Recipe for a Blue Ridge Birthday

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My birthday this year fell on a Tuesday, so I had the privilege of celebrating my birthday for a whole week, while I prepared for a weekend birthday trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Thank you, family and friends, for letting me get away with that one. Special thanks to my parents who actually kicked off the celebration a week early, with a trip to see the Garrison Keillor Radio Romance Tour at Maymont, and a gift of some seriously sweet cycling gear for my special day.

We lucked out with gorgeous weather and beautiful scenery all weekend, so I want to share some of the photos that I snapped with my phone. We ended up packing a ton of activities into each day and eating very late, so most of the food photos are nothing to get too excited about. However I will share a few food pictures, starting with my Tuesday birthday dinner. After work, I spent two hours in the kitchen and on the grill, preparing a perfect vegetarian midsummer feast.

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We enjoyed local No Bull gourmet veggie burgers with local tomatoes over fresh spinach, Eating Bird Food’s raw cauliflower tabbouleh, and local corn on the cob with smoked paprika and parsley butter. Kyle asked to take me out to dinner for my birthday, but I really wanted to spend it in the kitchen making the exact birthday dinner that I craved – is that weird? Kyle thought so, but when he took a few bites of this food, he stopped arguing, relaxed, and really enjoyed it!

A few days later, we packed the car and headed to Charlottesville, where we stayed in an apartment we found on AirBnB with my sister and her boyfriend. We arrived late and had a relaxing dinner at Mono Loco, complete with margaritas and cans of Tecate. I had the vegetarian special, a spicy mushroom tamale, which was great fuel for the next day.

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The next morning, after a quick stop at Bodo’s Bagels, we headed west to the Blue Ridge Parkway and did one of our favorite hikes, Humpback Rocks. It was my sister Meghan’s first hike, and she did great! At the top, we were rewarded with a beautiful view on a fairly clear day. The boys were very adventurous and climbed higher than I had ever been before. Fast friends, Kyle and Jake joked around and posed for pictures at 3,000 feet. It was 75 degrees and sunny the whole weekend, which made this top-of-the-world moment even better.

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One of the most exciting moments of the weekend occurred on the way back down from Humpback Rocks, when we saw a black bear beside the trail! I have been patiently waiting to see a bear while on a hike for two years, and I finally got my wish on my birthday weekend! I never would have thought that it would be on one of the most popular hikes in the area, Humpback Rocks. Wild!

After our tough climb and quick descent back to the Blue Ridge Parkway, we simply had to indulge in one of our favorite post-hike rituals, pizza and beer at Blue Mountain Brewery. It seems like every time we go to Blue Mountain Brewery, we run into our friends Brittany and Isaac, and this trip was no exception. We should probably just plan a trip out there together and carpool from Richmond to save on gas!

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Can you see the hops in the foreground? They’re getting so tall this time of year! We spent a lot of time at the brewery as Meghan and I caught up while Kyle and Jake played lawn games. We headed back to Charlottesville for showers, and when we realized it was too late in the afternoon for a winery visit, we headed back out to Devil’s Backbone Brewing Company for more beer tasting and appetizers, including some awesome hummus, giant pretzels, and Kyle’s favorite fried pickles. Oh, and of course we took couples photos at sunset, before Meg and Jake had to hit the road.

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The next morning, Kyle and I slept in late, checked out of our apartment, and headed to downtown Charlottesville for breakfast. The selection at Café Cubano on the downtown mall was perfect for carb-loading with reckless abandon in preparation for our next hike. No, we didn’t really need this many carbohydrates, but that hike made a good excuse for us to indulge. The coffee here is fantastic and I highly recommend it. If you go for the French toast, as I did, pay the extra few bucks to get the fresh fruit topping. You won’t regret it!

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After a filling breakfast, we drove out west again to Skyline Drive and tackled Turk Mountain. There were a lot of rocks along the trail which worked out my ankles the whole way up.

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You can reach a clearing with a view without having to do any serious rock scrambling, but for the very best view, you have to scramble over several vertical rock faces to get to the summit.

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Pretty nice view, if you ask me. . .

The vista at the top was one of the best we have ever seen, and we spent a good twenty minutes on a large flat rock at the very top, resting and taking in the view. After our second hiking adventure of the weekend, we meandered down Skyline Drive and headed back towards Richmond, with a stop in Charlottesville for a relaxing late lunch (or early dinner) at Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar. Sometimes it is hard to plan a great weekend in that part of Virginia, just because there are so many options for fun activities and delicious food and drink. We could have done dozens of other things and had a great time, but looking back now on that weekend, I wouldn’t change a thing.

For more adventures, check out my Travel page.

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Planning and Playing in Charlottesville

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It has been a little while since I have done a wedding planning update. I’m not ready to share all the fun details quite yet, but I wanted to show you some of the things we have been up to. The wedding is just over 6 weeks away (aaahhhh!) and we have been spending a lot of time in Albemarle and Nelson counties, planning, making decisions, and putting the finishing touches on our wedding details.

One of the more interesting tasks was our pie tasting with Lynnette from Family Ties & Pies, who will be making the pies for our dessert table. I have mentioned before that we are planning a seasonal meal for our reception that will incorporate as many local ingredients as possible. For dessert, we have opted to do assorted pies instead of a large decorated cake.

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We are thrilled that Lynnette uses a lot of local ingredients in her pies and tries to make them a tad healthier by substituting natural sweeteners in place of refined sugars. The tasting got us really excited and committed to the dessert plan. When my Dad sent me this great article last week, I felt even more strongly that we had made the right decision!

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I don’t know (and frankly don’t care) if anyone else will be missing the wedding cake, but we are absolutely sure that we will not miss it one bit.

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Last weekend I had my hair test in Crozet along with a few other meetings and had to spend Friday night out near Charlottesville. I was able to convince some friends to join me over the holiday weekend, and we rented a cabin in Afton for two nights.

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It is amazing how two nights can feel like four or five when you don’t have TV or Internet access. It was positively blissful and exactly the recharge that I needed. I enjoyed my morning coffee with a fantastic view and the sounds of nature all around me, and spent my evenings playing games in the cabin and roasting marshmallows around the outdoor fire pit.

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We even squeezed in a hike at Crabtree Falls to work off the beer we drank on Friday night. I did not get the full benefit of the activity because I had to stop about two-thirds of the way up, turn around, hike back down and head to the cabin to shower and get out the door for an appointment. Although I missed the view from the top this time, I am still grateful to have had the opportunity to get out there on a beautiful morning.

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We met up with friends later at one of our favorite spots, Blue Mountain Brewery, for an early dinner.

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The veggie pizza was delicious, as always, and of course we had to get a sampler flight and some growler fills while we were there.

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Most of our recent trips to Charlottesville and Afton have been very rushed. I was really happy that we had the chance to stop and smell the roses (or hops as the case may be) this time around. My next visit is in a week, and then again the week after that. By the time I walk down the aisle in October, I’ll almost feel like a local!

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When I returned to Richmond from this last trip, I had about 36 hours to unpack, do laundry, tie up some loose ends at home, and repack for a weeklong business trip. Luckily, I managed to get the last of the wedding invitations out before I hit the road again.

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45 Days!

Wedding Planning Update – 4 Months to Go!

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It has been awhile since I have written about my third job: wedding planning. You may recall the wildly popular Engagement Tofu post, in which I announced my and Kyle’s engagement.

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Since then, we have done a ton of research, made hundreds of decisions, and planned many major aspects of our wedding, which is just four months away! One of the main guiding principles of planning this event has been sustainability. Most people will only plan an event this large and expensive once in their lives. We take the decisions very seriously, and we see our wedding as a huge opportunity to partner with people and organizations that have the same values as we do. We try to support local businesses, promote sustainability, and minimize our impact on the environment in our everyday lives. We are looking forward to maintaining those standards in our wedding, and perhaps teaching our friends and family a thing or two about why we make the choices we do.

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Before we did anything else, we chose the wedding venue. We picked our place before we even chose the date! Kyle and I knew we wanted to get married outdoors and, with the help of some friends, made a list of pro’s and con’s for both the beach and the mountains. In the end, the Blue Ridge Mountains won, because we love to hike and visit there year-round, the area is home to a lot of agriculture and interesting food, wine and beer, and we knew it would be absolutely beautiful in the Fall. We decided on Afton Mountain Vineyards in Afton VA, which is just a stone’s throw away from where we went on our first hike together. As long as the weather cooperates, we will be getting hitched in front of the view you see pictured above. We are so excited to share this very special place with our friends and families.

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One of the most important decisions we have made so far (aside from the one to get married), is what food we will have at the reception. I spent countless hours researching, interviewing caterers, and reviewing proposals. I knew that the food would be very memorable (at least for me), so this is an area that we decided we could splurge on just a little. Kyle and I are vegetarians, but our menu will feature both vegetarian options and options that contain meat that was raised locally and humanely. I don’t want to give away too many secrets, but we are planning a seasonal menu with a strong focus on locally sourced foods. You can expect some global cuisine, including Middle Eastern, Latin and Moroccan flavors. Hopefully this will showcase how creative you can be with locally sourced ingredients. Our outstanding caterer is Beggars Banquet from Orange, VA and we are thrilled to be working with them!

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Our photographer is the incredibly talented John Robinson of Robinson Imagery. Kyle and I are falling in love with Robinson Imagery almost as quickly as we fell for each other six years ago (ha!). The photos from our engagement session were gorgeous, and John’s personality makes it easy for us to be ourselves in front of the camera (corny jokes, gap teeth, goofy smiles and all). All of our pictures so far look so authentic, which is exactly what we want. I know that our whole wedding party will be just as comfortable with John, so we are expecting great, natural photos of everyone on the big day. And just in case anyone is shy in front of the cameraman, John is bringing a photo booth set up for guests to take pictures of themselves via a remote-controlled camera with a backdrop and props. I can’t wait to see what silly poses our friends come up with.

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Our flowers will be provided and arranged by Sarah Pollard Chiffriller, whom you may know from the Twigs line of local floral arrangements at Ellwood Thompson’s. I found her through Amy’s Organic Garden, which is an organic farm that sells delicious vegetables and gorgeous flower bouquets at our local farmers’ market. We are taking a risk with locally sourced arrangements in mid-late October, but we are committed to sticking to the plan. I am hoping for some bright marigold colors when the wedding date rolls around, but if a hurricane or an early frost wipes everything out early like it did last year, then we’ll just have greenery and herbs in all of our bouquets, bouts and arrangements. We’ll just deal with what we’ve got come this Fall.

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We have a few other things nailed down that you might be interested to hear about. For colors, we are planning on dark teal with pops of marigold and accents of crisp white and sage green. I think the teal and marigold color scheme will be beautiful with the changing leaves and the blue-gray mountains in the background.

One of my favorite ideas so far is our guest book. We will have an artsy book with a lot of white space in it for guests to choose a page that they like and write a note on. This alternative to the traditional guest book will leave us with a keepsake that will look great on our coffee table for years to come. I could divulge the title of the book we will use, but my lips are sealed. We must maintain a little element of surprise for the guests!

Now while we’re talking about coffee tables, let me tell you about our favors. We are sending guests home with a custom blended and locally roasted coffee from Blanchard’s Coffee, which is located just a few miles from our house. If you know me and Kyle at all, you know we are coffee fanatics. We even met while working in the same coffee shop. So how cool is that?

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There are still a lot of things that need to be worked out, but I think that our plans so far are pretty stellar. Maybe you readers could help us out with some suggestions.

We are thinking of doing an iPod playlist for our reception in lieu of hiring a DJ or band. However we would like to have live music for our cocktail hour. We have talked to a few jazz and samba bands and we are still trying to make a decision. Send me an email if you know of any budget-friendly bands that are local to the Charlottesville area that would be good for an hour-long cocktail reception.

The wedding cake is still a big question mark (I know, I know, we are late on this). We aren’t really cake people so we had considered doing pies instead. However if we found a good local baker that uses local, all-natural ingredients and has interesting flavor combinations, we could be persuaded to go the cake route. Does anyone know of a great cake shop in Afton, Waynesboro, Staunton or Charlottesville? Even Orange would work.

We are just about decided on our honeymoon and we are leaning towards Colorado. Has anyone been in October? I have done a ton of research but I would be interested in hearing from anyone who has recommendations for Denver, Breckenridge and Boulder. We are looking forward to mountain views, hiking, hot springs, and craft beer tasting.

I will leave you with just one more photo of the beautiful Afton Mountain Vineyards, because I can’t resist.

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