Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A little wine, and I'm feelin' fine

On Saturday evening, we went out to one of our favorite local wineries, Old House Vineyards, for their Summer Sunsets concert series. C & I packed up a picnic and met our friends, Stephanie and Chris, out in Culpeper for an evening of live music, gorgeous views, and delicious wine. Could there be anything better? Methinks not.

I first learned about the Summer Sunsets concerts back in January when we went wine tasting at Old House for my birthday, and I'd made a mental note that it would be fun to attend. I'd only been to the winery in the winter, so hadn't had much of an opportunity to see the beautiful property. It was well worth the wait!

We brought a variety of snacks for dinner, and munched on guacamole, hummus, chicken salad, veggies, crackers, and the like while listening to a guy with a guitar serenade the crowd all evening. It has actually been decent weather around here lately (rather than sweltering hot and suffocatingly humid, per usual), and we were perfectly comfortable sitting outdoors for a few hours, watching the view change as the sun went down.

The event at Old House is free to the public (awesome), and most glasses of their wine were $5 for a very generous pour (more like 2 glasses, if you ask me!). It was a cheap date for sure (minus the bottles of wine we bought to bring home), and we had such a great time! There were a good number of people in attendance, and we saw everything from fancy picnics with gourmet food to families with little kids and buckets of fried chicken. We fit right in with our appetizer-dinner, and it was quick and easy to transport.

Our first official photo.. this makes us real-life friends now, and not blog-friends, right? :)
This was easily one of my favorite nights of this summer - there is nothing I like better than sitting around chatting with friends over food and drink, and when you add music to the mix, it's just about perfect. I am looking forward to the next time we get to visit Old House for Summer Sunsets - which I actually think will be next weekend! Because why not. Summer only lasts so long!

So tell me...
  • Do you like to visit wineries? Do you have a favorite?
  • What's your favorite low-key summer activity?
  • Red or white wine? I generally lean towards red in the winter, and white in the summer.

Monday, July 28, 2014

five words for the weekend

blackberries remind me of Grandpa

last-minute inspection; passed (expensively)

fresh hair means feeling fabulous

experimental kale chips - not disappointed

couldn't skip national tequila day

summer evening: wine, friends, music

produce extravaganza from relay foods

it is harder than you might expect to caption each picture with just five words!
Happy Monday, friends.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

And now I'm ready for lunch... OBX eats!

Hello, hello! Long time, no chat. My post-vacation mind melt finally seems to be clearing - my brain is starting to work again!

We spent last week down at Cape Hatteras with C's family, enjoying the annual family beach trip. We had so much fun, and spent plenty of time relaxing, eating, and soaking up sun (on the days when it wasn't pouring rain!). It is always a treat to be able to take some time away and disconnect from real life. On the other hand, it sure is hard to come back and get the gears turning again! So I'm slowly getting everything going again and returning to real life.

Since we all know that most of my daily life revolves around food (when is lunch?), you can only imagine how much I enjoy indulging while on vacation. C's family is great about cooking meals all week while we are at the beach, but we do take some time to enjoy local restaurants, too. In fact, one of the things that C and I like BEST about vacationing in the OBX area is the endless supply of non-chain restaurants - there is always something new to try, and we've discovered some time-tested favorites, as well. We get such a kick out of trying local joints and hole-in-the-wall places - you'd be amazed at the local treasures that get discovered when we make a wrong turn or randomly decide to walk into a new place for a drink.

In case any of my darling readers ever find themselves in the Hatteras area, I thought I'd share a little bit about three local places we ate at last week and loved. Maybe you'll get a chance to go there, too!

We went to the Billfish on a whim on a rainy afternoon for lunch - we were driving around with C's parents looking for somewhere to eat, and C said "turn here!" without really knowing where we were. As it turned out, it was perfect!

When we walked in around noon, we were one of just a few tables with patrons - but as we ate, we noticed that the place was getting totally packed. By the time we were done with lunch, just about every table was full!

The food was delicious, the waitress was sweet, and the beer was cold. For lunch, I went with that day's special: fish and chips, made with freshly-caught local cod. It was fantastic! A light, flaky beer batter coating a big filet of fish (without being way too much), crispy fries, and a side of homemade coleslaw. I ate every bite! Had we had a chance to get out for lunch again, we wouldn't have hesitated to eat here twice.

You might remember me mentioning Top Dog before... this was not our first time there. Lunch at Top Dog is one of our family traditions - it's a must! The burgers speak for themselves, of course, but the rest of the menu is pretty amazing, too. Top Dog is super casual and beachy, with plastic tables and chairs and Corona buckets on the table full of condiments and spare napkins. It's really a no-nonsense place, too, which I like - they don't do special orders, they don't do substitutions... just order something and enjoy it. And we do!

This is our 4th picture like this! Creatures of habit.

The trek to this cafe was a bit longer for us this year since we were further down the coast, but no one batted an eye when we said we still had to go. I remembered salivating over the fish tacos when someone else ordered them last year, so that's what I went with this year!

Huge pieces of Mahi are wrapped in soft flour tortillas, then topped with cool, crunchy, diced cabbage and warm, melty cheddar. A side of pico de gallo adds some freshness, and the key lime sauce that comes on the side is killer. My mouth is watering at this very moment. Dang!

C & I went to Breakwater for our date night, and it was a very pleasant surprise! We had no idea what to expect, but it was a really nice location for a date. We were seated at a table on their back deck, and enjoyed dinner while watching the sun go down over the sound. It was gorgeous!

The food was great, too. (no food pictures here - it was date night, after all! Phones away :) )We splurged a bit - we had drinks and an appetizer (the Firecracker Shrimp, which we delicious, but I could have used a little less sauce), and then ordered our entrees. C went with the Filet Oscar, and was delighted to find that it came topped with a ton of crab meat and then a béarnaise sauce, rather than a sauce with a little crab in it like he's had before (does that make sense?).

I had the Catch of the Day - Snapper, which I ordered blackened (yum). I really, really wanted to try their homemade Key lime pie for dessert, but couldn't have eaten another bite if you'd paid me. We always cherish our date night while on vacation, and Breakwater was a fantastic location for some alone time. We recommended it to the rest of the family, too!

Now that I've officially made myself hungry AND sad that we are no longer on vacation... hope you enjoyed reading about some of the places we ate last week! My seafood-loving-self was in heaven. I definitely took full advantage of the local offerings - and loved every minute of it.

So tell me...
  • Have you been to Hatteras or the Outer Banks? Have you tried any of these restaurants?
  • Do you cook on vacation, or go out to eat for every meal?
  • Do you stay safe with chain restaurants, or experiment with local joints?

Friday, July 11, 2014

oh hey friday!

I am actually somewhat shocked that today is Friday.... this week has FLOWN by! We had a big two-day meeting at work that we spent the first half of the week prepping for and the second half conducting, so the days just blurred together and next thing I know, we're done! Whew. Love weeks that go like that.

As if a quick week wasn't nice enough, I spent the evening with some girlfriends last night at Vivify, sitting on the rooftop sharing a pitcher of white sangria and listening to music. It was like a scene from a movie... until the wind kicked up and the lightening started! Yikes. An early end to girls' night... but still fun to get some time with some sweet ladies!

And now, without further adieu.... a quick Five for Friday! Here's some snapshots from this week.

1 // Add this to the list of #yardsurprises! My lilies started blooming this week - one whole side of the house is covered in these stunning pink flowers! They are as big as my whole hand, and smell amazing. What a treat!

2 // I whipped up a batch of these chocolate and peanut butter swirl brownies for a co-worker's birthday this week - SO GOOD. I will definitely put that recipe in my back pocket to make again! Everyone at work raved about them, and they were super easy to make. Another win for my girl, Betty Crocker.

3 // I love, love, love summer beers. We've been trying some news ones, and I am finding some new favorites! This one was the Sierra Nevada summer brew. Yum!

4 // Awkward selfie time - had to document the fact that I wore my big girl suits this week! You'll almost never find me in a suit... every day is NOT a job interview, my friends. However, the meetings we were conducting called for me to pull out the big guns. Proof that I can dress like an adult!

5 // Picked up a stack of books from the library this week - excited for some new reads! I have heard really good things about a couple of these, and a couple are random library finds. I had forgotten how much of a thrill I get from carrying a pile of books out of the library. Nerd alert. Don't care!

Have a great weekend!

linking up with karli and amy

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Frost like a pro

Allow me to brag for just a moment: I'm pretty good at frosting cupcakes. I've got mad skillz, as the children would say. Or something like that. Last week, when I brought my banana cupcakes with cinnamon cream cheese frosting to work, I had several different people ask me where I bought them, before tasting, just based on how they looked! Like I said, talent.

Anyway. I thought I'd share my secret with you today. It's really one of the easiest tricks in the baking book. Master this one, and you, too, can frost cupcakes like a professional! (Really, though - if you haven't tried this, you should!)

Once you've made your frosting (use whatever buttercream recipe you like, but make sure it's good and thick), get a large Ziplock baggie and set it up in a cup (I used a 2-cup measuring cup because I'd made a large batch of frosting; could also use a coffee cup or whatever). Make sure one corner of the bag is down in the cup so that most of Fill the baggie with frosting. I usually stick the whole cup in the fridge for a bit at this point, because it can be a little warm from all the mixing and moving. Good to let it chill for a few minutes.

Once chilled, take the bag out of the cup, smoosh all the frosting into the corner as best you can, and then gather the top of the baggie like a standard pastry bag. Use scissors to cut the corner off the Baggie - make a pretty good sized cut, so that you get a nice flow of frosting. (Hint: It's generally better to make a small cut and see how much frosting comes out, then cut more as necessary.)

You're ready to frost! Using a smooth motion, start on the outer edge of the cupcake and frost your way in. I use one fluid movement so that the look is smooth. It might take a few tries to get the motion right, but once you get the hang of it, it's pretty easy. You can do it!