The Best of 2013: From Hotel Stays to Great Eats

I just returned from my 45th birthday lunch. I'll be starting 2014 older, wiser, a few pounds heavier, but very happy. We had a wonderful Christmas with family. I hope you did, too.  As we say goodbye to 2013, I thought it would be fun for me to put together a list of my favorites for the year.

Food and Spirits

Yellow Dog scones are my absolute favorite. 

Yellow Dog Bread Company: You are likely to find me at Yellow Dog in the Mordecai area of Downtown Raleigh grabbing a scone and coffee after I drop my son off to school. The scones here are the best anywhere I've had in my lifetime. And I eat a lot of scones. They don't serve cream and jam so I eat them plain here, and they still are fabulous even without the extras. 

Homemade Bloody Mary with TOPO vodka

TOPO Distillery: I'm just going to go ahead and shout it off the rooftop. I love TOPO, which is located in Chapel Hill, N.C. I toured the distillery earlier this year, and was certainly impressed by the operation. However, it's the taste of its distilled spirits that really won me over, and had me craving my own gin and tonics at home. I bought my husband the vodka for Christmas, but I was the first one to make a Bloody Mary. 

Capital Club 16: I have only eaten dinner here once, but it was enough to make me want to come back sooner rather than later. I love this little downtown Raleigh spot with a very eclectic and casual menu. The menu is American with European influences. I think it may be my go-to spot in 2014. 

Trophy Pizza. 

Trophy Brewing and Pizza Company: What can I say? Trophy does beer and pizza well. Really well. It's a small brew pub in Downtown Raleigh, located on W. Morgan Street.  Seating is limited, but it is worth the wait to have some of the best pizza, fresh salads, and beer in Raleigh. Their homemade beers keep me going back for seconds, thirds, and fourths. 

Sola Coffee Cafe

Sola Coffee Cafe: I don't get to this North Raleigh spot often because it's not anywhere near my home, but I think it's one of the best coffee cafes in the Triangle. It's home to the hot mini which will melt in your mouth. It's delicious. The coffee cafe also serves dinner, and probably has one of the smallest kitchens in the Raleigh area, but everything that comes out of the kitchen is top-notch on freshness and taste.  I'm also big on the cute little red mugs they use for coffee. 

The Fairview Dining Room at the Washington Duke Inn:  I think one of the best luxury bargains in the Triangle is the Washington Duke Inn's Dinner at Dusk menu. From 5:30 pm to 6:30 pm, you can have a three-course menu for $35 per person. The menu  is not limited on choices at all.  It's a smaller version of the dining room's main menu, but in my opinion, Chef Jason Cunningham is showcasing some of his best dishes on the Dinner at Dusk menu. The Fairview Dining room is elegant, and a great place for fine dining. 

Taziki's Mediterranean Salad

Taziki's Mediterranean Cafe is a favorite go-to lunch spot for me in Cary, N.C. I love it's take on healthy cuisine, and am a huge fan of the Mediterranean salad. At $6.29 it is a bargain for the freshness and quality. 

The Umstead Hotel and Spa

The Umstead Hotel and Spa in Cary, N.C. is a place I recommend to have a drink, and take in the unique artwork in the rotating art gallery. Sure, this luxury hotel has a fantastic five-star restaurant, but I like to experience the simpler side of this luxury property as a local resident.  As soon as I walk into this hotel, I feel my blood pressure drop to a tranquil bliss. This luxury hotel interweaves nature with an urban, contemporary decor. Drinks on the patio in spring, summer, fall make the perfect Triangle evening.  Also, for a perfect organized event, take advantage of the Umstead's uncorked series which is the last Thursday of each month. Sommelier Hai Tran leads this informative wine tasting for an hour in the Lobby Lounge. 

Favorite Luxury Hotel in 2013

Old Edwards Inn and Spa in Highlands, NC 

Old Edwards Inn and Spa in Highlands, North Carolina wins top honors for me the best hotel in 2013. We traveled to some wonderful places this year, and stayed in great hotels so it's definitely hard to choose a favorite. I really loved every place we stayed.  All were unique, different and special. I loved something about each property I visited. 

Madison's Signature Cocktails during the Holidays. This photo got me with an eggnog martini. Yes, please!

However, I took everything into account to declare a 2013 winner. I reviewed the charm of the property, the look of the hotel rooms, the ambiance, the cuisine, and the charm of the travel destination.  Highlands is not close to Raleigh at all so it's not a quick getaway, but once you arrive, you never want to leave. 

The bathroom in the new Falls Cottages

Old Edwards Inn and Spa has European charm with a luxurious flair.  The rooms are absolutely gorgeous. The bathrooms steal the show with its heated marble floor,spacious tubs, and heated towel racks. The complimentary Dove bars in the butler's pantry make you feel right at home. 

The Living Room in the  new Falls Cottages

I plan to write a travel recap, and perhaps even a recipe recap for the blog, but if I don't get back on here until January. Have a very Happy New Year!!


Twas the Night Before Christmas at the Hines and a Special Wish for You!

Twas the night before Christmas, and I had to take a minute from our hustle and bustle to wish each and every one of you a very Merry Christmas! You may not get to read this until long after Christmas is over, but I want each of you to know that I appreciate the time to you take to keep in touch on this blog.

So grab some eggnog. Here's our little Christmas story.

The wreaths are all hung at my mansion.

Oh, I can't fool you. This is more realistic. So the lights are strung at the Hines House in Raleigh.  The poor little bear survived just one night by the door because I burned its little bottom. Christmas would not have been so merry if the bear caused our house to go up in flames.

The deer are apparently in our yard waiting to get hooked up to the sleigh. We have a neighbor who professionally moonlights as Santa each holiday. Oh, dear! He takes his role seriously.

As I mentioned in my News and Observer column this week, I'm trying to find my signature cookie or candy. I bought $79 worth of baking ingredients, and baked so long I could have heated the cookies with my own menopausal hot flash. I succeeded in bring back memories of my grandmother's Russian Tea Cakes. Seriously, powdered sugar can make anything taste good.

I was busy going to luxury hotels this month.  Did you expect anything less?  We lived at Disney's Yacht Club for a few days.

We decorated cookies at the Washington Duke Inn.

And enjoyed Christmas afternoon tea at the Umstead Hotel and Spa.

And someone had the honor of putting our first ornament on the tree.

I stalked all the Raleigh bakeries for the most perfect gingerbread people.  I think they are dressed quite festive for this holiday at YellowDog bakery. But, I waited too long to buy.  By the time I went back, all the gingerbread people had gone on their merry way. There was not a gingerbread in sight.

I filled Skimbaco Lifestyle's stocking with not only two, but three Christmas stories this month.  I had fun holiday shopping at North Hills, telling the story of the start of Vietri china, and seeing Disney sparkle at the holidays.

I made my family brace 70 degree temperatures to see the Christmas lights in downtown Raleigh.  It didn't feel like Christmas, but it sure looked like Christmas.

This fun little Hines holiday tale must come to an end.  We have presents to wrap, salads to make, and of course,we must take a Christmas eve nap.

 "Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!"

Cozy, Cute, Classy, and Cuddly: 4 #IGTRAVELThursday Hotel Photos You Must See

The countdown is on for Christmas.This will be our last #IGTRAVELThursday until after the holidays so I wanted to end this week with you saying, "AWWWW!"  I have four photos to share this week that I think you will like. 

The Cozy Photo:

I fell in love with this photo from @FairmontHotels. This is the lovely lobby of Fairmont Le Château Montebello in Quebec, CanadaIt looks so cozy. 

The Cute Photo:

Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver got my attention with this cute mug immediately. They really got my love when they said it was an eggnog cocktail. I love eggnog. They shared the recipe with @foodandwinemag for #FWCookbook.  

Recipe on Instagram
4 SERVINGS Ingredients: 4 large organic free run eggs 4 oz organic liquor cane sugar 1 tsp of nutmeg 12 oz of organic whole milk 8 oz of organic heavy cream 8 oz of spiced bourbon, to spice the bourbon empty one bottle of good bourbon to a large mason jar. Add one, split, vanilla pod, one cinnamon stick and twenty or so allspice berries. Close lid tightly, shake, and rest for a minimum of twenty four hours in the fridge. Strain the bourbon back to its bottle and keep chilled until ready for use. Method: 1. Measure all the ingredients and have each item chilled and ready to use before beginning this recipe! 2. Crack the egg into a large blender. 3. Place lid on with the centre removed. 4. Turn on to lowest speed. Allow the egg to incorporate for about thirty seconds. 5. Slowly add the sugar, follow with the bourbon adding a couple ounces at a time. 6. Follow up with the whole milk by poring it slowly into the mixture and finish with the heavy cream. 7. Once all these ingredients are in, continue to blend for about thirty seconds and slightly increase the speed, be careful to not over flow the mixture. 8. Once finished, pour the liquid contents into chilled glasses of your choice and dust with some finely grated nutmeg. For best results allow the egg Nog to rest in the fridge for at least an hour. 9. Serves four large glasses.

Can you say Merry Christmas to me now that I can make this for the holidays. But, mine won't be as cute because I don't have a mug like this. I love the Four Seasons Vancouver, and was a guest in April 2005, a few weeks before I found out I was pregnant with my first child. Happy memories! 

The Classy Photo: 

The Umstead Hotel and Spa in Cary, North Carolina exudes luxury and class. I celebrated the holidays with two foodie blogging friends this week because neither of them had been to the hotel for tea, and I had not been for tea there in many years. Ron of FoodilicioiusFollies and Kristen, a food blogger for Visit Raleigh, and owner of her own blog, Gadabout Food, keep readers up to to date on Triangle food happenings. From food trucks to the latest restaurant news, they have the Triangle covered. Read more about our tea experience on the Visit Raleigh blog. I'm typically a scone lover, but for this tea, I was all about the tea sandwiches and the French Macarons.Top-notch. Tea is served Wednesday through Sunday in the hotel lobby. My friends were nice enough to give me the couch with the view of the Christmas tree, which was the perfect spot for this IG photo. 

The Cuddly Photo

Oh, I'm in love with this face. This is Stanley, and he is the new canine greeter for the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge in Alberta, Canada.  He will welcome Fairmont guests to the Canadian Rockies.  Let's all say it together, "AWWWWW!"

HAVE a MERRY CHRISTMAS. See you on Instagram!

Join us for #IGTRAVELThursday. 

Do you have a great Instagram travel story to share? Read the linky rules below and join us this week (but don’t forget to grab our logo {here} and link to at least one of hosts in your post). If you are not a blogger, but have an Instagram account tag your lovely travel moments with #IGTravelThursday. No blog, no Instagram? You can still join in the fun by reading our IG-related travel stories and by giving us some feedback love!  If you want to host the IG Travel linky on your blog so that your readers can easily find our posts, you may use this,  get the InLinkz code

Holiday Baking for Kids: Sugar Cookie Cupcakes and Christmas Glaze from Whisk Cary

I've reserved this coming weekend to do some holiday baking. I may even attempt these great cupcakes which my son and I tried last week during a class held at Whisk, the new gourmet cooking store in Cary, N.C.

He helped make these sugar cookie cupcakes because the class was specifically for children. This delicious cupcake recipe is from Carrie Haub, the gourmet cupcake instructor for Whisk's cooking school.

Sugar Cookie Cupcakes

1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups sour cream

In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In a separate mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Add the vanilla: mix well. Ad the flour mixture to creamed mixture alternately with sour cream (batter will be thick). Fill greased or paper-lined muffin cups with 1/4 cup of batter. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Recipe makes approximately 30 cupcakes.

Sugar Cookie Icing (Christmas Glaze)

1 cup powdered sugar
4 teaspoons milk

Mix with fork. To make it more of a thin glaze, add more milk.  To make it a thicker icing, add more powdered sugar.

We had a fabulous time in the cupcake class, and if you have a chance I would love for you to click over to my column for Triangle Mom2Mom because you will not believe the unexpected surprise that came from this Christmas moment. I think it may become my all-time favorite holiday memory.

My little cupcake baker did a great job with his cupcakes.

And they look a lot like Carrie's beautiful cupcakes. I think the gift cupcake was the hardest one to replicate. The Christmas tree one was really easy, and the tree is an ice cream cone. It stays in place by a candy cane. I would have never thought of that.

Carrie offered some great holiday baking tips.Whisk will offer more child cooking classes in 2014, and they have a fabulous selection for adults, too. My Mother-in-law attended a soup class, and loved it. Prices for the classes vary per topic and instructor. This class was $39, and honestly, when I got to walk away without cleaning a thing, I felt the price was fair. You should have seen the mess.

Want to Go:
316 Colonades Way #214
Waverly Shopping Center
Cary, NC

Disclosure: We were guests of Whisk for the class so we could learn more about what Whisk offered to residents in the area. This is not a paid advertisement, and opinions about the recipe, and the class are my own. This recipe is courtesy of Carrie Haub and Whisk. 

A Few of my Favorite Holiday Instagrams This Week #IGTravelThursday

They say Santa is watching us to see who is naughty and nice. Well, this month, I'm watching my Instagram feed to see who makes me festive. All month, we'll celebrate the season with my #IGTravelThursday Holiday feature so grab an eggnog, and let's get festive.

A decedent display of sweet macarons brings the holiday spirit to the @TheRitzCarlton in Charlotte. The culinary Christmas tree at the Ritz Carlton in Charlotte is amazing. Last year, the luxury hotel dazzled with a white chocolate tree. I visited that one in person for this Skimbaco article last year. This macaron tree looks divine. 

Christmas Decorations line the streets of Sydney by @Independenttraveller  Jacey Brasse

This photo from my Skimbaco colleage, Adrienne Shubin of @TheRichLifeonaBudget just makes me feel festive. It was taken from a yacht at the Marin Yacht Club. 

The Fearrington House at @FearringtonNC, a five-star Relais and Chateaux Inn, in Pittsboro, NC is magical during the holidays. These trees line their famous barn, used for parties and wedding receptions. 

@ColonialWilliamsburg is twinkling this holiday. I spent some time at Colonial Williamsburg this summer. It's a very special place, and extremely beautiful during the holidays.  Read more about my stay at the Williamsburg Lodge and my tour of the Williamsburg Inn.  If hungry, Shield's Tavern was a delight and my dinner there made my Top 10 Southern Culinary Bites on Skimbaco Lifestyle. 

From my own Instagram account, this a favorite photo of mine from the Washington Duke Inn in Durham, North Carolina.  This photo was taken outside the Fairview Dining Room.  I attended a great event at the Inn over the weekend called, "Cookies are not just for Santa!". My children got to meet Santa, and decorate a few cookies to take home. The Inn had a wonderful beverage and dessert station for participants. The pastry chef made some great cookies, too. Remember to check your luxury hotels in your hometown for fun, family events. As I stated last week, hotels put the "merry" in Christmas.

Speaking of my post from last week, I got a little present from Four Seasons Las Vegas this week. If you recall, after last's week's "Santa Sighting", I inquired if the barista at PRESS could make us a snowman. The barista did it. Thank you, @FSLasVegas.  I really want to drink this baby in person now. It's cold outside! Is it in Vegas?

And here is a fun, little holiday Instagram video from the @FamilyAdventureProject that has me tapping my toes and waiting for Santa.
Join us for #IGTRAVELThursday. 

Do you have a great Instagram travel story to share? Read the linky rules below and join us this week (but don’t forget to grab our logo {here} and link to at least one of hosts in your post). If you are not a blogger, but have an Instagram account tag your lovely travel moments with #IGTravelThursday. No blog, no Instagram? You can still join in the fun by reading our IG-related travel stories and by giving us some feedback love!  If you want to host the IG Travel linky on your blog so that your readers can easily find our posts, you may use this code found here.

Holiday Baking: Southern Apple Cream Cheese Bundt Cake

Many of you are elves in the kitchen this December baking delicious holiday goodies. Mandi McClure, a HinesSight Blog, food contributor whipped up this delicious apple cream cheese bundt cake in her home in Lincolnton, North Carolina for us. The original recipe was published in Southern Living in 2011, and was tested by Mandi. I think it would look beautiful on a holiday table this year. It has quite a few ingredients so it could be a labor of love, but Mandi says it is a foodie breeze. Enjoy!

Southern Apple Cream Cheese Bundt Cake


  • 1 (8-oz.) package cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 1 cup finely chopped pecans
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3/4 cup canola oil
  • 3/4 applesauce
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups peeled and finely chopped Gala apples (about 1 1/2 lb.)
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup powdered sugar

  • Preparation

  • 1. Prepare Filling: Beat first 3 ingredients at medium speed with an electric mixer until blended and smooth. Add egg, flour, and vanilla; beat just until blended.
    2. Prepare Batter: Preheat oven to 350º. Bake pecans in a shallow pan 8 to 10 minutes or until toasted and fragrant, stirring halfway through. Stir together 3 cups flour and next 7 ingredients in a large bowl; stir in eggs and next 3 ingredients, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened. Stir in apples and pecans.
    3. Spoon two-thirds of apple mixture into a greased and floured 14-cup Bundt pan. Spoon Cream Cheese Filling over apple mixture, leaving a 1-inch border around edges of pan. Swirl filling through apple mixture using a paring knife. Spoon remaining apple mixture over Cream Cheese Filling.
    4. Bake at 350º for 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes or until a long wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool cake in pan on a wire rack 15 minutes; remove from pan to wire rack, and cool completely (about 2 hours).
    5. Prepare Frosting: Bring 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup butter, and 3 Tbsp. milk to a boil in a 2-qt. saucepan over medium heat, whisking constantly; boil 1 minute, whisking constantly. Remove from heat; stir in vanilla. Gradually whisk in powdered sugar until smooth; stir gently 3 to 5 minutes or until mixture begins to cool and thickens slightly. Pour immediately over cooled cake.

Photos by Mandi McClure of Southern Gnome

5 Cyber Safety Tips You Must Know this Holiday {@HinesSightBlog Intel Tablet Giveway}

This Intel Tablet Giveaway is sponsored by Intel. Follow the Directions in Rafflecopter to win a tablet in a random drawing.

Tis the season to be merry, jolly, and share all that we do on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and some other social media app that I don't know how to use yet. It's hard for this forty-something blogger to keep up with today's technology, but I try. 

My children can learn something a lot more quickly me.  If your family doesn't own an Intel tablet then I'm excited to announce that I'm going to give you the opportunity to win one. My thanks to Intel's security education program for asking me to work with them to remind readers about some simple cyber safety tips. 

Santa may be putting lots of new phones and tablets under your Christmas tree this year. As a precaution, remember to activate anti-theft trackingMost phones come with it installed: for Apple it's Find My iPhone, for Android it's the Device Manager. None of us want our devices stolen, but with these apps installed, you’ll be able to find your phone’s exact location before Santa could eat a plate of cookies. 

Also remember to lock your device with a passcode. It will help protect your vital, personal information.  

A two-step verification process also makes it much more difficult for hackers. Many cloud apps offer two-factor authentication (Facebook, Google, Twitter, LastPass, and so on). If you use a password anywhere, check if that site offers the service.

This next tip, is the hardest one to remember sometimes because we do things on a whim, and it's so much fun to show the sights we see on our vacations, but it really is the most important tip out there. Make sure you have your privacy settings high on your social media accounts so that people that you don't know well, are not aware you are away on vacation for the holidays. Intel actually recommends that it is best to stay off of social media the entire trip because you never know what thief may be targeting you.  

Facebook Status:  Look, we're not home. We're at Disney.  :) 
Make sure the general public cannot see your personal facebook photos that announce that you are away
from your home. Intel recommends posting photos upon your return, and staying off of social media during the holidays when thieves especially target homes for break-ins. They are hoping you left your new computer and tablet behind. 
And finally, if you use geo-tag on your device,  label "home" as something else. Using her own address could lead criminals right to your home. 

Check the Intel Education Safety Page for even more tips, and it even have some tips on how to use your browser for secure shopping, and to shop airline fares incognito so airfare prices won't jump if a lot of people are searching a particular flight.  Interesting!

So, it's now your turn to share how you keep your family cyber-space, and enter this great giveaway sponsored by Intel. One lucky reader will win the New Dell Venue 7. You can see it {here.}  The giveaway ends at midnight on December 15, 2013. One winner will be drawn at random. 

If you share this post on Twitter, Google Plus or Facebook, please use the hashtag #IntelHolidayTips.  Thank you!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: This giveaway is sponsored by Intel, and I was compensated for my time to write this post.  I currently do not own the tablet that is being given away, and I have never used that particular item.  

Hotels Can Put the "Merry" in Christmas #IGTRAVELThursday

My Instagram feed is filled with mulled cider, holiday cookies, lights, and trees. I love it! Looking at the hashtag #SkimbacoHolidays really puts me in the holiday spirit. I was at Walt Disney World over the Thanksgiving holiday, and there, I got a head start on feeling festive. Disney is always magical, but the resorts truly shine this time of year.

This photo that I snapped while staying at the Yacht Club wins "most popular" among my Instagram friends. I don't know if it had to do with the fact that it was one of the first photos I published on my trip, but it got one of the best responses of all.

I'll be sharing more holiday photos this month so I hope you visit the blog again in your spare time so you can see some of my favorite photos. Hotels can certainly do holiday decor well.  I plan to visit as many local hotels as I can this month to show some of the best like this one at the Grand Floridian. Now THAT is a tree!

I'll be instagramming from the Washington Duke Inn in Durham, N.C. on December 8 while I get to chat with Santa. I'll be sure to tell him that you all said hello.

I'll also be showcasing other holiday photos from hotels on IG  this month.  To kick things off, I am sharing my love for the Four Seasons Instagram account again.  The Four Seasons Las Vegas Hotel delighted me with this "Santa Sighting" this week.

I wonder if the Four Seasons Las Vegas barista can do "Elvis", too.  Well, in this case, "what happens in Vegas is definitely not staying in Vegas," because this coffee shot is too good not to share. PRESS, is the hotel's new lounge that is open morning through late night. This chic space overlooks the hotel's private pool. Not putting any pressure on the barista, but it would be fun to see a snowman, too. You can read more about PRESS on the Four Seasons Las Vegas website.

And finally, I leave with you the fastest hotel tree decorating in Instagram history. The Four Season Beverly Wilshire has 53 amazing trees throughout the hotel. With that many trees, they certainly need a magical elf to decorate in no time. Enjoy!

Join us for #IGTRAVELThursday.

Do you have a great Instagram travel story to share? Read the linky rules below and join us this week (but don’t forget to grab our logo {here} and link to at least one of hosts in your post). If you are not a blogger, but have an Instagram account tag your lovely travel moments with #IGTravelThursday. No blog, no Instagram? You can still join in the fun by reading our IG-related travel stories and by giving us some feedback love!

Latest Instagrams

© Hines-Sight Blog. Design by FCD.