2.28.2019

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)
Paprika
Basil
Thyme
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. 

2.26.2019

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. 

2.18.2019

Can Tidying Up A Little Bit at a Time Still Spark Joy in Households? I'm Tackling the KonMari Method My Own Way

When Netflix debuted the show, "Tidying Up with Marie Kondo", praise for her and the show was everywhere.  People across America began tidying up and posting on social media that the show was so motivating. I became curious about it myself. Marie Kondo is a best-selling author, and her KonMari method has been around for several years.

In fact, I remember seeing her books in stores years ago, but quickly passed them by because I had no desire to clean up. But TV visuals can change everything in one hour.  I watched the show and as soon as that show was over,  I could not wait to go out and buy $96 dollars worth of organization materials to spark joy in my own household.

Raleigh Blogger, Leigh Powell Hines is Tidying Up with Marie Kondo


I am basically married to the male version of Marie Kondo. Will has always been neat. In fact, the kids and I suffocate his joy with our clutter. Sometimes, the clutter gets to be too much in certain places and his face begins to resemble the angry face emoji. He's short with his words. He's grumpy and we all become stressed.

Will is a very organized person. Before we were married, his college friends would go put his toothbrush out of place when they visited him as a little something to remember them by after they departed.

Household Clutter Brings No Joy

Will, however, with his very organized way of thinking does not understand why I can't pick just one day a week to clean part of the house. I try, but to block four hours on one day to clean seems daunting and overwhelming to me. As much as I understand the "why behind why it should be done", the more difficult it is for a free-spirit like to me to stick with a cleaning schedule on a task I do not really want to do in the first place.

Clutter is a huge problem in Leigh's Kitchen. Leigh began KonMari in the Kitchen.


Yes, we all have responsibilities and must do things we do not want to do. It's not that I'm avoiding responsibility. The truth is I prefer to work on this blog and tackle the zillion to do things that need to be done on this website to have a successful blog than to tidy a house.

To put it frankly, my lack of structure and organization, the children's lack of tidying up have created frustration instead of joy in our house. But, Marie Kondo's method has caused me to see the light for improvement and days of joy ahead.

The KonMari way is very specific as to how one should tidy. You really should start with clothing, followed by books, papers, komono (items) and then finish with sentimental items.  You should not do it by location.

Before Tidying UP-The Pantry


However, the first rule to KonMari is to commit to tidying up.  I did that. Everything else I have done is backward.

The problem was that I did not want to devote every day to tidying up the house nor did I want to tackle clothing first which totally goes against the real KonMari method.  I had gone through clothes at the end of last year. I'm ready to fold them her way and tidy my children's rooms her way, but I knew I would fail and not commit if I started with clothing. I will get there, but I think for me, the commitment to tidy was a good start.

If you follow me on Instagram, I have a Tidying Up with Marie Kondo InstaStory series every Wednesday. I do a little bit of tidying at a time. I started with my kitchen. When you watch those InstaStories, you will see that it is work and it is not easy, and sometimes I stall. The one thing that has helped me is that I have committed to documenting the progress. The entire kitchen was done in four weeks. Really organized people could have done it a day. But, a little bit at a time helped me tackle with success, I think.

My Tidying Up has Sparked Joy in my Household and I want to Do More

My pantry was the biggest tidying up project for the kitchen, but the result has been amazing. I'm no longer buying the same items over and over again. The kids can find their snacks. An organized pantry has certainly caused joy.  I'm so proud of it that when neighbors come over, I make excuses for the clutter I have not gotten to yet on the main island we have that collects pencils, papers, mail and such, but I proudly show off my pantry.

After-Tidying Up-The Pantry


I organized drawers.  I also bought spice racks and created extra shelving for my mugs.  When we moved into this house in 2016, Will had organized the china, silverware and pots and pans very well. He has also cleaned out the pantry before, too, but honestly, it took me doing it to continue the desire to keep it organized.

The kitchen has been tidied and it is life changing. I'm now moving to the master bathroom.

Have you tried any of these methods? It may take me a year to get all of this done on my own time, but I think anything I do is a positive step for change and joy.

Sparking Joy in your Household via the KonMari Method. However, I'm doing it a little bit at a time. Will it still work? #Konmari #organization #decluttering


Disclosure: My time for writing this post is made possible by The Mair Agency, a Raleigh based Health Insurance Agency. Thank you to my sponsors for keeping me at my desk writing.





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