Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A Love Letter...

Dear Friends,

I am sorry it's been so long since I've written, but I hope this note finds you well. I know you must surely have been wondering what's happened to me and Verabelle, and after much time away, I thought an update was in order!

I have spent the past year taking a break from professional crafting to have some time to reflect and refocus my direction. As the holiday season came to a close back in the winter of 2012, I was feeling very burned out and drained, creatively. Sadly, it felt that Verabelle had become more of a job than a fulfilling creative outlet for me. I felt that I was "producing" more than I was "creating," and that was the last thing I wanted Verabelle to be.

I decided to step back for a bit, thinking that I would return to Verabelle once I'd had a break, expecting to feel reinvigorated about the work. But the longer I was away from it, the less I wanted to go back. And as my life moved forward, the more and more if felt like Verabelle was something from my past and not of my future. It took me a long time to come to terms with that, though, to really admit that I was stepping away for good.

During this time, I was focusing my energy on traveling and adventuring, as well as my part-time work, grant-writing (which helped afford me the break). And I put a lot of thought and feeling into what really brought me the most happiness, returning to a discovery process that I had used to get Verabelle started when I decided to leave the 8-5 world. The question I started asking myself back then - and again throughout the last year - was "What do I want my life to look like?" Sometimes it's hard to use our brains to think of what makes us feel happiness in our hearts, but I've found that this question helps me to visualize and tie the two together.

Before, moving from the more corporate world to a creative one, my answers were things like, "I want to be able to go to bed and wake up whenever I want, to able to do what I want when the mood strikes." "I want to work by a window with the sun streaming in." "I want to be able to wear whatever I want every single day, so that I really feel like myself." "I want to be able to create things again." As I was visualizing all these things, I thought it was going to be to have a writing life, but it turned out that it was to have a crafting life, a different sort of creating.

This past year, as I took a break and reflected, I realized I had everything I had asked for. I had made it happen. That was a great feeling to acknowledge that and be grateful for how far I'd come. And I took a moment to thank myself for all the work I had done to get there. But I had been living that life for a long time, the one I had envisioned for myself years prior, without taking the time or emotional energy to refocus and redirect. I had been on the same, steady course, but the life I had chosen for myself and spent years working for wasn't quite the life I knew I needed now. It was time to shed that skin.

So, again, I asked myself, "What do I want my life to look like?" And though many of the same things still applied - namely, creativity and freedom - I found there were new things. I heard myself saying, "I want to be able to travel as often as I want, to sometimes be gone for long periods of time, but to still have a place that feels like home that I can return to. I want to feel less tied to things, to have less and to love what I have more. I want to explore more of the world and also more of my own home state, to see the back roads and hear the stories of the people who live there. I want to tell the story of place and of the depth and richness that I will uncover. I want to inspire others to have a life well-lived."

It took some time for it to all come together. There were times I thought I needed to return to writing or more traditional ("fine") arts, to go back to school for a list of studies that, truthfully, I can't even fully recall now. Then one day I was sitting by a window with the sun streaming in, surrounded by a pile of maps and travel books, planning a road trip to Florida. I had checked out a book by Jane and Michael Stern (the road food gurus of America), "Two for the Road: Our Love Affair with American Food," which turned out to be a memoir, unessential to my research. But I started reading it anyway and couldn't put it down. As I was devouring their story, it hit me. THIS was what I needed to be doing! They had it all - they had the life I had envisioned! They had combined travel and discovery on the road into a creative profession. And just as quick, the idea smacked me over the head: adventure maps!

So here I sit now, having just launched this new project, a new life adventure, a new life, really. And as I have been going through this official and very public new beginning (our Kickstarter launch!), I have been reminded so much of what it felt like to begin Verabelle - the excitement, the hope, the hours of tireless behind-the-scenes work as an idea comes to fruition. And it made me sit down and reflect again.

Now, with a year's distance between me and Verabelle and the stresses and disappointments that made me leave, I can feel the fullness of my gratitude for what that experience was. It was a wonderful and beautiful life that brought me so much happiness. Every day I got to wake up and create, to surround myself with history, with beautiful things that inspired me, and with memories of my loved ones that made me feel wrapped in their love and lessons. I got to connect with so many lovely people who appreciated my work and who found their own connections to it, and I can never even begin to describe to you the power of that and how much it still means to me! It was a beautiful, beautiful life, and I thank you so much for being part of that!

I think the hardest part of leaving Verabelle behind has been to leave you all behind and to find a way to tell you that I am leaving. That I have left. And I suppose that's why it's taken me so long to write this. But I hope that I won't have to leave you behind. I hope that you'll come along on this new adventure with me. That is the idea, anyway - to inspire others to add more adventure to their lives and to help them find a way to do it! I think in a way Verabelle was that, too. I hope it was, anyway - that the things I created inspired something in you to want to live more deeply, more beautifully, more true to yourself...

Thank you, all, and please, please do keep in touch!

Very truly yours,
Amanda Aileen

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

July 4th Burger Cook-Off

For our nation's birthday, our friends and I celebrated an American invention with a little friendly competition: a Burger Cook-Off in our back yard! The hamburger was first created in 1900 at Louis' Lunch in New Haven, Connecticut, and was popularized at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. This past Saturday, we showed Louis how far we've come since then with our own creative combinations!

Pictured Above: sparkler sets that I made for everyone and jars for catching lightning bugs once the sun went down, both pretty good ways to light up the night.

We started the shindig with all-American snacks, drinks, and yard games. Below: boiled South Carolina peanuts (regular & cajun), locally-famous Hatcher Crackers, refrigerator pickles, and drunken watermelon, which hadn't yet arrived. Refreshments: Roasted Peach Lemonade with South Carolina Peaches from Bush-n-Vine Farm, spiked with a little gin and then Smoked Sweet Tea, sweetened with Kentucky sorghum and spiked with bourbon and a dash of homemade bitters. I let everyone spike their own drinks, so that I could also leave them the option of mixing the two for an Arnold Palmer, my favorite interpretation of these ingredients.

The Cook-Off: Everyone paired up in teams of two (with a few people choosing to compete solo) to create their own featured flavor. Everyone had total control over every element of their burger, including type of meat/protein, bun, and toppings/condiments. Each burger was cut into individual bites so that everyone could sample and vote on their top three. Each team paid $5 to enter, and the winner went home with the cash - $60 worth! Every burger was delicious and well planned, but the winner was our friend, Jessica, whose concoction featured both ground beef and pork, a fried green tomato, bacon pimento cheese, remoulade and a morel cream sauce all on a homemade rosemary brioche bun. Yum!

A little presidential-themed photo booth fun!

Paul and I were so happy to spend the day 
with our great group of friends!

- - - Our Burger: The Italian - - -

makes 4 burgers

1 lb. your favorite local, grass-fed ground beef
100 g. baby bella mushrooms, minced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 T. Worcestershire
1 T. olive oil
1/2 t. salt
lots of cracks fresh black pepper

Combine all the above and shape into 4 patties for the grill. 
Note: I like to throw my mushrooms and garlic in the chopper.

mix of equal parts dijon and mayo
baby spinach
your favorite cheese
sauteed apples
crisped prosciutto
caramelized onions

Caramelized Onions:
2 lrg. yellow onions, thinly sliced
1 T. fig balsamic vinegar

Saute onions in a little olive oil until transparent and slightly browned. Add balsamic and cook for a few minutes more. Reserve for topping your burger.

Building Your Burger:
Add cheese after taking your burger off the grill, and tent with aluminum foil or a plate to melt cheese and let meat rest.

Spray hamburger buns with olive oil and grill until toasty while meat rests. We used homemade English muffins for our buns.

Spread the dijon/mayo mixture on one side of bun, and layer on your other toppings (spinach, apples, prosciutto, and onions). Add your hamburger and enjoy!

- - - Other recipes - - -

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Florida Bound!

One of my favorite parts of my day is how I start my mornings: with a cup of coffee, some sunny-sounding Cuban music, and a Florida guidebook in my hand. I am getting ready for a Florida-bound road trip with one of my best friends next month, and I cannot wait!

As you know, I love trip planning about as much as I love trip taking, so I have been savoring every minute. I've been scouring travel guides, blogs, maps, magazines, and online newspapers finding all the best things. And for a little literary context, I've been reading Hemingway's To Have and Have Not, a novel about the sobering adventures of a fishing boat captain who is forced to run contraband between Cuba and Key West to make a living for his family in the 1930s. 

[a little vintage Florida inspiration, including a photo of Hemingway]

The plans are still coming together, but here are a few of the things I'm looking forward to the most...

canoeing & camping in Everglades National Park
the Cuban food tour I've put together of Little Havana
(and about half a dozen other pie place I've found)
shopping at L.A. Boudoir, Miami's vintage lingerie shop
watching cigars being rolled at El Credito Cigar Factory
snorkeling at Bahia Honda State Park
a tour of Hemingway House
Stone Crab claws
chickens running wild in the streets

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Statesville Barbecue Tour

I've been working on a very special barbecue-themed project lately, which means I have been eating a lot of barbecue all over the state of North Carolina. I'm gearing up for another round this weekend with twenty of my friends I've rounded up for a Charlotte BBQ and Brewery Tour. We're renting a van for the day and driving around to destinations in and around Charlotte. We'll be stopping at five barbecue joints and three breweries, so we are sure to be stuffed by the end of the day. 

This brings me to rule number one of BBQ touring... SHARE! Do not attempt to eat five barbecue sandwiches in one day by yourself! You only need to get a taste of everything, so just split a sandwich (and hushpuppies, Brunswick Stew, or whatever classic sides you want to sample) and move on to the next stop.

Above are some photos from my most recent barbecue themed romp around the state, in Statesville. Here's the list of stops (L-R), in case you want to try them on your own:

1. Little Pigs Barbecue:  226 Brookdale Dr, Statesville, NC 28677 (first 5 photos)
2. Carolina Barbecue: 213 Salisbury Rd, Statesville, NC 28677 (next 5 photos)
3. Pfiffer's Hot Wings and Bar-B-Q: 1023 Shelton AveStatesville, NC 28677 (next 3 photos)
4. Port-a-Pit BBQ: 119 Marshall Forest Lane, Statesville, NC 28625 (last 3 photos)

And yes, there are a gazillion spellings of the word "barbecue," but what really matters is how it tastes.

If you'd like to keep up with all my food adventures (and other), you can follow me on Instagram.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Adventuring: Day 1ish

For the past few years, Paul and I have been taking a long trip out West at the end of the summer. Each time, we rent a car, pencil in a loop on our worn-in atlas, and aim for that ultimate road trip balance: a mix of city sights, roadside curiosities, and reprieves from it all in the great outdoors. 

This year, prompted by our friends' wedding in Vegas, we chose central California as our point of exploration. But this time we went about it a little differently. Aside from traveling together, we also each went our separate way for awhile to do some of the things that mattered most to us each. This added a whole new layer to the journey, allowing us to discover things that are only revealed to the solo traveler, unfettered and attentive, greeting the world face-to-face and foot-to-earth. With the wedding date the same as my 30th birthday, such a deep and rewarding adventure couldn't have been more perfectly timed.

We arrived in central California via Las Vegas via San Francisco. That's what a cheap flight gets you: the opportunity to look down from the airplane and wave hello as you pass your destination. I figure not everyone gets that experience. At least Paul can now say he, too, has been to San Francisco (more on that later). Between the plane and car rental and a full 24 hour day of sleepless travel, a cheap 90 degree motel room never looked so good.

So we'll just skip ahead and say our first real day of vacation technically began on day two. We woke up in the Barstow Days Inn about half an hour before checkout, showered, and repacked the car for the remainder of our road trip to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Time to prepare ourselves to live out of the car for the next two weeks.

We had driven through pitch black the night before to get from Vegas to Barstow, as far as we could manage to drag ourselves down the highway. It was dark in the desert, with no hint of landscape, and only the blaring headlights of fellow travelers to lend light.

The daytime drive from Barstow, southwest and back up again, was much more revealing. Again, our route felt illogical. This time we had to bypass the high, rocky Sierras and rely upon the interstate and highways to take us across flatter ground and back north. And our drive took us through a heaping handful of California landscapes.

Coming out of Barstow, we passed farmland that looked curiously desert-like. (This is something I noticed last year in Arizona and still do not understand: how, and more importantly why, turn desert into farmland? Does that seem like a bad idea to anyone but me?) Soon the landscape turned more natural, with strange and shaggy Joshua Trees standing solitary among stubby sagebrush and dusty-looking mountains in the distance. There were fields and mountainsides covered in windmills, then fields and mountainsides covered in brilliantly golden grasses and wise, bowing oaks. The desert reappeared, this time with oil drills keeping perfect time as they tipped their foreheads to the dirt. Eventually, this arid yet fertile land gave way to the agricultural abundance of the San Joaquin Valley. This was one part of the drive I was looking forward to the most - to see this giant farmland, the source of so much of our country's sustenance.

To shop and eat locally back home in North Carolina requires more than little effort, seeking out the farmers' markets, being mindful of the seasons, and constantly questioning sellers and servers. But think about how many things come from California that we see on our supermarket shelves. While we were away, we shopped at major grocery chains three or four times, and the produce section was always dominated by local California products. Local avocados! Local olives! Strawberries picked right down the road at the end of September. Those damn lucky Californians.

By the end of the trip, we must have driven through hundreds of miles of fruit orchards and vegetable fields, abundant and green. We stopped at one roadside farm stand to peruse the produce, and left with an assortment of the most delicious plums. The tiny green ones I had never seen before and they were the best - the juiciest and the sweetest.

After a day of eating the things we had packed from home and had picked up along the way - quinoa-spinach bars, string cheese, nuts and some of the fresh plums, we were starving and craving something hot. I flipped through one of the guidebooks I had checked out from the library (I always travel with a stack of library guidebooks and a themed reading selection.) and found a recommendation not far down the road - Brewbaker's Brewing Company. Food and beer. Yes. Wait.... And homemade soda. Well, there was certainly no way we weren't going, even though it was ever so slightly out of the way.

Brewbaker's was a great place in tiny little Visalia, California. We ordered two rounds of food and a flight that included not only all the beers of the season but all the house sodas too - creme, orange creme, and root beer. Some of the beers had a fruity twist too, incorporating some of the local offerings. Everyone was friendly and wanted to know where we were from and where we were headed. And everything tasted delicious. It was the break from the road we needed and just the thing to get us through the gates of Sequoia National Park as dusk began to set on sunny California.

More soon, friends!
Amanda Aileen

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Northern California Inspiration

Next month I'll be headed out to California, and I've been spending my spare time reading guidebooks, mapping things out, and trying to determine just how much I can pack into this grand adventure. For four days, Paul and I will be hiking and camping together in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Then for five days, we'll split up where he'll continue on what I keep referring to as his "man hike." I'll take the rental car and head out on a solo road trip adventure along the northern CA cost, San Francisco, and back through Yosemite National Park before I pick him up and we head to Vegas for our friends' wedding.

The plans for my solo journey are coming together nicely, with time alloted for exploring tide pools and redwood forests, sampling local beer and roadside oyster stands, and making big-city discoveries in San Francisco and neighboring Berkeley and Oakland. I'll be camping seaside and in a sub-alpine meadow and visiting a new friend who is just moving to San Fran. All in all, I CANNOT WAIT for my grand adventure to begin!!!! Here's a little Northern CA inspired round-up to get me through to September.

Left to right, from top:

1. vintage photo: a tour through the Sequoias.
2. Visit Sequoia National Park? I will! Love this letterpress print by Quaillane Press.
3. I want this vintage CA bracelet right this very second!
4. Forest Friends tee by GnomEnterprises
5. You all know how much I love sending postcards. This stationary organizer by Downstairs Designs could hold all of them and stamps too.
6. A trusty camera is a must. And when is vintage not better?!
7. A vintage Samsonite travel case seems like the perfect companion to ride shotgun down Highway 1.
8. Vintage camping lantern for my night at Point Reyes National Seashore
9. Cream linen cloche with a red wooded buckle. Says beach AND national park. Yes please!
10. "Let's Go on an Adventure" print by Bubby and Bean.
12. This adorable dress by The Velvet Bird is perfect for daydreaming by the shore and for exploring the streets of San Francisco. Did you see those elbow pads?!
13. One of my stops: Point Reyes National Seashore. And what a lovely letterpress map of that very place by Quaillane Press.
14. A warm fisherman's sweater for those cold Pacific breezes.
15. To pop open a bottle of Anchor beer after the brewery tour
16. Mod San Francisco print on wood by Petit Collage. Love.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

I Heart Breakfast.

I love weekend breakfasts on the front porch with a cup of coffee, a morning breeze, and the happy tinkling of wind chimes!

 - - x - x - x - - RECIPES - - x - x - x - - 

Follow my "Eat" board on Pinterest for more food inspiration!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Every Day is an Adventure

This was a "yes" day; everything we saw along the road that looked interesting, every idea we had, we had to say "yes" to. This took us into 5 different counties, down hidden back roads, and to places we've lived near and grew up close to, some of which we've never visited, others familiar and full of memories. It meant turning the car around many times to go back and go inside some little shop or to walk along the road and take a picture. 

A road trip should be cut through with a swath of green in every shade of the country and pops of vibrant color from roadside stops. It should be a little bit of everything. This one had it all, and this daylong excursion took place only an hour or so from home, proving that an adventure can be had anywhere, anytime, and with not much money in your pocket.

Paul and I started our day in our hometown of Mt. Pleasant, NC, where we stopped to check out the new farmers' market. The vegetables we picked up were weighed on this antique scale. While we were in town, we also rummaged around a consignment shop and a roadside yard sale. (Click photos to enlarge.)

Next stop: Cline's Antiques, a treasure trove full of interesting finds. Paul and I both grew up down the road from this place (but never met each other until after college - random fact), and I couldn't believe he had never been! It turned out to be one of his favorite stops of the day. We took home some cool letterpress blocks, a dish/tray/contraption for my nature collection, and antique beer bottles for bottling homebrew.

On the road in Stanly County: driving down country roads past fields of corn and soybeans, a church that dates back to 1830, BBQ lunch in Albemarle, and a wine tasting at Dennis Vineyards. We also found a really great thrift store in Albemarle that was tucked away down an alleyway and was packed so full of things you could hardly walk!

Paul remembered passing over an interesting bridge while driving out to a hike a year or so ago. We found it on the atlas and it was about an hour away. Should we go? There was only one possible answer: Yes! 
Wading through the Uwharrie River was one of the highlights of the day. It was such a cool reprieve after the 90 degree heat!

A country drive: Seeing another bridge on the map, we crossed over and kept driving. Left: looking down over the second bridge into a nice swimming hole. No road trip is really complete without a dirt road or two, and we found a bunch of good ones! Bottom right: old country store that was at the corner of the road pictured above it.

Last stop: Pat & Mick's in New London. I used to frequent this country fish camp with my family when we were staying at the lake house as I was growing up. Lots of good memories here! Dinner to share: cajun flounder, deviled crab, fried shrimp, oysters and scallops. And with full bellies, we drove just a little over an hour back home to Charlotte.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Weekends with Verabelle

Warm weather always makes me want to hit the road. I try to plan at least one road trip a year (this spring, it was with three of my girlfriends to Lexington, Louisville, and Nashville), and when I have the time, I fill my weekends with excursions that are close to home. From antiquing to berry-picking to country fish fries to nights at the drive-in or the bingo parlor, there's always an adventure to be had!

This summer, I've been creating clothing and accessories that I think are just perfect for weekend day trips and summer vacations. Vivid colors, hand-dyed embellishments, and nostalgic trims add a little something special. Those peppy reds, merry marigolds, azalea pinks, and tart lemon yellows are as bright and warm as the summer sunshine glaring off your dash.

Verabelle on Etsy

If you want to hear from me while I'm on the road this summer, I'm looking for pen pals! You can get a handwritten postcard from me (or sent to a friend) and get the inside scoop on my weekend and week-long adventures. Next up: in July, I'll be camping out and volunteering on a sheep and cow farm in the mountains of Virginia. And later on, I have a hiking and road trip planned to Nevada and California. I love writing postcards about as much as I love the actual vacation!

Hope to hear from you soon!

Amanda Aileen

P.S. Get a snapshot of yourself in Verabelle while you're on a summer adventure. Upload it to the Verabelle Facebook page, and I'll send you a summery surprise!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Everything-but-the Refrigerator Salsa

This year, we started having weeknight cocktail parties at our place. Every time we feature just one drink and a little snack to go with it. I love these impromptu soirees for their ability to bring together unexpected sets of our friends each time. People from our different circles get to meet and mingle and find all the things they have in common, and we get to watch our all-embracing friend circle grow larger and larger. It's a wonderful thing!

This week, we had a tequila-themed cocktail party and went a little crazy with not one, but two, tequila-based concoctions. (We have such an extensive selection of tequila that it seemed like a smart idea!) We made a peach-tequila popsicle with peaches we picked over the weekend and an orange sorbet based drink. (Sorbet has got to be the absolute easiest thing to make in the ice cream maker - just juice and simple syrup!) But at the last minute, I was floundering trying to find a snack to go with our spiked  coolers. I looked to the bounties of our refrigerator, and it gave me a salsa as serendipitous as the cocktail party, itself! Here's as close to a recipe as I can get...

Everything-but-the Refrigerator Salsa

handful of chopped peaches
handful of chopped cucumbers
half a red bell pepper, diced
1 jalapeno pepper, minced
1 lime, zested and juiced
a splash of apple cider vinegar
handful of fresh herbs, roughly chopped (I had parsley & mint.)
dusting of red pepper flakes
salt and pepper, to taste

I considered about adding onions but thought it might be a little much for the kind of drinks we were having. But I do think some mild scallions would be perfect for this. This concoction was very refreshing and light, and everyone went wild over it!