25 09 2017

The hurricane and residual work chaos threw me off my stride, but I did do this little painting I’ve been meaning to do for some time. Why a fork/knife/crumb-laden plate? Can’t explain it, just wanted to.

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For kicks I took cell photos (the above one is from the crappy cell too) of the progress.

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Pics above are in natural light – ala hurricane power outage.

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Dessert – yum.


B-Day Part 4: Chattanooga

15 08 2017

Part 4 of 5 – 1 part left! Of course, you can’t visit the Chattanooga area without visiting the center of Chattanooga itself. While I wasn’t impressed with the famous Choo Choo (none of the shops were open noon-ish on Saturday, AND the one restaurant that was open said it was an hour wait for a bagel #areyoukidding), I was impressed with some great treat options and the Aquarium.

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The Aquarium consists of 2 huge buildings. One is for saltwater animals and the other is for freshwater. Above is in the freshwater building in the upper area that’s supposed to be like local mountain-type terrain. The saltwater building has the cooler upper area though due to a stingray petting zoo:

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…and a butterfly garden:

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Of course, anytime there are jellyfish, they steal the show. Just a couple out of about 100 shots:

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I’m proud of the next one no matter how grainy it is; this next jelly was incredibly dark – much post processing was needed even with my highest ISO. The orange light you see moves through them looking like an electrical current. It’s the coolest thing ever.

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Outer space jelly.
These buildings are massive –  I mean really massive. You could take pictures for a half a day. We only had a couple hours. Moving to the freshwater building, the seahorse room was my personal favorite, but all my pics there had too much noise. The cute otters came out though:

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And amidst the piranhas and tree frogs are some guys practically out of my backyard:

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And now – switching gears completely: the other highlight – TREATS!!

I had read up on The Hot Chocolatier on Trip Advisor and was dying to try it. Was not disappointed! So worth it! So amazing! Please open one in Jax!!

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It’s a little space right across the Choo Choo and has the biggest variety of hot chocolate options I’ve ever seen, each topped with your choice of homemade marshmallow (!) or whipped cream. Yum!

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Everything was good. Understatement! And, yes, they do have other treats:

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Wanted to try this macaron cake, but was too full; how pretty!

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But here’s the star of the show, complete with giant homemade marshmallow:

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The other good treat place is a bakery called Koch’s that’s been around for years. We were only able to stop on the way out of town, and only had my cell for pics which didn’t turn out great. But they have a great variety of cookies and donuts:

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…and an awesome mural.

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Donut selfie! Anyway, one final set of birthday pics next week. 🙂

Pie Society

21 04 2016

Hello, World! I apologize for my absence. Just got over some of the craziest weeks of my life, and if I wasn’t taking this afternoon off work, I probably wouldn’t have had time to blog for another week or so. Anyway, onto a more important thing: PIE!


And not just any pie. I’m talking about British pie. Specifically, Pie Society pie! As Americans, most of us think of pie as that fruit filled dessert you eat at a summer picnic or during Thanksgiving. Apple pie, cherry pie, pumpkin. Good stuff. But in England they have savory pies too. In my trip to England in 2013, I fell in love with Cornwall and, in particular, the Cornish pasty, a savory pie shaped kind of like a calzone. I have been craving one ever since. Like, seriously! I tried to make them once, but it just wasn’t the same.


Enter Pie Society in Savannah, Georgia. They have another location about 15 minutes north of Savannah in Pooler, GA, which is the original. It’s run by actual British people, so you know the pies are legit. I came in with high expectations.


It’s a small place – a counter to order at, a few tables to sit at and bar style seating at the window, and cute decorations.



I’d read online that you need to get there early in the day, because options sell out quickly. Driving from Jacksonville, we made it by 11 a.m. which was a bit on the late side. There were a constant stream of people in/out, some of them having ordered in advance, which I think is a good idea if you want something specific. Not everything on the menu, below, is available at once.



Luckily, they still had what I was going for: Cornish pasty! In England, I’d had one with potato, onion, and cheese. Traditionally, the standard pasty has ground beef in it. Pie Society’s pasties have ground beef, but they have a breakfast pasty that looks a little different but comes with the potato + cheese combo. There was only 1 left!


Oh, yes. Very beautiful. And inside, the perfect filling, warm and cheesy with herbs too:


So rich and tasty! Exactly what I’d been craving! Also tried a scone, complete with cream and jam:


Gotta say though, the savory stuff is where it’s at. We brought a cooler especially for the trip and took some things home for dinner.


By 11 a.m., they were already out of a lot. Very popular! But shortly after, someone brought some freshly put together pies to bake:


Trays of unbaked, future tastiness. Yum! Anyway, we took home 3 things.

The first night, we baked (well, heated up – they were already cooked) the Cauliflower Broccoli Bake:


(Which was delicious…though I failed to take a pic of the inside) and a Chicken and Thyme pie, which I completely failed to get a pic of! Must have been too hungry. It was amazing, I can tell you that. And very filling.

Then we got 2 Cornish Pasties for the next night, one for each of us. They are huge!


So good!


I realize the lighting isn’t so appetizing looking in that last pic, but it really was good. Beef, some onion I think, peas, and a few carrots. Mostly meat and sauce, but soooo lovely. We stopped by Pooler as well to pick up some sausage rolls, but I only took phone pics. If you are in the area, please try this place! You won’t regret it.


Blueberry Tart

1 09 2015

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Been wanting to try a food pic with the tablet for ages!

Tea at The Grand Floridian

20 08 2015

Sometimes you really just want – no, need – some cucumber sandwiches and tea and a scone with cream. And then you realize there’s almost no place where you live to satisfy that craving. Last time this happened, I went to the Gryphon in Savannah, a lovely time I wrote about here. This time, I wanted something a little closer to home.

Luckily, the Disney hotel the Grand Floridian has an afternoon tea and is only about 2.5 hours from home. Ta da!

Fancy flooring upon arrival:

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So this tea is more complex than the Gryphon. You have to make a reservation (easy enough online) and guarantee with a credit card. (If you don’t show, it will charge I think $10 per person). You don’t pay online, just pick your day, time, and guarantee it.

Things were a little weird at the hostess desk. I think the hostess might have been having a bad day. Anyway, we got seated pretty quickly at the Garden View Tea Room. It’s pretty small – bordered by windows on one half:

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…with the other half facing open and out into the hotel lobby. Mostly they have cute little circle tables:

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Right behind our table was this cool thing:

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The menu has several “combo” options versus being able to order piece by piece. I think this is pretty standard for afternoon tea. We chose the Bedfordshire Tea, which has sandwiches, scone, and desserts along with the tea. Other choices added champagne or similar for a higher charge. The Bedfordshire is $30/person, so the bill for two is around $75 with tax.

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Tea comes out first:

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I got the Princess Breakfast Tea. I mean, duh, we are at Disney after all. They put little burgundy tea cozies on all the tea pots to keep them warm. Then out comes your sandwich plate:

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Gotta say, this plate was my favorite part. Bits of fruit, an onion tart (sweet though), 2 pieces of lavosh (a cracker), 2 large pieces of cheese, and 4 sandwiches: egg salad, chicken curry, pickled golden beet with goat cheese, and cucumber. Curry was my favorite. Filling and yummy!

Then comes the scone plate. I became obsessed with clotted cream after England, and it’s almost never used in America, so I get really excited when I find some. The scone plate has a scone (obviously) – ours was golden raisin, a strawberry tart, and a trio of spreads: apricot, cream, and lemon something.

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Honestly, I was a little disappointed in the cream. I think it might have been butter. It kind of tasted like it. The lemon thing tasted really off. The rest was okay, and the scone itself was delicious.

By this point, you’re full, but there’s still dessert! You choose between a small plate of pastries or a bowl of strawberries topped with cream. Of trifle, whatever that is. We picked pastries.

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I was in love with the cute swan (had a tropical fruit mousse), but the chocolate thing ended up tasting the best:

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The strawberry smelled like nail polish remover. I’m hoping they dipped it in alcohol, because otherwise I’m not sure that was safe to eat.

Stomachs full, we walked it off around the lobby:

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They have a fantastic chandelier like the Gryphon, albeit in an entirely different style. They also both have a stained glass piece:

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At 3:00 they bring in live musicians. They started with a piano player and a woman singing songs from The Little Mermaid (both very good). Later they had these guys:

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We took a stroll outside too.

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This last isn’t the greatest pic, but it shows how just a short walk from the tea room you can walk out on a sandy beach and see the Grand Floridian’s wedding villa and the neighboring Polynesian Resort:

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Verdict: Good, enjoyable, but the quality of some of the food needs some work for the price. I’d rate the Gryphon higher both on food quality and décor, but Disney always makes a fun experience. Glad I went.

Biltmore!: Part 3 (Rooftop Tour, Antler Village and Winery)

10 08 2015

We returned to Biltmore for a second day for the Rooftop Tour (first day here and here) and also visit Antler Village and Winery for its 30th anniversary party. The Rooftop tour is pretty inexpensive itself and also got us free general admission free on the 2nd day. 🙂

Again, you have to pick a specific time, and you meet your tour guide and group in front of the house. Interesting things to see while waiting…

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It’s a fairly quick, easy tour. Some stair climbing that may be a problem for some folks (including climbing to the top of the grand staircase!)

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The tour guide we had was really knowledgeable and great at sharing details. Unfortunately I was so busy taking pics and switching between my limited 50 mm and my sad iPhone camera that I didn’t retain all that much.

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Looking down into my favorite atrium:

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And looking over at the former stables…their roof, at least:

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This copper top is actually the outside culmination of the massive multi-level chandelier that hangs over the grand staircase:

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Notice George Vanderbilt’s initials as decoration on the roof:

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The guide informed us that these used to be gold at one point. Hard to picture Biltmore with it’s beautiful and stately grays and greens in shiny gold, at least for me.

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I love that tiny initialed weather vane (assuming?) above. And this shot below straight down over the fountain beside the right of the front entrance:

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The tour takes you to one of the large balconies (I’m sure there’s a better name for them) on the backside of the house. On a regular self-guided house tour, you get to walk onto one…this one lets you onto the floor above that. A cute little bird came in to see what the tour was all about:

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Then he flew down for a closer look:

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And then a friend joined him.

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So cute! After the Rooftop Tour, we drove to Antler Village, which is still in grounds but not within easy walking distance. Antler Village consists of modern shops and restaurants, the winery, some farm areas with animals, and some old style barn-type areas with old equipment on display and some demonstrations (e.g. blacksmithing). It rained while we were in that part of it, so I didn’t get many pics. I did think this floral horse was cool:

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The petting zoo had closed when we ventured out after the rain, but there are always animals about:

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By then it was definitely time for some wine. The last time I’d been to the winery I’d been sadly underage. 😦

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Tastings are free, though they have some upscale tastings that cost something – we did the general one, which has a lot of options!

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And of course, it was their 30th anniversary.

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After wine, we decided to grab some food at Bistro. It’s on the extremely pricey side, but is very nice and all. My eyes were bigger than my stomach, and I ordered not only the (what turned out to be humongous) French onion soup:

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…but also this pasta dish with goat cheese. I’m a sucker for anything with goat cheese.

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Honestly, it was okay. For the price and caliber of restaurant, I’d like to say “it was spectacular,” but I think they went overly muted and actually a bit bland on the pasta. It was definitely different with ingredients that felt fresh and healthy though, which is a plus.

After dinner, we were so full, we waddled into the courtyard where people were gathering to listen to a jazz band and walked around a bit.

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The whole Antler Village is modern, but well cared for, so very pretty to see. Here’s a statue in front of Cedric’s Tavern, the other main restaurant there:

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Cedric is the dog (Vanderbilt’s dog, of course!)

Free ice cream was served – wine ice cream! It was actually really good!

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Then at night, the band halted for the anniversary speech. I believe it was Bill Cecil, the CEO and one of Vanderbilt’s descendants, that came out to speak. I tried to get a shot:

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The night ended with a fantastic fireworks display.

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Not a bad way to end a birthday trip!

Biltmore!: Part 1

28 07 2015

The day after our waterfall adventure, we made our way to my favorite place in Asheville: Biltmore Estate.

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Biltmore is amazing! One of the few and last remaining great American estates, it was built by George Vanderbilt in the late 1800s, and includes many acres of beautiful grounds and gardens, the stable house with shops and a restaurant, and of course, the iconic house itself. I’m pretty sure (if memory from my visit as a 9 year old serves correctly) it has 32 guest rooms. Trivia fact there. It also has an indoor swimming pool and bowling alley… and dumbwaiters… thought those were pretty cool at age 9 too.

Anyway, you can easily search for Biltmore history and facts online if you want; so here I’ll just give a photo overview of my recent visit.

Upon arrival, we had to pick up our tickets from the Ticket Office where this dress was on display:

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They were having their “Dressing Downton” event with clothing from the TV show Downton Abbey on display throughout the house. No pics allowed in-house, so this is the only shot I grabbed of that stuff, but they had plenty inside – a few outfits in all the big rooms. I believe the exhibit finished at the end of May.

After tickets, we parked and walked the forest path to the front lawn. If you get there later in the day, it’s best to take the shuttle, which goes to the front of the house. Exploring the front of the lawn:

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I’m always blown away by how gorgeous it is!

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See the patio area to the left of the pic above? We walked around it a bit before our ticket time (you have to pick a specific in-time to visit the house):

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Learned from a tour guide the following day that the statue above is Joan of Arc. She’s decorating the outside of the grand staircase. The windows actually open, and technically, you could step out on those thin ledges (but they don’t let visitors do that.)

If you walk past the patio and further to the left, there’s a very pretty covered outdoor area with vines that steps down onto a large grassy area with sculptures and views like this:

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Finally it was time to see the house! They will let you snap picks in the entryway, but that’s it:

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I’m a little in love with the colors in the pic above. 🙂 Probably because it was spring time, there were flowers like this all throughout the house. The flowers and Downton dresses were lovely to see, but honestly the house is more than gorgeous without them. Vanderbilt was a massive art collector; my favs are the tapestries from the 1500s and the portrait of Mrs. Vanderbilt by Boldini. It’s a shame they don’t allow pics, as I’ve always felt the postcards and things they sell don’t really convey the full beauty of the place.

Once you’re done seeing the house (took us quite some time considering we had about 8 or 9 groups of kids on field trips), you exit near the stable house, to the right of the main house. You can see its horse-housing origins, but nowadays the place is a collection of touristy shops with candy, Christmas collectibles, and fancy souvenirs:

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… and also home to a really delicious restaurant, the Stable Café. It got super crowded, but we got there early enough to beat the main traffic.

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V for Vanderbilt! Here are some staff members gearing up for lunch. I’m assuming the shiny white brick is original; it’s got a cool look.

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You sit either at tables or at booths converted from horse stalls. What to order? Well, I’ve never had anything I didn’t like. This time I had to try the chicken salad:

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The verdict? Yum! Despite the fact that I was more than full, I also had to try the potato soup:

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Not a very exciting photo, but totally delicious! We were so full, we had to skip dessert and walk it off in the gardens. However, we came back right before close to circle back to the sweets (worth it)!:

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Above: peach fritters (or something like that) with blackberries and, barely in the pic, corn ice cream. Yes, corn! It was surprisingly really good. A very southern gourmet style. And because it was my birthday (and you can eat what you want on your birthday, of course), we got a second dessert: 13 layer vanilla cake with grapefruit crème and candied ginger and some kind of champagne sauce. OMG.

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Oh. Yes.

Now I’m hungry. Stay tuned  – next Biltmore post will show our journey through the gardens….

South Carolina Adventure: Hagood Mill and Twin Falls (and a bit of Asheville, NC)

22 07 2015

For my birthday in May, I made a 5 day fun trip to the Carolinas. I used to go to North Carolina every fall with my family as a kid since my mom loved the changing tree colors (which we mostly lack in FL), but I’d never really been as an adult (with a decent camera of my own.)

Cake made by a talented employee of mine - how sweet! No pun intended. Day before the trip.

Cake made by a talented employee of mine – how sweet! No pun intended. Day before the trip.

We drove up through South Carolina first to see the old family cemetery (yes, I realize how creepy it sounds) in the Easley/Pickens area – the Jameson Family Cemetery where my great-great-great-great grandparents are buried, and a few paces down the road happened across a U-Pick strawberry farm!

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Check out this loot, only after a few minutes of picking! We only did about 1/2 a basket since we would still be in the car most of the day with no refrigeration.

I’d found, thanks to Trip Advisor, that the cemetery area was only about 11 minutes away from Hagood Mill, which looked too good to pass up. We sat on picnic benches and ate our strawberries. It was a truly gorgeous site:

You can see the mill behind the stones. You can walk through it anytime, but they turn the wheel and make grits and things that they sell every other Saturday.

You can see the mill behind the stones. You can walk through it anytime, but they turn the wheel and make grits and things that they sell every other Saturday.

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View from up in the mill. Of course, had to sneak a few cell phone shots since I only brought my 50 mm lens which is really narrow.

View from up in the mill. Of course, had to sneak a few cell phone shots since I only brought my 50 mm lens which is really narrow.

I was enchanted by all the beautiful flowers – don’t quite know what they are, but they were covering the place in beautiful whites and pinks:

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Is it just me, or does that wooden box above look creepily like a coffin? I couldn’t get close enough to really check it out. Anyway, highly recommend checking out Hagood Mill. Even if it’s on a day when the mill isn’t turning, it’s a beautiful place to wander around. While we were there, there was even a group of musicians meeting up to play country/classic on the porch of one of the cabins.

After, we headed further north to a site nestled right in the mountains – and incredibly hard to find – Twin Falls. There are places called “Twin Falls” in various states; this one’s in South Carolina, and online directions are very tricky because the roads are very curved and with super tiny signs. And there are NO signs that say Twin Falls. I think that’s really weird, because it’s actually a big site, and worth seeing:

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Lots of greenery on the path approaching…

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This doesn’t properly convey the size at all; it was very impressive.

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We climbed down from the lookout to get the last couple shots, which may be difficult for some people  – a bit of a steep jump down and then some slippery rocks, but not that bad.

After Twin Falls, we said goodbye to South Carolina and rode onto Asheville, North Carolina. The bulk of our visit was spent outside the city (as I’ll show you in a few future posts), but I’ll include our little in-city experience here:

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These adorable pig statues (pigs are the cutest!) are in the heart of Asheville. We passed them on our way to the French Broad Chocolate Lounge, which I’d seen online and had to visit. Their descriptions of the different types of hot chocolate they had were drool-worthy.

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It took a while to find it, as the Garmin took us first to their old location. But here we are – so cute!

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Just a portion of their dessert case. I opted for a macaron, naturally, and an oaxacan hot chocolate that I’d been dreaming of since I’d looked up the menu online.

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The macaron was good, but I have to admit, the hot chocolate was – to put it plainly – a little gross. Not really sweet at all and full of clumps/graininess. Maybe I just don’t know what real hot chocolate is – I almost never drink it, so it’s entirely possible – but I honestly didn’t like it. Service was interesting…we ordered two hot chocolates and they brought us only 1 and were very confused about the other one. But, if I could, I’d try this place again. They had other things on the menu that looked good, and it’s a cute place with lots of seating.

Anyway, leaving there we walked around downtown a bit, peering into shops that were mostly closed in the evening:

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How cute are these dresses?

But my favorite storefront:

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Made we want to watch Alice in Wonderland all over again.

The next morning we went to another Trip Advisor find, the Sunny Point Café. This place not only met, but exceeded all expectations! Can’t recommend enough!

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Not much parking – have to find a space on the street. We were there around early-brunch time and it was pretty packed. We gave our name to someone on the patio and waited outdoors. Not too bad a wait though, maybe 15 min.

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Part of the menu, above… I was very hungry, which always makes it a hard decision, but I was really pleased when my choices arrived:

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Scrambled eggs, plain but just what I wanted (ala carte), delicious cheddar grits, and the most wonderful “organic cornmeal hotcakes,” which are gluten-free and have a slight orange flavor, topped with a berry butter. I can’t even describe how good those were. Like nothing I’ve ever seen back home.

After breakfast, we walked back to the car through the restaurant’s garden. Yes, they grow a lot of their own items right there!

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So pretty! Then it was on to our waterfall adventure, which I’ll write about next time…

Christmas in July… Wait…

7 07 2015

Talk about overdue – back in January, right after my trip to Key West, I turned around and went on a trip to Rochester, Minnesota. It was business, but it was also my first time in the Midwest (or as I call it and any place that gets truly cold, from a native Floridian’s perspective, “the North.”)

Look at that! A patchwork blanket of whiteness. Total 180 from Florida.

Look at that! A patchwork blanket of whiteness. Total 180 from Florida.

I only had my cell camera, so not the best pic quality. And if snow is a normal thing to you, may want to skip this post. But for those of us that NEVER get to see snow…it is pretty darn exciting.

my footprints...

my footprints…

First time ever making a legit snowball :)

First time ever making a legit snowball 🙂

Naturally, had to make a snowman. He is beautiful.

Naturally, had to make a snowman. He is beautiful.

Here's a much better snowman than mine...and yes, I creepily took pics of someone's front yard. Sorry, not sorry.

Here’s a much better snowman than mine…and yes, I creepily took pics of someone’s front yard. Sorry, not sorry.

See the mini snow people in the pic above too? 🙂 I was like a little kid in the snow, having fun in the way that you do when something is a novelty and not a daily reality of life (am not envious of anyone that has to drive in snow and ice!)

Rochester is a pretty small town; a few business make up the bulk of it. We had to check out Mayo Clinic, one of the biggest – it has a long history in the town, and part of that history is preserved in an almost museum-like setting that’s not at all what you picture when you think “hospital.”

Impressive front door.

Impressive front door.


Gorgeous elevators...

Gorgeous elevators…



In a way, it’s a relief from the concrete, steel, and glass that every professional building is composed of now.




Anyway, the highlight of the whole city, in my opinion, is this place right here:


Oh yeah, Pannekoeken! This restaurant just happened to be in the ground floor or our hotel, so we went for the first time more for easy access than anything else. But everything they serve is tasty, and the star of the show is, of course, the pannekoeken itself. Pronounced “pan – uh – koo – kin” (and I know that because they bring it out to you, running, while singing it), it’s a Dutch baked pancake filled with whatever sweet or savory thing you want.

Here it is, in its freshly made glory:

My apple pannekoeken

My apple pannekoeken

If you ever go there, you MUST have one. They don’t have these anywhere down South that I’ve ever been. They also have spectacularly giant muffins, which are also good:

giant pumpkin muffin

giant pumpkin muffin

Food in Rochester is pretty good overall, in my opinion. But the snow is what I wish I could get a bit more of:


Silver Lake Park… that snow was so bright, I could have used sunglasses.





After a couple days, we had to go the way of those geese in the pic above and head back home. Where it is now about 97 degrees. Gotta love it.

Last Peaches of Summer

30 09 2014


There is nothing like a fresh, juicy peach in the tail end of summer, especially one from Georgia! I ended up in late August with a whole bag of them and, being on an “afternoon tea” kick (obsessed with all treats little and delicious), I got this craving for peach tarts. Now, peaches are fine on their own, but every now and then it’s fun to do something different.

Never having made tarts before, I pieced together different recipes.

Pre-made crust sounded much easier than from scratch. I ended up with this graham crust – the only kind of this size Publix seemed to offer. Now, this wasn’t bad; the taste was fine. But the graham crumbled apart super easily, so I had to leave the tarts in the tins.

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I really like the fruit tarts at Le Croissant Gourmet in Winter Park, so instead of the easier marscapone no-bake filling, I opted for a custard/pastry cream recipe. Seemed more authentic to me. You have to boil milk (2 cups) and sugar (1/4 cup), and separately whisk an egg and 2 egg yolks – then add 1/3 cup sugar and 1/4 cup cornstarch (for thickening) to the eggs. Then you combine both, mixing (so the hot egg won’t cook), and then pour back into a pan and cook over the stove. The whole time you’re at a low boil and stirring. Eventually it turns into this disgustingly gloppy stuff, but apparently that means your doing it right. You take it off the heat and add a bit of vanilla extract and 2 tablespoons of butter, stirring until it’s mixed in. Personally, I don’t know about the butter. I feel like it might not be necessary. Then the extra weird part is, when you put it all into a container to chill in the fridge, you put plastic wrap on top – and pat it down so it touches the gloppy stuff.

And that’s more than the average person ever wanted to hear about custard.

pressing the wrap to the custard stuff - ick

pressing the wrap to the custard stuff – ick

From that point, it was easy. You just spoon the custard stuff into the pastry shells and top with fruit. I tried some with the peaches peeled and some not. Taste is the same, though with peel is harder to cut if you need to eat in in multiple bites (like these.)

filling the shells...

filling the shells…

making glaze

making glaze

You could be done there, I guess, but to really be official, make a glaze – this makes it glossy and sort of seals things in. I used 1 tablespoon of water and 1/2 cup of peach jam/preserves – mix that over a stove for a bit. Voila!

pretty completed tart on the left, 3 more to glaze! :)

pretty completed tart on the left, 3 more to glaze! 🙂

fluffy, rich, and delicious!

fluffy, rich, and delicious!

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