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Chalk Travels: Nashville, TN and CMA Fest

Happy Friday, friends! You may remember Thomas surprised me during our anniversary trip with a gift certificate (1st anniversary is paper) to CMA Music Festival with our dear friends! I was full of excitement after opening the envelope and remember thinking that it was going to feel like forever until we would be in Nashville walking down Broadway listening to the live music being sung at every Honky Tonk, restaurant and outdoor stage. Now, here I am, ten months later recapping what was one of the most memorable and special trips to date.  

88,500 country music fans from all over flooded Nashville and we had one goal in mind: to "enjoy Country's Night to Rock!" We certainly did exactly that. For 5 days, we ate good food, drank our cocktail of choice and listened to hundreds of very talented country artists. Every artist that you can imagine was there to perform live at multiple venues, host meet and greets, attend autograph sessions and take {endless} selfies with their fans. We caught Blake Shelton leaving The Stage after a surprise performance, I have to admit it was pure luck and one of many highlights of our trip.
Bright and early every morning, we would get our morning jolt of caffeine then jump on the shuttle from our hotel to head downtown for the day. With seven different stages setup for daytime music, you were certain to see artists from legends to the latest up-and-comers. The Chevrolet Riverfront Stage is the epicenter of daytime music with the must-see lineups that aren't performing at night in Nissan Stadium. Between the incredible view and lineups at the Riverfront, this is where you could find us most days!

Then each night, the fans packed into Nissan Stadium to sing and dance for hours to all our favorite artists. To kick-off CMA Fest, Kelsea Ballerini, Dierks Bentley, Miranda Lambert, Rascal Flatts and Jason Aldean brought down the house. The following two nights included Chris Stapleton, Sam Hunt, Eric Church, Hank Williams, Jr., Carrie Underwood, Chris Young, Cole Swindell, Florida Georgia Line, Steven Tyler and Blake Shelton {along with a few special guests but I'll keep that a surprise until it airs on TV}.

The final night was electric and full of energy thanks to Little Big Town, Thomas Rhett, Brett Eldredge, Keith Urban and Luke Bryan!
As if CMA Fest could get any better, the money generated through CMA Music Festival ticket sales for the nightly concerts and Fan Fair X will benefit music education, reaching 1 million children across the United States. Since 2006, CMA and the CMA Foundation have donated more than $13.6 million to support sustainable music education initiatives across the country.
Now for a few recommendations on places to eat and things to do if you plan on visiting Nashville...

Places to Eat:
- Jack's BBQ
- Biscuit Love
- The Farm House
- Moto
- Etch 
- Virago
- The Stillery
- Merchants Restaurant
- The Southern
- Puckett's Grocery 
- Tavern 
- Barista Parlor
- Pinewood Social

Things to Do:
- Dance the morning, afternoon or evening away at the Honky Tonks
- Enjoy a glass of champagne while getting pampered at the Blowout Company
- Shopping in the Gulch 
- If you're a fan of Reese Witherspoon, you must pop into Draper James
- Try on a pair of cowboy boots in the Lucchese Store
 - Walk the streets of Music Row
 - End of the night with cocktails at The Patterson House
- Sit on the rooftop at ACME Feed & Seed or The Stage 
- Tour the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
- Take a #SinemaSelfie at the Sinema Restaurant & Bar
- Enjoy whiskey? Visit Whiskey Kitchen
{Many of these great recommendations came from my brother-in-law, a Nashville Native.}  
If you love country music as much as we do, you can relive our trip with us when Brett Eldredge and Thomas Rhett host "CMA Music Festival: Country's Night to Rock" on August 3rd at 8pm EST. The three hour special will feature all the country-music stars as they hit the stage during the four-day celebration that we were lucky enough to be a part of. Now, it's time to begin planning our next trip! I hope everyone has a wonderful weekend!

Hosting & Toasting: "Baby is Blooming" Shower

A few weekends ago, I hosted a Baby is Blooming Shower at The Fearrington Village for my sister. It was an incredible venue with acres of colorful gardens, beautifully landscaped venues, award-winning cuisine and fabulous service. Sara and her husband are expecting Eleanor Marie to make her debut at the end of August and to say that we are excited is truly an understatement. I can't believe this glowing mommy-to-be is in the home stretch. It seems like yesterday that we were bundled up with blankets around the Christmas Tree and St. Nick had a bigger surprise than we could have ever imagined to share with us that night. :)
The afternoon was filled with the best of friends, family, fresh blooms and lots {and lots} of pink! The love, laughter, and friendship that surrounded Sara made the celebration incredibly special.

The menu featured delicious Southern Fare - Reuben with Smoky Bacon Thousand Island Dressing, Egg Salad Sandwiches, Grilled Pimento Cheese, Goat Cheese & Caramelized Onion Flatbread, Pulled Pork with Pineapple Chutney and Caesar Salad Jars. I don't think anyone went home hungry after that spread.
In our family, we never skip the sweets so it was only fitting to have a selection of desserts for everyone to enjoy. The pastry team at The Fearrington Village made the cake from scratch with the freshest ingredients from their farm. Italian Meringue Buttercream and fresh Strawberry jam for the win! I can't forget about the favors - custom cookies from Southern Sugar Bakery in Raleigh. Angie and Christin take such pride in their work, they don't miss any detail when creating the most delicious and beautiful cookies.
Every time I look at this picture, my eyes fill with the happiest of tears. The precious, little girl hidden inside that growing belly doesn't know yet but she hit the Mommy and Daddy jackpot. My sister is one-of-a-kind. She loves fiercely. She has a heart of gold. She is thoughtful in every action. She defines independence. She aspires to be greater then yesterday. She values her family, friends and faith. She is the absolute best and I am lucky to call her my sister. 
I surprised Sara by asking everyone to "please bring a book instead of a card. A book is a treasure full of insight, read over and over to teach and delight. So instead of a card for baby and mother, please give a child's book with your thoughts in the cover." The story behind everyone's book choice and the sweetest notes that were written inside will be cherished forever.   
Baby Shower Vendors:
Floral Invitation Suite: Casey Joan Design
Baby Shower Banner: Ink Party Paper Emporium
Oh Baby Cake Topper: Inspired Little Parties
Food: The Granary Restaurant at The Fearrington Village
Cake: The Pastry Team at The Fearrington Village
Flower Arrangements: The Floral Team at The Fearrington Village

Thoughts for Thursday: Summer Recipes

It's an exciting week in the Chalk Family so I'm anxiously waiting to kick-off the long weekend with our families. I'm counting the minutes until I can wrap my arms around my sister and her growing baby bump for the first time since December! Sister withdrawals are a real thing and have been in full effect recently. Later in the weekend, we are heading to the coast to meet and snuggle our beautiful niece that made her debut yesterday!

Today, I wanted to link up with Annie and Natalie for Thoughts For Thursday and share a couple of my favorite summer recipes now that the warmer temperatures have arrived here in NC.

A few years ago, Natalie from Designer Bags and Dirty Diapers shared this Corn Salad with her readers and I haven't stopped making it ever since. As soon as I see fresh corn in the grocery store, this salad is on my mind and on constant repeat until corn season ends. During the summer when our garden is packed full of fresh vegetables, I like to create salads that we can enjoy for a few days. 

6 ears of Corn
1 pint of Cherry Tomatoes
4 Green Onions
1 Yellow Bell Pepper 
1 cup of Feta Cheese
1/4 cup of Olive Oil
3 tablespoons of Red Wine Vinegar
Salt & Pepper

ONE. Wash and dry the fresh produce. Slice the cherry tomatoes in half. Dice the bell pepper. Chop the green onions. Combine the tomatoes, peppers and onions in a large bowl.

TWO. Heat a large pot of water to a boil. Add the shucked corn and reduce the heat to medium-low. Let the corn simmer for 5-10 minutes or until tender. Once cooked, remove the corn from the water and place in a separate bowl to cool. 

THREE. Slice the corn off the cob and mix in the bowl with tomatoes, peppers and onions. Add 1 cup of Feta Cheese, 1/4 cup of olive oil, 3 tablespoons of red wine vinegar and salt & pepper to taste. Mix thoroughly and serve at room temperature.

I've started to notice that Blue Apron and Hello Fresh are making their way into many people's kitchens recently and I couldn't be more excited. You may be wondering why this makes me so happy and I'll gladly explain. But before I do, please know that this is not a sponsored post rather I wanted to share a few of my favorite summer dishes which included a recent recipe from the chefs at Blue Apron.

TC and I have been ordering Blue Apron consistently for the past 3 years and don't plan on stopping any time soon. The convenience of having planned meals that are fresh and perfectly portioned delivered to your doorstep is an obvious reason for why we enjoy it. To be honest though, that isn't why we continue to order every week. Preparing dinner has now become an activity that we look forward to doing together. We get to try recipes that are outside of our comfort zone, learn about new ingredients, and ways to pair different foods together.

The Spinach Pesto Gnocchi with Sauteed Asparagus and Brown Butter is a light pasta dish that will quickly cure your carb craving. The Spinach Pesto was easy to make yet full of flavor so if you love pasta as much as I do, you'll definitely enjoy this recipe. 
14 ounces of Gnocchi
4 ounces of Spinach
1 clove of Garlic
2 Tablespoons of Butter
1 Tablespoon of Capers
1 Tablespoon of Sliced Almonds
1/4 Cup of Parmesan Cheese
Olive Oil

ONE. Wash and dry the fresh produce. Finely chop the almonds and capers. Peel and mince the garlic and smash until it resembles a paste. Snap off and discard the tough, woody stem ends of the asparagus and cut into 1 inch pieces.

TWO. In a medium pan, heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil on medium-high heat until hot. Add the spinach and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally for 3 to 4 minutes or until wilted. Transfer to a strainer and release as much liquid as possible by pressing down on the cooked spinach. Transfer the drained spinach to a cutting board and finely chop. 

THREE. Combine the chopped spinach with the almonds, capers, garlic paste and half of the Parmesan cheese. Slowly stir in enough olive oil to create a rough paste. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

FOUR. Heat a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Add the gnocchi to the pot of boiling water and cook for 2 to 3 minutes or until the gnocchi float to the top of the pot. Reserving 1/2 cup of the gnoochi cooking water then drain thoroughly.

FIVE. In the same pan that you used to cook the spinach, heat the butter on medium-high until melted. Add the cooked gnocchi and asparagus; season with salt and pepper. Cook for 2-4 minutes or until the gnocchi are lightly browned and the asparagus has softened. 

SIX. Transfer the browned gnocchi and cooked asparagus to the bowl of pesto. Add half the gnocchi cooking water and stir to thoroughly combine. If the sauce seems dry, gradually add the remaining gnocchi cooking water to achieve your desired consistency. 

SEVEN. Divide the finished gnocchi between 2 dishes and enjoy!