Beach, Cooking, Travel

I love surprises

Sunset in Fernandina | The Lush's Blush blog
Sunset in Fernandina Beach, Florida

You know those people who say “I don’t like surprises,” well, I’m not one of those people. I love surprises. My Mamma was the surprise queen. Over the years she planned surprises parties for me and she would always keep one special Christmas present as a surprise for that night. Some years she actually found Christmas presents months later that she had hidden away so I would even get a surprise well after the holiday.

Click here to skip to the recipe for Leighanne’s Tangy Pot Roast

My fiancé is also good at surprises, although he is one of those who claims not to like them himself. For my birthday this year we weren’t able to celebrate together on the day of my actual birthday. He surprised me later in the week, bringing me lunch to my office. One of the Arby’s bags he set down on the desk was our lunch, in the second bag was my birthday present! He and my mom often colluded to surprise me. For our two-year anniversary he got me a piece of jewelry I had seen while on vacation and really wanted. My mom helped him contact the shop and order the ring for me — a huge pink agate druzy. He showed up unexpectedly at my house two days before our anniversary with two dozen roses and the pink druzy ring. He really surprised me this past Christmas when he proposed. Though we had been together more than five years and had talked seriously about marriage, I still wasn’t prepared when he dropped to one knee and opened up that ring box.

A golden sunset in Florida | The Lush's Blush blog
Sunset in Fernandina Beach, Florida

My bridesmaids are also good at surprises. One of my bridesmaids, Amanda, lives in Texas and wasn’t able to be here for my bachelorette celebration at the wine festival. Instead she surprised me by sending me a hand-painted wine glass to use for the day. A few weeks ago my other two bridesmaids pulled off a pretty epic surprise. They had told me a few months ago that they were taking me to Charlotte for a spa weekend at the end of May. The day arrived and we piled in the car to head to Charlotte. As we passed through Charlotte I noticed that no one seemed to be paying attention to the directions and so I asked what exit we needed to get off.

“Oh, we have a while longer,” said Leighanne. A little while later when we were no longer even in North Carolina I said “ok, what have I missed.” The spa weekend had been a hoax all along and they we were really taking me for a beach weekend at Amelia Island in Florida!
My bridesmaid Leighanne’s sister has a place there and I had been to visit before. It is a beautiful place. Leighanne and Sarah said they were a little worried that I might be disappointed that I wasn’t going to be getting a massage and pedicure, but I wasn’t at all. Not that a spa weekend wouldn’t have been nice, but the beach trumps about everything in my book.

Cocktails in Fernandina | The Lush's Blush blog
Sipping on fun and fruity drinks in Fernandina

We had a great time relaxing on the beach and just enjoying each other’s company. Of course, eating some good food was also on our agenda at the beach. We enjoyed appetizers at a beach-side restaurant called Sliders and a really great meal at a little pub where we dined al fresco under beautiful live oaks draped with Spanish moss.

Leighanne also prepared us a great meal to enjoy the night before we left. Now, as I’ve mentioned before, I love my Crock-pot. With just a little prep work you can have a meal simmering and cooking all day and ready when you arrive home. Most of the meals I typically prepare in a slow cooker are very rich, warm and comforting foods. As such, I tend not to use my Crock-pot as much in the summer when lighter fare is what’s more enjoyable.

Leighanne’s roast she prepared in the Crock-pot though was the perfect dish after a long day at the beach. Though the meat was hearty, there are lots of carrots in the recipe which give a nice summery flavor and she paired it with a lovely fresh green salad with fresh berries and goat cheese. Sometimes a typical winter comfort food like pot roast can surprise you with its deliciousness on even a hot summer day. Leighanne has graciously shared her recipe.

Leighanne’s Tangy Slow Cooker Pot Roast

• 1 boneless beef chuck roast, about 3 to 4 pounds
• 2 teaspoons Hungarian paprika
• Salt and pepper
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1/2 cup beef broth
• 1/2 cup red wine, such as cabernet or pinot noir, or more beef broth
• 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
• 1 tablespoon honey or brown sugar
• 1 can (8 ounces) tomato sauce
• 1 large onion, quartered, sliced
• 6 large carrots or a bag of baby carrots
• 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Generously sprinkle the roast all over with salt and pepper, then rub the paprika into all sides. Cook the roast for about five minutes on each side to brown. Meanwhile, combine the broth, wine, tomato sauce, vinegar, and honey; set aside. Put the sliced onions, carrots, and garlic in the bottom of a 5 to 7-quart slow cooker. Remove the roast from the heat and place it on the vegetables in the slow cooker. Pour the broth and wine mixture into the hot skillet and use a spatula to scrape up any browned bits; pour over the roast in the slow cooker. Cover and cook on high for one hour. Reduce to low and cook for 7 to 9 hours longer, or leave on high and cook for 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 hours.

Starlight dinner in Fernandina | The Lush's Blush blog
Starlight dinner in Fernandina


Wine festival fun

The Lush's Blush blogEleven years ago I attended my first Yadkin Valley Wine Festival. To be honest, I wasn’t exactly thrilled to be there. I worked as a reporter for The Elkin Tribune for about six months the year I graduated from college and by default I inherited the role of wine reporter. I had never had wine before that and it was a bit of an acquired taste. I was the reporter on duty that weekend and had other places I would much rather have been than working on a Saturday.

But, there I was, roaming around taking pictures and getting comments about the wines from folks. I remember two people who stood out. The first was a man who hailed from New Zealand, but worked at a winery in northern Italy. How he found his way to our little festival in Elkin, I can’t recall. It was a fledgling industry at that point and I’m sure a hard comparison to the wines he was used to, but he gave a very diplomatic comment about everyone having a lot of enthusiasm for the new viticulture industry here. He was also intrigued by the sweeter wines made from our native muscadine and scuppernong grapes.theThe second person I remember was a little lady who brought up the fact that some in the area were against the wine industry. She quickly reminded me that wine is mentioned in the Bible, quoting specifically the passage from I Timothy that says “use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake…” She said she thought the new up and coming wine region was a good thing.After I finished with my work that day, I decided to try a little wine myself. Needless to say, by the end of the afternoon I was no longer so grumpy about having had to work that day.I have attended the festival every year since then and have become a huge proponent of our wine region. I tell everyone I meet about it. Wine may not be the beverage of choice for everyone, but as a Yadkin County native, it thrills me that we have found such a unique way to continue the agricultural tradition of our region and bring visitors here.As our wine region has grown and matured, so has my palette expanded greatly since taking those first sips of wine more than 10 years ago. I began drinking the very sweetest wines made from muscadine or similar varietals. Now, I prefer the deep dry reds, with the occasional chilled dry white wine for nice summer days.The Lush's Blush blogI think each of our area wineries have such lovely and distinct venues and all boast wonderful wines. While I know some who are wine snobs and prefer vintages that hail from Italy or California, I have become a Yadkin Valley wine snob. I prefer to drink wines that hail from my hometown area.I am an even bigger snob about our area wine festival. I turn up my nose and frown if anyone suggests attending other wine festivals, which seem to be bigger and crowded and just not as much fun or as relaxing and enjoyable as our Yadkin Valley Wine Festival.

This year’s festival was extremely special as many of my friends came with me as a celebration of my upcoming nuptials. I was so proud to show off the Yadkin Valley Wine region to friends who had never been. We had a wonderful day sampling wines, enjoying food from the vendors and dancing to the great music.The Lush's Blush blogThe Lush's Blush blog