Active weekend around Atlanta

Sometimes hidden jewels can be found in your own backyard! Many of us travel thousands of miles to different corners of the world in search of the perfect vacation spot. After living in Atlanta for over 14 years, I discovered one right here in Georgia.

Blairsville is located in north Georgia, less than two hours drive from Atlanta. A quaint little town, nestled by the Blue Ridge Mountains, Blairsville has all the charm of a small mountain village. With lots of outdoor activities, country stores, antique shops and local restaurants, you can choose to be as active or relaxed as you like.

I decided to make an active weekend getaway to Blairsville this summer. After checking into The Lodge at Copperhead, which is only a few miles outside of Blairsville downtown, I met up with Frank of White Wolf Kayaking at the Poteete Creek Campground. We exchanged pleasantries the Southern way before getting into our individual kayaks. Friday evening was the perfect time to kayak on Lake Nottely, when the crowd had thinned out, the air was cool and the sun was ready to set into the horizon. It was very quiet and peaceful to be out there with hardly anyone around. We paddled leisurely covering a distance of about 3 miles in less than 2 hours. Frank guided me through the lake, its surroundings and shared his stories of moving from Massachusetts to Georgia.

The following morning I made my way to Trackbrock Stables, located just outside of the city. This 250 acre paradise has been in the family for decades. The Alexander siblings own the campground and stable, while their cousin owns a store nearby by the same name. Well trained horses and friendly staff members take you on guided tours through the woods five times daily. My group happened to have first time horseback riders (at 6 years of age) as well as some experienced ones. The scenery on the way was beautiful and reminded me of Swiss countryside. While we trotted through the trails, watching the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains, creeks and open fields, the guide encouraged us to gallop on our own if we felt confident enough to. An hour or two on the horsebacks was the best way to spend the morning.

Next was a hike to Georgia’s highest point, Brasstown Bald. After a drive up the mountain, I parked my car and then started a steep uphill hike towards the top of the mountain. It was a nice shaded trail with lots of fauna to admire along the way. Even at 1 mile, the hike was no easy feat. My advice is to bring plenty of water and dress in layers. It got cold and windy as I made my way to the very top. At 4784 feet, you could see downtown Atlanta (on a clear day) as well as the Carolinas from the observation deck.

I had my share of exercise for the weekend, but there are a number of other outdoor activities that can be experienced within the surrounding area including zip lines, fly fishing and sporting clays.  If you still have some stamina, hike the numerous hiking trails (including the Appalachian Trail), visit one of the many waterfalls in the area or play a round of golf or two.  For an active vacationer who likes to be out in the nature, there is much to do in Blairsville and its surrounding areas.

Where to find the best grits in the south?

Grits are a favorite in the southern US. It’s mainly eaten for breakfast, similarly to porridge, although it has made its way on to the dinner plate as well. You will frequently find grits served as a side with seafood (shrimp, catfish or scallops). Cheese, bacon, fried onions or butter may be added to dress it for an upscale entrée. Another interesting dish I have come across in the south is grit balls, which is essential hush puppies made with grits. They are soft and creamy inside with a crispy fried crust on the outside. Delicious!

I first heard about Logan Turnpike Mill when my friend, chef Nancy Waldeck cooked a breakfast for Atlanta’s Food Bloggers at the Cook’s Warehouse. She made some shrimp and grits which were really yummy! I remember her mentioning that she bought the grits from Whole Foods, but they were a special kind, the ones that need to be refrigerated. They were made by Logan Turnpike Mill, a 27 year old mill located in Blairsville, GA (about 2 hours north of Atlanta).

What’s special about the stone ground grits, corn bread mix and pancake mix from Logan Turnpike is that they are kept in their natural form. Therefore, the flour has a coarser texture.  The oils and grains derived from the corn are kept intact when milling, so the need to be refrigerated or frozen. Other over the counter grits are essentially de-germinated commercial flour that does not perish quickly.  You will find that Logan’s grits have more richness, flavor and nutrition.  Even Paula Deen endorsed them when she used Logan Turnpike in her shrimp and creamy cheddar grits recipe published in the magazine, Cooking with Paula Deen.

George and Cecilia Holland have been running the Logan Turnpike Mill for 27 years now. They have a little mill and store in Blairsville, GA where they stone grind dry corn to make grits and flour. With only a couple of heavy duty equipments, George does everything himself, the old fashioned way.  He will be more than happy to show you his collection of mills of all sizes and ages. (I asked him to create a museum next door and he agreed.) The couple spends a lot of time on the road, hosting booths at festivals and shows. They have been working alongside for three decades now and still keep the spark alive!

The products are supplied to many restaurants in Atlanta and some grocers, including Whole Foods. You can also order directly from their website. If you can get your hands on a bag from Logan Turnpike Mill, try out this recipe that George shared with me…

George’s Favorite Grits Casserole 

Measure 1 cup grits and 4 cups water in a heavy saucepan. Add 1 small chopped onion and 2 gloves crushed garlic. Cook for 20 minutes on low heat. Remove from heat and add ¼ cup margarine or butter, 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese, 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, 1 teaspoon salt and 3 lightly beaten eggs. Mix well, and then pour into a 2 quart greased casserole dish. Sprinkle with ½ teaspoon paprika and bake at 275F for 1 hour or until golden brown.

Logan Turnpike Mill is located on U.S. 19/129 5 miles south of Blairsville GA at mile marker #8. The store is open Tuesday-Saturday from 10am-5pm except for Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.