barista steaming coffee while a coffee shop playlist plays in the background

Coffee Shop Tunes

Ever so often, I walk into a coffee shop and think, “Man! Wouldn’t it be cool to work here?” And sometimes, all I mean is wouldn’t it be cool to trade my fluorescent-lit office for the warm, naturally lit, indie-music-playing buzz of my favorite coffee shop? To sit in a little wooden booth wearing whatever I’m feeling at the time—perhaps jeans and a black-and-white flannel button-down like the girl I saw this morning—and tap my fingers on my laptop while coffee grinds and milk steams in the background?

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coffee

Morning Coffee (Or What You Should Read This Week)

Few things brighten my day like a steamy cup of coffee and inspirational, thought-provoking reads in the morning. It’s a ritual that I daresay I’ll keep until the day I die, whether I’m curled up on my couch with a book, devouring the Sunday New York Times on a plane, or catching up on my favorite blogs amidst the buzz of my favorite coffee shop.

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Hiking Mount Cheaha, Alabama’s Highest Point

“Are you ready?”

My dad obviously didn’t think so. But in all fairness, I couldn’t blame him. We hadn’t hiked in over a year, and we were about to tackle one of the most difficult trails in the southernmost Appalachians. One that dropped more than a thousand feet in the first half a mile. My mom (smart woman, it turns out) decided not to join us. Continue reading

Snapshots from Boulder, Colorado

Nothing beats Colorado in October.

We flew to Denver on Thursday, visited friends in Boulder, and flew back South on Sunday. The weather was perfect—a comfortable 60 degrees in the afternoon, a crisp 40 in the morning, and sunny most of the weekend.

While in Colorado, we admired the Rockies from a distance, and we hiked Boulder’s Flatirons, large rock formations at the edge of the city. The views were absolutely stunning, so I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. Happy Friday!

Boulder Flatirons
Boulder Flatirons
Boulder Flatirons
Boulder Flatirons
Boulder Flatirons
Boulder Flatirons
Boulder Flatirons
University of Colorado at Boulder
Maple in Boulder

The Bright Light Social Hour

Band Interview: The Bright Light Social Hour

I first learned about The Bright Light Social Hour a few weeks ago when the Austin-based band was featured on The Huffington Post. Intrigued by their music’s focus on millennials, the South, and social justice, I jumped at the chance to interview them. Despite busy schedules and 700 miles between us, band member Jack O’Brien and I spent an afternoon discussing, over the phone, the band’s recent tour of North America and what came out of it—a powerful sophomore album about struggle, but also dreams and looking ahead. I hope you enjoy, and continue, the conversation.

…read the rest at Literally, Darling.

Farmhouse

Weekend at the Farm

Have you ever felt like you were in a book? I have, once, a few Saturdays ago.

Farmhouse Kitchen

We drove about two hours outside of town to our friends’ farmhouse, and although we’ve been there dozens of times, something about this time was different. I felt like I was being guided, almost pulled, by some crafty writer who kept making grasshoppers chirp and laughter bellow and who just couldn’t keep from  jumping and pointing and saying, “Did you know that a place like this could exist? Look! It does! Let me show you.”

Farmhouse Table

I started noticing it that night when I fell asleep to the smell of vanilla, wrapped in fleece and hand-sewn blankets in a room bound by wood and family heirlooms. Sunday morning, it felt like my writer was pleading, “Look! Look at the sunshine streaming through the windows! Look how it makes everything glow! Forget the vanilla. Smell the coffee, the leftover smoke of late-night cigars! Listen to the bacon hit the cast-iron and sizzle!”

Liquor Cabinet

It continued through breakfast. We gathered around the table and drank coffee, black, over 1920s jazz. We ate potatoes fried in bacon grease; cheddar melted over grits; and avocado, bacon, and egg atop toasted sourdough.

Pouring Coffee

I tell you, the farm really is like a house you find in books, the ones that most people dream about but wouldn’t know how to live in even if they had the chance. Our friends, however, have perfected the art, and they make a weekend in the country everything it should be. I’m crossing my fingers that it’ll be cold enough next time to light the stove.

Breakfast

(And, because I’m sure all that talk about bacon made you hungry, here’s  a recipe. It’s especially great served with hash browns, cheese grits, and fresh bananas.)

Avocado, Bacon, and Egg Breakfast Sandwich

Avocado, Bacon, and Egg Breakfast Sandwich

Start to finish: 20 minutes
Servings: 4

Ingredients

  • 2 sourdough buns, cut in half
  • 4 slices of thick-cut bacon
  • 4 large eggs
  • Spicy brown mustard
  • 2 avocados, peeled and sliced 1/4-inch thick

Preparation

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Toast sourdough halves 10-12 minutes or until lightly brown.
  2. In a large skillet over medium heat, cook bacon until crisp and brown.
  3. Meanwhile, fill a medium saucepan with cold water and eggs. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 3-4 minutes. Immediately remove from heat, drain, and soak eggs in cold water and ice. Once cool, remove eggshells and slice eggs.
  4. Layer sourdough halves, spicy brown mustard, avocado slices, egg slices, and bacon.

On Writing Inspired

Writing is a strange process. I’ve been writing my entire life, and I’ve only recently realized the art of writing inspired, which is to say that I’ve realized the struggle of wanting to say something and knowing what you want to say, but not being able to put that into words until one day, randomly, divinely, it seems, you just know. The words come, one after another, seamlessly, flawlessly, and you almost can’t believe that you’re writing them. And then you wonder: Am I writing them? Or am I piecing these words together only because I’ve been divinely tapped on the head?

Allow me to share two such moments with you. The first happened after I got married. My wedding day was one of the best days of my life, and I wanted to capture it, all of it. Not just the play-by-play of moments, but the unmatched feeling of happiness I felt from the moment I woke up to the moment I fell asleep that night.

The day after the wedding, on our way from Birmingham to our cabin in the Smokies, my new husband and I stopped by Barnes and Noble for coffee, and I bought a journal. I tried writing as we drove, but nothing came. Days later, I tried writing again, sitting on the porch of our cabin in the midst of crisp mountain air and the ambient glow of nightfall, and still, nothing happened. I kept trying—the Saturday we returned home, a few weekends later at the lake. But eventually, I gave up. I knew how I felt, but I didn’t know what to say.

My moment of inspiration came while I was lying in bed one night more than three months after the wedding. Wide awake, husband asleep, the wedding not even on my mind, and all of sudden, word-by-word, the story just started appearing. Inside my head, a paragraph formed, then two. I was awestruck. I jumped out of bed and wrote the whole story I had wanted to write for months, from start to finish, in about 30 minutes in the wee hours of the morning.

My second moment of inspired writing came just a few weeks ago, although it was even longer in the making. I’d wanted to write this story for so long, in fact, that I even wrote about not being able to write it. When I finished writing, I shook. My dimples ached. I was overcome. I had finally drawn forth a handful of words that, despite their brevity, seemed to sum up nearly a year (a year!) of my life.

This second story, the story of my year as a teacher, I’ve included below. You’ll notice that very little of it is about teaching, but that’s because very little of my year as a teacher was actually about teaching. I’d tell you what that means, but you have an entire story waiting to explain it to you. Besides, it ends with a message I couldn’t possibly attempt to reword.

tornado

How Tornadoes and Teaching Helped Me Rediscover My Calling

I was standing outside the student media building getting ready to produce my first newspaper as an editor when I got the news.

Our house was gone. As in, my roommate survived the tornado by covering herself with a mattress in the only room of our house left standing.

You see, I lived, and still live, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. In April 2011, my junior year of college, I lived on the corner of Forest Lake Drive and 16th Street in a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house that became woodchips as one of the biggest tornadoes in state history tore through our city. It was a little more than a week before the end of finals, a little more than a week before graduation, a little more than a week before I would officially become a senior.

…read the rest at Literally, Darling.

The Perfect Wedding

I’m not one to cry, but I did. I almost lost it. You see, I was so overwhelmed. A mere song before walking down the aisle, it dawned on me. This is actually happening. After all we’ve been through, this is happening.

I woke up calm as sunrise. All day, I felt the tingling peace that sweeps over a girl when someone plays with her hair, all the way from mid-morning mimosas to the first step into my dress to the very last pre-ceremony picture. I laughed with my photographer, rejoiced in small rays of sunshine, let go of the tiny, insignificant details.

wedding

In the bridal suite, I could hear the songs we had picked out weeks before through the speakers overhead. Songs by rugged, red dirt guitarists with raspy voices singing about love that lifts one’s feet off the ground. My bridesmaids leave, go outside, line up. Alone, I realize. This is happening. After all we’ve been through—five years, summers nearly 700 miles apart, misunderstood gestures, historic tornados, hazy futures, a painful breakup, an emotional makeup—and this is finally happening.

I wasn’t quite sure when to step outside. When I did, there stood my dad, right on cue. He tried to talk to me. I can’t remember what he said. All I could do was stare straight ahead, straight at nothing, and breathe. Keep it together or your face is going to turn the color of their dresses.

We’re given the cue to leave our spot behind the wall and start walking. I am overwhelmed again. When have I been to a wedding where I knew this many people? Why, never. This is my wedding. I know all these people. These people are here for me.

And then, I see him. Am I smiling? I can’t tell. I feel as though my face is shaking.

I nearly lost it after the first line of my first set of vows. I, Stephanie, take…

My voice begins to shake. Tears well up and fall. I look away and breathe. I finish, voice trembling. He is collected, like a rock. He smiles at me with his whole face and rubs the back of my hand with his thumb. The second set is considerably easier.

He kisses me, we turn to face the crowd, and I am glad for the song to which we have chosen to leave, because the song is how I feel, like feet-stomping bluegrass starring a high-spirited banjo and fiddle, like a song to which you just can’ t keep from dancing.

When the time came for us to leave for our honeymoon, we didn’t want to go. We wanted to keep sipping wine and smoking cigars and spending time with our families and friends on the banks of the river where we got engaged. Fifteen minutes later, the sun set. The cigars became nubs. The bouquet was tossed. The garter was thrown. We left beneath an array of fiery, smokeless sparklers.

The Perfect Wedding

On our way to the historic Tutwiler hotel in Birmingham that night, we both marveled at how perfect everything had been—the rehearsal dinner the night before held beneath pine trees and electric icicles, the heartfelt speeches given by our friends and family members, the late-morning breakfast, the getting ready with our best mates, the sunny and 70-degree weather, the simple ceremony, the carefully selected music, taking the time to eat dinner with our families, the visiting, the delicious food, the timing of it all, the balcony overlooking the river. It was simple, it was southern, it was smooth, and it was so, so us.

Photos by Drew Hoover

Some things, as they will, didn’t go as planned. The bows on the reserved seats were the wrong color. The decorative flowers on the cake were smaller than I had expected. The flowers above the gazebo wouldn’t fit and had to be split in two. We started pictures nearly an hour after we said we would. But those are tiny, insignificant details.

That night, I cried again, only I didn’t keep it together. I didn’t even try. This has happened, and he loves me despite my face turning the color of cherries and my body being drenched in sweat from spending all day in a dress the size of a hula hoop. In good times and in bad. In joy as well as in sorrow. I wouldn’t have done anything differently.

salad

Apple Pecan and Cheese Salad

The one thing I enjoy more than spending sunny mornings on beaches is spending hot afternoons on porches alongside breezy bays – peeling shrimp, dipping fish in tartar, and sipping the same, cool beer used to batter the hushpuppies and bake the bread.

It was during one of these very moments alongside a bay in Alabama that I discovered another kind of seafood (and by that I mean the kind of food you eat while at the beach) that warrants some consideration. It’s another s-word like salmon, swordfish, scallops, and shrimp.

What’s that about a new kind of seafood? Oh yes. Salads. Particularly this salad, which features apples, toasted pecans, and goat cheese. Savor the taste for a few minutes as you skim the ingredients.

Apple Pecan and Cheese Salad With a Cinnamon Vinaigrette Dressing
Recipe inspired by Shipp’s Harbour Grill
Photo by Laurel Fan / Creative Commons

Start to finish: 20 minutes
Servings: 2

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup pecans
  • 1 bag spring mix
  • 1 Red Delicious apple, sliced into wedges
  • 2 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup raspberry vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper

Preparation

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake pecans for 10-12 minutes or until lightly browned.
  2. In a large bowl, mix pecans, spring mix, apple slices, and goat cheese. Chill until ready to serve.
  3. In a small jar, combine next seven ingredients and mix by shaking jar. Chill at least 20 minutes. (NOTE: Dressing adapted from Southern Living)
  4. Lightly coat salad with dressing just before serving.

Now, I know what you’re saying. There’s no sea in it!

To which I say yes, sort of.

There’s nothing in the salad that comes from the sea, but it’s the perfect bayside dish because it is the sea. It is the crispness that is the waves, the brisk splash of saltwater that hits the small of your back without warning, the sudden breeze that saves you as it flaps against your skin. But it is also the heat of summer, the tingling warmth that overcomes you when you first lay down into sand. It is a hot-cold, breezy day at the beach.

Simply put, it is delicious, so I guarantee you’ll want to try it. At the beach, I ate it as an entree, but I’ve also made it as a side. It’s particularly tasty alongside shrimp chowder. Go figure.

Check out 5 Tips (And Recipes) For Hosting a Dinner Party After Work for ideas about how to incorporate this recipe into your next dinner party menu.