Spring is here.

Mr. McB and I drove up to an Asheville to see the gardens at Biltmore. Here are some snaps from the day.

flowerbilt

flowerwhite

flowerdaffodilflowerdianaflowerelisabethflowerfritillarialuteaflowergardenflowerorangeflowerorangepinkflowerparadeflowerpinktulipflowerprincessireneflowerprinkdaf

flowersmultipleflowersstripeflowersunnybloomsflowersunshineflowertressflowertulipmagnoliaWe also made a quick stop at the NC Arboretum. Here are a few pictures from this stop.

flowerswisteriaflowersdaffodilncflowersdelicatepinkflowergreatspirit

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Photo Friday 7/52 & 8/52

I was derailed from my posts but for good reason. Last Photo Friday, I was hanging out with my sweet friends, Jen and Ash. I want to keep up with my posts but never at the expense of enjoying real life.

So tonight you’re getting a mega Photo Friday.

1604643_10151917447902233_916864272_nThis image from Valentine’s Day 2014, shows what happened when I tried to replace Mr. McB’s wiper blades. Those stubborn things just didn’t want to budge. With persistence, I managed to replace all three of his blades. Next year, I’ll just get a heart-shaped steak instead.

1604717_10151917671192233_1993584928_nThis week’s photo was taken on Sunday during our trip to Biltmore. It was a great day of exploring the grand estate with wonderful friends. It all makes a girl realize just how lucky she is.

995861_10151921800202233_2025423584_n

 

National Gingerbread Competition, A New Holiday Tradition

This makes the second year that we have visited the Grove Park Inn in Asheville to see the National Gingerbread House Competition. I’m so glad this has become part of our holiday tradition. I love seeing the creativity and craftsmanship that is involved with the competition.

This year I made to visits to the competition. One was with Mr. McB on December 17. We arrived pretty early on a rather mild day. Other than some school groups, we did not encounter a lot of people during our visit.

32349_10151177644812233_351580794_n12 Days of Christmas in gingerbread

60918_10151177604892233_1191068075_nThe Velveteen Rabbit

305465_10151177644802233_735383762_nMidnight Angel

31621_10151177644962233_1431262057_nElf on the Shelf and advent calendar

532532_10151177598432233_1585010754_nGingerbread factory detail

598636_10151177622797233_1999842471_nGorgeous details on this gingerbread tree

547520_10151177877217233_1636209878_nRelaxing after walking around and looking at the displays.
My goodness these chairs are so comfortable. I could have enjoyed a nap.

224912_10151177593717233_504428205_nOne of the many decorated trees. This one was a bit much for me with the full-sized peacock roosting in the branches. There is something for everyone and while this tree didn’t strike my fancy, there were many that did. It’s all fun to see.

My second visit was on December 27 when I met my aunt and grandmother. While the winners were traveling to New York for a segment on Good Morning America during my first visit, I was delighted to see them back in Asheville last week.

25040_10151192018982233_84429709_nAmazing detail
Every inch of this is created with gingerbread. Even the parts that look like fondant are made with an innovative “gingergel” created by the winner.

314086_10151192035657233_474963455_nMuppet Christmas

398709_10151192019867233_228106461_nYellow Submarine

We also opted for lunch on the Sunset Terrace. It was a lovely experience. I was smart enough to plan ahead and make reservations and I think that is how we wound up with this wonderful table by the window.

DSC_0022Instead of having a heavy lunch, we opted for the wedge salads. I enjoyed the original version with bleu cheese dressing and crumbles. My aunt and grandmother opted for different dressing and they were happy to oblige. The lemon vinaigrette, selected by my aunt,  provided a light, zesty flavor.

After our delicious salads, we got down to the serious business of selecting a dessert. It was a difficult choice but we wound up with the key lime pie and panna cotta.

547968_10151192035942233_1218613443_nIsn’t this an adorable presentation for the key lime pie? It had a nice creamy consistency and perfect tart flavor.

376770_10151192052622233_332534841_nThe panna cotta was so very delicious. I loved the crispy praline pieces and slight tartness from the raspberries. Yum!

I enjoyed our meal at the Sunset Terrace and thought it added something special to the visit.If you are looking for a less expensive treat during your visit, there are holiday drinks and treats available for purchase in the Great Hall. If you can find a table or rocker, it’s a great place to sit and enjoy the roaring fire in one of the two 14-foot fireplaces on either side of the massive room.

If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend adding this outing to your holiday schedule. Visitors do have to pay to park ($10-$15 depending on where you park) but it is well worth the price to see the displays and the hotel itself.

Sunny Point Cafe

Back in August, I had the chance to meet my parents in Asheville for a visit to the WNC Farmers’ Market and lunch. While we enjoy the Moose Cafe located at the market, we wanted something different. Enter Sunny Point Cafe located at 626 Haywood Rd in West Asheville.

574685_10151011169052233_74143656_nSunny Point has the tiniest of parking lots. Thanks to my dad’s eagle-eyes we were able to nab a parking space but be prepared to park and walk to the restaurant. Actually, there can be a bit of a line so be prepared to let you party out of the car so they can get your name on the list while you find on-street parking.

That tiny parking lot is the only thing that separates the cafe from the lush garden where Sunny Point grows much of the produce used in their dishes. Lettuce, greens, tomatoes, and herbs were just some of the tasty items growing the day we visited.

After a brief wait, we were seated at a table under the partially enclosed patio. We ordered the fried green tomato and goat cheese appetizer. It was delicious, maybe too delicious for its own good since there are no pictures of it.

195903_10151011169472233_58360315_nDad ordered the burger. From this picture you can see how big and thick it is. You can also seed that gorgeous slice of heirloom tomato from the garden. The beef is free-range, hormone-and-antibiotic-free. It comes on a toasted English-muffin bun.

 

300808_10151011175157233_32485797_nMom got the grilled chicken sandwich with cheddar and maple-and-black-pepper bacon. Her bacon wound up on Dad’s burger. He said it was very good. She enjoyed the sandwich and the delicious fries.

I ordered the black bean tostadas. I can’t adequately describe this pile of delicious without going to the menu description. “Two crisp corn tortillas topped with grilled chipotle cheese grit cakes, roasted tomatillo salsa, and baby greens. Garnished with black bean corn salsa, cilantro crema, feta cheese, and fresh cilantro.”

378215_10151011169212233_326582162_nI loved everything about the dish. The contrast between the creamy elements and the tangy tomatillo salsa and the crispy tostadas and the moist grit cakes…my taste buds couldn’t ask for more. It was so delicious. I must admit to waking up craving this dish. It’s so unique and flavorful, I can’t imagine anything that would make a good substitute.

I would highly recommend Sunny Point. Other than the parking lot and the fact that they do not have Sweet’N Low for your coffee, it’s almost perfect.

Forgotten photos – my solo trip to Biltmore

A few weeks ago, I got up early and headed for Biltmore Estate. I love the house but I decided that I wanted to spend my time exploring the grounds. Since I have an annual pass, I didn’t really feel guilty about this. The house itself is so overwhelming that it becomes difficult to really explore the grounds if you are seeing the house too.

I am finally posting these pics for your viewing enjoyment.

mountains There was a slight bit of haze but it was still easy to make out the gentle giants in the distance.

The house looks just a bit smaller from this angle. Side profiles must be slimming – at least if you are an enormous manor house.

Love the fleur de lis detail here. It took so many talented artisans to construct the house.

bambooA bamboo forest along one of the many paths leading to the woods surrounding the house. I love the lush, tropical look of these plants.

Gorgeous flame dogwoods provide a welcome burst of color during the winter.

The boathouse by the bass pond. I had the whole place to myself and it could not have been more tranquil. It is a gorgeous spot, even in winter.

Serene

A shot of the pond with the boat house slightly hidden by a tree on the right side of the photo.

This is on the upper side of the bridge/falls. I love the shiny copper under the murky water and wonder how many of those wishes came true.

These blooms had a beautiful ecru tone. They were delicate and somehow the perfect “flower” for a winter’s day.

Christmas in Asheville

While I love the Upstate on its own merits, its proximity to Asheville, NC only adds to my affection. Asheville is one of the prettiest and most quirky cities in all of creation. It’s known for both Biltmore and bohemians – think of it as the oddly peaceful intersection of high-class and hippy.

When Mr. McB had to take a few vacation days in early December, it seemed like a great time to head north to visit Asheville. Biltmore was the big priority for the trip. We wanted to purchase annual passes and see the estate’s gorgeous Christmas decorations. After doing a little research, we added a stop at the Grove Park Inn to view the National Gingerbread House Competition, a large annual event hosted at the hotel.

Fearing that our hunger might cause us to assault a gingerbread man, we started the day with a big breakfast before hitting the road.

Despite the fog, the trip was smooth and easy. I will take this opportunity to remind everyone that you really should turn on your headlights (normal, no high-beams) when driving in the fog. The GPS gave us a little trouble but eventually we made it.

The Grove Park is lovely, but can be a little hard to navigate. Even with the pamphlet and map, it took us a little while to fully understand the layout and location of the many gingerbread creations. It was a minor bother as we both enjoyed tooling around the property and the staff were quite happy to allow you to do so.

The entries were all amazing in their own way. While the children’s categoryGingerbread WalMart didn’t have fancy and flawless techniques, the creativity and enthusiasm couldn’t be missed. Each creation represented a good deal of effort and thought and we enjoyed admiring them all.

On the day of our visit, the 2011 winner was in New York City as part of a GMA taping. A few visitors were upset by this but the Grove Park’s site clearly explains this possibility and the “substitute” was an amazing box of ornaments. Gingerbread competition entry

After we saw all the entries (or so we think, again the setup is a bit confusing), we hit the road for Biltmore. Our visit began at the ticket center where we purchased annual passes for just $29 more than the daily admission.  This was cheaper than the price advertised on the web – yippee! As someone who both worked at a membership organization and held memberships to cultural attractions, I was very impressed by the membership materials. Our cards have our photo so we never have to show a membership card and license. If we lose the card, we pay $2 – the hard cost to have it remade. Take note Columbus Zoo, members feel bad about losing their cards, you don’t have to make it worse by charging a big fee to make a new one. Biltmore EstateThe thing that impressed me most was the special toll-free number for pass-holder services. We even got a little magnet with the number. It was an easy way to make your valued customers feel appreciated.

We have been to Biltmore before but never at Christmas. I had some idea of what to expect but as soon as we turned the corner and saw the first magnificent tree in the billiard room, I knew the experience would far exceed my expectations. Each room had gorgeous holiday decorations. Photos are not allowed so alas, I cannot share the beauty of these trees. I can say that having a professional bow maker on staff would be a great benefit.

the "back yard" at BiltmoreWe spent a good deal of time on the breezeway. This is one of my favorite spots. On this day we relaxed in the large, comfortable chairs while watching a rafter of wild turkeys (yes, rafter – thanks Google!) strut around the edge of the massive lawn.

yummy ice cream treatsAfter another hour of enjoying the house, we remembered just how big it is and just how easy it is to go from mildly hungry to “low blood sugar – I’m going to pass out.” In an effort to avoid an accident and general grouchiness, we zoomed through the servants’ quarters and headed over to the former stables to grab a bite. We staved off hunger with a stop at the ice cream parlor and then hit the road in hopes of beating the rain and making the best use of our remaining daylight. We didn’t beat the rain but we made it home safely with many happy memories of the day. I suspect that Christmas in Asheville will become a regular part of our December routine.

Here’s the breakdown:
Grove Park InnGrove Park Inn
290 Macon Ave.  
Asheville, NC 28804
Admission to the National Gingerbread House Competition is free. The parking fee starts at $5 for up to three hours in the garage.
Tips
– Visit the website as viewing is limited to guests on certain days.
– The Grove Park Inn is a great place to explore even without the gingerbread. Take some time to look around.

entry lion at BiltmoreBiltmore Estate
1 Lodge Street
Asheville, NC 28803
Daily admission during the holiday season – $64-69 per person http://www.biltmore.com
AAA does offer discounted, advance purchase tickets.
Tips
Eat before you get to Biltmore. I don’t care if you had breakfast an hour before you arrive, take a snack bar and break it out when you first roll into the main gates. By time you have parked you will have downed the sustenance you need to make it through the house tour.
– Buy a book about the house. The soft back copies are less than $20 and you won’t remember everything you saw if you don’t take the time to pick one up.
– Eat before you sample at the winery. The pours are generous and you’ve already walked off the snack bar so just go ahead and grab a bite before you enjoy the many wonderful vintages available at the estate.