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Restaurant Week in Asheville

   
A delectable dish at Corner Kitchen, one of the restaurants participating in Asheville's Restaurant Week (photo from ExploreAsheville.com)

A delectable dish at the Corner Kitchen, one of the restaurants participating in Asheville’s Restaurant Week (photo from ExploreAsheville.com)

Yeah, I know January is the time we’re supposed to be all martyr-y and resolve to lose those pesky little holiday pounds that crept up on us – well, in some cases, literally leapt straight from the buffet table and the bar. But you may want to take a brief break to indulge in the flavors of North Carolina during Asheville’s second annual Restaurant Week, January 21-27.

Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina, Asheville has more than 250 independent restaurants, 20 regional farmers’ markets and more breweries per capita than any other U.S. city.  During restaurant week, participating restaurants will offer a prix fixe menu with four options: $15 for a two-course lunch for one; $20 for a two-course dinner for two; $30 for a three-course dinner for one, or $30 for a two-course dinner for two.

Each restaurant will have a customized menu in addition to the usual fare like the Springer Mountain Chicken with grits, collards and chow chow at Chestnut. Other participating restaurants include Corner Kitchen, Seven Sows Bourbon & Larder, Fig Bistro, 131 Main, Table and The Blackbird Restaurant.

Find out more about Asheville at ExploreAsheville.com

Cyber Monday Mania

   
The Seven Stars Resort in the Turks and Caicos is one of tons of properties offering deals on Cyber Monday

The Seven Stars Resort in the Turks and Caicos is one of tons of properties offering deals on Cyber Monday

My inbox has been filling up faster than a One Direction concert with emails about Cyber Monday deals for travel.

Most of these deals start right at the stroke of midnight on Monday, Dec. 2 and run through midnight, although some go longer. Check each property for details.

And now, presenting in absolutely no discernable order whatsoever, lots of awesome Cyber Monday deals. Send me a postcard!

Stay at the lovely Jupiter Beach Resort & Spa and get 50% all room types, starting at $100, for stays through April 30. Use promo code CYBER.

Get 30% off the best available dates at the St. Kitts Marriott Resort & The Royal Beach Casino for stays Dec. 1-31 and May 1-Sept. 30. Use promo code D59.

Rates at Casa Palopo in Guatemala are 35% off for stays May 1-June 30 and Sept. 1-Oct. 31. Email reservations@casapalopo.com and mention “Cyber Offer.”

The JW Marriott Cusco in Peru is offering rates of 20% off, starting at $204 for stay from Jan 2.-March 3. Use promo code 125.

Get 35% off a king room, with breakfast included at Sense Beach House in South Beach for stays through Dec. 31. Use promo code CYBER.

Stay three nights at the Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino/Palm Beach and get three nights free for travel from April 20-Nov. 22. Use promo code D52.

Get up to 75% off rates at Westin Playa Bonita/Panama City, Panama for travel through Dec. 2, 2013. This deal starts Black Friday.

Abercrombie & Kent, a luxury tour company, has stretched out Cyber Monday until Wednesday and is offering 30 percent off a companion fare when you book an A&K Signature journey. Check out these destinations: Thailand, South Africa, Croatia, Italy, Eastern Europe, Peru, Tanzania, Kenya, Morocco and Jordan.

For Cyber Monday and on Tuesday, Delta Vacations is offering savings of up to $400 and 23,000 bonus miles if you book air and hotel vacation packages to select resorts in Mexico and the Caribbean.

Get an extra night with a slope side view upgrade (if available) and a day of free skiing at Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Resort and Spa in Colorado with the “Ski Free, Stay Free’ offer good for stays between December 3-20. Use promo code CYBER here.

Head to sunny Miami with a deal at Turnberry Isle Miami. Get 30% off on Best Available Rate from November 29, 2013 – March 1, 2014. This deal actually starts on Black Friday and can be booked through Cyber Monday.

Rates start at just $99 for stays at a Marriott in Costa Rica through December 31. Get 40 percent off rates at Los Suenos Marriott Ocean & Golf Resort and Costa Rica Marriott San Jose.  Use rate code PROB.

Book the Wolcott Hotel in Manhattan for two nights and get the third free for travel from Jan. 2 – March 31. Rates start at $120. Use promotional code step4.

Rates start at just $229 at the Waldorf Astoria New York for select dates in January and February if you book between Dec. 2  and Dec. 6.

Aren’t you overdue for a trip to the Big Easy? Get 40% off the Courtyard New Orleans Downtown/Iberville for weekend stays from Dec. 30 through March 31 with promo code 16C.

Get 25% off the best available rate at the newly renovated Hotel Victor South Beach on Ocean Drive, which includes a complimentary breakfast for two, using booking code CYBER for travel through Dec. 31.

Get 30% participating JW Marriott Resorts with promo code 16C, with one-day rates starting at just $91. Participating JW Marriott Resorts include JW Marriott Camelback Inn Resort & Spa, JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa, JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa, JW Marriott Las Vegas Resort & Spa, JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort & Spa, JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa, JW Marriott Los Angeles L.A. Live, JW Marriott Cancun Resort & Spa and JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes.

Beach Rentals of South Walton, my favorite beaches in the world,  are offering rates starting at $89 for a one-bedroom cottage and 20% off bike rentals at participating homes in Blue Mountain Beach, Dune Allen Beach, Grayton Beach, Inlet Beach, Rosemary Beach, Santa Rosa Beach, Seacrest Beach, Seagrove Beach, WaterColor and WaterSound.

Book a stay at one of the MENIN Hotels in South Florida and get 25% off. These include Bentley South Beach; Gale South Beach & Regent Hotel and The Sanctuary.

The deals at Atlantis Resort, Paradise Island, Bahamas start on Black Friday, with rates from $99 to $199 a night for a stay in the Beach Towers, depending on travel dates.

The many properties of the Benchmark Resorts & Hotels are offering deals on Cyber Monday. Here are just a few. Check the site for more deals.

• Hawaii: 20% discount for stays through March 31 at Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu.

• California: $99 at Chaminade Resort & Spa in Santa Cruz

• Colorado: $79 at Cheyenne Mountain Resort in Colorado Springs for stays through March 31

• Wyoming: Save up to 40% on rooms in the newly renovated Snow King Resort in Jackson Hole with rates ranging from $75 to $375 to celebrate the resort’s 75th anniversary

• New Mexico: Get 30% off Eldorado Hotel & Spa in Santa Fe for stays through January 20.

• West Virginia: Stay in West Virginia’s only four diamond resort, Stonewall Resort, and get 30% off for stays through January.

• Curacao: Rates start at $223 for the Santa Barbara Resort & Spa.

Book four nights or more at Seven Stars Resort in Turks and Caicos and get $100 off any room. Valid through Dec. 20, 2014. To book this sale, call 866-570-7777.

Magical Martini Moment

   

celebrity

Iputu pouring six drinks at once in the Martini Bar on the Celebrity Millennium. He can pour up to 24 at once. Wouldn’t he be handy at your next cocktail party?

It was possibly the best show I’ve ever seen on a cruise ship. And I wasn’t sitting in a large, plush theater but rather in a small bar on the Celebrity Millennium. Being major martini fans, my husband and I had to check out the Martini Bar during our week-long Alaskan cruise where we’d seen elegantly dressed bartenders pouring refreshing looking concoctions into the traditional cone-shaped glasses. Being in full-on cruise mode, we decided to try them all and ordered a flight of martinis. We didn’t know we’d get a show.

After carefully constructing a tower of varying heights with the glasses on the ice-topped bar, our bartender Iputu mixed the drinks in six metal shakers, stacked them together then turned them sideways to pour six colorful drinks all at once. We delightfully drank every one of them while watching the equally enchanting Alaskan scenery as our ship slowly cruised the Alaskan Inside Passage, where we had glimpses of ice of an entirely different variety.

Fly Over Canada, Vancouver’s Newest Attraction

   
A scene from Fly Over Canada, Vancouver's newest attraction

A scene from Fly Over Canada, Vancouver’s newest attraction

My first visit to Vancouver this summer wasn’t nearly long enough. We tried to add two additional days after our Alaskan cruise ended there, but with the flight schedules we could stay only about 36 hours. But we managed to cram a lot of fun and sightseeing into that short period of time.

One of my favorite things was Vancouver’s newest attraction, Fly Over Canada, located at Canada Place and easily accessible by public transportation. Luckily, lines were short the day we went, although they can be lengthy at times.

After a short introductory film, we strapped ourselves into the seven-seat chairlift and prepared for “takeoff” as we were gently lifted to experience the sensation of flying over the spectacular Canadian landscape from coast to coast during the 15-minute ride that uses the same technology as the Soarin’ attraction at Epcot. 

We viewed scenes such as the icebergs of Twillingate, an aerial view of Niagara Falls, the gorgeous fall colors of River Rouge, and vineyards where you feel like you can reach down and pluck a grape.

To further enhance the experience, a gentle mist washed over our faces when we soared over waterfalls and we smelled the scent of flowers when flying over fields of wildflowers. If you’re heading to one of my favorite cities, make sure to do a little soarin’ of your own.

 

Product Review: P-cubed Pants

   
These P-cubed Pickpocket Proof Pants were perfect for hiking in Banff National Park, although I didn't really have to worry about thieves out in the wilderness.

These P-cubed Pickpocket Proof Pants were perfect for hiking in Banff National Park, although I didn’t really have to worry about thieves out in the wilderness.

I generally don’t get all that excited about new pants — they are like the boring friend who has to come along for the ride but you are more interested in the cute tops and sweaters.

But the P-cubed Pick-Pocket Proof Pants are something to be thrilled about. They come with lots of secure anti-theft pockets to hold phones and credit cards and they are made out of comfortable, quick-drying nylon but feel like cotton.

I took these with me on a trip to Banff in August. We did a lot of hiking and with variable weather changes, I appreciated that these pants can also be rolled up and buttoned for a capri-style when the weather got warmer. I didn’t worry too much about pickpockets — I was more concerned about the grizzly sightings — but I did use the pockets to house my camera and other small items. P-cubed Pants are available in grey, khaki and olive at  www.clothingarts.com for $99.95.

 

 

 

 

A Tale of Two Airports

   

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. I was on the way to pick up my daughter at the Dallas airport to spend the weekend with me, my two nieces and her boyfriend who was driving up from Houston. I was staying with them while my brother and sister-in-law were in Italy. That’s the best of times. 

dfw-airport-sign-

While it’s a lovely sign, it’s not the one I wanted to see after midnight, as it was informing me that I was at the wrong airport.

dallas-love-field

This was actually my intended destination, where I arrived about 1:30 AM.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After her flight was delayed 90 minutes, pushing her arrival to almost 1:00 AM, I kept myself awake in the usual way — making fake intestines out of knee-highs, spaghetti and red food coloring with my niece Claire. She was in charge of a room of the haunted house at her school that weekend and had chosen the theme of cannibalism. So real-looking intestines that she could gnaw on were a must.

At midnight I set out for the 15-minute ride with plenty of time to spare. I even took my iPad so I could relax and read while I waited for Catherine. My trusty GPS lady on my iPhone would guide me to Love Field.

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Introducing The Atlanta 100

   

UnknownHe’s at it again, that husband of mine, Chris Schroder. In 1994, he started Atlanta 30306, which expanded to three newspapers and now is operating as Atlanta INtown. In 2002, he started Schroder PR, a small public relations firm. Then he worked with Maria Saporta on the creation of her journalism enewsletter, SaportaReport.

Now, he’s off and running with his new idea: The Atlanta 100. This weekly enewsletter contains articles, videos and slide shows that are, you guessed it, all 100 words or 100 seconds long. After batting about the right tagline for his new venture, he came up with “100-word articles, 100-second videos on topics of intrigue.” After spending several hours soliciting logos for his new venture, he narrowed it down to three. With input from his staff at Schroder PR and a few friends, he selected the one you see here. I hope you agree with me that the results are pretty awesome.

The topics will vary somewhat from issue to issue, depending mainly on who turns in their article. They will include music, real estate, travel, management, networking – all types of fun stuff. This week you can see a video of a player who was going to block the field goal in what was called the greatest upset in college football history (his teammate did). I have an article about Madison, Georgia where we spent a delightful weekend on a Ramble with the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation.

Fans of the old Atlanta 30306 and Intown will recognize some names. Charles Driebe, the former music columnist, returns to cover music again. And Thomas Schroder, all grown up since he wrote a “kids” column as a child, is writing about the hot topic of Crowdfunding. You can also read about health care, management, legal matters and your brain.

Want to get in on the fun? You can subscribe here. We all have time to read 100 words, right? And remember, they are topics of intrigue.

Hot Hotels in Honolulu

   

In my few previous trips to our 50th state I’d never spent any time in Honolulu. All I knew about Waikiki Beach was from the promos on old game shows when people competed to win a trip to “beautiful Waikiki Beach.” They would show off the prize destination with happy couples sporting Hawaiian shirts frolicking in the sand.

During a recent trip, I saw plenty of couples wearing those loud Hawaiian shirts, but discovered that Honolulu is a sophisticated, upscale destination — and that the millions who flock to O’ahu from all over the world each year go to enjoy its pretty beaches, luxury shops and outdoor recreational opportunities.

Accommodations can vary widely when it comes to Hawaii’s capital city. Here are a few choices, ranging from traditional to sleek and modern, where you can relax in style.

The Sunrise Pool at the Modern Honolulu

The Sunrise Pool at the Modern Honolulu

Modern Honolulu

From the minute you step inside the white-walled lobby of the Modern Honolulu you know the hotel lives up to its name. The wall décor behind the curved front desk is made of pieces of surfboards that were broken in competition and signed by surfing champions. The rooms are sleek and minimalist, with splashes of color from a small ukulele and brightly colored sarongs that hang from hooks on the wall. Many rooms have balconies overlooking the Pacific Ocean or the yacht club marina.

The outdoor areas are beautifully landscaped and pools are located on two levels. The Sunrise Pool features large daybeds and chaises. Walk up the stairs to the Sunset Pool, the adult area where the ankle-deep water earned it the nickname “the puddle,” and 100 tons of sand from neighboring islands surround the edges.

One evening we dined on delectable dishes such as tuna pizza, carpaccio of Wagyu and calamari salad at Modern Honolulu’s signature restaurant, Morimoto Waikiki, conceived by Executive Chef Masaharu Morimoto of “Iron Chef” fame. While we never made it to the popular nightclub Addiction, we spent an evening in the lobby bar. Every night a large bookcase in the lobby rotates, “Young Frankenstein”-style, and opens up the room to reveal The Study, where the drinks are named for literary works, and local musicians entertain nightly.

A beautiful, well-equipped suite at the Trump Waikiki

A beautiful, well-equipped suite at the Trump Waikiki

Trump International Hotel Waikiki Beach Walk

Although it’s not right on the beach, the Trump is a good choice for a long stay in Hawaii as it’s a condominium property. Our large one-bedroom included a fully stocked gourmet kitchen, large living area with balcony, two bathrooms, and a huge bathtub. The bathrobes were so plush it was like wrapping myself in a cloud. The floor-to-ceiling windows afforded us a beautiful view of the Pacific.

Waikiki Beach is about a five-minute walk away. Guest services will supply a complimentary beach bag with bottled water, towels, fruit and sunscreen. Even beach lovers are likely to choose to spend at least one afternoon at the beautiful 6th floor infinity pool, off the large open-air entry lobby. The Spa at Trump offers treatments using Hawaiian plants and the gym is open 24 hours a day. BLT Steak is in the hotel and the designer shops on Luxury Row are just steps away. One memorable late afternoon we enjoyed wine and tuna rolls at happy hour at the Wai’Olu lounge, overlooking Fort DeRossy Park, with the sun slowly setting over the Pacific beach in the background.

The Royal Hawaiian, Honolulu's pink lady

The Royal Hawaiian, Honolulu’s “Pink Palace of the Pacific”

The Royal Hawaiian

Take a stroll down Waikiki Beach and you can’t miss the Royal Hawaiian Resort, Honolulu’s iconic hotel. The hotel was built in 1927 and hosted visiting statesmen, European royalty and Hollywood elite, who back then traveled by steamship to relax in the “Pink Palace of the Pacific.” It recently underwent an $85 million renovation, is still a favorite with celebrities and is often the site of elaborate international weddings, including an Indian one that involved borrowing an elephant from the Honolulu Zoo.

The 528-room property includes a huge ocean lawn and a coconut grove. Guests can soak up the sun under a private pool cabana at the Royal Beach Tower Pool, on a private beach, or at the Helumoa Playground and Keiki Pool. In addition to a full-service spa, the Royal Hawaiian has a children’s program, shopping arcade, three restaurants, and the Mai Tai Bar. No trip to Hawaii is complete without a toast with this pineapple-ando range-flavored rum drink.

Get Your Moonshine On at Stillhouse

   
A selection of the hand-crafted moonshine cocktails at Stillhouse, the latest addition to the East Andrews Entertainment District

A selection of the hand-crafted moonshine cocktails at Stillhouse, the latest addition to the East Andrews Entertainment District

William Faulkner once said, “Well, between Scotch and nothin’, I suppose I’d take Scotch. It’s the nearest thing to good moonshine I can find.”

He could find plenty of the good stuff at Stillhouse, the new Buckhead eatery specializing in craft burgers and moonshine. My husband had more discussion with our server, Gabe, over the varieties of moonshine available than he ever did with a sommelier about wine. Moonshine here is made into cocktails, infused with flavors and even smoked with fresh apple, cherry, pecan, and maple wood chips.

At a media dinner last night we started with the Thyme to Shine ($9) made with muddled blueberries, fresh thyme, honey, grapefruit juice and Troy & Son’s platinum; and the Carolina Mule ($9), make with fresh lime, mint, ginger beer with Carolina moonshine. Both were delicious.

For the next moonshine course, I tried blackberry flavored while after much consideration and more discussion, my husband chose the pumpkin flavored and declared the world better for it.

Unlike the legendary moonshine created up in them thar hills on homemade stills that was sold immediately for consumption, these moonshine infusions are aged in oak barrels for a month, then carefully crafted into cocktails. There is no need to set a small quantity on fire to look for a blue flame to ensure you won’t go blind from drinking it. A yellow flame spells trouble and yes, people still die from drinking the homemade stuff. But this hooch is safe.

Equal care goes into the food. Condiments are made in-house and creative ingredients are available for the burgers made from premium varieties of grass fed beef.

A slightly blurry (post-moonshine) photo of the Buckhead Burger. My husband asked for the duck confit on the side, not sure about it. He devoured every bit.

A slightly blurry (post-moonshine) photo of the Buckhead Burger. My husband asked for the duck confit on the side, not sure about it. He devoured every bit.

I could only handle about half of my huge Augusta Burger, which featured two beef patties, pimento cheese, bbq sauce, pickle, pulled pork and cole slaw. ($9) The initial challenge was how to even attack it, with its upside-down bun and height equal to the size of my head.

My husband did pretty well with the Buckhead Burger that also had two beef patties, duck confit, goat cheese, green tomato relish, pickle beets and fresh spinach ($10).

As soon as I heard Gabe mention bacon creamed corn I knew we’d be seeing it at our table. (4) A spoonful of the rich concoction was enough for me. Of course we had to try the thick-cut fries ($3) although my heart cringed a bit at dipping them in the North Carolina gouda sauce.

Stillhouse does serve a limited selection of  beer (14 choices)  and wine — four red and three white — with six selections of sparkling wine, including Cristal for $395.

Having declared it a Night of Gluttony, we opted for a taste of the chocolate marble cheesecake s’mores ($7), but could only handle one of the three cheesecakes on the plate.

Housed on the lower level of the entertainment complex at 56 East Andrews, Stillhouse is off of the enclosed courtyard in the atrium of the entertainment complex. It also has a charming side patio, a perfect place to hang at the bar and listen to the live music offered nightly.

The desserts at Stillhouse. The ketchup photobombed my shot.

The desserts at Stillhouse. The ketchup photobombed my shot.

I  loved the decor with the antique copper ceiling and black-and-white photos of moonshiners on the walls. Our whisky barrel table did pose a bit of a challenge — I didn’t know whether to sit at it sidesaddle style or straddle it in a decidedly unladylike fashion.

Stillhouse is a fun place to great place to hang out with friends or go on date night. Even thought moonshine is legal now, it still feels a bit naughty to drink some of the hard stuff.

Stillhouse is at 56 East Andrews Drive, (678) 244-3601, @StillhouseATL Open every day except Sunday.

5 Tips for Girlfriends’ Getaways

   
One of our Girlfriend Getaways in Asheville, NC. Pictured are seven of the 10 girls randomly thrown into the 240s suite of Lile dorm at the University of Virginia. We've been friends every since.

One of our Girlfriend Getaways in Asheville, NC. Pictured are seven of the 10 girls randomly thrown into the 240s suite of Lile dorm at the University of Virginia. We’ve been friends every since.

I don’t know who invented the Girlfriends’ Getaway but I’m raising my glass in a toast to her this weekend during the annual getaway with my college girlfriends. Nothing is more refreshing, more rejuvenating than eating, drinking and laughing until you sprain your stomach with your girlfriends.

Our group is large — we have rented a nine-bedroom home — so it takes some work and organization for it to go smoothly. Here are a few tips for planning your next large getaway.

1. Have a leader

Every group has at least one, the person who can take charge and keep the trip on track. In some groups it may always be the same person, or you may wish to take turns with the responsibilities. Thank goodness for Patti, who has handled booking the houses for our trips several times and is an excellent negotiator.

2. Consider everybody’s budget and location

While some of you may be able to travel in first-class style, others may be more budget conscious. Before anything is booked, make sure everyone is on board with the cost. Don’t guilt anyone into spending more than they are comfortable with just so the group can be together. The highest priority is being together, not finding the most luxurious place.

Because we are spread up and down the East Coast, from Atlanta to Boston, my college friends and I change locations from north to south each year so some of us can drive while others have to fly.

Our home for the weekend on Isle of Palms, SC. I have big plans to park myself on the deck with the rooftop pool and view of the ocean, rising occasionally to refresh my drink and make my way to the beach.

Our home for the weekend on Isle of Palms, SC. I have big plans to park myself on the deck with the rooftop pool and view of the ocean, rising occasionally to refresh my drink and make my way to the beach.

3. Plan far in advance if possible

It’s easier for people to put aside time for a trip if it gets on their calendars early. While sitting around the dining table of our gorgeous rental home at Lake Winnepesaukee last October, we decided on a beach trip for this year. Before we left, we had tentative dates, the location for this year’s trip at the Isle of Palms, and had looked at the websites for a couple of homes we were considering. It was easy to handle the rest of the details by email.

4. Split the duties in advance

We tend to eat most of our meals in our rental house to maximize visiting time and because most of us really enjoy cooking. That does mean some major organization and splitting the shopping, cooking and clean-up duties.

Judy is the best list maker and extremely organized so she prepared a master list of groceries to get us started. She and I both made Costco runs for this trip, as we are in the driving group this year. Unlike when we all lived together in college, we’ve never had a fight over whose turn it is to do the dishes.

5. Leave some free time on the agenda

We generally plan a few outings during our long weekends but want to make sure we have plenty of time to relax and catch up. We may plan one lunch or dinner out but leave maximum time for just chilling. If the group is up for it, try something new.  One year we ventured out from our home on Lake Winnepesaukee so Patti could go on her first thing  called a “hike.”

And you never know what activities you may dream up on the spot. Last year we invented the rousing game of “How Many Wahoos Can You Fit in a Hot Tub?” After dinner, and perhaps a few drinks on the part of some of us, we put on our swimsuits, and one by one plunged into the hot bubbling water until our entire group was huddled in a mass of giggling steam.

This year? I’m introducing the group to Dizzy Bat. Because nothing builds on wonderful years of shared memories like a face plant in the sand.