Christmas Vacation

And just like that the ornaments are being taken off the tree, the wreaths are being taken down and Christmas has come to an end.

Big Guy and I have a few days off together over the next week and I’m excited to get the house cleaned up, all our presents put in their new places and cooking some dinner at home for the two of us.  Big Guy’s birthday is on Thursday so I’m sure we’ll be cooking up something amazing and popping open a bottle of bubbles.

Here’s a recap of our wonderful, joyful, delicious Christmas in Charlotte:

On Tuesday we made a quick pit-stop in Raleigh on our way to Charlotte to pick up a couple of last minute Christmas gifts as well as to kick off our Christmas vacation with sushi at Mura.

We arrived in Charlotte after driving through lots of rain (rain seems to be the theme of the past 5 days) and it was so good to see my parents and brother.  We ran a few errands and grabbed an easy dinner before calling it a night.

Wednesday started off with an early workout (actually late since it wasn’t at 5am) and then I baked my little heart out most of the day.  Sausage balls and banana bread galore!  That evening we had Christmas dinner at my Mimi’s house.  It was a smaller-than-usual celebration but it was wonderful despite one of my brothers and sister-in-law not being able to make it.

Christmas Eve morning started like any other day with a workout and then I baked my Dad’s birthday cake (he shares a birthday with Jesus and we celebrate this birthday on Christmas night).

Before we went to church we grabbed a late lunch at Paco’s Tacos and we all deemed that it is going to be our new Christmas Eve tradition.

The margaritas were fantastic and the food was awesome.  I started with a Cucumber and Jalapeño Margarita and since we were all starving, we shared some guacamole and queso.  For lunch, I ordered the Fiesta Bowl with Grilled Shrimp.  Can’t wait to continue this Mexican Christmas Eve tradition.

Christmas Eve night we have the tradition of cooking soup.  Despite the warm weather, both my Mom and I prepared a big pot of soup and we enjoyed the soup with ultimate grilled cheese sandwiches.  My mom made a roasted red pepper and gouda soup and I made a Loaded Baked Potato Soup.

Post-soup we spent the evening tidying up the house and getting ready for 20 plus folks the next morning for our Christmas Brunch.  Christmas Brunch has been a tradition that has taken place since I can remember.  The menu is always the same:  Monkey Bread, Sausage Balls, Grits Casserole, Sausage and Cheese Casserole, French Toast Bake and fruit.  Oh – don’t forget about mimosas.

Christmas morning came and I was so excited to see all my siblings and my niece and nephew.  The whole day was wonderful and it flew by way too fast.  As I mentioned before, we celebrated my Dad’s birthday with an Italian feast of lasagna, salad and red wine.

We had planned to come home on Saturday but we ended up deciding to stay the day and spend a little more time with my parents and my youngest brother.

We went to Rooster’s for lunch which was awesome (minus a little slower than desired service) and then we had a pizza and game night.  Big Guy is a party pooper and didn’t play dominoes with us – he missed out!

The perfect end to a wonderful few days.

I hope you all had a magical Christmas – treasure the time between now and next Christmas though – 2016 will fly by.

Enjoy your Monday!

Friday Favorites

Christmas is ONE week away.  How is that even possible?  I have one more gift to purchase and a few more to wrap before I can officially say “I’m ready for Christmas.”

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The weekend before Christmas brings about lots of parties and other shenanigans – I hope you have a fun weekend planned!  We are actually having a low-key Friday night to make sure we’re ready (AKA I’ll be in the kitchen most of the evening) for our Christmas celebration on Saturday with my mother-in-law and that side of the family.  We’re hosting the family again and I’m so excited to have a house full (and it will be full – especially since our tree takes up some prime square footage) and to hear laughter and chatter.  And on Sunday afternoon, I have a little get together with a few of my closest girlfriends.  Last year we had a Christmas pajama night and we’re doing it again this year.  I’m making a cozy soup and there will be wine and lots of girl talk along with an ornament exchange.  A busy but fun weekend lies ahead.

Take time to breathe this weekend – remember that no Christmas is perfect and that perfection isn’t the reason we celebrate.  Enjoy every moment – even the small ones – over the next week!

And here are my favorites from the week:

Favorite Scrumptious:  Nigel Slater’s Cog au Riesling.  My Le Creuset is begging me to make this and then serve it with crusty bread.

 

Favorite Round-Up:  Last Minute Gift Guide (for everyone in your life).  I seriously would love to gift or be gifted any of the items on the four gift guides.  But I can’t lie – the “i sweat champagne” was made for me.

 

Favorite Slice:  Super Easy Pepperoni Pizza Puff Pastry.  I am all about a homemade crust – but I’m also 100% okay with taking short cuts here and there.  Though puff pastry may be the most delicious short cut ever in the history of pizza.

 

Favorite Wanderlust:  Amalfi Coast.  I told Big Guy this is where I want to go for our 10 year anniversary.  Though I’d totally go tomorrow if he wanted.

 

Favorite Find: Mike’s Hot Honey.   While in Asheville, we stopped by the Bee Charmer.  There’s been some “buzz” (hah!) around spicy honey and now I know why – one taste and I was sold.  I want a drizzle on a piece of fried chicken.

 

Favorite Layers:  Marbled Peppermint Crunch Cake.  Absolute perfection.

 

Favorite Mantra:  

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Favorite Sweet:  Custom Sugar Cubes.  How adorable are these?  Perfect for baby showers, holidays and everything in between.

Favorite Fashion:  Fancy Denim.  The mix of fancy and casual works for so many occasions and I love it!

 

Favorite Booze:  Cranberry Orange Margarita. My craving for a margarita hasn’t been squashed nor has it disappeared.

 

One chapter ends but another begins…

I’m going to be honest – I didn’t expect that I would write about this today.  But then again, two months ago I would have never expected to take this leap of faith.

Today one chapter ends but another begins.  Today is my last day of work at the non-profit I have been with for over four years.

Let’s back up…

In 2008, I graduated from ECU with my Masters degree in Health Education and Promotion.  I was interested in pursuing a job in corporate wellness but the first job that came around was at a local health department and I took it.  A couple of years later, I moved on to another health department – thankfully this position was focused on nutrition.  In 2011, I moved from the government sector to non-profit and I was happy.  For the first three years at least.

My job was my job and I left work at work on Friday afternoon.  Until about a year ago.  Changes in staffing caused some major shifts and honestly, the whole dynamic of work changed which caused me angst and anxiety every single Sunday.  I would ruin Sunday because of Monday.  Not only that, I was miserable to be around.  I would sulk and complain and most Sunday’s I would shed a tear or two.  It wasn’t fun.  In fact, it was miserable.  I wanted a way out.  I wanted a change.

In October I attended a three-day leadership training.  Part of the training was a mentoring session with a therapist – my one hour session ended up being way more therapy than mentoring.  But I’ll never forget these words she said “If you can’t change the situation, you have to change yourself.”

And I can’t change the situation.  I’ve tried – for months – with no long-term success.

So today I’m leaving my office for the last time.  I’ve written my last reports and I’ve turned in my keys.

And I’m ready to look forward to each and every week.

So where am I going?

If you’ve been a reader for any length of time, you know that I’m a huge fan of SoCo Farm and Food.  Well, after a year of joking that I wanted to come work for them it’s actually going to happen.

We don’t quite have a job title for me yet, but I’ve thrown out a few including Director of Operations and Executive Assistant.

I’m going to be doing a little bit of everything…marketing, website management, helping grow their home delivery business, studying for my wine certification and some nights you may find me waiting tables during a busy weekend.

Trust me, I’m a little scared – it’s going to be totally different than what I’ve been doing since 2008.  But I’m excited.

My passion for food and wine is undeniable.  And that passion is going to breathe life back into my Sundays.

And I think this has officially been my most serious post…

Here goes nothing!

 

{images from Peanut Butter Runner}

 

#bakeitforward

I’ve always loved being in the kitchen – especially around the holidays.  I have vivid memories of baking banana bread and pizzelles with my Momma and sister to share with neighbors and friends.  I suppose I take after my mother because I love giving homemade goodies to friends this time of the year.  Last year I think I made 11 bundt cakes!

On Monday, I took the afternoon off work so that I could have a marathon Christmas goodie-making extravaganza.  I recommend not setting yourself up for disaster by picking a minimal number of goodies to tackle.  This year I went with three.

2-Ingredient Palmiers

Muddy Buddy Pecans

Chocolate Gingerbread Bundt Cake

christmas goodies

And after spending the better part of the afternoon and evening in the kitchen, my grand totals were 5 bundt cakes, 64 cookies and 12 cups of pecans.

I packaged them up and they were ready for delivery.

When I delivered my first round of cakes on Tuesday morning to a few of the men at the gym, I remembered why I love gifting edible goodies so much.  Between hugs and texts at 8:30 am that say “your cake is delicious, thanks again” it feels so good to give unexpected gifts to your friends.

#bakeitforward

Do you have any favorite Christmas goodies that you love baking for others?

Asheville Review

We saw.  We explored.  We ate.  We ate a lot.  We drank.  We laughed.

We arrived on Thursday evening around 6:30 pm to our cute little cabin in the woods.  We’ve learned that when this duo travels, we enjoy renting a house versus a hotel.  A two bedroom, two bathroom house does the trick.  It’s nice to have shared space (living room and kitchen).  On Thursday night, instead of venturing into town, we decided to make a simple, cozy dinner of cheese, olives, fruit, nuts, and charcuterie.

Friday morning we were up early – we had a full day planned.

We headed straight for Biscuit Head.  And holy deliciousness.  The biscuits were literally the size of your head.

I went big – the Mimosa Fried Chicken Biscuit.  {biscuit with mimosa fried chicken, sweet potato butter, sriracha slaw and a poached egg}

We did not leave hungry.

After breakfast, we headed downtown to do a little walking – totally necessary.  The weather was unseasonably warm but I can’t lie – it was nice not having to wear a winter coat all weekend.

We explored and popped into a few shops before stopping at LAB (Lexington Avenue Brewery) for a drink.

After a little more walking around, we headed to lunch.  Isa’s Bistro is located downtown but once you stepped inside you felt you were worlds away from Asheville.  While lunch was light and tasty, I wouldn’t rank Isa’s on the top of my “favorite” bites.

Friday afternoon was dedicated to the Biltmore.  

The Biltmore is absolutely breathtaking but we were a little disappointed that there is only one real tree in the house – the massive one in the dining room.  I could have sworn the last time I was at the Biltmore all the trees were real.

We spent several hours walking around the house and grounds.  After an afternoon of walking, we headed back downtown for a cocktail before dinner.

We grabbed a drink at Posana’s.  The bartenders were fantastic and I would highly recommend this restaurant – it was on my list of places to eat but we just didn’t have enough meals to visit every where.

We had been anticipating our Friday night dinner for weeks.   Cúrate has been on my list for years and it did not disappoint.  We split about 12 small plates and enjoyed every.single.bite.

A few of my favorite dishes:

aceitunas cúrate – our curated blend of olives with lemon, rosemary and thyme

chistorra & chips josé’s way – spicy chorizo wrapped in potato chips… the perfect snack

pimientos de piquillo y queso de cabra – piquillo peppers stuffed w/ spanish goat cheese

migas – sautéed brussel sprouts, raisins, cauliflower, and a celery root yogurt mousse

Post-dinner, we headed back to the cabin and lounged by the fire.

We took our time Saturday morning before heading out.  First stop:  Sierra Nevada Brewery.  The tap room is beautiful and we arrived just in time to snag a seat at the bar.

I am not a huge beer fan but I decided to try out a few of the beers by ordering a flight.

The Kellerweis was by far my favorite.

A hazy wheat ale—untamed, unfiltered and unafraid. With a full, fruity aroma and notes of spicy clove and banana bread, Kellerweis is truly a unique brew.

I totally could taste the banana bread notes and it was lower on the IBU (bitterness) range – bitter beer is not my thing at all.

Since we had a light breakfast at the cabin, we ordered a few bar bites to share.

duck fat fries  thrice-cooked fries, duck confit, aged cheddar, hot sauce aioli, raspberry mustard

pretzels & pimento beer cheese  Hop Hunter, sharp cheddar, pimentos, Bavarian pretzels

Both were absolutely incredibly and quite possibly the best bar food ever.  The duck fat fries are out of control!

We decided that we would eat a progressive lunch and headed straight to White Duck Taco.   There are two locations but I highly recommend the one in the River Arts District.

We ordered a variety of different tacos for optimal tasting.

Spicy Buffalo Chicken

Bangkok Shrimp (most popular)

Thai Peanut Chicken

Pork Belly (my favorite!)

Fish Taco

Looking Glass Creamery was on the way back to our cabin and I am so glad we stumbled across this unique cheese shop.  We could not resist ordering a bottle of bubbles and a cheese plate to enjoy outside.  Not only is the cheese shop super cute but the cheese is incredible.  The coconut goat cheese was one of my favorites along with the Chocolate Lab.   We snagged a few to bring home along with Lusty Monk mustard – THE BEST MUSTARD EVER.

This little spot is a hidden gem and it’s one of the favorite places we visited all weekend.

We honestly made the most of our short visit because we made a quick stop back at the cabin to change and then it was back downtown for drinks and dinner.  We were quite shocked at the traffic in downtown Asheville – so if you’re not staying downtown, give yourself plenty of time to find a parking spot.

It was recommended that we stop by Sovereign Remedies for a cocktail and we were pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn’t incredibly busy.  After a round of drinks, we arrived at Rhubarb for our final dinner in Asheville.

Incredible food.  A must-visit if you’re ever in Asheville.

We shared a few appetizers:

LOBSTER CORN DOGS – Comeback Sauce

RABBITT LEEK RILLETTE – Apple-Currant Mostarda, House Made Sel-Tines

THE HOUSE CURE – Country Pate, Bresaola, Crispy Pig Head, Coppa, Pickled Quail Egg, House-Made Sel-tines
and Mustards

GOAT CHEESE BURRATA – Beets, Virginia Beauty Apples,  Crispy Sage, Wild Ginger Vinegar, Apple Chutney, Crostini

The goat cheese burrata was one of the best bites I had all weekend and the lobster corn dogs were a fun appetizer to share.

Our dinners were also rather impressive but Ryan had my favorite entree –

LOOKING GLASS GOAT CHEESE GNUDI – Roasted Shallots, Local Mushrooms, Grana Padano, Spinach, Butter Beans,  Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

We weren’t hungry at all when we left but I could not not take Sarah to French Broad Chocolates.  We waited in line for a little while (thankfully it wasn’t cold out) before ordering a few desserts to take back to share.

Our last and final bites in Asheville were on Sunday morning at Corner Kitchen.   I ordered the bagel and lox along with a side salad – the rest of the weekend had been lacking in vegetables.

The weekend flew by but it was absolutely perfect.  From the cabin to the company (#thewaticks) to ALL the food we ate – I wouldn’t change a thing.

Don’t worry Asheville, I’ll be back.  But until then I’ll be dreaming of cheese and moving into the Biltmore.

Friday Favorites

Can someone press the “pause” button?  I feel like the most wonderful time of the year is going to be over before I’m able to start enjoying it.  Thankfully the next few weekends (and week) are full of Christmas festivities so I’m sure I’ll being feeling the jolly spirit in no time (even though it will be 70 degrees outside this weekend).

Here are my favorites of the week (sorry, I’m not sorry they are all food-related):

Favorite Flaky:  French Onion Pastry Puffs.  It’s the best of both mine and Big Guy’s word:  he adores French onion soup, I adore “appy” hour.

 

Favorite From Scratch:  Needle Point Pasta in Light Blue Cheese Sauce.  Big Guy asks if we can make homemade pasta about once a month.  I never know if he is kidding or not.

 

Favorite Addictive:  Cinnamon Sugar Wonton Crisps.  Sweet.  Salty. Crunchy. and Fried.  I wouldn’t trust myself near a bowl of these.

 

Favorite DIY:  Chocolate Coffee Stirring Spoons.   So festive and fun.  These would make perfect gifts.

 

Favorite Slurp:  Creamy Parsnip Soup with Cornbread Croutons, Crispy Bacon and Pomegranate Arils.   I want to have a soup party.  Seriously.  Those toppings are where it’s at.

 

Favorite Flavor and Texture:  Thin and Chewy Spiced Oatmeal Cookies.  I’m still trying to find a day to do all my holiday baking…Monday afternoon might be my day.

 

Favorite Date-Night-In:  Brown Butter Scallops with Parmesan Risotto.   Fancy.

 

Favorite Obsessed:  Peppermint White Chocolate Chip Cookie Trifle.  I have a “thing” for trifles.  And I have no idea where it came from.  But this.  THIS is the trifle of my dreams.

 

Favorite Weeknight Dinner:  Sicilian Rice Ball Casserole.  In between the cocktails and cookies, there’s a thing called balance.

 

Favorite Festive:  Christmas Sangria. My favorite thing about this sangria:  ginger beer! Oh, and the cinnamon-sugar rim.

Merry, merry!

Warm Caramelized Fennel and Leek Cheese Dip

I had big plans for pizza this past Sunday.  But a sushi-filled lunch didn’t leave much room for a big, cheesy pizza.  Instead of pizza we opted for another one of my favorite things in life:  dip!  Specifically a cheese dip.  But this one is a little fancy.  And by fancy I mean it uses brie instead of your usual cream cheese.

In addition to brie, the dip is full of fennel which sweetens when it caramelizes.  Leeks perfume the dip with a light onion flavor that I adore and garlic makes it well, garlicky and wonderful.

Lemon zest brightens the entire appetizer and is one of my favorite flavors.  A little heat comes from the addition of red pepper flakes – I would double the amount next time.

Parmesan adds a salty, delightful cheesiness and mozzarella on top makes it everything you want in a dip – ooey and gooey.

It’s creamy, sweet and savory.  And perfect served with toasted baguette.

I sliced up a loaf of wheat baguette, brushed each slice with a little melted butter and baked until crisp but not too crunchy.

Who can argue with cheese dip and bubbles for dinner?