Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Biltmore Delights

Fun fact: I worked at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC as a tour guide for six months right after graduate school.

The bulk of my employment was over the Christmas holiday, which begins around September and ends December 31. During Christmas, the estate is decorated with over thirty trees and Christmas carols are played from the organ loft throughout the house as well as performances by live entertainers. Fresh greens and winter flowers deck the halls, and the banquet hall has a live decorated tree that is bigger than the White House's Christmas tree. I loved watching house-keeping decorate the estate, and loved helping whenever I could. (A highlight was once helping put out all the candles that had been lit for the Biltmore Christmas Candle tour! I loved being able to climb on step stools and careful put out a burning flame that was perched on top of tables strategically littered with priceless antiques.)

Yet, the best part of working at Biltmore during Christmas was the delicious seasonal treats, mainly the pumpkin roll. While I only worked at Biltmore for one holiday season, now when Christmas comes around, I begin incisively talking about the pumpkin roll. Trae and I went to Biltmore Saturday to see the estate and get season passes, and after walking through the house, I made a direct path to the bakery. Sadly, the pumpkin roll season had passed, and I am left craving the fluffy cake with cream cheese filling for a whole year!

I missed my family a lot during the holiday season I worked for Biltmore; I missed the smells of Mom baking, having time to prepare my own Christmas delights, and seeing my extended family. Yet when I took a bite of pumpkin roll from the bakery and took a sip of the strong coffee in my refillable Biltmore mug, I could close my eyes and pretend I was at home or, at the very least, a Biltmore Estate guest. My habit became to get a pumpkin roll once a week during the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, which was huge treat considering the expense of living in Asheville! (I never worried about the waist-line side effects, because as a tour guide, I could walk anywhere from 8 to 10 miles a day within the house. I even wore the heel off of an expensive "never-wear-out" brand of shoes.)

It is odd how something that helped me cope with the absence of my family has become a part of my holiday tradition despite only working at Biltmore for six months. I also haven't had the pumpkin roll in probably about three years, yet the comfort the pumpkin roll gave me during that time of employment still lingers with me. I was single, venturing out, truly alone, for the first time in my life. Yes, my family was still supportive of me, but this job and the move that got me to Asheville, NC was real step in adulthood. The holiday season had to be adapted and I had to make my own traditions. Times change and so do what holidays represent and how we celebrate them. I have infused old traditions with new ones, and now that I am married, I am making even more new traditions with my husband. I look forward to see what traditions and memories we make throughout the year, and I hope trips to Biltmore Estate becomes one of those traditions.

Parting Random Musings: After missing out on my pumpkin roll yet again, I was driven to do an internet search, I found the Biltmore pumpkin roll recipe along with other recipes on the Biltmore Estate website. I note a few differences (mainly the toffee garnish), but over all I cannot wait to give this recipe a try!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Happy 2012

Happy 2012 everyone! I hope that 2012 will be a year of great joy and wondrous adventures! My 2011 was exciting and exhausting all at the same time. I am very ready for 2012 and all of it's promises!

This year will be the start of my full time position at the community college I teach at. Trae and I are committed to finding a church. I have a pantry full of goodies begging to be mixed by the Evangeline, the Kitchen Aid. We have an awesome vacation already planned, which will be Trae's first Hodge family trip! I will also be married for two years in July. I am so thankful for all that God has blessed me with, especially my husband and wonderful family!!

I also have one last announcement: a new blog! I am keeping this blog, but I have noticed that this blog is telling stories and the moments to put in recipes is getting slim. I will still post recipes here (a detail of our Christmas dinner is coming soon with the BEST sweet potato recipe every!), but I also want a recipe based only blog. Much of my cooking has inspirations, especially when I bake. I love to "theme bake." So I am launching: Sing Along Kitchen. This blog will get detailed instructions and inspirations for the things I bake. Enjoy!

May your 2012 be delicious!! 

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Christmas Traditions

I love Christmas. Simple statement, but true. I am sure many people would echo the loving Christmas sentiment. My reasons for loving the holiday do not come in packages with ribbons and bows, but around tables with mounds of food. My family knows food! (And so does Trae's grandparents.)

This Christmas was our first traveling Christmas as a married couple. Last year, we lived in South Carolina, and my parents, family, his parents and family did as well. Splitting time was not stressful, and we got to spend Christmas Eve in our own "house" (apartment). It was nice, even if we did have to wake up very early to go to other SC regions the next morning. During the various family visits, we ate a lot and shared a peaceful holiday season.

This year, however, peace was not a side dish offered on the table.We rode to multiple places, which caused a lot of stress, all over the state of South Carolina (five SC cities in three days). On the other hand, the stress was worth it in order to share time over home-cooked meals with family. The road weariness and fatigue stopped when the car was put in park and family started hugging us while handing us plates to fill with food at the same time. (My Aunt Ellen has the best road-weary traveler cure...a freshly perked coffee with a super large mug waiting for you to fill it!)

Seeing family and sharing family feasts was a wonderful thing, but all the driving left us without...well...us time. We did have a small two person Christmas with a nice meal before starting SC Holiday 2011 road trip.

Still, during the actual holidays, we were unable to share time to express our love and thankfulness for each other. This time of year, also, is very special to us, because Trae proposed on December 23, 2009; we have incorporated our love for each other with the love God gave us in the form of his son during this holidays.

We did, finally, on the night of December 25th get a chance to be us. The time did not have extensive fixings or fancy dishes; it consisted of eggnog and potato chips off a hotel balcony overlooking the ocean. In the tranquility, which can only be found in the sound of lapping waves, we talked and relaxed late into the night. We feel asleep with the balcony door open so we could keep the tranquility as we fell asleep and as we woke up. Leftover eggnog sweetened our coffee in the morning, and as the sun shone on the ocean, I realized it wasn't the elaborateness of a celebration, but who you share it with. As my husband sat, staring at the ocean, in Grinch pj bottoms, I knew that this moment with that man was one of most precious moments of the holiday.