Navigate / search

Private Chef’s Dinner for Two? We Can Now Cross THAT Off The List.

I think we should just take a moment to appreciate something.

House red.

Orzo salad with braised asparagus ti ps and Manchego(?) cheese.

Crab Rangoon in puffed pastry.

Purple potato-encrusted halibut over a bed of swiss chard and pureed parsnips.

Cheesecake with chocolate and pistachios.

Obviously, I appreciated it a little more than you can.

This is what happens when you order a private dinner from Chef Jackie at the Banner Elk Winery and Villa. (It was dark in there for dinner, so please ignore the odd photo lighting.)

We opted for the Chef’s dinner since we knew we wanted the first day of our mini-retreat to be as relaxing as possible. The last thing Justin needed upon his return from Afghanistan was me screaming and grabbing his arm as we negotiated winding mountain roads back to the b&b in the dark after dinner.

I am so glad we splurged. It was very cool watching her cook and enjoying casual conversation while we inhaled course after delicious course.

What better way to spend an evening than with my two best loves — food, and my husband?

Probably in that order.


I think.

Mostly The World Is Filled With Good People. You Should Meet Them Sometime.

Well. I’m back.

I didn’t mean to neglect you for the entire week — I really didn’t. But there’s just something about the B&B atmosphere — the bed and breakfastry of it all — that makes one sloggy.

See? Thirty-five words in and I’ve already made up 2 of them.

I even brought a computer along with perfectly good intentions of using it, but I find that when I’m surrounded by food and wine and luxury bedding and fall leaves and wine, I have absolutely zero motivation to turn it on.

Zero. (This image is straight from the iPhone. No filters or instagrammin’ or enhancements. Just pure, unadulterated, vineyardy goodness.)

Plus, we had a full case of Travel Mojo happening, and you don’t interrupt the flow of good TM with trivialities like technology.

Especially when there’s a full case involved.


You’re unfamiliar with Travel Mojo?

Well that could be because I made it up.

In fact, maybe I should trademark that.

And its acronym. So it’d be: TM™.



Travel Mojo is what happens when a trip just has good vibes. You go into it all, hey. Whatever happens, happens. I might make reservations at a couple of restaurants just so we don’t turn into B&B porch lumps and starve to death, but other than that, I’m not going to over plan it.

And you know what happens?

Rainbows and butterflies and fantastic people and complimentary drinks and entire free meals, that’s what.

It’s letting go of the anal schedules and planning and trying to squeeze every possible attraction into an already overstuffed agenda because the thing is, the world is full of wonders.

And trying to see them all will only stress you out.

It’s about kicking off your shoes, enjoying the drive, and sticking your toes into random photos of fall foliage.

It’s about books.

And conversing.

And sometimes just silently admiring a particularly interesting view.

I know.

We’re getting old.

But don’t get me wrong — there was also raucous laughter, swing dancing attempts and inebriated strolls through the city of Asheville.

And the TM was with us then, too.

And while it really was with us the whole time, it culminated on our last evening in Asheville.

See, I actually spent an entire day planning the basic milestones — food and lodging — of this trip before Justin came home from Afghanistan (which for me and my miniscule attention span is remarkable). I’d heard that Asheville is the type of town where you need to make reservations pretty much every night of the week. Many of the restaurants are small, privately owned boutique eateries that concentrate on quality over quantity, so I spent an impressive amount of time just deciding where we should dine.

And the winner for our last night was a place called Cúrate (cu-rah-tay), which apparently means “to cure yourself.”

And that, it did.

They say they serve authentic Spanish style tapas (“small plates”), but having been to Spain and eaten Spanish tapas, I would say the ones at Cúrate are significantly better. By far.

The Chef, Katie Button, quit her prestigious PhD program in Neuroscience (yes, and that’s after earning her master’s from L’Ecole Centrale in Paris, France, and her bachelor’s from Cornell University) in “pursuit of passion, life, and happiness.

Sounds like my kind of chick.

All of this information is available on the restaurant’s website, but I’d actually read it in a book about North Carolina chefs just down the street from the restaurant while we waited for our reservation, which meant I was super excited when I saw Katie in person. Like, celebrity sighting excited.

I used the Open Table app on my phone to reserve us a place at the bar. (If you’ve never used Open Table to make reservations, you should start immediately. It’s so simple to use.) From there, we could see all of the action because the restaurant’s kitchen actually runs along the back wall of the bar.

We were practically inside it.

Curate Menu

The atmosphere was my favorite — small, energetic, and full of shiny glassware.


We ordered many phenomenal dishes:

Butternut squash soup with smoked Spanish paprika.

pimientos de piquillo con queso de cabra

Piquillo peppers stuffed with caña de cabra cheese (my favorite dish).

gambas al ajillo

Sautéed shrimp and sliced garlic.

pincho moruno

Lamb skewers marinated in moorish spices.

berenjenas la taberna

Fried eggplant with honey and rosemary.

Tapas dining is perfect for me because when it comes to menu options, I’m often paralyzed with indecision. But at a tapas restaurant that doesn’t matter, because I can try a bit of everything until I can’t try no mo’.

We were pretty much at that point when I stared talking to one of the couples sitting next to us. In an intimate setting like the one at Cúrate, it’s easy to start commenting on what your neighbors order and from there, strike up a conversation. (If the thought of starting a conversation with strangers terrifies you, start thinking of it the way I do — if they’re rude and unreceptive, they’re not the kind of people I’d enjoy talking to anyway.)

It turned out they were celebrating a birthday, and they ended up sharing their intricate sugar raspberry dessert with us and the couple I’d been talking to on my other side.

Before long, the birthday couple was ordering us more drinks and we ended up having a grand old time — it felt like we’d been friends all along, even though we didn’t even know each others’ names.

Then they were saying goodbye as we wrapped up conversation with the couple on the other side. I snapped a photo, we hugged, and they walked out of the door.

A few minutes later, we asked for our bill.

Server: Can I get you anything else?

Us: No thanks, that was fantastic! Could we please have our ticket?

Server: Um. It’s already been taken care of.

Us: What?

Server: The couple that was next to you. They took care of it.

Us: No, they just bought us drinks. We still have to pay for our food and original bottle of wine.

Server: You’re not getting it. They paid. They picked up your entire tab.

Us: ….

Server: Have a nice night!

Seriously? Speechless.

Maybe they’d had too much to drink and felt overly generous. Maybe they just really liked us. Maybe it was their way of thanking Justin for his military service. Maybe they’re just extraordinarily nice people.

Whatever the reason, we won’t forget them.

The Travel Mojo – it works in mysterious ways.

I actually feared discussing the Mojo because I was afraid that would weaken its power.

But you know what?

I think it’s like most positive forces in the Universe: The more you give, the more you get.

It’s not about hoarding and saving and tucking it away where no one else can see.

It’s about spreading the wealth. Sharing the fortune. Pouring butter over everything and not adding any calories.

If you see this couple, please let me know. Pronto.

Travel Mojo.

It’s energy and smiles.

Can you feel it?

Cúrate on Urbanspoon

And Two For Tea…

As much as I’d like to be, I’m not really a tea drinker.

I enjoy thinking of myself as misplaced Euro trash, but more of the waify, carefree, wine and cigarettes with lunch variety than the humorless, pearl-wearing, yellow-stained teeth variety.

More this:

Less this:

Of course, we’re talking strictly in stereotypes.

And I don’t smoke.

And I look nothing like Penelope Cruz.

Because it’s a cruel, cruel world.


My point is that despite all of the wonderful things I hear about tea, I much prefer getting my nighttime antioxidants from fermented grapes over sticks and leaves, and coffee is too ingrained into my mornings for me to wake up to anything else, and for those reasons I will probably never be a true convert.


When I was in San Antonio a couple of months ago, my friend Stacy took me to a tea room that almost changed my mind.


See, I’ve always maintained that when you visit a new city, it’s wise to make yourself friendly with a local.  Stacy and I go back to our cubicle days on Fort Bragg, but we kept in touch after I ran off to make hot sauce in Costa Rica and she ran away with her husband back to Texas.

In a city like San Antonio, it’s easy to get lured in by its magical River Walk filled with overpriced restaurants, twinkling lights, touristy shops filled with trinkets to take home, and plenty of beautiful spots to sit and contemplate how many drunk spring breakers have peed off the boardwalk into the murky depths of the waterway. But with a local, you might be more inclined to visit the city’s rusty edge or the King William Historic District, where resides a squat maze of rooms that comprise Madhatters Tea House & Café.

Beamed ceilings, crooked rooms, mismatched chairs and local art define the quirky decor, and one look around made instant my decision to ignore the long line at the counter and treat it as a true sign that this was the place to have lunch.

The line traveled quickly, leaving us just enough time to peruse the extensive menu.

Of course, since this was a tea room, we decided to embrace our girly girl selves and ordered the Tea for Two, complete with crustless sandwiches, scones, and little mini desserts with fancy French names.

After ordering at the counter, we selected our tea cups and I was reminded for a second of what it’s like to just play. To make tea cup selection a big, stinkin’ deal. To forget for a minute about mortgages and Homeowners’ Associations and quitting my job and just have a tea party because dammit, sometimes you just want to lift a delicate cup from an intricate saucer, stick your pinky in the air, and curse your decision to leave the house without your wide-brimmed hat.

I don’t remember what kind of tea we drank, but it was delicious, served hot and steeping at our table in its own funky pot.

And excuse me? Crustless sandwiches? I always thought that was wasteful as a kid and so never requested my bread sans crust, but whoa. I was missing out. There’s something about thick, fluffy bread unimpeded by stiff crust, and tell me — will people start looking at me funny if, at almost-30-years-old, I start cutting the crust from my sandwiches?

If so, I’ll just tell them my teeth are rotting because I’m getting so old.

Meager as it looks, it was actually a pretty filling amount of food. And the trick, my friends, is to eat slowly. Savor the flavor. Sip warm tea. Enjoy conversation with long lost friends and pretend, just for an hour, that life’s as simple as we want it to be.

It wasn’t wine and cigarettes, but the effect, I think, was the same.

Madhatters on Urbanspoon

Here, It’s Impossible to Get SAD.

I have this feeling.

LION Coffee

I’m sitting here, on a city street corner in a room surrounded by glass, and a salty breath of ocean breeze has found its way inside.  It kissed my cheek and made me smile and reminded me of where I am.

I have a giant cup filled with the best chai latte I’ve ever had, which doesn’t hurt.

My mood is impeccable and I feel, maybe for the first time since Justin left, like I can breathe again.

I’m in a coffee shop, of course, and I realize now more than ever that this atmosphere is not conducive to writing.  Especially this particular coffee shop, with its eclectic music, colorful street traffic, and sailor-mouthed old man sitting across the room.

The staff here at LION Coffee are friendly, the windows are open, and I know I’d come here again and again if I lived in this town.  They’d know my name, and they’d know my drink, and I think I could probably be happy.

Until I’d want to move again.

Next time, I wouldn’t order the breakfast burrito.

LION Coffee breakfast burrito

With its cheese, potatoes, and bacon, it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t awesome.  The spicy salsa made the difference.

I would, however, order the acai bowl with yogurt, fruit, and granola.  It looks incredible.

And the coffee?  I could drink this all day.  I could drink this all day and develop chronic shakes and totally not care because it’s just. That. Good.

And San Diego?

(That’s where I am, by the way.)

I could learn to love San Diego.  I’ve been here before, and I’m happy to see that it sill makes me smile.  With its people and its restaurants and its ocean and its perfect, perfect weather, it’s hard to be unhappy.

In fact, I don’t think I could ever get SAD.

And that, I think, is exactly what I need.

San Diego
Henry's Pub San Diego
Weather San Diego

I have this feeling.

And I kind of want to keep it.