I’m Just Here For The Nature

Triple Falls, DuPont State Forest, NC
Triple Falls, DuPont State Forest, North Carolina, Spring 2017

Welcome  Yesterday I wrote about being passionate.  Well today I get to talk about one of my passions in life…nature!  I am going to share a brief bit about the restorative activities my husband and I enjoy on our vacations and show a few favorite photos.  Today’s recipe is going to be a good ol’ Southern Fried Pork Chop and Milk Gravy.  Thanks for joining me.  Note–I may receive a small compensation from affiliate links seen on this post.  For further information, please see my terms and disclosure page.

Food For Thought    My husband and I have a definite favorite when it comes to vacation destinations.  While everyone we know seems to be talking about time in Mexico, the Caribbean, New York City, or Disney World, we are trying to figure out how soon we can return to eastern Tennessee or western North Carolina.  My husband and I would spend the rest of our lives in or near the Great Smokey or Blue Ridge Mountains, if only we could work out the logistics!  You see, Smokey Mountain National Park or Blue Ridge Parkway IS our Disney Land, our playground, our dream destination.  It amuses us however, when people ask us about our trips to Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, or Asheville.  They always want to know, “Did you go here…”  We look at each other and laugh.  If it doesn’t involve a hiking trail or waterfall, odds are we didn’t go there.  We have become quiet fond of saying, “We’re just here for the nature.”  And that’s all we need (well, food, lodging, and gas helps too.)

High Falls, Du Pont State Forest, NC
This IS my playground! High Falls, Du Pont State Forest, North Carolina

When my husband and I decided to honeymoon in the Smokey Mountains thirteen years ago, we chose a remote, but luxurious, cabin outside Pigeon Forge.  I say remote because it was quite a drive “into town” and we also had quite a drive to get to the national park and the trails we wanted to access.  We loved it and we’ve been getting back as often as we can ever since.  But we were surprised by the town of Pigeon Forge.  We called it “Branson East!”  Having never been there before, it wasn’t what we pictured.  We just wanted to hike in the mountains and see all of these majestic waterfalls and scenic vistas we had heard so much about.  And that’s exactly what we did.  We left the “tourists” to their putt-putt golf, music theaters, and amusement park rides so we could find the real adventures.  I have nothing against places like Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg.  There are parts that have their own quaintness.  But I can go to an amusement park at home.  If you have a family that seeks that type of amusement, by all means, go and enjoy it.  You’re making memories with your family and that’s what’s important.  And if I get truly honest here, the last thing I want to hear when I’m hiking out on the trail is a bunch of kids, or adults, whining about how boring this is or why they can’t get YouTube videos out here on the trail.  You stick to your places of enjoyment and I will stick to mine.  But I think a LOT of people are missing out on some amazing adventures.  You cannot truly appreciate God’s handiwork, all the wonders of His creation, unless you are actually out in the midst of it, embracing the full sensory experience.

Rock Island, Tenn.
Hiking to waterfalls offers a full sensory experience. Here’s one of my favorites, Twin Falls, at Rock Island State Park in Tennessee.

These vacations offer me an amazing array of health benefits, too.  I enjoy, even crave, the peace and quiet.  The fresh air is a welcome change from our suburban living.  The exercise challenges my muscles and cardiovascular system in a completely different way.  The combination of all these things gives me a whole new energy.  It’s interesting, but I can accomplish more, physically, on a trail than I can in any other setting.  But best of all is the spiritual and emotional rejuvenation.  I am completely restored, renewed, and relaxed from these experiences in nature.  You can’t find that type of emotional healing in any bottle!

In closing, I want to share a quote from Gloria Gaither: “The earth is calling me home to the simple and eternal things.  It persistently calls me to reject the glitter of the transient and return to the Father’s House.”

Upper Cascades at Burgess Falls, TN
I am completely restored, renewed, and relaxed from these experiences in nature. This experience was at the upper cascades of Burgess Falls in middle Tennessee.

Today’s Scriptures  God has created an amazing nature for us to enjoy and to fully experience His awesome powers.  Take advantage of that experience whenever you can.  In the meantime, enjoy these verses about God’s creation.

Psalm 95:4-5  “In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him.  The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.”

Psalm 95:4,5
This photo was taken on our way up Pikes Peak in Colorado in 2015.

Isaiah 14:7-8  “All the lands are at rest and at peace; they break into singing.  Even the pine trees and cedars of Lebanon exult over you and say, ‘Now that you have been laid low, no woodsman comes to cut you down.”

John 1:3  “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”

Today’s Recipe  So, when my husband and I visit the mountains we try to get a cabin when we can, but sometimes we just stay in a hotel.  Our attitude is we just need a “base camp” that has a hot shower and comfy bed.  The other service we seek is food.  My husband says that since we are on vacation, I do not have to cook.  Bless his heart!  Plus, this gives us the opportunity to try out local flavors.  We have certainly encountered some wonderful food on these trips, but that means spending a little time in the busy towns of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg or wherever we happen to be close to.  Well, being in Tennessee and North Carolina, you know we want to have dinners with choices like fried chicken or pork chops, biscuits, fried okra, coleslaw and such.  Remember, I AM a Southern girl at heart!  My recipe today is inspired from these trips.  I’m going to share my Southern Fried Pork Chop and Milk Gravy recipe.  And don’t forget the mashed potatoes!

Southern Style Pork Chops with Milk Gravy (makes 6 hearty servings)

  • 6 bone-in pork loin chops
  • 1 full sleeve of Saltine crackers
  • 1 TBS Cajun seasoning
  • 1 TBS Smokey Paprika
  • 1/2 TBS Cumin
  • 1/2 TBS black pepper
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 1/2 – 2 cups milk
  • 2 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tsp salt

Place saltine crackers in large zip-top bag.  Crush finely with mallet or rolling pin.  Add Cajun seasoning, paprika, cumin, and black pepper to cracker crumbs and mix.  Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat (I use an electric skillet for this because I can cook more chops at a time.)  Place one pork chop at a time in the bag of seasoned crumbs.  Seal and shake until chop is well coated.  As each chop is coated in cracker mixture, place in hot oil.  Fry pork chops for about 8 minutes per side, depending on thickness.  Pork chops are ready to remove from skillet when no more pink or red appears at the surface.  Remove hot pork chops to paper towel-lined baking sheet to drain.  Reduce heat of skillet to medium low.  Add flour and whisk until roux forms, being sure to scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan.  Slowly pour in milk and continue to whisk, cooking about ten more minutes.  Season with salt and pepper, adjusting seasonings to taste.  Serve pork chops and gravy with mashed potatoes and biscuits for the true Southern experience.

Recommended Products  For today’s recipe, I used a Proctor Silex electric skillet and Oxo Good Grips whisks.  If you are interested in these tried-and-true products, click on the links (11/10/17) below.