Category Archives: Eats

Weekend Wandering: Cheesy Trails to You

There are a few things I love in life – my family and friends, my dogs, travel, the mountains, and cheese. I feel like that list really defines me as a person. So what happens when you combine all of these great things? Only the best birthday surprise ever! Otherwise known as the Western North Carolina Cheese Trail.

If you’ve never heard of the WNC Cheese trail, join the club. Only in it’s second year, the trail showcases local artisan cheese-makers from across the Western Carolina region. Andrew just happened upon an article in an airline magazine featuring the cheesy excursion. In hindsight though, I’m amazed I didn’t come up with the idea myself – what could be better than a day spent driving through the Blue Ridge Mountains sampling some of the regions finest dairy offerings?

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We began the trek with a night in Asheville, one of our favorite weekend destinations. After an evening dining on tile fish, lemon thyme risotto, scallops, and coconut custard cake at the incredible Black Bird restaurant in downtown Asheville, we set off to explore.

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As we left the city limits, I had no idea where we were going or what was in store. Winding down country roads, the options became ever more limited – based on the road signs we were either going to one of a dozen Freewill Baptist churches or we were going to a creamery. I’m happy to report it was the latter. We pulled up to a small farmhouse with the most beautiful view of the mountains in the distance and a couple goats and sheep standing guard.

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Looking Glass Creamery in Fairview, NC was our first stop. Upon entering the small shop, we were greeted by the delightful Ashley, who didn’t hesitate to offer us endless samples their dairy delicacies. Their soft creamy chevre goat cheese served on local Roots & Branches crackers invited us to indulge. The plain chevre is fantastic, but the unique flavors they offered really took the cheese to the next level. Not wanting to choose between sweet and savory, we picked a chevre flavor from each category – delicately sweetened coconut chevre and tangy garlic & chive. The real standout cheese, though, was their signature award-winning Ellington. This lovely pyramid of goat cheese covered in a thin layer of ash tastes to me like the most delicious hybrid of goat cheese, brie, and blue cheese and is perfect on it’s own or paired with a freshly cooked steak.

Beyond cheese, Looking Glass has a few other tasty treats. Most tempting for me was their Bourbon Vanilla Carmelita – a rich sweet caramel sauce expertly balanced with the unbeatable flavors of bourbon and fresh vanilla. It’s my new favorite addition to coffee, but I would also gladly eat it by the spoonful on it’s own.

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After our tasting session we went outside to meet the goats of Looking Glass and thank them for their goods. Apparently they were interested in what we could offer them to eat in return.

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As much as I would like too, one can’t survive on cheese alone. So we went to find lunch at the Local Joint. The Local Joint is a Fairview, NC gem hidden in plain sight – it’s connected to a gas station. But don’t let it’s location fool you. They serve up some of the freshest, most delicious homemade food with a side of southern hospitality. I ordered The Local, an impeccable burger with bacon and blue cheese embedded into the patty on a fresh bun smothered with garlic aioli – truly one of the best burger’s I’ve had in a while. Andrew got the pastrami sandwich, which is made with local Lusty Monk mustard on a pretzel bun – also a delectably great option. And Bella certainly enjoyed the sweet potato fries and house-made chips.

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Fully satiated, we headed on to Hickory Nut Gap Farm to explore, and of course buy more food.

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Hickory Nut Gap, also in Fairview, NC, is not just a farm or store, but a full experience. Spanning endless acres across a beautiful valley intersected by a fresh mountain stream, we could have spent a day just enjoying Hickory Nut Gap.

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We wandered around the farm picking blueberries, meeting baby chicks and piglets, and tromping through the cool stream (Bella’s favorite).

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Back at the Hickory Nut Gap market, the friendly and knowledgeable staff welcomed us and didn’t hesitate to make recommendations on their favorite cuts of meat and other local treats.

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While Hickory Nut Gap is not a creamery, they offer some of the region’s best meats to accompany your cheesy finds. I could easily make a meal of their flavorful Sweet Sopressata salami and any choice of cheese.

Stocked with a cooler full of our fresh finds, we wound further east to Round Mountain Creamery in Black Mountain, NC.

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As a fully functioning goat farmstead, dairy, and creamery, as well as home to it’s owners, visiting Round Mountain is by appointment only. Fortunately the passionate owner, Linda Seligman, was kind enough welcome us to her farm on short notice.

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Round Mountain is the only producer of Grade A goat milk in all of North Carolina, so we knew their milk and cheeses were bound to be great. Linda gave us a private tour of the creamery, walking us through each step of the painstaking process – from prepping the goats to milking to processing the milk, and finally to making a delicious assortment of cheeses. Round Mountain Creamery has been a labor of love for Linda, 12 years in the making, so it was incredible to see the work and detail that goes into every aspect of making the highest quality goods.

After the tour she set us free to explore the farm and meet the hard-working goats before rejoining us in her tasting shop.

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Like a loving mother, Linda offered us endless samples of Round Mountain’s fresh cheeses, giving us the rundown of what ingredients were added and the process for making and aging each variety. To top it off, we got our first taste of goat milk, which is fairly similar to cow milk, but with just a bit to that tasty tanginess that makes goat cheese unique. We took with us a bit of everything – goat milk, various flavors of soft goat cheese, and (at Andrew’s request) a whole wheel of their award-winning Amber Moon aged goat cheese.

Bidding farewell to Linda, we headed north to enjoy the afternoon light and view of the mountains along the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway.

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Andrew had one final birthday surprise in store – going to one of my favorite places in the world, Valle Crucis, NC, to visit my dad. Upon arrival my dad greeted me with the most delicious birthday cake from Valle Crucis Bakery and Cafe, with none other than cream cheese icing!

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What a wonderfully unique birthday! Those who know me certainly know that cheese is the way to my heart…

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There were a few other creameries we wanted to get to, but you can only do so much cheese in one day. Next trip we hope to make it to the cheese cave at Blue Ridge Mountain Creamery, as well as English Farmstead, OakMoon Farm, and maybe even the Western Carolina cheese mecca of Ashe County Cheese. For a full list of cheese trail participants, visit www.wnccheesetrail.com.

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The Fountain of Youth

This weekend I got to visit my grandparents for a couple days of rest and relaxation by the lake. While I spent most of my time lazing around, there was someone who did not take a break from all her delicious cooking and running around taking care of us…

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Just watching my beautiful grandmother, Mama, keep up with everything exhausted me. What makes her gorgeous looks and incredible energy all the more amazing is that she turned 82 years young today!

While there are surely many secrets to her success and graceful aging, one gem that she was kind enough to share is the magic of apple cider vinegar. After brushing off grandparent advice for years, I’ve recently become wise enough to realize that most of what they tell you is truth. And in the case of apple cider vinegar, there seems to be an endless list of benefits to this old remedy.

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From weight loss and detoxification to clear skin and repelling insects, Mama’s little cure seems to be quite the powerhouse. Yet, there’s still the issue of taste when consuming apple cider vinegar. Choosing to take a note from Dr. Oz, I mix my apple cider vinegar with grapefruit juice.

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Sip of Youth

  • 1 cup 100% Grapefruit Juice
  • 2 Tbs Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1 tsp Honey (optional – if the taste is still too sour)

Drink before a meal once a day, and be sure to rinse with / drink pure water after to prevent any acid damage to teeth.

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I find this simple combo quite refreshing between gym and dinner. Besides, who am I to argue with the health advice of such an ageless beauty as my Mama?!

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Ever the picture of beauty and grace…

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Happy Happy Birthday Mama!

Thanks for always inspiring.

March Madness / Sunday Supper

Yesterday was a true March day. You know that saying about March – “in like a lion, out like a lamb”? Well that’s pretty much how yesterday went.

I woke up about 9:00 am yesterday morning to this:

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You probably can’t tell a lot from the picture. That’s because I was battling 40+ MPH winds and a torrential downpour just to get a quick shot from the doorway. Suffice to say though, the wind literally vibrating the walls of our trailer woke me up and Andrew saying “get dressed, we may need to leave” was enough to shake me out of my sleepy self.

The storm ended up passing quickly, in usual south Florida style, and we didn’t have to head out, but it was enough to shake us up a bit – both figuratively and literally. After it all blew over, the day could not have been more beautiful. The front cleared out the muggy heat that had been plaguing us for the past couple weeks and the sky was a brilliant blue. So we passed the day doing uneventful wandering, which culminated in an ever so tasty supper!

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Andrew had scored some free King Mackerel from his job at the gourmet seafood market, so I decided to make an occasion of this fancy (for us) fish. Andrew marinated the fish in a seemingly strange mixture of olive juice (not oil) and lime juice, but it actually turned out surprisingly well when he pan-seared it with pepper and spices. I was in charge of the pairings: a salad of mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, kalamata olives, and feta with a dressing of olive oil and basalmic vinegar; as well as Zesty Asparagus Pasta.

It was a lovely combination, and reasonably easy.

Zesty Asparagus Pasta
(serves 4)

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What You Need:

1/2 package Trader Joe’s Lemon Pepper Pasta

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(if you can’t find this pasta, using regular thick cut pasta and adding a little lemon juice and pepper at the end should suffice)

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil

2 Tablespoons Butter

1 Clove Garlic – minced

1 Bunch Asparagus

1/4 Sweet Florida Onion

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(I picked these beauties up at the produce stand, but vidalia should work just as well.)

Salt, pepper, and other spices to taste

Fresh Parmesan Cheese (for garnish)

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What You Do:

1. Boil pasta according to package instructions

2. Very thinly slice onion

3. Cut asparagus into 1 inch pieces

4. Heat oil and garlic in pan

5. Add onions and allow to cook for 1-2 minutes before adding asparagus

6. Sauté veggies with salt and pepper for 6-8 minutes until tender

7. Add veggies to cooked pasta with butter

8. Serve and garnish with grated Parmesan

Hope you enjoyed all the delicious things your weekend had to offer and have a zesty rest of the week!

Having a Crabby Day?

At some point last week we (Andrew) discovered something wonderful in the canal behind where we live…. Blue Crabs.

For those of you who haven’t spent much time in Maryland or surrounding areas, you may not fully understand what a glorious discovery this is.  Think of it this way – your favorite food, one that’s generally an expensive luxury, waiting for you just out your back door – for free.  So yes, it’s pretty great!

In Florida, since Blue Crabs are not as overly fished as in the Chesapeake Bay area, there aren’t too many restrictions on catching or enjoying your own.  As long as you have a Florida saltwater fishing license, each person can catch up to a five gallon bucket per day of crabs, with no minimums on size.

Andrew took some chicken that had gone bad and spent a few days out by the canal luring in the crabs then scooping them up with a net once they got close to shore.  Our resident alligator enjoying closely watching this activity.  And though there are no size restrictions, we decided to only keep the medium and larger sized crabs we caught – both better for the crab population and better for eating.

After a few days, we had acquired enough crabs to make a pretty good size feast.

Then we were faced with the tough task of having to live steam our own dinner… poor guys.

We stuck them in the biggest pot we had with beer, vinegar, and Old Bay seasoning (of course) for about twenty minutes and…

Voila! Their beautiful blue morphed to a deep iridescent coral, and they were ready to crack open and enjoy!

That is if you can get past their still menacing glare.

I managed to, and enjoy them I most certainly did! With melted butter and more Old Bay.

And of course a Sunset!

Sunday (Sunset) Supper

We were supposed to spend the day at a friend’s place watching football and having a cookout, but when he called out sick, I had to resort to dinner plan B. Fortunately I had picked up the fixins for nachos last night – one of my favorite go-to easy meals – and one that has been far too forgotten as of late.

Of course there are a million easy ways to make nachos, but here’s my favorite way to have them.

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No Nonsense Nachos
Serves 2-4 (depending how hungry you are)

What you need:
1 bag tortilla chips (I prefer multigrain
Tostitos)
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 diced red onion
1/2 package ground chicken or turkey
1 can black beans
1/2 cup salsa
1/2 cup sour cream (I use light)
1/2 cup guacamole (see recipe below)
Chili powder, salt, and pepper to taste

What you do:
1) Heat olive oil in pan and add onions – sauté 3-5 minutes
2) Meanwhile, spread a single layer of chips across each plate and cover chips with half of the cheese
3) Once onions are lightly cooked, add ground meat along with chili powder, salt, and pepper – cook thoroughly
3) Add beans to the pan with meat and continue cooking until beans are warm
4) Remove pan from heat and scoop even portions of meat/bean mixture over chips with cheese
5) Cover mixture with remaining cheese
6) Scoop spoonfuls of salsa, sour cream, and guacamole evenly over nachos

I love love love to make fresh guacamole, so if you have the time and access to good avocados, I think it makes a great addition to the meal. My guac recipe varies based on the ingredients I happen to have on hand, but here’s the basic outline I used for tonight (which I think turned out to be one of my best batches yet).

Courtney’s Crazy Good Guac
Makes a good sized bowl to share with friends

What you need:
3-4 large avocados
2 Tablespoons finely diced red onion
2 cloves minced garlic
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 Tablespoon lime juice
1/3 cup sour cream
Salt and pepper to taste

What you do:
1) Cut avocados in half and scrape out inside into medium bowl
2) Add all other ingredient and mash together until smooth with some chunks of avocado remaining
3) Serve with tortilla chips or atop nachos (or other Mexican fare)

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This was definitely a winning guacamole combo. And I’m not sure what made the difference, but this guac kept much better than my past batches. Usually my guacamole will start to turn brown fairly quickly, but I had this out for hours sharing with friends and it remained pristine green! Makes for a perfect party dish.

Of course this meal – and any for that matter – is best enjoyed with a sunset.

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Stick that in your pot and cook it

I got a crock pot for Christmas from Andrew’s mom, and can I just say – Best. Invention. Ever.

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I love all things magical – unicorns, Santa Claus, boyfriends who clean up after themselves (yup, got one of those too) – but when that magic involves food creation, it’s a whole new level to me. And here’s the magic of the crock pot – you put in a bunch of easy seemingly random ingredients, turn it on, leave for the day, and come home to a house (or trailer) that smells like your grandma’s kitchen (assuming she’s a good cook) and a hot delicious meal ready and waiting.

For me the crock pot is extra exciting, and I like to think crucial, since I don’t have an oven in the trailer. So it really expands the cooking possibilities immensely.

To break in my new tool, I chose an extremely easy recipe from the Family Circus Slow Cooker Meals cookbook given to me by Andrew’s grandma.

Cajun-Seasoned Vegetarian Gumbo

What you need:
2 cans (15 oz each) black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can (28 oz) diced tomatoes
1 package (16 oz) frozen sweet peppers and onions veggie combo
2 cups loose-pack frozen cut okra
2-3 teaspoons Cajun seasoning
Hot cooked rice

What you do:
1.) In crock pot, combine black beans, tomatoes with their juices, peppers/ onions, okra, and Cajun seasoning
2.) Cover crock pot and cook on low heat setting for 6-8 hours or high heat setting for 3-4 hours.
3.) Serve over cooked rice.

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Seriously, it’s that easy! Andrew was a bit skeptical of the dish since “you just dump a bunch of cans in the pot,” but let me tell you, it turned out great!

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I used a brown rice blend that includes barley and seeds, which added a nice texture to the dish.

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Go heavy on the Cajun seasoning. And I would recommend enjoying this meal with a nice beer to temper the spice.

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Sunday Supper

Another beautiful weekend comes to a close, and for me it was a perfect one filled with fantastic weather, glorious nature exploring, and time spent with new friends. What better way to end a great weekend than to sit down and enjoy a good meal?

I can’t believe Christmas is less than a week away! To get in the spirit I made a Christmas-colored dinner of Pesto Chicken Pasta and tomatoes with fresh mozzarella.

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This is quite possibly the easiest supper ever, made divine by pesto. I was lucky enough to have the real stuff, Genovese pesto straight from Italy, thanks to my wonderful friend Becca. But I think the dish would still taste pretty good with other pesto.

Pesto Chicken Pasta (serves 4)

What you need:
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Balsamic Vinegar
1 Tablespoon Pinenuts
1/2 cup fresh shredded Parmesan cheese (plus extra for garnish)
1/2 cup Pesto
2 Chicken breasts – sliced into 1 inch cubes
1 Tomato – sliced into 1 inch cubes
1/2 Sweet Yellow Onion – thinly sliced
1/2 package Linguine Pasta
Salt, Pepper, and Garlic Powder to taste

What to do:
1) Prepare pasta according to package directions, meanwhile…
2) Heat large pan. Add 1 Tablespoon of olive oil to hot pan with a pinch of garlic powder.
3) Add onions and balsamic vinegar to pan and allow to sauté for a couple minutes.
4) Add chicken and salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste. Sauté until chicken is cooked.
5) Remove from heat and stir in tomatoes, pasta, pesto, parmesan, and remaining olive oil.
6) Scoop portions of pasta onto serving plates and garnish with fresh shredded Parmesan and pinenuts. Enjoy!

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The last step is obviously optional and I wouldn’t go out of my way to add pinenuts except that I just happened to have some in my cabinet. I’m pretty positive that this would taste just as good eaten straight out of the pan.

I served this pasta with tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, just because living in Florida means I can still snag fresh delicious produce in winter.

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But I think a simple salad would be an equally good pairing.

Wishing you all good food and a great week ahead!

Brooklyn, Brooklyn take me in

 

I just had the most amazing weekend in New York City.  And no, it did not involve the trailer – it was my last big hurrah of trailer-free living – move in happens this week!  It did, however, involve adventures with three of the most wonderful people I know in one of the world’s greatest and most eclectic cities.  Despite having gone to school and lived for the past 6 years just a short 4 hour bus ride from NYC, I hadn’t been there since my parents took me on a college-visit trip my senior year of high school to indulge my dreams of going to Columbia or NYU (right…) plus one short-lived fantasy of being a fashionista at FIT (again, right…).

So needless to say, this New York experience, my first as an adult, was completely different from my earlier NYC visits.  For one, I got to explore parts of the city that I hadn’t been to before.  We started our adventures in Brooklyn.  It was my first time exploring this little gem of a neighborhood, and boy did I love it!There were so many reasons – the neighborhood feel, the views of Manhattan, the waterfront, the fabulous food and shopping, and the eclectic people.  But part of why I kind of love it is because it reminds me in a lot of ways of my wonderful DC neighborhood that I’m leaving – H Street – and the great potential it possesses.  We began with a stroll along the Brooklyn waterfront.Which didn’t last long before our appetites, and the abundance of cute cafes, got the best of us.  After debating options for far too long (per usual) we decided on one of our original picks Heights Café.  The food was deliciously filling – I got the Grilled Marinated Chicken Sandwich on an onion baguette with lemon pepper mayo, roasted peppers, arugula, avocado and provolone cheese with house-made fries and blue cheese dressing on the side.  It may not sound too special, but it was divine, especially when served up with a refreshing Hoegaarden.

Next we headed to another area of Brooklyn to do some shopping.  One of my favorite parts of New York was getting to see, and be inspired by, each person’s unique style.  It truly is an anything goes city, as long as you have the confidence to rock it you can be fashionable wearing anything in NYC.  This area of Brooklyn was certainly no exception.  But my fascination with fashion was put on hold when I discovered that heaven is located in Brooklyn.  You weren’t aware of this fact? Well then you’ve surely never been to The Chocolate Room.This would definitely make my top 10 list of happiest places on earth.  In addition to having decadent chocolate-y treats (I got the Cafe Torino – an amazing drink where they mix their house espresso with their rich dark chocolate hot chocolate), they also serve a fantastic selection of beer, wine, and ice cream.  The atmosphere, though, is really what makes the place – you feel like you have stepped into a quaint European chocolatier.  (Ok, it may have helped that there was an adorable European family at the table next to us.)  But seriously – go there.  Your sweet tooth will thank you.Then we were on to wandering through the West Village – back into the heart of New York where the streets were crowded and pulsed with an energy unique to this city, this neighborhood even.  After taking in all the sights, sounds, and smells of the area, we finally settled on a tiny Italian bistro, I Tri Merli, for a long relaxing dinner.  The location was perfect for watching all the action on the busy street corner from the open air restaurant while enjoying a glass of wine.  I got the Brazino (sea bass) with cherry tomatoes, capers, olives and sautéed spinach in a white wine sauce, which was delicious.  And of course Tiramisu to share for dessert.  The slow, relaxing dinner filled with laugher was the perfect ending to a wonderful day.I was fortunate enough to get to spend another day in New York, and we started it off with a Sunday favorite – brunch.  It was a spectacular day for sitting outside at Le Monde and enjoying their tasty Croque Madame and ginormous Café au lait.Spectacular, that is, except for the bee who wouldn’t leave us be (pun intended).  After some dramatics and looks from other patrons, our winged friend flew away just long enough for us to finish our meals and mosey onward.We took a stroll through a park adjacent to Colombia, stopping to enjoy some child-like fun on the swings and admire the beautiful surroundings.

Before we knew it, it was time to get ready to head home.  We packed our bags and headed downtown for one final fun venture.  And was it ever fun…We stopped by my friend and fabulous jewelry designer Diana’s new boutique, Diana Warner New York, and – Oh. My. Goodness.  Everything, and I mean everything, was incredible and beautiful and so fun (let’s just go ahead and add it to the list of happiest places on Earth along with The Chocolate Room).  Besides the store itself being impeccably decorated, it was filled with such a wide array of fantastic clothing, jewelry and accessories.  Prices ranged from the affordable to the luxurious – so definitely offered something for everyone and every style. 

I had managed to avoid the NYC shopping bug thus far (trailer doesn’t exactly have an abundance of storage space), but I had to indulge at DWNY.  I picked up 3 beautiful and versatile pieces:

1.) A gorgeous jewel-toned aqua silk top from Tolani.  Makes me feel so lavish and is perfect paired with the colors in Stella & Dot’s Marchesa Collection.

2.) A whimsical sheer lacy cream-colored tunic from Blue Bird that I’m so excited to pair with my lacy Chantilly Cuff & Earrings.

3.) The pants I will probably live in this fall/winter – Henry & Belle Ideal Super Skinny Jeans.  They are so tight but still so comfy because of the amazing stretch.  They have the look and feel of jeans, but the fit of leggings – a perfect combo.

After my final bout of extravagance, it was time to head home and back to reality – that is work and a week filled with packing packing packing.  But I could not have asked for a better weekend.  Not just because of all the fabulous things I did, but mostly because of the people I got to do it with.  This shared time with my oldest and greatest friends was just the boost I needed to prepare me for the uncertain (yet exciting) months that lie ahead.

Goodbye Summer…

It’s always bittersweet to bid adieu to summer. Even now without the anxiety of going back to school and losing days of freedom, every year it seems like the end of an era of fun. But I think what I’ll truly miss the most – since I’m not too sad about leaving the sweltering DC summer days behind – is the abundance of fresh summer produce. I could eat fresh picked tomatoes and basil for days, not to mention my obsession with zucchini, and then there’s the ripe juicy peaches, melons and berries. And while not technically “produce”, seafood is something I’ve come to love and associate with summer.

Alas, with every end comes a new beginning – and for produce that’s the lovely fall gourds that begin to emerge from the earth. Not just the decorating for Halloween kind, but the delicious soup-making and roasted veggies kind. While I don’t (yet) have quite the same love for fall squashes as I do for summer produce, I’m learning to cook and enjoy them slowly but surely.

To make my edible transition from summer to fall, last week I cooked a meal combining some of my favorites from the two seasons. I boiled a beautiful spaghetti squash that I picked up fresh from the White House Farmer’s Market and scraped out the insides to resemble spaghetti noodles (if you have not discovered the wonder of spaghetti squash – you are missing out!). For the sauce to top the squash “noodles” I sauteed chopped onions and mushrooms in olive oil with garlic and fresh chopped basil. Then I added Trader Joe’s Seafood Medley (a delightful mix of shrimp, calamari, and scallops) for a couple minutes before mixing in equal parts Trader Joe’s Pesto and heavy whipping cream. Although I didn’t have a recipe (and don’t have vast experience with cooking seafood), the sauce turned out PERFECT – creamy but not too heavy (I added just a bit of flour at the end to help thicken the sauce). On the side, I chopped up some heirloom cherry tomatoes I had just picked up from the farmer’s market and topped them with fresh basil (from our garden!) and some Herbs de Provence flavored feta (also from the farmer’s market) with a touch of olive oil.

Results? A divine farewell to summer and happy hello to fall!