Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Get Fit | Hot Yoga at Arrichion

My day started out in the least zen way possible. I barely slept and woke up much earlier than usual. I also joined the thousands of Charlotteans in rush hour traffic, something I haven't done in a while because I work from home.

People were extra rude, not using turning signals, and I avoided getting into an accident three times. Three. One lady decided to get out of the exit lane at the last minute and ran me out of a two lane exit (surprise, she didn't use a turning signal or looked over to see if anyone was in her way) and back onto the interstate, making me miss my exit. By this point I was cursing and yelling and my blood pressure was through the roof.

view of Uptown from Arrichion

After three years and a six mile detour, I made it to Arrichion.

Why three years? Well, you see, over the past three years I have purchased three Groupon deals and a new student package to Arrichion. The first deal expired because I had an emergency life-saving surgery and couldn't do any physical activity for a while. The second expired because I had a De Quervain syndrome flare up in my right arm and couldn't do anything for a while. The third expired because I was too busy and too tired to even think about yoga (lame, I know). This time, I had no excuses and so the fourth time was the charm.

I've done hot yoga a couple of times seven years ago. I didn't know what I was doing then and still don't know what I'm doing now but I'm open to learn.

Laying down before class in a heated room after my stressful commute was just what the doctor ordered. I felt myself melt into my mat. Literally.

Topaz is a beginners class that focuses on balance, strength, and flexibility. A perfect place to start for someone who only knows the child pose. I liked that there was balance on how much time we spent standing, sitting, planking, and laying on the mat. This was the most focused and balanced I've ever felt.

I can see how yoga becomes a healthy "addiction" because it only took one class for me to get hooked.

After class, everyone looked dewy and refreshed. I was soaked in sweat and my face looked like a baboon's you-know-what. My hair was so wet that my part got confused.

The thing is, I can't wait to go back! Except next time I will be more prepared and bring two towels, one for the mat and one for my face.

Do you yoga? What's your favorite studio in Charlotte?

Monday, August 11, 2014

Mixology Class at Tupelo Honey Cafe with Tyler Alford

Tupelo Honey Cafe is one of my favorite spots in town. Each visits begins with my love for their biscuits (with blueberry jam and honey) and continues through the rest of the menu.

Except this visit to THC was unlike any other. I was there to learn how to make the new seasonal cocktails dreamed up by Tyler Alford, Tupelo's corporate beverage manager, and to stump him in a Chopped style challenge.


We were asked to bring one each of the following: a fruit, a vegetable, a spice, an herb, and a cooked piece of meat. I brought a whole bag of tricks but you'll have to read on to see what I challenged Tyler with...

Ramos Gin Fizz

A gin fizz is not something I regularly order. There are few restaurants that have it on their menu and I tend to forget about their existence. Not anymore! Tyler went through the extensive history of the gin fizz (you can read about it on THC's blog) and then proceeded to make a giant one for the crowd. One of the rules to making the Ramos Gin Fizz is that you have to shake it for at least three minutes. I was the lucky one who got to shake the GIANT shaker that held enough gin fizz for all of us. Talk about a work out!

We tasted the Ramos Gin Fizz and then added a few drops of The Brothers Orange Flower Water. It transformed it to something even more delicious.

Brandy Apple Boom

Did you know that North Carolina is the 7th largest growers of apples? Now you do!

I do not recall everything that went into this cocktail but the most important part is that it was delicious.

We provided a handful of names for the drink and I think it should be The Hendersonville, named after the annual apple festival.

Mint Julep

The final drink of the class was a classic mint julep, a favorite of mine. We muddled our mint, mixed it with mint-simple syrup, Jim Beam, and ice. Delicious! Not too sweet and perfect for the hot summer in the South.

Stump Tyler Alford

Part two of the event was a Chopped-style challenge for Tyler. I'm the only one who brought a large bag full of stuff... but ended up pulling out:

  1. Fruit: apple
  2. Vegetable: jalapeno
  3. Herb: dill
  4. Spice: ghost pepper salt from Savory Spice Shop
  5. Cooked meat: dried fish
Tyler did not disappoint and made a margarita out of the items listed above.

He added THC's house honey liquor, lemon juice, and tons of tequila. You couldn't even taste the fish and the margarita was pretty amazing!

There were two other drinks that he made: a Jalapeno Pear Spritzer and a mixed berry something-or-other with cinnamon. Both were amazing.

The Best Bloody Mary in Charlotte

And then we got on the topic of Bloody Mary's and how Charlotte lacks in that department. Charlotte is far from having a $50 Fried Chicken Bloody Mary but it wouldn't hurt to have some competition going to have the best in town.

And then THC brought out the big guns: a Golden Tomato Bloody Mary. It's as if Tupelo showed up, put this delicious and beautiful beverage on the stage, we ooh-ed and aah-ed, and then they dropped the mic and walked away.

Your turn, Charlotte.

Huge thanks to the folks at Tupelo Honey Cafe for the invite, the food, the drinks, the fun, and the hospitality! I enjoyed not only learning how to make a proper cocktail but also getting a glimpse into your company culture.


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Charlotte Restaurant Week | Aria Tuscan Grill

Our second stop for Queen's Feast was Aria Tuscan Grill, a restaurant I pass often and have only been to once before for cocktails and bar bites. It was delicious then, still is, and I look forward to returning to tour the rest of the menu!

It was raining hard that evening and by the time we walked the four blocks to the restaurant, we were soaked. When we got to the restaurant, we learned that they provide a valet service. A stiff drink was in order!

From the bar

For him: Bourbon Mash

Maker's Mark, Seasonal Fresh Fuit, Grand Marnier, Lmon Juice, House Made Falernum Bitters

For her: Lavender Gin Fiz

 Blue Coat Gin, Lime Juice, House Made Lavender Syrup, Prosecco Float

We sipped our cocktails while waiting on the rest of the party of eight and enjoyed the atmosphere of the restaurant. All the tables were full but it didn't feel overly crowded. There is a large window with a view of the kitchen in the main dinning room and all I wanted to do was stare. I love open kitchens and being able to see the action behind the scenes. Aria offers a chef's table and I hope to experience it some time in the near future.

Our server was a total pro and very knowledgeable. I asked him a million questions and he made recommendations based on my inquires. He also did not have the air of I-don't-give-two-effs-about-giving-good-service-because-it's-restaurant-week, which is a problem with other restaurants that we have visited during the past couple of years, and for that I appreciated him even more.

Aria opted to open up their whole menu for CRW, instead of a limited menu like most restaurants. This allowed us to truly experience everything the restaurant has to offer.

First Course | Primi 

For him: Caramelized Gnocchi

Prosciutto di Parma, Pear, Gorgonzola, Truffle Oil

For her: Caprese Salad

Sun Gold Cherry Tomatoes, Bocconcini Mozzarella Fresh Basil, Radicchio, Vincotto

Second Course | Secondi

For him: Seafood Pasta

this was a nightly special and I did not get the full rundown of what is in the pasta
...the only thing I remember is "fire roasted tomato sauce" 

For her: Braised Lamb Shank

Taleggio Polenta, Fire Roasted Summer Vegetables, Wild Mushrooms

Third Course | Terzi

For him: Peanut & Chocolate Ganache Tart

Rum Caramel, Peanut Butter Gelato

For her:  Aria Tiramisù

Espresso, Lady Fingers, Mascarpone Crema

We definitely found our new must for the next restaurant week.

Aria Tuscan Grill
What: Refined Italian fare in a trendy, contemporary setting.
Where: 100 N Tryon St. | Charlotte, NC 28202

A look inside:

View Larger Map

Friday, August 1, 2014

August Goals | Practice What You Preach

Last August was transformative for me. I made a major career change that, indirectly, lead me to do what I love today. I became unstuck. I leaped first and figured out how to land second.


One of the pillars of my consulting business is personal branding. You, yes you the individual, are a brand. We're all brands. We all have something to say, we all have something to sell, we all have something to teach everyone else. It used to be all about what we said, how we dressed, and how we behaved. Now it's all that plus the addition of the social web. I coach people on using their social networks and the internet to build their brand and become the best that they can be and reach their personal goals.

But sometimes the coach needs coaching. Sometimes the coach is too busy helping others that they forget to take care of themselves. Sometimes the coach needs to be hit in the head with a ball and see stars, the ones they want to reach themselves. Sometimes the coach needs to go back to the basics and take their own advice.

Here are the "rules" that I have set for myself this month that I teach others:

  1. The 3-1-1 rule. Three (or more) pieces of information that a relevant to your industry, you're personal brand or your audience. One piece of information about you or your business. One off topic piece of information. Keep it relevant, keep it educational/informative, keep it engaging, keep it fun! And most importantly, show your value and expertise.
  2. Keep it positive. No whining and complaining (unless it's warranted). 
  3. No drama. Save it for your mama. 
  4. No cursing. I met someone recently who had a gig pulled from them because they used a mild curse word a long time ago in a blog post. If it's part of your schtick, don't stop but do realize there may be repercussions and lost business down the road.
  5. Help others. Give to give, not give to get. 
  6. Don't be annoying. And along those lines, don't waste other people's time.
  7. Keep personal things personal. Nobody needs to know about your bowel movements.
  8. Ensure your information is accurate. If you're not sure, Google it or ask an expert.
  9. Check your grammar and spelling. You would be surprised how much credibility you can lose with one mistake. 
  10. Think before you click send.
Rules 1 and 2 will be the hardest for me personally and will require some discipline. I'm  also working on personal brand maps and on developing an organizational system that works best for me. Everyone loves the Day Designer and Erin Condren's Life Planners and it works for them, however, I need something completely custom for me. A hybrid version that includes in the Queen City, Kseniya Martin Consulting, Smartflyer Charlotte, Charlotte AMA, one for each client, and life. Oy! Suggestions welcomed!

What are you working on this month?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

#PancakeDiaries | Lavender Lemon Crepes

I'm not sure when it happened or what caused it but I have turned into a pancake making machine. If you follow me on Instagram, you know all about #PancakeDiaries. I also share this hashtag with an adorable bulldog named Pancake, who may live in Charlotte because there was a box of Bojangle's posted by one of his humans. Oh, internet!

Most days I just throw things together and make pancakes happen and don't pay attention to all the ingredients or their amounts, making people who want to recreate the pancake du jour sad. I'm trying to be better about it.

The base recipe for my crepes comes from Alton Brown. I typically add vanilla (1/2 a tablespoon), sugar (3 tablespoons), and a pinch of salt to take them from plain to sweet.

Last week I visited Savory Spice Shop in SouthEnd and was instantly inspired by the extract section. I've been on a lavender kick and the moment I saw the lavender extract, it was over. It was mine mine mine! Not to be outdone, the lemon extract looked me in the eyes and said, "take me home, woman!" and I listened. After all, lavender and lemon are a classic combo.

So here's what you'll need:

2 large eggs
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1 cup flour
3 tablespoons melted butter
1 tablespoon lavender extract
1/2 tablespoon lemon extract
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
pinch of salt

Blend all of the ingredients together, either with a blender or by whisking the ingredients in a bowl. The batter has to be smooth and lump free. To get the lumps out, strain the batter. Trust me, this extra step will make all the difference.

Also, don't skip the butter.

The pan is also an important "ingredient" in crepe making. Get a non-stick, shallow pan. It'll come in handy in ways other than crepe making so make the investment. Also, you don't have to spend $100+ on an actual crepe pan. Unless, of course, you want to.

I purchased a 12 inch hard-anodized round griddle at Sur La Table for around $30 (it was on clearance) and it's fantastic. I recommend getting an 8 to 10 inch griddle for crepe making. A 12 inch pan is a bit large but you can make it work.

Preheat the pan on medium heat and then butter it for the first crepe. Use a 1/4 cup to measure out the batter and pour it into the pan and quickly spread the batter by moving the pan around (it's all in the wrist!). Flip the crepe the moment you see the outer edge brown (30-90 seconds, you have to watch it!). Cook the crepe another 10-20 seconds on the other side and remove. Butter the pan for the next crepe and repeat the process until you run out of batter.

Enjoy on their own or with Nutella and fruit!

Or at a Bachelorette Men Tell All viewing party with friends. Rose petals and all!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Monday | The New Funday?

The feeling starts right around supper time on Sundays when we put the dishes up after the final meal of the weekend. Tomorrow is Monday, a day of the week hated by most.

But as most things in life, it's all about the attitude and an attitude can be changed. It's a choice we make.

Cheers to Dion

Back in February, I spent a Monday with the girls, drinking champagne and watching our girl Dion do her thing at a new station down in Tampa. This proved to me that Mondays can be the new Fundays. It was also the same day when we came up with the idea for the inaugural #blacksessions.

Fun and productive.

Two weeks ago, the #EpicEaters got together for another inaugural event: Monday Suppers. Why should Sunday Suppers have all the fun?

Combo platters (!) at Red Sea

We drank honey wine (which is not as sweet as one would think) and split combo platters of delicious Ethiopian food (a first for me). It was a fantastic change of pace that set the tone for the rest of the week.

Today, I'm spending the day organizing my brain, working on client projects, and volunteering my time to CAMA. Tonight, I will make a delicious snack and bring it over to a Bachelorette watching party, drink wine, and show this dreary Monday who's boss.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Constant Cravings | Viddlz

Most mornings I wake up not knowing what I'm going to wear that day and treat my next meal the same way.

Even though I fly by the seat of my pants when it comes to food, I have a list of things I'm constantly craving or love but don't always know where to find them, especially if it's a one-day-only special or a seasonal item.

Enter Viddlz, a platform to solve all of your food craving issues.

Signing up for an account is easy. You can enter an email address or create an account using your Facebook or Twitter account.

Then you create a profile and enter all the things that you constantly crave. My list includes cheese fries, nachos, wings, kronuts, craft cocktails, craft beer, beets, figs, kumquats, and jazz. You can also follow your favorite restaurants, check out all of the specials and offerings available, and search by allergies and other categories. You can also receive Viddlz Alertz in your inbox for the things you crave. An app is also in development. If only my closet was this organized!

Last week I was craving all things jalapeño, specifically a craft cocktail featuring the spicy pepper in a classy jazz bar setting.

Viddlz to the rescue!

A click here, a click there and I was at Blue Restaurant and Bar enjoying a seasonal cocktail called Summer Love (strawberry and jalapeño infused vodka with a splash of soda). We may or may not have crashed a private party to enjoy said cocktail, but that's a different story for a different day.

In short, Viddlz is an alerts service that makes it easier for foodies to find special meals, events, and exclusive and date-sensitive deals all based on personal preference and cravings. What could be better for a foodie?

Viddlz is free and is a brainchild of Zerrick Bynum. And the best part is that Viddlz is starting here in Charlotte with plans for expansion into other markets.

What are you constantly craving?

Queen's Feast | Fahrenheit Charlotte

Queen's Feast, or Charlotte Restaurant Week as some refer to it, comes around twice a year and we always try to check out a new restaurant or two. However, it's been a while since we've made our Queen's Feast rounds due to our busy schedules and travel so last night was a first in a while.

We landed on Fahrenheit as our first stop for the summer Queen's Feast "tour". We have been there on numerous occasions and I was excited to try something new (for me) on the menu and opted for the prix fixe menu.

First Course: Sausage Gravy & Biscuits

lobster, Neese’s sausage (NC), sweet potato biscuit

The biscuit was delicious and the lobster was a pleasant surprise but I kind of wish there was more sausage.

Second Course: Seared Scallops

cauliflower puree, roasted cauliflower, pomegranate, arugula

I have a mild addiction to everything cauliflower so that was probably the only reason why I ordered this dish. Ok, ok, I love scallops too. And arugula. And pomegranate.

Hubs ordered the "Mr. Fungi" pizza and it was giant. Bigger than last time.

roasted wild mushrooms, fresh goat cheese, caramelized onions, roasted garlic, mozzarella, rosemary

Third Course: Bread & Butter Cake

Georgia peach compote & vanilla ice cream

Even though the food was delicious and lived up to all expectations, the service from our server did not and left a bad taste in my mouth.

All that aside, I had a great time with my Epic Eater girls and the two men who are brave enough to hang out with us.

What are you favorite restaurants for Queen's Feast?

Friday, July 11, 2014

BYOB | Birchbox

Studies show that it's not about exceeding customers' expectations but making the process easy and painless that makes someone come back to a brand over and over again. As a marketer, it's my job to figure it out for each brand that I work with (not an easy task when you announce to said brand's executive team that they have a lot of internal changes to make to make it work).

As a consumer, I earn to find brands and companies that make my life easy. If you make it easy for me to do business with you, it makes it easy for me to give you all my money.

One such brand is Birchbox and they're taking the experience to a brick-and-mortar location in SoHo. And, if successful (which I'm sure they will be!), I hope they bring the experience to Charlotte. The Ulta's and Sephora's of the world need a little friendly competition down here.

And if not, guess I'll just have to plan a trip to NYC to experience the reinvented BYOB.

All photos via Birchbox.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Video | Charlotte, the Beautiful

There's no place like home, especially when your home Charlotte.

Click the image to see a beautiful video of Uptown Charlotte created by Osprey Production Group.

July | The Halfway Point

In so many ways, July marks the official start of 2014, where projects and plans will start moving again, and you will be gratified to see that at long last, you will be able to get more done in a week than you did during the entire first six months of 2014.

Ain't that the truth!

So far, this year has been the most exciting and most difficult. The most exciting because I started my own business and I get to do what I love, the most difficult because I feel like I've been trying to run a marathon in water and haven't made much headway, still hanging out in the 3ft end of the pool. Everything that comes naturally to me has been anything but and I'm ready to get out of the funk.

Anytime I'm in a funk or looking for answers from the universe, I turn to astrology. I used to be really into it and then let it go, occasionally reading my horoscope on (one of the best, by the way). My friend Katie recently had a birthday and pulled hers from Susan Miller and I gave it a read. It was spot on with all of my recent struggles and aligned with all of the goals that I set earlier this week.

I'm most excited about my renewed sense of self, posting my #blacksessions extra large post-it note front and center to remind myself that I'm already who I had hoped to become in the eyes of my closest friends (now I just have to believe it), and realizing that it's okay to take care of me and my needs first.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Chuy's Charlotte: Talk & Taste

My foodie heart was broken when Zink closed its doors last year and I have not been able to bring myself to try Chuy's, a tex-mex restaurant that went into the empty space. I had so many great memories at Zink that I was afraid that the replacement would not be as good. The mixed reviews only fueled my preconception.

I love being proven wrong.

A few weeks ago, I was invited to a Talk & Taste event with fellow Charlotte foodies. We were treated to all the salsas on the menu (and one that isn't!), samples of specialty margaritas, and full entrees. The food was great, but the attentive service was what won me over. The fact that everything is made from scratch, daily, made it difficult not to instantly become a fan.

Below are all the noms that we got to enjoy:

Getting sauce-ducated.

New Mexican jalapeño margarita

Blackberry Margarita

Sangria (made with tequila!)

"Big as yo'face" beef burrito

Chicken tortilla soup. Amazeballs!

My lovely date, Katy of girl and the good.

There's no photographic evidence of the amazing tres leches cake because my husband and I devoured it before it could be documented.

Huge thanks to Gwen and everyone at Chuy's for a great night!