All Dolled Up Labneh Dip and Zaatar Pita Chips: A Lebanese Recipe Perfect My Holiday Gathering

Every family has holiday traditions. Perhaps, it is picking out a Christmas tree or always serving hot cocoa to Santa on Christmas Eve. For my family, ours is apparently a tree-trimming gathering. Last year, I didn't host one because we were still in the middle of our move to our current house. By skipping a year, I learned that I must have established a post-children "family tradition." My Mom told last week that she could not believe I did not do the tree trimming meal last year because she looks forward to the tree-trimming more than Christmas. 
Honestly, I think it's the chicken tetrazzini I usually make with my wintry green salad with cranberries and citrus that she missed the most.  But, regardless, our tree-trimming gatherings are usually quite the crazy family affairs.The kids usually fight, an ornament gets broken, Will usually complains I'm not helping enough with the tree and well, you all know the struggles with those darn strands of lights. One bulb is out every single year. 
This year with my being out of town, we needed to trim the tree on a weeknight and I just could not get a home-cooked meal together. One thing my family can count on is me mixing it up a little. No doubt about it, my personality tests say I'm quirky and that translated into Southern BBQ and Lebanese food. All items were take-out except for a Lebanese dip I made from a recipe given to me by Simone Saleh. Her family owns the restaurant Sassool Cafe with locations in Cary and North Raleigh. 

I interviewed Simone for a Live #OutaboutNC moment where she pulled things from the restaurant's new market area for this labneh dip recipe. She also gave me insight into Lebanese food.  In the live moment, we talked more about how labneh is used. I had never tasted it before and it's difficult to find except in specialty stores.  It also can be used as a substitute for recipes that use sour cream.  It is rich, creamy and delicious. It serves as the base for "All Dolled Up Labneh Dip" along with mint, olives, olive oil and zaatar spice. 

Labneh Dip with Zaatar Pita Chips

The pita chips are so easy to make, but Zaatar is the secret ingredient along with Lebanese olive oil. With Simone's wisdom, I learned that quality olive oil is most important for salads and such. One should not pay top dollar for olive oil then saute with it. Save your money there. Where has she been all my life? She suggested grapeseed oil for frying. My time with her was fantastic and I learned so much about Mediterranean cuisine. The video below details a second interview we did that incorporated more of Sassool's new market area. And you will not believe what she had to say about one of my favorite dishes, grape leaves so watch this video when you have time. 

Most of the items that I used for this appetizer can be found in the Sassool market. I really liked it and have found a new found love for pomegranate seeds which is the topping for the dip. 
All Dolled Up Labneh Dip and Zaatar Pita Chips

A Lebanese dip used for entertaining

Ingredients: Italicized items can be found now at Sassool. 
For Labneh Dip:
·         16oz labneh (Byblos brand recommended)
·         2 tablespoons of chopped fresh mint leaves
·         2 tablespoons of chopped pistachios
·         1 tablespoon of chopped pitted Kalamata olives
·         pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
·         1/4 cup of Zaatar spice
·         1/4 cup  Saifan brand Extra Virgin Olive Oil
·         1/4 cup of pomegranate seeds

For the Zaatar Pita Chips:
·         1 pack pita bread, 4 rounds, cut into wedges
·         2 tablespoons of Zaatar spice
·         1 tsp salt
·         2 Tablespoons of Saifan Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1.       Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Start by making the Zaatar Pita Chips, open the pocket of each pita round, cut up each side 8 wedges .  In a small bowl, mix the zaatar spice and olive oil.
2.       Lay the pita bread wedges in a single layer on a baking sheet and brush them with the Zaatar, salt and olive oil mixture. Bake for 10 minutes or until golden and crispy.
3.       Put pistachios on a small baking pan as well and let them toast while pita chips are baking.  Allow time for pistachios to cool before adding to labneh dip.
4.       In a small bowl, add in chopped mint, toasted pistachios, chopped olives, pepper flakes, zaatar spice, pepper flakes and olive oil. Mix the topping ingredients well.
5.       Spread your labneh in a shallow bowl and spoon the topping ingredients over the top of the labneh and allow it to drip from the sides. Sprinkle the pomegranate seeds on top.
6.       Serve with warm crispy pita chips 

Blogger Leigh Hines shares the Lebanese Labneh Dip she got from Sassool Cafe in Cary, N.C.

My tree-trimming gathering was crazy as ever this year. Andy, our new poodle, joined in on the chaos.

Liza still had Uncle Mitch to pick her up to put the ornaments up higher.

Hines Tree Trimming

And MiMa got a meal.


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All Dolled Up Labneh Dip and Zaatar Pita Chips are a Lebanese entertaining staple. This recipe using labneh as the base and includes Zaatar Spice, Black Olives, Olive Oil, and Pomegranate Seeds.

Disclosure: #OutaboutNC Live Moment was sponsored and the majority of the items for the recipe were complimentary from the new Sassool market. 


The Holiday Gift Guide for Practical People

Now is the time that the holiday frenzy is in full swing.  It's as if people flip their calendars to December 1st and the inner crazy in all of us rears its ugly head. Traffic backs up. People honk. It takes you twenty minutes to go two miles and longer if you are near a shopping center. We really try our hardest to be festive but we have to so much stuff on our "to-do" list this month. 

Will's holiday party is tonight. I'm going to muster up the energy to put on my make-up and perhaps a little sparkle. It's Friday night!. I get up at 5:30 a.m. By 8 p.m, I just want to go to bed. I know you think because I'm a blogger that I'm on the go a lot. I'm a hermit. My happiest is when I'm on the computer doing exactly what I'm doing right now. I schedule my work events very sparingly, and in my private life, I'm as bland as Britain's food. 

But tonight, the party is at one of Raleigh's local breweries, Trophy Brewing, and it's one of my favorite breweries in North Carolina. Because of that tidbit and the fact that I will be away from the kids for awhile, I have a little more pep in my step and the energy to do a holiday gift guide that I will call The Guide for Practical People. 

Holiday Gift Guide for Practical People. From Experiences to items to keep your sponge clean at all times. Gifts that practical people want.

Cleaning Service Gift Certificate

#1, Do you remember the old ads where someone suggested a vacuum for a gift?  I don't know how you feel, but I better not see a vacuum with a bow under the tree.  Oddly enough, now that we have our dog. Will mentioned that we needed to own a carpet steamer again. Like most pet owners, we've had a few mishaps. However, my suggestion instead of a broom, mop, duster, or vacuum under the tree, put a cleaning service gift certificate under there. I will tell you right now as I finish this sentence, surrounded by dust on my desk, I would be happy to see it. And if your spouse really likes a clean house then it's a win for he/she, too. 

Magazine Subscription, Local Paper Online Media Subscription, or TV/Movie Watching apps

#2. How many of you go to a store like Barnes and Noble, and look at the magazines? As a blogger, it would be crazy not to tell you that I love to read things online, but there is nothing like turning the page of a glossy magazine. I pick them up at the supermarket, too. Every recipe always looks so good. But, I'm too practical to pay $6 an issue so when it's my turn at check-out so I put the magazine back and read magazines at the doctor's office or hair salon. Subscription services are a gift idea for practical people. My Mom likes English Garden. She won't order anything online so she asked me to renew for her because the price was good. Andy, our poodle is now giving it to MiMa for Christmas. LOL. Magazines don't work too well in my own home though. Will hates the clutter because I want to keep something for future reference. In my household, online media subscriptions are good bets. Here in Raleigh, the News and Observer's social media team does a great job of promoting articles and every time, I go to read one, my free limit is up. With so many things charging now just to watch TV, I think it is easy to find subscriptions to give as simple gifts or stocking stuffers. 

Travel and Local Experiences
#3 I am an advocate of giving experiences as gifts. I ask for a spa gift certificate from a local spa every year for my birthday which is also this month. I don't use it right away either because life always gets too busy, but then I like to make time to go to the spa this month when life is just chaotic. Experiences for gift giving can be anything. From dinner, movie tickets, or an overnight hotel stay in your hometown or in another town.  The sky is the limit here. 

Hanky Panky Underwear make great practical gifts

Socks and Underwear
#4 These items are about as practical as it gets. But, I mean nice socks and good underwear. My favorite winter sock company is Smartwool and they are not cheap. They are comfy and keep your feet warm. My favorite pair of underwear is Hanky Panky, and it's not cheap either. With this underwear, there is no bulging or any cutting in. If you're really skinny, you may not have that problem, but at 48 and a mother of two, I like a soft, smooth side. I've bought imitation and they just don't last like a good pair of Hanky Panky.  

Kitchen Items
#5 Decades ago, I could not imagine someone giving me kitchen items as a gift. But now, I spend about as much time in the kitchen prepping meals as I do anywhere else in my home. When I was at University Place the other day, I saw some great kitchen gadgets. One being a zester.  I don't have an easy zester utensil that looks like a grater. A lot of recipes call for the zest of lemon. That's one recipe step where I fail.  I have never zested a thing properly in my life. I also saw the herb stripper. in person. and it seems useful. I cook a lot with Hello Fresh,(Use my code T54LKR and save $40 on your first box) and they send fresh herbs with their meal kits often. It is so hard to strip rosemary or thyme from their stems.  

The SpongeBath System kills 99.99 percent of bacteria on your sponge to keep it smelling fresh and clean. It also tidys up your kitchen.

Another item for the kitchen is the Spongebath system. I'm not certain how many people would think right away, "Oh, I need this right now!" at the price of $49, but it serves a great, practical function of cleaning your sponges without the use of harsh chemicals, which I like especially since I use so many chemical-free household items. I was gifted one last week and you can watch this live video on the day I set it up for use in my home. I really like it on my counter. It looks better than having a sponge sitting out, but the best part is knowing you are wiping your counters after a sitting in a solution that kills 99.99 percent of bacteria. Will seems to like it thus far and the sponge looks and smells fine after a week so far. The only upkeep after buying the system is to buy the cleanser approximately every two to three months. 

Do you have any other practical gifts to add? Good craft beer and wine are always good, too. 

FTC Disclosure: Referral links are in this gift guide post and this gift guide in which referral/commission income can be generated if any purchases are made from this website. The Spongebath System was given to me complimentary.  Thank you for supporting this blog's affiliates. 


#OutaboutNC: University Place in the NC College Town of Chapel Hill has More than the Famous Store Southern Season

Many people outside of North Carolina have heard about one of the state's best cooking schools and gourmet food store, Southern Season. It was founded in Chapel Hill in 1975. This unique store made shopping local cool before shopping local even knew it was cool. Southern Season is a North Carolina local goods tradition with specialty gift baskets, wine, beer and so much more.

Southern Season Gift Basket from Chapel Hill, N.C.

Southern Season is the anchor store for University Place, an upscale shopping and entertainment district within minutes of the UNC-Chapel Hill campus.

#OutaboutNC Guide to University Place in Chapel Hill, N.C. an upscale shopping and entertainment destination.

When you live outside of Chapel Hill like I do, you may be guilty of visiting Southern Season and never hitting the other stores while you are there. I learned last week via my Live OutaboutNC moments that I've been missing out on some great stores in the triangle.

I was so impressed with University Place as a local shopping destination. It's a jewel in the heart of the triangle that makes a great shopping experience. After visiting, I'm a firm believer that you could wrap up many of the gifts on your holiday list within two hours. You may need more time if you are slow to decide because there are a lot of great things to find at this Chapel Hill destination.

UNC College Related Gifts

When I was in college in the early 90s, William Travis Jewelry and other stores like Fine Feathers, Frank Gallery, and Peacock Alley were in front of my dorm, Granville Towers, on Franklin Street. I remember looking at the displays of William Travis designs and dreaming of "one day". The wedding rings were gorgeous.  All of these stores recently relocated to University Place after their home was torn down to make way for Target on Franklin and high dollar real estate for students and professionals. These unique local stores have found a new home at University Place.

Peacock Alley Gifts has beautiful curated gifts for anyone on your list. I met up with store owner, Betsy Hayes, and she told me that this wrap (Pictured below in Red) will be hot for the holiday season.

Beautiful  Gifts at Peacock Alley in University Place in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Peacock Alley is an elegant store with many price points.

Frank Gallery is hosting a pop-up shop at University Place during the holiday season and the art gallery will have its permanent home in University Place in February.

Frank Art Gallery will be in University Place full-time in February 2018.

Night Gallery/Branching Out is a store where you can find anything on your list. Owner Pam Williams can't narrow it down to one niche so she has a little something for everyone. She has antiques, clothing, lingerie, Christmas decor. Basically, you name it. She has it in the store.

Night Gallery/Branching Out is a store where you can find most anything from antiques to clothing to soaps and socks.

This year, soaps and socks seem to be selling like hot cakes for the holidays.

Socks are a popular gift item

I bought Bloody Mary mix and my favorite underwear, Hanky Panky.  That's about as eclectic as it gets.

Kitchenworks in University Place in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Kitchenworks is a local store that has been in business at University Place for decades. It's a small shop that is filled to the brim with anything you may need in your kitchen. I spoke to Liz Keller to see what is popular for the holidays in the kitchen this year. I loved all that she picked, and on the store's website, they list even more favorites.

Gerrie & Co is a curated gift and jewelry shop which has been in business at University Place for nine years. During a Facebook live, I interviewed Katherine Nunn and picked out a few items from her store to highlight. The jewelry sold here is wearable art.  The glass bracelets from Michael Vincent Michaud are simply stunning.

Bath balms are on many girl's holiday wish list. I have one little girl in my home that tells me she will bathe more frequently if her bath includes a bath balm. My biggest complaint about the beauty industry is all the hidden fragrances and toxic ingredients in many products.

Bath Balms from Be Pure Beauty in University Place

Be Pure Beauty prides itself on natural, pure and safe ingredients for your skin. I interviewed shop owner, April Manring in a Facebook Live Video,  who gave me an inside peek at what you can find in her store, and the best part of all is that all products are safe and that is not the case with most cosmetics on the market as I've learned with my blog partnership with Beautycounter, but not everyone likes to shop online for cosmetics. It's important to have stores that you can walk into and know you are purchasing non-toxic cosmetics.  Manring has even created her own beauty line. This a store in Chapel Hill that you really need to visit.

For all items for kids, Glee Kids, and The Red Hen offer upscale clothing, toys, shoes, and gifts.  Glee Kids carries the comfy Tea Collection and fabulous pajamas by Hatley.

Glee Kids in University Place

And if you stayed with me in this post long enough, I mentioned a gift for the unmarried uncle with no children. Surprise him with a gift certificate to  Silverspot Cinema and dinner at Trilogy. This theatre is about as lux as it gets. It's posh, intimate and the variety of movies on the big screen are Blockbusters to Independents to classic oldies. It even broadcasts live theatre. This place is impressive. And would be a special night for anyone.

Trilogy Restaurant at Silverspot Cinema in Chapel Hill, N.C.

I was at University Place for two hours for my live #OutaboutNC moment and there were many stores that I did not have time to visit on this trip. No doubt, University Place definitely has a lot more shopping destinations than just Southern Season, its anchor store.  My advice is to budget more than two hours here because you will want to soak up all the destination has to offer. And just so you know, University Place has the only Chic-Fil-A in Chapel Hill. There are no self-standing chic-fil-a's in this college town.

Want to Go:
University Place
201 S. Estes Street
Chapel Hill, N.C.

FTC Disclosure: The #OutaboutNC Facebook Live moment was sponsored by University Place. Opinions in the piece are by HinesSightBlog and OutaboutNC founder, Leigh Powell Hines, and are her own and not influenced by University Place.  Leigh is based in Raleigh, N.C.  


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