A Change of Season

Mild temperatures and shorter lines make for easy travels

wine-tastingFor many people, autumn is their favorite season. Cooler temperatures and lower humidity set the stage for a plethora of fall festivals. College football and new television shows begin, while shorts and swimsuits take a back seat to new fall fashions. Cozy fires create warm ambience and nature itself produces a palette of brilliant color that inspires photographers, painters and poets.

This year, celebrate the change of season with these fall foliage tours, tastes of fall menus and fall festivals:

One of the most-visited national parks in the U.S., Great Smoky Mountains National Park is renowned for diversity of plant and animal life, ancient mountains and quality remnants of southern Appalachian mountain culture. Leaf peepers throng to the area to see more than 100 species of native trees, including scarlet oaks, maples, sweet gums, and hickories, which put on a jaw-dropping autumn display of gold, orange, crimson and purple. With 800 miles of scenic roads and hiking trails, you could spend days exploring these stunning forests.

After the summer crowds go home, sweater weather in the 60s wraps central Missouri in shades of scarlet, gold, mahogany and russet. Immerse yourself in this color explosion while hiking, moun- tain biking or horseback riding at Lake of the Ozarks, Mo. Or take in the fall foliage on a yacht, at the wineries, during a round at one of the lake’s championship golf courses, or on 25-mile scenic drive.

Chef and owner Frank Brigtsen, of Brigsten’s in New Orleans, has become one of my new best friends in the Big Easy because he and his wife, Marna, always make us feel welcome as if we’re dining in their home.

When you visit Brigtsen’s this fall, budget some calories for comfort so that you can enjoy signature fall appetizers like butternut shrimp bisque or file gumbo with rabbit and andouille sausage.

One of his most popular fall entrees is pan-roasted pork chop with andouille sweet potato hash and apple cider pan gravy.

Farmers markets used to be the gathering place for a few chefs and local foodies stocking up on fresh ingredients. Now, farmers markets have also become a reliable resource for travelers and tourists who join locals wanting to sample and stock up on a variety of local fruits, vegetables and herbs, as well as locally made specialty foods and baked goods.Fall-apples

Every Saturday from April through December in downtown Charleston, S.C., you can find fresh lowcountry food and produce. Juicy blueberries, grass-fed beef and candied pecans are a few popular favorites. You’ll also find everything from fresh-caught shrimp to fresh-cut flowers. Just don’t walk away without trying shrimp and grits from Tasty Brunch or a dollop of artisan ice cream from Scoop Love.

The Music to your Mouth Festival in Palmetto Bluff, S.C., has these folks flipping the food festival model on its head and getting back to what it means to truly celebrate place and people. They heartily embrace the idea that Southern food, perhaps more than any other regional cuisine in America, has long been recognized for its rich diversity and history as the melting pot of cultural influences inherited from authentic cultures of the region and across the world.

From Nov. 19-22, Music to Your Mouth is a heady sort of festival that invites people to connect — to the places in where they gather, to themselves, and to others through self-discovery, sincere interactions, authentic roots in history and an openness to new ideas. “Through food,” they contend, “we create community.”

So if the idea of a culinary salon — a social gathering of intellectuals, usually for artistic or educational purposes — sounds appealing, you have nearly a dozen options for discussion, including:

Greens — From straight-up Southern to fancy micro greens and Indian spices, chefs Steven Satterfield and Asha Gomez teach you how to have your way with greens.

Apples — Talk cider and tackle apples with Di- ane Flynt of Foggy Ridge Cider and pastry chef Lisa Donovan. They’ll decipher the difference between pie and cider apples and do some “hand pie” pairings.

Mixology — Master Mixer Tiffanie Barriere will show you how to infuse, bruise, stir and shake in- sanely good libations, making you the most useful guest at any party.

Cheese — Chef Anne Quatrano will lead a discussion on the best cheeses being made in the American South, and you’ll see how she incorporates these flavors into her recipes. My buddies from St. James Cheese Company of New Orleans will join in on the fun as the “big cheeses.”

Other culinary salon topics will cover the gamut of Southernisms: biscuits to brine, picnics to potlucks, hams to home cooking, and sweet tea to spirits.

Tickets to some events are already scarce, so if you’re a Garden & Gun kind of festival-fiend, this one’s for you. Book your tickets online now.

If you’re traveling to the Smoky Mountains for fall foliage, you may as well duck in at Dollywood theme park for the biggest Southern gospel festival in the Smokies. Presented by Humana, Dollywood’s National Southern Gospel and Harvest Celebration is six weeks of free gospel concerts — all included with Dollywood admission.

In addition to amusement park rides and attractions, Dollywood will host hundreds of artisans and crafts specialists to demonstrate and to sell their wares. You’ll find sea salt scrubs, dulcimers, handmade toys, textile art, woodworking, natural stone jewelry, chain-saw carving, stained glass, pottery, handmade holiday ornaments and much more.

“Autumn is a second spring, when every leaf is a flower,” said Albert Camus. Pick your bouquet of autumn fun and celebrate!

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