Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Asheville Highlights, Day 3

April 19th: Day 3 of my Asheville weekend.

So I woke up to my last day of my short-but-sweet Asheville visit. Day 3 started with breakfast again at the inn. I was fortunate to have perfect weather on Days 1 and 2, but Day 3, Sunday, was cloudy and rainy. I thought, maybe the rain will lead me to some nice surprises.

I decided to visit the Grove Arcade, a beautiful, historic building that opened in 1929, that is now home to local boutiques and restaurants. With the weather being the way it was, some indoor sightseeing was perfect. Besides, I did much of my outdoor sightseeing the past couple of days, and had a wonderful nature fix and a self-guided downtown walking tour.

So after a very short drive from the inn to downtown Asheville, I parked by the Arcade and walked in. Interestingly, it was deserted. Pretty, but deserted. Well, it was about 11-ish in the morning (I checked out of the inn at 11 am). And it was a Sunday.

This sign explained it all:

But that's all part of Asheville's charm, I think.

There was a cheese store... which was closed. 

And a bakery...

And a bath products store...

Love the light and open feel of the building. I can imagine how the lighting inside would change dramatically depending on the time of day.

I headed outside and found some locals selling their wares on the sidewalk. I love sidewalk shopping!

There was a "cowboy" selling paintings...

  And a woman selling handmade jewelry.

These beads remind me of home!

Interestingly, they were laid out on rice grains.

A pretty display of colorful earrings.

Handwritten signs add a personal touch.

The one and only photo of me :)
It was a solo trip, after all...


I also ended up stopping at the Grove Corner Market, a little deli/grocery store that sold some of your pantry staples, some fresh takeout items, and some specialty items. When I am in a new place, I always want to try something different and unique to the place. I saw these cookies:

Lavender Lemon and Saffron Cardamom tea biscuits... YUM!
I don't say no to lavender... and I was curious about the combination of saffron and cardamom in a tea cookie. I imagined it to be a hint savory, and a hint sweet.


The cookies were amazing.
AND I think this might have been the best find:
Lavender honey... from the mountains of North Carolina! 

So my next kitchen project would be to re-create the lavender honey dark chocolate truffle that I had on Day 2. :)

The rain started pouring at at around noon... so I decided to head back and start the 6 hour drive home. 

So that concludes my short-but-sweet Asheville trip... 
Asheville is such a charming place. Nature. Art. Food. A progressive vibe. Without the big-city stress, but with all the Southern hospitality.
I can't wait for my next visit.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Asheville Highlights, Day 2/Part 2

April 18th: Day 2/Part 2. After a peaceful morning at the North Carolina Arboretum, the foodie and art lover in me was ready for the downtown Asheville food trip and art gallery hop.

But first, I decided to head back to the inn, have last night's leftovers (from Zambra) for lunch. Since the paella was good for two, I saved half of it to go and was able to store it in the inn's refrigerator.

So I decided that lunch was Zambra "take two", on the inn's patio. I enjoyed the vegetarian paella again, this time al fresco.

Then I had to figure out my plan for the rest of the day...

I drove downtown, parked my car, and started to walk towards this "must" destination on Lexington Avenue....

the gates of heaven, in my opinion :)

On the menu were chocolates in all forms. Cakes, solid truffles, and liquid truffles in various flavors. I opted for the lavender honey liquid truffle (because I love lavender in dessert). Thick, bittersweet hot chocolate with the subtle but distinct flavors of lavender-infused honey.

Some minutes later...

 This needs no explanation.

I could really use a spatula right now (to scrape all that chocolate goodness from the cup). Believe me, I would have.

Blissed-out from chocolate, I then decided to continue my walk. I stopped at this art gallery/shop:

Kress Emporium has almost any art form you can think of - from photography to paintings, jewelry, fabric, woodwork, glasswork... I loved it!
Then I continued on and saw this bookshop. I love small, cozy, local bookstores!

 In case the photo is too small, the sign reads:
"Coffee, Books, Cards, and nice folks inside!"
I went in...
and came out with a couple of books. 
One of which is this delightful kid's book that I gave to my niece. 

I love how local/independently-owned bookstores have this sign.

And the kids' version:

There's something about being inside a children's bookstore that makes me want to be a carefree child again, who believed in her heart that she could one day become a mermaid or a dolphin. :)

I stopped at an old-fashioned ice cream parlor in time to see someone making sugar cones.

And there you have it...

But I didn't buy anything, as I was still slightly full from the liquid truffle I had earlier, AND I had the Laughing Seed Cafe next on my meal itinerary. I had really been looking forward to trying this place, for all its vegetarian options. (I admit to perusing their online menu a few times before my trip - there were so many choices!)

It was a nice evening, so I asked to sit outside and dine al fresco. 

I wanted something clean-tasting and somewhat light, because I had dessert in mind. So I opted for all-vegetable sushi....

It had marinated tofu, butternut squash (a bit surprising because this is not the season for squash) and broccolini. To be honest, it was... ok. Not life-changing. (In  my opinion, this place in Cincinnati serves the best sushi, hands-down... and they have at least 3 really good vegetarian sushi rolls.)


What Asheville calls "The World's Best Carrot Cake", which I remember seeing online and was happy to find at this local, eco-vibe coffee shop during my walk.

It was REALLY good. Moist and flavorful, with an excellent texture from the carrots and nuts. And, the cream cheese frosting was not at all overwhelming and overly sweet like some frostings. I think this cake was deserving of its name. I think I ate 1/4 of it and saved the rest for tomorrow.
(Even the to-go container was made of recycled materials.... which I found to be quite common in the restaurants I visited in Asheville.)

So on that note, I end my nature-tripping, food-tripping, and art gallery-hopping Saturday. 

Photos and highlights from Day 3 coming soon...

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Monday, April 27, 2009

Asheville Highlights, Day 2/Part 1

April 18th. Day 2 of my Asheville weekend started with an early morning walk around the inn's grounds and in the idyllic, tree-lined neighborhood surrounding the inn.

Flowers in early morning light...  
a magic of its own

 I found it interesting how these flowers grew so close to the ground, they would have been easy to miss if I weren't paying attention. I'm glad I did a leisurely, meditative walk in addition to a power walk. 

After a freshly made breakfast (meat-free, upon prior arrangement with the inn when I booked my reservation) and tea, I headed to the North Carolina Arboretum.

I was excited to see their bonsai collection and ikebana exhibit. My late grandfather, who made our garden in the Philippines so lush and beautiful, also used to make bonsai years ago. Bonsai and ikebana are both such fascinating art forms.

 "Open your mind to the possibility that the greatest mysteries of life 
can be found in a single, tiny leaf."
I love that! 

"A living art" indeed.

My time in the North Carolina Arboretum was so slow and peaceful. It was a perfect spring day - blue skies, warm sun, a cool breeze.

I kept thinking of my grandparents and how they would have LOVED this place.

Next: the indoor ikebana exhibit. I'll let the images speak for themselves...

 My favorite one!

The North Carolina Arboretum is a place where I can be all day. Time stands still here.

But... I had more on my itinerary. Specifically, meal #3: Lunch. I had the Grove Park Inn on my list for lunch with a view of the mountains.

I got there after a short, pleasant drive. It was a long wait for a table, and when I checked the menu, the vegetarian dishes were... ok. But as I was in a different city, I was in the mood for something different, something inventive. I decided to hold off on lunch for the time being (Me? Hold off on lunch? Are you shocked?) to just tour the grounds and take photos.

This would have been my view if I had lunch there:

Instead I toured the grounds...

Now that's a lunch spot with a view.

The best find, I thought, was this tree that seemed to glow in the sunshine.

Up next: Asheville Highlights, Day 2/Part 2:  Downtown Asheville - my food trip and art gallery hop!

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