Work Space

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I recently started a new job, which has been fun. My new job, as I see it, is to help a talented team of people make beautiful publications and presentations that tell the story of great food and the impressive people behind it. That we happen to be telling pretty stories about food for the largest food service company in the world is just the icing on the cake. (I love when metaphors match up like that, don’t you?)

Anyway, my job came with two offices. I’m not sure if you’ve ever tried to simultaneously start a new job and decorate two new offices, but it’s kinda hard. I feel really proud of this wall though. It serves three purposes: 1) Inspire creative design. I need that. 2) Really cheap decor. I needed that too. 3) Make me hungry All. Day. Long. I did not need that.

Lake Martin Love

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My grandfather grew up in a tiny mill town in Alabama near Lake Martin. When the 44,000-acre lake was created in the 1920s, it was the largest man-made body of water in the world—just up the road from his home. And so his family built a small cabin on the quiet lake that they’d visit on weekends long before that was something people did.

The lake—and the cabin—have come a long way. Today, my grandmother (my grandfather passed away a few years ago) has created what I think of as one of the most relaxing places on earth out on their point. Boats with thousands of summer visitors buzz around the popular lake all summer, but her little slice of it feels perfectly secluded.

I’ve visited every summer since I was a kid—I was there last weekend—and it’s one of my favorite places to spend a few days by the water. If you’re considering a trip (which you should), here are some spots I’d recommend on your visit.

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The Landing at Parker Creek: This is a newer addition to the lake, but the laid back restaurant has become a fast favorite. It’s easiest accessed by boat and features a swimming area, live music, games, and a variety of spots for dining and drinking. Play a game of corn hole or ring toss before pulling up a stool at the outdoor bar and cooling down with one of the creamy famed Bushwacker cocktails.

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Chimney Rock: If you’re looking for the party on a summer Saturday afternoon, this is the place. Hundreds of boats line up, often tying themselves together and turning up the music, near this spray paint covered rock where (slightly crazy) people launch themselves from various heights. It’s not remotely safe, but it’s a ton of fun.

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Peanut Point: This place has been around for decades, but I only discovered it a few years ago (it’s a big lake). On a sandy pine-shaded point a local couple boils and sells thousands of peanuts all summer long. Snag one of the cajun-flavored bags if you can.

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Catherine’s: I’m a sucker for an artisanal market and this one is pretty charming. In addition to rows of gourmet groceries, the European-style market features an airy cafe, bakery, wine tastings, and mouth-watering cheese selection.

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The AMP: I got lucky because this gorgeous open-air amphitheater with panoramic views of the lake is within walking distance of my grandmother’s home. But regardless of where on the lake you’re coming from, this grassy hillside is a great destination for its summer concerts and events.

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Church In The Pines: I don’t usually include churches as part of travel destinations, but I really love this church. Tucked into the woods and facing the lake, the huge open-air space is at once simple and stunningly beautiful. They have guest preachers and musicians all summer long, and its a great spot to spend a peaceful Sunday morning.

 

Summer Salad

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I think late summer may be my favorite time for Farmers Markets in North Carolina—mostly because the season’s sweetest tomatoes have arrived. And I like to think of tomatoes as an excellent excuse to eat mozzarella cheese. (I’ve heard that it’s frowned upon to just serve yourself a plate of fresh mozzarella. Just to be clear, this would not be frowned upon by me.)

Anyway, over the weekend I created this salad using a few of those tomatoes, some fresh locally-made mozzarella, and an olive oil I picked up in Italy. It was the greatest caprese salad I’ve ever made. So, since I’ve created my greatest, I feel confident sharing some tips for your creation.

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  1. Eat local. Get as many of your ingredients—tomatoes, cheese, basil—as possible from local farmers and artisans.
  2. Except for the olive oil and salt. Olive oils that you’re not cooking with should come from Italy. Check the bottle. You want olives that are picked and press in Italy. You’ll taste the difference. Trust me. It will actually taste like—crazy as this sounds—olives. As for salt, I’m a salt snob. My favorite easy-to-obtain brand though is Real Salt.
  3. Pick and tear your basil just before you serve. It’s the most fragrant in that moment.IMG_0024
  4. Use different colored tomatoes. This is mostly for presentation purposes, but also adds a nice mix of flavors.
  5. Serve with crusty bread and pour your olive oil liberally enough that you’ll have lots to sop up.

Eat up and enjoy!

Henry Ford24X36Here’s a fun fact: This is likely a made-up quote. While it’s widely credited to Henry Ford, basically all historical research indicates he probably didn’t say it. But I love the idea behind it so much—fulfilling a need/desire that people didn’t even know they had, in a way better than they could have dreamed—that I ordered this poster of it to hang in my new office.

Somewhere, my journalism school ethics professor just died a little. But I’m pretty excited about my new wall art.

 

 

Lavender Lemonade

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Often, for me, the enjoyment of cooking meals and creating drinks comes in the process rather than the final product. (Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy more than my fair share of the final product.) But there’s something really soothing to me about spending a afternoon puttering around my kitchen. I like to do it with music playing and the back door open, with dogs wandering in and out.
And I especially like creating food that smells good. I know this is weird, but I don’t enjoy things like roasting cauliflower or searing fish as much because even if they taste amazing, the smell doesn’t fit with my pleasant cooking experience. (By the way, totally know that I’m crazy.)
So, it should come as no surprise, that I’ve become obsessed with making lavender simple syrup for cocktails. The fragrance of the boiling lavender makes my entire home smell like a field in Provence. Then, the final product gives cocktails a fresh and floral flavor that’s perfect for cool summer drinks. Want to try it for yourself? Here’s how:
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Boil one cup of water, half a cup of sugar, and two tablespoons of dried lavender buds for a few minutes. Then, let it steep for about half an hour. Finally, drain the lavender from the water. I pour it through a paper towel. You lose some that way, but it’s the only sure way I’ve found not to have any lavender particles in the syrup.

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Next (and most important) step: Cocktail. My favorite is an easy mix of 2/3s lemonade, 1/3 vodka (Tito’s), and a splash of the lavender simple syrup. Chill and serve in martini glass—garnishing it with a lemon or a sprig of lavender. (This mix works well pre-mixed in a pitcher for groups.)

Inspiration

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In the last few years I’ve realized that in general I wake up unhappy. It’s funny, because I’d describe myself as a “morning person.” I like getting up early and being productive. But the morning is when every anxiety in the world seems to land on my shoulders. It’s like I haven’t been diligent at keeping them at bay in my sleep and so I wake up unreasonably distraught by the state of my world.

(Related: Most mornings I’m awakened by an animal that closely resembles an 80-pound coyote jumping on top of me and howling for food. So maybe that has something to do with it.)

Anyway, because of this, I make a conscious effort to spend my morning lifting my mood. Coffee helps. So do dogs. But one of my favorite things to do is watch inspiring talks online as I get ready. I generally alternate back and forth between Ted Talks and sermons from Andy Stanley’s Atlanta church, North Point.

Right now, his church is doing a series that feels a little like Ted Talks (if Ted Talks occasionally mentioned God). So far, the VOICES series has included talks from Jeremy Cowart (world renowned photographer who founded Help Portrait), Scott Harrison (club-promoter-turned-philanthropist who founded Charity Water), and Ryan Leak (the hilarious motivational speaker behind Chasing Failure). It is awesome. Regardless of whether you even believe in the existence of God, this series and these people are so inspiring.

So, if you’re like me and wake up in a state of despair, definitely watch this. But even if you’re just a normal human who enjoys some good inspiration, it’s worth a watch.

Summer Reading

I’ve been reading a lot this summer. I’ve read some things I wouldn’t recommend (Paula Hawkin’s—author of The Girl on the Train—new book really bummed me out) and some stuff you already know to read (Grisham’s latest isn’t great, but it’s not terrible and read Big Little Lies before you watch the HBO series). But here are five favorites from the last few months:

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This novel jumps around time-wise—skipping entire decades without reference—and there are tons of characters, but you feel invested in all of them. It feels true to life in a lot of ways—especially the broken pieces after divorce. It’s not a happy or a sad story necessarily (and it’s definitely not fast-paced), just a beautiful story about a family. The author’s subtle descriptions of place and time—from summers in 1960s LA to rural Virginia—were my favorite part.

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The author of this novel about immigration and refugees is Pakistani and while the novel is (obviously) fiction, it hits uncomfortably close to reality with the current Syrian crisis. Many parts feel fantastical, while others feel as if they could be autobiographical for an actual modern day refugee. It’s insightful and eye-opening. And it often read like scenes from a movie, so I’m really hoping someone turns it into one.

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This is your eerie summer beach read. It’s a bizarre thriller that takes place in London and is full of twists and turns. It’s the kind of psychological page turner that’ll keep your attention and should probably be followed by something light and fluffy.

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Speaking of light and fluffy, for the most part this book falls right into those categories. Sure, there are some twists and some intrigue and a little bit of sadness, but this novel keeps thing pretty upbeat. It’s the story of a self-described boring British woman who moves to the South of France and becomes immersed in a mystery around perfume and  aristocrats, with a love story thrown into the mix. I read this when I was on a trip to Tuscany, which is cheating. Because everything is better in Tuscany. But if you happen to be traveling to some spot like Tuscany or the French Riviera, this is the perfect companion for your trip.

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This book was published in 1989 and was an international bestseller, so there’s a good chance you’ve already read it. And a television series based on it was released in 2010, so you may have actually watched it. I had done neither and now I don’t know why I waited so long. I loved this book in general—its stories and characters, set in the 12th century, are compelling and fascinating. It’s not out-of-this-world writing, but the storytelling is just amazing. And this summer I’ve had the chance to visit a few European cathedrals (which is what much of this book centers around) and all I could think of was this novel. I really loved it. Read it. (Tip: Read the Kindle version. This guy is like a thousand pages.)