travel:: Asheville, NC

Asheville, NC has been on our travel bucket list for years now. We finally had the excuse to visit last weekend for my college friend’s wedding, and we had a great time! It’s only a 3.5 hour drive from Atlanta, so it makes for an easy weekend getaway. Here were some of our favorite spots around town!

Tupelo Honey Cafe:: This was my favorite meal during our trip. Because we were invited to wedding festivities both nights, we didn’t have the opportunity to eat dinner in Asheville, but we thoroughly enjoyed our other meals. We had a brief wait for lunch at Tupelo on Friday, and we had a celebrity sighting within 5 minutes of being there. Jennifer Carpenter (Deb) from the TV show Dexter was also waiting for a table with a couple ladies – and she had the cutest baby belly!

Anyway, the food was worth a wait. We sat the bar and had great service, even though they were busy. I tried their homemade rosemary peach lemonade, and we started with the Pecan-Crusted Goat Cheese appetizer. Also – they brought out hot biscuits with blueberry jam, and I was sort of wishing I could just have a plate of those as my meal. But I’m glad I didn’t, because I would have missed out on this (below) – the Southern Fried Chicken BLT. So big, so crispy, and so delicious. And that mac n cheese… I’d like some right now. Craig also couldn’t get enough of their fried okra — he said it was some of the best he’s ever had.
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Downtown Asheville::
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Biscuit Head:: One of the best breakfasts we’ve had! The biscuits are literally almost the size of your head, and they don’t mess around with the number and variety of toppings for said biscuits. I ordered the Gravy Flight and got to choose 3 — I picked the Sausage, Fried Chicken, and Chicken Cheddar Chili gravies. We also hit up what I’d call the “jam bar” for honey, jams, spreads, and more. Craig got the Pulled Pork Biscuit Sandwich, and he ate every single bite. I’m not sure how he walked out of there. We’d both highly recommend visiting if you’re in the area — but be warned that the line gets long as the morning goes on. 🙂
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French Broad Chocolate Lounge:: I had my eye on this place for an afternoon chocolate fix since I couldn’t partake in any of the beer tastings around town. We waited in a short line and ordered hot sipping chocolate and a milkshake made with Costa Rican chocolate and coconut milk to take with us as we walked through downtown. We also picked up a few treats to take home to Atlanta — a couple of ooey, gooey, dense chocolate and coconut macaroon brownies and the Chocolate Snickerdoodle, which we deemed one of the best cookies we’ve ever had. 
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Basilica of St. Lawrence
:: This is where our friends Anna and Joe had their wedding ceremony, and I found out that it’s rated one of the top attractions in Asheville. I had no idea that there were so few Basilicas in the U.S., so it was pretty neat to not only visit one, but attend a beautiful wedding ceremony and mass there. The tile work inside the building is so impressive, and the stained glass is equally as beautiful.  
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The Biltmore Estate & Gardens:: It was a rainy, dreary morning when we visited on our way out of town, but it was so worth it! We bought tickets to tour the home and I’m so glad we decided to pay for the guided audio tour. Otherwise, we’d have been wandering around not knowing what we were looking at. The tour was really thorough and included so much interesting information about not only the estate, but the Vanderbilt family through the years. It’s incredible to think that they had the technology to create a call system throughout the house to “ring” the driver or wait staff by the press of a button. And they had a huge indoor pool — complete with underwater lighting! The furniture, fixtures, and even the flooring are so ornate and grand. It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like to live there so many decades ago!

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The gardens were also incredibly beautiful, even in the rain. We only had time to explore the Walled Garden and Conservatory areas, but just the walk over to them was stunning. The grounds were designed by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed Central Park, so you can imagine the grandeur. Pops of pink, red, and purple were everywhere among the large expanse of green lawns. I wish we’d had more time to explore! 
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The grounds are so massive that on the way out, they make you drive through all of what seemed to be the “public” areas, which led us on a 20+ minute drive over to Antler Hill Village. I see what they did there, wanting us to spend more time onsite time eating and shopping, but we didn’t succumb to their tricky ways. I did enjoy the beautiful, wooded scenery on our way out, though. The Biltmore is a must-see if you’re in the Asheville area!

a very merry christmas

I hope everyone had a very merry Christmas/Hanukkah/anything else you may celebrate! We had a really wonderful week off work visiting Craig’s family and several of our friends in Nashville and then heading back home to Atlanta to spend some time with my family. I just love this time of year — especially the lights, music, food, and fun. For me, it’s a season of giving, spending time with those you love, and being thankful for our great, many blessings.  Here’s a recap of our holiday week…. it’s hard to believe it’s already over and that we’re focusing on the coming new year!
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Early Christmas dinner at Craig’s grandparents’ house with his little sister and his brother’s girlfriend… and Coco who was not interested in smiling for a photo.
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The lights in the Cottonwood neighborhood in Franklin put the Atlanta neighborhoods to shame. So many festive houses!
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Happy Hour @ Urban Grub with one of my besties
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Christmas with the Sims family in ATL (notice Riley is much better than Coco is at posing for photos…) 
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Yep — this was my Christmas night dinner! 
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One of my favorite Christmas traditions is hosting a big dinner at our house every year for our family and my SIL’s parents who live in town. It’s so fun getting together with them, and we just love the chance to host everyone. My dad always fries a turkey, and this year, Coco got a prime spot for carving. 
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As part of dessert, we served some of the icewine I brought back from Napa (which is actually made in Canada). It’s super sweet, but it was fun to share. 
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Here’s looking forward to what 2015 has to bring!!

travel:: Napa, Day 3

For our final day in Napa, we had plans to visit 4 more wineries that we’d heard great things about. Our driver Denise, who I mentioned in my “Day 1” post, did not disappoint on our farewell tour of wine country.

Winery 1:: James Cole Estate Winery turned out to be one of my favorites of the trip. We were the first to arrive that day, so it was quiet and we had the place to ourselves for a special little tour of some of the back rooms where the wine is made and stored. The girl hosting our tasting was very knowledgeable about the history of the winery, which was impressive because she’d only been there since this summer. She and the other staff we met have a really great vibe and made it such a fun, laid back experience.

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James Cole is a husband and wife owned winery, and they actually live on the property just next to the tasting room area where we spent our morning. Their logo, which looks like a Texas Longhorn from a distance, is actually modeled after a sculpture the owners bought (it’s showcased in their tasting room). It is is of a man mid-dive, and I believe the title is “Aliento,” which is Spanish for “breath” (you’ll also see a bottle of their wine by the same name below). We were told that it represented their lives at the time when they took the plunge to move to Napa and begin their winery journey — taking a dive headfirst into a dream. Pretty neat story.
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All of the wines we tasted at James Cole were exceptional, but one really stood out — the Pinot Noir Icewine from Canada. Per the Napa Wine Project, this is a rare wine that is made in extremely small quantities. In order for it to be considered “icewine,” the grapes must be frozen for at least 3 nights in a row. The Brix (sugar level) is usually in the upper 30’s-low 40’s — which is very sweet. The wine is then aged in Acacia wood barrels which help to impart a honey spiciness into the wine. I’m not typically a fan of sweet wines, but all three of us let out a collective “oooh!” as soon as we tasted it. A rather small bottle sells for a pretty penny due to the small production, but I’m excited to share it with my family as a special treat this Christmas.
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Winery 2:: Regusci Winery felt like we stepped away from the States and right into Tuscany. I loved the old world feel of the property, and while we didn’t have time that day, it would be fun to go back for a tour. We enjoyed 4 of their current wine selections, and even though I’m not much of a white wine drinker these days, their 2012 Chardonnay was incredibly smooth. They also offered freshly made Arancini Balls, which I could have eaten a dozen of.
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Lunch:: We stopped at Oakville Grocery for a picnic lunch, and it made for yet another memorable meal in Napa. Denise called ahead to order a charcuterie and cheese platter for us, and that was the way to do it. Oakville originally opened in 1881, and it was quite a pretty site inside — I could have stayed in there all afternoon looking at the various locally made olive oils, cheeses, spices, jams, and spreads.
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Meats, cheeses, the biggest loaf of focaccia bread ever, tasty beverages from an outdoor drink stand, and gorgeous weather. 
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Winery 3:: Silver Oak Cellars was not on our original itinerary, but we fit in a quick stop for our friend to buy a gift… and of course we needed to taste the wine while we were there. Yet again, this property was immaculate and picturesque. It was far too busy and commercial-seeming for my taste, but then again, it was a Saturday, and we didn’t reserve a private tour. So I’d imagine there are probably better ways to visit Silver Oak for a more personal experience. 
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Winery 4:: Robert Biale Vineyards — home of the Black Chicken! Denise recommended this winery due to a couple of us loving Zins, and it couldn’t have been a better experience as the last stop on our tour de wine.

So what is Black Chicken? Along with growing and selling their grapes, the Biale family also sold produce and eggs from the white chickens they had on their property. During Prohibition, Aldo Biale began selling homemade wine, but because his home phone was a “party line,” customers would order his secret wine with the code name “Black Chicken.” And thus, a legend was born. We of course tried their 2012 Black Chicken Zin, which did not disappoint.  
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Our wine tasting host was simply lovely — he was an older gentleman who is a retired police officer turned wine lover, and he spent the entire hour-long tasting with us. We loved the personalized attention, and because we were sitting on their outdoor patio right next to the vineyard, he let us pull and eat grapes right off the vines. Let me tell you — those little seeded grapes are SO much better than the seedless ones from the grocery store! 
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To cap off the trip, we took a drive to downtown Napa to wander the Oxbow Public Market. I wish we’d had time to eat dinner there, because I wanted one of everything. I did try a miniature Kara’s Cupcake, which was to die for, and we bought some lovely local infused olive oils and balsamic vinegars from The Olive Press to take home.
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I can’t say enough how wonderful, relaxing, fun, and much-needed this girls trip was. We even learned a lot about wine making, which I’ve realized is incredibly interesting. Wine country has such a laid back, appealing lifestyle that makes for a truly incredible vacation from the hustle and bustle of real life. I can’t wait to bring Craig back, and once I do, I have a feeling this is going to become a go-to vacation spot whenever we have the luxury.

travel:: Napa, Day 2

To break up the trip a bit, we booked a day of bike rentals through Napa Valley Bike Tours, located in Yountville, the cutest town ever (btw, it’s pronounced “yahnt-ville”). We opted for the non-guided tour and chose what was deemed the “intermediate route” — Rutherford Loop, which was approx 17 miles in total.

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Winery 1:: Domaine Chandon — poppin’ bottles of champagne! We biked just down the street to this gorgeous property, and what better way to begin our day than with mimosas…without the OJ? Domaine Chandon is serene and beautiful — I felt like I was walking into a nature conservancy or botanical garden.
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We chose a sparkling wine tasting that included 3 glasses each, and we sat out on the tree-covered patio to “cheers” our fun day ahead.
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Winery 2:: St. Supéry Estate Vineryards & Winery was an pretty impromptu visit after missing our reservation at Cakebread Cellars due to a wrong turn and a few extra miles of biking. (oops!) As you can see below, the entrance is picture-perfect. The tasting room was pretty modern and quiet, and we once again enjoyed our tasting of 4 different wines out on the patio. According to their website, they are the largest family owned, sustainably farmed and estate produced winery in Napa Valley. I wish they would have offered more information and history on the winery itself during out visit, but perhaps that’s included with other offerings.
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Lunch:: La Luna Market & Taqueria is legitimate, delicious, CHEAP Mexican food. It’s located in the Rutherford area, and it was a great stop along our bike trail. Each of our lunches cost about $11-12, and we had enough food to feed a tiny, bike-riding army. I love how casual and “local” it felt. Just ordering at the counter in the middle of a convenience store… and the food was some of my favorite we had while in Napa. Giant carnitas quesadillas with heaping portions of guacamole and sour cream — our favorite Mexican restaurants could learn a thing or two from them about not charging an arm and a leg for condiments. Our picnic lunch made for a great break from biking. I just wish I could bike back over there now!
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Winery 3:: Plumpjack Winery was our last stop along our biking adventure, and it was much-needed. Those “little” hills are no joke! This little place is neat in that it is tucked away in the middle of their vineyard, and the atmosphere is casual and inviting. I decided that I really enjoyed the smaller, family-owned wineries better than the crowded, more corporate-feel of some of the larger ones.
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We ended our day with happy hour at Pacific Blues Cafe in Yountville and a most delicious dinner at Celadon in downtown Napa (which was much larger than I’d envisioned). Our meal at Celadon was outstanding — from the Macadamia nut crusted goat cheese with port-poached figs to the Endive and pear salad with blue cheese to our entrees. We were too stuffed for dessert, but I’m sure we wouldn’t have hated it.  
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Biking through Napa for wine tastings was both a great and a bad idea. The weather could not have been more beautiful, especially for November. It was 75ish degrees and sunny outside, and there was a lovely breeze in our hair as we pedaled past rolling hills of yellow grape leaves — and the sunset over the vineyards was something out of a movie. BUT — partaking in wine tastings and then having to huff and puff it up and down hills on a bike to the next winery is not the best idea we’ve ever had. It was a great way to see parts of Napa that I don’t think we’d have paid attention to while in a car, though, and I’m so glad we did it.

travel:: Napa, Day 1

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Oh Napa, how I love you. I just returned from a somewhat impromptu (for me, the eternal planner) trip to Napa Valley with two of my best girlfriends. It was a much-needed break after the insane month of October where I juggled my full-time job along with the busiest month of the year for my photography business, as well as some other fun things mixed in. I think the consensus was that all three of us did not want to leave. We’re already dreaming of when we can return to wine country.

Upon the recommendation of a friend and her fiance who frequent the Napa/Sonoma area, we hired a driver for 2 days. Her name is Denise, and I’d gladly recommend her to anyone traveling there — she was amazing!! She really was so much more than a driver — she was more of a concierge. Denise was completely invested in our trip and truly wanted to help us make the most of each day. Without her, we would have missed out on some great little wineries, places to eat, photo ops, and just a general good time.

Winery 1:: Our first stop of the trip was Raymond Vineyards, which was one our friend Ashley’s (also known as Cheese) favorites on her first visit to Napa. The property is so pretty and even more interesting. Giant hanging frames make the best photo op outside, bronze sculptural hands hold wine bottles over the tasting bar, and there are several rooms to visit inside.

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The Corridor of Senses allows you to smell a variety of different scents and flavors that you might find in different wines — our favorites ranged from berries to pepper. Least favorite was definitely the truffle! Some other experiences include the Red Room, Crystal Cellar, and Rutherford Terroir Room (filled with 16 different soil samples from around Napa, which each contribute to differences in the grapes grown in those areas). Such a neat place to introduce us to the Napa wine scene!
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Winery 2:: On our way to the next stop, Denise suggested we stop by Cairdean Estate, a relatively new vineyard and winery. Our host Deano was so much fun, and we loved that he talked to us about the wines in a very unpretentious way. Plus, we had the place all to ourselves, which was a treat! Cairdean is Scottish Gaelic for “friends,” which reflects their belief that wine is meant to be shared by those held close to your heart…. that couldn’t have been more fitting for our little traveling trio. Of the 5 wines we tasted, I loved their Rose and Zin the most. Read more about this family-owned winery here!
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Winery 3:: Ehlers Estate was on my friend Danielle’s list after having previously tasted one of their wines at a restaurant.This historic property dates back to 1886, and it has so much rustic charm. One of my favorite things we learned about Ehlers is the meaning behind both the heart in the “E” logo and the name of one of their wines, One Twenty Over Eighty. As you might guess, the meaning is related to the heart. 100% of the proceeds from the sale of their wines go directly to the Leducq Foundation, which was created to support international cardiovascular research. 
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Lunch:: Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch, which turned out to be the dining highlight of our trip. The restaurant itself was rustic and gorgeous, and it was set on a beautiful property. We stuffed ourselves with a hot cheese and olive oil starter, as well as huge bacon cheeseburgers with home fries and the most delicious chicken and mac n cheese dish — and local wine, of course. 
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Winery 4:: The last stop of the day was Del Dotto Vineyards in St. Helena. This particular location is modeled after a Venetian Estate, and it was quite grand… maybe a tad ostentatious. We were really excited about the cave tour and the large number of tastings they’re known for; although it turned out to not be much of a “tour,” per se, it was still a fun experience. Aside from being in such a beautiful, candlelit cave, we really enjoyed tasting and comparing wines that were aged in either American or French oak barrels — and the charcuterie and cheese platter at the end was a nice touch! 
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Dinner:: Bistro Don Giovanni in Napa. I adored this fall decor surrounding the steps at the entrance to the restaurant. How fun is that wine opener sculpture? The restaurant was quaint, but very lively and homey. A kitty cat even took up residence there and was being fed dinner as we left. We started with the most delicious, homemade ciabatta bread dipped in spicy olive oil and continued the meal with three different pasta dishes. I was far too full from our day of tastings to make a dent in my bolognese pasta, but what I did have hit the spot. 
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Day 1 in Napa couldn’t have been more perfect! Wine country in the fall is one of the most picturesque places I’ve ever seen. I can’t wait to share our adventures in biking and wining with you next!

kangaroos and gibbons and giraffes, oh my!

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I love a good zoo, so while on our trip to Nashville a couple weekends ago, this was our first stop. It was the most perfect weather for an outdoor activity, and we spent a few hours walking miles around the entire zoo.  First, we were greeted by these giant, cobalt blue parrots. So pretty!

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Meerkats! I love these little guys, but I hear they can be pretty mean.
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BATS!
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By far the coolest exhibit at the zoo — Kangaroo Kickabout! I couldn’t believe that they let people INTO the exhibit to walk around and pet the kangaroos. I would have stayed here for a long time if there hadn’t been so many little ones wanting their turns petting them… 😉
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Lorikeet Landing was my other favorite attraction at the zoo. We paid $2 for a small cup of nectar to feed the birds, and they LOVED it! We had tons of birds all over us within a matter of seconds after we got the nectar, and it was so funny. If you’re not terrified of small birds zooming around you and landing on your head/shoulder/arm at any given moment, then it’s worth checking out.
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One neat “extra” that this zoo features is the Grassmere Historic Home and Farm. The historic home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is supposedly the second oldest home still standing in Davidson County.  We didn’t have time for a tour of the inside of the home, but we peeked in the windows and wandered through the farm and gardens, as well as a small cemetery behind the house. They have working stables that house horses, but they must have been on their lunch break when we visited.
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We loved our morning trip to the Nashville Zoo. If you’re in the area or plan to visit Music City, add this to your list.

vacay recap:: nashville

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Last week, we took a few days off work and headed to Nashville for a mini vacation. Every time we’re up that way, we are usually visiting family and/or going to a football game, so we never get to do many of the “Nashville” things that so many others rave about. So we decided to take a long weekend trip to knock several things off our Nashville bucket list.  I took far too many photos (shocking!), so I’ll keep the words to a minimum and let you tag along via photos on our trip as “hometown tourists.”

On the itinerary:
1. Arrington Vineyards
2. Nashville Zoo
3. Country Music Hall of Fame
4. Dinner at Husk
5. Lunch at The Pharmacy Burger Parlor & Beer Garden
6. Olive & Sinclair Chocolate Co.
7. TN Brew Works
8. Hot chicken!

Arrington Vineyards::
We made a pit stop at Arrington on a windy, overcast afternoon, and it was one of my favorite things we did all weekend. Because it was a Thursday, the vineyard was fairly empty, so we grabbed the “Picnic Tasting” (4 samples of our choice with wine crackers) and headed out to a picnic table with a beautiful hilltop view.  You can bring your own picnic or purchase cheese/crackers/sausage/chocolate truffles from them. We didn’t think ahead to bring our own snacks, so we bought a block of Gouda, some toast crackers, and a sampling of their specially-made truffles for an impromptu happy hour. It was absolutely lovely, and I can’t wait to go back!

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Nashville Zoo::
We both voted the Zoo as our favorite place that we visited, and I’ll have a post devoted to our animal friends coming soon.

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Olive & Sinclair Chocolate Co.::
While I don’t consider this place quintessentially “Nashville” since it’s a newer company, we were excited to make our way over to their shop. We first tasted O & S chocolates and caramels at the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival earlier this year, and I just had to find their shop to get some more of their goodies. I love their Bourbon Nib Brittle, and Duck Fat Caramels. Get on their website and order yo’self some. Or if you’re in Nashville, stop by their shop and you can take a tour of the factory!
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As usual, we ate our way around the city, including a home-cooked Mexican dinner with Craig’s family and a lunch out with his grandparents.

We had burgers and beers at The Pharmacy over in the East Nashville area. Such a fun little joint with lots of great outdoor seating, lots of burger and sausage options, and lots of beers on tap.
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Our favorite was dinner at Husk, which I wrote about here earlier this week.
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We got some of Nashville’s famous HOT chicken at Hattie B’s. We debated for a long time between Prince’s and HB’s, but this not as sketchy location won out, and I’m happy about that. The chicken was hot, but not on fire, the sides were OK, and the company we had at our picnic table was really nice. And while this choice is a bit more mainstream than Prince’s, I didn’t have to worry about our safety while I waited in line, which was a legitimate concern if we’d chosen the other option.

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And we got after-dinner cocktails at The Patterson House, which was quite fun. It’s definitely not a large group-type of place, but it’s perfect for a date night or outing with a couple of the girls. Lots of interesting options (Craig got the Bacon Old Fashion and I got the Champagne Cocktail), and the mixologists are really good at what they do.
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We had a little extra time one afternoon, so we made a quick stop by Centennial Park to walk around The Parthenon. I didn’t see the need to pay for us to go inside, but I later learned that it serves as the city of Nashville’s art museum, which is pretty neat. Nonetheless, it was fun to walk around the outside and gawk at the size of the columns on the full-scale replica of this Athens monument.
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Hatch Show Print::
This was particularly fun for me to visit, given my degree in Printmaking. Hatch Show was the big “competition” to Yee-Haw Industries, the letterpress company I interned with in Knoxville at the end of college. Hatch Show has been around for decades and as you can see in the photo below, they make allll sorts of letterpress signage. Their studio is in the Country Music Hall of Fame building and is open to the public. Nobody was working in the studio over the weekend, but I’d have loved to see the printmakers in action. I picked up a fun Tennessee-themed print to hang in our house. 🙂
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Country Music Hall of Fame::
I bet you can’t guess who wanted to go here? 🙂 Just kidding — it was pretty neat to learn more about the history of the genre and see all sorts of country music memorabilia, including costumes, guitars, records, and even giant cars once owned by Elvis and the likes. The museum is humongous, and I’m sure if you stopped to read every bit of signage on display, you could spend all day there. And how about that purple wolf jacket below? I know what Craig’s getting for his birthday this year…

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Tennessee Brew Works::
After we were finished up with all of the touristy items on our list, we met up with our friend Danielle for a beer tasting and some football watching at Tennessee Brew Works. We love trying out new breweries, and I really liked that at this one, you can sit down restaurant-style and order either a flight of different beers or just choose your favorite brew to sip on. The Georgia/South Carolina game ended up being delayed quite a bit due to weather, so we made our way over to M. Street Tavern for the remainder of the night. Such a fun way to end our touristy trip through Music City! 
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a beach-y good time

Just in the nick of time, we made it to the beach before the end of summer. My all-time favorite place is St. Augustine, FL, as you may well know if you know me or have been reading here for long. We took several friends down for a long weekend at my grandmother’s beach house, which is where I grew up vacationing. Being there brings back so many wonderful memories of a lifetime of beach trips with family and friends, and I’m so happy we made it back again this year.

We went down mid-week so that we’d have time to hop over to Jacksonville to visit my grandmother.  She treated us and my cousin to a lovely lunch at her country club, and then we headed back to the beach to soak up a couple hours in the sun. We got to eat at some of our favorite local restaurants and have drinks at the Tini Martini Bar, which has a fantastic view of sailboats and the Bridge of Lions – especially at sunset! The majority of our trip was spent laughing, lounging on the beach, and just enjoying the company of some of our dearest friends. Can’t go wrong with that combo.

I don’t think many more words are needed, but be prepared for a photo over-share of our beach-y good time!

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Yes, that is a SHARK that joined the beach party! We think he was about 4-5′ long and was less than 10 yards from the shore. He popped up a couple times one afternoon, and thankfully we never saw him again.
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Bridge of Lions in downtown St. Augustine
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This is the face I get when I’ve taken one too many photos.
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Dinner at our favorite spot, Columbia
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Castillo de San Marcos
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beautiful Flagler College downtown
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If only every morning could start with a walk on the beach…
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…and if only every evening could end with this view.
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Cap’s on the Water
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Hoopla 5.0

Hoopla 2014… my fifth annual conference with Stella & Dot! Every year, this is THE event that Stylists look forward to. Yes, it’s technically a work conference, but it’s really much more than that. It’s game-changing training sessions with the craziest, most brilliant VP team out there and learning about the inspiration and craftsmanship behind the most beautiful, on-trend accessories created by a truly world-class design team. It’s inspirational stories of fellow Stylists being in the back of the room one year and then being recognized on stage for their incredible accomplishments the very next year and celebrations of those fellow Stylists and team members’ hard work. It’s sitting poolside sharing not only work tips and strategies, but also personal stories and laughs. It’s endless hours of happiness through dance parties, team parties, and dinner parties with friends near and far, many of whom we only see once a year at this conference.  It’s listening to our Board Chairman’s yearly speech and wiping tears from your eyes because his words are just that beautiful and heartfelt… and also watching him dance on stage for 3,000 women, all of whom are jumping from their seats to cheer him on. It’s way more than a work conference, because through all these things, it rejuvenates me and makes me want to apply what I’ve learned to all aspects of my life. It makes me want to be a better version of myself.

This is kind of a photo over-share for the blog, but I hope this gives my readers/friends/family a glimpse into the happiness, innovation, inspiration, fun, and pure joy that Stella & Dot embodies. Who wants to join me next year?

Hoopla swag bags, including 3 new pieces from the fall 2014 collection::
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My ATL friend Melanie, the Lucky and Lovely lady
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Orlando World Marriott Center – best pool yet
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Faux cousin yearly meet-up
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From college hall roommates to Hoopla roommates
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All opening sessions should include break dancers
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Complete with an appearance by our Global VP of Training, Danielle Redner
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Some love for the ladies in the back!
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Metallics, geometrics, and bright colors — all big trends for fall
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Day #2 of Hoopla
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Danielle’s re-incarnation as “Danierella”
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Stella & Dot is partnering with Every Mother Counts, founded by Christy Turlington. Did you know that 1 woman dies every 2 minutes from complications during pregnancy and childbirth? Every Mother Counts is a non-profit organization dedicated to making pregnancy and childbirth safe for every mother. The organization informs, engages, and mobilizes new audiences to take actions and raise funds that support maternal health programs around the world. The sale of just 20 of these bracelets will buy essential medical equipment for midwifery students, pay for two prenatal visits for uninsured women, and buy 6 safe birth kits for mothers-to-be. Can you imagine what we can do as a company through this partnership?
I have a goal to sell 25 bracelets by August 31st — who wants to help make a difference?? Click here to support this amazing cause!
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One of the fall favorites – the Fanella Statement Necklace
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Sutton in gold – wear it 5 ways
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Our CEO/Founder Jessica Herrin and her youngest daughter rocked it on stage for our “Hoopla dance” 
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dinner with Stella friends 
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Dance party, complete with break dancers and flamingos everywhere
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Day #3
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Hostess bonus through 8/31/14! Who wants a FREE engravable necklace?
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Heading home, but not before dinner at the airport with some lovely new friends who didn’t want me to eat alone. Nice people are everywhere.
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Agreed, John, agreed.
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restaurant reviews:: Arizona travel

While on our road trip through Arizona last week, we ate at several places that I wanted to share with y’all. If you live in AZ or ever find yourself traveling there, check out some of these restaurants throughout the state.

Indian Gardens Oak Creek Market — Sedona areaunnamed

On our way out of Sedona, we stopped at this cafe and market, and I’m so happy we did. It would have been easy to miss it, but I think it’s such a little gem. According to their website, it is an Arizona landmark, celebrating 70 years on this historic property. They had several sandwich/soup/salad options (with several vegetarian meals), and they even have craft beer on tap. My favorite part was the garden patio area tucked away behind the building, shaded by big trees.

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I got the Gobbler (smoked turkey breast, avocado, provolone, local organic sprouts, tomato, and pesto mayo on sourdough bread).
Craig chose the Spring Pulled Pork (slow-roasted, pulled pork with house made barbecue sauce and seasonal slaw of bok chou, daikon, carrots, & cabbage. Served warm on ciabatta bread). While mine was delicious and sort of refreshing after our hiking adventure, I had major “order envy” over Craig’s dish. That BBQ was so yummy, and the slaw was the perfect combo of crunchy and sweet.

The market was also stocked full of craft beer, wine, coffee, snacks, desserts, and gifts — perfect for filling up the car with goodies before we began our trek to the Grand Canyon. I just wish we could have stopped back by again!

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El Tovar Dining Room
— Grand Canyon

arizonahighways.com
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Since we were staying at the historic El Tovar Hotel for a night, we decided we should have a nice dinner at their onsite restaurant. The Dining Room has the same rustic charm as the rest of the hotel property, and if you’re seated near the windows (we were not), I’d bet you would have the most gorgeous view of the Canyon.

We  started with the House Salad and the French Onion Soup… the salad was good, but the soup was lick-the-bowl-clean good. Craig and I joked that maybe they’d have Elk on the menu since they’re all over the park area, but of course, they did not. Instead, he opted for the Buffalo Filet (Fig Compote, Pepperjack Au Gratin Potatoes, and Seasonal Vegetables). I wanted to steal his potatoes, and I think he really liked that fig compote. I am not big on quail/duck/lamb chops, so I went with a rather safe choice — the Chicken Piccata (Angel Hair Pasta with Lemon Caper Sauce and Seasonal Vegetables). It was good, but nothing too exciting to write home about.

www.tabelog.usphoto credit

Their dessert options are displayed right as you enter the room, which of course worked on me. I was stuffed by the time dessert rolled around, but I couldn’t say no to the Flourless Chocolate Cake. It was a good decision. I would have been perfectly happy just ordering the appetizer and dessert for my meal…. which seems to be the case a lot.

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The Mission — Scottsdale
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Our first night in Scottsdale, we at at The Mission, which is located in Old Town and serves Latin cuisine. It was just a random find on tripadvisor.com (ranked #8 out of 992 restaurants in Scottsdale). I’m glad we made a reservation, though, because it’s clearly popular  among tourists and locals (including bachelorette parties). It’s a rather loud, dark restaurant, but the vibe is swanky and cool. They have patio seating, but I loved the inside decor — lots of mirrors and dark chandeliers. We grabbed a couple yummy cocktails from the very busy bar while we waited for our table (Red Sangria and a Blood Orange Rita).

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We started with the Tableside Guacamole. Calling it “tableside” was sort of amusing, as the tables are quite close to one another, not leaving much room for them to pull a cart up to the table to make this dish. It was a HUGE bowl of guac, but we managed to almost finish it. Probably not the brightest idea, considering that we are always stuffed after eating too much chips and dip before dinner at Mexican restaurants. For dinner, we ordered a plate of the Pork Shoulder Tacos (smoked & slow braised‏ for 12 hours, pineapple habanero glaze, cotija cheese, handmade tortillas), which serve two. They were so rich, but so very good. We also ordered sides of the Black Bean Puree and Chipotle Honey Cream Grits — both were good additions to the meal.

www.eisforeat.comphoto credit

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Chelsea’s Kitchen — Scottsdale

Chelsea’s was recommended to us by a couple different people, and I got the impression that it is more of a local scene, which was welcomed after being in such touristy areas on our trip. There was a long wait, so I think it’s a pretty popular place. We’d already had appetizers at the hotel for happy hour, so we skipped that section of the menu.

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I was having a hard time deciding between the Green Chile Burger (roasted green chiles and Tillamook cheddar with french fries) and the Wood-fired Rotisserie Jidori Chicken (cannellini beans, veggies). The waiter actually recommended trying the chicken, because he said it was that good. I really wanted the Baked Mac n Cheese as a side, but I was told it’s almost the size of an entree. The chicken was moist and flavorful and I really liked the cannellini beans, but I ended up eyeing the burger that a neighboring table had gotten… 
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Craig wanted something a little lighter than he’d had the night before, so he chose the Grilled Swordfish Tacos, which were guaranteed to be the best in town. Quiet a claim! 😉  He ate most everything on his place, but I think we both decided that dessert was our favorite thing we ordered…..
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Because it was this! Mile-high meringue on the Key Lime Pie (with Strawberry Gelato).  Delicious to the last bite, and we wish we’d gotten a bigger piece. 
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Another thing of note — they have a platter of cookies to take on the way out! They know the way to my heart.

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El Chorro — Paradise Valley (Scottsdale area)
elchorro.com
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We celebrated our (early) anniversary on our last night in Arizona with a most delicious dinner under the desert stars. This restaurant was recommended to us by a friend, and I’m so glad we tried it out. All entrees include a basket of their famous Sticky Buns, and honestly, that’s what sold me on the place. They were… well…. let’s just say that we devoured them in about 30 seconds and would have eaten 100 more if we were physically able to.

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For our meals, I chose the Braised Beef Short Ribs (whole grain mustard mashed potatoes, garden carrots, and haricot vert) and Craig tried to order the 1/2 Rack of Lamb (brussels sprouts, white bean puree, blackberry jalepeno demi), but the waiter told him it would just be a snack, so he begrudgingly ordered the whole thing. I think he probably regretted that decision after the Sticky Buns…

As you may have noticed, we thoroughly enjoyed eating our way through Arizona. We can’t wait to go back one day!