The Best Thing I Ever Ate

Image via The Whale Wins

Image via The Whale Wins

Recently, I took my husband out for dinner to celebrate his birthday. We went to what’s considered one of Birmingham’s best restaurants, and it was easy to see why. The service was spot-on and the food was fantastic. We left feeling happy to have had the experience, but talk of our meal didn’t last beyond the restaurant’s front door. The next day I received an email from Open Table, which I’d used to make our reservation, asking me to take a quick survey. I’m a sucker for online product, restaurant, and travel reviews, so I filled it out. I gave the restaurant a rave review, but I got tripped up on the last question: “Was this one of the best meals you’ve ever had in a restaurant?” I couldn’t confidently say that it was, but I also couldn’t say that it wasn’t. I marked the “Unsure” option—to the chagrin of online-review readers everywhere.

All day, I kept thinking about that question and about my own restaurant experiences (including the many over-the-top meals I’ve had thanks to my work—a 17-course meal at Joel Robuchon’s eponymous Las Vegas restaurant and a sushi feast fit for an empress at Morimoto in Manhattan spring to mind). Which of them could I honestly say was the best, and for what reasons? When I actually posed the question to myself, it took about 18 seconds for me to realize my answer—a simple, pure, and flavorful lunch at The Whale Wins in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood. We’d chosen roasted carrots and fennel with harissa; a fresh butter-lettuce salad topped with soft herbs, pistachios, and pecorino cheese; crunchy toasts topped with Matiz sardines, curried tomato paste, and shaved fennel; and a ridiculously good dessert that involved rhubarb and crème fraîche. Perhaps it was the weather on that trip to Seattle, or the restaurant’s rustic decor, or the just-picked freshness of the produce they used. Perhaps it was the company. I think it’s all those factors combined, but, for whatever reason, I just keep coming back to that meal.

Suddenly re-inspired by that lunch and determined to recreate it (or, at least, portions of it), last week I ordered chef/owner Renee Erickson’s cookbook, “A Boat, A Whale & A Walrus.” And you guys, it’s the most gorgeous cookbook you’ll ever see, from its cover design to its paper to its photography. I plan to work my way through this book, but for now, I’ll be reliving a few unforgettable dishes from that most wonderful lunch.

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What’s the best meal you’ve ever had? What made it so great?

I’m a Loser, Baby

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Image via someecards

Over the years, I’ve been the butt of many gentle jokes in my family’s house thanks to my propensity for losing and misplacing things. I am, I’m told, my father’s daughter in that regard. I can remember, as a kid, dissolving into tears when a folder holding some science homework went missing from my bedroom. And having taken them off my sweaty face while helping with some work in my parents’ yard, I swear, to this day, that a pair of glasses was swallowed by the good green earth. Wallets? Forget it. Like a trail of breadcrumbs leading straight through my twenties, I’ve left them behind in parking garages, taxis, and bars. In recent years, I’ve taken to misplacing clothing: two t-shirts and a favorite silk tank come to mind.

For a while, I thought I had shed my absentmindedness. Lots of time passed in which I could find all my possessions right where they belonged. But my streak was broken last week when my keys vanished into some deep, dark abyss. I can remember the moments and events leading up to their disappearance plain as day. And yes, they were hurried. But, at the moment my focus detached from my keys, my memory abandoned me, too.

I’m resigned to the fact that my keys are gone, but in the 10 days since they’ve disappeared I’ve repeatedly wondered this: What’s so wrong with my wiring that I can’t get from my car to my kitchen without losing my keys? Why, for so many years, have I been unable to keep track of such essential possessions? If you’re not someone who loses things, it might be easy to think that those of us who do are goofy, sloppy, or uncaring. But I am none of those, which makes this thing I have about losing things all the more upsetting.

Are you a loser, too? Here are a few helpful articles I found online about why we lose things, and how to stop doing it.

An explanation from The Wall Street Journal about Why We Keep Losing Our Keys (hello!).

A blog post from Psych Central on the importance of routine (also, do I have ADHD?).

This piece from Psychology Today is my favorite. Say it with me now: Conscious. Awareness. 

This CBS News piece pretty much confirms it.

Curls of Wisdom

A few weeks ago, Dove launched its new #CurlPower campaign with the aim of convincing curly girls to embrace their unruly manes. They teamed up with Today, inviting curly-haired viewers to talk on air about everything from their struggles with confidence and identity to the time they spend straightening their hair to the opinions of their colleagues and friends in the curly-versus-straight debate. As a curly girl who’s spent her whole life hopscotching from one hair dryer, flat iron, relaxer, keratin treatment, and blowout to the next, it was eye opening, to say the least.

When it comes to other women, I love a good mop of luxurious, curly hair, often pausing to think “Ugh, I wish I were as confident/care-free/cool as she is” when I see one. But my own mess of curls makes me feel girlish, unpolished, self-conscious—even, somehow, spastic. So, despite the time and muscle it takes to achieve stick-straight strands—and the inconvenience of dodging rain drops, water guns, swimming pools, sweat sessions, steaming pots of pasta, and buildings without air-conditioning—I’ve spent 20 years fighting what Mama Nature gave me. The battle has been made even more complicated by the fact that, as a writer and editor, my work takes me to some of the world’s swampiest and stickiest destinations with some frequency.

By now, you might be thinking “So what? It’s hair.” But even the least vain of curly girls will tell you that having a head covered in corkscrews means you’re pretty much guaranteed to engage in a psychological or emotional struggle at some point. I certainly have. So, when I saw that first Today teaser one January morning revealing that the show would be tackling the topic of curly hair, I stopped in my tracks. The package turned out to be downright inspiring! I wasn’t alone in my struggle, and that in itself could help me get past it.

Part of the problem with having curly hair is that it can be super-tricky to style: Lots of products promise to keep curls sculpted and shiny, but they also leave locks feeling crunchy and looking perpetually wet thanks to their alcohol content. Inspired—even a touch empowered—by Dove’s #CurlPower campaign, I scoured the Internet for some curl-styling tutorials, and I found one that seems to be working. I haven’t blown my hair dry in about a week, and already my curls look and feel more defined. More importantly, I feel more defined. I was born a curly girl, and I’m finally ready to embrace it.

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Here, some of the curly community’s sexiest citizens:

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Image via Refinery29

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Image via Brit + Co

Image via Haute Design

Image via Haute Design

Image via Livejournal

Image via Livejournal

Image via Style Craze

Image via Style Craze

Are you a curly girl? If so, did you ever (or do you still) fight it? What styling tips and tricks do you swear by?

A Plea to Birmingham Animal Lovers For Help

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I don’t normally publish two posts in a day, but this is a unique occasion.

A few months ago I discovered a sweet little family of stray cats living on the grounds of our apartment complex—an all-black mama, two all-gray babies, a couple of black kittens, and a black-and-white male who I guess is about a year old. Immediately, my brain kicked into worry gear, as we live near a busy road. It wasn’t long after that one of the black kittens was hit and killed. I was devastated. Ever since, I’ve been feeding this little family, hoping that they’ll recognize me as a source of food instead of having to dodge traffic in search of it. So far, it seems to be working. But nights can get frigid here, and I worry about this little family when we’re out of town and there’s nobody to look after them. We already have two cats; otherwise, I would’ve brought them all in without hesitation.

Instead, I’ve reached out to Birmingham’s Humane Society and to a handful of area veterinary clinics in search of help with spaying, neutering, and boarding this little family until they’re well enough to find a permanent home. Not a single one of the receptionists, vets, or volunteers who I’ve talked to on the phone has followed up with me, as all promised they would. This afternoon I spotted them outside looking for food. When I took a dish down, I discovered that the mama cat—so skittish and scared at first, but now cautiously curious and patient—has a gaping, open wound on her backside near her tail. It looks suspiciously like a bebe wound.

I’m contemplating scooping her up and taking her to the nearest veterinarian for treatment, but I fear what comes next if they can’t board her or help me find a home for her. The thought of fixing her up and then turning her loose outside again breaks my heart, but I can’t bear to think about not getting her help.

Have you ever encountered a similar situation? Do you live in Birmingham and have (legit, working) knowledge of animal rescue resources that I haven’t stumbled onto yet—or better yet, have room in your home and your heart for this precious little family? If so, I would love to hear from you.

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This little man stole my heart. He was the first (and so far only) of the family to let me near him. Now, he’s a sweet, melty mess of snuggles and affection.

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Compost Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches (!!!)

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Yesterday was my husband’s birthday, and in the days prior to it I wracked my brain and scoured my Pinterest account for the perfect cake to make. Pretty as many of the cakes were that I found, nothing really jumped out at me. Some recipes called for three whole sticks of butter. Others required cups of corn syrup (yuck). While we both love the occasional—okay, frequent—sweet treat, I just couldn’t see us finishing a whole cake so rich and decadent by ourselves. I pictured myself spending an entire day in the kitchen making one only to cut two thin slices from it before sliding it into the trash. Eventually, feeling a little defeated, I settled for a boxed-mix cake and frosting combo knowing that my Mr. would appreciate the symbolism and tradition of a cake and that neither of us would feel bad for tossing most of it in the trash. But then, as I strolled the baking aisle at Target wishing for more creative flavors to choose from (does nobody out there make peanut butter frosting?), I stumbled onto something so much better: a Momofuku Milk Bar Compost Cookie kit. If there’s one thing my husband loves it’s cookies (his consumption of them at Christmastime is always a closely monitored and measured activity), and these guys are packed with all the good stuff: chocolate and butterscotch chips, ground coffee, oats, potato chips, and pretzels. I dropped it in my cart. (You can find the full recipe here, but the kit is so ridiculously easy!) The only other thing a birthday requires apart from cake is ice cream, so I grabbed a pint of Talenti vanilla bean gelato and my husband’s birthday treat was settled: Momofuku Milk Bar Compost Cookie ice cream sandwiches.
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The dough is so crumbly that a few little morsels just won’t stick to the mix. My advice? Pinch together. Eat.
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A Week at La Casa Que Canta

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Last weekend, we flew down to Zihuatanejo, Mexico, for a super low-key week of R&R. I was especially excited for this trip, as we stayed at La Casa Que Canta, a hotel that had been on my bucket list since the summer of 2002, when a magazine internship in NYC introduced me to the property, and to luxury travel. The hotel was gloriously quiet, its setting was stunning, and its staff was charming to the nth degree. And did I mention the views?

Before we even left Birmingham, my fingers were crossed for endless quantities of guacamole. So imagine my delight when we stepped out on to our private terrace to a welcome bucket of warm chips, fresh guac and salsa, and a couple of chilled coronas. We were in Mexico, alright.

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Zihuatanejo Bay was dotted with sailboats all week long. Sail Fest coincided with our stay, but I imagine sailors are drawn to this pretty little place all year round.
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Parasails floated over the bay all week long. I’d never been, and so I added it to the week’s agenda. The afternoon that we set out to do it, nobody was there! Next time.
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Housekeeping wrote a sweet “Happy Honeymoon” message in flower petals and greens on our bed, and each night after brought a different design. P1000536 P1000547Our room got the prettiest light in the afternoon. P1000548
A wedding happened on our first night at the hotel. We crashed from our balcony. (And how about that setting?!)P1000552
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I instantly loved the hotel’s architecture, especially its wide, winding, pink staircases. P1000578 P1000579 P1000581 P1000582 P1000583 P1000589
Anybody seen the movie When a Man Loves a Woman, with Andy Garcia and Meg Ryan? This is that pool!P1000590 P1000591 P1000592IMG_4227P1000595 P1000598 P1000608 P1000609 P1000620 P1000621 P1000623 P1000624 P1000633 P1000635 P1000637P1000641IMG_4110P1000650 P1000656 P1000672 P1000683
We spent most of the week reading, swimming, and sunning, but we also found our way to Playa la Ropa, where we had a super-casual lunch of fish tacos (and more guac!) on the beach at La PerlaIMG_4125 IMG_4128 IMG_4131IMG_4130
We decided to venture off site for our last night, so we took a taxi into downtown Zihuatanejo on the other side of the bay. It’s lined with souvenir shops, bars, and restaurants and is a busy hub for fishing boats. At Coconuts, we feasted on fish tacos, coconut-crusted shrimp, and bananas flambé, which was prepared tableside with dramatic flair.P1000687 IMG_4270 IMG_4271 IMG_4286
After dinner, we rolled ourselves into a cab and back to the hotel, ready to head home the next morning feeling relaxed and refreshed.
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¡Vamos a Mexico!

Oh, what a difference a week makes. This time last week, I was still adjusting to some big news I’d received the day before. Since then, I’ve been in touch with friends and former colleagues in the industry, and as a result I have some amazing travel plans and assignments in the works. It’s been exhilarating, and I’m so grateful to everyone who’s offered their support.

But before any more business gets under way, we have a small matter of a honeymoon to tend to. Tomorrow morning, we’re heading south to Zihuatanejo, Mexico, for a much-needed week of sun, sand, and slothing at La Casa Que Canta. Apart from a massage and some snorkeling—and finding a spot to watch the Pats win the Super Bowl on Sunday—the week holds blissfully little in store.

Stay tuned! I’ll be back with plenty of pictures next week.

Hasta luego!

Laid Off, Loving It, And The Reason Why

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No, I haven’t fled to the beach. I’m just seeing things a little more clearly now. (Clear skies and sea from our Little Palm Island mini-moon in September)

People say that everything happens for a reason. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do think you can find reason in most situations if you try. After a certain turn of events this week, I’m sure of it.

If you’re one of the three people who read this blog regularly (hi, Mom!), you’ll remember a post from last spring in which I shared that I’d accepted a senior-level job at a national magazine. It was a feat I’d worked toward since the day I received my j-school diploma. My now-husband and I packed up our life and moved from Boston to Birmingham knowing precisely nothing about our new hometown and little of what my new job had in store.

Turns out, in a matter of months I started doubting for a number of reasons that this job and I were a great fit. Eventually, nervous butterflies that come with being a newbie turned into sickening bouts of the Sunday blues. Alone in my office, I endured episodes of anxiety that I was sure would split my skull. At home with my family for Christmas, instead of feeling the joy of my favorite holiday I felt weighed down and hazy, under the influence of unshakeable dread. Something had to change.

I told myself that, as a relatively smart and always-hardworking person, in time I would learn to navigate every facet of my job and that things would change, but the fact that I was struggling so much to do so made me wonder whether this was an undertaking I simply wasn’t wired for. It was too soon to leave, I thought, and we had uprooted everything so I could be here. At the same time, the idea of living this way indefinitely made me think things I’d be embarrassed now to admit. I was stuck.

At 9:30 in the morning on Thursday, though, everything did change. I sat in a chair across a desk from my boss and listened as she explained that a company-wide re-organization had led to the elimination of my job. I was eight days shy of the seven-month mark.

The first feeling to register was shock—I’d never been laid off before, nor had I been in and out of a job so fast. I felt foolish, wondering how many people above me had known my fate—and for how long—while I fought so hard to make peace with my situation. But in what feels like an inappropriate amount of time under those circumstances, it all gave way to a sensation I hadn’t experienced in ages: I felt calm. I was free. This was my chance to start fresh.

The three days since receiving that news have been a flurry of emails, texts, and phone calls with my family, friends, and connections in my network. I’ve received messages of support and encouragement—even some containing leads and offers of freelance work—from people ranging from best friends to contacts I hadn’t heard from in years. Some shared that they’d been through this themselves and are now happier for it. Some simply offered their sympathies. Regardless of their sentiments, I have felt supported and among friends. I’ve been reminded of my strengths. I’ve been reminded that happiness matters and that it’s okay to pursue it.

I probably learned more in those seven months than I have yet to fully realize. I’m grateful for the experience, and I’m certainly grateful for the friends I made throughout it. Above all else, I’m grateful for the perspective I gained during the whole process, and for the opportunity to employ it as I write this next chapter of my life.

I can’t remember the last time I felt so light, so relaxed, so hopeful, so determined, so grateful—so myself. And for now, that’s reason enough for me.

Rosewood Takes on an Italian Resort: More Magic is Made

Rosewood Castiglion del Bosco

Rosewood Castiglion del Bosco. Image courtesy of Rosewood Hotels & Resorts

This week I received an email announcing that Rosewood Hotels & Resorts has been appointed to manage Castiglion del Bosco, a gorgeous hillside resort in Tuscany. The news sent a rush of goose bumps up my arms, and me straight to my Travel Wish List board on Pinterest. I’d never heard of the property, but I’ve long been a Rosewood devotee. If it’s Rosewood, I thought, it’s got to be good.

I pledged a lifetime of love and devotion to Rosewood after my first stay at Rosewood Little Dix Bay around seven years ago. Since then, I’ve stayed at Rosewood Mayakoba in Mexico, and returned again to Little Dix Bay. Rosewood operates more than 30 properties around the world, so I have a long way to go before I’m any kind of authority on the brand. But a combined three stays between those two properties has been enough for me to know that Rosewood is something special. Even now I struggle to articulate what, specifically, sets Rosewood apart, but sometimes words just can’t do the intangible justice. I do know that, while much of what I remember about other hotels includes things like high thread counts and fancy food, what I remember about my stays at Little Dix Bay and Rosewood Mayakoba are things like the warm, bright blackness of the sun through my closed eyelids; the dry, scratchy thrashing of palm fronds during a windswept dinner on the beach; and feeling totally content, my thoughts trained on nothing but my whereabouts. They’re not the kind of memories you have to dig down for or force, but the kind that ambush the senses at the tiniest reminder of a place.

I’ve been to Italy, but not yet to Tuscany, a place I imagine to be peaceful, impenetrable to worry and time. When my turn comes to head that way, I know where I’ll be checking in.

Do any hotels or hotel brands hold special meaning for you? Which ones, and why?

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Here, some snaps from my most recent visit to Little Dix Bay. See what I mean?

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I Dream of Downton: Sea Island’s Show-Themed Weekend

Image via Hypeable

Image via Hypeable

I’m a smitten kitten over Downton Abbey. The only things I love watching more than the actual show are interviews with and behind-the-scenes specials starring its cast members. On the show, so constantly restrained are the characters that seeing the actors relaxed and out of character in the real world totally just tickles me. (Access Hollywood recently interviewed Allen Leech, who plays Branson on the show. He could have read from a Chinese takeout menu and I would have hung on every word—never mind that he played a Downton-themed game of Who Would You Rather? with Billy Bush!) My brain almost imploded when I read that Sea Island, the luxe Georgia resort, would be hosting a Downton-inspired weekend January 29-31, with three of the show’s cast members—Laura Carmichael, who plays lonely Lady Edith; Kevin Doyle, the well-meaning Mr. Molesley; and Raquel Cassidy, who plays Phyllis Baxter, lady’s maid to Cora Crawley—on hand for a Q&A, costume party, cocktail reception, dinner, and special screening. Jessica Fellowes, author of “A Year in the Life of Downton Abbey,” and Nick Dawes, of Antiques Roadshow, will also join, with Dawes leading a lecture and presentation about the historical and storied furniture of Downton Abbey and English country manors like it. I don’t typically get too fired up over TV shows and stars, but from January 29-31, there’s no place I’d rather be. Rates for the Downton Abbey-themed events are surprisingly reasonable for what seems like the weekend of a lifetime (hello, mother/daughter trip or girlfriends’ getaway!). Nightly rates start at $395, and admission to the costume party/cocktail reception/dinner/screening is just $125/guest. Advance reservations are required for each individual event.

Which Downton cast members would you like to spend a weekend with, and what questions would you ask them?