and they want their steakhouse back -- but don't give it to them. Go to the Pub, instead. This amazing medieval-themed suburban steakhouse, replete with an old-fashioned salad bar. In addtition to steak entrees, you'll find seafood, chicken and other dishes.

This retro restaurant is well known in the area, and practically a mandatory stop for anyone who wants to experience a south Jersey tradition. I happened to mention to a friend who grew up in the region where I was eating, and she exclaimed that she grew up going there! She then waxed poetic about memories, and mentioned she'd even brought her kids there.

Going on 60 years of business, here's hoping this iconic restaurant enjoys another 60 years!

Getting there: 7600 Kaighn Ave, Pennsauken Township, NJ 08109
Website: http://www.thepubnj.com/

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Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Gaining Insight into our Fifth POTUS at the James Monroe Museum

There's a curious little museum in Fredericksburg dedicated to the fifth President, and the last Virginia president. James Monroe, who was born in 1758 and lived until 1831, served in the Continental Army and as a governor of Virginia; he also was a statesman, lawyer, diplomat, and Founding Father. He is perhaps best known for issuing the Monroe Doctrine, a policy of opposing European colonialism in the Americas.

We have a descendant of Monroe's to thank for this clever little museum: Monroes's law office was acquired in 1928 by Laurence Hoes, a Monroe family descendant who established the Monroe Foundation to manage the property. He accumulated a variety of artifacts related to his illustrious ancestor, restored the property, and opened it as a museum. In 1964 the addition was built, and the Monroe Foundation gave the property to the state.

The museum features original objects and memorabilia related to James Monroe, and includes several items relating to other members of his family, including dresses worn by First Lady Elizabeth Monroe.

The building the museum is housed in was his old law office between 1786 and 1789, and the museum itself is dedicated to the study, interpretation, and presentation of the life and times of the fifth President of the United States and holds the country’s largest collection of artifacts and documents related to Monroe.

Monroe had prior to this time served in the Virginia House of Delegates, and in the Congress of the Confederation, from which he resigned in 1786, dissatisfied with the politics of that body. In 1788 he was involved in the delegate to the Virginia convention on the adoption of the U.S. Constitution.

The museum offers some kid-friendly exhibits which help explain Monroe and his importance to American history, as well as provide them some insight into colonial times. 

The memorabilia is fascinating. I was particularly struck by Elizabeth Monroe's beautiful jewelry and XXXX, but I appreciated seeing some of the furniture from the Monroe White House, including the desk where he wrote the Monroe Doctrine. 

Getting there: 908 Charles St, Fredericksburg, VA 22401
Hours: March - October Monday - Saturday 9 a.m. - 4 p.m., Sunday noon - 4 p.m.; November - February Monday - Saturday 11 a.m. - 4 p.m., Sunday noon - 4 p.m. Closed Thanksgiving Day, December 24-25, 31 and January 1

Website: https://jamesmonroemuseum.umw.edu/

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Beginning in March, I started a series of posts about Fredericksburg, VA. To see others in this series, click on the label "Fredericksburg" below this post.