Thursday, December 10, 2015

Chef & the Farmer and Our Anniversary Trip to Kinston, NC

(via here)

Have you heard of A Chef's Life?  I wrote about it in a post about my favorite "foodie shows" here.  It's one of the shows that I make a point to watch each week.  Chef Vivian Howard and her husband, Ben, have a restaurant called Chef and the Farmer in small-town Kinston, NC.  The show is about their adventures with the restaurant and in life.

The couple is incredibly endearing and very real--and the cooking is fun to watch and farm-to-table, as you may have guessed from the name.  Ever since the first season of the show, (they just finished season 3), I have wanted to visit Kinston, NC to eat at Chef and the Farmer.  That wish became reality in November, as a mini-getaway for James and my 7th wedding anniversary.

the ceiling at The O'Neil
We drove up on a Saturday morning and stayed the night in a beautiful, newly-renovated boutique hotel called The O'Neil.  I highly recommend this place--not only is it beautiful and affordable, but it's right next to all the fun spots in Kinston.  The hotel was once a bank, and the decor is made up of mid-century vintage items--carefully curated to provide a cozy and kind of down-to-earth-swanky feel to the place.  Check-in and out is extremely easy and our bed was amazing.

To kick-off the afternoon we visited Mother Earth Brewing to sample some local brews. They happened to be having a release party that day for their Silent Night seasonal beer, so there was a great big ole party going on--and everyone was invited! Great beer and a really cool place with indoor and outdoor seating, as well as a corn hole game and tours of the brewery every hour.

Next stop was The Boiler Room for more drinks and appetizers before our reservation at Chef and the Farmer.  The Boiler Room is a new restaurant also owned and operated by Vivian and Ben--it's a more casual place, but equally delicious and fun.  James' favorite thing was the Pork and Beam: bacon-infused bourbon served with a piece of candied bacon.

 I loved the broccoli and cheese with crispy fried onions on top. (The best way to eat a vegetable.)

And finally it was time for us to head to Chef and the Farmer. I have to admit, I was a little star-struck and loved being able to look around the restaurant and see staff that I have watched on TV all these years!  Ben was working the front of the house, and we noticed pretty quickly that Chef Vivian was not working in the restaurant that evening. (Not that I was going to be an annoying super-fan or anything, promise!)

We started with flash-fried collards with sea salt: addictive. And fingerling sweet potato skins loaded with deliciousness.

Jedd's lettuce salad

Next I had a Jedd's lettuce salad and a savory beef hand pie. 

James had dayboat flounder with a mustard and brown butter vinaigrette.  His was our favorite of these dishes, but they were all delicious.

For dessert we ordered the bread of the day and a slice of chocolate beet cake.  The homemade bread, shaved meat accompaniment, and garlicky whipped butter was hands-down my favorite part of the meal.

To top this amazing day and drinks and food, ever-so-randomly, a friend from Columbia walked through the door with 3 other women, and stopped to say hello on her way to her table. She casually mentioned that she was in town visiting Vivian--an old friend from boarding school--and did we want too meet her?  Um, did we want to meet Chef Vivian Howard--my favorite current TV persona?  The answer was undeniably yes, so Elizabeth asked Vivian to come say his and she graciously complied.  She was exactly as she seems on TV: beautiful, humble, embarrassed by her fame, and very real. Talking with her was the perfect ending to an awesome weekend in Kinston.

Thanks for saying hi, Vivian and thanks for sharing your life with us viewers.  And thanks to Elizabeth for hooking it up!  

James and I are already planning our next visit to Kinston; well-worth the 4 hour drive from Columbia, SC.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Best Shortbread Cookie in Columbia: Rise Bakeshop

Birdie and I flitted down to Rise Gourmet Goods &Bakeshop a few weeks ago to grab some goodies as a reward for her finally bring potty-trained! (Anyone who has ever potty-trained a child knows the elation.)

I had first heard of the new bakery when reading this article by Eva Moore of the Free Times.  I mean, who doesn't want to try something called a s'moreo?!

Birdie picked out a chocolate crinkle cookie and I chose a shortbread cookie with black pepper for Jones. I am not exaggerating at all when I tell you it's the best shortbread I have ever eaten. And shortbread is one of my favorite types of cookies.  These are the best. Buttery and just the right texture, with a hint of pepper.  So delicious.

I also grabbed a container of pimento cheese spread to balance my late-afternoon snack, and it was commendable as well.

Fast forward 2 weeks and it was crunch-time to grab some snacks for Thanksgiving dinner pre-gaming.  Boiled peanut hummus and caramelized onion dip from their fridge were no-brainers, and the buffalo shmear made the list after I tried some in the store. All paired with some house made pepper crackers.

They had some pretty clever and unique gift baskets made up which would be great for holiday gifting.

In short, Rise Bakery is one of my new favorite spots for appetizers, sweets, and party goodies! And their clean and modern branding and logo is a little eye candy to boot.  Check them out for lunch or brunch or snacks or party food! And definitely shortbread.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Dot & Bo are Rad

I've opined here before about my lust for Fall. And all things therewith, like fires, scarves, sweaters, holidays, parties, comfort food, and cozy nights.  Cozying up at home and entertaining guests makes me want to update my decor- or at least dream about it- and Dot & Bo is my new favorite place to indulge those whims.

Dot & Bo is a carefully curated online shop, self-dubbed "inspired design for the modern lifestyle."  Here are some of my favorite things:
via here
via here
via here
via here
In addition to beautiful housewares, they have some pretty unique gift items, and these His and Her gift guides are pretty great.

Here's to enjoying a cozy home this Fall!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Give Grace

While scrolling through the Instagrams recently I came across this photo:

(via Scarlet & Gold's Instagram)

If you look closely, you'll see a delicate gold tattoo on the inside wrist: GIVE GRACE.  I was initially drawn to the appearance of the dainty, shiny thing, and then later really ruminated on the meaning of the words.

The older I get the more I realize that every person I meet is dealing with some plight or another. Chances are I may never know it, but it is worth it to remind myself and others daily that we have no idea what is going on in another person's life at any given time.

I recently learned that a friend of a friend's cancer has returned. Another friend had another in a series of miscarriages. And a different friend just had a precious baby boy who has a serious and life-long disability. Heart-breaking stuff.

When I had my miscarriage 3 years ago, I think the part that hurt the most was that not everyone knew. I was almost 15 weeks along, so we had told many people about the pregnancy, but still, afterward I would run into friends and when they didn't ask me about the miscarriage I was almost offended. I wanted people to know I had gone through something unspeakably difficult and sad. Not for the pity, though. I wanted others to know so that I could serve as a comrade in pain.  My miscarriage made me realize how many women I know who have had the same experience. And there is comfort in shared experiences, don't you think?

So, back to the GIVE GRACE tattoo. When I commented on the above photo, Megan, of Scarlet & Grace offered to send me 2 tattoos. One for me and one to give to someone else who needed the message.

You can read more about the #GiveGrace Campaign, which aims to bring awareness to infertility and to help couples as they go through the IVF process.

I love the sentiment, and wanted to pass it on. So, go. Go give grace.
If you want a tattoo for yourself or someone who may be struggling with fertility issues or any other issue in which grace could be helpful, you can purchase one here.


Monday, June 15, 2015

Save Summer: No Kid Hungry

Only 1 in 7 children who rely on subsidized school lunches are reached through federal summer feeding programs. Those kids not reached are most likely skipping meals, or at the very least sharing food with siblings and eating food that is not nutritious enough for growing bodies.


You've most likely heard of my passion for Columbia, SC non-profit St. Lawrence Place before. {Full disclosure, I still work part-time for the agency, and blog for them here.} SLP provides support services, life skills, and transitional housing for families experiencing homelessness. An integral part of the services provided is the after-school and full-day summer program provided for children living at SLP and Family Shelter, the local emergency shelter.

The 10-week summer program serves breakfast and lunch, as well as two snacks a day for up to 35 children. These children otherwise may not have a nutritious meal each day during the summer. SLP is able to provide nutritious, homemade lunches each day through the kindness and generosity of volunteers and donors.

If you live in Columbia, SC, you can help feed these kids! You can send a donation to purchase food, you can prepare a meal off-site and deliver it on your designated day, or you can prepare a meal on-site at SLP. Check out this blog post for details.  Jones and I will be providing lunch for two days in July, and I am excited to teach him about the value of helping others.

Help No Kid Hungry: as Congress considers the reauthorization of Child Nutrition programs this year, we have the opportunity to improve the summer meals program so it helps low-income kids no matter where they live. Send a letter to Congress here, or you can sign up for our Summer Action Day on June 22nd!

Monday, June 8, 2015

My Nerdy Hobby

I've just entered week two of my work-free summer vacation and let me tell you, it really is all it's cracked up to be. Going back to teaching may have been the best decision I ever made.

Along with spending oodles of time with my 4 year old babe, I have so much free-time at night and I can stay up later because I don't have to be up at 6:15 AM, and it really is grand. (Sorry to all of you who are reading this and resenting the hell out of me right now.)  In addition to beginning no less than 4 books in the past 2 weeks, I have also started back with my favorite nerdy hobby: needlepoint.

I started cross-stitching when I was in middle school, and recently picked back up the needle-arts. The variety of patterns and kits these days is so much better than in the early nineties when most of what I could find was in the local craft store and most likely involved a teddy bear or a 'country kitchen' theme.

Etsy is a convenient place to find modern and "cool" needlepoint kits, and this SatsumaStreet cross stitch pattern is next on my list:
Pretty Little San Francisco via here

Target has some pretty cool new crafty-items, including this embroidery kit that I completed and framed for my mom for Mother's Day:

via here
They also have these kitschy little wooden boxes with a grid for cross-stitching on the top. I have bought several, and if you're in my family and have a birthday coming up soon, you can count on a trinket box with your initial on top, handmade by yours truly.

This one is for my soon-to-be-5-year-old nephew, Taylor:

And this one is for my brother-in-law, David:

Just yesterday I was reading one of my favorite blogs, Hey Natalie Jean, and she posted this: HNJ Needlepoint Club!  If you follow me on the Instagrams, you will be seeing periodic pics of my latest needlepoint creations. Feel free to join me in joining Natalie Jean's nerdy-needlepoint club! 

So, do you have any dorky hobbies you're willing to tell us about?

Monday, June 1, 2015

School's Out...for Summer!

Cue this song's chorus running through your head for the remainder of the day:

Since going  back to the classroom as a middle and high school teacher last August, the promise of a 10-week summer has kept me excited nearly daily. It's true that after over 10 years out of the classroom, I was seeking the thrill of imparting knowledge, as well as the challenge of "getting through" to those difficult students. (The more operose the better, in my opinion.)  But, really, if I'm being entirely honest, I was at least 50% going back to the classroom full-time so that I could have summers off with my babies.

Here's how we've spent the first few days of summer:
My fruity folks at Cottle Strawberry Farm.

The chunkiest little baby ever and her big cousin, Ben, lounging by my parents' pool. Flanked by dogs, of course.

This dreamy little surfer-dude peering through the rad doll house on the children's floor in the Richland County Main Library.

that Star Wars band-aid is so endearing, isn't it?
Jones and I signed up for the Richland Library Summer Reading Challenge today; I have such fond memories of participating when I was a kid. That end-of-summer reading medal was always hard-fought-for.

What are you up to this summer? So far I'm enjoying not having to give those obligatory "teacher's dirty looks..."

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Acquiring Art on a Budget

Let me start with this disclaimer: I am in no way an artist, art expert, or art critic, nor do I have a degree in art.  All I can claim is that I appreciate art, and I enjoy acquiring pieces of original art for my home.  And I do not have a large budget for this hobby, but I have acquired some pretty great pieces over the years.

My first tip is to purchase a piece that speaks to you.  Purchase a piece if you cannot stop thinking about it. If you can't help but think about that painting as you pass by that spot on your wall where it will surely hang if you ever purchase it, then buy it. I am currently coveting a gorgeous painting by local artist Whitney LeJeune--stay tuned for  Fig Columbia blog post about that one as soon as it's mine!

This poster was designed for the recent Avett Brothers concert in Columbia by local design studio & print shop, The Half and Half.  I went to the show, but also couldn't take my eyes off of this poster when I first saw it, so I tracked one down.

This piece I purchased at the annual St. Lawrence Place Angels Tea & Silent Auction a few years ago. Tip number 2 for acquiring art on a budget: scope out silent auctions! So many local artists generously donate their pieces to nonprofits for auctions.  I have scored many a beautiful piece this way, and the proceeds go to charity, so win-win!  The mixed-media painting is by local artist Page Morris.

My husband scored this Hollis Brown Thornton print at the Harmony School Oyster Roast & Silent Auction last year.  He actually got into a bidding war with another gentleman for a lot of 5 prints, but we prevailed.

This piece, whose artist I don't know (!?), I actually purchased from a gym I used to attend. The lobby had local artists' work on display and for sale. I saw this cool collage for weeks and decided to make it my own. And there's tip number 3 for purchasing art on a budget: check out your favorite restaurants, bars, local stores, and even gyms for local artists' displays! You can find cool art anywhere.

And finally, to prove my point that cool (and affordable) art is everywhere: a portrait of "Mommy" by my 4 year old son, Jones.
The likeness is uncanny, I assure you.

And there you have it- a tour of some of my favorite art, acquired on a budget and with love. The Columbia art scene is burgeoning with talent; go find some for your home!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Chef Stories

My husband and I decided to go cable-free over 4 years ago, and I have not regretted it a day since. (I'm pretty sure he has--especially when sporting events are on that we can't stream--but we usually figure out a way to watch.) We did it to save money, but it has ultimately ended up saving precious time and brain cells as well. I no longer watch mindless, numbing TV shows, just to have something on in the background or to serve as distraction from the day. We are now deliberate and intentional in what we watch. And between Netflix and our local PBS station, ETV, there is still plenty to watch--and well-produced stuff that actually informs while entertaining.

James and I are both food-junkies. We love to eat food and make food and grow food and learn more about it; and if that sounds at all like you, then you're in luck. Here are a few of our favorite food shows, all available via PBS or Netflix.

A Chef's Life teaser from A Chef's Life on Vimeo.

A Chef's Life.  The titular chef, Vivian Howard, is endearing and funny and self-deprecating and I have a giant girl-crush on her. She runs 2 restaurants in Kinston, NC, and I devour every episode of her show. I gave James a gift certificate to her restaurant Chef and the Farmer for Christmas, and we'll be taking a trip to Kinston to try it later this summer. Stoked.

The Mind of a Chef. This was recommended to us by a food-loving friend when we lamented the fact that we couldn't wait until Netflix's new show Chef's Table was released.  We binge-watched over the course of a few days, and I can't wait for the next season. Season 1's first episode is about Chef David Chang's love for ramen, and you cannot watch without insanely craving a big bowl of brothy-noodles.

The 5 Ages of Parmigiano
via here

Chef's Table. So far we've only seen the first 2 episodes, but as expected, I'm hooked. The first episode, about Chef Massimo Boturra, is half love story, half chef-show. And the love story is so sweet. Plus, he serves a dish called The 5 Ages of Parmigiano. Eating it in his restaurant in Italy is now on my bucket list.

Lucky Peach Issue #15, via here

While researching for this post, I came across a blog post about a magazine called Lucky Peach. It's a quarterly journal of food and writing, and Chef David Chang is an Editor. I already subscribed, and cannot wait to have this gold in-hand. I mean, the cover of the most recent issue is a true work of art, no?

So, are you as food-obsessed as I? What other shows, movies, journals, mags, websites, podcasts should I be watching, reading, listening to?