Monday, September 28, 2009

Food for the "Soul"

I don't think I will ever be able to fully express in words on this blog how much I love my friends. Its time that I spend with them that make me feel refreshed and back to where I need to be. When life gets crazy and there are extraneous details that bog us down, all it takes is a good kick in the pants from those that know you best to kick you back into gear and back to being your best. We have all been so busy with work lately that there has been little to no time to spread peace and love. We find our calendars filling up so quickly that we had to plan this dinner nearly a month in advance to ensure all parties were present!

Sara is our new restaurant scout and she planned a girls dinner at an eclectic little establishment in Plaza Midwood on Friday night. Sara and I, along with Laura, Mary Katherine and Kealy made our way to Central Avenue to Soul Gastro Lounge for a fantastic dinner and uncontrollable laughter (what else is new!!) From the outside, Soul was nothing magical but as soon as you open the doors the mood completely changes and you find yourself in a chic hideaway tucked away in a culinary wonderland. The menu is completely tapas and small bites which was perfect for our food obsessed taste buds. I always love small plates of food to taste because by the end of the meal, you have experienced a plethora of flavors guaranteed to satisfy all of your cravings.

We started with cocktails and of course Mary Katherine and I could not resist the mixed berry margaritas. I am pretty sure when our waiter told us the berries had come from the farmer's market that day, we fell in love with the drink. Sure enough it was refreshing and crisp and created nothing but happiness in my mouth. Like children who had never eaten before, we chose so many tasty items from the menu and shared amongst the table. Dips with pita, greek country salad, an artisan cheese plate, shrimp and chicken skewers and shoestring french fries kissed with truffle oil. And when we consumed the above and cherished every bite, we decided we still needed more and indulged in mini kobe beef sliders and cured salmon pillows wrapped and snuggled in phyllo dough. Soul is the perfect place for a date or small group of friends. The atmosphere was so warm yet sophisticated enough that kicked it up a notch. The service reminded me of dining in Italy where the meals linger and you are welcome to take your time and enjoy your culinary experience along with the company.

A night out with these girls is never complete without a sweet ending so sure enough, we drove over to my favorite gem, Amelie's, for coffee & dessert. Pure bliss!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Sips of Spice

I am a huge proponent of hot beverages, especially in the fall when the flavors are seasonal and the unique spice blends that can only be found during this time of year are abundant. Pumpkin spice lattes, mulled apple cider, chai spiced tea...all of these embrace the warm and magical flavors that bring spark to this time of year. This also happens to be the time of year in the corporate event planning world that our vendors like to treat us to sinful desserts and all sorts of items that are not always conducive to my love of good health. I was in for an exquisite surprise yesterday when a hotel brought us a basket filled with ginger snap cookies snuggled in with Herbs of Autumn Hot Apple Cider Tea (made by The Reppublic of Tea)! I am not sure when I acquired such a British Inspired love for hot tea but it calms me at night and 3:00pm tea time has taken residence on my Microsoft Outlook calendar as a daily occurrence. I have a cup at my desk right now and it is a perfect way to warm my soul on this cloudy day in the Carolinas. I just love the description on the back of the tea can:

"A cup of comfort: When autumn leaves begin to change and the chill returns to the air, this cozy, naturally caffeine-free blend of apples and spices will surely warm you up. Enjoy the luscious aroma of cinnamon and cloves as the steam rises from your cup. Pull on your coziest sweater and embrace this golden season".

What a perfect cup of tea to sip from on this dreary Friday. Another reason to add smiles to the day? A perfect girls dinner at a bloggable establishment tonight with my favorites! Ciao!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Pumpkin Spice & Everything Nice

It's officially the first day of fall and I could sit here and create a neverending post listing the countless reasons as to why I love this season upon us so much. However, that is not necessary...when this historic Nido picture says it all.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Peace & Love

"Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart" {Unknown}

I can't abandon the peace & love tidbits in this blog because after all, it's what keeps this crazy world smiling. Today is International Peace Day. Take some time today and think about what you can do to sprinkle a little bit of peace and love on those around you.

*photo courtesy of

Sunday, September 20, 2009

17 Candles for My Not So Little Sister

{Happy 17th Birthday Natalie!!!}
Anyone that has ever celebrated a birthday at the Nido house knows that the best part is "the cake". Simply angel food cake with white mountain frosting...a birthday miracle in your mouth and the closest thing to perfection on a plate. Birthday bliss starts here.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Anatomy of the Perfect Pasta Dish (perfect friends included)

It's in my Italian nature to thrive on cooking for and feeding people...I just like to share my love of food. I had 3 of my dearest friends (Laura, Mary Katherine and the freshly married Sara!) over on Wednesday night and I cooked up a staple dish from the Nido repertoire, Penne A La Vodka (penne pasta in a vodka cream sauce). I came home from work, put on my favorite apron, and got to work. I love cooking for these girls and anytime I get to spend with them for that matter, I truly cherish. MK was begging me for the recipe and I promised her I would post it so that she can wow Nick Baker in the kitchen! This recipe is so quick and easy and tastes delicious. It doubles as the perfect pasta dish for a big dinner party or if you want a go to recipe to cook up something delicious for a special someone and have a romantic dinner for two. Once again, credit for my knowledge of this fine work of culinary art goes to my dear old Dad.

Penne A La Vodka

2-6 cloves of garlic, minced (this can be adjusted according to your love or un-love for garlic)
1 can of crushed red tomatoes
1/2 cup Heavy Cream (can be substituted with half and half for a healthier option and the consistency will just be less creamy)
1/4 cup Vodka (any brand will do)
Olive oil- enough to cover the bottom of the pan
Fresh Italian flat leaf parsley (Muffin swears by the flat leaf)
Salt & Pepper to taste
1 lb. penne pasta

This dish does not take long so go ahead and heat up your water to boil the penne. Wash off and chop off the fresh parsley so that it is ready when you need it. Mince garlic and sautee in a large pan with olive oil. Once the garlic starts to bubble (you have to babysit it so that it doesn't burn), add can of tomatoes. Season the sauce with salt and pepper and let it simmer until the flavors are born. Much like risotto, love your sauce into existence. When the pasta is done, drain and set aside. Slowly add the cream and vodka into the marinara sauce and stir toether. Transfer the penne to the pan with the sauce and toss together with the fresh parsley. This pasta looks gorgeous served in a large ceramic pasta bowl. Mange, mange!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Fa la la la la

It is now mid-September and the official start of fall is in sight next week. I am fairly confident I have expressed my love for this time of year to a great extent but just in case you missed it, let me just re-iterate it right now. As I sip on my afternoon cup of pumpkin spice tea, it occurs to me that not only is fall about to warm our hearts, but today marks a whimsical and sensational day.

Actually...this introduction is just for effect because in all reality, I have been thinking about this blog post since Monday, when the numbers 102 appeared on my twitter updates and my heart skipped a beat. If I could insert some sort of "scent technology" on this post and create the wonderful smells (think cinnamon, sugar plum, spice, peppermint, gingerbread and fresh pine) of what is about to hit us in 100 days, I would be one extremely happy blogger. But alas, the art of the written word will have to do as I prepare to embark on the yearly countdown of all countdowns. My eyes are about to well up with tears because I hold this time of year so near and dear. I love the meaning behind the season, the traditions and all of the little blessings and delights that come with it! The Nido house especially is like a Christmas wonderland from the end of November through New Year's. I love the beautifully lit entrance to our house from the front porch, shown above. Sadly I do not reside there full time but despite the fact that my dad will correct me and call it his house, I will forever continue to take part ownership of my haven on India Wilkes. I would love to get a head start on this year's holiday recipes if you have any to share.

And how appropriate that tonight I am making dinner with 3 of my favorite girls in the world (the clackers!!!). I can't help but be reminded of our journey uptown last December to see the Nutcracker! (which also means I am sitting here laughing at myself thinking about running from the Epicentre to Blumenthal sprinting up Trade St. in Christmas dresses and high heels! If only I could express in words the looks of people trying to enjoy a relaxing holiday stroll on twinkling Trade St.
100 is a good number to start at, right!? Laura calls me a certified Yuletide Freak but there really could be things that are far worse. The official countdown to Christmas is finally here!

And speaking of countdowns...15 days until I fly to NYC and meet Mark in the big apple!!! I can' hardly contain my excitement.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Comfy Cozy

One of my favorite delights in life is putting on something comfortable, making a cup of tea and snuggling in for the night with a good book (while wearing my glasses of course). I know I sound like the biggest nerd in the history of nerds, but this cozy combo makes my soul smile. Yogi tea has a special spot in my pantry and the ginger herbal is my favorite for nighttime as a little agent to calm my energetic self and wind down. Ginger is also considered a "universal medicine" and supports healthy digestion. it is also known to "regain balance and harmony" in our systems.

My BFF, MOD, is my soul sister who fully appreciates the comfy cozy things would be the perfect person to have by my side right now as I end my day and get ready to drift off to dreamland and visions of sugar plums. Naturally, as I sip on my tea tonight, I wish I could wave a magic wand and have MOD disappear from DC and appear in my little Charlotte apartment I sent her a sweet text message and here are the precious words I got in return (looks like we were on the exact same page tonight!) :

"I"m in my little comfy clothes too reading for book club! Wouldn't it be so nice to just be in the same room reading!? Miss you xoxo love love love you!"

Buona Notte!

Saturday, September 12, 2009


Here is a little special edition of peace and love as a special day is upon us and because of these two, my life is truly blessed and I have much to be thankful for. When I was little, and my younger sisters and I would see my parents kiss, we would run away and tell them in whiny little voices (with very thick midwestern accents, mind you, "quit having marriage"!!!). I remember being so grossed out at the sight of two grown people kissing. My, how age changes you, for I am much wiser now and I realize that having two lovie dovie parents is very far from a bad thing.

Simply stated, my parents are two of the most incredible people I know. 28 years ago today, they kissed and said "I do". 28 years of unconditional love that have included thousands of hugs, constant laughs, 3 houses, Nina, Andi, Natalie, a migration from Hockeytown to the Queen City, beach vacations, birthday parties, dance recitals, school plays, late night talks, front porch conversations, dancing in the kitchen, amazing vacation to the motherland (Italy), and good food. It is always all about the food, after all. (my parents can work some magic in the kitchen...why do you think I love food so much?!)

I love you Mom & Dad!! Happy Anniversary!!!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Cupcakes, Wine Spritzers, Best Friends and A Magical Bakery Sprinkled with Pixie Dust

What would we all do in life without a small space of enchantment to turn to? Nothing fancy or high maintenance, but a mere space once can take themselves to to refresh, rejuvinate and leave feeling better, happier and sprinkled with that extra bit of pixie dust. My weekend was exactly what I needed and I could not have planned it any more perfectly. (the only thing that could have been improved was that of the final score of the AppState/ECU game but alas, we have a whole season ahead of us so I am still hoping for the best)

I made my way to Greensboro on Saturday afternoon to meet up with two of my very best friends- my DC Princess Meghan O'D (most lovingly known as MOD) and the newly engaged Lo! These girls have been in my life since my migration to the south in 1997 and since then, have been by my side to make my life a happy one. We spent time catching up, flipping through wedding magazines while staring at Lo's bling, enjoying a fun girls dinner and my favorite memory of the weekend, searching for the perfect cupcake in Greensboro.

Little Laura T frequents the 'Boro for weekend visits with her Canadian beau and has been raving about this quaint bakery ever since she discovered it. After dinner on Saturday night, the girls and I drove around on a crazy cupcake chase to find this infamous establishment. Driving down Battleground Avenue, we looked left and right and this place was nowhere in sight! Some twinkle lights (of course, the yuletide freak in me starts thinking Christmas thoughts at this point) soon caught my eye and my heart skipped a beat...we finally found it and Lo swerved her car into the parking lot as MOD and I shrieked as our sweet teeth could not even prepare ourselves for what we were about to experience. We could barely get out of the car before MOD started snapping pictures of what appeared to be bakery heaven. Poor Lo said we were embarassing her but she loves us so much that she allowed us to continue in giddy merriment! Upon walking into Maxie B's, I could not help but think that this place was like a freshly baked dream come true! The decor was truly enchanting and every little space was occupied by something unique. The smell that filled the bakery was just exquisite. Dark brown and white accents reminded me of cookies and cream and the eclectic crystal chandeliers provided such a dainty touch. MOD even noted the little "love hut", or so she called it, which was a nook enclosed in a cozy space with a table for friends to sit as they enjoy their dessert delight of choice. Feathers were dispersed throughout the decorations and created a warm fluffy feeling of floating on a dessert cloud in some sort of sweet dreamland. Be still my heart.

The dessert counter was filled with decadent cakes and the case housed a plethora of cupcakes that literally made my eyes twinkle! Homemade frozen yogurt was also on the menu (pumpkin included!) and unique dessert bars, cookies and creative sweets made an appearance as well. Since cupcakes really are one of the world's most perfectly proportioned desserts, each of us chose a favorite to take home. (a picture of our little cakes can be found on my sidebar of documented deliciousness) As fall is upon us and since I am a huge proponent of pumpkin spice and seasonal flavors, I thought it most appropriate and Nina-ish to pick up a pumpkin chocolate chip cupcake with cream cheese frosting. This small individual sized masterpiece tasted as if it had been kissed by pumpkin spice angels and I could not have eaten it any slower. The last bite is always a bit sad but my tastebuds were so lucky to be graced with the wonderment that this cupcake added to my Saturday night with the girls. I don't question myself saying that I would make a trip from Charlotte to Greensboro just to have some dessert from Maxie B''s that good. The company wasn't so bad either and I could have not asked for better time with my girls.

Additionally, more details about the Greensboro magic and all good things in general, can be found at the newest blog on the block! MOD has taken the plunge and started her very own corner of cheer on the world wide web and I could not be more thrilled. She loves the little things in life as much as I do and I cannot wait to see what her blog has in store. We decided earlier today that taking the time to write and appreciate the little things in life make the hard days seem not so tough while also making it second nature to enjoy daily life and pick out the little pieces of magic that add smiles and sprinkles to your day.

Happy blogging and much love to MOD and thanks to Lo for hosting a perfect 24 hours!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A Fiesta for your Mouth!

I just got off the phone with the wonderful Mr. M who is up in the land of a million cornfields (also known as Illinois) and was reminded of the creative cob that I bit into last night at the Nido house! Corn on the cob is one of my favorite of the fresh summer produce. I love the way the kernels burst when I bite into the cob- there is nothing like the sweet taste of crisp and newly picked corn. Who cares if the kernels get stuck in your teeth and you look like a messy kid after eating it. Just be sure keep some dental floss and a napkin nearby for an easy clean up.

As I have made clear, I love discovering new and creative ways to indluge in and enjoy my favorite flavors. Last night while eating with my family, we got a little crafty with our corn and put a new twist on our corn!

For "mexi-corn", simply melt butter, and use a kitchen brush to lightly coat the cob. Sprinkle with salt and for that clever little twist, sprinkle with a wedge of lime! Fresh cracked pepper can be added for a slight extra spice! You will be pleasantly surprised and your basic corn on the cob will have just gotten an enthusiastic and spirited makeover.

Monday, September 7, 2009

A Little "Byrdie" Told Me...

After relaxing and satisfying long weekend, I always find it a bit more of a challenge to face the week with open arms and maneuver myself back into my weekday routine. That extra weekend day almost puts me in "put me on a tropical island with my polka dot bikini and a good book" vacation mentality. Alas, the birth of a new week is before us and I thougt that a little bit of an uplift would be most welcomed.

Every once in awhile I come across some written words that tug at my heart strings and give me warm fuzzies. I am one of "those" that keeps a written journal of quotes and words that have crossed my path from time to time. My sweet friend Mary Katherine Byrd keeps this little saying by her bed and I just love it. She sent it to me the other day it left me feeling refreshed and ready to go on with the rest of my day with a positive mentality and a little something extra to think about.

Today will be a better day

Because of you.

Today, in some way you

Will make someone’s life easier.

Your smile will help

Someone find theirs.

Your concern will remind

Someone they are loved.

Your words will lift someone up or steer

Them in the right direction.

Today, when people count their blessings,

One of them will be you!

Happy Labor Day...make it a beautiful week!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

I'm in Movie Love

"I'll cook my way through Julia Child's cookbook, and write a blog about it". The first time I saw the trailer for this movie I literally got goosebumps. Since then I have been dying to see this movie and thankfully I have some dear freinds who are foodies like myself and joined me in this culinary cinematic experience. Julia Child is a household name and after watching this movie and learning more about her life, I am ashamed that a food junkie like myself did not know more than her distinctive voice and her significant presence on televised cooking shows. This woman was extraordinary and her story is so inspiring. Equally inspiring was that of Julie Powell, the cubicle worker by day who found that cooking not only provided a cretive outlet for her but it was something she truly had a passion for. When daily in the working world was not inspiring to her and she decided she needed a challenge to stimulate her creativity and drive her newfound passion...her solution? Cooking through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking and tracking her progress with a blog. (hmmm sound kind of familiar?!) These two parallel stories provide 2 hours of delicious entertainment and inspiration for all. Not to mention it made me want to lock myself up in my kitchen all day and cook up culinary dreams come true.

If you love something, find a way to integrate and weave it into the daily routine of what you are used to on a routine basis. Routine is comfortable and is merely what we are used to. Travel outside the usual box and discover what makes you tick. What is it that you are so excited about that you can hardly contain yourself. You will be surprised at how fulfilling it can be to present yourself with a new challenge that derives from something you are incredibly passionate about. Just do it. What are you waiting for?

And if you mind is running wild and you don't know where to start...just take a picture (or a bite). And blog about it.

Peace & Love

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Hello September, Please Fill my cup with Fall!

Dear September, oh how I love you. You have finally arrived and with your graceful entrance you have surprised Charlotte with a definitive crispness in the air and the promise of a gorgous new season. Its that time of the year when the air feels a little bit fresher, the sky seems a little bit bluer (is that a word?!) and the sun shines a little bit brighter. I love the start of a fresh season upon us but to me, there is always something more enchanting about fall. Summer is fun. All about fun. Spring is refreshing and has a sweet innocence about it. Winter is cold and if you're lucky you usually see that glistening white stuff. But fall? There is a unique charm about it.

The unseasonably cooler weather has made its way to the Queen City this week and my heart is aflutter. Pumpkin spice in all forms has started to peer out from hibernation and has made its way back to Starbucks and Panera this week. To me, there is no flavor that better encompasses the wonder and magic of fall. It's a spicy, nutty, yet buttery goodness that can make any mouth smile. The return of pumpkin spice as it peers out and spreads it love to all pumpkin lovers alike is only a tiddly bit of my extreme passion for the flavors of fall and the cooler months to come. It's time for the crunch of the leaves beneath your feet and walking outside each morning to a clear blue sky and a light breeze with just the right amount of chill. It's time for pumpkins in all shapes, sizes and flavors (pumpkin muffins, pumpkin pie, pumpkin scones, pumpkin ale, pumpkin bars, pumpkin roll, pumpkin bread, pumpkin gnocchi, and pumpkin spice lattes). It's time for cranberry orange muffins and fresh picked apples so crisp that you feel as though you have just brushed your teeth after eating them. It's time for drives on the Blue Ridge Parkway and football Saturdays cheering on my 3 time National Champion AppState Mountaineers. It's time to celebrate a 28 year marriage (september 12) between two of the most admirable, amazing and remarkable people that I will ever know (I love you Mom & Dad!). It's time for early Sunday dinners and raking up gigantic leaves. Then jumping in them with the ones that you love. It's time for baked apples and cinnamon and spice and all of the flavors that make your tastebuds tingle and dance. Its time to get ready for the South Park Turkey Trot and start thinking about the new and exciting menu for this year's Nido Thanksgiving feast. It's time for candy corn in mass quantities and eating cinnamon and sugar donuts that melt in your mouth at Parmenter's Cider Mill. It's time for favorite jeans and college hoodies and jewel tone flats...always jewel tone flats. It's time for hayrides and corn mazes and sipping on mulled apple cider by a bonfire. It's time for scarecrows sitting on haystacks and chilly nights...then that means its time to snuggle. It's this time of year that reminds me how much I love Boone. And the North Carolina Mountains. And our very own mountain man, Yosef, in his fist pumping stance on Stadium Drive. And as I enjoy all of the intricate delights that come with the fall, I can't help but squeal in anticipation of what is to quickly follow in fall's it too early to start the Christmas music!?
Welcome fall, I'm so happy that you're (unofficially) here!