November goals

Making a living off words has always felt a little forbidden. Without a journalism background, without decades in the field, making a steady living in the field has always seemed just out of reach. But it's also addictive. I will never forget the thrill of seeing my byline in print for the first time, of my first cocktail piece, or of my first feature. I'll put my list in here.

Unfortunately, some of that shine has worn off. There's still a serious rush in seeing stories published by new places and becoming an expert on a new-to-me topic to beat a deadline. But that part of the job only constitutes a small portion of my time. The rest is spent doing the duties of self-employment: accounting, directing, promoting, and always, always hustling.

To get through that grind, you have to have goals. With my bucket list getting ever shorter and lack of motivation looming larger every day, I need something new to work towards. So, here goes.

  • Update my bucket list. What publications and companies do I really want to target? Do my bartending goals belong here as well?
  • Share book updates. I should have a cover proof and Amazon listing pretty soon, and I don't need to hide those under a metaphorical bushel. Let's get excited about this thing!
  • Do some writing just for me. Not for you, not for social media, not for fame -- figure out what I want to write and do the damn thing.
  • Make a choice. When it comes down to it, I'm unlikely to ever entirely stop writing. But cocktail writing is not the sum and total of what I want to be known for. I know I promised to be precise, but I'm going to spend some time this month figuring out if I should stay with writing or go.
  • Experiment with motivation. It has to come from somewhere, right? I just haven't found it yet. Right? Right?!

Join me as I try to intentionally blog every day during the month of November as part of Blog Like Crazy.

Why I'll #bloglikecrazy again

Grab a drink, pull up a chair, and get ready for some straight talk. Somewhere between the day-to-day grind of freelancing writing and the 50,000-word book project that consumed September and most of October, I lost It. For a few months, I lost the magic/motivation/desire/mojo/ love that gets you up in the morning and guides you through being self-employed.

A lot of things have lead to this break. I try not to get super personal on the Internet, but there's been a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes that I can't/shouldn't hide from. So, during the course of November, I'm trying to write my way out of the tiny, dark tunnel in my brain where I currently live. To do so, I'm planning to share a bit more than usual to be honest with y'all, and with myself.

Part of this funk came from mental_floss's decision to cease print publication. I've been writing a cocktail chemistry column for their website for three years, and still don't have a clear answer on if my work has a place.

Despite my long-running pieces on their website, I was never published on the print side. It was on my bucket list, which is home to ever more annotations of "not accepting freelance submission," "closed," or "wtf happened." But aside from the professional concerns, I've been reading mental_floss almost since publication started. When I was younger, it was a reminder that there were other nerds like me who got to share their smarts in an achingly cool format. It was a haven, and I wanted to be part of it. In a small way, I've met that goal, but it still falls short.

I'm also burned out. The never-ending cycle of freelance writing, the pitching, rejection/acceptance, drafting, editing, and submission, and the scramble to catch up after falling behind from family stuff, last-minute projects, and part-time jobs, has gotten me down. These days, I have to fight to dredge up any motivation to write even the shortest article.

But here I am. I'm doing what I know how to do: writing my way out. There's no way forward but through, so it's time to start hacking away and see what happens.

Join me for the next 30 days as I make daily blogging an intentional practice. Day one of #bloglikecrazy: Why take on this challenge? 

Join me for another attempt to #bloglikecrazy

But seriously Y'all, I have a confession: I wrote a book! In seven weeks! It still seem surreal that I was able to write and compile the 50,000 words of Craft & Classic Cocktail Recipe Book in that time. To answer your next few questions, it will be published in December by Rockridge Press, they found me through Google, it'll be available for purchase this December, and it was one of the biggest challenges of my life thus far.

Despite the impressiveness of this feat, I've never made it through a blogging exercise like Blog Like Crazy. At some point, I want to do NaNoWriMo, but after the past two months, I'm good. After having (and meeting!) a grueling daily word count for weeks on end, I know I'm physically capable of writing a post every day.

So, starting November 1, I'm going to try to get back behind the stick, blogging-wise, and get some momentum going.

Here goes nothing. See y'all next week for a third attempt to Blog Like Crazy.

New Kid On The Block: Oak + Raleigh

Usually, I'd have a shot of the cafe or outside of the building to show the ambiance, but it was raining cats and dogs that night. With the weather warming up, patio season is fast approaching. This spring, one place I'll be adding to my patio tour will probably be Homewood's Oak + Raleigh. Though they're still working on their patio, it should be a cool spot to hang out with a frosty beer on a warm day.

Nestled in the heart of West Homewood, Oak + Raleigh is a  combination of bar and deli. But don't expect plain deli sandwiches or the usual five domestic beers -- this neighborhood joint is trying to put itself on the map for its mixture of elevated deli cuisine, traditional bar snacks, and a wide-ranging selection of beers and wines, many of which are available for carry-out purchase.

The space inside is a whimsical blend of arcade, bar, and restaurant. They serve beer and wine only, but offer about 100 beers in cans and on draft and around 30 bottles of wine to go. Brock Owen, the bar manager, made some pretty cool beer suggestions throughout the evening -- I started with the Bosteels Pauwel Kwak, a traditional Belgian ale served in a really, really cool glass. Adam began with the Jolly Pumpkin Oro de Calabazo, which was light and floral on the nose, with a pleasantly sour, well-balanced (and dry) body. Tasty.

Usually, I'd have a shot of the cafe or outside of the building to show the ambiance, but it was raining cats and dogs the night we ate there.

On the food side, much of their produce is sourced from their owners' garden, and what's not is purchased as locally as possible. Despite the small kitchen, all of their pickles and pâté are made in house. While we were there, we started with the Pâté B&J. The texture was nicely varied, with crisp apple, crunchy bacon, and sweet fig jam setting off the creamy pâté.

IMG_1529Next up was the Pâté, Pigs, and Pickle, which combined the same pâté with salami, their house pickled veggies, and herb cream cheese spread. Once again, great texture. This plate contains a lot of food, so we ended up bringing some pickles home.

IMG_1532For our main courses, we stayed simple: I got the French Dip and Adam got the Cuban. Both were a step away from the ordinary: the French Dip sauce was a rich, delicious concoction of soy, worcestershire, butter, garlic, and cayenne. It's also their best-selling sandwich, and it's clear that the secret is in the sauce. Adam went so far as to name it the best au jus he'd had.

The Cuban was a pretty cool take on the traditional sandwich, which paired pork and chicken instead of different types of pork. The sides that came with the sandwiches were extremely varied: the loaded bacon potato salad was creamy and rich and the pasta salad was indulgent. But the broccoli and cauliflower salad stole the show: the roasted corn offset the texture of the broccoli, and the tiny bit of soy sauce in the dressing made it slightly salty.

Full disclosure: the bar manager, Brock, is a high school friend of my husband's, and invited us to dine a couple weeks ago. I would've posted sooner, but we've had a lot of family stuff to attend to recently.

Winter Restaurant Week BONUS: Rowe's Service Station

FullSizeRender (4)Winter Restaurant Week is officially over, but I have one last meal to write up. Being a blogger for these events has been a really fun experience. I've gotten the chance to connect (or reconnect) with dear friends over delicious meals and eat new meals at fancy joints and old favorites. With all that done, I'm also excited to go overboard on fruits and veggies for the next week or so. As y'all know, I'm all about some rich food, but I need to bring a bit more balance back into my life. But my last meal before reestablishing healthy eating patterns was a great one to end on: brunch at Rowe's Service Station. When Haley and I got there, it was just about full, but we were able to quickly snag a table. FullSizeRender (5)In the interest of sampling as many of the brunch menu offerings as possible, I ordered The Shop Floor, while Haley got the Eggs Concord.

They'd pretty much thrown everything including the kitchen sink onto my plate, and it looked delicious. There was a lot of food on both our plates. Luckily, it's solid, tasty, rich Southern food -- AKA the best kind. The home fries were crispy and tender, the flaky biscuits were topped with rich, chunky gravy, and the fried eggs were salty. What brought it home was the crispy-around-the-edges bacon, sausage, AND country ham: not one, but THREE breakfast meats. Seriously, who can say no to that?

With this post, I relinquish my title of Birmingham Restaurant Week blogger. With that said, I got to be part of the first annual Winter Restaurant Week, and I'm looking forward to seeing what other additions they have in mind.

For more coverage and information about future developments, visit the Birmingham Restaurant Week website.

Winter Restaurant Week: Billy's Sports Grill

FullSizeRender (15)Billy's Sports Grill has been a Birmingham institution since before I was born. With hunting trophies and TVs on the walls, it looks like a place where you can get a solid (and reasonably priced) sandwich and fries. You'd be right: like the restaurant's appearance, the food looks simple, but is delicious. The lunch rush had mostly cleared out by the time we got there. It's been kind of a crazy week, so we took the time before lunch and dessert to decompress. I'd been pretty excited to see what their meal was like: after all, who can say no to a prime rib sandwich?

FullSizeRender (14)It didn't disappoint. Before the prime rib is cooked, it's covered in a house rub, then cooked for several hours. Since it's cooked as a whole, they usually only serve it for catering gigs -- or special events like Restaurant Week. It's labor intensive, but the resulting meat is rich and tender. At lunch, it was served on a warm roll that had been buttered and toasted. A liberal dose of their mild horseradish cream sauce was available to top it, and a salty, dark au jus was served on the side for dipping. Yum.

FullSizeRender (16)The fries rounded out the portion -- not too salty, not soggy, and nicely crisp. According to our friendly and knowledgeable server Brandy, the dinner meal was a slight variation on the theme: instead of a prime rib sandwich, the prime rib was served without a bun, with a tossed salad and broccoli on the side.

My next-to-last Winter Restaurant Week meal was capped off with a warm, dense brownie. Served with a chocolate drizzle and melty whipped creamy, the rich dessert also had chocolate chips hidden within for added decadence. Man, I'm gonna miss this gig.

For more #WRW2016 coverage, check out the Birmingham Restaurant Week website.

Winter Restaurant Week: Bottle & Bone

IMG_1432At Bottle & Bone, the word of the day is always "bacon." Earlier this week, my friend Taylor and I ate lunch at the restaurant and bottle shop in Uptown. I hadn't been in there in almost a year, and saw that they'd rearranged the space, which culled their bottle offerings but opened up more room for tables. IMG_1434For the Winter Restaurant Week lunch, you choose between a half bacon flight and an arugula salad for the appetizer. Since there were two of us, we ordered both. The bacon flight was made up of two or three pieces of three different bacons. All were cooked so that they were nice and crispy (just the way I like it), but the results were different for each.

FullSizeRender (12)Next came the sandwiches. To maximize what we could taste, I ordered the burger with potato gratin, and Taylor chose the avocado BLT with chips. The modestly sized burger came with the standard toppings: cheese, lettuce, tomato, and creamy sauce all on a buttered and toasted bun. Because there was one piece of bacon leftover from the flight, I added that onto the burger. It was tasty, but make sure you're hungry: it's rich and a bit on the greasy side. The potato gratin was also rich, but who can resist potatoes and cheese?

FullSizeRender (13)The avocado BLT was an interesting combination. It was served cold, so the rich and creamy avocado played off the more intensely smoky notes of the chilled (but crunchy) bacon. The mild tomato rounded it out, while the lettuce provided a little crunch to finish it off.

For dessert, the chocolate cookie was a nice, lighter way to top things off. Crunchy edges, white chocolate chips, and a soft center made it a nice way to wrap up the meal.

For more #WRW2016 coverage, check out the Birmingham Restaurant Week website.

Winter Restaurant Week: JoJo's on Broadway

FullSizeRender (4)When I was a kid, my across-the-street neighbor and I would ride our bikes down to Lag's Eatery for chocolate milkshakes. Although Lag's has since closed, what took its place is JoJo's on Broadway, a family-owned and operated restaurant. Most of Joe and Zelda's recipes are -- or are adapted from -- recipes their parents used in their own restaurants years ago. It's a little fancier than Lag's used to be, but it's still super-accessible food in a casual setting. FullSizeRender (5)The Restaurant Week meal offers a LOT of options. For the soup and salad course, I ordered the New England clam chowder and my friend got the grilled romaine heart. The chowder was creamy, with chunks of clam and tiny bits of veggies that don't get in the way of the creamy soup. The romaine heart was grilled to a crisp and topped with their dad's blue cheese dressing.

Then came the starters. The jerk chicken appetizer was smoky grilled chicken with creamy, spicy jerk sauce. It's hard to describe exactly how good the result of these simple ingredients was, but they came together well and were still really good cold. I will be coming back for more of that (and the Reuben. Apparently the Reuben is amazing). FullSizeRender (10)Next up was the entrée. Both of us opted for the shrimp pesto pasta, which was more creamy than basil-y, but was deliciously rich. By the time the main course came out, we were having a blast: the music was all '90s and early '00s, and the company (and service!) was excellent.

FullSizeRender (11)Though the pie doesn't come with the Winter Restaurant Week meal, it's definitely worth checking out. The chocolate pie was like chocolate pudding on pie crust in the best way possible. I'm not huge on coconut pie, but my friend really liked it, and the texture was nice. Our mutual favorite was the key lime: tangy, not too sweet, and lacking the mouth-coating fattiness of most key lime pies. To quote Arnold, I'll be back.

For more #WRW2016 coverage, check out the Birmingham Restaurant Week website.

Winter Restaurant Week: Galley & Garden

IMG_1411Winter Restaurant Week has been a seriously nostalgic time for me. Yesterday, I visited Galley & Garden for the first time for lunch. Six years ago, my first experience with Birmingham Restaurant Week happened in the same building when it was called The Veranda. Since I was last inside right before they closed for renovations, lunch gave me the chance to marvel at all the changes in the building. A window into the kitchen really lit up the bar area, and the whole space seemed lighter. That's not even to mention great service (thanks, Max!), and really good food.

IMG_1406As for the meal itself, the Faroe Island salmon was the first up. Accompanied by a lightly dressed butter lettuce salad topped with a brown butter vinaigrette on the side and roasted veg, it looked just about as good as it tasted. There were a couple brussels sprouts in the mixture, but I could've eaten a whole bowl -- they were slightly charred on the outside, but sweet and soft on the inside. The fish was cooked to a perfect medium (by my inexpert estimate), seared to a lovely crisp on the outside and warm and tender when you cut into it.

IMG_1414Then came the dessert. As most Southerners can attest, every bread pudding is a little different. Galley & Garden's was deliciously divided -- the pudding portion was soft, with crispy apples, a Granny Smith apple compote and a touch of rich chantilly cream on the side. I was almost full before dessert, but it was worth it. Man, my job can be awesome.

For more #WRW2016 coverage, check out the Birmingham Restaurant Week website.

Winter Restaurant Week: Jim 'N Nick's Community Bar-B-Q

YUM Jim 'N Nick's has been a constant in my dining life since my family moved to Birmingham. Over the last 18 (!!!) years, their cheese biscuits have been a constant through job changes, breakups, and moves. On one particularly memorable night, I ordered a twelve pack and ate them all in between tutoring sessions.

Luckily, every meal begins with a basket of them, including the Birmingham Restaurant Week lunch and dinner specials. They're slightly sweet, with crunchy, browned cheese on the outside and melty pieces on the inside.

FullSizeRender (14)The biscuits were quickly followed by the bar-b-q chips -- the app for the lunch special. These kettle-style chips were lightly dusted with a tangy, lightly spicy flavoring and accompanied by a blue cheese dipping sauce. The creamy sauce offset the spice of the chips, and balancing each bite. There weren't any left when we got up from the table.

The deviled eggs -- the app for the dinner special -- could be next to the dictionary definition of "deviled egg." The filling was creamy with little bits of crunchy pickled goodness, and the whites were perfectly cooked.

IMG_1399Then came the entree. On a cold day like yesterday, the mountain of mac and cheese topped with pork (or the meat of your choice) was filling. The side salad added a nice lightness, and with the vinaigrette, it also provided a lovely, slightly acidic counterpoint to the heavy loaded macaroni and cheese.

For more #WRW2016 coverage, check out the Birmingham Restaurant Week website.

Winter Restaurant Week: John's City Diner

Birmingham, you purty. Like the 1970s AlkaSeltzer commercial, I can't believe I ate the whoooole thing. Last night, the husband and I went to John's City Diner for date night. We ate, and we ate, and we ate, and then we spent a couple hours zoning out. For having just rolled out a new menu on Thursday, the service was top notch.

FullSizeRender (5)The meal started off with a light side salad. The simple mixture of greens, tomatoes, and teeny bits of carrots was accompanied by a generous dollop of apple cider vinaigrette for me and one of spicy ginger peanut dressing for Adam. The vinaigrette was a bit sweet, and I ended up stealing some of his spicy ginger dressing for my own salad. The peanut added some richness, while the ginger gave it a subtle spice.

FullSizeRender (10)For the main course, I ordered the gulf shrimp and grits, while Adam ordered the famous meatloaf. The McEwen & Sons grits were creamy, and had corn kernels mixed in, giving it a great, slightly varied texture. The whole dish was topped with sausage gravy. While it might not be the most photogenic dish, it was goood.

IMG_1380I've had the famous meatloaf before, and it's delicious. Sourced from Creekstone Farms, the beef is light and fluffy without having a whipped texture. It was served over creamy smashed potatoes, sauced with a rich beef and mushroom gravy, and finished with a pile of lightly battered onion rings and a spear of spicy pickled okra.

FullSizeRender (4)After the main dish was finished off, dessert was served. In a great meal, the Belgian chocolate bread pudding was the highlight. Made with dark chocolate chips, the rich, well-textured pudding drizzled with Belgian chocolate ganache and accompanied with rich homemade whipped cream and an Bordeaux cherry. The hot, chocolate pudding melted the whipped cream into a tasty bittersweet slurry, and the cherry was effervescent. Yes, lawd.

Check out the Birmingham Restaurant Week website for more coverage.

Winter Restaurant Week: Cantina

The table at first... During Restaurant Week, every day is Taco Tuesday at Cantina. Their lunch deal is a side of chips and salsa or chips and queso with two tacos of your choice. It's a lot of food: the portion of chips and dip is generous, to say the least. Lucky for me, I can eat queso all. day. long. Their tacos are solid. I went with the carne asada and fish tacos. Each taco is served with a wedge of lime to take the edge off the fat of the avocado. The steak was well-done, but not tough, and the texture was rounded out with refried beans and pico de gallo. The fish taco, one of my Cantina staples, was nice and crispy, with fried tilapia finished off with some mildly creamy slaw.


But in comparison to my lunch buddy and best friend Haley, I chose poorly. Her standard meal at Cantina (or their food truck, Cantina On Wheels) is two veggie tacos with an order of garlic fries. Her meal today was a bit different, but in her words, "I would like to be buried with these veggie tacos."

They're really simple: crunchy grilled bell peppers, zucchini, avocado, cilantro mayo and avocado piled onto a flour tortilla. With a couple dashed of hot sauce, a generous pour of the salsa verde, a squeeze of lime, and a bit of queso the taco comes together beautifully.

Check out the Birmingham Restaurant Week website for more coverage.

It's Baaaaaa-ack: Birmingham Restaurant Week, Winter Edition

BRWWIf you were missing my (amateur) food blogging posts, fear not! This week, Birmingham Restaurant Week is launching their first annual winter edition. As part of the deal, they've invited me to reprise my role as their food blogger. Steel yourself for an onslaught of gratuitous food photos and blog posts, and make your plans to treat yourself this week. Here's the deal: for one week, you can sample lunch and/or dinner from some of the best restaurants in town for ridiculously low prices. These places are offering prix fixé lunch and dinner menus for $5, $10, $15, $20, or $30.

Needless to say, I'll be eating a lot (eight meals, to be exact). Luckily, I now have a gym membership, so hopefully I can find a balance between eating too much delicious food and staying active.

In any case, I'll be visiting Cantina today for lunch and John's City Diner for dinner. Stay tuned!

Check out the Birmingham Restaurant Week website for more coverage.

Help! I Googled Myself

HELP!One of the best -- and sometimes, most frightening -- parts of being a writer is getting to Google yourself. Earlier this week, after spending a few hours researching absolutely nothing of consequence, I Googled myself. What I found was at once awesome and weird. Here are a few things I learned:

  • There's a short love note article on The Rumpus to a piece I wrote about zombies for The L.A. Review of Books. It's a year old. How could I miss this?
  • It's funny you should ask. One big reason is that Google Alerts DOESN'T WORK. I've had active alerts on my name for the past two years. During that time, it's sent me ONE update that actually caught my work. Things it didn't catch: lots of published articles, mentions, any of the articles about other McLaffertys, and a few other things...
  • Like that I'm a literal footnote in whisky history, at least on Wikipedia. One of my articles is source #4 for their Tennessee whiskey page.
  • Pieces from my mental_floss column have been used as sources for a seemingly academic presentation and an unrelated paper.
  • On the shitty side of things, I found out that a lot of people don't respect copyright. Seven (!!!) different sites that had posted word-for-word or poorly paraphrased versions of articles I've written. That's not cool, guys. Or legal.
  • Apparently Refinery29 has a content sharing agreement with MSN, so I can now say that my work has appeared on

Friendsgiving Done Right

IMG_1162.JPGSince I was a kid, the Peanuts holiday movies have been part of my memories of the season. Though Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown is my favorite (my parents have my copy of the soundtrack, I think), A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving also warms my heart. But I can honestly say that I’d never considered eating/serving/recreating the, um, unconventional Thanksgiving dinner Snoopy fixes for the gang. As of last Tuesday, I can now say that I’ve encountered one of the meals on my nonexistent “Ridiculous (And Slightly Off-Putting) Holiday Movie Meals” list. That night, Adam and I attended our second DinnerLab dinner, where dessert was a riff on Snoopy’s culinary masterpiece of pretzels, toast, jellybeans, and popcorn.

That was definitely the most unconventional dish in the five course lineup, but it was executed with panache and a bit of sass. A bit of background: DinnerLab is a company that hosts popup dinners in unconventional locations in cities around the country. The meal is conceptualized and prepared by one of DinnerLab’s culinary staff or a guest chef.

This time around, the Friendsgiving-themed meal was quite a treat. As the tagline for the meal goes, it was "an unconventional Thanksgiving meal with our family of culinary pros before you have to deal with the lumpy mash and overcooked turkey of your blood relations. Welcome to the family!" Luckily, my family's Thursday meal wasn't like that, but Dinner Lab delivered in spades. The venue, Revelator Coffee Co.'s coffee roasting and warehouse space, just made it cooler.

For both of our Dinner Lab experiences, we’ve sat with complete strangers. Both times, the conversation has been excellent, usually centered around food culture, drinks and cocktails, and pop ups. And then the food. Ooo, the food. Even after six years of memorable Friendsgivings, the DinnerLab food was unique – and delicious. I'll spare you the full descriptions of the meals and give you the highlights:IMG_1163

The first course was Prince Edward Island ceviche with mussels, tomatoes, and shredded skate wing. Highlights: textural variety from the grape tomatoes and celery pieces, salt and taste of seafoodIMG_1165

Next came the roasted veggies. Highlights: rainbow carrots and beets gave it a slight sweetness, while pickled beet slices and crunchy fennel provided a lovely counterpoint

Not pictured: LA Charlie, a slice of beer braised pork belly with cranberry (and science) caviar, pickled beech mushrooms and cauliflower puree. As one of my favorite dishes of the evening, I tucked in before taking a picture.IMG_1166

As Markus Carter, our chef for the evening, explained, "Chile Colorado is something my grandma used to make for me when I was home." Highlights: contrasting texture between the shredded tongue and the polenta stuffing cakes, general savory tastiness and crunch of pumpkin seedsIMG_1169

Ah, yes. The Peanuts Thanksgiving. Carter encouraged us to taste each dish separately and then blend them together to experiment with the different taste profiles. As a note, I'm not a fan of jellybeans, but the jellybean fluff texture was really nice, and paired nicely with the coffee. Highlights: perfectly textured popcorn panna cotta that, with a touch of the pretzel caramel and a bite of the sweet toast crumble, tasted like buttered popcorn.

Without the right spoon

At some point, you just end up breaking down and buying the damn grapefruit spoon. Photo credit Freelancing is a lot like eating a grapefruit without the proper spoon sometimes. It can be frustrating, barely rewarding, and energy consuming. Sometimes, it feels like you spend more energy trying to dig out just a little more fruit or juice with a blunt spoon. But once you've finally eaten the fruit and are squeezing the last drops of juice into your poorly paired spoon, you miss and spill the juice all over your shirt.

Or is that just me? Even better.

Over the past month, I've blogged my butt off for Birmingham Restaurant Week and been contacted by three different new clients. I've invoiced for more money this month than any other since I started freelancing full-time -- a welcome change after having to dip into my savings in July. Even with all of these things going right, I'm still trying to figure out how this writing thing will work going forward.

Several of the sections of my blog have gone on to become recurring paid columns. Cocktail of the Hour is now a regular part of my articles for mental_floss. I was blogging about health and fitness in exchange for personal training, but the gym has since closed. In the past, I'd used blogging to keep myself accountable as a writer or for my own health, but it hasn't stuck.

What I'd like to do is a weekly or monthly roundup post of what I did that week/month -- where I fell short, what frustrated me, and any victories. I'd love for my blog to be a place where I can focus on what I've done rather than leaving it in my head to loop endlessly through a montage of small victories and overwhelming obstacles. I can and will do this thing, and I will do it right. I hope.


Second Helpings: Slice

IMG_0787I love food. I love fixing it, eating it, and writing about it. After finding out that I would be one of the bloggers for this year's Birmingham Restaurant Week, I was excited for the excuse to eat all the food. But I was also extremely relieved to reach my last meal for BRW. Ain't it the truth

Slice is a great place to go for date night. Splitting a pizza, talking over a couple beers, enjoying either the AC or the patio -- there's not much that can beat it. Their Restaurant Week entrée is meant to be split, and it's enough food for even the hungriest couple. There are also a lot of different possible meals that can be put together since the meal is your choice of a salad, a pizza, and a dessert.

FullSizeRender (2)Adam and I chose the Summer Salad to start. This massive pyramid of watermelon, snap peas, tomatoes, feta, and peach vinaigrette brought together a lot of different flavors in a great was. The watermelon brought the cold sweetness, while the tomatoes and balsamic glaze added a bit of acid for balance. The feta rounded it out with a bit of fat and richness.

FullSizeRender (3)We decided on The Chilton. Almost every summer food I look forward to every year topped this pizza: braised pork shoulder, Chilton County peaches for sweetness, peppery arugula, well-cooked caramelized onions, and three types of cheese. All of it was topped off with a generous drizzle of balsamic glaze.

IMG_0786As the last dessert of BRW, we went with the salted butterscotch cheesecake drizzled with molasses. The texture was spot on: creamy and smooth, but not mouth-countingly fatty or sickly sweet. I'm not usually huge on butterscotch, but this worked for me. Adam and I spent the first few bites savoring it with lots of nodding, but without talking. The bit of saltiness balances any bitterness from the other ingredients (it's science), and made the filling's texture seem richer without adding weight.

While we were eating, the sun was getting lower. If we'd been on the main patio, we could've watched the sun set behind the Slice building, but we had places to be and things to write. Next time, we'll stay and watch.

For more Restaurant Week and Second Helpings coverage, check out the BRW website and James Martin's blog The Sipologist

Second Helpings: ROJO

FullSizeRender (1)At one point in my early adult life, Rojo was a line item in my budget. Almost every Wednesday, I went to play trivia in their side room. I'm not great at trivia itself, but I'm awesome at making up snarky and inappropriate non-answers. Even if we didn't win, we won a few things for being imaginative. FullSizeRender (6)They're also participating in Birmingham Restaurant Week's Second Helpings. Until the 29th, their BRW special meals are still available at the same price. Because it's still patio weather, we sat outside on theirs. It was packed out for Sunday brunch/lunch, and there was a line to order food for the entire time we were there.

FullSizeRender (8)Since Adam went with me, our two appetizers together covered six of the seven dips you can choose from for their appetizer. Queso is one of my favorite dips that exists, and Rojo's is classic and delicious. If you're in the mood for something a bit sweeter, the pineapple salsa is sweet without being spicy. The guacamole is also well-balanced, with a varied texture and just enough cilantro.

FullSizeRender (9)Out of the entrées, Adam and I both preferred the tomato and basil quesadilla to the tilapia sandwich. Tilapia isn't my favorite, so I'm a bit biased against it to start. I like the creamy sauce that comes with their mahi mahi tacos and this sandwich, but it didn't save the sandwich.

The quesadilla, on the other hand, was like a warm caprese salad between two tortillas. The cheese was creamy, with a nice acidity from the tomatoes and a bit of spice from the basil. With a touch of salsa and sour cream on the top, the variances in temperature and texture were tasty.

For more Restaurant Week and Second Helpings coverage, check out the BRW website and James Martin's blog The Sipologist.

Second Helpings: Moe's Original BBQ

A gift from Good People Brewing Co. During Restaurant Week, I've talked a lot about how fortunate I am to get to check out my friends's work. Believe it or not, Moe's Original Bar & BBQ (my tenth stop) was the second place I'd checked out that I didn't know anyone. But by the time Adam and I left, we'd made friends and are already planning to make their patio our hangout for football on Saturdays.

Located in a hundred-year-old house in Lakeview, Moe's is a bar-b-que joint with a thing for local beer. Though the night's music hadn't started yet, the continuing patio weather made their porch an easy choice. If it hadn't been for a late night Friday and Adam thinking about going for a run, we would probably would have hung out for longer over a beer or a Bushwhacker.

Daily drink specials

This year was their first time to be part of Restaurant Week. According to General Manager Cody Sellers, Moe's wanted to participate to get more involved with the community. "The atmosphere puts us in a different niche than a lot of other restaurants in town," he says. Out on the patio, it's definitely true -- with the swamp cooler going and a mild breeze, it almost felt like the beach.

Then the food came. One of my favorite things that I've had before is the Redneck Nacho plate. On its own, it's a full meal. The last time I had eaten it -- potato chips made in house and seasoned with dry rub, cheese, meat, jalapeño, and tomato topped with both red and white sauce -- was Sidewalk Film Festival 2013. Its name might not be my favorite, but it was as delicious as I had remembered.

IMG_0712Some Southerners might say that cornbread with sugar in it is cake, but I enjoy a bit of sweetness. It was toasted to a slight crunch, and was one of my favorite parts of the meal. Though the pork was delicious, I favored the turkey over the pork. It's well smoked, and drizzled with both red and white sauce. Paleo friends, rejoice: their meats and their slaw can be served without sauces. Another highlight was the wings. Before being fried, they're brined and then smoked with white oak (previously hickory). They're spicy, vinegary and all around tasty.

We also got to try all of the sides. All of them. Though they were all tasty, we did have a few favorites. The sweet potato casserole side was sweet and buttery and creamy with a bit of crunch from the nuts and corn flakes on top. The mac and cheese was creamy and rich, while the potato salad was creamy and refreshing. If you're feeling extra Southern, the collards are salty and meaty with a bit of acid.

IMG_0723In eating so much food, we wanted to get to the desserts, but we were both so full that we just couldn't. We ended up eating the leftovers and desserts for dinner. At that point, we figured out that the banana pudding is a tasty blend of fruit, baking spice, and vanilla. It's banana flavor is much milder than most others, but it's still very tasty. The Mississippi Mud Pie dessert is a delicious chocolate mousse with chocolate sauce and Oreos.

Moe's porch is a great place to hang out. It's obvious that their employees are passionate about their food: several different people told us about coming back to work after the Snowpocalypse a few years ago. The common thread was that they had missed the food so much during the storm that they came back and ate all of their favorite dishes in one sitting. Many of the employees have been there for years. Their passion shows -- in Sellers' words, "I just want guests to love this place as much as I do."

For more Restaurant Week and Second Helpings coverage, check out the BRW website and James Martin's blog The Sipologist