Girls Night In at Candlefish

One of the things I truly love about being back in the Atlanta area is reconnecting with old friends!  Recently one of those fabulous friends and lifestyle blogger Tammie Reed of Talking With Tami invited me to join her and other girlfriends for a Sunday afternoon of candle making at Candlefish Atlanta.

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Tammie, our lovely Girls Night In hostess

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The Girls

Don’t you just love a girlfriends day?

What makes one even more enjoyable is making new friends while participating!

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Candlefish (originally established in Charleston) is a new shop located in Atlanta’s Ponce City Market and was the site of this relaxing and educational afternoon with the ladies.  I don’t know about you, but I am a candle junky and keep at least one lit any time I’m home!  When we moved in a month ago candles were some of the first items I purchased for our new home, so choosing a fragrance and making my own candle sounded so exciting!

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Tammie always arranges a lovely event!

With donuts and champagne awaiting her guests, we spent time listening to Hannah from Candlefish explain the technique for making candles.  While you think of melted wax and fragrance going into candle making, I’ve never stopped to consider there are temperature points and specific measurements at which to work and make the perfect candle.

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Candlefish Fragrance Library

We had the opportunity to check out the 100 different Candlefish fragrances, but thankfully if you know your specific taste in fragrances, they can steer you in the right direction!  I’m more of a musky almost men’s cologne type of girl, so after checking out several scents in that category, I settled on #31.  This was actually the first fragrance I smelled and immediately was drawn back to it!

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The tools we used for our candle making class

While making the candles was fun and educational, I truly enjoyed the afternoon making friends and socializing.

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Fabulous treat bags from Tammie for each of her guests

                The candle making class is a perfect opportunity for socializing with the girls.  While there are any number of occasions for a night out, I’m looking at the possibility of a candle making class as the perfect bridesmaid’s outing before MacKenzie’s wedding in June!

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Thank you Tammie for the afternoon and the use of Genae Bank’s photos as well!

How do you like to spend a Girls Night In or Out?

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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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5 Years of PDQ

Dining for our family has been so different over the last several years as I’ve lost all of this weight, and still work hard to maintain a healthy lifestyle.  Not only did I change my lifestyle, eating more “real” foods that are fresh and without additives, I have also focused on teaching my kids to be a bit more choosy about what they ingest. This included taking fast food out of my diet completely and limiting what they are allowed.  Even now, they make smart choices when dining out with friends, generally making fast food the very last thing they would choose.

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The chain of restaurants known as PDQ celebrated five years of business this past weekend .As a part of their birthday celebration Audley and I were invited out to check out this awesome brand with a tour and lunch!  Let me tell you, this upscale, fast-food restaurant is one my family can visit over and over!

PDQ is casual, fast dining for the whole family.  Established in 2011 by one of the founders of Outback Steakhouse, Bob Basham and Nick Reader, this restaurant has grown to fifty-five locations in eight states in just five years and is planning to branch out, opening thirty more in 2017!

  Having worked at McDonalds and a dinner riverboat to pay my way through high school and college I pretty much know there is a lot the food industry doesn’t want you to know.  I was quite surprised and pleased at the transparency of PDQ.

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Audley and I were met by Michael Francisco the operations director at the Columbia, SC location of PDQ.  He set Audley up right away with a hand-spun Oreo milkshake (I didn’t say everything was healthy and calorie free) and we were off on a complete tour of the restaurant.

One of the first things I noticed was that the entire restaurant is an open concept.  You have a complete line of vision to the kitchen where food is prepared and can see each employee (all of whom were extremely busy and cooperating with one another) working.

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 Knowing how your food is prepared is really important to me, just as knowing what I am eating is.  The dining area is open as well with walls of windows to allow for natural light.  They also have TV’s in the dining room for sports coverage.

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The menu at PDQ is quite simple: chicken tenders, nuggets, and sandwiches, turkey, salads, blueberry slaw, zucchini fries, French fries, shakes, and cookies.  In-house made lemonade (consisting only of real sugar, water and fresh squeezed lemons),  Joffrey’s tea (those who frequent Walt Disney World will appreciate this), and bottled water from their own source in Florida (instead of using a brand bottling company) round out their menu.

So what makes PDQ different and why would I choose it over another restaurant known for its chicken?

1. The chicken and turkey is never frozen and delivered fresh a couple of times each week.  The poultry is marinated in-house made marinades for 24-hours, then breaded and cooked as ordered (there is a station for breading chicken that never stopped while we were there).

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For a healthy option you can order grilled chicken items as well.  And if that doesn’t sound appealing enough, the chicken is hormone and steroid free.  Visit their website where they list what all is in products that they use as a disclaimer regarding allergies.

2. All sauces are made daily in-house with name-brand ingredients and individually packaged.  You don’t have to pay extra for any sauces (which means my son the condiment king would be really happy about), so if you need extra you get it.  Marinades are also created in-house using real honey (save the honey bees) and other quality ingredients.  And the honey-butter for the new chicken sandwich which appeared on the menu this week?  Real butter tempered in the store and mixed with honey.  It’s that simple.

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3. Fries … yep, 400 pounds of French fries are cut and prepared daily in the store.

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And if you don’t want fries, go for fried zucchini, also cut fresh and battered in-house.  Fries are cooked in their own vat of vegetable oil where floured products are not allowed.  This keeps them from becoming contaminated with gluten from the breaded chicken products.

4. Salads are made when ordered, so that you can choose what fresh ingredients you want on them.  Vegetables are delivered to the store a couple of days a week where they are prepped fresh everyday; no bagged salad mixes here.  PDQ also has these yummy candy-coated almonds that you can add to your salad, and guess what?  They make the coating right in the store.  They are also prepped in small individual containers to keep them from contaminating other items that might reach someone who is allergic to nuts.

5. Cookies.  The yummy cookies are baked daily in the store and then individually wrapped.  The cookies that contain nut products are baked and wrapped separately.  PDQ goes to great lengths to protect their customers with allergies.

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6. Customer service is so important to me in any dining experience.  PDQ goes above and beyond in customer service starting in the drive-thru.  With no speaker box to be found, customers drive right up to the “hospitality hut” where they are greeted in person by someone who takes their order face-to-face.

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 This cuts down on mistakes that often occur by the use of a speaker box and keeps the experience personal.  After placing an order in the drive-thru you drive on around where your food is given to you.  The goal for food service is less than a two minute wait.  There are separate assembly stations for the drive-thru and dinning room to cut down on confusion and running over each other while trying to work.  Each station stays fully stocked with sides and condiments.

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All of the employees at the Columbia location were super friendly and worked well together.  Communication is key to keeping things running smoothly in the restaurant.

7. PDQ wants to be very active in the community by supporting schools at all levels, sports teams and churches.  Each store has a budget for community service and uses all of it, sometimes more to meet community needs.  Since they use their own brand of bottled water, they donate a lot of water for any number of situations where it is needed without having to get permission from bottling companies.

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 The PDQ we visited in Columbia is next to Ft Jackson military base and the University of South Carolina.  They have free delivery and expanded their area to a 30 minute drive to meet the needs of the communities.  South Carolina students can even use their Carolina Cash (money connected to their id cards) to pay for purchases which is super convenient.  They also offer Military Monday where military personal and their families receive a discount.

Audley and I tried a smorgasbord sampler of some of PDQ’s best selling items as well as the new honey-butter chicken sandwich which is way better than another popular chicken sandwich that gets a lot of attention!

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The Honey-Butter chicken sandwich is absolutely delicious!  Hand-battered chicken on a Brioche bun drizzled with honey-butter with bread and butter pickles …

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PDQ Tenders will make any chicken loving child and adult very happy!

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This is like “Friday after Thanksgiving” on a bun … grilled turkey on a brioche bun, cranberry sauce and lettuce.

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Fried Chicken salad tossed in house-made honey mustard

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Blueberry slaw made with mayonnaise, cilantro, red wine vinegar, poppy seeds and a touch of honey … you’ll want extra!

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And a cookie to top it all off; peanut butter, chocolate chip to go!

While we were treated to dinner for our review, all opinions of PDQ are totally my own and we will definitely dine here again.

Now I am giving you an opportunity to check out PDQ  for yourself and see why we were so pleased!  I am giving away dinner for five at PDQ.  Unfortunately since PDQ is only in a few states (Florida, Georgia, north & South Carolina, South Alabama, Texas, Las Vegas, and New Jersey),  it may limit you on participating. If you travel a lot, by all means enter so that you can check them out!

To enter, go to the menu on the PDQ web page and tell me what you might like to try AND then tell me what you look for when choosing a restaurant for you and your family!

It’s that simple.  You have until Monday, November 7 to enter and I’ll notify the winner through email.

I will also be doing a Facebook give-away and an Instagram giveaway, so be sure to follow me so that you will have an extra opportunity to win!

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Fragrant Passage Candle Company

Whenever I can, buying USA, especially local made products is high on my list when shopping.  Back at Christmas I was gifted with a unique and fun candelabra from my husband made from an old wine bottle with an hand-forged iron topper.  It holds four glass votives.  

I love how it is made because it can go from a casual outdoor setting (how I have it featured now), to a vintage set table.

  

The company where Audley discovered this sweet little gem is located in Greensboro, North Carolina, just a few hours from our home.  Introduced in 2009 at the High Point furniture market, and owned by David Oreck (of Oreck vacuum fame) with its 40-something employees, everything here is made in the USA.  It may not necessarily be made in NC, but the glass, iron, wicks, etc… are all American made.  The candles themselves are made and pour right in North Carolina.

Now I admit, I am a self-proclaimed candle hoarder.  I love to find my favorite Yankee Candle and Colonial Candle scents at TJ Maxx or HomeGoods and store them up.  When we have company over, there are generally no less than three candles lit, making everyone suffer through my obsession with musky fragrances.
I also love to give candles as gifts!  From a hostess gift to an inexpensive birthday gift, scent candles in pretty jars seem to never go out of style.

As Audley passed through Greensboro on his last business trip he stopped and picked me up an actual candle from Fragrant Passage.

{He actually stopped to purchase a new votive where his kitty cat decided to knock my wine bottle candelabra over and break a votive.}

  Fragrant Passage has a factory store that is apparently stocked with an abundance of accessories, delicious scents and styles.

This Pure Air vanilla scented candle Audley chose is specifically made as an order eliminator instead of just making a room smell good.

I’m generally not a fan of food scented candles, but this vanilla is not over powering.  As for oder eliminating, I cooked bacon in the kitchen the other morning and after lighting the candle, it didn’t take long for the smell of fried bacon to disappear from the kitchen.  Even after blowing the candle out, there was no lingering scent of bacon.

Personally, while I like bacon, I do not like it smelling up the house all day!

Not only does this American company feature the Pure Air candle, they also carry oil diffusers, decorative glass candles, tapers for special occasions and votive candles.  They even have a candle packaged as “Coffee To Go”; it’s packaged as a coffee to go cup!

My candle was considered an “oooopppps” because it was more pink than white in color, so it was only $5.  Candles normally range from $10 and up.  The little USA made glass votives Audley replaced for me?  They were just .99.

Definitely affordable!

After such a positive experience with the candles (and Audley says their staff is super friendly & helpful, as well), I would like to try another of their candles soon.