Create an Elegant, but Easy Cheese and Meat Board in Minutes

updated September 2019

My neighbor loves Halloween so much that she coordinated a progressive fall-inspired dinner party for our street. I volunteered to host appetizers. My goal was to keep it simple and look to Italy and Spain for inspiration on an elegant, but easy cheese and meat board that could be put together in minutes. 

In 2015, I went on a press trip to a winery in the Marche region of Italy. The event set-up was simple, elegant, and perfect for tapas before a meal. I decided to do something similar with my own spin for this neighborhood get-together. 

Italian appetizer spread at Marche Winery

Liza loves Disney's Descendants movies.  Last year, she knew she wanted to be the character, Mal, for Halloween. In my house, the song, "Ways to Be Wicked" is continuously played.  I decided to have a little fun with a "Ways to be Wicked" song. The lyrics say, 

"Apple, apple dip, dip
Wanna try it?

Tick, tick

Take a bite, c'mon, be bold
Change the way the story's told."

Descendants. Apples. Villians. Evil Queen. It all fell into place.

Evil Queen Costume with apples as the star of the party.

I used fresh apples for my centerpiece decorations, and the fall fruit is in season right now. An apple, from tart to sweet, goes wonderfully with an Italian-inspired meat and cheese board.

Put together meat and cheese boards within minutes

I ordered apples from my Papa Spud's produce box delivery service. Apples were in abundance and cost-effective. I purchased everything else from Trader Joe's in less than an hour. 

Here's what I bought at Trader Joe's for my "Ways to Be Wicked" Inspired Party
Sparkling Apple Cider (non-alcoholic)
Draft Apple Cider
White wine
Bread Sticks
Several types of crackers
Goat Cheese with Herbs
A Spanish Cheese sampler with Manchego, Iberico, and Cabra Al Vino
Sliced Aged Cheddar Cheese
Two varieties of pears (One sweet and one standard pear)
Several cartons of the store's seasonal Greek Yogurt called, "Trader Joe's Apple-Caramel Whole Milk Greek Yogurt." 
Dried Apricots
Organic Trek Mix with Cashews, Almonds and dried Cranberries
Italian Hard Salami 
Two appetizer snack packs with Genoa salami cut like apple shapes and provolone slices. 
Red Grapes

I have two cheese boards that are simple and look like cutting boards. I also used three small glass dishes to hold olives, nuts in trek mix, and dried apricots. 

Add sweet and salty to your cheese boards

I placed the four kinds of cheese on the cheese first. I used the goat cheese on another platter separately with crackers, pears, and apples. For my hard cheese platter, I placed my nut bowl and my dried apricot bowl on the board. I put a few sliced apples on the tray, crackers, and red grapes for garnish. Presto. The cheese board was filled in no-time. 

On a round cheese board, I placed olives in a bowl in the middle. I then surrounded the olives with crackers, cheese, genoa salami, and hard salami slices. 

For my third platter, I took the olive oil appetizer breadsticks and wrapped Prosciutto around each one. I used apples and grapes for garnish. 

Italian prosciutto wrapped around breadsticks can be put together within minutes for party

I was amazed at how quickly I was able to create these elegant but a simple cheese and meat tray for this party in minutes. I think the total time may have been 15 minutes for all the three trays. 

I used the Apple-Caramel Grek yogurt dip with and apple slices. 

I really thought this was a no-fuss party idea and I will do it again. It did not take a lot of work, but yet, it looked like it did.  The hit of the night was the yogurt dip and the soft goat cheese. It all worked well because I had meat-eaters and vegetarians in attendance. 

Another neighbor served lasagna after my get-together, and my other neighbor served a homemade limoncello cake. It was a great night.

Quick and Easy Meat and Cheese appetizer trays that can be put together within minutes. #Appetizers #Easy #Cheese #Antipasti

Pin for a future Halloween Party Idea 

Ways to be Wicked Inspired Halloween Party with apples as the star. Evil Queen is the host. #Halloween #apples #Easy #Appetizers


A Traveler’s Look at Hotel Le Germain Maple Leaf Square in Toronto

First published 2013/Updated September 2019

I’ve got one word for you: staff.

The staff at Hotel Le Germain Maple Leaf Square in the heart of downtown Toronto makes a stay there extra special.  As soon as you check-in, you feel as if you are staying with family.  

And they are even known for leaving familiar family photos on the nightstand for regular guests when they check-in.

Yeah. They are that good at their jobs.  But they are genuine in how they do it, and that is what sticks with you after your stay at Hotel Le Germain Maple Leaf Square, the Germain Hotels’ newest 167-room boutique property.

Now that I’m back in Raleigh, I miss Omar, Susan, and Mike. It’s simple for me to remember their names a month after my stay because they made an effort to make me feel welcome in a big city.  Everyone I came into contact with did.

I fell in love with this modern yet inviting and cozy boutique property.  I certainly call it a HinesSight favorite now.

And let’s talk about décor.  Hands down, it is probably the most contemporary-styled hotel I’ve stayed in thus far in my travels.  It’s the total opposite of my personal space, but yet I liked it.

It’s minimalist chic with a loft-style space.

Sexy athletes over the bed.

Chairs that resemble hockey pucks.

Yes, there is a theme you see here, and it works well for the hotel.  It’s all in the details.

Hotel Le Germain Maple Leaf Square is adjacent to the Air Canada Center, the sports arena for Toronto’s professional hockey and basketball sports teams.  The sexy photos over the bed are professional Toronto athletes. The bar is called “Play,” but let me tell you … this hotel is no gym, but rather it is a GEM.  This is a luxury hotel with great beds, rainfall showers, and luxurious Molton Brown bath products.

My absolute favorite detail is the Ovopur water filtration system, which is available on every floor.  It keeps water fresh, and at turndown, your carafe is filled and placed on your bedside table.  The first year of implementation, the hotel saved 15,000 plastic water bottles.

The rooms at Hotel Le Germain are designed really well for the use of space.  A lot of that can be credited to the owner, Christiane Germain.  She makes sure that she doesn’t have things in her hotels that bug her when she travels.  As a result, all lights can be turned off at one switch. Closets are plentiful, and there is a great space for luggage.   You can also turn on all the lights in the room with your key card.  I loved that amenity.

I, of course, took this trip solo, but Hotel Le Germain Maple Leaf Square welcomes families.  Again, it’s all in the details.  If you have a potty-training child, they’ll put this little guy in the bathroom. Little touches like Angry Bird pillows make the room inviting for children.  They supply children’s robes, pack and plays, and baby monitors.

European continental breakfast is also included in your room rate.   Nothing says good morning like a great muffin and a cappuccino.

And if you need a snack during the day, just grab an apple. These green apples are scattered around the hotel. They imitate art, but it’s edible art.

The “Play” Lounge serves food starting at 4 p.m.  If Mike is working, ask for a margarita.  It’s his best drink.  He says he loves to make it because it tastes like the ocean.   Mike, your margaritas are much better than the ocean.

Hotel Le Germain Maple Leaf Square is located in a complex with condominiums, a few restaurants, and even a grocery store.  One of the nights I stayed, there was a small kitchen fire in the grocery store in the complex, so the fire alarms in the hotel went off at 5:30 a.m. Safety first. Those things happen, and it was taken care of very quickly, but I must admit that I had to have looked like a fool as I made my way to the street.   I grabbed my rings, my passport, and put on pants under my gown, and then put on the comfy hotel robe on top of it all. I exited quickly and didn’t even brush my teeth.

Half the crowd was fully dressed, and the other half were like me.  Some were even sans pants.  Those of us who looked as if we rolled out of bed in an emergency will be better prepared from this point forward.  Hopefully, there will NEVER be a next time, but it was certainly a learning experience.

My best coffee came at breakfast in the lounge, though, and it is indeed complimentary, as is the complimentary cappuccino machine in the second-level lounge.

Hotel Le Germain Maple Leaf Square is an urban, sophisticated, peaceful retreat in the bustling city.  After a long day at the TBEX conference, I was happy to walk through the doors of my home away from home.

In HinesSight on my Stay

The Hotel Le Germain Maple Leaf Square offers great Toronto location.

I would definitely stay at Hotel Le Germain Maple Leaf Square if traveling to Toronto again.
I loved the idea of fresh carafes by the bedside table and the Ovopur water system in the common areas.

I loved the modern elements of the hotel. Getting in bed and hitting one button to turn off the lights was cool.

I like the idea of the Nespresso machine in the room, but not sure I love the idea of paying to have coffee in my room.   A lot of luxury properties I have visited lately have had a Keurig in the room to brew tea and coffee, complimentary.

I loved the complimentary wi-fi and the fact that a continental breakfast is included in your stay. That scored big points.

They also had an umbrella in the room. I should have used it. I got drenched one night leaving a party.

I had neither with me on this trip, but the staff spoils your children and your dog.  It is a pet-friendly establishment, but coming from a person who does not have a pet, there is no evidence whatsoever that a dog has been a guest in your room.  This is an immaculate, luxurious hotel. They deep clean after every visit.

Want to Stay:
Hotel Le Germain Maple Leaf Square
75 Bremner Blvd
Toronto (Ontario), Canada

Disclosure: Hotel Le Germain Maple Leaf Square helped sponsor my trip to TBEX by providing both a comp rate and a media rate for my duration in Toronto.  As always, opinions are my own, and I did have my personal expenses.


5 Awesome Reasons Why the AC Hotel by Marriott in Raleigh's North Hills Area Impresses

As the founder of the @OutaboutNC social media community, I get asked a lot from people on where they should stay when visiting North Carolina. When I first started my blog in 2011, I had an entire feature devoted to hotels called a "Pack My Bags' feature.

Top 5 awesome reasons to stay at the AC Hotel Raleigh in North Hills #travel #familytravel #northcarolina

The invitation to visit the AC Hotel in Raleigh North Hills came at the perfect time in my life because I needed a hotel stay to renew me and awaken my senses to escape the ordinary in my life. The best part about my stay at the AC Hotel North Hills is that I only had to drive 15-minutes to experience this property.

The AC Hotel Raleigh is located in bustling North Hills, an area called midtown in Raleigh, N.C.

The AC Hotel by Marriott is a hotel brand that I've been curious about but had no personal experience. Last year, Raleigh's North Hills area was the first site in North Carolina to open the AC Raleigh Hotel.  Asheville, Chapel Hill, and Charlotte now have the AC Hotel Brand as a hotel option.


An Easy Dip Made with North Carolina Cackalacky Spice Sauce (A Sweet Potato Base)

Updated: August 2019

It’s not whether your team wins or loses on the football field; it’s all about the tailgate. A great game-day dip will score some points.

Need something quick and easy for your next tailgate? I’ve got just the party dip for you.  It’s so simple that you won’t believe something this natural tastes so good.

A quick and easy dip made with NC Cackalacky  Sauce.

You know I love to promote North Carolina on this blog. My state is the No. 1 producer of sweet potatoes in the U.S.  We’ve got a lot of them around here. One Chapel Hill company has found an excellent use for them.

Cackalacky Spice Sauce uses sweet potatoes as the main ingredient along with peppers, red wine, and other spices. This zesty sauce has all-natural ingredients, no preservatives, and is also gluten-free.  Honestly, it can turn plain sour cream into a zesty dip that wows. For those who may not know, but Cackalacky is slang for Carolina here. The company also has a famous Cheerwine sauce. 

My son went wild over this simple dip.  I served it with blue corn chips and fresh-cut veggies.  Both are good, but the vegetables dazzled with the sauce, so I suggest using it with a veggie tray.  It’s so good that people will be eating their veggies in no time. 

I’d say that is a touchdown!

A perfect game day dipping sauce with a Sweet Potato/Spicy Tang. Great with blue chips or vegetables. Awesome with carrots.

Cackalacky Game Day Dip 

16 ounces of sour cream

Combine Cackalacky Spice Sauce and sour cream in a large bowl. Serve with chips and vegetables. 

Told you it was easy! The hardest part is getting the groceries. 

Pin It:

Cackalacky Dip is made with an original NC sauce that can be found on Amazon.

Are you ready for tailgating season in the south? You may like my spinach dip with no mayo and for a little kick, try this farm-fresh sausage dip.  If you are looking for more game-day recipes, you will like this collaborative recipe round-up where my NC Cackalacky dip was just one of the many recipes featured on Convos with Karen.

Disclosure:  My thanks to August blog sponsor, Kivett's Church Furniture based in Clinton, NC. Kivett's specializes in church steeples. Kivett's. a North Carolina business since 1958, performs work in its manufacturing plant in Clinton. My sponsors keep me at my desk writing editorial content and OutaboutNC. If you would like to be a blog sponsor, contact me for more information.

You can now purchase Cackalacy in grocery stores and on Amazon. They have lots of sauces. I am an Amazon affiliate, so if you want to try this North Carolina original recipe, you can order it off my blog Amazon link


A Vacation for Dogs in Asheville, NC: Dogs Like the Aloft Asheville Downtown

Asheville, a gorgeous mountain city, nestled in North Carolina's Smoky Mountains, is a haven for vacationers. The reasons to visit this city are endless.

When I was working on a magazine piece for a national publication this summer, I interviewed local business owners in Asheville.

Jillian Kelly, a local Asheville beekeeper, and owner of the store, The Asheville Bee Charmer, told me, "You have a want for nothing in Asheville, North Carolina!"

She's right.  There is something for everyone in this mountain city. All people and their unique, individual tastes are welcome in Asheville. Whether you are an adventure traveler, foodie, or a history and culture lover, you'll feel right at home in this progressive North Carolina city.

Your beloved pets will feel welcomed, too. Just like my poodle, Andy felt on his most recent stay.

I grew up near Asheville, North Carolina, but in the past nine years, I've visited Asheville more often than anywhere else in the state. For the past two years, our poodle, Andy, accompanied us there. Traveling with a dog is like traveling with children in some ways. Both require a little extra work, but unlike the tiny humans, dogs cannot go everywhere with you nor can they stay in all lodgings. That's why, as pet owners, it is refreshing to know before booking a trip that your four-legged family member will be welcomed, too.

Asheville is touted as one of the most pet-friendly cities in the U.S. I think that's an accurate depiction of the town. Sometimes, I saw as many dogs as people walking the streets during my visits. The Aloft Hotel in downtown Asheville has the honor of being of the most pet-friendly hotels in the entire state of North Carolina, in my opinion.

The Aloft Downtown Asheville operates a popular pet-adoption program that allows a rescue dog to live at the hotel until it finds a permanent home. This program has been so successful that it has been piloted in other Aloft hotels across the United States. With its own "lobby-dog" as a hotel greeter, your pet feels like a top dog or top cat, too. That's right. I said cat, also. The hotel does not discriminate against cats when it comes to their pet policy. Cats stay free at the property just like dogs. Cats, as you would expect, are not as visible in the public areas as dogs, but Andy met a cat guest on his stay this time. If you have cat allergies or any pet allergy, be sure to discuss that with the front desk before checking-in.

I first stayed in the Aloft Downtown Asheville, located on Biltmore Avenue, several years ago. My daughter, who was five at the time fell in love with the hotel's lobby adoption program. Every single year, she insists that we go to the Aloft hotel lobby to see who is up for adoption even if we are not staying in the property. In fact, I have found myself inside the hotel a lot through the years because of the hotel's superb location to Asheville's South Slope district. Will and I are avid craft beer lovers, and this section of Asheville is where we chose to spend the most time.  The Aloft Asheville is within walking distance to everything in downtown Asheville. The Biltmore area is a quick ride away.

The nightly rates for this Aloft location may seem higher than what you are used to experiencing at other Aloft Hotels in different areas. That's because the demand for Asheville hotels is very high in general, especially in the downtown area. In fact, on peak weekends, a room at the Aloft Downtown Asheville can cost travelers between $400 and $500 per night. Marriott rewards members like myself get a slight discount on those rates because of brand loyalty.

Many hotels charge a pet fee when traveling with pets, but not the Aloft Downtown Asheville. All pets stay at this property free. Parking is also at a low cost of $10 a day at the deck underneath the hotel.

Not only do pets stay free at the Aloft Downtown Asheville, but there are not any public area off-limits inside the hotel. At the Aloft Asheville, you can have an appetizer and a drink at the WXYZ Lounge, and your dog can be right there with you. It really makes you feel as if you are in your own home when staying there.  I loved it, and I think Andy did, too.

The Aloft Asheville is so pet-friendly that it sometimes hosts fun "Bow-Wow" type social events for dogs and their owners. It's fun to stay at this hotel because most hotel guests have the love for their pets in common.

In July on my last stay, I learned that a woman had a dog back home that looked just like my Andy. It made her miss her dog. I also met a couple from New Jersey with a dog named Opie. I told them "Opie and Andy" were the perfect combo for North Carolina. Andy Griffith TV show fans will certainly understand why.

Upon check-in at the Aloft in downtown Asheville, Andy was given a doggie care package.  He received extra pooh bags, treats, bowls for water and food, plus a massive dog bed, well at least for an eight-pound poodle. The front desk has a list of places where dogs can walk and have a good time in the city.

If you want to know more about North Carolina, be sure to sign up for my #OutaboutNC Travel Guides, coming to your inbox this fall. If you're going to book this hotel, you may begin that process here at the Marriott Bonvoy site.  When booking, type in Asheville, N.C. in the destination bar, and you will find all the Marriott hotels in this area, especially if this one is not within your budget for the season you want to visit. Feel free to email me about Asheville lodging and locations. I've stayed in a lot through the years, and you can find those posts in my archives by searching for Asheville and hotels.

Dogs love Asheville, NC

Pet-Friendly Asheville, NC

Disclosure: My thanks to North Carolina business, Flooring by Design for being an August blog sponsor. With three locations in North Carolina, Flooring by Design is a trusted source for carpet installation in Raleigh. My blog sponsors keep me at my desk writing editorial content and OutaboutNC. The HinesSightBlog is also a Marriott Bonvoy Affiliate for bookings and referrals. We traveled during the peak summer tourism season and received a slight media discount on lodging. Opinions about the hotel are my own.

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