WV: Ramps & Rails Festival

Hey There!

This past weekend I got to head back to my dear West Virginia for a festival. WV has a ton of festivals, and I’ve made it a goal of mine to try to go to more of them. From small festivals to large ones like the Mountain State Forest Festival, there is always something to be celebrated.

This particular adventure was to the Ramps & Rails festival in Elkins, WV. It made the top of my list because my dear friend “A” (my maid of honor) and her fellow “C” were assisting at a tie dye booth, so I was able to hit the festival and spend the weekend with her.

Now, you may be asking – what’s a ramp? I’ve always heard them described as a wild onion, perhaps a better description is a wild leek. Ramps have a bulb, flat leaves, and a sharp garlicky taste. They are also rather, well, pungent.

The festival was held at the Elkins Depot Welcome Center. There was live music, about 50 different vendors, and lots and lots of ramp-inspired foods.

Everyone knows the best part of a carnival is the food – kettle corn, cotton candy, and other classic favorites. Festivals are no different. There’s just something about food from a festival vendor that tastes twice as good. “A” laughed at me as I  hopped completely on board for all of the ramp food offerings.

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We had a deep-fried ramp wantons (which were sinfully good), a pulled pork sandwich with slaw and a mild ramp BBQ sauce, a chocolate ramp-infused cupcake with ramp buttercream icing (Yup, you read that right.), and just when I thought I’d tried everything – I saw it. There, scribbled in dry erase on the window of a food truck, was – rampperoni rolls!

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Now y’all, I am a pepperoni roll purist. Nothing belongs in my pepperoni rolls, but well, pepperoni, but you don’t get much more Appalachian than a rampperoni roll. The ramps made the whole flavor change. Honestly, it had a green pepper vibe to it, and it was like eating a supreme pizza roll.

The Fellow was super bummed he couldn’t make it to the festival, so I brought him home a Rampperoni roll (They were originally made to be carried in coal miners’ lunches, so they travel well and don’t need refrigerated.), and he loved it.

We hung out with some old friends, listened to the live music, and watched a little square dancing. It was absolutely the WV fix I needed.

What is your favorite festival (or your favorite part of a festival)? Let me know in the comments!

 

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West Virginia Day

It’s West Virginia Day! This special day is when West Virginia officially broke from Virginia and was admitted to the Union.

It’s funny, but it’s still weird for me not to be at 4-H camp when June 20th rolls around. I was fortunate enough to be home at Jackson’s Mill (the boyhood home of Stonewall Jackson) for the sesquicentennial. We had so many awesome events that year including a walk through history with famous West Virginians which ended at the pond where a huge lighted outline of our beloved state was reflected in the water at the close of our candle lighting ceremony.

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I’ll never forget that amazing state birthday.

I made so many friends from all over the state through 4-H, and I loved hearing about their counties. It’s part of what sparked our WV road trips.

We sing a song near the end of 4-H camp called “Come Home to West Virginia.” It never fails to make me tear up, now more than ever, as I find myself just shy of the right side of the West Virginia line.

“Come home to West Virginia; come hear the mountain song. You’ve been away too long.”

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On her birthday, I wanted to revisit some of my favorite places I’ve explored and the wonderful friends I’ve made. Several of whom are hiding their tears behind those sunglasses as they sing in that video.

Thank you all for sharing these awesome adventures with me. I can’t see to where my next adventure will take me.

Hawks Nest State Park

On our latest WV trip, we stayed at Hawks Nest State Park. The park is situated in the Gorge overlooking the New River. For a few more dollars, we opted to book a corner suite, and it was completely worth it.

Because it was a corner room, it seemed as if the room was suspended in the trees. Both walls had large windows with the most amazing views of the river.

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As we drove back from dinner, we were heading straight into some pretty dark clouds, and we just made it into the room as the storm broke.

I love thunder storms, the wide, open power and the feel of the warm wind as it whips through the trees. Sitting on the balcony at the Hawks Nest was incredible. As far as you can see, there is nothing but trees and mountains. As the thunder cracked, I could hear the sound travel and listen as it echoed through the hills. The lightning flashed illuminating the light sides of the leaves, and it left me breathless. I sat out for at least an hour that night.

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After a good nights sleep, I got up and spent another hour in the calm after the storm and watched the sun creep over the mountains. It was an absolutely phenomenal experience I am so glad that I got a chance to have.

John Henry

On the final leg of our WV travels, we stopped at the John Henry statue in Talcott, WV. As a kid, one of my brother and I’s favorite movies was Tall Tale, a collection of folk legends and stories of the Wild West. One of the prominent characters in the film was John Henry, famous for his race against a steel-driving machine.

When I watched the movie, I never realized that he was actually a real flesh and blood man nor that his famous stand against the machine took place in the hills of West Virginia.

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The statue once sat along the road (a rather precarious place to pull off and visit), but has since been relocated to the mouth of the Big Bend Tunnel where the contest took place.

The history of  the tunnel and John Henry is fascinating. Befitting an American legend, he was a mountain of a man who could swing two hammers at once (He used smaller hammers so he could swing them one-handed). As he would swing the hammers, he would sing to keep time. When the company brought in a drilling machine, the idea of losing an honest day’s work didn’t sit right with John Henry, and he entered into a competition with the machine. He drove a steel spike 4 feet deeper than the machine, preserving his livelihood.

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Some versions of the story end with him dying of exertion in the mouth of the tunnel with his hammer in his hand. While that may be a bit of poetic embellishment, it is more generally believed that this great figure died in an explosion and was laid to rest without a marker in a mass grave at the end of the tunnel along with other workers and mules.

The years have blurred the details of the life of this “Steel-Driving Man.” His story has been the basis for so many poems, songs, movies, and plays that John Henry has almost been forgotten as a real man and has become just another Tall Tale.

Chestnut Revival: Hinton, WV

This past weekend we finished up our WV road trips. I’ve now set foot in all 55 of West Virginia’s counties. We still need to circle back and get a picture by the Mineral County sign, but it’s close so no worries there.

The first day of our journey was straight forward enough – a short stop at the John Henry statue in Talcott, lunch at the Chestnut in Hinton, and then on to the New River Gorge and Hawks Nest State Park.

The John Henry statue and Hawks Nest were neat, and I’ll share those experiences with you next week, but this week I want to focus on the Chestnut.

We stopped by the Chestnut on a whim during one of our trips two years ago and enjoyed it so much, we decided to stop back on this trip.

Nestled on the lower street of a riverside town, the Chestnut Revival is a coffee shop and former B & B. While a muted lilac teacup sign beckons outside, inside the atmosphere is surprisingly vivid. This is entirely due to the personality of owner/manager Verona.

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Everything in the Chestnut has clearly been touched and influenced by Verona – from the mis-matched tables and chairs to the unique combinations of flavors in the food.

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It is an eclectic shop to say the least. The walls are covered in local artists’ work, family photos, masks, Mardi Gras beads, and an entire wall of signatures from pleased customers. I’m completely convinced that you could spend an hour there and still not take everything in.

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Verona greeted us like old friends (spend 20 minutes there and you’ll quickly become old friends), and she remembered us from our last visit. I’m not sure what I enjoyed more – our visit with Verona or the food and drink! Her tea selection was quite impressive, and she made me her custom spin on a London Fog.

The reason we decided to stop back in the first place though was the food, and we were not disappointed! I had a turkey bacon on ciabatta, Mama had a BLT on sourdough bread, and Daddy had a French Dip. I stole some of his dip for my own sandwich, and it was divine. She also gave us a sample of her mushroom soup which was yuuuumy! Did I mention that she makes her own mayonnaise?

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We sat and chatted and sipped our lavender rose iced tea and then finished our meal off by splitting a house specialty – a giant salted caramel chocolate chip M&M cookie.

Mama said we almost need to make a yearly pilgrimage to the Chestnut, and I most definitely agree!

Twin Falls State Park Resort

Hey There!

The Fellow, some friends, and I all took Friday and Monday off from work to relax in Twin Falls State Park Resort in Mullens, WV over a long weekend last week.

My parents and I stayed at the lodge at Twin Falls on one of our WV road trips the other year, and it was nice, but for this trip I really just wanted to be in nature and not around a ton of people, so we booked one of the cabins, loaded up the old Jeep, and headed down.

We made one stop in nearby Beckley before we settled into the cabin for the weekend. A friend from work had mentioned that there was an artisan glass blower at the Tamarack who offered mini glass blowing sessions where you can blow your own cup, vase, or Christmas ornament, so we headed there first.

I have loved glass blowing since I read a book about it when I was a kid. I’ve gotten to watch glass blowing a few times, but the opportunity to get my hands on a blowing wand myself was amazing!

The artist is John Desmeules, and he was wonderful! He made you feel so at ease (especially considering you are working with 2000-degree liquid glass) and was fun! He handles most of the more sensitive parts of the process, but you really do have your hands on most of the project. I loved it!

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We also saw the work of John Garton at the Tamarack which was nice. I camped with his sons in 4-H, and he made our amazing Totem Poles for State Council Circle. Check his stuff out!

From there we went on to the park, ready to get in the cottage for the weekend. It was just what I needed! The cabin was small and rustic; it had two bedrooms – one with a full bed and the other with two twins. The couch and the loveseat both pulled out into beds, so the cabin could sleep 6 or 7 depending on how you bunk people.

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We packed a cooler of food as there was a full kitchen, and the resort provided firewood and starter. It was amazing. We had hot dogs and s’mores, and we stayed up late hanging out and playing board games. During the day, we went hiking and explored the park.

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We stopped to look at the Pioneer Farm before we headed out to hike to the falls. It was such a neat spot. A family lives on the farm and works it. The chickens and ducks are all hand raised by the daughter in the family who gave us a history lesson of the farm. The farm has been there since the early 1900s, and the barns and outbuilding were built from lumber salvaged from other homesteads which were once on the park.

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Between the cabin, history, hiking and friends, this weekend was everything I needed!

Maryland Heights

Hey, kids! I just realized that I didn’t share my hiking adventure from a few weeks ago with you.

I’m really trying to get myself in shape. I’ve had a rough few months what with winter and some minor health issues, but I’m putting an emphasis on nutrition and vitamins, and I am starting to get back on track.

When I was in college, everybody went to Harper’s Ferry on the weekends, and practically everyone had the same picture of them up on Maryland Heights. I’ve been saying I want to go to Harper’s Ferry for probably two years now, but I just never made the time to go.

Two weekends ago, the Fellow and I managed to have a day off together, and we went. I finally got my picture.

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The Fellow’s rolls through everything like a tank pace is much brisker than mine, so I could’ve used more of a leisurely pace rather than full speed ahead, but we made it.

The whole thing is one uphill climb, and at one point it’s very rocky. Being an incredibly clumsy sort, I consider myself lucky that I only tripped once or twice and didn’t roll my ankle or roll off the mountain.

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We packed a backpack and had a PB&J picnic at the top overlook. I sent my poor mother the last picture and all she said back was, “let me know when you’re safely back on the ground.”

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He loves me; he carried the pack.

So much fun and I can’t wait for our next adventure! We’ve got plans for the end of March which I can’t wait to share with you.

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No Pan WV Road Trip: Family and Fiestaware

On the second of day of our trip, we were up bright and early to continue our quest to visit every county in the great state of West Virginia. On our way up the panhandle, we decided to swing by the house of a relative whom my folks hadn’t seen in nearly 30 years.

Now in our neck of the woods, it’s pretty common for people to drop by unannounced, so we hadn’t called ahead to see if they were home. Actually, we didn’t have a phone number – just an address from a Christmas card. On our first attempt, we missed them, but since we were in the area, we thought we would give it one more try, and fortunately that time we caught them.

They were the sweetest people, especially with us just turning up on their doorstep. We sat around their kitchen table, and my father and his cousin reminisced about relatives and started puzzling out details on the family tree. I absolutely loved getting to know them. It’s wonderful to meet new (new to me) members of the family.

It turned out there was a lot of “family” on this trip. They rang us later and invited us to breakfast before we headed home the next day. So nice. In addition, skipping forward a bit, on our way home we stopped to attend my great-aunt’s 90th birthday party. It was amazing. All of the cousins, aunts, uncles, children, chatter, food, and fellowship. I was so glad that we went!

But back to our trip – as we drove up along the Ohio River, we were able to check off the counties of Ohio, Brooke, and Hancock. We visited the Homer Laughlin Fiestaware Factory in Newell and checked out the World’s Largest Teapot in Chester. Traveling back down to Wheeling, we spent our last evening of the trip shopping at Cabela’s and taking in the Festival of Lights again. Now we only have two counties to go – Webster and Monroe!

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Now that we’ve returned, my focus has switched to Christmas, and I’m so excited about showing some of my Christmas decorations in the next blog.

For now though I want to leave you with a picture of these sweet harvest foxes a lady at work gifted me after I admired them. Just had to show them to you. Look how sweet!

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No Pan WV Road Trip: Festival of Lights

It’s December first, and Christmas is in full swing.

After our adventure at the fish market, we headed to the initial reason behind this road trip – getting Mama to the Festival of Lights at the Oglebay Resort in Wheeling. She liked it so much that we ended up going twice!

This was one of those situations where I’m glad Daddy drives. The holiday light show is one of the nation’s largest, covering more than 300 acres over a six-mile drive throughout the resort. As we went so early in November, it wasn’t terribly crowded, but there were still people out and about.

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Not all displays are Christmas-themed, but they are all absolutely amazing. I think my favorites were the giant swans on the lake, while Mama was impressed by Cinderella’s Castle, the jumping horse and rider, and the snowflake tunnel.

If you can make it there, it would be a marvelous addition to your Christmas festivities!

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No Pan WV Road Trip: Coleman’s Fish Market

“I’ll try anything once, twice if I like it, and a third time to make sure.” – Mae West

My only real request for this trip was to see the Palace of Gold. The rest was up to my folks. My mother thought we should check out TripAdvisor’s #1 restaurant in Wheeling, the world-famous Coleman’s Fish Market.

I  said ok, even though I really don’t like fish, and the thought of eating at a fish market conjured up a picture in our family vacation scrapbook of me as a kid in Ocean City, Maryland, sitting outside a fish restaurant, fishing nets as the backdrop, pinching my nose at the smell.

Thankfully, as we approached the fish market, I realized that my fears were unfounded. Coleman’s Fish Market is nestled between the first and second buildings of the historic Center Market in Wheeling, WV. You can walk around the outside of the building or go through the center to view all of the little artistry shops, bakeries, and restaurants. (I recommend this route!)

Realizing that I wasn’t a fish-eater, my mother worried that I wouldn’t find anything to eat. I figured that almost every place sells chicken, fish market or not, and if things got really dire, there’s always French fries.

Looking at the menu, I was amazed by all of their offerings from their specialty: a classic fish sandwich to more . . . exotic foods. They have the most extensive fish menu I’ve ever seen.

Once we figured out their regular menu vs. specialty menu line ordering system, we were good to go – with one small hitch. I’d decided that I wanted frog legs. (Hey, where else was I going to try them?) Unfortunately, frog legs need to be a call-ahead item, as they are frozen and take about 40 minutes to thaw and prepare. I guess they aren’t such a popular menu item.

So I settled on alligator soup. The soup was akin to a veggie beef stew with a Cajun seasoning. The alligator was a dark meat and kind of flaked apart in strips like beef. I couldn’t quite describe what the alligator itself tasted like. I’m going to go with a dark meat chicken taste.

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Now, the soup was good, but I was pretty bummed about not getting to eat frog legs. Since our hotel was near Wheeling, we went back the next day for a snack, and I called ahead to order my frog legs.

Oh. My. Goodness. They come in pairs. Joined at the hips – pairs.

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My father got a good chuckle at how excited I was about these. Country folk have “gigged” frogs forever, and he and his brothers ate them when they were kids. My grandmother told me that they “hop” when you fry them!!!

These came battered and deep-fried. They were still on the bone, so you pop them apart and pick them up with your fingers. It’s just like eating chicken wing dings. I actually even dipped them in ketchup. (I’m not a tartar sauce person.)

The experience was awesome, but I don’t think I’d order them again. They are the consistency of eating chicken wings, but with the taste of a Long John Silver’s fish fillet – faintly fishy, but just more beer batter, which is great if you like fish. Me? I think I’ll keep to my chicken.