Instead of flowers...

I'm so lucky to have such good friends. After my knee surgery, I received meals, sweet treats, coffee, magazines, rides for my children, lunch out and visits from well wishers all of which I really appreciated.

One night, we received dinner from Instead of Flowers. I had never heard of it, so I'm sharing with you. Instead of Flowers is a fresh gourmet meal delivery service. You design your own meal or pick from designated menus. Tell them what time and they deliver it to your door in an insulated bag. Ours arrived exactly as scheduled.

Nice reusable bag. Let's see what's inside.

Entree, sides, rolls, salad and dessert all neatly packaged and clearly labeled, including heating and serving instructions. Note: this meal is for two. It easily feeds a family of four and then some.

 As you can see, we ordered pork tenderloin.

And rocky road brownies for dessert.

Bon Appetit!

Fresh and delicious. Perfect gift for new moms and moms who just don't want to cook.


In December, I took an online blogging course that motivated me to make some much-needed changes to my blog. You may have noticed the new design, which is a work in progress. The funnest part of the course was meeting people from all over the world. My first homework partner was a lovely Australian blogger who lives guess where? Capitol Hill. Small world. And, speaking of the Hill. Who else binge watched House of Cards? LOVE that show.

I've decided to start two regular columns: Tuesday travel and Friday food. I'm most excited about having foreign and local correspondents guest blog about their travels. Other posts will be random -- likes, loathes and laughs with the occasional rant. Of course, I will only post when I have something riveting to share.

Just back from Puerto Rico. Post coming soon, but here's a sneak peek…

Heart throb...

Kevin Spacey, be mine. Who needs Valentine's Day cards when House of Cards Season 2 is here at last.


And in case you fans missed it, interesting HOC article in recent NYT mag.

Let the Netflix binge begin.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Pinkies up...

Elizabeth F. is back with her latest foodie adventure. You all got to know her a bit -- like her crush on Alex Trebek -- when she guest blogged about her fab weekend at Blackberry Farm. You'd never know by looking at her, but Elizabeth loves to eat. When she's not shopping online (Rue is a fave) or doing Pure Barre or running to burn calories, you can find her at home cooking up a storm. More on that…

BMH: Cooking or baking?
EF: Baking.
BMH: What was your biggest cooking or baking disaster?
EF: Last Christmas, I attempted to make this Caramel Nut Tart for the first time out of the Bouchon Bakery Cookbook. It is essentially a tart shell that you scatter with whole cashews, hazelnuts, almonds, pistachios and then pour over this caramel sauce that will firm up as it cools. The photos looked AMAZING and I’ve made caramel a ton, so I didn’t think it would be that big of a deal. I ended up taking the caramel too far and semi-burning it, but I didn’t have time or ingredients to redo it, being xmas and all. I brought it anyway to my brother’s house. It still looked great, but tasted horribly bitter. Merry Christmas, everyone.
BMH: What is one of your all-time favorite recipes?
EF: I bake a lot during the winter because it’s cold and I like to have treats around. I make the pumpkin cinnamon rolls from Smitten Kitchen far too often. I will say that I only use half of the sugar called for in the recipe and I use a bit of whole wheat flour. Practically kale-equivalent.
BMH: What is your favorite restaurant?
EF: Ahhh! Don’t make me to choose.
BMH: What was the best meal you’ve ever had?
EF: I don’t know about the BEST best, but when we were in SF in the fall, my husband and I went to Rich Table and it was SO SO GOOD. I had salmon with figs, which sounds gross, but I promise you it was amazing. And the oysters and pasta and they have this homemade fennel levain. Really, really, really delicious.
BMH: Last supper: what would you order?
EF: Watershed fried chicken night, no question. And the very good chocolate cake. And no sharing.

Here she is…

Hello there, bluemopheaders! My world travels have brought me all of 7.9 miles from my home to the St. Regis in Buckhead for a little high tea with a couple of college girlfriends, J and R. Tea is an annual holiday tradition of ours, but this is our first time getting together in January. December got ridiculous to manage and also you have to fight with the Christmas tea-with-kids crowd, which… no. As it turns out, an afternoon of fancy tea is the perfect respite from the glum weather and post-holiday doldrums!

J, R, and I arrived last Sunday afternoon for our reservation and ascended the grand staircase to the mezzanine, which has lots little tables and is flanked by two fireplaces. The whole setting overlooks the grand chandelier in the center of the hotel lobby. I’m sure there was some light instrumental music in the background. Our guy hooked us up with some premium seating right in front of a (gas log, but still) lit fireplace.

Once we got comfy, we were provided both a tea menu and a treats menu. The tea menu is arranged by varietal - black, green, herbal – and they provide little tasting notes about each selection within each category. I remain unconvinced that people are this particular about their tea. In any case, I chose a black tea that was called Mad Hatter’s something and had floral notes. I failed to take a picture of the menu or the tea. Sorry I have let you down.  

When it is ready, each person receives their own small pot of tea and then a parade of treats begins! We started with a little basket of two types of scones, hazelnut and candied orange zest, accompanied by lemon curd and Devonshire cream. The scones, especially the orange, were divine and we quickly polished off the basket.

Next up was a tiered tray of finger sandwiches, mini desserts and confections. In the interest of transparency, I will note here that I do not care for mayonnaise-based salads. I just. I can’t. I have had to falsely claim vegetarianism at SO MANY bridal and baby showers. R yells at me about missing out, when *really* she should be thanking me for the extra sandwiches coming her way. R and J agreed the miniature egg salad was the best one offered, so we will have to believe them on this.

Of the desserts, the standouts were a very nice chocolate cupcake that had a bit of heat to it that we all loved. And there was a caramel-centered cake pop that was also delicious.

If this is all tl;dr, here is a photo summary of our visit.

{The grand lobby entrance. Prettay}

{Look at our set up! Right by the fire, with a sophisticated tables cape.}

{The menu of treats. January’s theme was Downton Abbey, a show I have never seen. I feel I must put some of the blame on PBS for this. I can tell you that I would be 127% more likely to watch it if it preceded WWHL on Bravo.}

BMH: Hate to barge in here, but being the Downton fan that I am. Does anyone else think they added some "spice" to Lady Edith's cupcake due to her provocative new fashion style (Spoiler alert: soon to be maternity) and slutty behavior?

{Bottom tray: Get away from me. Top two trays: I love you.}

{I don’t know what this is. I only took the picture because it had the brand.}

Because we are shy, I promised that I would not include any pictures of me, J and R in this post. However, I will tell you that we looked adorable, chic, and not-at-all middle-aged.
Confidential to fellow celebrity-gossip enthusiasts: In case you are wondering. Despite the St. Regis’ gold list status, we failed to see any celebrities during our visit. Not a single Hunger Games actor; nary a Real Housewife. :(!

In conclusion, there are few better ways to while away a cold and blustery afternoon than by gossiping with your girlfriends and being served delicious treats in a cozy setting. Something to consider now that we are due for more six more weeks of winter! (obligatory groundhog day reference)

Bye for now.

Destination: Alys Beach...

I've mentioned Alys Beach in a couple of posts about my fave Rosemary Beach. Although they are next door neighbors, Alys has a completely different look and vibe. I saw an ad for it in the current issue of Garden & Gun. It aptly describes Alys as "a resort town nestled on 158 pristine acres along Florida's Gulf Coast."

Alys is one of several communities on Scenic Route 30-A. It was designed on principles of New Urbanism. Three words that come to my mind when I think of Alys are pristine, fancy and white. By white I mean, all of the Bermudan architecture is white from the homes to the shops, to the enormous 13-foot diameter urns that flank the central Gulf Green leading to the sugar white sandy beach. It is aesthetically stunning, especially if you take the time to explore it up close and personal.

Let's take a look.

 {welcome to Alys}

Most of the south side of Alys in currently under construction. North side residents have to schlep it over the highway to get to the beach. The central entrance is not too shabby once you get there, though.

{nice spot to enjoy the sunset at day's end}

{one of the urns flanking the entrance -- bath houses inside. notice the scaled pattern meant to look like a fish. the picket fence barrier shields the green from new home construction}

And, if you need to take a rest on your way to or fro -- or entertain guests -- you can relax at Palmera Park. Tres chic. I'd like to move the entire set up to my back yard.

 {love the suspended drum lighting fixture}

All of the homes and buildings were built to stand the test of time. Walls are solid white-washed concrete and concrete tiled roofs are hurricane proof. There are three types of homes at Alys: courtyard, villa and compound.

Of the handful of completed houses on the south side, this one is my fave. As you know, I have a passion for gas lanterns.

During my past several visits, I spent most of my time biking around the north side. In September, the place was deserted, so I helped myself to some major snooping. My adventure was in the late afternoon. Not the best time to take photos.

First stop the Alys Shoppe, which opened last summer. Beautiful shop. Apparel, jewelry and decor at high price points. I was in the market for a bathing suit cover up. My friend Sabrina suggested I pop in for some end-of-season markdowns. No markdowns. Expect to pay in the $200 plus range. Although I made no purchases, the sales staff was delightful. They gave me a tour, let me take photos and generously pulled out their design book and gave me sources for some lighting fixtures.

{welcome to the Alys Shoppe}

The linen drapes leading into the dressing rooms are actually a pale gray. They change color throughout the day when the sun pours in though the windows and skylights. Here they look blue. Notice the beautiful Moorish arch that mirrors the one at the front entrance. I loved all the cool hanging pendants. And, in case you missed it on your way in, the Egyptian pendant ball from hanging outside.

It was at the Alys Shoppe that I first noticed the extensive use of Moorish stars around town. You all recognize that this star is an escutcheon, right?

Stars on doors...


{lovely railing curve}

{isn't the tiny one for the hose adorable? just goes to show that no detail is left unturned at Alys}

And, the entrance to the Fonville Press courtyard -- our next stop.

Cafe, newsstand, bookshop, wine bar and more -- it's all happening at the Fonville Press.

{pops of green and red offset all of the white}

 {i spy a water bowl and faucet --  clearly dog friendly -- always a plus in my book. pretty blue patina inside the well}

{as you can see, i'm smitten with the place}

I enjoyed sipping coffee outside while flipping through the extensive selection of shelter mags offered. It's a nice retreat if you feel like running away from home for a little while. Not that I did that, of course.

Firepit Park is another "civic space" to hang out. Shell stone pit, but of course. Sunken garden surrounded by a wall and holly hedge -- a common design used throughout the community.

{cool metal drum shade}

I spotted this lovely herb garden while nosing around. Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme -- some chives and basil too!

{citrus tree in center}

{a closer look}

 {so pretty. love the weathered pots}

And yet another "urban park" -- Papillio Park. The place to go when you're feeling zen.

I think you have a flavor for Alys now. Not shown, but worth a peek are a man-made lake, a 20-acre nature preserve and trail, more parks and the hip Caliza infinity pool and restaurant. Delicious food, tranquil ambiance and spectacular roof top views. Don't miss the sunset and leave the kids at home.

Alys is without a doubt very classy. Although I saw a bunch of kids around it's probably a better place for adults IMO. Perhaps a couples or romantic getaway sans children or a girls weekend. Hint, hint. Probably not a family destination for us.

But you can be sure to find us eating...

 {charlie's donuts -- run, don't walk to get them while they last}

Mis-be-havin' at George's.

Watching movies at the amphitheatre...

{fun splash fountain for the little ones}

{adorable concessions stand!}

And the sunset over 30-A.


{George's of course}
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