Sunday, November 30, 2014

One last fall post...cookies!

Tomorrow is the first day of December, which is the official start of Christmas on my blog!  I'm really excited to share my decorations with you, but first I thought we could take a snack break.

These are pumpkin chocolate chip cookies.  I took them to work for a bake sale for charity.  I've done a couple of other recipes, but this one has worked the best for me.

I just used the recipe I found on Allrecipes here.  I did everything the same, except I used a mix of Ghirardelli milk chocolate and dark chocolate chips.  These cookies are moist and somewhat cakelike.  They also definitely taste like pumpkin. 

Friday, November 28, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving! (tea cart)

Well, this week has flown by!  I finished up my part of the cooking and had a wonderful Thanksgiving feast today with my family.  I wanted to take a quick minute to share my tea party for this week...which is Thanksgiving themed :).

I went gold, with pumpkins and turkeys.

for each new morning,
with its light
for rest and shelter of the night
for health and food
for love and friends
For Everything
thy goodness sends.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson
Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Conservatory at the Biltmore

The next day in Asheville began tea and scones!

These raspberry and blueberry scones were part of the complementary breakfast at our hotel.  I was (obviously) really excited to see scones on the menu.

After breakfast, we headed back towards the Biltmore to see more of the grounds.  Our first day there it was too cold to stay outside much and we wanted to make sure we saw the Conservatory.

The Conservatory is basically a large hot house, with many tropical plants inside.  It is surrounded by the formal gardens of the estate, which were pretty dead due to the cold, but the outside was festooned with pretty natural wreaths.

When we went inside, we were overwhelmed by the beautiful flowers all around.  I was particularly excited because we hadn't realized that there would be so many plants.
First, were the Christmas poinsettias in pinks, reds, and whites,


(poinsettia with a bird of paradise!)
as well as festive amaryllis. 

There were also hibiscus decorated for Christmas
(these plants would never see real snowflakes!)
and gorgeous displays of orchids:

I would love to just sit among the flowers for an afternoon tea!  Maybe even at one of these chairs?

We did walk up to the gardens but there wasn't much to see.  I did get a pretty shot of the house above some red leaves:

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Biltmore

So...on to the main reason for my trip to Asheville...the Biltmore itself!  George Vanderbilt visited the Appalachians with his mother and decided that Asheville would be the perfect location of his country home.  To that end, he commissioned construction on the Biltmore, which was  completed in 1895.   The house is a mix of an idealized English manor home and the beauty of a French chateau, with the "modern" technology of a gilded age home.


Unfortunately we couldn't take pictures inside the house, so most of the pictures I will be sharing are from postcards or are some pictures that we purchased during our trip from the official photographer.  I took two tours during my visit, one during the day, and one at night.  Both were great and allowed you to see the décor in different ways.  The nighttime tour (called the candlelight tour) was the perfect fodder for daydreams of being in the house when it was first opened, which, by the way, was for a Christmas party.  

As we approached the entrance, we passed by two festooned lions,

and into the main entryway.

The house was already decorated for the holidays, with a multitude of trees and garland.  As you enter the mansion, there is a solarium with many indoor plants.  During the candlelight tour there was a choir singing and bells, which echoed through the house as we toured.  

Off the solarium is the first of the rooms I will be sharing, the banquet hall.


As you can see, on one end of the room was a huge Christmas tree.  Boxes were hung on the tree as they would have been while the Vanderbilts lived here at the turn of the last century.  On the other end of the room was a large fireplace--that looked like three "normal" sized ones put together (with a fire going during the nighttime tour).

From the hall, we moved to the more "intimate" dining hall:

This is not exactly how the room looked during my tour (the tree is different), but this picture gives a good view of the pretty Wedgewood mantle surround.
From the dining room, we walked through a salon and a music room, which were both added after George Vanderbilt died and were not finished when the house was first opened.  Off of the music room was a beautiful balcony with views of the surrounding mountains.  Unfortunately, it was very cold, and the balcony was not opened, or I would love to have stepped outside!
Next on the tour is one of my favorite rooms, the tapestry room.
(Biltmore photography)

It is in this gorgeous and extremely long room that ladies may have gathered for afternoon tea under three very old tapestries.  This set, called the Triumph of the Seven Virtues, is believed to have been woven between 1525 and 1535. 

I'd love to have tea in this room with this beautiful French antique set from the 1800s, especially with all the wonderful trees and those tapestries!

On the other end of the tapestry room is the library, which was also gorgeous, with dark wood built in shelves all the way to the ceiling and a large fireplace with a black marble surround.

(Biltmore photography)

This picture also gives you a feel for what the candlelight tour was like.  This ends our tour of the first level of the home.  There were also three other fours open--the second and third flours up and the basement.  The basement was not as pretty as the fancy decorations in the upper levels, but there was a tiled swimming pool and a bowling alley, which were especially impressive considering the age of the house!  

I wanted to share a couple of pictures of the outside of the house before signing off tonight:

First the front of the house:

(statues and other embellishments were on the outside façade of the house)

and then the side and back:

I'll leave you for now with a picture of the Biltmore at night:

I have lots more to share, so please check back later this week!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Tea at the Biltmore Inn

I'm finally back!   I wanted to update yesterday, but I signed up to bake cookies for a bake sale at work so I ended up cooking for hours and didn't have time...but here is a new entry (finally).

Last week I took a long weekend trip to the Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina.  I've been talking about going to the Biltmore ever since the first time I saw a spread about it in a magazine a couple of years ago.  The beautiful mansion is from the turn of the last century, and is a wonderful example of gilded age architecture. 

I'm going to start my posts about my trip not with the Biltmore itself, but with an afternoon tea at the Inn at Biltmore, located on the mansion grounds (and boy, are there a lot of grounds!).  The Inn overlooks Antler Village, a group of shops, restaurants, and a museum with Vanderbilt memorabilia.

The hotel had gorgeous views of the mountains, including the roof of the Biltmore itself in the distance:


Tea at the Inn was served in a room called the Library as we relaxed to live piano music.

(the hotel was already decorated for Christmas, which made tea even better!)
The Library had huge windows with mountain views.
But, beyond the gorgeous and restful surroundings, the afternoon tea itself was wonderful.
The gold was a little worn on my plate (probably from too many washings) but you could buy these same dishes in the gift shop, which had the Vanderbilt "V."

As we sat down, a tea chest was placed on the table with sniffer jars of tea (Mighty Leaf, in case you were wondering):

I choose Leaves of Provence, which was delicious, my mom choose the Assam Gold (a strong black breakfast tea), and my father choose the Brazilian Fruit (also very good).  Katie, my sister, got the White Lotus.
We each got our own pot, which was full of the loose leaf tea, and each place setting came with its own strainer.  They were also very quick to pour in additional hot water when the tea got too strong.
Anyone want an upgrade to the Royal tea--perhaps a peach bellini?
Here is a better look at the menu itself:
We were first served a small bite of orange and date to tantalize our taste buds.
Next came the savories, one of the largest collections of tea sandwiches  I've been served:
Starting at the top and going clockwise:  apple with goat cheese; ham and cheddar with "lusty monk" mustard on cranberry walnut bread (my favorite); cucumber with lemon hummus;  waldorf chicken salad (with grapes); sweet potato and marshmallow with roasted pineapple (also delicious); slightly spicy shrimp salad with dill gerkins; and berry-lavender, blue cheese, and walnut spread (my least favorite). 
The savories were followed by a plate of cheeses,
(smoked gouda, brie, and sheep's milk cheese, served with a pepper honey--all were terrific and the honey was a perfect accompaniment)
followed by the tiered tray:

As you can see, there was a ton of food!  Starting with the bottom, we had sweet potato white chocolate scones (they were good, although a bit more cake-like and a flavor combo I had never tried before):
We also had pumpkin bread with walnuts and apricots:
The scones and bread were served with clotted cream, lemon curd, and strawberry preserves all made on the Biltmore estate.
We have worked our way to the top tray and the end of the tea feast--the desserts!
As you can see, there were four desserts served:
Starting at the top and going clockwise, a layered salted caramel cake with apple fillings, an orange macaroon with milk chocolate filing, a dark chocolate truffle with ginger, and a pecan tartlet with chocolate ganache.  All were wonderful--I don't even know what my favorite was!
Here are a couple of additional pictures of the hotel all decked out for Christmas:


Thanks for joining me for tea this week, even though I am posting a bit later than usual!  I am joining these tea parties this week:
Tea Time Tuesday at Rose Chintz Cottage
Bernideen's Friends Sharing Tea 
And here is a teaser for the rest of this week's posts, as we travel to the Biltmore itself.
(Postcard of the Biltmore in Fall)