Sunday, March 31, 2013

Asheville, Day 2: Biltmore Birthday

For our first full day in Asheville, we kicked off our day with an amazing breakfast at Early Girl Eatery.  Check out my review of the meal here.

From there, it was off to check out the Biltmore Estate.  I'd been once before, but it was Duke's first trip.  The expansive grounds were just so impressive.  We did the full house tour, which is always unbelievable.  This time, now that I'm a Downton Abbey addict, I found myself envisioning the whole upstairs-downstairs dynamic!

The whole house was decorated with beautiful orchids for Biltmore Blooms, despite the cold weather outside!  We actually saw snow flurries.  The winds were cold and strong, so that curtailed our walk through the gardens.

We decided to head up to Antler Hill Village to grab lunch at the Bistro.  The food was great, as I remembered it from my last visit.  I especially loved the breads they served!  I was glad to fill up my tummy, since our next stop was to go next door for wine tasting.

I love the Biltmore Winery.  They have free tastings, so we were able to pick up a few bottles that we liked the best.

After such a full day, we decided to take a rest back at our hotel; the Aloft was an easy drive to and from.  We had reservations at The Dining Room at the Inn on Biltmore Estate to celebrate my birthday, so we dressed up (Duke was dapper in a suit!) and returned back in time for our meal.

I can't say enough good things about that meal.  You can read all about it here.  But it was one of the best in my life, possibly the best ever for my birthday!  It was so special, the perfect ending to a perfect day.

We even upgraded our tickets to a 12-month pass, we can return to the Biltmore and enjoy it throughout the different seasons!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Inn on Biltmore Estate Dining Room

I had one of the best meals of my life at The Dining Room.  Hands down!  I made a reservation for the evening of my birthday per a friend's reco, knowing we were spending the day at the Biltmore Estate.


From the moment we entered the hotel, I was in a happy place.  We were seated in an elegant dining room with a window view of mountains, near the large fireplace.  It just felt luxurious.  The place settings were gorgeous, with the Vanderbilt crest and beautiful flatware.  We were treated with first-class service from start to finish.

What I loved about the food was the seasonal menu; we were one of the first to try the new spring menu, full of regionally-focused cuisine.  Much of the food was locally sourced as well, which seems to be a theme in the Asheville area!  It was so good to see a restaurant that caters to tourists take such an approach.

We chose to drink a Biltmore Estate Syrah with our meal.  We were served three different (delicious!) types of breads, as well as a trout rillette amuse-bouche.

As our appetizer, we chose the NC Pork Belly, which was a deconstructed Monte Cristo of sorts with local pork belly, herb-roasted pheasant, crispy brioche, gruyere(!), and blueberry jam.  The portions definitely reminded me of Europe; we were served enough that we got plenty to enjoy with each course, but not so much that we were stuffed before our entrees arrived.

For my main meal, I chose the Carolina bison, served on a bed of fennel, chili grilled romaine, roasted shallot vinaigrette.  It was one of the most tender, delicious steaks of my life.  Duke was practically stealing it off my plate!  (To be fair, I took some of his Black Angus filet mignon.)  I still can't get over that bison... it makes me want to track down some local bison steaks when I return to Nashville, if that's even possible!

We had to indulge in dessert (it was a celebration, after all!) but between us two we couldn't decide.  So Duke chose the chocolate cheesecake (with banana sorbet) which was phenomenal.  I chose the peanut butter mousse, which I could only describe as divinity!  It was paired for a raspberry sorbet, which made me feel like I should use my ice cream maker more often.  And to top it all off, our server brought us complimentary champagne with strawberries for the occasion.

I was more than impressed by this incredible dining experience.  I think I'm running out of adjectives!  The pace was just perfect, even with multiple courses.  We're still talking about how great it all was, and if we can, we'll be back!

This is the perfect place to dine like you're a Vanderbilt.

Inn on Biltmore Estate Dining Room on Urbanspoon

P.S.  You can bring your own wine to The Dining Room, and I think if it's Biltmore wine you avoid the corkage fee!

P.P.S.  Did you know bison steak has half the calories of a same-size filet?  Not that I was concerned about calories that night...

Friday, March 29, 2013

Asheville, Day 1: Road Trip & Reunion

I had some vacation days leftover from last year, so Duke and I decided to take some time off for a little vacation around my birthday!  We decided to spend a few days in Asheville, North Carolina, which seemed to have attractions we'd enjoy:  the Biltmore Estate and winery for me, the local breweries for Duke, and the local food scene for us both!

We left Franklin on a foggy, rainy morning, and made the drive in about 4 1/2 hours.  The mountains as we got closer to Asheville were beautiful, even with the nasty weather.


We checked into our hotel that afternoon, the Aloft Asheville Downtown.  I've stayed at other Aloft properties before, and this one was on par with those!  What I really liked was the attached garage (easy access to come and go) and the location.  We were walking distance to so many restaurants and sights.

Our friends VV and JV live a couple hours from Asheville.  We lived in the same town in Georgia for a while, and we hadn't seen them in a year since they moved.  So when they heard we were in North Carolina, they made the drive to meet us for a late lunch.  They even brought their son, adorable little G!  I can't believe how much he's talking.

We had an awesome meal at the local Mellow Mushroom, which Duke and I love.  This particular restaurant was one of the most eclectic we've been to, and for a Mellow Mushroom that's saying something!  We had a delish Kosmic Karma pie.  The beer selection was great, and I got to catch the end of a tight NCAA game between Indiana and Temple.  I think the game almost gave me a heart attack, but my Hoosiers prevailed!

We also took little G to a park nearby, but it was really chilly.  So we snapped some photos, exchanged hugs, and said our goodbyes.

Duke and I grabbed a drink at the W XYZ Bar in our hotel, which always seems to be busy at night!  Again, I've seen this in other Alofts; it's a great thing to be able to relax at your hotel for the night and not have to drive anywhere.

Since it was a Sunday night, we headed up to our room to catch the second to last episode of this season's The Walking Dead!  Even on vacation, we had to get our zombie fix.  It was the perfect ending to a day of travel.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Early Girl Eatery

When Duke and I decided to take a recent vacation to Asheville, I was very excited about the food.  It seems like most Asheville restaurants are very conscious about locally sourced and responsible foods, and that had me excited.  I'm not the most eco-friendly person, but local food is just more fresh!
Early Girl Eatery was high on my list for the visit.  I'm a big fan of breakfast, and this farm-to-table spot sounded fantastic.  I wasn't disappointed.

I ordered one of their specials that day, Garlic Potato Cakes, topped with a tomato gravy.  They came with a biscuit and two eggs, which was more than enough for me!  The orange juice was fresh-squeezed, which was delicious.  Even the local raspberry jam was heavenly.

Duke ordered the other breakfast special, Banana Walnut Pancakes.  They were stacked so huge, it seemed like he barely made a dent in them!    I had to have a bite; they tasted like fluffy, air-filled banana bread.

Our breakfast at Early Girl Eatery was one of my favorite meals in Asheville, hands down.  When we come back to town, I'll be returning to enjoy it again and again!

Early Girl Eatery on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Denim for Curves

I'm curvy on the bottom.  I would be happy to be a size 8 for life, because I feel most comfortable there.  (I'm currently a little curvier than an 8 though!)  But this, combined with my 5'4" height, can make jeans tough to find.  I actually just donated 12 pairs of sad, old jeans from my closet.  Ancient jeans, jeans that didn't fit right, washes I didn't like, pairs that shrunk in length because I hemmed before washing.  Mistakes.

Luckily, with a little advice I found on Girl with Curves, I found some jeans that work for me.

Gap Curvy jeans

Gap's Curvy jean, with its "ankle" lengths, fit me well enough to wear heels.  The denim quality is good too; my Gap jeans always last for years.

Old Navy Rockstar Skinny Jeans

For skinnies (I refuse to call them jeggings), I go with Old Navy Rockstars.  There's a lot of give/elastic in these, but sizing can be tough.  The colored denim tends to run small, so I have to size up.  The ankle lengths work for boots, but are too short to wear with flats.  So there's give and take; they don't last forever.  But for the price, I have to give them credit.  Just don't expect these to last more than a year or two of constant wear!

Old Navy Rockstar Mid-Rise Skinny Jeans
I prefer the mid-rise Rockstars, because they're more forgiving and full-coverage.  (i.e. you won't bend over and show your undies!)

Gap cat print shirt

Oh, and I bought this too.  Because crazy cat ladies gotta represent.

Monday, March 25, 2013

My 28th Birthday

In the past as I've blogged, I've done lists of lessons learned for birthdays.  I actually did it a few blogs ago with 21 Lessons in 21 Years.  I know, I was an old soul when I should have been out getting trashed on Jell-o shots.  So much has changed... our 20s are so formative!  More so than even teenage years, if you ask me.  It's the time we really come into our own.

Me, in 1985... I still have Cheer Bear

But I have learned quite a bit even in the last couple of years.  I guess I'll be calling this...

Grown Up Lessons Learned

You can relate more with your parents than you ever imagined.  I think that's why I argue with them.  I find myself saying things that Mom or Dad would say.  I catch myself thinking the same things, doing the same things...  It's like my body is being taken over!  Ack!  It's kind of scary.  But I also kind of love spending more time with my parents now than I did as a teen or young adult.

Making and keeping friends gets harder and harder.  While some people think social media is killing real relationships, at least it's providing me a window into my friends' lives!  I've been in Nashville for less than a year, and outside of work the 'making friends' side of things has been slow.  I miss the days of easy friendships.  I miss my high school friends, my college friends.  I also miss my best friends that are scattered all over the world these days... we just keep moving as adults.

Metabolism is NOT your friend.  Seriously.  The difference between the way your body works at 23 is way different than 28.  Ugh.  Not impossible, but definitely an uphill battle.  You also get tired more easily.  Or maybe that's just me.

You know what you want in relationships.  Well, maybe this isn't true for everyone.   But I'd definitely say I know more about what I want than I did at 16, 19, 22, and so on.  Sadly, you often learn these lessons through trial and error.  And heartbreak.  And devastation.  Even depression.  Then suddenly, happiness returns.  Things are better than you could have imagined.  You're in love.  And you're not. compromising. yourself.  You're in a good place.

You learn what's important.  I was just talking to my friend LD about this the other day.  A few years back, I'd think nothing of dropping a few hundred bucks on a shopping spree, designer handbag, or something like that.  It was probably a regular occurrence.  So now it's funny that as I get older, and I can actually afford that stuff, it's not as important to me anymore.  I'm just not as attached to stuff anymore; it's more about experiences and enjoyment and things you can't actually hold onto.

Overall, I think I feel better about life in general at 28 than I did at 21 or some other younger/arbitrary age.  I have come into my own, and I like the way things are going.  I'm not afraid of this birthday, or the next one, or even turning 30.  I still feel in my prime, and that the best continues to keep coming!

Here's to another year, and a thousand lessons learned.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

From My Closet

I haven't posted many outfits lately since, well, I haven't really done anything new.  Or I forgot.  I had a couple of good ones this week, but I neglected to snap photos.  (A great mustard ruffled top/cardi/brooch combo, as well as a purple/red colorblock outfit, were two I forgot to snap.)

But here are some from Instagram that I managed to remember to take.

This dress is a Target faux wrap dress that I stole from my Mom's closet.  I was feeling very 70s that day at work!

I wear my ponte pencil skirts from Target entirely too much.  They're practically pilling.  But I really liked this combo with the H&M sweater and Target boots.  I think I wear these boots at least 3x a week too.  Well worth what I paid for Frye dupes.

I got this Banana Republic tee at an outlet in Vegas on super clearance.  I LOVE the zipper accent in the back!  I also get CONSTANT compliments on the necklace I'm wearing.  I got it for Christmas from my uncle's girlfriend's daughter.  Random people stop me to ask about it.  I love it!

Friday, March 22, 2013

March Madness Potluck

I'm from Bloomington, Indiana.  Which means I am a Hoosier fan.  (Okay, so those aren't automatic, but it's true for me!)

So when we had a March Madness potluck at work, I was excited to represent my team!  My coworkers requested my strawberry cake recipe again, so I made cupcakes.  For work events, I typically make a dozen full-size cupcakes and two dozen minis, because a lot of people like to indulge in the bite-size versions who might not want to finish a whole cupcake.

This is my tried and true, always-requested recipe for cake.  I've made this at least three times for work now, and I'm kind of becoming famous for it.  But every single time, I let them know it was the Cake Mix Doctor who helped me create this simple deliciousness!

Fresh Strawberry Cake (adapted from The Cake Mix Doctor)

1 package yellow cake mix (or vanilla, or white)
1 package (3 ounces) strawberry gelatin (sugar free is fine!)
2 cups fresh strawberries
1 cup vegetable oil
½ cup milk (I use 2%)
4 large eggs

1.  Cut the tops off the strawberries and pulse in a food processor until mashed.  (I sometimes chop the berries instead, but for cupcakes the puree works best.)
2.  Mix the boxed cake mix and strawberry gelatin powder.
3.  Mix in oil, milk, and eggs.
4.  Mix in the strawberries.
5.  Bake according to whatever cake pan you want to use (read the box!) for cupcakes, two round layers, or 13 x 9 glass dish.
6.  Wait until cooled, then frost with your choice of frosting!  I like cream cheese frosting, but buttercream or even Cool Whip would work.  Self-made or out of a can, no one will be able to tell because the cake is so moist and delish.

Yeah, I matched the cupcakes.  GO HOOSIERS!

Also, I decided to make something more savory... so based on a photo on Pinterest, I took a tube of reduced fat crescent rolls, spread pesto all over the large rectangle of dough, rolled, sliced, and baked until yummy and golden!  SUPER easy, and really gorgeous to share!

Do you have any go-to potluck recipes?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Old Navy Sale Haul

I haven't done much shopping lately.  I think back in my college days I had a new top every weekend or something.  But for many reasons, I am trying to be more choiceful, choose quality pieces, and return things I don't love.

That said, I don't have as much luck in-store as online, in terms of both sizes and sale prices.  Plus, online I can stack deals.  So I'll often order more than I will actually keep, just to try things on and see what they are really like.  (Caroline's Day is awesome at this.)

Here are a few items that I've ordered, but have not yet received/tried on... but the sales were irresistible, and I spent under $200 on ALL of these combined!  (My entire spring wardrobe budget... but it will get me through the summer.)  Just to get an idea, take the sale price and then add discount codes... amazing.

Honeycomb-Knit Crew Sweater, on sale $12
Mint is such a great color right now!  I bought this sweater to keep warm in fluctuating temperatures.

Scalloped-Lace Dress, on sale $25
Lace is very on-trend right now, and it's missing from my wardrobe.  I love a white dress with same-color accents or eyelets.

Mixed-Eyelet Dress, on sale $25
Obnoxiously bright, plus eyelets.  I love A-line skirts!  Think this will go with a denim jacket over it for casual days at work!

Striped Fit & Flare Dress, on sale $22.50
I love black and white stripes.  This dress is going to replace a dress I have from Forever 21 that is simply too short to be appropriate at work.  I love when retailers offer longer lengths!

Long-Sleeved Wrap Dress, $32.94
I actually paid full price for this one, but used a discount code.  I LOVE the print, and these wrap dresses don't last long before selling out.  I felt lucky to snag my size; these are universally flattering and work-friendly.

Chambray Belted Shirt Dress, on sale $25
This dress is available in a darker wash, but I was attracted to this light color.  I see this as a weekend uniform or sorts, but everything I choose these days doubles for work.

Lightweight Patterned Shirt, on sale $19
I've been looking for gingham shirts for a reasonable price.  Wish this was blue or black, but I feel like purple is a color I could use more of in my wardrobe.  Great layering piece!

Chambray Printed Shirt, on sale $15
I love the chambray trend.  I actually really like this shirt in a lighter wash with anchor print, but my boss already has the exact same one!  (Sidenote, I have the same H&M shirt as two of my friends at work, and we're always worried we'll wear them on the same day!)  I actually ordered this in Tall size to get one that fit and was long enough.  Sometimes if your size is sold you, you can work some Tall/Petite magic to find something that will work.

And right now, until 3/24, you can save 25% with code ONSAVE25!

Monday, March 18, 2013

New Favorite Boutique: House of Stella

I haven't been the greatest blogger lately.  Aside from covering my recent Las Vegas trip, time has just been flying by and keeping me preoccupied.  So I haven't been here as much.

One of the Nashville bloggers I follow, Lauren at Old Red Boots, put it so well today when she wrote, "Like most bloggers, I have my periods of self-doubt and the sense of being lost. There are tons of really good bloggers out there and I find it hard to have my own voice and unique spot on the Internet."

But then I remember that I've never blogged for anybody else but myself.  This is my little corner of the world to share and own as I see fit.  So if I blog, I blog.  If I don't, you probably won't even notice.

Still, I had to write about an accidental and amazing find from the weekend.

Since these photos, this chair now has a pillow that coordinates with my bedspread and a nostalgic stuffed animal friend.

Isn't this old chair fab?  Love it!  It's a gorgeous grey color with pinstriped fabric.  I was at Plato's Closet attempting to rid myself of old denim (and remembered how much I hate Plato's Closet and need to find a better local consignment shop) when I saw this little boutique in the strip mall called House of Stella.

The mannequins had the most ADORABLE dresses.  So cute I was fawning over them.  It was a lazy Sunday afternoon, and I got into a fantastic conversation with Felicia, one of the store's owners.  She told me   the story of how she and her daughter started the store, and I quickly fell in love with the place.  And not only that, but much of the furniture in there is for sale too!  I just had to take this little grey chair home with me.  Isn't it the cutest?  Perfect for that awkward gap space in my bedroom.

And the clothes are so adorable.

Dear Creatures, source

I especially loved two lines they carry, London's Sugarhill Boutique, and its American line Dear Creatures.  I think that the clothes in this store are the style I aspire to, when I'm not falling back on basics from Target and Old Navy.

Sugarhill Boutique, source
Sugarhill Boutique, source

I think I may stop back in there for a birthday dress this week.  And maybe an Easter dress.  They actually keep most items under $100, so I love it for a well-deserved *local* splurge!  I will probably stalk their sale rack regularly too.

If you're in the Nashville area, check them out for sure!  A hidden gem I'll be rediscovering frequently.

Sunday, March 17, 2013


I was a huge Gilmore Girls fan.  Its abrupt ending, without a true finale, really disappointed me.  But I think what I really missed was Amy Sherman-Palladino's fast-talking, eccentric characters and magical fantasy world.

Desktop Wallpaper I made in college.... I know, I was obsessed!

I'd heard Amy was writing a show for ABC Family, called Bunheads... but I wasn't super impressed with the other random shows on that channel.  It aired last year, and as of now they haven't announced whether it has been renewed for a second season.  But I noticed the first ten episodes were free on Amazon Prime, so I had to check it out.

The gist of Bunheads is that a cheeky Las Vegas showgirl marries her semi-stalker in a vulnerable moment, landing in a quirky little town only to have him die quickly and leave her with her mother-in-law and strange residents and a dance school full of teenagers.


It's no Gilmore Girls.  But there are lots of Gilmore Girls alumni with bit parts (and Kelly Bishop with a big part) and the witty, quick dialogue with off-beat references.  I like that even though ABC Family is aimed at teenagers, I enjoy the show's adult storyline the most.  Amy didn't compromise.

Also, the music is totally reminiscent of GG.  And Paradise is California's answer to Stars Hollow.

So if you're in the mood for a GG knockoff, this is a fun way to spend an hour.  Then another hour.  Then another hour.  Sutton Foster is a Tony-winning Broadway star, so her skills are legit and fun to watch.

But seriously, if Veronica Mars can have a successful Kickstarter campaign to make a movie as a TV series follow-up, shouldn't Gilmore Girls be next?

P.S.  Little Bunhead Bailey Buntain looks like Megan Hilty's little sister!
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