Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter Staycation

Happy Easter to everyone!   I've had a fantastic past several days, hosting my whole family here in Charlotte for an extra-long weekend.  Dad, Mom, Royce, Erin, Bailey, and Kailua (Royce and Erin's dog), all made the trip from Atlanta on Wednesday.  After eating ourselves into misery at Taste of the Nation on Wednesday night, we woke up to a sunny morning on Thursday.

We spent the afternoon at the White Water Center and hiked six miles through the woods, soaking up the sunshine and tackling a few obstacles.  When we first arrived, the trails were closed due to recent rains, but fortunately, we stumbled upon an open trail along the river.  The dogs had a great time exploring the trails and finding each and every puddle to splash in.

I love the fact that my family enjoys the outdoors and being active.  Charlotte has such a wealth of outdoor opportunities and regardless of what I plan, I can always count on their enthusiasm to get outside and explore.  Unfortunately, Thursday was the only sunny and reasonably warm day during their stay, so we had to cancer our plans for a second day of hiking at Lake Wylie.

On the ride home, the dogs were much more quiet and calm than they were pre-six mile hike.  It looks like Bailey is telling Erin that she is ready for her dog food and then bedtime.

After more than two hours of hiking, we were all ready to eat.  Bad Daddy's Burger Bar was the restaurant designation - casual, dozens of burger options, and to-die-for sweet potato fries.  While most of us opted for the black bean burger or turkey burger, Royce was gutsy and ordered the Bad Ass Burger.  This monster is a 10oz beef patty, lettuce, tomato, buttermilk fried bacon, horseradish mayo, American cheese, and pickles on a brioche bun.  Royce missed the "fried" description of the buttermilk bacon and wasn't anticipating the giant stack of breaded bacon.  Minus a few strips of bacon, however, he did a pretty good job of cleaning his plate.

Mom and I both ordered the Cantina Burger - a grilled black bean patty, green chiles, avocado, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, monterrey cheese, and chipotle ranch.  And of course no meal is complete without a side of their crispy sweet potato fries.  The burger quickly became quite messy and turned into a fork and knife meal, but we had no problem cleaning our plates.

Friday morning I baked a French Toast Casserole with caramelized plantains.  Kailua was convinced that if she positioned herself very close to Dad, that she might just earn a bite from his plate.  Mom, Erin, and I tackled a morning yoga class before reconvening with the boys for lunch.  Since the weather had turned cold (50s) and windy, we altered our outdoor plans and instead opted to divide and conquer.  The girls enjoyed some shopping while the boys visited one of the local airports.

That night we celebrated Dad's birthday with a dinner at 131 Main.  This was one of the first restaurants that I took my parents to after I moved to Charlotte, and Dad has always reminisced on meal.  Thus, when I asked him where he wanted to eat for his birthday, he was quick to suggest 131 Main.

We started with shared appetizers - grilled artichokes and smoked salmon.  The artichokes are prepared perfectly, including a nice char from the grill and served alongside a savory sauce.  The smoked salmon is smoked daily in the restaurant and is served with toasts and a tartar-style sauce.  For my main dish, I chose the Farmer's plate, featuring their skillet corn bread and my choice of four vegetables.  My picks included black eyed peas, couscous salad, kale salad, and pickled red cabbage.  The picture is deceiving, but it was a huge plate and I left with a box full of leftovers.

Dad ventured away from his usual vegan diet and chose the BBQ baby back ribs.  The meat literally fell off the bones as he picked them up - a true indication of a perfectly smoked rack of ribs.  The birthday boy was definitely happy!

And because a birthday meal isn't complete without dessert, we shared two massive slices of pie.  Dad chose the banana cream pie and Royce and Erin the key lime pie.  The banana cream pie was piled high with whipped topping, banana, and chocolate chunks.  The key lime pie was tangy and tart with a decadent graham cracker crust.  Between the five of us, we had no trouble eating every last crumb.  Happy Birthday Dad!

Saturday turned into a complete wash-out, with rain starting Friday night and lasting for 34 hours.  After a trip to Not Just Coffee for my favorite caramel latte and shopping at the farmers market, we moved our adventures inside.  The Carolinas Aviation Museum is located near the Charlotte Airport and boasts the fact that they house US Airways 1549 - "Miracle on the Hudson."  Given Royce and Dad's new interest in flying, I knew they would enjoy learning about aviation history and getting an up close look at a variety of planes.  We all really enjoyed the museum!

I determined that there are far too many buttons and controllers in an airplane cockpit for me to feel anything but intimidated.  Dad, however, felt right at home.

Prior to Royce and Erin leaving to make their way back to Atlanta, they requested lunch at another one of my Charlotte favorites - The Cowfish Burger Sushi Bar.  Fortunately, the 1.5 hour wait that we were initially quoted turned into just 30 minutes.  After several heavy and decadent meals, the Seared Sesame Tuna Nicoise Salad was exactly what I was craving.  Royce again managed to dominate a burger, while everyone else enjoyed their bento boxes.

My parents and I had one last fun stop at Lenny Boy Brewery's tap house before winding down for the evening.  I opted for a flight of kombucha and declared the elite beet and strawberry my two favorite flavors.  Meanwhile, Dad found a dark beer he enjoyed and Mom sampled a flight of kombucha and wild ales.

Back at home we had a late light dinner of vegetarian pho from Vietnam Grille while watching The Hurt Locker.  Bailey was worn out from her exciting weekend with Kailua, and crashed hard once she finally constructed an elaborate bed.  That would be a grand total of two chaise lounge cushions, two oversized floor pillows, a bean bag, and a blanket all for an eighty-pound dog.  What a princess!

Look who else paid a visit to Charlotte - the Easter bunny!  We enjoyed one last breakfast together while celebrating Dad's actual birthday, and then I bid Mom, Dad, and Bailey farewell as they hit the road back to the Atlanta.  What a fantastic few days we had together!  There are no words to say how thankful I am that we all love spending time together, make our family a priority, and always have great memories of our fun activities and vacations.

My Easter day, itself, was perfectly low-key.  The rain finally ceased and the sun was shining brightly.  After a 30 mile bike, I alternated soaking up the sun on the deck with a few loads of laundry.  I hope everyone enjoyed their weekend as much as my family did!

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