I’ve long been a fan of winter. While the reduced daylight hours, chilly weather, and barren landscapes make many folks solemn and melancholy, I find it all wholly invigorating. That said, the stretch of days from New Year’s to the spring equinox can be loooooooong, especially when you work from home, like I do. Owing to that, we try to find ways to shake things up during the coldest, darkest time of year.
My new favorite wake ‘em up, shake ‘em up activity for winter has got to be, hands down, the English Tea at the Biltmore Estate. About two weeks ago, I received an email from Marissa Jamison, Public Relations Manager for Biltmore. The email detailed a number of activities the estate has going on over the winter, historically their slowest time of year. As I looked over the list, one stood out to me above the rest: the English tea offered daily at the Inn on Biltmore. I wrote Marissa back, expressing my interest, to be met in return with an offer from her to enjoy a complimentary tea for myself and a guest.
Last Thursday, Glenn and I dropped Huxley off at a friend’s house for a play date and headed over to the Inn. The only lodging located on the estate’s property, the Inn is absolutely beautiful, a modern mirror to the Biltmore house itself. Tea is held daily in the Inn’s Library Lounge, between the hours of 2:30-4:30 (reservations are required). We were shown to our table, which was situated beside the library’s floor-to-ceiling windows, ideal for taking in mountain views (or being a voyeur of the guests walking about outside, if that’s your persuasion-it’s mine!).
Our server brought over a lovely wooden box, which housed a variety of teas. We were invited to read the descriptions of the teas listed on the box cover’s interior, and open the jars to examine their contents and smell their aroma. Glenn and I both opted for black teas. I like a robust tea to accompany rich foods and the Provence style Earl Grey I chose was the ideal companion to the meal. Before tea, though, we had cocktails! No toddler + high tea=an excuse/opportunity for daytime drinking! Woohoo! Glenn enjoyed a Bellini while I had a Kir Royale. Both were made with Biltmore Estate sparkling wine and had the double whammy of being delicious while simultaneously making me feel very fine and fancy for a mid-January day, thank you very much.
Our cocktails came in tandem with an amuse bouche. The delectable bite consisted of a prosciutto-wrapped date set atop a puree of black pepper and chestnuts, dusted with foie gras powder. Creative flavor pairings that play well off of one another without feeling forced score big points with me and this little morsel hit every note. This was followed by a plate of “Delicate Bites,” as our menu defined the tiny sandwiches set before us. In the image above, beginning with the cucumber and moving clockwise, were: Shrimp Salad on Cucumber, Curried Vegetable & Goat Cheese on Rye, Herb Roasted Turkey with Cranberry, Cashew Butter with Apricot Jam, ,Smoked Salmon Deviled Egg (Holy! Moly! GENIUS!), Lamb with Lusty Monk Mustard, and Brie with Apple & Walnut.
Up next was a cheese plate of Buttermilk Bleu (drizzled with honey and black pepper, a pairing I hadn’t considered before but now intend to employ frequently), Manchego, and Cheddar. I tried to rein it in a bit on this course, as I knew dessert was coming and I always, always save room for dessert. That blue cheese, though, wasn’t making things easy for me. It was a perfect marriage of creamy, sharp, salty, tangy, and crumbly, making it infinitely easy to take just one nibble more. So, so, sooooooo good.
By the time dessert came around, there was precious little real estate left in my stomach, to put it mildly. Nevertheless, I mustered my resolve, rallied, and went for the jugular. And by the jugular, I refer to the lemon curd. My culinary Achilles Heel, turns out, is lemon curd. Mercy. Dessert arrived on a 3-tiered silver tray, and contained these tasty treats: Maple Raisin Scones (served with house-made jam, Devonshire Cream, and the aforementioned lemon curd), Spiced Fig Poundcake, Orange Macaroons, Chocolate Chess Tart, Amaretto Truffle, and Hazelnut Raspberry Torte.
I can’t really begin to convey just what a pleasant experience the tea was. As a child, I hosted countless tea parties, some attended solely by myself and a posse of stuffed animals, some involving my brother and a friend (one who once pretended to be our butler during the tea, hand towel draped elegantly over his forearm and all), others involving my mom. Tea time is a great segue between lunch and dinner (a light dinner though, understandably!), and a fantastic means of transitioning from the work day to home life (akin to the European notion of aperitif, a word meaning both a beverage and an activity).
Sitting there, I began imagining all the friends and family I’d love to experience the Inn’s English Tea with. It was quiet and peaceful and nourishing, all at once. I’m hard pressed, really, to think of anyone that wouldn’t enjoy it. A special occasion treat, to be sure, but an affordable one ($26.95 without a cocktail, $38.95 with), if you consider what it costs to go to the movies, get a round of cocktails, or enjoy a nice meal. This winter, I invite you to treat yourself if you’re in the area and take in the tea at Biltmore. Just be sure to wear something with an elastic or unbutton-able waist. Ahem.
Here’s a listing of the other Biltmore winter activities, as detailed according to their PR department:
*Discover more at Biltmore this winter
Available at no additional charge January 13 through March 19, two new audio tours give an updated interpretation of Biltmore’s grand rooms, architecture, collection of art and antiques, as well as true stories about the Vanderbilt family, their guests and servants. For the first time, Biltmore has introduced a children’s audio tour in addition to the standard audio tour, created to give kids an imaginative connection to life in the Vanderbilt household. Biltmore’s curators and hosts narrate the standard audio tour, while the children’s tour is told from the point of view of Cedric, the Vanderbilt’s beloved Saint Bernard. Both tours follow the same route through Biltmore House for families to enjoy together. Travelers won’t want to miss a brand new area to explore in Biltmore House in 2014: the second floor living hall. This is the latest restoration project undertaken by Biltmore’s curatorial staff and reopened to the public last fall.
*Garden walks and orchid talks
More indoor enchantment awaits in the Conservatory. Possibly one of the warmest spots in North Carolina’s mountains in winter, the Conservatory is filled with thousands of tropical plants, including an expansive orchid display at its showiest peak in March. Orchids and Biltmore have a long history; in fact, some 800 orchids were on Vanderbilt’s list to be purchased for the Conservatory in 1894. Through the efforts of Biltmore’s orchid expert Jim Rogers, the estate has procured heritage varieties found on the 1894 list, now on display in the Conservatory. New educational talks are being offered in the Conservatory Mondays through Fridays, January 20 through March 19 at 11 a.m. Expert gardeners discuss the many types of orchids in bloom and topics such as Biltmore’s heritage orchids, the history of orchid cultivation, and details about the Conservatory. Growing tips and general care information will also be offered. Capacity is limited and orchid talks are free with the price of estate admission.
*The South’s “Downton Abbey”
As the fourth season of “Downton Abbey” airs on PBS this winter, fans of the show have taken note of similarities between Biltmore and the period drama hit. Thematic story lines and the era of the show overlap with the time when George and Edith Vanderbilt lived in the 250-room Biltmore House and raised their daughter Cornelia. Parallels between Biltmore and Downton Abbey can be brought to life in two specialty tours at Biltmore. During the Butler’s Tour, visitors discover how Biltmore House functioned, past and present, and learn about the work of the Vanderbilt’s domestic servants. As for the opulence upstairs, it’s easy to imagine what it would have been like to stay at Biltmore (circa 1895 to the early 1930s) with the Vanderbilts as your hosts during the Vanderbilt Family & Friends Tour. Tours are offered daily and advance registration is required. Each tour is $17 per person in addition to estate admission. Finishing an afternoon with English tea at the Inn on Biltmore Estate, complete with traditional English finger sandwiches, scones, fruit breads, and tea pastries, will round out a day in the spirit of “Downton Abbey.”
Warm-up at the Winery
A stop at Biltmore Winery is a delightful way to spend a chilly winter afternoon with free guided tours of the production facility and complimentary tastings. Specialty wine tours offered at an additional price include the Red Wine and Chocolate Seminar and the Biltmore Bubbles Tour.
Special rates at the Inn on Biltmore Estate
The four-star Inn on Biltmore Estate has special winter pricing with savings up to half off. Rooms start at $149 per night.
I don’t know what things are like in your house, but once Huxley came along, my presence totally took a back burner to his where the grandparents are concerned. When my mother and grandmother would telephone me in the past, the conversation was primarily about what I was up to, and what events were unfolding in their lives. In-person visits were handled similarly. Now, though, phone calls involve a bit of polite conversation that serves as a prelude to the inevitable “Can I talk to my boy now?”. And visits to the house? Well, I might as well be invisible. Don’t think this is a complaint, though. To the contrary. I’m a bit of a private person, and like to keep to myself, so having the spotlight redirected onto Huxley and his every action is just fine by me!
Once children are on the scene, most of the conversations, activities, and concerns are about them. Which is great, for the most part. They’re little. They’re cute. They’re kind of helpless. We should be focusing on them! Sometimes, though, it’s nice to have the emphasis be on parenting and parents. Enter Grounded. The creative collaboration of parents Mollie & Kendall Guillemette, Grounded is an online quarterly magazine for parents. In their own words:
Grounded is a creative collaboration between Kendall and Mollie. It is an online quarterly magazine for parents and each issue of Grounded will be a collection of pieces that inspire and encourage us, pieces that are interesting, helpful, and thoughtfully crafted. Our vision for Grounded is that a diverse community of people will come together to surround and give to parents so that they in turn can give well to their children. We want this to be a place where we can look at beautiful things, hear and share stories, and gather ideas. We hope you find encouragement as passionate, creative, loving people gather.
Finally! A place for us parents, to find encouragement, inspiration, and, perhaps occasionally, commiseration (parenting is HARD!). Mollie and Kendall have very generously offered to share Grounded with small measure readers, four times over! Woohoo! Here’s the sweet deal: the giveaway includes 1 full annual subscription and 3 winter 2013 issues. That means one winner will receive a year’s subscription, and three other winners (all randomly selected) will receive winter issues, the issue currently available.
Entering the giveaway couldn’t be easier. All you need to do is click on this link and enter your email address. Doing so signs you up for Grounded‘s newsletter (which is wonderful and something you totally want in your life), as well as enters you for the giveaway. The giveaway will conclude on Sunday, January 26th, and the winners will be announced on Monday, the 27th.
Whether you end up winning or not, do check out Grounded. Mollie & Kendall have created a lovingly curated resource for parents, and it shows in every article. Thanks so much for sharing all you do with small measure, guys!
Happy Friday, friends! Got anything fun planned for the weekend? We were slated to head to Charlotte with my mom and grandmother to visit my brother and his family, but his nearly 9-month old son, Gray, might have a bit of a stomach bug, so the jury is still out on whether we’re going or not. Either way, I’m looking forward to a wintery weekend. I feel my absolute best when there’s a chill in the air, and tomorrow’s forecast high of 32 suits me fine, whether we stay or go.
In other news, here’s a smattering of this and that’s that caught my attention this week:
*10 fantastic winter activities (they’re suggestions for kids, but I know a load of grownups would find many a thrill in this list!).
*Oh, what fun to be a cat with this climbing set up!
*I love eccentrics, and niche concepts, and stories of human triumph, so this story about Giulietta Carrelli and her coffee and toast (and coconut and grapefruit juice) joint “Trouble” in San Francisco warmed my heart on multiple levels.
*Citrus season is upon us! Think ambrosia is cloyingly sweet, full of ingredients of dubious quality, and not something you’d ever consider enjoying? Think again! David Tanis will set you straight.
*These photos taken by a Russian mother of her two sons and their animals are breathtaking, and make me really, really wish I knew so much more about photography.
*Great tutorial for brewing your own kombucha (this is Part 1; be on the lookout for Part 2, which will cover creating flavored kombuchas!).
*Fans of small batch preserving, Marisa McClellan’s new book Preserving By the Pint is available for pre-order, and it looks wonderful!
*Picked up a pair of these socks in “Loden” two weeks ago and they’ve been amazingly successful at keeping my feet warm (the listing says “Men’s” socks, but on the package, it lists the equivalent in women’s sizes).
This has been a busy week of play dates for Huxley. Tuesday he played at a friend’s house for three hours while I worked on the new book, tossing ideas off of Glenn over coffee at a bookstore (real! grownup! talk! without! chasing! a! wiggly! toddler!). We were worried he might have a bit of separation anxiety, as he’s almost never with anyone other than Glenn or myself. However, as we pulled up in the driveway, he said “You can go now,” followed by “Bye Mama, bye Dada.” Think he was ready? Oh, yeah. Totally ready for some independent play time. Yesterday, he went to my buddy Maria‘s house for a four & 1/2 hour play date with her kiddos while Glenn and I had an incredible adventure (I’ll be sharing it with you in detail next week!). He was a total champ!
It’s a strange, funny thing, parental intuition. Much like just kind of waking up and one day knowing I was ready to introduce solid foods, or fully wean him, or transition him into his own bed, or, now, introduce away-from-home (without us) play dates/childcare, it’s turned out he’s always been right there, right on board, just as ready as I to take the next step, transition to a new way of doing things. It’s so easy to loose sight of what’s right for us and our child. I’m not saying we should scorn advice or suggestion. To the contrary (I’m kind of offering advice of my own here, anyway, right?). Instead, I’m giving praise to the power of developing your own relationship with your child, or spouse, or partner, or pet, or whatever living creatures you’re in regular contact with, and trust that the paths you two choose to pursue, whenever you should choose to do so, are best for you.
Wherever you go this weekend, whatever you do, and whomever you do it with, may it be grand!
*I post a photo of Huxley in my What I’m Digging round-ups because, truly, he’s what his Papa and I dig the most! This little adventurer is a serious force to be reckoned with on his balance bike.
We rarely get any snow here. Although we’re in the mountains of western North Carolina, and locations just west and north of us often get slammed whenever icy precipitation is in the forecast, the valley around Asheville doesn’t quite get snow with the regularity that higher surrounding elevations do.
So when we do, even if it’s just a light dusting, you better believe it is an EVENT! Snow came down pretty heavily for a bit yesterday morning. There is a peace that falls over the cove here when it’s snowing that’s rather difficult to describe. “A peace that passes all understanding,” might be the way my mom would detail it, and I suppose that’s a pretty accurate appraisal. All is still and hushed and muted, save for the hiss of the falling snow. The landscape turns monochromatic and captivating. I adore it.
Huxley asked if we could go play soccer in the snow, and so we did. Though snowing, the day was temperate enough to merit a family forest stroll, and so that followed. It’s funny, the way that places shape you. Yesterday morning, after letting the chickens out, I was walking back to the house and noticed a bit of usnea on the ground. Maria had recently told me about the many benefits of usnea, and how it grows abundantly around here, and how she puts it into soups as well as renders it into tinctures, to use as medicine (she is a WISE woman, that lady!). I put aside the usnea I found, and noticed a few other bits of it (it’s a lichen, and is often found clinging to tree branches), gathering them into a small collection. In my mind’s eye, I began envisioning putting bits of it into chicken soup, and pushing down handfuls into glass jars to be covered with alcohol and set aside to steep.
As I thought about making medicine for my own family from foraged bits of forest goodness, making my way back up to the house from the coop, my thoughts turned to just how much this place I’ve called home for almost 7 years now has shaped who I’ve become. Space really is the place, if you think about it. This woodland cove, it’s become part of who I am. Yes, I live here. It’s where my physical home is, but it’s also me now, really. My daily concerns involve this place-whether a murder of crows is cawing in the distance and what it might signify, how the beehives seem to be faring the massive weather fluctuations as of late, if the forsythia is clad in buds, the patches in the lower field indicating where the (many!) deer that share the cove with us recently slumbered, the way the wind swishes and groans through the tulip poplar treetops. Those simple, rhythmic occurrences, those gentle, yet profound gestures, they are what pique my interest and direct my attention now.
I’m so very thankful to be able to share this nook of earth with its fellow inhabitants. I lived a very transient life in my childhood and early adult years. To have put down roots here, for nearly seven years, and to have adapted to and adopted its flow is a gift beyond measure.
Happy Friday, friends! Hope you’re warm and toasty wherever you are. This week, in the mountains of western North Carolina, temps dipped to zero, with a wind chill around -15. Whoa. That’s pretty intense for southern climates. In preparation, we sipped hot chocolate at 5 p.m., put on our warmest wool socks and sweaters, and hunkered down, ready to meet this Polar Vortex head on (anyone else think that sounds like the name of a Monster Truck? Or a Swedish death metal band?).
While I knew we’d be warm inside, what with a behemoth of a wood stove like we’ve got, I was worried about our flock of chickens. Their henhouse doesn’t have electricity running to it, so any kind of supplemental heat wasn’t an option. Instead, we reinforced the coop with weather stripping and foam insulation in advance of the cold weather, put down two additional bags of cedar bedding, filled a 5-gallon plastic waterer with very hot water and set it into the coop right before closing up the doors for the night, and rubbed down everyone’s combs with an all-natural lavender salve, to stave off frostbite. The next morning, everyone seemed just fine, albeit it really hungry and parched. Alright, alright!
So, a few things I’ve written or been interviewed for these past few weeks:
*Had a great time chatting about all things pie on the Heritage Radio Network show No Chefs Allowed.
*My friend Kelly Aaron interviewed me for EcoSalon, asking about entertaining, and holidays, and, well, holiday entertaining! Check it out.
*My post in Verve is all about my resolution to let go in 2014.
In other news, here’s a bit of this and that that’s caught my eye lately:
*My Pop and his wife mailed me a shipment of Meyer lemons plucked (with permission!) from their neighbor’s tree. I had lemons, I had honey from our bees, and I had eggs from our chickens, so, naturally, I had to make this curd.
*Been in need of a new laundry basket for some time now. This might just be the one.
*Asheville’s own Urban Farm School is gearing up for 2014. Looks like it’s going to be another incredible year!
*Another Asheville event of note is the Hard To Recycle day, which happens tomorrow. Got goods you don’t know how to recycle? This might just be the event for you!
*I know this has been making the rounds on the interwebs, and for good reason. Astonishing.
*New (to me) blog that is profoundly gorgeous. And inspiring. And full of goodness.
*This photo essay on the Honey Hunters of Nepal is phenomenal. That is some serious commitment to honey’s sweet rewards right there.
*This Irish version of the “Cups” song makes me impossibly happy (plus, SO many lovely gingers!!!).
You might have noticed the image of Handmade Gatherings up on the top left column. It’s officially available for pre-order, with a final cover and everything. I am beyond excited about this book. Everything in it, from the people photographed to the dishes used to the color palette and, of course, the recipes, crafts, and activities it contains are real parts of my life. They’re not props, they’re absolute accurate depictions of how I live. This is a source of ideas and inspiration for throwing seasonal potlucks, to be sure, but it’s also a visual journey of who I am. I hope you love it as much as I do!
Wherever you go this weekend, whatever you do, and whomever you do it with, may it be grand!
*I post a photo of Huxley in my What I’m Digging round-ups because, truly, he’s what his Papa and I dig the most. Last Saturday, we took him to his very first “ninja” class. He was listening intently to the sensei here, in the dojo (which he very cutely continues to call the “jojo”), before going rouge and running around the room. He loved it, and so did we!