Decorating Lessons from the Biltmore Estate

One of the highlights of the holiday season each year for me is a trip to the beautiful Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina.  Every year the mansion is completely decked out from basement to attic with festive trees (there are over 70 of them!), garlands, lights, and other delightful frivolities.  It’s truly a magical experience for everyone in the family.

After so many holiday visits to this lovely home, you can’t help but pick up a few things that you might want to add in your own home.  It’s only natural!

So, today I am sharing ten Christmas decorating lessons I’ve learned from the beautiful Biltmore Estate.  I apologize for the quality of photos; they have just now allowed visitors to take pictures in the house and I had the rely on my phone as my camera had the wrong lens on it for great shots.

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1. Deck it all.  Seriously, go all out!

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The beautiful view looking up the grand spiral staircase; trimmed out with live garlands and ribbon.

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2. Mantle decor doesn’t have to be symmetrical.

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3. Use a lot of natural elements.  biltmore-christmas-8-ohfiddledeedee-com

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Could you imagine over 1,000 scattered throughout your home?

4. Add bling and a lot of twinkle lights…  Everywhere!

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5. Multiple trees are highly recommended; maybe even throughout one room!

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The beautiful tapestry room had four trees all decked out, one representing each season!

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The “winter” tree in the tapestry room

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6. Dress-up everyday ordinary items or use unexpected items to decorate with.

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These books looked so lovely tired up in colorful ribbon

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Feathers and roses help make this a stunning tree indeed!

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7. Deck the bedrooms. After all, the children shouldn’t be the only ones nestled in their cozy beds.

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Mrs. Vanderbilt’a beautiful bedroom with not one, but two gorgeous trees!

8. Take your time.

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Decorating just one room in the estate can take up to ten hours!  We may not have a design team in our own homes, but there are no rules that say it all has to be decorated in one day!

9. Use your imagination

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The “naughty & nice” list running down the tree is such a cute idea for your children or grandchildren

10. Make decorating a BIG deal and a celebration itself within your family

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The grand banquet hall tree arriving at the Biltmore Estate

I hope you enjoyed this little glimpse of the Biltmore Estate at Christmas and found a little inspiration for your own home.  If you ever want a fabulous holiday get-away I highly recommend that you  slip away to Asheville and the Biltmore Estate.  We are all decked out here in the Jones home and are ready to kick off the month of celebrations with a Christmas caroling party this weekend!  I’ll be sharing our decor over the next few days and hope that you will stop back by.

Have a blessed day!

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A Traditional French Gumbo

What a fabulous whirlwind Thanksgiving weekend was!

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Between Wednesday and Saturday we made time to enjoy Thanksgiving with my family (especially enjoying the time we had with all four of our kiddos & the son-in-love) and the in-laws  in Tennessee, then finally attending my mother’s family 40th annual family reunion just south of Birmingham.  It was so much fun, but I have to be honest with you I am totally over rich, heavy foods, casseroles and desserts, and I am most definitely over turkey!

Looking for something different yet tasty, I looked back over my notes from a cooking class I took part in at the New Orleans School of Cooking a couple of weeks ago and decided a pot of chicken and sausage gumbo was just what we needed to break the monotony of the holiday.

This version of gumbo I learned to make in class is the traditional French, before the Italians and Haitians added their touches to southern Louisiana cuisine, so it does not have tomatoes or okra.  I won’t give you the full cooking lesson, but you use an old-fashioned dark roux for the base which is the traditional French way!

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INGREDIENTS:

1/4 cup lard or 1/2 cup bacon grease (strained)

1/2 cup flour

1 pound chicken, cut up and deboned

1 pound Andouille sausage, sliced

2 cups onion, chopped

1 cup celery, chopped

1 cup green bell pepper, chopped

1 TBSP Garlic, minced

6 cups chicken stock

1 cup green onion, slivered

Tony Chachere’s to taste (I prefer the unsalted version)

ASSEMBLING THE GUMBO:

Season (salt & pepper) and brown the chicken in 1/4 cup of the lard or bacon grease over medium high heat in a large pot.  Add sausage to pot and sauté with the chicken.

In a skillet make a roux using equal parts of lard or bacon grease (must be strained &  without particles) and flour to desired color. Heat the grease to medium-high prior to adding the flour to aid in an easier breakdown.  Whisk continually and strive for a dark roux.

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You want your roux to look like dark chocolate … this was buttery color still

You must pay attention to this step because a scorched roux smells horrendous and you’ll have to begin again.  Reduce heat and add your onions, celery, and bell pepper (also known as the Trinity of French cooking) to the roux.  Add the garlic to the mixture and stir continuously.  After vegetables reach desired tenderness, add to pot with the chicken and sausage, continuing to stir frequently with a strong wooden spoon.  Gradually stir in chicken stock and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer to cook for an hour or more.  Season the gumbo with the Tony Chachere’s to your taste.

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About 10 minutes prior to serving, add green onions.  Serve gumbo over rice or French bread if you choose.

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We LOVED this gumbo and it’s even better heated up a second day after the flavors have had more time to mesh.

What is something you like to serve to break up the rich foods served over the holidays?

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10 Things: New Orleans

“We wander through old streets, and pause before the age stricken houses; and, strange to say, the magic past lights them up.”

~ Grace King, French Quarter Guidebook ~

I absolutely love New Orleans; not the loud, drunken partying New Orleans, but the cultural, culinary, historical and gracious New Orleans.

My husband knows this, so when he had to schedule a business trip to this grand old Southern City last week, he made arrangements for me to accompany him.

{He’s thoughtful that way.}

While Bourbon Street is clearly the most happening place in New Orleans, I tend to prefer the more subdued side of town.  You may ask what else is there to experience in this town known for its lively side, so let me share some of my favorite things to enjoy while traveling New Orleans.  I’ve included a few tips and links to help you plan your own vacation.

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1. Step back in time and tour the plantations on Louisiana’s old River Road.  From the stunning Houmas House and Gardens to the lesser known St. Josephs plantation (owned by the same family since 1877), these are still estates with working gardens or sugar cane crops!

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The Houmas House, also known as the Burnside Plantation or “The Sugar Palace”… The original portion of the house was built in the 1700s with  additions made by later owners completed in the 1840s.  The original portion of the home was built in the Federal style of architecture that was so common in the late 1700s, but the newer portion is obviously Greek Revival style which was used in many old southern homes.

We toured Houmas House first thing in the morning before the tour buses arrived.  It was still cool and quiet which made for a lovely and relaxing morning.

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The Houmas House guided tour is quite informative and well worth taking.  You will hear stories of several generations who lived there as well as a few details on furniture (Audley loved the 150 year old humidor) and accessories throughout the house.

 

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St. Joseph’s Plantation in Vacherie was built in the 1820s.  I love the French Creole architecture of the area and time.  The house was originally opened on the bottom as many Creole homes were, but was enclosed prior to the Civil War so that the home is 12,000 square feet!  My guide, Rae was full of information and facts including that the home was built from cypress wood since it was inexpensive to use, then faux finished to look like oak which was much more expensive!  Very interesting when so many seem to think faux finishes are a newer design concept. 

I visited St. Josephs later in the afternoon where I enjoyed a personal tour.  There were only a few other people around this time of day so I had plenty of opportunity to ask questions and really soak in the history.

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Sugar Cane (certified organic) is still grown and harvested here at St. Josephs.  

If you love history and architecture, this is definitely a stop on your list of “to-do’s”.

2. Treat your sweet side with a trip to Sucre’ on Magazine Street for authentic French macarons, chocolates, and pastry.  Make sure you have left room in your carry-on for carrying a few delights home with you!

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Window shopping is quite sweet while strolling the streets of NOLA

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3. Enjoy the beautiful, historic Jackson Square in the French Quarter and take a tour of the stunning St. Louis Cathedral with her Renaissance & Spanish (which surprises me since Louisiana was such a large French colony) architecture, first completed in 1793 and added onto in 1850!

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The Andrew Jackson statue … Hence the naming of Jackson Square.

4. Enjoy a carriage ride through the French Quarter with a knowledgable and entertaining guide.  If you are limited on time, this is one of the best ways to take in a little of local New Orleans history and flavor.

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We took our tour at twilight and left from in front of the cathedral, where tours leave from all day.  We participated in a group tour so our ride was $20/each, Carriages for two run about $45/each.

5. Indulge your taste buds with delicious New Orleans flavor by dining at one of the many local restaurants found in the downtown area.  We thoroughly enjoyed dining at the Red Fish Grill located on Bourbon Street (near Canal).

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Start your meal with fresh, Gulf oysters shucked right in front of you, then venture into the dining room for a delicious meal showcasing traditional, local flavor.

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I highly recommend the shrimp and grits topped with friend pickled okra and pancetta, although Audley was totally suggest the wood plank grilled red fish with lump crab meat.

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No matter which you prefer, make reservations before heading out for the evening.  This is true for almost every restaurant in the area!

6. And while you are making reservations be sure make time for a cooking class at the New Orleans School of Cooking.  

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Our demo and tasting class included Gumbo, jambalaya, and Pralines and was only $28 each.  We were so full when we left, so it is well worth participating in.

Here you can choose a demo and tasting class, or a full hands-on instructional class.  Either way, you are going to learn a lot about traditional French cooking from Colonial, Louisiana and how it evolved with Italian, African, and Haitian influences into the amazing flavors we enjoy today!

7. While I’m definitely not a fan of Bourbon Street, I LOVE strolling down it long enough to reach Fritzel’s European Jazz Pub.  A stop in Fritzels is like stepping back in time to mid-century France or Germany with their jazz clubs, long wooden tables and benches included.  It doesn’t take long for you to find yourself lost in the music, leaving the present day behind.

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There is not a cover charge for Fritzels, but there is a minimum one drink per set purchase required; bottled water counts as a drink!

8.  Tour an old historic cemetery as there are plenty to choose from.  The old St Louis Cemetery #1 is the most popular and requires a $20 admission and comes with a guide.  Audley and I enjoy exploring on our own and there are several which allow you to do just that.  One of our favorites in the Hook and Ladder cemetery (established in 1858) in Gretna.  It’s not too big, still lovely in a unique way, and definitely worth checking out.  If you want to make your tour a little more interesting, read up on how these family mausoleums work… extremely interesting!

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The Hook and Ladder is located next to fabulous restaurant, The Red Maple,  which I also highly recommend you visit for supper one night!

9. Take some time out to shop the market in the French Quarter. From local boutiques artisans to stereotypical gift shops, there is something to be found for everyone on your shopping list.

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10. Did you really visit New Orleans if you skip over Cafe du Monde?  Located next to Jackson Square in the Quarter, stopping in for beignets and a cafe au lait in this famous open-air cafe is a must-do on your trip.  Choosing from a very limited menu of hot chocolates, coffee, cafe au lait and beignets takes little time.  There is really no excuse to miss this cafe as they are open 24-hours!

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Have you visited New Orleans before?  What are your favorite things to do in this grand old city?

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Veteran’s Day

Our country has a lot of freedoms; freedom that isn’t necessarily found all across the world.  Freedoms have been expressed this week that some agree with and some do not.  First, we were free to worship with the church of our choosing on Sunday to kick off our week.  You were also free to skip if you so desired.  Secondly, we were free to go to the polls and cast our votes on Tuesday.  Third, we were free to celebrate or protest a victory.  And fourth, we are free to honor the men and women who helped us gain and keep these freedoms.

Personally,  I choose to honor the sacrifice of so many on Veteran’s Day.  It’s not easy serving a nation.  Men and women are often separated from the ones that they love for long periods of time. Many times they are sent into foreign lands to help protect the freedoms of others and stay at risk for losing their lives sometimes on a daily basis. Many times those who serve see horrors that you and I probably don’t even want to imagine in death and destruction.   The food is not the best, weather conditions are no excuse for not doing their job, and at times sleeping quarters are not something the average American would accept.   The men and women who serve know when they enlist in the military that they are signing up to protect our right to worship freely, our right to vote, even our right to protest, but they also enlist knowing they may lose their lives while trying to protect others.
That is a sacrifice worth honoring.

“No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends.”

~John 15:13 

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I ask you to take a break today. Stop and think of the veteran’s who have served in peacetime as well as war. Think of the men and women who are serving right now.

How can you pay tribute soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen?

Here are 10 ways you can salute and honor a Veteran today:

1. At 11 a.m., observe a moment of silence for those who’ve fought and died while in service to the country
2. Display an American flag
3. Attend a Veterans Day parade
4. Thank a vet for his/her service
5. Send a letter to troops through the US Department of Defense Website
6. Work in a homeless shelter or soup kitchen
7. Visit a veteran’s grave or pick up trash at a veterans cemetery
8. Visit with the family of a veteran who’s serving overseas
9. Visit with a wounded vet at a local VA facility
10. Donate to the USO, the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars USA or other organizations that honor and assist vets.

Today I am taking time to celebrate my own Veteran.  Not only did my Audley serve five years in the US Navy as a submariner, he also served in our Army National Guard for eighteen months!

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An early photo of my sailor

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
-John Fitzgerald Kennedy

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