Spring Clean Your Skin Care Routine with this DIY Facial Tip from North Carolina's Luxury Umstead Spa

Spring is a time for renewal. After a long winter, our skin can also use some pampering. One of my favorite products is a resurfacing peel that I use three times a week.  Skincare experts say that one should try to get a professional facial with the change of each season.

The Five-Star Umstead Hotel and Spa in Cary, North Carolina is one of the best places in the Southeast to get a facial, but spa experts tell me that it's also wise to use some natural ingredients at home to give your skin the renewal it needs, especially in the Spring after a dry winter.

DIY Spring Facial Tip for the Umstead Spa in Cary, N.C.
The Umstead Spa in Cary, N.C. 

DIY at-Home Spring Facial Tips from the Umstead Spa

Wash face with a mild cream cleanser, rinse well and pat dry. 
In a small bowl, mix half of one lemon (Organic lemon is best), with 2 tablespoons of raw honey.
Mix until the product is a smooth and blended consistency, then apply to skin and leave on for 10 minutes
Remove with warm water or a warm towel to reveal a smooth, bright and glowing complexion 

Lemon and water. I think we can all get those ingredients easily.

The Spa at the Umstead Hotel in Cary, N.C.
Spring will be a great time to enjoy the outdoor areas at the Umstead Spa in Cary, N.C. 

Skin Perfecting Facial (80 minutes, $185)
This skin rejuvenating facial exfoliates and brightens the skin, cleaning the pores to rid it of dull, dry winter skin, and revealing a fresh face for spring.

Combining healing herbal products, a peel suited for guest’s personal skin care needs, and a Vitamin C mask to boost skin’s natural radiance and beauty, this facial helps even out skin pigmentations, promotes skin firming, helps fight breakouts and aids in moisturizing.  Spa-goers can enjoy a luxurious hand and foot massage while the mask is penetrating and replenishing the skin.

Let me know if you try the Umstead's beauty tips.

North Carolina's Luxury Five-Star Spa, The Umstead shares a simple recipe to use at home for a spring facial.

Updated: April 2019
Disclosure: Post contains affiliate links with Beautycounter, a product I use regularly. My thanks to Costa Family and Cosmetic Dentistry in Ashburn, Virginia for being a HinesSightBlog sponsor. My sponsors allow me to keep at my desk writing bringing you the best in editorial content. 


Garden Vegetables that Harvest in the Spring

One of my memories from my childhood is waking up at my Grandma's home, and seeing her in the garden. She was not a farmer to earn a living, but rather I guess it was part of her heritage to grow her own food. I really have no idea.  She died when I was 13. I never asked her, "Why do you grow your own food?" My Dad is gone now, too. I never asked him either why his parents had this garden. It is just what they did. I live less than two miles from North Carolina's State Farmer's Market, and I also belong to Papa Spud's, where I can get produce from the farms straight to my door. My family is lucky, I think.

What's Fresh from the Farm in the Spring in NC? Spring Vegetables

My grandmother grew corn, turnips, collards, strawberries, butter beans, new potatoes, and green beans. They also had grapes.  I really don't know all that she grew, but I certainly know that every day, she would cook fresh vegetables for a lunch buffet. She did it daily. She kept me while my Mom worked when I was little and I developed a palate for fresh vegetables at a very early age. 

Farm Days
Source:  Who Remembers This? on Facebook 

The photo of a woman snapping green beans was circulating on Facebook at one time, and it immediately took me back to summers when I would visit my Grandma. I remember shelling peas and snapping green beans as a child.

I look forward to eating more vegetables in the spring and in North Carolina, this is when produce is abundant at the Farmer's Market.

This is the garden harvest for spring that will be available at Farmer's markets. Of course, grocery stores have these items off-season, but this is when you will see it come in fresh from the farms. 

A guide to Spring Crops in North Carolina and beyond. Garden Fresh Vegetables in the Spring #eattherainbow #vegetables #healthyeating

Green Onions: Late March
Asparagus: Early April 
Strawberries: Early/mid-April
Arugula: Late April 
Lettuces: Late April 
Radishes: Late April 
Bok Choy: Early May
Salad Mix: Early May
Blueberries: Mid May
Chard, Rainbow: Mid May
Salad Turnips: Mid May
Snap Peas: Mid May
New Potatoes: Mid May
Broccoli: Late May
Squash, Yellow: Late May
Squash, Zucchini: Late May 

When I started the #OutaboutNC community in 2015, one of my biggest supporters has been chef Clark Barlowe of Heirloom Restaurant in Charlotte, N.C.  His dream was to open a restaurant that was entirely locally sourced. Every item from the alcohol served to dessert come from North Carolina. His restaurant has been named one of the top 100 foodie restaurants on Open Table. 

I've been in Clark's company several times now but have not made it to Charlotte yet. It's on my list. for a true North Carolina culinary experience.  

Farm Fresh, NC local produce at Heirloom Restaurant in Charlotte, N.C.
Happy Spring!

This post was originally published in Spring of 2016 and updated in 2019.  Recipes you may like for Spring.

Three Recipes Using Kale
Spinach and Grape Quinoa Salad 
Bok Choy on the Side 
Most Delicious Asparagus Ever  and other recipes.

Disclosure: *Papa Spud's is a referral link given to local customers.

The HinesSightBlog is sponsored by PSChevy. in Fayetteville. Test drive the 2020 Silverado HD today.  Thanks, PSChevy for keeping me at my desk writing and #OutaboutNC. 


The Most Delicious Asparagus Recipe Ever

Whether you are planning a bridal luncheon or an elegant dinner party, this recipe for marinated asparagus will score big with your guests. They will think you have slaved away in the kitchen for hours, however, the secret is that this recipe takes little time to prepare.

This simple and delicious side dish is perfect for spring, and summer when asparagus is in abundance at the Farmer's Market. It's great for an Easter side as well. My kids love asparagus simply roasted or boiled, but this recipe takes asparagus up a notch for guests.

It's best when it's made the night before an event, which I love because it gives me less to do on the day of a dinner party. I'm also a big fan of asparagus because it's also lower in carbohydrates.

the most delicious aspragus recipe. Perfect for Easter dinner. It marinates overnight in a balsamic vinegar dressing.

Elegant Marinated Asparagus

1 pound fresh asparagus spears
1 green onion, finely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon Italian Seasoning (used Good Season's Italian Dressing Packet)
2 tablespoons of diced pimento
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper

Cut ends of asparagus. Blanch asparagus 4 minutes until crisp-tender, then immediately submerge in ice water. Pat asparagus dry and place in shallow baking dish.

Combine all remaining ingredients in a small bowl, stirring well.  Pour the dressing over asparagus, cover, and chill overnight.  Drain any excess marinade before serving.  Allow sitting at room temperature for 15 minutes before serving.

*Versions of this recipe are in almost every junior league or church cookbook that I own. This recipe is based on my trying different ones, and using the ingredients that I like best.

This marinated asparagus recipe would also be a great side to my Joey Burgers recipes. 

Pin for Recipe

The perfect asparagus recipe for Easter, a bridal luncheon or just for the family.  This Marinated Asparagus is the most delicious asparagus ever.  #springrecipes #recipes #asparagus #sides

This recipe was originally published in 2012 and was updated in April 2019.

My thanks to North Carolina car dealership, Performance Ford in Clinton, N.C, for being a blog sponsor. Test drive the new 2020 Ford F-150 Hybrid. Thanks for keeping me at my desk writing and #OutaboutNC. 


Southern Recipes: Enjoy the Carolina Inn's Arugula and Beet Salad at Home Plus a Chat with New Chef Jeremy Blankenship

I know there have to be some beet lovers out there. I find you're either a lover or a hater, and there are few people who fall in between. But I believe the right beet recipe can turn a hater into a lover.  Chapel Hill's Carolina Inn is steeped with Southern tradition. It's been serving guests in North Carolina's quaint college town for 95 years.

Leading the culinary scene at the Inn's Crossroads Chapel Hill restaurant is Hillsborough native Jeremy Blankenship. One salad plate at a time, Chef Blankenship hopes to turn every Tarheel in town into a glorified beet lover with his Arugula and Beet Salad Appetizer with Toasted Walnuts, Point Reyes Blue Cheese, and Citrus Gel. 

Carolina Inn's Arugula and Beet Salad Recipe
Photo by Curious Notions Photo in Chapel Hill 

I met with Chef Blankenship in March to get a feel for his culinary influence. He is no stranger to the Carolina Inn. In fact, the Inn and past North Carolina prestigious Southern chefs have been a huge part of his own culinary training. From an internship and Sous Chef training at the Carolina Inn to being hired as Chef de Cuisine at Crossroads in 2005 following his tenure with the well-known, Magnolia Grill, located in Durham NC.

Leigh Powell Hines and Chef Jeremy Blankenship
Photo by Curious Notions Photo in Chapel Hill 

It was at the Southern icon Magnolia Grill, under the ownership of Ben and Karen Barker who both were James Bearn Award-winning chefs that he really developed the food philosophy that he uses daily. It was quite evident during our chat at the Inn, this was a special time in his and in truly molded him into the talented chef he is today.

Blankenship told me he doesn't label himself as a Southern cook, but rather he takes Southern ingredients and uses worldly techniques in the kitchen that embraces seasonality and regionalism.

“It’s not just about farm-to-table, it’s an exchange of ideas, it’s a relationship, it’s about integrity in the entire process of food preparation from finding and sourcing ingredients to educating the team that works with you every day about how to be creative with what is set before you," stated Blankenship.

Blankenship pays homage to his past mentor with a special Karen Barker inspired dessert that will soon debut on the Carolina Inn menu.

Carolina Inn Desserts
Photo by OutaboutNC  Contributor Tatiana Amador 

Just as with anyone who builds a career, Blankenship left the Inn for higher culinary roles and returned finally returned back to the Carolina Inn in 2016 to serve as Executive Sous Chef. He was in that role until his appointment of Executive Chef this year.

Chef Jeremy Blankenship of the Carolina Inn Speaks with NC Blogger Leigh Powell Hines
Photo by Curious Notions Photo in Chapel Hill 

Being an Executive Chef of a hotel always comes with many challenges because unlike a regular restaurant, the kitchen is rarely closed because guests are with you 24-hours a day. The Carolina Inn offers breakfast, brunch, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, and a bar menu. All items are different and all are what you would expect at a luxury hotel. It sounds exhausting, but Blankenship loves the culinary challenge. The Carolina Inn is one of North Carolina's largest event and wedding venues as well.

The Carolina Inn for Southern Afternoon Tea 

The classic Carolina Inn is one of my favorite places in North Carolina for afternoon tea. They have delicious scones. The tea service is traditional and does not steer too far away from its British roots.

Not as many chefs are in love with hotel afternoon tea service as much as the guests because I got the feeling it can be kind of mundane.  Chefs can't mix it up too much because people like me expect a scone, a smoked salmon and a cucumber sandwich a certain way as a UNC-Chapel alumnus want. Sometimes, even the scones are piped in Carolina blue.

Afternoon Tea  Service at The Carolina Inn in Chapel Hill
Photo by Curious Notions Photo in Chapel Hill 

Chef Blankenship may not love afternoon tea as much as me, but he knows his guests expect the best and he'll deliver. Carolina Inn offers special teas throughout the year, and tea reservations must be made 48-hours in advance.

He joked with me, "We're not going to change up your cucumber sandwich and scones. So don't worry!"

Traditional Tea at the Carolina Inn
Photo by Curious Notions Photo in Chapel Hill 

Busy days are ahead for Blankenship and his culinary team. Spring in a University town is one of the busiest. He has Easter, Mother's Day and UNC Graduation within weeks of each of other. When he's off, he has busy kids at home, but he loves to hop on his motorcycle and enjoy other's culinary talents.

Since beets are still at the markets right now, he is sharing with me the exact recipe he has on the dinner menu currently.  I took one look at it and immediately said, "I love it, but how can we do shortcuts?"

A Recipe for Arugula and Beet Salad at Home
Photo by Curious Notions Photo in Chapel Hill 
He told me that the beet confit could be served as a side alone. They are time-consuming due to the time of being in the over, but that is really it.  He firmly believes that beets pair best with Arugula so no substitute there, but if you do not have time to make a citrus gel then he told me to toss in some sliced oranges.  During our conversation, he admitted that about ten years ago, the salad would have been on the menu with orange slices, but menus have evolved into even more creativity.

Beets are still plentiful at your local farmer's market so pick some up and try this sensational recipe at home.

Carolina Inn's Arugula and Beet Salad
Photo by Curious Notions Photo in Chapel Hill 

Arugula & Beet Salad 

Toasted Walnuts, Point Reyes Blue Cheese, Citrus Gel

1 each large red confit beet, peeled and ½ inch dice
1 each large yellow confit beet, peeled and ½ inch dice
1 cup toasted walnuts
½ cup citrus fluid gel  (See recipe below for gel)
4 oz Point Reyes Blue Cheese crumbled
8 oz fresh Arugula
½ cup vinaigrette  (See recipe below for vinaigrette)
¼ cup toasted walnut oil
Salt to taste

Method of Preparation
Place your diced beets in a mixing bowl and season with salt and a splash of the vinaigrette and toss to coat

In a separate bowl add your arugula  and season with salt and enough vinaigrette to coat and toss to coat

Evenly distribute the seasoned beats between 4 plates.

Between the beets add dollops of the citrus gel

Add your toasted walnuts between the beets and gel

Place your seasoned arugula on top of the beet salad making sure to not cover up everything

Drizzle the walnut oil over the salad and serve

Serves 4

Carolina Inn Chef Jeremy Blankenship
Photo by Curious Notions Photo in Chapel Hill 

How to make the Confit Beets

5 Each Medium sized beets
1 Each Shallots peeled
1 Each Zest of orange
1 Each Rosemary sprig
Oil to cover the beets

Place first 4 items in a pot and cover with oil
Place on the stove top and heat until the oil is warm
Cover with foil and place in the oven at 275 degrees for 1.5 hours
Check to make sure they are tender
Uncover and cool in the oil

Note: Store these beets in the fridge in the oil. That is the key. 

How to Make the Orange Citrus Gel 

     4 cups of Fresh squeezed OJ Strained
     3 teaspoons of Agar Agar
     1 teaspoon salt

Bring the orange juice to a simmer and add the salt
Whisk in the agar really well while still simmering
Let it simmer for 10 more seconds
Strain through a chinois into a hotel pan and cool in the fridge
Once cold and set up cut into tiny square and blend in the vita prep until super smooth
Push through a fine strainer
Store in airtight containers in the fridge

How to Make Toasted Walnuts

     4 Cups Walnuts
      Blended oil to coat
      Salt to taste
Place the walnuts in a mixing bowl and add enough oil to coat. Toss in the oil and season with salt
Place the walnuts on a sheet pan and bake in the oven at 350 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes until toasted.
Let cool and store in airtight containers.

How to Make Vinaigrette

YIELD:  6.5 cups

     2       T Red Wine Vinegar
     2       T Sherry Vinegar
     ½     T Cider Vinegar
     1/2 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt & Fresh Black Pepper to taste
Mix all of the tablespoons of vinegar together
Whisk in the EVO and season

Bon appetite

NC Blogger Leigh Powell Hines
Photo by Curious Notions Photo in Chapel Hill 


Recipe: Nothin' Could be Finer than a Tarheel Cupcake

This post originally ran the first year I stared the HinesSightBlog in 2011. When you own a blog, it's amazing to see how quickly your children will grow. My son is now 13 and he never wants to bake in the kitchen now. This post was updated in March of 2019. I also think these cupcakes would be good with blue buttercream cupcakes. 

North Carolina is certainly a foodie state, but we have some darn good basketball teams in the state, too. This recipe for "Tarheel" cupcakes is perfect for Carolina fans for March Madness gatherings. If you are a Duke fan then just swallow your pride and make them anyway. 

North Carolina is certainly a foodie state, but we have some great college basketball teams, too which give my home state a national presence.  This recipe for "Tarheel" cupcakes is perfect for Carolina fans for March Madness gatherings. #desserts #cupcakes #entertaining

North Carolina always has a great presence in March Madness during the NCAA final dance, and a lot of people get to know North Carolina through its University sports programs.

For those of you who are not familiar with North Carolina, our state has the nickname of the Tarheel State.  There are several legends on how North Carolina became known as the Tarheel state, all relating to tar and its by-products produced in massive amounts from the abundant pine forests covering the state.  My alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, uses the nickname "Tarheel" for its team name.

This Tarheel Cupcake recipe can be found in the Raleigh Junior League's "You're Invited" cookbook which was first published in 1998.   It's a great cookbook, and I have many favorite recipes from this book.  There are very few of these books left to purchase if any at all, however, The Junior League has now published a second cookbook which I can't wait to get in my collection called  "You're Invited Back."


I don't make that many desserts, probably because of my laziness for sifting,  but the recipe looked easy enough to do with my son.  I also thought the recipe's name could spark a lot of conversation with him about our state's history plus we could eat these sweet delights while cheering on the North Carolina Tarheels in the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.

I thought the cupcakes were good.  They are different, and not your traditional cupcake with icing, but the chocolate mixed with cream cheese wowed me.   The recipe makes about sixteen cupcakes.  \  I probably filled a couple too full because the recipe says it will make about eighteen.   My husband and son preferred the cupcakes plain and without the almond sugar topping on top.  I think the next time we bake these, we'll leave the almond/sugar mixture out.

Tarheel Cupcakes

2 (3-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1 1/3 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
1 egg
1 cup (about 6 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped almonds
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup cocoa
1 cup of water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

*Preheat oven to 350 degrees
*Combine cream cheese, 1/2 cup sugar, and egg.  Mix well.  Stir in chocolate chips. Set aside
*Combine almonds and 2 Tablespoons sugar.  Set aside.
*Sift together flour, baking soda, salt, 1 cup sugar, and cocoa.  Add water, oil, vinegar, and vanilla. Beat for 2 minutes with mixer at medium speed.
*Fill paper-lined muffin cups 1/2 full with batter.  Top each cupcake with 1 tablespoon cream cheese mixture.  Sprinkle almond-sugar mixture evenly over cream cheese mixture.
*Bake in center of the oven for 30 minutes or until cream cheese mixture is light golden brown.
*Cool in pan for 15 minutes.  Remove to wire rack and cool completely.

My thanks to J's Golf Carts Sales and Service located in Durham, N.C for sponsoring my blog and keeping me at my desk writing and updating content. 


North Carolina's Museum of Art Beautifies Trash for Annual Art in Bloom Flower Festival

Let's talk trash in North Carolina.

In the South, we have a way of making even our trash look pretty. Mid-March is a great time to see Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill get beautified in a very unusual way.

Flower Display in a Trash Can in Raleigh, NC

It's not every day that you see ordinary trash bins become a canvas for beautiful blooms. But, it happens every single March in North Carolina to promote the NC Museum of Art's popular Art in Bloom flower festival.

Floral  Boutiques to Promote Art in Bloom Decorate the City of Raleigh

The vibrant floral trash displays are available a good ten days of public viewing before the festival opens. The 2019 Art in Bloom Event at the NC Museum is scheduled for Thursday, March 21-Sunday, March 24. Art in Bloom is a special museum fundraiser where more than 50 floral designers design floral installations based on works in the NCMA's art collection. Last year, more than 18,000 visitors came to the art museum to see Art in Bloom.

Designers create floral displays to work with pieces of art in the NCMA in Raleigh
2018 Floral Display

The four-day floral fundraiser is packed with floral workshops, lectures, and daily trunk shows in the Museum Store. The Museum will have special extended hours and expanded food options

Art in Bloom in Raleigh NC at NCMA
2108 Floral Display

We love our ice cream in the South, too. Also to celebrate Art in Bloom, Raleigh ice cream company Two Roosters will debut a custom floral ice cream flavor in its storefront this week.  The flavor will also be featured on the menus of the Museum’s Iris restaurant, Sip Café, and Blue Ridge Café during Art in Bloom.

Admission to the NCMA 
During the four days of Art in Bloom, tickets are required for admission to the permanent collection in the Museum’s West Building. East Building and Museum Park will remain open and free to visitors. 

$13 Members
$18 Nonmembers        
Free for children 6 and under
Tickets available at ncartmuseum.org/bloom or (919) 715-5923

Related events are ticketed separately. Additional fees are charged for select workshops, presentations, and other events (schedule below).

Hours for 2019 Art in Bloom Festival Thursday, March 21, 9 am–5 pm; last entry 4 pm Friday, March 22, 9 am–9 pm; last entry 8 pm Saturday, March 23, 9 am–9 pm; last entry 8 pm Sunday, March 24, 9 am–5 pm; last entry 4 pm
During the four days of Art in Bloom, the Museum’s West Building opens at 9 am, an hour earlier than usual. East Building galleries open at 10 am, as usual.

Getting to the museum

Parking is available on the NCMA campus. During this popular event, visitors are encouraged to carpool or take public transportation via the GoRaleigh bus route 27 to the NCMA. Information about the bus is available on GoRaleigh’s website. The NCMA is also home to a Citrix Cycles bike station. For visitors who need assistance, marked shuttle vans will circle the parking lots during Art in Bloom.

Pin for Future Travel in North Carolina 

NC Travel. Art in Bloom Pops up at the NCMA every March.

All photos were supplied by the NC Museum of Art for publication.  However, I will be having a private tour of Art in Bloom on Wednesday before the event is open to the public so be sure to follow me on social media. 

My thanks to Wells Family Dental Group with a new dental office on Leesville Road in Raleigh, for sponsoring my blog and writing. Thank you for keeping me at my desk writing. 


Easy Irish Potato Soup that will Please Little Leprechauns for a Quick Weeknight Meal

This post was originally written in 2011, but updated in 2019.  This soup recipe is also part of an All Things Irish post with Chapter Two Collective, check out their story for other St. Patrick's Day related recipes, decor and travel ideas. 

Easy Irish Potato Soup Recipe Perfect for St. Patricks Day #Recipes #Soups  #EasyDinners

I have very fond memories of a trip I took to Ennis, Ireland in 1998 with my college roommate. We stayed at the Old Ground Hotel in Ennis and toured the area for a week. It was an alumni trip with UNC-Chapel Hill and it was spectacular. This getaway was way before social media and cell phone photography. My photos are in an album stored away.

After a quick web update almost thirty-one years later, The hotel still welcomes guests in this Irish town, looks totally refurbished and I would stay there in a heartbeat again. This little town was perfect in every way. It was walkable. It was small. The entire experience was probably one of the best trips I've taken on a tour.

Old Ground Hotel in Ennis, Ireland
Old Ground Hotel in Ennis, Ireland
The Old Ground Hotel is located about 20 minutes away from Shannon International Airport and 40 minutes away from the Cliffs of Moher. I also dined at Durty Nelly's, a four-hundred-year-old pub in Bunratty, adjacent to the castle and I had some of the best carrot soup I think I've ever tasted.

We traveled to County Clare in October, and it was quite cold. I still remember the wonderful soups I had on this trip. I've always been a fan of potato soup so I started making it some upon my return.

I adapted a recipe published in Southern Living in 1999.

Easy Potato Soup Recipe
Photo Credit: Ralph Anderson

Easy Irish Potato Soup

1/2 cup unsalted butter.
3 leeks, sliced ( I used frozen from Trader Joes, and I didn't know the amount that three leeks would produce so I used almost two cups of frozen.  I may have used too much, but we liked the soup.)
5 large baking potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch thick slices. (I think my potatoes were on the smaller side so if you have smaller baking potatoes, I would recommend adding one or two more potatoes.  The original recipe called for only three).
3 (14 1/2 ounces) cans of chicken broth
1 teaspoon of kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Toppings: shredded cheddar, crumbled cooked bacon (I used no nitrates added turkey bacon), chopped fresh chives.

Irish Potato Soup in less than Hour on Stove. Instant Pot even less time

Melt butter in a large saucepan over low heat; stir in onion and leek.  Cover and cook 20 minutes.  Stir in potatoes; cover and cook 15 minutes.  Stir in broth, salt, and pepper; bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, and simmer 30 minutes or until potatoes are tender.  Remove from heat, and cool slightly.

The original recipe says to put the soup in batches in the blender.  Instead, I took a mixer and pureed the soup in the pot.  My suggestion is to let the soup cool though.  I got a little splatter from a very hot potato! Reheat the soup over medium heat until heated.  Serve with desired toppings.

*Budget Note:  The soup cost less than $10 to make, and that includes all the toppings.  You will have enough for several meals.

I made this soup decades before an Instant pot, but this recipe can easily be adapted for the Instant Pot.  Other recipes I've read online also use red potatoes instead of baking potatoes.

I really hope to go back to Ireland one day with my family, especially to this area.   This photo taken on the trip is a favorite of mine.  I would have loved to have brought the sign home with me.  For more information on this tourism area in Ireland, visit https://www.clare.ie/

Leprechaun Crossing in Ireland.

And a little throwback photo from when this post was originally written. My son was five.

This post is made possible by Sims Orthodontics, the best Orthodontist in Pensacola Florida  My thanks to my sponsors for keeping me at my desk writing and updating conent. 


Serve this Cajun Crawfish Etouffee for Mardi Gras

Easy recipe for Lousiana-Inspired Crawfish Etouffee. Perfect for Mardi Gras Celebrations.

With  Mardi Gras celebrations happening in New Orleans, it made me think about an annual crawfish boil that some friends of ours host each year.  The first time we attended their event I was pregnant with my daughter. My adorable friend had all this wonderful food for everyone to eat including this yummy, rich gumbo served over rice.  I think I ate it as if I had not eaten in weeks.  My son, who was then three, loved it and it got two thumbs up from my husband, too. On my second or third helping of the dish (remember, I was very pregnant), I motioned my friend over.

I asked in between bites, "What is this?  It's so good?"

She told me it was Etouffee.  I probably looked at her puzzled and as if I needed to free my ears of wax because I didn't understand her.  I think I  said, "Et tou what?   She told us it was Crawfish Etouffee, and it was her first time making her husband's family recipe.  Her husband was born in Louisiana, and the recipe has been in the family for years. It was my first time trying this type of dish.

In 2011, I asked my friend if I could share it with all of you, and after checking with her in-laws, she said yes. It's been a popular recipe on the blog for years now.

Get ready to make some melt in your mouth, Cajun goodness!  This Crouch family recipe calls for crawfish, but I did some research on Etouffee just for us since I've never personally made it. Here's what I learned.  Etouffee is the French word for "smother".  It is most popular with shellfish, chicken, or a combination of both.  So, if you have difficulty getting crawfish then shrimp would be a great substitute. Or mix it up and try using chicken.  I bet it would be great to cook in the Instant Pot.

Crouch Crawfish Etouffee

3 lbs crawfish tails (peeled)
2 sticks of margarine
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
1 can cream of celery soup
1 can button mushrooms
1 large onion (chopped)
1 can Rotel tomatoes (diced tomatoes with green chilies)
1 can beer (light beer, any type)
1 cup chopped green onion
1/4 cup bell pepper (diced)
1/4 cup celery (diced)
White Rice (Cooked Separately)

Season to taste with these spices:
Cayenne pepper (you don't need a lot, the Rotel will add spice)
Lots of Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning (more is better)
Lots of minced garlic

First, melt butter or margarine in a pot. Your heat should not make the butter froth up (you will want to keep this heat going the whole time). Saute bell peppers in butter for about 6 minutes. Now add all the onion. Saute down until onion is soft and yellowish, remember to stir often.

Add cream of mushroom soup, cream of celery soup,  and the can of Rotel.  Let it come to room temperature. Add celery, button mushrooms, and spices to taste. You will have to put quite a bit of paprika to make it a nice brownish orange color. Let cook for about 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally.

About 10 minutes after you put in the vegetables, pour 1/4-1/2 can of beer into the pot. You may also need to add water if the stew is too thick for you. With about 15 minutes left, add crawfish and green onions.
Let cook for about 15 minutes or until crawfish are done, stirring occasionally.

Remove and pour over white rice.

Enjoy!  And Let the Good Times Roll this week with some yummy Crouch Crawfish Etouffee.

You could also substitute shrimp for crawfish.

This recipe is sponsored by  Harry Martin, Jr. .My blog sponsors make it possible for me to keep at my desk writing. 


NC Travel: 5 Reasons Why You Should Vacation in Downtown Asheville

One of my favorite places in North Carolina is the city of Asheville, N.C.  No matter what season you are in during my home state, this Western North Carolina nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains is great to explore any time of year.  I spend a lot of time in Asheville in the summer months. This Asheville travel guide was originally published in 2017, but the company InVideo recently worked with me to develop my content into a video for YouTube.  They have done work for CNN, CNBC, Travel Channels and now me. I love the way it turned out.

Five Reasons Why I Think You Should Vacation in Downtown Asheville

Outdoor seating at Posana  Restaurant in Downtown Asheville

Asheville is often referred to as the "Paris of the South" and having been to both places, I can certainly see the resemblance. Like Paris, Asheville has lots of cafes with outdoor seating, live music, art galleries, and some impressive churches. The Basilica of St. Lawrence, which houses the largest elliptical dome in the U.S. is a gorgeous landmark just like the scenic Biltmore Estate.

But at the same time, these two cities are quite different. Chic black dresses and heels in Paris are replaced with outdoor wear and comfortable sandals. Food is not pretentious in Asheville. Instead, it is gourmet simple with most restaurants sourcing from local farms. Parisian perfumes are replaced with shops that sell holistic essential oil infused homemade soaps and candles. Asheville thrives itself on wellness and environmental sustainability. The city is also the nation's first Bee City USA, which means it works to support bee health and pollinator friendly habitats. Asheville is proud of its Urban Bee Trail, and the hotel I used as my base for my Asheville adventure, Renaissance Downtown Asheville, has 70,000 bees on its roof and is the base for Asheville Honeybee research. I didn't see the bees on this trip, but I certainly buzzed around the city like a busy bee.

Outdoor patio at Renaissance Downtown Asheville Hotel

No doubt. Asheville is buzzing with things to do, but I believe your stress levels drop as soon as you embrace the dynamic Asheville culture. While there, you are eating whole foods. You are walking. You are taking in the fresh, mountain air. My feeling is that the mountain town of  Asheville does a body good, and you'll leave the city with a feeling of rejuvenation.

Like most cities, Asheville is laid out with different quadrants, and it also has suburb type towns within a half an hour of it such as Black Mountain and Weaverville. Other mountain towns like Hendersonville, Brevard, Waynesville, and Cherokee are not too far away either and make fabulous day trips if your time allows.  I think you could book a hotel anywhere in the city of Asheville and absolutely love your stay. For this post, however, I'm going to concentrate on the area known as Downtown Asheville.

historic biltmore estate, north carolina's biggest tourist attraction

North Carolina's number one tourist attraction, the Biltmore Estate, and the quaint Biltmore village are extremely close to this part of town, about two miles away. However, the entrance to the estate is not what I call within walking distance. Don't stay in downtown Asheville and expect to walk to the estate. The closest hotels to the estate are on the Biltmore property or in Biltmore Village, which is a charming village dotted with Tudor architecture.

#OutaboutNC  Travel Guide for #Asheville #NorthCarolina

Here is my list as to why I think downtown Asheville makes a great place to stay.

1. You Can Walk Everywhere, Ride the Trolley or Take a Comedy Bus to Tour

Downtown Asheville is very walkable. It's easy to walk from the historic Thomas Wolfe Memorial, the boarding house where the famous Asheville author grew up on Woodfin Street, to the breweries on the lower end of Biltmore Avenue, which is about a ten-minute walk.

Thomas Wolfe memorial home

You feel safe and secure. Now, I'm a middle-aged woman with two kids under the age of 12. I'm not walking around at 12 a.m, but we easily walked from Wicked Weed Brewing on Biltmore to our hotel, Renaissance Downtown Asheville, as late as 9 p.m.  People were out walking everywhere. Asheville has the Urban Walking Trail for touring.  I saw some of the spots as I walked around town. There is a lot of history in this mountain town and many, many walking tours are available for you.

You can also hop on and off the Asheville trolley. Tickets are needed, but the trolley conveniently picks up outside the Renaissance Downtown Asheville. The trolley will take you to the River Arts District, Biltmore Village, and the scenic Grove Park Inn.  The trolley also offers additional tours such as a Ghost Tour, if you dare. It sounds so creepy, but I know some of you will love it. It's important to note that if you take the trolley to the Biltmore Village, the Biltmore Mansion is about a five-miles from the gate and you will need your car so use the trolley to explore the shops and restaurants in the village.

historic downtown asheville

LaZoom Tours are also based in downtown Asheville. They have a kid-friendly tour on Saturday only. It looks like a pretty wild comedic ride. We waved at the bus as the tour guide directed onlookers to the monument that my daughter was standing on while eating her delicious French Broad Chocolates' ice cream. This small creamery called Milk + Chocolate. is adjacent to the Chocolate Lounge.

2. Walk Anywhere in Downtown Asheville and Get a Darn Good Meal 

Sure, some restaurants are better than others and/or have famous chefs, but what I love about Asheville is that I'm pretty confident that you can walk into most every restaurant in downtown Asheville and get a decent meal. I asked my Facebook friends before I departed for the city to give me their recommendations. There were hardly any repeats on the list. Top contenders were  Chestnut, Curate, Cucina 24, Chai Pani, Rhubarb, Posana, Early Girl Eatery, Buxton Hall BBQ, Farm Burger, Nightbell, Salsa's, White Duck Taco, Limones, Tupelo Honey,  Wicked Weed, and the list goes on and on. There was no way we could eat in all of those places in two weekends. Some places you will need a reservation.

Outside of Salsas on Patton Avenue

On our first night in town, we decided on a whim to go to Salsas on Patton Avenue, a Mexican and Caribbean restaurant. We were headed toward Farm Burger, but Will did not really want a burger and once we were standing out front, I did not really want counter service for the evening. See, that's how we roll. We do whatever the mood strikes.

 Salsa's was next door. We enjoyed our meal at Salsas so much that we ate there twice while in Asheville this summer.  It's a small little place. The food was divine and I can tell you that no one will probably ever eat my guacamole again in my house after tasting this restaurant's version. I think this is a now a Hines favorite, and we may go every time we are in Asheville.

For brunch/lunch one day, we ventured into Green Sage Cafe on Broadway. No one had recommended it to us, but we loved it. Will found it as an option when looking at the map and things close to our hotel.  It was a quick walk from our hotel, the Renaissance Downtown Asheville.

The Green Sage refers to itself as "Asheville's Healthy Restaurant" The kids got pancakes and smoothies. I ordered a yummy rice bowl with lots of things in that they sell at Whole Foods. I will go back. It's pricey for counter service for lunch.  Our bill was about $50 including smoothies and drinks.  Liza spilled her smoothie, and they replaced it at no charge.The great customer service made this establishment even more memorable for me.

A tavern near Pack Square

Pack Tavern, located in a historic building adjacent to the popular Pack Square, was also extremely close to our hotel, the Renaissance Downtown Asheville.  You could see our hotel from the restaurant entrance. This restaurant is true to its roots...a tavern and that means it is very kid-friendly and has a lot of options for all parties. I would go back when in town. My chicken sandwich was good.  I like this restaurant because it is reasonable for a family of four to dine, and it is a good local, simple option. They have an outdoor space with live music during the evening.

Another restaurant near the Renaissance Downtown Asheville where we dined in on a rainy night was Twisted Laurel Eatery. What impressed me about this restaurant was its customer service, atmosphere, and its' special treatment of kid and dog guests. They have a doggie menu in addition to a good kid's menu.  For $10, your four-legged best friend can get the Woof Meal with treats, veggies, rice and protein choices. I've not seen this at a restaurant before and I thought it was a neat perk especially since the restaurant has a great outdoor seating area overlooking Pack Square.

Hotel restaurant in Renaissance Asheville

And finally, I had a great meal in Writer's Bistro in the Renaissance Hotel. This will be a good story to tell you at a later date. The Writer's Bistro is a farm-to-table restaurant located in the hotel lobby, and dining here for lunch absolutely saved our day. We should have gone here to start, but you know how it is when you travel...not all things go as you think they should, and that is especially true when traveling with children.The restaurant is more upscale than what we were planning to experience that day, but let me tell you....my $14 black bean burger with sweet potato fries was worth every penny. More on that in another post.

black bean burger at Writer's Bistro in Asheville, NC

3. Art Galleries and Shopping are Plentiful in Downtown Asheville 

There are so many wonderful shops to explore in downtown Asheville.  Just outside the Renaissance Downtown Asheville is the Appalachian Craft Center.  This jewel of a store is located on Spruce Street and is filled with folk pottery, traditional crafts, and mountain-made collectibles.

Inside the Grove Arcade, premier area for shopping and entertainment in Asheville

 A short stroll from the hotel is the historic Grove Arcade.  This shopping and entertainment center is worth seeing just for the architecture, but it also houses some delightful shops, art galleries, and an artists market.  The Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar is worth a look, too.  You could get lost in there for hours with a good book.  If you are in the market for shoes or even if you are not in the market for shoes, you must visit Tops for Shoes on Lexington Avenue.  This is one of the largest shoe stores I've ever seen and it covers an entire city block. It has the best selection of children's shoes in North Carolina.

4. The Downtown  Asheville Breweries are Awesome. Asheville Makes Great Beer

Beer at Catawba Brewery

In downtown Asheville, you can brewery hop and it's easy to do. Several breweries are located near each other (Sierra Nevada and Highland Brewing Company are not located in downtown Asheville, but each brewery is worth a visit when in town. More on those another time).  You can easily walk from Wicked Weed Brewing (we always dine here, too and it is where I first fell in love with the Gose style beer) to its Funkatorium, which specializes only in sour beers. Burial Brewing Co, Green Man Brewing, and Catawba Brewing--South Slope locations are all so close to each other. Catawba has these great Eno hammocks and they kept our children entertained, which we loved. What parent doesn't love that?   It's also next door to my number 5 reason for staying in or around downtown Asheville.

Catawba Brewery is very kid-friendly

5. Vortex Doughnuts and Double D's Coffee and Desserts

I could not talk about downtown Asheville without mentioning these two businesses. We discovered these businesses last year so no matter how many times we go to Asheville, we always go to Vortex Doughnuts on Banks Avenue and Double D's Coffee and Desserts on Biltmore Avenue.  If we didn't, my kids would be unbearable. These are their absolute favorite places in downtown Asheville.  Liza gets a Vortex shirt every year and sleeps in them. We love the vanilla yeast doughnut. We go here more than one time a visit.

Yeast doughnuts at  Vortex Doughnuts are so good.

 Vortex is on Banks Avenue. It also has the heaviest door in Asheville. I kid you not. Go and try it.  Bet you can't use just one arm!

A London bus and the fact that you can eat ice cream or drink a latte in it. What's not to love about that? Double D's has coffee, ice cream, and milkshakes. My kids always get the milkshakes. This is a busy little place, and be sure to bring cash. They do not accept any other forms of payments, but cash.

A London Bus in Asheville..great ice cream and coffee served here

Renaissance Hotel Downtown Asheville-Our Travel Base

My hotel base for exploring Asheville was the Renaissance Asheville Hotel, located at 31 Woodfin Street. This hotel is part of the Marriott brand and is a full-service hotel with room service, a gourmet restaurant, lobby bar, fitness center and a large, gorgeous indoor pool.  Room choices are one king bed or two queen beds. Cleanliness and service were excellent in this Asheville hotel.  I spent a lot of time at this hotel and checked in not once, but did two separate weekend stays in this property.  Both stays were top-notch and we felt right at home.

Queen room at the Renaissance Downtown Asheville

Higher floors have better mountain views. Corner rooms are larger in size. Bathrooms are on the smaller side, but very clean and up to date. Each room has a refrigerator, plenty of spaces to charge electronics and a coffee/tea maker.  Parking and Wifi are free, and every Thursday the hotel hosts live music. It is a pet-friendly hotel. Complimentary coffee is also served in the lobby every morning.

The decor theme of the hotel is literary which makes perfect sense with its location next door to author Thomas Wolfe's memorial.

Weekend rates hover in peak season around $350 per night for Marriott Reward Members.  Stay where I stayed and book your Renaissance stay in Asheville directly from Marriott, which are the guaranteed lowest prices.

You and your kids will love this pool.

The Renaissance Downtown Asheville has a large indoor pool

For more information on Asheville and the surrounding area, visit ExploreAsheville.

Renaissance Asheville is a Conference Hotel #Businessasusual

Disclosure: I stayed at the Renaissance on a special rate negotiated for media. This travel post is sponsored by Mile High Smiles, the best Lakewood, Colorado Dentist. 

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