A Toast to Taylor

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Wine tastings are always fun in my opinion, but one that I attended Tuesday night was especially sweet because the proceeds went to a cause that's near and dear to my heart. A Toast to Taylor raised money for Taylor's Tale, a Charlotte-based non-profit committed to raising awareness and funds to find a cure for Batten disease, a neurodegenerative disorder that affects children. In particular, Taylor's Tale was founded in honor of the now almost 11-year-old Taylor King who is fighting the disease.

Taylor really is an inspiration to all those around her. Even though Batten disease has robbed her of her vision among other things, she continues to participate in Girls on the Run, completing two recent 5Ks with the help of a running buddy (read a post by the founder of Girls on the Run about Taylor here). And she still dreams of growing up and becoming a fashion designer or pop singer - depending on what day of the week you happen to ask her.

Taylor and her sister, Laura, after Taylor finished the Jingle Jog 5K
in Charlotte this December.
Photo Source: Taylor's Tale

A Toast to Taylor is just one of many events that Taylor's Tale has put on in recent memory to fuel the fight against Batten disease with others including a group exercise class, a poolside BBQ and a springtime celebration. The planning of future fundraising events is in the works, so be sure to check the calendar of events on www.TaylorsTale.com soon! You could also become a fan of Taylor's Tale on Facebook or follow Taylor's sister's blog to find out about upcoming events and initiatives. Or, if you're interesting in supporting the charity financially, you can make a donation by clicking here. Cheers to the supporters of Taylor and Taylor's Tale!

Wine Tasting and Tapas Notes

Tuesday's wine tasting benefit was held at Las Ramblas, a delicious Spanish tapas bar in Charlotte. The five wines selected were a nice sampling with each of the blends carrying a very distinct and unique flavor. The line up was as follows:
1. Kenwood Pinot Gris
2. Angoves Viognier
3. Hess Chardonnay
4. Robertson Merlot
5. Natura Cabernet Sauvignon
My favorites were definitely the Pinot Gris and, above all, the Cabernet. The Cabernet tasted of chocolate and cherries; the wine had a very smooth, full-bodied flavor. It definitely would be great paired with a chocolate dessert. The Pinot Gris was lighter, carrying notes of tartness along with a citrus flavor. Even the Chardonnay was good; instead of the traditional oaky, buttery taste, it held hints of green apple, vanilla and peach.

Enjoying a Toast to Taylor with friends!
Photo Source: Self

As for the tapas, the Las Ramblas Sliders (skewered marinated lamb with a mint yogurt sauce) and the Crab Stuffed Picollo Peppers were standouts with the Queso de Cabra Frita, fried goat cheese with almonds, roasted garlic and quince honey, as another notable dish. The paella wasn't quite as good as I'd hoped, but the dessert more than made up for this shortcoming. Testing out my recent infatuation with Tres Leches Cake first experienced at the Jazz Corner in Hilton Head, the dessert passed the test a second time. The sweet, caramel soaked cake was too-good-to-be true although it could have done without the mile-high layer of icing. I also nibbled on a piece of Tosta de Chocolate, a tasty and unlikely pairing of chocolate, salt and baguette, which turned out to be quite good and disappeared right before our eyes!

The honey, almond and garlic sauce that accompanied
Queso de Cabra Frita added balance and gave the dish a unique flavor.
Photo Source: Self

Verdict: Las Ramblas has a fun, laid-back atmosphere that's perfect for post-work drinks and appetizers. While the food is an Americanized version of real Spanish tapas, the variety of options, and above all, the company make it well worth the while. Be sure to save room for dessert!

"A" is for A La Mode Part II

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Calling all ice cream lovers! This is the second post of a two-part look at all things ice cream from A to Z. For the first part of "A" is for A La Mode, which covers a la mode to ice cream cones, click here.

Italian Ice: made with concentrated syrup or fruit purees, Italian ice is made in the same process that ice cream is, but does not contain milk, eggs or cream -- only fruit or fruit-flavored ingredients. Unlike snow cones, Italian ice has very small flavored ice crystals giving it a smooth, cold texture.

Juice Bar: just what it sounds like, juice bars are made of fruit juice and/or pulverized fruit, which is frozen on a stick.

Milkshake: dubbed a drink that "brings the boys to the yard", milkshakes are made with ice cream and milk to produce a delicious, drinkable dessert. Though today malt is an ingredient that's often left out, this used to be a staple milkshake ingredient of yesteryears.
Popcicle: a popular American brand of ice pops, the Popcicle was invented by an 11-year-old boy who left his mixed powdered soda pop and water outside with a stirring stick and discovered the next morning that the mixture had frozen to the stick! Popcicles are made of 90 percent water, and the rest is artificial flavoring. Later the Creamsicle was created, a dessert comprised of vanilla ice cream on a stick surrounded by sticky sweet frozen fruit flavoring. Next came the Fudsicle, a creamy chocolate flavored variation of this sticked sweet.
These pretty Triple-decker Citrus Pops are made with three different
kinds of fruit juice for a fresh twist on the traditional Popsicle.
Photo Source: MyRecipes

Push Pop: typically made of sherbet, and sometimes ice cream. Push Pops are a similar concept to ice cream cones - the treat is revealed as it's eaten via a plastic cup and stick which, when pushed, causes the sherbet to rise.

Semifreddo: Italian for "half cold", semifreddos can include a number of chilled or partially frozen desserts including frozen custard, ice cream cake and fruit tarts. Fortunately for those without ice cream machines, you can still make semifreddos in your freezer! Dried fruit and nuts are popular additions to semifreddos.
This semifreddo, or half-frozen dessert, has a chocolate custard center
with an Oreo crust. Assembly time required is less than an hour.
Photo Source: Brown-Eyed Baker

Sherbet: sherbet is similar to sorbet, except that sherbet contains dairy products like milk and/or eggs while sorbet does not. Sherbet has a smooth texture that's more similar to ice cream, and in the U.S. it contains between one to two percent milkfat.

Smoothie: a recently popularized drink that typically, although not always, has a fruit base. Smoothies can be made with any combination of fruit juice, milk, yogurt, frozen fruit and other ingredients. Many smoothie shops have popped up around the nation in recent years with some of the most popular being Smoothie King, Jamba Juice and Planet Smoothie. These shops often offer mix-in nutritional supplements such as caffeine, vitamins, fiber and more.
Smoothies come in all colors and flavors with this unusual blend
containing a mixture of honeydew melon, kiwis and green grapes.
Photo Source: eHow

Snowcone: crushed ice served in a paper cone with fruit syrup flavoring in varieties such as cherry, grape, blue raspberry or the iconic rainbow snowcone.

Sorbet: made with sugar, fruit and ice rather than cream, milk and eggs, sorbets are a tart and tasty fat-free frozen treat. Occasionally egg whites may be used for body.

Sorbetto: often used interchangeably with sorbet, sorbetto is more strongly flavored than sorbet but is made using the same process.
This sweet tart sorbetto is the perfect cool down treat for a
hot summer day.
Photo Source: Epicurious

"A" is for A La Mode Part I

Monday, July 20, 2009

In the alphabet of ice cream, "A" is for a la mode. In honor of National Ice Cream Month, I have created an A to Z guide for the abounding number of different types of iced and frozen desserts that can be enjoyed.

"T" is for toppings of hot fudge, sprinkles and a cherry on top.
Photo Source: Photo Bucket

A la mode: French for "with ice cream on top."

Astronaut Ice Cream: the popularity of ice cream has literally taken it out of this world! Freeze-dried ice cream, also known as "astronaut ice cream" was first tasted in space in the 1960s during the Apollo missions. Typically this unique take on ice cream comes as a dry, chalky neopolitan-style block of chocolate, vanilla and strawberry flavors.

Blizzard: a Dairy Queen ice cream treat that's been an American favorite since the 80s, the Blizzard has the consistency of a very thick milkshake and is made with a variety of mix-ins including Oreos, Reese's, Snickers and Heath bars to name a few. Newest flavors include Cheesequake, Brownie Batter and Chocolate Dipped Strawberries, which were introduced in 2004.

Freeze Pop: also known as an ice pop, freeze pops are frozen ice with artificial fruit flavoring packaged in long plastic tubes as a cheap summer treat popular among children.

Frozen Custard: similar to ice cream, frozen custard is made with eggs, but is made using a different process from ice cream making it thicker, creamier, and more prone to melting. Frozen custard typically comes in simple flavor offerings such as chocolate, vanilla and strawberry.

Frozen Yogurt: also known as "fro yo", frozen yogurt is a healthy frozen alternative to ice cream typically containing less fat and calories than the traditional scoop. While ice cream must have at least 10 percent milk fat to be considered authentic, frozen yogurt has a maximum of six percent milkfat and some varieties can have less than one percent.
Gelato: an Italian frozen dessert made with more milk than cream, making it a less fattening than traditional ice cream. This frozen treat is made via a process that causes it to have less air than ice cream, giving it a denser, smoother texture. Another key difference between ice cream and gelato is that the ingredients of the latter do not undergo homogenization, which causes it to melt more quickly.
You may get a sugar high just from looking at this overflowing glass
of homemade pistachio and chocolate gelato.
Photo Source: Saveur

Glace: French ice cream, which typically is made with eggs and cream to give it a fuller, custard-like taste.

Ice Cream: the treat that started it all! Well, almost. Historians dispute the exact origins of ice cream, but references trace back to at least 4th century B.C., and many believe that the Chinese invented ice cream before bringing it to Europe. Ice cream began as a treat for royalty and well-known historical figures such as Nero, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Catherine de Medici who were among the early adorers of then called "iced cream."

With the invention of hand-cranked freezer in the 1800s followed by advances in modern refrigeration in the 1900s, many more people could enjoy or make the treat, which became less expensive and more readily available. Next came ice cream concoctions such as the ice cream sandwich, ice cream cake, ice cream floats, the ice cream sundae, milkshakes along with an explosion of flavors from Fried Ice Cream to Cherry Garcia.
Follow Cooking Light's 7 easy steps for homemade ice cream.
Photo Source: Cooking Light

Ice Cream Cones: Waffle, sugar, cake or dipped -- take your pick! Ice cream cones have taken on a new shape since their invention at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair, and today they can come dipped in chocolate, covered in nuts, sprinkles and more! In recent years the advent of the Waffle cone bowl has been a happy marriage for lovers of Waffles cones and ice cream sundaes.

Check back soon for the rest of the ice cream alphabet along with more recipes for frozen treats!

A Day in the Life of a CakeSpy Gumshoe

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

I'm excited to announce that I've joined a team of CakeSpy Gumshoes, a network of food writers and lovers of baked goodies and treats of all types who to seek out sweetness in every day life! My first CakeSpy post was on Amelie's French Bakery & Cafe, a sweet spot in the heart of NoDa in Charlotte that offers tempting desserts around the clock as a 24/7 bakery.

CakeSpy is a blog that has a great recipes, bakery reviews, and more!
It's pretty much guaranteed to add sweetness to your day.
Photo Source: CakeSpy

It seems that Charlotteans agree with me that Amelie's is a delicious and even divine experience, not to mention its chic decor. Amelie's is the recent winner of the "Best Dessert Award" at the 2009 Taste of Charlotte and has been recognized by the Charlotte Observer for offering one of food editor Kathleen Purvis' favorite Charlotte foods -- a salted caramel brownie (and yes it is as delicious and decadent as it sounds).

Antique furniture and cozy oversized armchairs are
a part of Amelie's fun environment that's a haven
for Charlotteans of all callings.
Photo Source: Self

I recommend dropping in at Amelie's whether to sample a croissant or colossal muffin for breakfast, a tartine or cup of hot soup for lunch or dinner or for a late-night pastry, fruit tart or torte. If you live in the SouthPark area, a Slice of Amelie's, a smaller albeit still delicious version of the beloved bakery, has opened in Cafe Monte Bistro near Phillips Place.

And as for CakeSpy, those with a sweet tooth should be sure to surf around their site as they offer a wealth of resources on bakeries across the country in addition to fun cupcake art and cartoons, delicious recipes and more! I myself have drooled over many a CakeSpy post, including the following Cookie Cake Pie recipe that I made recently for my fiance's birthday. It was a tasty and indulgent treat combining the best aspects of cookie, cake and pie!

Cookie Cake Pie is just one example of a creative and
delicious CakeSpy dessert!
Photo Source: CakeSpy

The Most Important Item in Your Suitcase

Friday, July 10, 2009

Aside from your passport, plane tickets and money, each of which should be in your purse or money belt and not in your checked luggage, there is one necessity that stands out as arguably the most important item that you’ll pack. It’s not your ear plugs, your iPod or makeup, although those are important too. No, the most important item in your suitcase is — your shoes.

Be sure to leave room for comfortable travel shoes
that pass my test below!
Photo Source: Mystery Creature

Not just any shoes will do. You’ll need to carefully select several pairs that not only fit with your itinerary, but more importantly, are also functional, comfortable and broken in. Believe me; I’m speaking from experience when I say it’s safe to pass on the cute shoes you’ve spotted during a last-minute shopping trip. Skip on them even if they’re flats. By the end of my first two hours walking around London I didn’t look so cute limping from the large blisters on the back of my feet! Within five days I was resigned to wearing the flip flops I had packed for the shower since every other pair I had brought had given me blisters. As my fiancé so kindly put it, “Your feet make you look like you’re homeless.” Ouch.

These are examples of shoes that should be left at home.
While they may look cute, you won't look very posh
after twisting an ankle on cobblestone streets.
Photo Source: NY Post

Fortunately you can learn from my fashion faux pas and save yourself the pain and trouble of trying to explain to a non-English speaker in broken French and charades that you need Band-aids for les pieds. All you have to do is follow my Should These Shoes Make It into My Suitcase Test to ensure that you will have happy feet for the duration of your trip!

Just because you're packing comfortable shoes doesn't mean
you have to sacrafice style! These ballerinas come in virtually
every color and style to match your taste.
Photo Source: Team Sugar

Should These Shoes Make It into My Suitcase Test
  • Have I worn these shoes regularly for at least two weeks to a month or longer? Did I walk for long periods of time without developing blisters, cuts or rashes?
  • Are they easy to walk in? Can you walk in them at length without slipping or wobbling?
  • If they do have a heel, is it shorter than two inches? Flats and ballerina shoes are best, but short heels can be an option. Cowgirl boots are another trendy style that may be appropriate depending on their fit and your comfort level.
  • Do the shoes have a good grip or tread? London rain makes for slippery streets and well-worn shoes can be a tripping or slipping hazard.
  • Do I have at least one to two pairs of closed-toed shoes packed?
  • Do the shoes match outfits I’m bringing? Do I have too many pairs of blacks or browns?
  • Do I have a good balance of casual versus dressy shoes that fits the activities planned?
  • Should I bring tennis shoes? Maybe and maybe not. While I decided to forgo bringing sneakers to better blend in when abroad, there are obvious situations when you may need tennis shoes, hiking boots, water shoes or other specialized feet wear. Use your own discretion to decide what is most appropriate and when.

Three Delicious Summer Reads

Sunday, July 5, 2009

If you're looking for a great read to help pass poolside time while working on a tan, here are three fun foodie books to indulge in.

This book is all about passion. Whether that's a passion for food, travel or her photographer, main character and writer Meg Parker discovers the joys of each while exploring the French countryside in a quest to finish her first book. This delicious tale is a page turner, and author Nancy Coon's descriptions will whisk you away to a land of toile and tartines.

The Discovery of Chocolate is the mouth-watering fictional tale of the evolution of chocolate throughout history intertwined with a love story (think Tuck Everlasting meets Chocolat). The story is told through the eyes of a young Spainard who comes to the new world and falls in love with a beautiful native who gives him a chocolate elixir drink that will forever change him. Romantic, compelling and exciting, The Discovery of Chocolate is a fairy tale for adults.

This New York Times bestseller is an autobiographical narrative of "one woman's search for everything across Italy, India and Indonesia." Author Elizabeth Gilbert sets out to fulfill some of her lifelong dreams after her marriage falls apart by traveling the world. She indulges in delicious food and language lessons in Italy and searches for God in an ashram in India. Finally, she finds balance and unexpected love on the Indonesian island of Bali.

DJ by Destination

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

With summer in full swing it's primetime for vacations and gatherings with friends and family. Whether you're traveling by plane, train or automobile, you'll need some inspiring tunes to change your attitude as you switch latitudes.

Let your destination dictate song choices
  • Is the coast your destination? Check out some recommended tunes from my beach playlist below.
  • Are you hopping a plane to London? Don't forget to add Elton John and Beatles favorites to your list! National Geographic also has a great London playlist that you can download on iTunes.
  • Alternately, if you're heading to the states from Europe, a few fun American favorites like "American Pie" by Don McLean and "Sweet Home Alabama" by Lynard Skynard or "Why Georgia" by John Mayer and "Omaha" by the Counting Crows are a couple songs to add to the mix.
You can bet that while everyone else on my plane to London
was sleeping I was rocking out to some Beatles tunes!
Photo Source: Eco Worldly

Calculate the length of your trip to make sure you aren't hitting repeat.
  • Are you taking a transatlantic trip? If so, you'll need a much longer list than if you were taking a couple hour jaunt to the beach. Be sure to make your list much longer than the length of the trip as you may skip over songs en route. Don't just rely on the radio -- I was once on a 14-hour roadtrip to Florida for Spring Break and the antenna snapped off two hours into the trip! Be prepared with plenty of tracks to fill the time it takes to get to your destination.
Being tuneless for any stretch of a roadtrip is no way to start the fun.
Photo Source: I've Been There

Consider your travel companions when making making selections.
  • If you're planning to play the songs that others will be listening to, consider their styles in music too. Grandma probably isn't going to enjoy listening to rap music. But if it's you and a car full of girls, don't hesitate to crank 80s favorites like "Girls Just Want to Have Fun."
Traveling Tunes
There aren't any rules, so please feel free to add your own favorite roadtrip songs by adding them to the end of this post! My playlists are just a reflection of my own taste and preference in music, so these songs are just a jump off for you to create a playlist with your own favorite songs and bands. Still need more inspiration? Check out more themed lists voted as bests by NPR listeners.

Beach Trip Tunes
"Tequila Sunrise" by the Eagles
"If You Like Pina Coladas" by Jimmy Buffet
"Sail Away" by OAR
"Two Pina Coladas" by Garth Brooks
"Summertime" by Kenny Chesney
"Summer Girls" by LFO
"Cheeseburger in Paradise" by Jimmy Buffett
"Sitting on the dock of the bay" by Hootie and the Blowfish
"I Shot the Sheriff" by Bob Marley
"No Shoes, No Shirts, No Problems" by Kenny Chesney

Songs for All Destinations
"So Alive" by Ryan Adams
"Beautiful Day" by U2
"Holiday in Spain" by Counting Crows
"Fast Car" by Tracy Chapman
"Hotel California" by Eagles
"Break Away" by Kelly Clarkson
"Anywhere You Go" by Gin Blossoms
"If I had a million dollars" by Barenaked Ladies
"Picture" by Filter
"Across the Universe" by the Beatles
"Here Is Gone" by Goo Goo Dolls
"Holiday" by Green Day
"Sweetness" by Jimmy Eat World
"Satellite" by Dave Matthews Band
"Chasing Cars" by Snow Patrol
"Trains" by Ryan Adams
"Viva la Vie" by Coldplay
"Clocks" by Coldplay
"City of Blinding Lights" by U2
"It's My Life" by Bon Jovi
"It's All Been Done" by Barenaked Ladies
"Here's to the Night" by Eve
"Learn to Fly" by Foo Fighters

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