Out and About in NC: Leigh and Santa's Favorite Local Finds

The hustle and bustle of the holidays are finally here. While out shopping this holiday, I found some cute things that I thought I would share with you. Other than ordering from the American Girl online store, I was able to purchase all of my family gifts at small businesses this year. I avoided malls, and really had a blast shopping my local community. Honestly, it made shopping fun for me.  I spoke with Santa, and told him about my finds. He says he will make sure some local things are in his sleigh. He loved my ideas.

Local Shopping Finds in Raleigh, N.C. ; Santa

Here are some things I spotted along my shopping  journey. I thought these handmade soaps were hysterical. The soaps smell delicious and part of the proceeds go to the Apex Historical Society. I found these in Write Image in Cary, N.C.  Santa got a kick of the Old Fart one since he's been around for so long.

Home made Old Fart Soap at Write Image in Cary, N.C.

I also spotted these picturesque coasters at Whisk in Waverly Place this year. They are scenes of places in Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill. Second Empire Restaurant and Tavern is special to me because that is where Will and I had our wedding reception.

Picturesque coasters of RDU scenes at Whisk Carolina in Waverly Place

When you're in need of a soda and taffy fix, the Rocket Fizz in Cary, N.C. is the place to be in N.C.  You could drink a different soda a day for an entire year, and still not scratch the surface. It's about the only place to find The Flying Cauldron's Butterbeer and the Bean Boozled game from Harry Potter. Will you get stinky socks or coconut? The beans look the same.

Flying Cauldron ButterBeer and other sodas at Rocket Fizz in Cary, N.C.

I thought these tea towels at the Purple Polka Dot in Cary were funny. Will jokes that I never step into our yard.

Cute tea towels at Purple Polka Dot in Cary, N.C.

I attended an open house for Lumina Clothing in Raleigh. a menswear shop. All the clothes are designed locally by the owners, and are made in America. I was impressed, and am determined to get Will in there in 2015.  Santa was curious to know if they made his size. Sure, Santa.....Lumina can custom-make you a new suit.

Raleigh designed menswear at Lumina Clothing

Videri Chocolate Factory in downtown Raleigh is getting national praise for its chocolate. I worked on a story for Visit Raleigh this month, and I think the flagship four chocolate bars need to be in every one's stocking this year. Santa thought the sipping chocolate would be good for his flask in his sleigh.

Flagship Bars at Videri Chocolate in Raleigh, N.C.

As you know, I love craft beer. I stopped in Tasty Beverage, and decided a six-pack of local, North Carolina beers would be great under the tree, too. For wine lovers, Wine Authorities in Raleigh and Great Grapes in Cary, N.C. have wines for every price point, and staff are easy to help you select the perfect bottle.

Local beers can be found at Tasty Beverage in Raleigh, N.C.

Gather in Cary, N.C is a great one-stop shop for curated, local goods. If you are looking to discover some of North Carolina's best then this is a place to go. Santa picked up some Nello pasta sauce for Mrs. Claus and some peppermint bark for his hard working elves.

Local, curated N.C. goods at Gather in Cary, N.C.

Happy + Hale is a great tiny eatery in downtown Raleigh. This restaurant makes it easy to get your greens. They make their own juice daily, and bottle it for customers.  I think a gift certificate for that person who loves to eat healthy would be a good bet under the Christmas tree.  Santa thought this was a good idea for him to go on a juice kick after eating so many cookies on Christmas Eve.

Homemade juice at happy +Hale in Raleigh

My favorite Chapel Hill distillery has a new whiskey out just in time for the holidays. TOPO Organic Spirits can be found at local ABC stores. Christmas just isn't Christmas with TOPO spirits. Right, Santa! They even made a signature drink for you this holiday.

TOPO Spirits

A gift certificate for afternoon tea at the Washington Duke Inn in Durham, N.C. would be special for the tea lover on your list. Santa loves Devonshire cream on his scone.

Tea at Washington Duke Inn

And for the ultimate foodie in your life, nothing would be more special than having Chef Colin Bedford at the Fearrington House Inn cook for you. It was one of the best meals I've had this year.

Fearrington House Restaurant

Other restaurant/bakery gift certificates to consider: Tupelo Honey Cafe in Cameron Village, B.Good in Raleigh's North Hills, Midtown Grille in North Hill's, Toast Cafe of Cary, BREW Coffee Bar, and LucetteGrace, a new pastry shop in downtown Raleigh. Santa and I love food.

LucetteGrace Pastry Shop in Raleigh, N.C.

And finally, if you are wanting to pamper that lady or even that special guy in your life then look no further than the Spa at the Umstead. The prices are not too much more than local area day spas ( I had to educate my husband on this just this week) and the lounge areas are far superior than any day spa in the triangle. It's money well-spent for a very luxurious experience. Clear your calendar and stay in the lounge area for as long as you wish. It's just a great as the treatment itself.  Santa thinks he may go there in the New Year because his back always aches from carrying all of those toys down the chimney on Christmas Eve.

The Umstead Hotel and Spa in Cary, N.C.

Also, consider giving the ultimate Foodie Gift, a ticket to TASTE 2015. I'm excited to partner with TASTE this year as a media partner. TASTE is a seasonal culinary experience held in Durham and Chapel Hill, N.C. Many new events have already been added to the calendar this year in addition to the Grand Tasting that is held in April. For the first time this year, TASTE will be hosting a New Year's Eve Party for the first time.

Happy Holidays from the HinesSight Blog.   And as always, give the gift of travel.  You can find all of my travels under my travel section

Ho! Ho! Ho! 


Asheville Christmas Cats and Cozy Inns in N.C.

Asheville cat stars for the Christmas video by Explore Asheville.

I fell in love with an adorable cat Christmas video from Asheville, N.C. this holiday. Getting 12 cats to cooperate on camera is certainly not an easy task. I talked with Asheville tourism staff for an article on Examiner.com about how this holiday video came to be this year. They say that after experiencing the hours they put into filming this video, the term "herding cats" has a whole new meaning to them. The Asheville Christmas story starring finicky felines and Santa is on Examiner. com. Be sure to click over to article to see the video. You will not want to miss it.  I love the fat cat with the shop local sign. I think that kitty may be my favorite.

The Asheville Bed and Breakfast Association; The Lion and the Rose B and B.
The Lion and the Rose B and B in Asheville, N.C. 

There is no doubt that Asheville, N.C. is a great place to visit year-round, but it is especially quaint during the holiday season.

Now that I have kids, I tend to stay in hotels when I travel, but I was a big luxury Bed and Breakfast fan before having kids. Many bed and breakfast inns can be kid-friendly though so don't rule them out for a quaint experience when you travel.  A Bed and Breakfast Inn is about as local as you can get when staying somewhere on a trip.  The Innkeepers know their town better than anyone. Just be sure to check each Inn's policies to see what age the inn may welcome children. Some Inns are better suited for couples. Each Inn's policy section will state the best recommended age to have children as guests. What I think would be delightful would be an entire extended family booking an Inn for a weekend. Then you could leave the room doors open and it would be like staying with family with a nice aunt and uncle to cook everyone breakfast.

The Beaufort Inn in Asheville, N.C.
The Beaufort Inn in Asheville, N.C.

Since I am a very picky traveler when it comes to my lodging, I make sure that Bed and Breakfast Inns are certified by some sort of organization. Here's why. It requires the Inns to meet a certain level of standards for its guests. Several Inns in Asheville, North Carolina belong to the Asheville Bed and Breakfast Association. An association like this would be a good place to start for your travel research. When booking an Inn,  I would rely heavily on other guest reviews, overall appearance of the Inn, and its member associations. If an Inn has a Four Diamond Award by AAA then I take extra notice because then I know the service will reflect that of a very small, boutique hotel.

Sweet Biscuit Inn, an Asheville B and B.
Sweet Biscuit Inn in Asheville, N.C. 

For the first time ever, members of the Asheville Bed and Breakfast Association have united to offer a holiday package through Jan. 3, 2014. Guests will also be treated to their Innkeeper's favorite cookies and a local shopping pass that is filled with discounts to the Innkeepers favorite recommendations in the area from boutiques to coffee shops. I love that idea.

Sweet Biscuit Inn is a family-friendly B and B
Sweet Biscuit Inn in Asheville, N.C. welcomes families 

I've done some of  the children policy searching for you. My family pick is Sweet Biscuit Inn. This Inn welcomes children of all ages, even infants. The innkeepers provide roll away beds, portable cribs, and can recommend babysitting services.  The innkeeper is a France-trained chef. Scones and cinnamon rolls are on the menu at times. Even though I've not stayed here yet, I think this would be my pick for families.

Get cozy in Asheville this holiday or this winter. And on another note, remember that Bed and Breakfast rates include breakfast which is a always great travel savings.

Happy Holidays and Happy Traveling!


Baking with Kids: Easy Sugar Cookie Recipe

Kid-friendly and easy Sugar Cookie recipe for the holidays or anytime of year.

There are a few Christmas goodies that I make during the holidays, such as the buckeye brownies I featured on the blog a few years ago. I found the recipe to replace my Dad's buckeye candy recipe because I just can't seem to get his recipe right. I find the whole process rather labor intensive, and the brownie recipe is a little easier. I have also started making a chocolate marshmallow type fudge each holiday.

Even though I bake some, I have never made homemade cookies. I'm guilty of popping in Pillsbury ready made cookies into the oven, and saying, "Happy Holidays!"

Sugar Cookie recipe

Liza wanted to make cookies this year. She really likes my food blogging friend, Stacey Sprenz, of CookEatLife.com because of their curly-hair connection. Stacey was my lifesaver this year because she volunteered to make cookies with Liza so that she could hang out with us one afternoon.

HinesSight Blog and CookEatLife.com; Sugar Cookie  Collaboration

She spent three hours at our home this week, and their labor of love resulted in some fun times, and some delicious cookies. Stacey's recipe was handed down to her from her Mom. The ingredients are all-natural and simple.

Stacey believes the secret to all the cookie goodness is to use pure vanilla extract in the dough, and pure almond extract in the icing.

Kid-Friendly and Easy Sugar Cookie Recipe

1 cup salted butter (softened)
2/3 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
pinch of salt (1/4 tsp)
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

Cream butter and sugar together with the paddle attachment of a mixer.  Add vanilla extract and the egg. Continue mixing until thoroughly mixed together.  Add pinch of salt and the flour.  Mix until it forms a dough. Wrap dough in cling wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.  

Preheat oven to 350 degree F.  Remove dough from refrigerator at least 30 minutes before making the cookies.

Cut the dough ball in half (you will repeat these steps with each half of the dough).  On a floured surface, roll out dough until it is about 1/4” thick.  Cut cookies using holiday cookie cutters.

Easy Sugar Cookie Recipe

Remove excess dough from around each cutout and place in a pile.  Using a thin spatula, move the cookies to a baking sheet.  Bake cookies for 8 minutes rotating the pans after 4 minutes.  Allow to cool for 1-2 min. on the baking sheet and then move to cooling rack.

Homemade Sugar Cookies

Take the pile of excess dough and using your hands, knead into a ball.  Place on a floured surface and roll out.  Repeat the above steps.  You can do this at least one more time with the same dough.  Discard excess dough once it has been rolled out twice.  

Kids love baking

Sugar Cookie Icing

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
2 tbs. milk
2 tbs salted butter
1/2 tsp. almond extract

Melt the butter, then add it to a bowl containing the powdered sugar.  Add the milk and almond extract.  Stir with a spatula until all of the sugar is incorporated.  The mixture should we slightly stiff and smooth.  Add more milk 1/2 tsp. at a time if the mixture is too thick.  Divide the icing into three bowls and add food coloring of choice.  Place into individual piping bags with various decorating tips.

Happy Holidays. I just served coffee and chatted, but I have to say that I have enjoyed eating these yummy cookies very much. All the credit here goes to Stacey and Liza. I'm just the writer and eater. 

HinesSight Blog and CookEatLife.com collaborate on Sugar Cookie Project

Thanks Stacey for our holiday memories. I hope you're available next year because I think you are a hard act to follow. 

Stacey will be teaching several cooking classes for kids and adults with the Holly Springs Park and Recreation Department in 2015. Classes include Breakfast for Dinner, Pasta Making, and Healthy Soups. 


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