Picnics and Dollar Days at Grandfather Mountain

I’m thrilled to announce guest writer, Barb Kelley. Barb is a homeschooling mom of four incredible boys, and she writes at My Sister’s Kitchen, a food blog she maintains with… her sister!

This is our third April in the High Country and we’ve finally visited Grandfather Mountain. Of course, we had to wait for April Dollar Days for Locals. Grandfather Mountain isn’t a cheap date for the whole family the other 11 months of the year, but April is a sweet month for saving money there.

We took out-of-town guests who were visiting. It turns out that if each vehicle has at least one local person (with a local drivers license) the entire carload gets the special $1/person admission price.

We happened to go on a drizzly Saturday afternoon and the place was practically empty. I’m not sure if it was the overcast, wet weather or the lack of tourists, but the animals in the zoo section of the park were all out of their dens and showing off.

In spite of the wet weather, we still picnicked and had a great time. I was packing food for eleven people, so that took a little planning. Over the years, my picnicking style has gotten simpler and simpler. At this point, we pretty much pack the same exact lunch every time we go.

First, I assemble a couple of gigantic sub sandwiches. I usually make my own bread for these jumbo-sized subs but if I’m in a huge hurry, I just buy some french bread from the grocery store. (If you go to http://mysisterskitchen.wordpress.com and click on the Breads category, you’ll find all kinds of different bread recipes that make GREAT giant subs.)

I start by slicing the french bread loaves length-wise. I slather some mustard and mayonnaise on the bread and then start stacking sliced lunch meats and cheese. I top that with lettuce and tomatoes and then the top of the loaf. I usually slice the sub and then wrap it up, but sometimes I just take a cutting board and knife along on the picnic.

Our picnic is rounded out by apples, our favorite brownies (recipe below), and Cheetos. (Yes, I know that Cheetos are TERRIBLE for us–high sodium, loaded with fat, nasty unnatural coloring, and the Cheeto dust gets all over everything. We, however, LOVE Cheetos on picnics.)

These days, I have everybody fill their own water bottle before leaving home so I don’t have to worry about drinks.

Something about hiking around in the rain made everyone famished–the perfect set-up for a successful picnic.

I’m thinking that April needs to be the month we encourage friends and relatives from out of town to come visit us, because spending the day on Grandfather Mountain is a great introduction to the High Country.

And now, the promised brownie recipe:

Barb’s Best Brownies

* 4 eggs
* 2 c. sugar
* 3/4 c. oil
* 3/4 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
* 2 t. vanilla
* 1/2 t. salt
* 1 1/2 t. baking powder (NOT soda-soda turns this recipe into something icky)
* 1 1/3 c. flour

Whisk eggs and sugar together. Add oil and cocoa and mix thoroughly. Stir in vanilla, salt, baking powder and flour. Bake in a greased 9×13 pan at 350 for 20-25 minutes or until the skewer or toothpick can be inserted and comes out clean.

Note: I’m always tweaking recipes and adding extra ingredients and flavors to things. Once I had this recipe tweaked to the way I wanted it, however, I have stopped messing with it. There are few things that I’m a purist about, but this brownie recipe is one of them. No frosting, no nuts, no chocolate chips, no toffee bits, nothing.

These brownies practically beg to be eaten warm, maybe even hot. Sometimes so hot you have to use a plate and a fork. A dab of vanilla ice cream is a nice accompaniment too. They’re perfect for picnics. Rarely will these brownies last through the night. They must be afraid of the dark because by morning, they are always completely gone.

What is your favorite picnic food?

Click here for more information about Grandfather Mountain.