Food Blog Forum Asheville: Day 1

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Technically, this is Pre-Day 1 and Day 1 in the same blog post, else I run the risk of running you off with my thoughts about Asheville. I took myself on a vacation for a few days last week to attend my first Food Blog Forum conference.

Unbeknownst when I set out, I was about to get spoiled.

It started with a bit of self-indulgence. Because I can get to Asheville in a matter of two hours and a few odd minutes, I headed up well before the Sunday evening start time. My sights were set on some beer and general afternoon wandering.

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First stop: Wicked Weed

I sipped a flight of Peach Habanero, Black Currant dubbel, Coolcumber, Serenity wild ale, Milk It milk stout, and Bliss Belgian tripel and wolfed down a turkey sandwich with peach, brie, and dijon mustard. The winner of my flight taste test was the Bliss tripel with the Peach Habanero close behind. Although I picked a favorite, there was not one of the six I did not like.

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Second stop: Lexington Avenue Brewery

My flight here included the Malt-n-Pepper saison, The Goat smoked saison, Waves of Grain amber, Hop Burst pale ale, Eleanor’s Rye red ale, Cello Out cherry porter. My favorite was the Waves of Grain, with the Malt-n-Pepper and Cello Out following close behind. I also took a long, hard look at the lemon beignets before I decided to leave well enough alone. But since dessert was on my mind…

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Third stop: French Broad Chocolate Lounge

I picked up a small box of chocolates and the most delicious iced tea – with peppermint and tulsi basil- that I have ever tasted. I think I liked it so much because it was like nothing I have ever tasted.

As of this writing, I have yet to indulge in one chocolate. Nestled in that box are a Thai truffle, lavender honey caramel, vanilla bourbon caramel, white jasmine truffle, fig and port truffle, and fresh raspberry truffle.

Later that night, French Broad Chocolates gave us a 17.9 ounce (i.e. giant) chocolate tablet. I have no idea what I am going to bake with something this special, but I think it would go lovely in a Fondant au Chocolat.

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{Photo credit: Explore Asheville}

Finally, the reason I was in Asheville to begin with arrived. At the evening reception, I had the opportunity to meet new people and to connect with others I “knew” only from email or Facebook. I got the chance to socialize with  three other Charlotte-based bloggers and connect with others across from the country. They included:

Plus there were appetizers, beer, wine, moonshine, and a bag filled with artisan food products made in Asheville. Win-win-win-win-win. Score a win for yourself and download the recipe cards. (It may take them a minute, but they will load).

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The next day dawned, and off to the conference I went. I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice it to say I learned quite a bit. The conference was set up with four speaker sessions followed by speakers’ round tables (with a lovely lunch in between, of course).

The overall theme of the day was “just ask.” If you need help, ask for it. You may hear “no” or receive no response at all, but frankly, that puts you no worse off than you were before. Right?

In a similarly-themed piece she shared just this week, Elizabeth Gilbert writes, “The funny thing is that rejection is not so bad… a glorious failure can sometimes be more life affirming than a cautious win.” I know a thing or two about glorious failures.

Moving on…

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To end the day, we headed off to tour the Biltmore House. Our tour was billed as “food history with a side of  Downton Abbey”, so we got a look at not only the dining room but also the butler’s pantry and kitchens.

And for whatever reason, the fine folks at the Biltmore (where photography is not typically allowed) turned us lose with our cameras. Come along with me on a brief photo tour:

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Our lovely tour guide Lee in front of a Flemish tapestry.

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 The tapestries in the sitting area.

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Ceiling Montage

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The gorgeous atrium.

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The dining room table…

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…and, for perspective, the dining room.

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The tour ends…

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…and dinner begins.

Day one was packed full of information, food, and general fun. Day two included a brewery, a farm, and a creamery.

More to come.

{I shot all photos from this trip on my iPhone. I edited some with Instagram and others with Snapseed.}

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The Best Day of The Year (It’s National Donut Day!)

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Happy National Donut Day! I can almost hear your collective groans, but my donut delusions prevent me from doing anything other than writing about all things donuts and sharing them with you on the first Friday in June (the day that is always National Donut Day).

I was certain I waxed poetic about donuts many times before, but I find only hints of my love for these calorie bombs sprinkled in to old posts. Frankly, I do not know how or why my love for donuts began, but they are my jam. I love the ones topped with sprinkles and I love the ones filled with cream. Glazed or sugared or iced are all fine too. Shape them like a football, and I am smitten.

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I love that every Thursday my Dad made a quick detour at the donut shop before he dropped my sister and I off at school. And every single Thursday, we all three ordered the same thing.

For me, it was a chocolate-iced filled stick (known in some parts as a long john). My sister also went for the white-iced donuts filled with red jelly, and Dad ordered a Danish and black coffee.

In today’s more modern times, then even make donut coffee.

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Donuts are acceptable any time of the year, but they are especially important to properly celebrate silly holidays. For instance, one can make a donut valentine!!!! Or perhaps just buy a donut valentine online.

If you are in mood to buy some donut things, I recommend the donut pillow. Or anything else donut-related at Paper Source.

If a man offered me donut earrings or an R2-D2 ring, my gut tells me I would be hard pressed to turn down the earrings.

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Bloggers are creative people. They are all the time sharing a mish-mash of things like apple pie milkshakes and cheeseburger salads and other wonky concoctions they somehow deem okay to throw together.

Most of the time, I am okay with this nonsense, but I draw the line at donuts. Please do not mess with perfection.  Wonut = wrong.

A breakfast sandwich held together with Krisy Kreme buns, on the other hand, is disturbingly right.

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If you need a recipe in this recipe-less post, you might like these cookies made with donuts. You can watch this video from the now-defunct (so sad) Daily Candy about how to make donuts, or check out their list of where to find the best donuts near you.

Gaze at my Donut Board on Pinterest for inspiration, or peruse this tribute to all things donuts. My family aside, I think the only thing I love more than donuts are books. And maybe Fridays. Enjoy!

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Field Trip: Bar Cocoa

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I ate dessert for dinner this week. And it was divine.

Bar Cocoa in the Ritz-Carlton hosted a group of Charlotte bloggers, and I had the good fortune to attend. It was a lovely experience, and it started with macarons. Bridges and bridges of macarons.

Blueberry-lavender is newest member to the Bar Cocoa macaron family, and I can vouch for its deliciousness. I tried nearly a half-dozen flavors – coconut, dulce de leche, honey, pistachio, and the aforementioned blueberry-lavender – and am hard-pressed to pick a favorite.

Most people choose the best seller Red Velvet. For me, it was a close call between the coconut and blueberry-lavender, but in my world, coconut always wins.

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After the macarons there was honey-pecan and peach-mango gelato. I would not kick either flavor out of my freezer, but the peach-mango was unbelievable. It made me happy to have taste buds.

Gelato was followed by eclairs: classic, s’mores, strawberry-pistachio, raspberry-rose, and caramel.

Picking a favorite eclair is, I imagine, like picking your favorite child. It simply can not be done. Sure, there are things you appreciate about one more so than another, but at the end of the day, you love them all.

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Next up was the signature Ritz-Carlton Cake. You can only visit Bar Cocoa at the Ritz in Charlotte, but you can order the signature cake at any Ritz.

You guys, I am not a big fan of chocolate cake. The crumb is always too heavy or the flavor is too intense for my tastes. But this cake. This cake is the one.

It was my favorite thing on the menu. I want to say it was light and layered with flavor and an all-around delight. The Ritz says, “This deeply flavorful specialty cake…features a rich, dark chocolate flavor with bursts of orange throughout, creating a delicious balance of sweet chocolate and sharp citrus.”

Yeah. It was that.

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Then to wash it all down, the milkshakes came out. Cookies and cream, banana-caramel, and double chocolate made with chocolate-hazelnut gelato. Cookies and cream anything is hard to beat, but the chocolate-hazelnut combination came pretty darn close.

This assortment of amazing desserts was shared with us by a group of incredibly friendly and professional Ritz-Carlton employees. Pastry sous chef Jeanette Payne graciously educated us about our desserts as we scarfed them down like a pack of wolves. Well, as I did at least. (Seriously, here we are nearing the aftermath).

So that’s the desserts, but that’s not all. Bar Cocoa features special events, like a free gelato bar where a gelato scoop like those seen above are served atop a petite waffle cone. I think this happens on Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons in the summer, but I could be wrong on that. These details were provided when I was eating like I’d never seen a dessert before in my life, so I might have missed some things.

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Another event is the Chocolate & Champagne Dinner. If anyone out there would like to get my attention, inviting me to this five-course all-dessert dinner ought to do it.

In all seriousness though, the Cocoa Lab Cooking Classes are a must-attend for anyone in Charlotte who is remotely interested in learning how to make desserts. The classes are held from 9 a.m. – noon on Saturdays and limited to eight people per class. The $75 per person price includes hands-on education from a pastry chef, complimentary parking, a recipe collection, keepsake apron, and of course the desserts made during the class.

I really can not say enough good things about this experience. In addition to the desserts featured here, cheesecakes, chocolate mousse, cupcakes, and other sweets including  Norman Love chocolates are available at Bar Cocoa. Find them at 201 East Trade Street at the corner of Trade & College in Charlotte. And please invite me with you.

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Bar Cocoa generously provided my desserts and drinks. My only obligation was to show up and enjoy myself. I wrote about my experience here because it was worth sharing. Any errors or omissions are unintentional and my own. All photos you see here were taken with my iPhone. Click here to see me in action.