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Illinois, apples and ice cream

This weekend I decided to drive up to Illinois to see the family. My little cousin was having his birthday party on Saturday night, and everyone always gets together to celebrate. We spent the night eating hotdogs, taking hayrides through the farm and hanging out around the bonfire. It was perfect.

The next morning I woke up to the smell of my mom’s home cooking. She knows I love her french toast, so she whipped me up a batch for breakfast. The trick to her french toast is the bread. She buys it homemade from the local Mennonite store where they make the world’s most amazing bread. This way the slices are extra thick and chewy…

Doesn’t it look delicious?

After breakfast we packed up and headed to Flamm Orchards, the apple orchard in town. Nothing like getting apples straight from the tree!

I definitely had my eye on the caramel apples there. I’ve never seen them dipped in chocolate before. Now why didn’t I think of that?

Mom ended up getting a bag of each color and let me steal a few to take back to Nashville. I can’t wait to eat them.

After stocking up on fruit, the parents and I settled down at the orchard’s patio and got ourselves some ice cream. I had the most amazing ice cream sandwich, mom had an ice cream cone and dad had some homemade apple pie. Mmm…

What a perfect way to start the fall season. Can’t wait to see what else it has in store.

Happy fall!

- Lu

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A day in the Bay

I recently took a trip to San Francisco to celebrate my best friend’s wedding. After spending days in the kitchen making her wedding cake (pictures and blog here) and fulfilling my duties as a bridesmaid, I had one full day to enjoy the city before heading home. My friend was nice enough to loan me her car, so I set out on my own to explore.

First stop on my list - Sausalito. I’d been here before on past visits, but it’s just too pretty not to see again.

The center of Sausalito is at the bottom of a very steep incline, making for a spectacular view as you head into town…

The downtown area itself is so adorable. I spent half the day here walking around, taking pictures and reading. It was so peaceful.

I even caught a farmers’ market in the park while I was there!

For lunch, I stopped at one of the cute little sidewalk cafes and had myself a grilled cheese sandwich and the most amazing peanut butter chocolate ice cream. Mmmm….

After lunch, I headed over to the Golden Gate Bridge, where I spent the next 4 1/2 hours walking all the way across the bridge and back (click here for blog and pictures). It was such a pretty walk!

Then I headed up into the Marin Headlands to do some more exploring. I came across a short trail that led to this amazing rock out in the bay, so I set out on a hike!

The view along the way was pretty spectacular too…

After the hike, I drove a bit further and found a beach - Rodeo Beach. Here I spent the last part of my day reading and watching the sunset.

All in all, it was the perfect last day in the city, and I definitely made the most of my one day of site-seeing. Now I can’t wait to go back and do some more exploring!

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Walking the Golden Gate Bridge

After my friend’s wedding in San Francisco this weekend, I had a day to go site seeing before heading home. First item on my agenda: walking across the Golden Gate Bridge.

Looking back, it was quite an undertaking for a pansie such as myself. I’m not much for physical activity - although I did just join a gym, which even shocked my own mother - but for some reason I thought it would be cool to say I walked across the whole thing.

So Sunday afternoon I set out by myself, snapping pictures along the way.

They definitely weren’t lying when they said it was crowded. There were people everywhere! I thought for sure I’d get run over by a biker or two. And just a word of warning - be sure and stay on the “walking” side of the sidewalk. Some bikers scream at you if you stray over to their side (which I learned from experience).

One of my favorite things about walking the bridge was getting to see all the details you miss when you’re driving. Plus you can stop and watch dolphins, seals and people out wind surfing below. It was quite an entertaining walk.

(Bikers watching dolphins below…)

At the halfway mark, I debated turning around. Not only was it still quite a ways to the other side, but once I got there I knew I’d have to walk all the way back. (Picture at halfway mark.)

Fortunately I decided not to give up, and I’m so glad I didn’t because the view from the other side was amazing!

So now I can say I’ve walked across the Golden Gate Bridge and back. Even though it took me four hours to do it (probably because I stopped to take so many pictures), and I ended up with blisters on my feet and really awkward half-arm sunburns, I loved the whole experience.

If you’re ever in San Francisco, make sure you take the time to walk the bridge too. You won’t be sorry!

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The Elkmont Synchronous Fireflies

This weekend I finally made it to the Elkmont Synchronous Firefly Show. In case you aren’t familiar, every June a rare species of fireflies synchronize their blinking in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park near Gatlinburg, filling the sky with millions of tiny lights.

Since the light show didn’t start til sundown, we spent the day enjoying Gatlinburg. What a cute little town!

We started out at the famous Pankcake Pantry, and boy was it delicious!

After breakfast, we took a ride on the Gatlinburg Skylift. It was such a relaxing way to enjoy the gorgeous view of the city.

The view from the top was pretty amazing too…

While the boyfriennd and I were reading and enjoying the view, we were surprised by a little visitor…a ground hog. He darted under our table, and I jumped up on the bench and started screaming, not sure what to expect.

Turns out there was no need for alarm though. Apparently he was a local “pet” of sorts named Crackers who visits each day to beg visitors for food. He kept us all entertained for quite some time.

And in case you were wondering, ground hogs DO eat ice cream cones.

After the skylift, the boyfriend and I headed into the Great Smoky Mountain National park to do some hiking up to Laurel Falls. So pretty.

And again, more beautiful views from here as well…

Finally after a long day of exploring, it was time to see the fireflies. I have to say it was like nothing I’d ever seen before. Sitting in the pitch black forest, we were surrounded by millions of blinking lights. It was spectacular. And now I can finally mark it off my 101 List (#11 - See the Elkmont Synchronous Fireflies).

Photo from “Inside Gatlinburg.”

If you ever get a chance to see it yourself, I highly recommend going. This year it runs through June 12, so there’s still time! And since finding info about it online is almost impossible, I’ll leave you with a few tips:

  • In order to go to the firefly viewing area, you must be parked in the Sugarlands Visitor Center in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Once the lot is full, you’ll be turned away. Be sure and get there early. I’d say by 3pm at the latest.
  • To be on the safe side, you could park here in the morning and take the tan line trolley into Gatlinburg to kill time til evening. It runs every 1 1/2 hours. (Click here for schedule.)
  • The trolleys for the firefly show will start leaving from the parking lot around 7pm.
  • Be sure to bring a flashlight. They’ll give you red cellophane to cover it with at the firefly viewing area.
  • Bring a jacket or a blanket. It gets cold after sunset.
  • I’d recommend sitting just off the main pathway inside the woods. It’ll be darkest inside the tree line allowing you to see the fireflies better.
  • Be aware that it’s going to take awhile to catch a trolley back down to your car. We packed up to leave at 10pm and stood in line for a trolley until 11:45pm. 
  • To find out when the firefly festival will take place each year, start googling “Smoky Mountain Synchronous Fireflies” in May for the announced dates.
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Niagara Falls

One of the great things about driving on vacations is having the flexibility to stop and enjoy places along the way. On our recent trip to Maine, we decided to spend a night in Niagara Falls, which was about half way between Portland and Nashville.

We got there just in time to see the nightly light show. In case you aren’t familiar, each night around 9:00 pm the Canadian side shines lights on the falls, illuminating them with gorgeous colors. In my opinion, it’s prettiest at night. Photos can’t even do it justice…

The next morning before heading out of town, we went back to the falls for a couple hours to take the Maid of the Mist boat tour beneath the falls (another thing I can mark off my 101 List: #69 - ride on a boat). Boy was it spectacular from below. It’s so much bigger than I imagined!

I would’ve loved to take my nice camera out there, but I couldn’t bear to risk getting it wet. So here are a few mediocre shots of our voyage from my point-and-shoot…

And a few more from my even more high-tech disposable water camera…

All in all it was a great pit stop, even though we only stayed a few hours. My only regret is not having time to get a passport before going so I could see it from the Canada side, which I’m told has an even more amazing view of the falls. I guess that just gives me a good reason to go back someday.

To see other posts from our trip, visit…

Inn on Carleton: Portland, ME

Food finds in Portland, ME

Portland Head Light

Portland, Maine

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Portland, Maine

The boyfriend and I recently spent a week in Portland, Maine, and we both quickly fell in in love with its historic charm. It’s such a cute, quaint town full of old brick buildings and stone streets. I just love cities like this!

Of course the scenery is just as beautiful as the town. To get a better glimpse, the boyfriend and I took a 3-hour ferry ride from Portland to all the surrounding islands. It was breathtaking!

One thing we found from the ferry was another lighthouse to explore - Spring Point Ledge Light. Much to my surprise, you could actually walk all the way out to the lighthouse on the rocky pathway. It was awesome.

Similar to Portland Head Light, this lighthouse was also surrounded by old forts from past wars, which kept Tanner entertained for hours.

Since we had a car, we also did a lot of exploring in nearby towns. We stopped at Old Orchard Beach to see this unique pier…

Our next stop was Ogunquit to explore the Perkins Cove area. Here we discovered this long canopy full of white wooden beach chairs - what a find! We spent quite a long time sitting here reading and enjoying the view of the ocean.

Our last pit stop was in Cape Neddick to see Nubble Lighthouse. Sadly the lighthouse sits out on an island, so you can’t actually get to the grounds. It was still beautiful to see from across the way though.

If it wasn’t for their arctic winter, I’d move to Portland in a heartbeat. Guess I’ll just settle for visiting in the summer.

Til next time,

Lu

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Portland Head Light

Located in Fort Williams Park, this place was our first - and favorite - stop during our vacation in Portland, Maine. The entire park is gorgeous, from the beautiful lighthouse to the breathtaking view of the ocean.

I loved how nothing was roped off or restricted in the park, so you could go anywhere you wanted. Tanner and I spent hours exploring the shoreline around the lighthouse. And the second day we came here, I spent much of it sitting on the cliffs gazing at the ocean. There’s just something I love about a rocky coast.

Of course, Tanner’s favorite part about the park was the history. There were tons of old forts lining the park, most of which were remnants of World War I & II. It was fascinating to learn how these were used so long ago.

Before we headed out on our last day, I begged to come back one last time. Of course, it didn’t take much begging since Tanner wanted to do some more exploring. We ended up spending another half day here before driving on to Niagara Falls (more on that later).

In just two short days, this park and lighthouse has become my new favorite place. And I can now mark another thing off my 101 List (# 7 - visit a lighthouse). If you get a chance to visit Portland, don’t leave without seeing it. You won’t be sorry!

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Food finds in Portland, ME

One of the things I enjoyed most during our trip to Portland last week was trying out their local restaurants. Below is a run-down of some of our best finds…

1) Miss Portland Diner - One of the items on my 101 List is to eat at an old-fashioned diner (#8). So when I discovered this adorable diner was in town, I begged the boyfriend to eat there with me.

Walking into the diner car, it was  just how I imagined an old-school diner looking. How perfect!

And of course, you have to order a burger and shake at a diner, right? I even got a side of sweet potato fries (one of my new favorites). It was delicious.

2) The Crooked Mile - Probably my favorite find on the trip. This little sandwich shop served the most amazing grilled cheese, which seemed to be their specialty. They also had a wide variety of unique sandwiches, a few soups (including tomato) and delicious homemade cookies for dessert. We ended up spending a few rainy afternoons here reading and enjoying the food.

3) Flatbread Pizza Co. (site) - We tried out three pizza places in Portland, and this was by far the best. It was my very first time eating at a stone oven pizza place and definitely won’t be my last.

What makes this place so unique (besides the stone oven) was their wide variety of crazy toppings and combinations. We ordered half spicy pepperoni for me (which was VERY spicy and very good) and half of their special - mashed potatos, corn, beef and cheese - for the boyfriend. Yes, I realize this seems disgusting, but I did end up trying it and it was surprisingly very good. It must be common in New England too because every pizza place we went to served it. If you’re not scared, it’s definitely worth trying!

(My apologies for the horrible picture - it was really dark inside.)

4) Beal’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream -A cute little ice cream parlor that serves a ton of different flavors and even makes their own frozen yogurt. I ordered a heathbar hot fudge brownie sundae (delicious) and Tanner got the biggest ice cream cone I’ve ever seen…

5) Flo’s Hot Dogs - Locals tell me this little hot dog hut is an institution in the Portland area. Located along Route 1 in Cape Neddick, Maine, Flo’s Hot Dogs is a famous family-owned steamed hot dog restaurant. Just be warned, they ONLY serve hot dogs and they only have a few toppings to choose from, one of which is their famous relish. We were a little disappointed they didn’t have cheese or chili, but it was still a good basic hot dog.

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Inn on Carleton: Portland, ME

Last week the boyfriend and I headed out on an eight-day road trip. Two days and thirteen states later, we ended up here - the Inn on Carleton - where we spent four nights and five days exploring the city.

Normally on a trip this long, I can’t wait to get home and sleep in my own bed again, but not this time. I fell in love with this Inn and almost cried the day we checked out. I could’ve stayed forever.

The home is an amazing three-story historic building built in the 1800s, a gem in and of itself.

The front door opens to this gorgeous entryway leading up to the rooms.

Of course, I got the best room in the house. Since we came just before peak season started, we actually got to pick. Below is the one I chose, fully equipped with an electric fireplace and a massive bathroom with an old-school claw tub and a double-headed shower.

Each morning, we couldn’t wait to head down to the kitchen where the Inn Keeper Buddy served us the most amazing breakfast.

Being the extreme picky eater that I am, I’m not one to normally care much about food, but he was quite the cook. For the most part, we got to choose what we wanted, and Buddy would whip up a homemade breakfast made to order. Below are several of his picture-perfect dishes…

Side of strawberries with homemade whip cream.

One of our daily pastry appetizers.

Scrambled eggs and my latest addiction - English muffins. That’s right, I’d never had an English muffin before (I’m picky remember).

Homemade Belgian waffles.

And for our final day - stuffed blueberry french toast.

What I enjoyed just as much as the Inn and the food though was the Inn Keeper Buddy and his assistant Sonya. They were so friendly and fun to talk to that the boyfriend and I couldn’t wait to come down for breakfast and visit with them each morning. I’d actually revisit the Inn just so I could see them again.

All that said, if you’re ever planning a trip to the Portland area, be sure and check out the Inn on Carleton. I’m pretty sure you won’t want to go home either.

Check back soon for more on our trip, including our Portland food adventures, lighthouse explorations, and our days in Philly and Niagara Falls.

Til next time,

Lu

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Baby shower tree cake

I haven’t had time to decorate cakes lately, but this past week I ended up having two cake orders for baby showers. The first was easy - an order of cupcakes (pictures of those another day). But the second was a little more challenging for me - a 10 inch iced cake.

Sure it seems easy enough, but the truth is I’ve only been making fondant cakes lately, so it had been over a year since I’ve done an iced cake. Perhaps I should’ve practiced a little before volunteering.

It also didn’t help that I had the world’s busiest week and absolutely no time to make the cake in the first place. My only option was Saturday night, the night before the baby shower.

I didn’t get home until 10pm and started quickly baking. I stayed up til 1am getting my cake dirty iced, and it wasn’t going well. The cake was uneven, icing was oozing out of the sides, one side even had a huge hole in it. Frustrated, I took a break to sleep, having lost all hope for this cake.

The next morning I got up early. The shower wasn’t until 2pm, so that gave me several hours to salvage the cake. I put another layer of icing on it, and things started looking up. I have to say though, after working with fondant, I really don’t like iced cakes. I can never get them to look smooth, no matter how much I spread out the icing. It’s definitely not ideal for a perfectionist like me.

In the end, I feel like it came together nicely. I used chocolate fudge icing to pipe a tree and made leaves out of fondant to match the colors of the baby shower. I then cut out fondant letters to spell “baby” since I was too scared I’d mess it up piping it out of icing. 

So, after all that hard work and stress, here’s what it looked like. It’s not perfect by any means, but it worked…

I’m glad I pulled it off, but I’m thinking this might be my last iced cake for awhile. I’d hate to give myself a heart attack in my 20s.

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