Holiday Favorites

One of my favorite parts of the holidays are all of the traditions, but truth be told, life is always changing so traditions are changing. I wrote this post a few years ago about my favorite holiday traditions, and many of them still hold true. In fact, as I am writing this, I am held up on my couch watching the Holiday for the second third time this season.

This year my cousins, aunts and I got together to do a Christmas paint night. There are so many parties and things going on with our friends, it was nice to get together as a family and do a holiday activity together. Our amazing teacher (also a friend of mine so I may be biased) came up with the cutest picture for us to follow along and have a new holiday decoration each year. After we all went back to my mom’s for a soup party. I made this appetizer to bring and it was a hit, and super easy to make. So much of a hit I shared it with you earlier this week.

My girlfriends and I, for the past few years, have been getting together and doing an annual cookie swap. It’s a great way for us to get together, sit around a table, chat and eat all night and not have to worry about any responsibilities. This year we added in a Secret Santa ornament swap also. We don’t get each other girls for the holidays usually but it was a fun way to think of each other during the busiest time of year.

One of my favorite traditions every year is giving back. With work, I’ve always organized Adopt a Family, but this year we are doing a warm weather clothing drive. We’ve partnered with our local homeless shelter and the community to collect hats, gloves, scarves, and jackets to give to the people in our community that truly need it. Although I hate that we mainly focus on this around the holidays, I think it’s amazing to give back locally to your community.

This Christmas I picked up a few Christmas goodies that I am absolutely loving.

Christmas candle – I snagged this candle at the Newport Mansions a few weeks ago. As I walked into the souviner shop the scent of Balsam and Cedar filled the air and I was hooked. Lucky for me, I found it on Amazon at an even better price, and now I don’t need to drive two hours to pick up a replacement. And do you see that artwork on the outside of the candle.
Defined Dish cookbook – My favorite food blogger has finally gotten her own book deal. I don’t have it yet but this girl has been preordered for a while and I cannot wait for it to show up at the beginning of the year. Check her out, order her book, make her food. You won’t be disappointed. Promise.
Elin Hiderbrand Winter Series – This summer I got hooked on Elin Hilderbrand and her books about Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. This winter I’ve started her four part winter series. They are the perfect way to escape to the islands and stay in the holiday spirit. (Talk to me in February, I’ll be wanting her summer books ASAP.)
Old Navy Cozy socks – This is a tradition I have every year. Old Navy has their cozy socks on sale for $1 every black Friday and I stock up. They are great coworker gifts, paired with a candle and some tea, or a quick little way to make a bottle of wine and face mask night a little more special.

Olive and Pepper Goat Cheese Roll

I think I officially found my new favorite go to, bring with me appetizer, just in time for the busiest time of year. And good news: its so easy!!

Last weekend my cousin surprised us all and got married to her boyfriend of basicccallly, our whole lives. As a family, we all got together at my moms to hide from the snow, and celebrate their nuptials. I found this amazing recipe on Family Fresh Meals and was literally itching to make it.

What I loved most was I was able to throw it together the night before, and….. no baking! Which worked out perfect since the morning of the party my apartment complex lost power, and my car battery died. Talk about not having time to whip something up. I grabbed the rolls, that I threw together the night before, out of the fridge and brought it over to my moms, leaving it in her fridge until it was time to cut and serve.

I’ve now gotten requests to make it for my family Christmas party, but leave it in a bowl so we can eat straight from the bowl. I don’t know about that but I will definitely be making it again. The only thing I did differently than Family Fresh Meals was I used a ciabatta loaf rather than a baguette. It definitely was easier to stuff since the opening was able to be wider, and the bread was a little softer than the baguettes my grocery store had available.

Try it out for yourself.

Day Trip to Newport, RI

Newport is a magical gem in New England. There’s something about crossing over that bridge and you are brought back in time to the whaling years that Newport thrived. With their old homes, narrow cobblestone roads, constant views of sail boats, and mansions. Oh the mansions. I have visited Newport a few times, but never during the summer. The summer is the most popular time to visit the seaside town, but if you’re like me and hate crowds and can eat seafood 365 days a year, I have always visited in the fall.

Earlier this month my girlfriend from Los Angeles came to visit. She had been to New York a few times, and already visited Boston but requested an especially New England day trip. So, we headed to Newport to explore the town and did I mention mansions?

Where to Eat

Prior to taking the 2 hour drive east, I talked with my friends and family who visit Newport regularly. I wanted to make sure I brought my west coast friend to the most New Englandy spots in town. Also, I am a sucker for a good restaurant. I have been to a few spots in Newport myself but lucky for me, my sister had just had a bachelorette a few weeks earlier there, and my best friend and her family call Newport their second home. Here are a few spots we put together.

  • The Mooring Seafood Kitchen and Bar – The dining room has stunning views of Newport Harbor and if it’s nice out, the patio is even better. Their scallop chowder is pretty amazing too.
  • Brick Alley Pub and Restaurant – Get your name in here if you can! Right on Thames St. this little place is worth the hype, and the wait. I had a seafood pasta special that was out of this world.
  • Boru Noodle Bar – This Asian restaurant on Broadway literally has brought me back to life before. After a late night out, their spicy miso ramen was just what I needed to bring me back to my feet.
  • Empire Tea & Coffee – This is a great spot to grab a quick coffee or bite to eat.
  • Midtown Oyster Bar
  • Diego’s
  • 22 Bowens Wine Bar & Grille

What to do

Mansions:
The mansions are one of the main draws to Newport. These estates were the summer homes of the richest families in the country during the turn of the century. They have elaborate grand ballrooms, extravagant staircases, and stunning views from their perfectly manicured lawns. It’s really amazing to see how much detail was put into these homes back at the turn of the century. My favorites are the Breakers (the Vanderbilt’s summer home that everyone needs to see) and the Elms. A little more low key 60,000 square foot home that was just starting to get decorated for Christmas when we visited.

If you don’t want to go in the mansions, but also don’t want to miss out on them, you can always take a walk along the Cliff Walk. This is a path that boarders the south eastern edge of the island (yes, Newport is an island) and gives you the best views of Salve Regina University, some of the more popular mansions including Marble House and the Breakers, as well as the Atlantic Ocean.

Winery:
Being right on the coast, Newport is an ideal place for New England wineries. I haven’t gotten myself there but I’ve been gifted a few bottles from their vineyard and it was everything. I am a sucker for a good Cab Franc and this was smooth, and delicious.

Boat Rides:

Like I said earlier, my sister went to Newport earlier this fall, and her and her girlfriends took a schooner boat ride one day. It looked beautiful but maybe something to do during the warmer weather. I couldn’t imagine being out on the water earlier this month.  (Nor could my west coast friend.)

Shopping:
Taking a walk down Thames St. was the perfect way to end our trip to Newport. We strolled in and out of mom and pop shops. I picked up a beautiful wooden garland for the holidays and a few holiday ornaments for gifts at A Christmas to Remember on Thames, the not so seasonal local holiday shop. There are also anchor shops like Gap, Banana Republic and Francesca’s, to make sure everyone can find what they’re looking for.

Newport’s one of those towns that transforms with the season. Like I said earlier, I have recently visited, the past three years in November and December. As much as I hate a crowd, I would love to check out Newport while it’s in it’s glory, between June and September.

Have you been to Newport? Which mansion is your favorite?

Asheville, NC and North Georgias Mountains

Back in August my mom and I decided to take advantage of the long weekend this October and head down to Atlanta where my older sister lives to visit. I pushed to extend our trip a little and drive up to Asheville, NC. We made that our main base for a few days while we explored Western North Carolina and the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Asheville, North Carolina

Like I said, we used Asheville as our home base while exploring the mountains of western North Carolina. Asheville was not really what I was expecting. Which ironically, I’m not too sure of what I was expecting. First of all, we did not visit the Biltmore. We opted out of the states number one tourist attraction because I really would love to see it decorated for Christmas one day, and I don’t think you need to visit it twice. That being said, we also have the Vanderbuilt summer homes just two hours from us and I’ve gone twice in the past year to visit those and who needs to see another mansion.

When I think of Asheville, I think food, art and culture. I do have to say, the food was amazing, and the art on point. We were visiting mid-week so I was a little disappointed in the lack of live music in the different restaurants and bars, but it may have just been the time of week we were visiting. From the amount of street musicians that we saw, I can only imagine how many live music performances they have.

The first night we were in Asheville, we decided to do a little food tour. We started at Cucina 24, an Italian restaurant on Wall St., where we split an escarole prosciutto potato pizza, which apparently is a super popular pizza in Tuscany. Wow! Just as I realized our food was taking a little longer than I expected, I looked toward the open kitchen and they were slicing the prosciutto fresh onto the pizza. The server must have realized the time also because he came out and gave us a dish of buffalo mozzarella served with sweet pepper relish and a dish of warmed, rosemary olives and I basically died right there on the table.

Our meal at Cucina 24 was so good, my mom tried to get us to go there again the next night.

The next day, after driving the Blue Ridge Parkway, we stopped in Biltmore Village to do a little shopping and grab dinner. Here we ate at Village Wayside, a much different vibe than the upscale Italian restaurant the night before. Wayside sits right along the train tracks and it super casual. My mom started with the French Onion Soup and while she was eating her own, she ordered me one because “I needed to have one.” For dinner I had the fish and chips which was awesome and a White Zombie White Ale from Catawba Brewing Company.

We spent the evening walking around town looking at all the street art. Downtown Asheville is super walkable and we actually walked from the hotel we stayed at. We were given a ton of other restaurant and dessert suggestions from locals, but there just wasn’t enough time to try everything. I put together a list of restaurants below that I really wanted to try.

  • Double D’s Coffee & Desserts – a cute little coffee shop inside a little double decker bus straight out of London. Super instagramable, but opens at 10am (not prime coffee time). Cash only if you’re going here!
  • Old Europe Pastries – local coffee
  • French Broad Chocolate Lounge – locally made chocolate and coffees. They even have a tour you can take of their factory.
  • Sunny Point Café – In west Asheville, one of the more popular brunch spots, but get a reservation. We couldn’t even find parking let alone get in.
  • Biscuit Head – I don’t think they do reservations, it’s a little more casual with counter service, but be prepared to wait. We were starving so we had to head out also

Blue Ridge Parkway – North Carolina

Now you may remember from my cross-country road trip two years ago that we did part of the Blue Ridge while driving threw Virginia. This time we started in Asheville and headed north to Lineville, NC. From mile marker 384, north to 316. You may think 68 miles isn’t that far, but when you’re driving an average of 35 miles per hour and stopping for pictures every couple of miles, those 68 miles took us five hours.

The Blue Ridge is stunning. You have views of the Blue Ridge Mountains on either side of your drive, and in the distance, you can see the Great Smokey Mountains. We made a stop for lunch in Little Switzerland, a small town about three hours north of Asheville with a cute little café, book store and coffee shop, and a popular Inn with amazing views from their gardens.

Pro Tip: We also stopped in little Switzerland because it was the first stop, we found gas since leaving Asheville. Something we didn’t really pay attention to when we were leaving town. Make sure you take a peak at your gas gage before hitting the road.

While Little Switzerland Inn had a restaurant, which came highly recommended from a few locals we ran into, I would recommend packing a lunch and eating somewhere along your drive. There are plenty of picnic areas along the way and stopping for a quick bite keeps you out in nature, and the food will probably be a little better.

Once we hit Lineville, we stopped at Lineville Falls Winery. You all know I’m a sucker for a good winery so I needed to try what North Carolina had to offer. They seem to do their fruit forward wines pretty well, so their whites were super popular but I always lean toward a good red so their Barrell Aged Cabernet Saviounge was my favorite.

Dillsboro, North Carolina

Just outside of the Great Smokey Mountain National Park is a cute little town of Dillsboro. After driving for a few hours from Atlanta airport, I pulled to the side on a whim solely because I needed to stretch my legs, and we ended up staying for an hour.

This cute little mountain town is a stop along the Great Smokey Mountain Railroad, a sightseeing train ride that you can pick up in Bryson City, NC.

In Dillsboro we wandered their local shops, picked up some jewelry, taste tested in the olive oil shop and ate some of the fresh fudge at the chocolate shop.

Helen, Georgia

I’ve heard of Helen, GA before but never thought I’d end up in this north Georgia mountain town that full of cute Bavarian-style buildings, making you feel like you’re right in Germany. The most similar that I’ve experienced is Solvang, CA, a cute little Dutch down I used to visit while living on the west coast. We were visiting the second weekend in October so they were celebrating their Oktoberfest and the town was wild. There were people everywhere and restaurants had an hour to hour and a half wait.

Helen has a ton of outdoor activities that you could spend a whole weekend exploring the little town. During the summer you can go tubing down the Chattahoochee River, and you can even go alpine sledding down the Georgia Mountain Coaster. This was super nostalgic for me since my family used to go alpine sledding every summer in Vermont growing up.

Just outside of town are a ton of trails you can hike through the Chattahoochee National Forest. We did the super simple Anna Ruby Falls hike which is less than a mile round trip and paved all the way to the falls. It was absolutely stunning, but pretty packed so I would recommend getting their pretty early if you could.

Fall Soup Party

 

Fall is the time of year, here in New England, that we thrive. But we also start to get ready for our winter hibernation. My girlfriends and I started a tradition a few years ago during the cold winter months. We get together and each make a new soup. Its really just an excuse to all get together and spend the day relaxing.

One year we did it on Valentines Day so we decorated Galentines themed and make vision boards out of mason jars. Last year we did our soup party as my housewarming for my new at the time apartment. This year we opted for a fall theme. We sat around on a Sunday, ate all day and watched football.

Since our trip to Banff last year, I have been trying to find a spicy curry ramen as similar to Block Kitchen + Bar as possible. Sunday I made the Defined Dish’s Thai Red Curry Chicken Zoodle Soup but since we have some vegetarians in the group, I took our all the meat. I also used vermicelli instead of zoodles because…. Well #carbs.

For beverages I saw Lauren McBride made a Caramel Apple Cider Sangria last weekend for a Halloween party and decided I needed to try it. YUM. I am not a white wine or vodka girl… or even apple cider, but the three together are amazing.

Creamy Chicken and Wild Rice

Chrissy Teigen’s Thai Carrot and Coconut Soup

Cheddar Beer Soup

Zuppa Toscana