4.27.2012

Back Porch Scampi: An Easy 20-minute Meal

I’ve talked about feta cheese, shrimp, and pasta before on the blog when I shared my dad Grover’s recipe with you last summer.  I love those flavors together.  But today’s recipe for “Let’s Eat Y’all”, even though it has some common ingredients, is deliciously different.

This Greek Scampi can easily be prepared in 20 minutes. 

It also got a thumb’s up from an elementary school-aged kid, who is as fickle as the wind.  He loves one meal and detests the next one, even though it was a meal that I swear he loved two weeks before.    

Keeping in line with my new motto of simplicity in the kitchen, you can get this meal on the table in about 20 minutes or less.  It’s the perfect busy weeknight meal.  Whether you eat it on the back porch is up to you, but most of our evenings end up there, and we eat out there on a lot of spring nights.  If we don’t dine al fresco, then we at least dance al fresco.

Some al fresco dancing


Without further adieu…
Back Porch Scampi

 Ingredients:
1 teaspoon of olive oil
5 garlic cloves, minced (I used a tablespoon of prepared minced garlic)
2 14.5-ounce cans of diced tomatoes with basil, garlic and oregnano, slightly drained
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley (I used a dash of dried parsley in the pantry)
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined ( I used frozen cooked shrimp, thawed)
4 ounces crumbled feta cheese
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon of fresh ground pepper
1 9-ounce package of angel hair pasta

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium heat.  Saute garlic briefly before adding tomatoes and 1/4 cup of parsley ( I omitted the parsley here since I did not have fresh, and chose to add it later as a garnish).  Reduce heat and simmer 5 to 10 minutes. Add shrimp, and cook 5 minutes if your shrimp is fresh.  I used frozen cooked shrimp so I tossed them in the pan to heat.  Pour shrimp mixture into 9 X 13-inch baking dish.  Sprinkle with feta cheese.  Bake for 10 minutes.

Cook pasta according to directions. Remove shrimp from oven.  Sprinkle with remaining parsley, lemon juice and pepper.  Serve over the angel hair pasta. 


And speaking of porches, if you live anywhere near Chapel Hill, North Carolina, then the Carolina Inn starts its Fridays on the Front Porch season today, April 27.  It will run through October 12.  I cannot wait to attend one of these casual, fun evenings with live music on the Inn’s beautiful, historic front porch and lawn.  You already know their food is divine from my post on their Spring Menu in March. For more information, visit: http://carolinainn.esitetoolbox.com/product/fridays-on-the-front-porch

Have a great weekend! 
If you have a recipe then link it up today:

4.23.2012

To Blog or Not to Blog?

I think you know my answer to that headline, but before we get into the nitty-gritty of the question, I must share with you that I felt a bit of panic when my son’s teacher told me in a school conference last week that there were only 32 days left of school.



Life as I currently know it is about to change.

I got a taste of what life was like without school and structure over Spring Break.  Some of it is good.

I actually look forward to the lazy summer mornings.  Yea!

But I will go ahead and say that the schedule will not be good for this little blog. 

So where does that leave us?  I’m too invested to say goodbye to blogging, but I’ve got some changes up my sleeve.

I started this blog to create a professional writing portfolio again and also to melt a little bit of stress in my life.  I love that it’s a blank canvas for me to be creative and to tell you a story.  

I love that it has enabled me to pursue my interest in travel writing, particularly in the hotel market. 

I love the new friendships that it has brought into my life, and I love the new opportunities that have come my way since publishing my first post.

For the past year and a half, though, I treated this blog as the new baby in the house, and nurturing it has almost been a full-time job.  When I started it January 2011, I had an infant who took TWO naps a day and a preschooler who was gone every morning of the week. 
Some days she won't nap at all now. 



I had time to write.  I had time to be creative, but I still had time to do the family things I needed to do.  Laundry didn’t sit for days in the laundry room like it does now so I can tend to blog business.

Little by little, I’ve had less and less time to produce the quality of writing that I expect from myself for this space, but yet, I’ve still tried to keep up with an unrealistic pace of publishing posts by burning the midnight oil. 

I write a lot on the weekends, but my dream has come true, and the travel side of my blog is taking off to new places, so to speak. My weekends are going to be a lot busier this summer.  But it’s not just about the writing.  Photo editing and uploading posts take time, too.  I’m still going to post in this space, but the key will be quality over quantity.  There will be no schedule, and I will post at least once a week.

Some of you may even crave glimpses of the story in the making before it even makes it way to this space.  To you, that may be more fun than what I do here.  Some things I do don’t even make it to this space at all.

I’ve got a solution for that.  Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or Instagram, and you’ll see a lot more of this…
"Recharging Our Parent Batteries. Going Out for Thai Food. on Saturday Night" 

And this…
"Strawberry Shortcake at @BusyBeeCafe. It was awesome!"


Or this…

"Who needs a playset when they have Daddy's tractor. I guess she'll like curls, pearls, and tractors."

I’m also excited to announce that I’m taking the blog on the road again in May.  I’ll be on-scene in the beautiful mountains of North Carolina. My family is coming along with me. It’s going to be a great trip, and I’ll have lots for you to see right as I see it.  I will be staying in a luxurious family cabin at the historic and beautiful Mast Farm Inn in Valle Crucis, North Carolina.   Mast Farm Inn is well known for its gourmet dining, and the innkeepers will be releasing a new cookbook this summer.  I can't wait to get my hands on that!

Blowing Rock, North Carolina was voted as the prettiest town in North Carolina in a recent poll.  I have been to the town before so I have to agree.  It's a charming town with shops, bistros, and the gorgeous mountains as a backdrop.  Boone, North Carolina is a little more populated year-around, and is home to Appalachian State University.  There is so much to see in this area including Grandfather Mountain, and Tweetsie Railroad.  I'll be conveniently located for the sights in the brand new Courtyard Boone Marriott which opened in January.  My kids are going to love the indoor pool. After hours of research, and reading reviews for the area,  I decided these two hotels would be the best fit for my family.  I can't wait to take you along. 

So I may get busier with school being out, but I think we’re going to have even more fun along the way.

I hope you stay on board for Summer Vacation.  The ride is going to be good.

Oh, the places we’ll go!

Hinessightblog on Social Media


I'll be back later this week.  It's not summer yet.


4.20.2012

Frivolous Friday: How do you Recharge Your Parent Batteries?

It seems like an eternity now, but I remember the days when I would take a day off from work and do whatever I wanted.  For me, that actually meant doing very little.  I would retreat in my home, watch movies, read, and, before I knew it, the day had ended.

I was never one who packed a day off from work filled with busy activities from shopping to spa to lunch to cocktails to dinner.  To me, that was more busy than fun.  If only I knew then what I know now I would have done a lot of fun, busy days, too.

Since becoming a parent, my attitude on the shopping and spa day has taken a 360-degree turn. I long for either day — pure quiet or a fun day of shopping, eating, and being pampered. Trust me, if either option were given to me on “Let’s Make A Deal,” I would consider either one like winning the lottery at this stage in my life.

As a parent, there really are no days off. 

My loves. They wear me out though. 
Sure, my schedule is a little bit more relaxed than when I was working, but I always have some type of little person by my side, in the house taking up space, and making some type of noise.  There is no mute button on the children’s voices, either.  I checked.  I was hoping to find it when I was searching for the mute button on battery-powered toys.  No such luck!

The other fun day with shopping to spa to dinner costs a lot for a parent because you have to factor in the childcare on top of the other costs.  That same $70 dollar blouse actually costs you $100 when you factor in childcare that it took to find the blouse in the first place.  That great blouse no longer looks like a great buy, does it?  But that’s our life now.  It is what it is.

But, as parents, we need to do what we need to do to recharge our batteries.  It’s imperative, or else our patience becomes thin, and we feel ragged.  I was in that state.  I had gotten to that point.

For me, an overnight without my children was the recharge I needed. 

Before my trip to the Ballantyne Hotel and Lodge in February, my husband and I had not been out of town alone in two years.  It was long overdue and such a welcomed break.

Believe it or not, I didn’t spend that time being lazy, either.  I had a jam-packed day while staying at the  in Charlotte. When I returned to Raleigh, I felt recharged.  I felt refreshed and renewed.

I desperately needed that recharging.  And I’m confident that I was a better parent because of it.  My patience was better.  The noise doesn’t bother me as badly.  I think I went way too long without recharging.  All parents need to take some time for themselves. 

I think I need to do it again. 

When was the last time you recharged? 
 How do you recharge your parent batteries?

4.18.2012

Wednesday’s Wish We Were Here: Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island

Since beach weather is upon us, I loved hearing where you like to “beach” it.  Thanks for taking the time to share your favorite spots.

Since you know that I like to pick my destinations via hotels, I thought I would let our Wednesday escape be the beautiful Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island, Florida, which is a resort that is definitely on my list once both of my kids are old enough to participate in the great kids’ program they operate during the summer. 

That’s right!

Mama wants to lounge while the kids are busy making friends and embarking on fun pirate stuff.

And who wouldn’t want to lounge here?
  
Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island is an oceanfront property
If you have not finalized your summer beach plans, then you really should consider a trip to Amelia Island, which was voted by Conde Nast readers as one of the top 10 North American Islands.  Fernandina Beach, Florida, located on Amelia Island,  is rich with Victorian-era architecture, and Spanish influences and history. Amelia Island also owns the unique distinction of being the only U.S. city to have once been under the domain of eight different nations, and is still known as the Isle of 8 Flags. 


Along the 13-mile coastline sits the beautiful and recently renovated Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island.



The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island just completed a five-year, $65 million investment with the redesign of its 445 guest rooms.  The beaches, tides, and dunes on the northeast Florida coast served as the inspiration for the new elegant coastal look.




I love the look of the new rooms

The room redesign marks the final phase of the hotel’s five-year project that added a spa, new meeting space, restaurants and beachfront activities to the resort’s prime oceanfront location.

Relaxing by the pool would be a fabulous retreat.  The hotel just opened a Tiki Bar

The Ritz-Carlton brand is rolling out the red carpet for vacationing families, and the Amelia Island property is a great example of a luxury hotel catering to its littlest guests.

The property is offering weeklong tennis camps this summer, daily fun excursions with names like Terrific Tide TUESDAY and Fantastic Fin FRIDAY, kids’ nights out so parents can have a date, and daily story-times and toddler craft events for the wee little ones.  The hotel even offers a Pirate tuck-in.  Yes, you read that right.  The kids can have a private story-time with a real-life buccaneer bearing milk, cookies, and a colorful macaw.

How do you like them cookies, matey?

The buccaneer can tuck in the kids, but he better leave me a cookie.
All images courtesy of Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island

I think the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island would be a perfect vacation spot for families, and that’s why it’s on my list.  Are you going to add the island as a must-see destination?

If you want to stay at the Ritz-Carlton like me, here are its great summer packages and offers

4.16.2012

Simplicity on Mondays: The Easiest Baked Ziti Ever

’Tis the spring season to be busy.  My son has swim lessons two nights a week and running club one day a week.  Some nights, he doesn’t even get home until after 6 p.m.

I need easy, quick, kid-friendly meals to make in a pinch.

You cannot get any easier than the baked ziti recipe that I use for my family.

Depending on your time and preferences, you can make your own sauce or use a store-bought pasta sauce.  I tend to go for the latter.

Baked Ziti
The original recipe came from a friend of mine who rarely cooks.  In fact, I think she eats out more nights a month than she has fingers.  She served this dish at her son’s birthday party years ago.  I was almost afraid to ask her for the recipe because I had tried several time-consuming baked ziti recipes, and each one just came up flat. I knew this one had to be complicated to be so good.

When I asked her for the recipe, she laughed and said, “It’s just noodles, jarred sauce, and some spices if I remember to put it in the bowl when mixing.”

She really didn’t have a recipe other than what she told me, so I went with her concept and created our version.

It’s a great dish to serve, and you will not have to slave in the kitchen on these beautiful spring days.

The Easiest Baked Ziti Ever

Ingredients:
16 oz. ziti pasta
Large container of ricotta cheese ---use at least 12 to 16 ounces. Use more if you need it. 
2 cups of parmesan cheese
2 cups of mozzarella cheese
45 ounces of spaghetti sauce (store-bought or homemade)
½ tsp of basil
½ tsp of oregano
½ tsp of garlic

Cook ziti as directed.  Mix four cups of sauce with ricotta cheese (save some sauce for later use) in large bowl.  Add spices. Add 1 and ½ cups of each cheese to cheese/sauce mixture.  Add baked ziti to bowl.  Mix together, and spread in casserole dish.  Spread remaining sauce on top of ziti.  Sprinkle with remaining cheese.  Cover with tinfoil. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes.

*This can be refrigerated before baking, but increase your cooking time to ensure that the dish gets hot. 

Have a great week. Let's keep it simple in the kitchen.

4.13.2012

Frivolous Friday: Where's Your Favorite Place to "Beach" It?

On warm weather weekends, Raleigh gets a little deserted. That's the North Carolina advantage of being able to reach the coast in just over two hours. The temperatures are expected to be as high as 85 degrees, and that means many people will start heading to the coast for a few days of beach fun.

I'm working on a feature of great seaside hotel for next week, and it has really caused me to start thinking about the beach.

A vintage beach photo circa 2008 in Topsail Beach, NC.  Mr. Cool was two. 

Let's get a beach conversation started, and salute some of our favorite coastal communities. 

Where do you like to "Beach" It?

East Coast or West Coast?
The Caribbean or Mediterranean?
The Jersey Shore or the Carolinas?
Beach House or Resort? 

Share it all with me.

In the meantime, you can revisit some of my beach vacations herehere, and here.   And next week, I'll have you really wanting to sit by the ocean with a cute little drink in your hand. 

Happy weekend!


4.12.2012

The Day Humpty Dumpty Cracked

I think God knew what he was doing when he gave children the blessing of not remembering too much before the age of 6 or 7.  Think about it.

Do you remember a lot from that early childhood time?

There is actually very little that I can pull from that time period in my life.  In fact, I don’t remember fun things like dying Easter eggs at all. 

On Good Friday, I thought I would be a good mom and do the traditional Easter craft of dying Easter eggs with the kids.

I did everything right.

I boiled eggs.

I covered the table with cloth because the box clearly said that the dye would stain anything it touched.  I put two stools together at the counter.  We were ready for this project.

Excitement built as the eggs cooled down to a temperature where we could dye our first eggs.

We started with the colors of blue and pink. We added vinegar to make the colors more vibrant.

Things went beautifully.  Our time together was filled with pleasantries and smiles.

Things were going well here.
When it was all said and done, we had two green eggs, two pink, two blue, and an orange egg.  Baby Diva chose to put stickers on her eggs, while Mr. Cool used the magic crayon to put the finishing touches on his creations.  

It was an Easter miracle. We accomplished this task with no mess and very little dye on our fingertips.  There were no tears, and we had eggs for the basket.

But then as fast as you can say “Easter egg,” the tide changed.  Mr. Cool, who loves eggs, said that he wanted to eat one.

“Why don’t you wait until tonight after your dad gets home, so he can see your masterpieces?” I replied.

He whines, “No,” while his sister stays busy putting 100 tiny stickers on her little egg.

I grab a gorgeous green, marbled egg while muttering an “are you sure?” under my breath.

The eggs
He’s sure. 

Crack! And peel. 

The crying and screaming begins as the egg begins to turn white.

“I wanted Daddy to see it!”  There is no reasoning with a stubborn 6-year-old who is crying profusely.  You would have thought he was hurt by the carrying on this child did over a peeled egg.

Quickly, I suggest we call Daddy to tell him about the egg. 

The marble-green Humpty Dumpty cannot be repaired, and, unfortunately, all the king’s men will never be able to make him lovely again.

Let’s face it. Humpty Dumpty had done been cracked and peeled.  He cannot go in the basket.  The only thing left to do is eat him.

Will answers.  Mr. Cool is hysterical, crying over a broken egg.

Before I could speak, I look over and Baby Diva grabbed an egg that still needed drying.  She was trying to peel a vibrant blue egg, and her hands are blue, and blue dye is running down her legs about to drop on the chair.

“Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!” I scream.  She erupts into tears.
My son is crying.  She’s crying.  I scream.

My husband yells, “What happened?”

I yell, “The great Easter project just turned into s***t.  That’s what happened.”

Let’s hope this memory thing holds true, for my sake, because it will forever be remembered as the day that Mama’s Easter craft went to hell in a handbasket at one crack of an egg.




4.09.2012

Southern Porch Entertaining

I hope you had a wonderful Easter holiday with your family.  We could not have asked for a more perfect Carolina day, and my plan of a simple, Southern Easter on our screened porch worked well for our family.  I received such an overwhelming response from that post last week that I thought I should follow-up today with a few photos, or else, I would feel that I gave you a story without an ending.

The menu that I planned was absolutely effortless, and a lot of the dishes were assembled the night before Easter.  On Easter day, we enjoyed family time outside, and on the porch.

screened porch entertaining
Our simple table on the porch.  I bought Gerber Daisies and Irises from Trader Joes for less than $10.
Will arranged them for me.  I have no talent in this area, but he is neat, patient, and gets the job done. 

Love the colors of Easter eggs in the green grass.  My new shoe is as bright as an Easter egg

This was the first year that Baby Diva truly got the idea of what she was supposed to do on an egg hunt. 

I hammed it up for everyone this year.  The ham came from Trader Joe's, and I just warmed it. Can you say easy? 

My side dishes except for the deviled eggs all came from Raleigh Junior Leagues's cookbook. 

A simple Easter buffet.  I fell in the love with the napkins at Fresh Market

easy, marinated asparagus
Marinated asparagus.  This was my mom's favorite dish.  She doesn't cook, but now wants
the recipe.  I told her that I would share it on the blog later this month because it's perfect for
Spring luncheons. 

My mother-in-law's deviled eggs.  In my personal recipe book, I call them
"Ha Ha's deliciously devilish eggs"

easy, shoe peg corn salad.
Shoe-Peg Corn Salad which is a family favorite. 

The Trader Joe's ham was outstanding.

Mr. Cool, eats with his shades, of course when he is outdoors. He is the deviled egg eater in our family.
I think he ate three before one could say, "Happy Easter!"

And finally, I just had to share this special photo from Easter morning.  The Easter bunny brought Baby Diva a little Minnie Mouse.  I would say it was love at first sight.

A new friend for my little love. I'm so happy that my camera caught this special Easter moment. 
We are slowly getting back into our school routine today.  Our Spring Break was refreshingly nice, and it gave me a little taste of lazy, summer days.

I hope you had a nice break, too.



4.05.2012

A Simply Southern Easter

I’m taking a few days off from writing to enjoy my tenth year wedding anniversary dinner, the rest of spring break, and, of course, Easter. I’m hosting the usual suspects (my friend Mitch, my mom, and mother-in-law) on Sunday afternoon. My kids will have a little Easter egg hunt in our yard, and, hopefully, we’ll enjoy a simple meal on the screened porch.

When I saw author Michael Lee West’s purple tablescape on her blog, Rattlebridge Farm, it truly gave me the inspiration for the mood and menu that I want to create this Easter.

Rattlebridge Farm

Last year, a tornado hit our yard the week before Easter, so I had to cancel an egg hunt, and the entire yard was an eyesore. We were fortunate that it did not damage our home, but we couldn't enjoy the outside at all for a lot of spring.  Well, this year, much to my husband’s dismay, his lawn tractor died, and the tractor repairman is so busy that our little red tractor can’t be seen for its appointment until two weeks after Easter.

So our grass will be a little taller than normal, but that will just mean that it will be more challenging for the kids to find the hidden eggs. Hmm, maybe it will take them twice as long and keep them busy. Maybe it’s a little Easter blessing, after all!

Our backyard with extra tall grass
Enjoy this special holiday with your families. We’ll be enjoying a very simple Southern meal of spiraled ham, potato salad, marinated asparagus, and shoe-peg corn salad. Most of the recipes are courtesy of a collection of recipes by the Raleigh Junior League. However, the star of the meal will be my mother-in-law’s deviled eggs. Without them, it just wouldn’t seem like Easter.

What entrée do you serve that makes Easter so special in your home?

From my family to yours, Happy Easter!



4.04.2012

Proud as Peacocks: Why I Support the Arts in Schools

My husband and I were strutting around like peacocks a few weeks ago.


What is it about school performances that make you boast with pride?

Our son played the part of “One” in the nursery rhyme “Buckle My Shoe” at his elementary school’s kindergarten musical production.  His only lines were “one” and “buckle my shoe.”  Someone else said “two.”  He did a few kicks and bounces, and that was about it.

Image Credit
 His part was small, but as proud as we were, you would have thought he was starring on Broadway.  I’m sure many other parents felt the same about their children.

I’m a big advocate of the arts, and we chose our elementary school because of its strong arts curriculum.  Along with his core courses, he takes special classes in dance, art, music, and drama.  The kindergarten teachers produced this production with the help of the arts department at our school.

Unfortunately, as public school budgets tighten, the arts curriculum gets cut first in most schools. I hate to hear this because I strongly believe that the arts enrich education, and they make a child well-rounded, poised, and confident.

As I sat in the audience, I saw confidence exude on stage as at least 100 children danced, sang, and acted out nursery rhymes.  Every child did well, and it seemed as if they all had a great time, too.

No doubt this was the hottest ticket in town and a standing-room-only show.  Cameras clicked, and the kids felt like stars.

My son beamed the greatest smile ever as his biggest fan, his little sister, yelled his name like he was a “rock star” on stage.


Mr. Cool , decked out in his red costume, and Baby Diva are  in his classroom after his school performance. The other night after dinner, Baby Diva did his entire performance on top of the outdoor coffee table. 
I know as parents you all have experienced this feeling, too, at some time or another.  I think it’s a rite of passage in parenting, but this was our first time seeing our son on stage in this manner, and we just can’t help being as proud as two peacocks.

Let's keep supporting the arts in our schools. 


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4.02.2012

Five Swoon-Worthy Easter Ideas

Easter is around the corner.  Literally!  I am kind of in shock that it is less than a week away now.


These lovely cookies are made by my blogging friend, "Pink Martini and Pearls."

I always have a hard time adjusting when Easter is in early spring.  I’m just never prepared to hop into menu planning or the holiday decorating as soon as it turns spring.  When Easter is in March, I'm really behind the game.  I guess that is pretty normal for a non-DIY personality.

Those of you who keep coming back week after week know me well, and you probably know the only things we have that even scream Easter in our house are some awesome all-natural jelly beans from Trader Joes and a chocolate bunny that is already missing his ears. 

I don’t bring much to the table for my talented, DIY blogging friend Ann’s linky party except conversation, and perhaps a tip on what hotel you should stay in on your next vacation.  With that said, I do read and pin things to Pinterest that I think are good ideas. 

So let’s just say that if I were crafty and talented, these ideas would be swoon-worthy, in my opinion.

I think this is a beautiful tablescape for spring.  Simple and elegant.



This door decoration would bring a smile to anyone coming to the door.



These adorable bunny cookies make me want to hop for joy.


You can learn to make the cookies here

I love a craft that doesn’t create too big of a mess.  Glitter eggs add pizzazz to the Easter basket.



And finally, I think this is a great snack for Easter baskets.  We may be making this colorful snack this week while the kids are home on spring break. 


You can view the recipe here.

What’s your favorite swoon-worthy idea?

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