Key West Craving: The Island’s Top 5 Key Lime Pies

Key West Craving: The Island’s Top 5 Key Lime Pies

Palm-lined streets. Colorful buildings. Musicians  – and roosters – serenading the city.

Key West embodies beach bum chic.  Located closer to Cuba than Miami, it’s a community bursting with charisma. For years artists, writers, and playwrights have helped shape its vibrant yet relaxed persona, so I was surprised to find that pie, of all things, is what stirs up controversy.

The filling is rarely disputed. Locals agree the lime-green color is for landlocked tourist and the proper version comes out a pale yellow. The dividing lines? Graham cracker or pastry crust, whipped cream or meringue, and who really makes the best.

Rough life, Key West.

On an island where every charming corner shop and bungalow tout the “world’s best”, the key lime pie game is legitimately difficult to navigate. So when an editor tasked me with de-tangling the claims, (( speaking of rough life… )) we grabbed our forks and started the world’s most-fun taste test.  I won’t try and settle the decade’s long debate on who really holds the top spot, but a few shops are clear contenders.

Key Lime Pie Factory

Located in the heart of the island, The Key Lime Pie Factory is a convenient and quick stop in if you’re trying to ease a craving.  With a consistency like cheesecake and a $5 a slice price-point,  you really can’t go wrong. Despite the signs engraved in to the building, the shop isn’t actually the birthplace of the dessert, but if you’re looking for something simple, it won’t disappoint.

Blue Heaven + Salute!

If you’re #TeamMeringue, Blue Heaven and Salute! should make your “can’t miss” list.  My two favorite spots, run by the same owner, offer great food and great atmospheres.

The pie is next-level, with a perfect graham cracker crust, a light but flavor-packed filling, and fluffy meringue piled nearly 6-inches high. Make sure to request a fresh piece, because after a few hours the meringue loses a bit of its oomph.

So which one should you stop in? The charm of Blue Heaven adds to the experience as a whole. Key West’s famous, or infamous depending on your sleep schedule, roosters freely wander through the outdoor seating area, shaded by a canopy of tropical trees.

Salute! is situated just a few blocks from the Southernmost Point. Inside, a fun crowd of passionate travelers with poor volume control were enjoying the afternoon, but we made a beeline for the outdoor seating because it’s one of the few spots on the island that serves up ocean views with the top-notch pie.

Both shops are unusually busy by Key West standards, so slip in between meal-times or make a reservation.

image2

Pepe’s Café

If you boast an appreciation for the classics, Pepe’s Café will steal your heart.

According to multiple locals eager to share their stance on the signature dessert, Pepe’s pie offers the most authentic version of what many believe the original recipe sought to create.

It’s a little fluffier than its competitors and the chefs have mastered the balance of sweet and tart. It’s also located in the “oldest eating house on the island” with an opening date of 1909.

Key West Key Lime Pie Company

If the high reviews weren’t enough to lure us to the Key West Key Lime Pie Company, the fact it was featured on Marc LeMonis’ The Profit had my husband sold.

The pie pulls to the sweeter side and has a creamy, cheesecake-like texture. Its affordable, fresh, and the service is  top-notch. You can also enjoy  your slice chocolate-dipped which is a win-win for everyone involved.

image1

Kermit’s Key West Key Lime Shoppe

If you base your pie rankings on popularity alone, Kermit’s Key West Lime Shoppe is the clear winner. It’s been dubbed the top-spot by Today Show, Food Network, and National Geographic.

The pie is tart, rich, and good enough to warrant regular lines out the door.  Perhaps even more popular than the pie is the way Kermit Carpenter dishes it out. The chef offers a regular slice, or you can take it Kermit’s way: frozen, on a stick, and dipped in dark Belgian chocolate.

That’s Not How They Did It On HGTV: Our Home Reno Project.

That’s Not How They Did It On HGTV: Our Home Reno Project.

Atlanta, we’re committed.

After nearly a year of house – and soul – searching we are officially, for better or worse, home owners.

I’d be fibbing if I said it was a seamless process.

We agreed to put down roots and then not even 24-hours later started flirting with the idea of moving to a different time zone. While I love the little life we’ve created in this charming city, buying a house solidified that a plane ticket would stand between us and my parents for at least another couple years – and I find that a truly disappointing reality.

We would weigh the pros and cons, go back and forth on what we wanted, change our minds about what we wanted, find a house, put an offer in, and then the contract would fall through…and I’d go back to finding a change of scenery wildly appealing.

This cyclical process was our reality for nearly a year.

Then one summer Saturday after more than one margarita we made an impromptu stop at an open house in a neighborhood we’d wandered through a few times.

Now here we are.

Time to turn a house into a home.

We moved in and immediately began to try and get our arms around the growing beast that is our renovation to-do list. The game plan is to tackle everything from re-painting to knocking out a wall and ripping out a bathroom. Bonus points if we keep our sanity.

It’s already proven to be a trial and error process but, aside from a few slips off a ladder and my husband’s brief, near-death stint as an electrician, I think we’re off to a relatively okay start for first-time home owners.

I plan to share the full list of what works, what doesn’t, and what I’ll never do again, but for now consider this an open call for any tips, tricks, or tasks for a pair of newlyweds about to start their first massive home renovation.  (And, yes, emotional tips are just as appreciated as the best way to rip out carpeting).

The Intersection of Life and Business

The Intersection of Life and Business

I’ll begin with this: I started a blog after a mentor told me it was a necessity – not an option – if I wanted to take my freelance career seriously.

She told me to write consistently, frequently, and without inhibition.

Turns out, that’s hard.

I decided I wouldn’t restrict myself. I’d write about life. I’d write about life as a newlywed while building my freelance career. Why should anyone care what I’m doing with each 24 hours? Well, they shouldn’t, necessarily. This started out as a way to just build my freelance career, afterall.

But here we are, about three months in and I have taken on more new clients than I thought I could initially manage. I now spend the bulk of my free time writing for them.

Sharing their stories.

Sculpting their brand.

I’ve pushed myself professionally in a way I did not know I was capable. Seriously. I’ve truly worked my buns off. And at the risk of sounding conceited, I have to say I’m really, really proud of the work I’ve done.

But then this morning a simple call from one of my new clients, who affectionately calls me her publicity guru, has me immersed in a swirling pool of self-WTF.

She loved my latest ghost-written piece for a national coffee brand.

It got picked up by Huffington Post.

They want to extend my contract.

And then she asked me a question I can’t seem to shake.

“What made you decide to write for companies rather than for yourself?”

huh.

And now I’m a bit fixated.

I started a blog to work on my freelance career, and in the midst of the new client meetings and skype calls and deadlines, I’ve stopped writing for me because I spent nearly every free hour I have writing for brands.

I’ve neglected my blog.

So why do I ghost write for companies instead of writing for myself? Honestly, I haven’t pinpointed the answer.

Is it simply a “not enough hours in the day” thing? Probably.

Is it rooted in an insecurity? Maybe. It’s daunting to share an unfiltered slab of your heart with an anonymous audience.  I’m guilty of second guessing posts knowing that people from my present and past, those who certainly do not have encouraging motives, occasionally peruse this page.

Is it a financially driven decision? Sure. It’s no secret the little offers I get on here don’t compare to what a large corporation will pay me to put their logo on my writing.

I don’t have a complete answer yet – but because I’ve now spent the better part of the day wandering back to it, I think it’s worth exploring.

All this to say, thank you to those who have emailed asking where I’ve been. It really is appreciated. I’m refocusing some things, teaming up with some people I truly adore and respect, and am ready to share with you some new things as this blog takes on a new chapter.

 

 

 

16 Years Cancer Free: Navigating Childhood Cancer

16 Years Cancer Free: Navigating Childhood Cancer

16 years cancer free.

I don’t think those two little words will ever stop packing such an emotional punch.

Historically I’ve fumbled to find the right words to accurately describe what it’s like when cancer inserts itself in your life.  How do you truly capture the fear, anger, confusion, and uncertainty a diagnosis like it brings?  To be completely honest, I’m still not sure – but after talking with my brother this morning I decided it’s too big a moment to brush over. It’s finally time to put some thoughts on paper.

16 years ago this week my brother had surgery to remove the cancerous tumor inside his brain. A family trip to Colorado resulted in D becoming violently ill. Doctors chalked it up to altitude sickness and assured my parents he’d be fine when we were back on the flat plains of Kansas.

While they were right in some ways, after all  D’s symptom did disappear after we made our way down the mountain, my mom’s killer intuition convinced her something was not right. Despite multiple doctors telling her  an MRI was completely unnecessary for her “perfectly healthy” eight year old, my mom insisted.

The images revealed a tumor the size of an egg.

And just like that he was no longer a perfectly healthy eight year old.

D was immediately scheduled for surgery and in the following months went through extensive radiation treatment, physical therapy, and cognitive therapy…and then finally, finally he went into remission.

I vividly remember the fear and uncertainty that wafted in the day I realized just how sick my little brother really was. A nurse had led me back into the ICU to see him for the first time post-surgery and when she stopped at a dimly lit room, I did not recognize the little boy with the swollen, bandaged head and black eyes laying in the bed. It wasn’t until my eyes focused on the pillow case, the one that matched the set on my parent’s bed, that I realized the frail looking child was my brother. To be honest, that same fear and uncertainty still sits somewhere deep in my soul. I don’t think it ever goes away once cancer leaves it’s mark on a family.

I can’t describe the words to describe how proud I am of D. It would have been enough just  to kick cancer – which I will say he did remarkably well – but even more impressive is not once has he let it define him. Not once has he let it grip and restrict his potential – even though doctors continuously promised it would.

This world would feel so empty without his sweet spirit and goofy demeanor. I’m immensely grateful for him. Grateful for the team of doctors at Children’s Mercy who crafted a skillful plan to slice into his little skull with delicate hands in an aggressive attack. Grateful for my parents who managed to keep it together for all three of their kiddos as their world crumbled – Lord only knows how they pulled that off.

But in the midst of all this gratefulness, it is not without knowing that while we navigate through the remission chapters of the cancer chronicles, others are just now having that heavy book hurled at them.

Now all I want in this world is for anyone in the midst of the heartbreak and nauseating ache that this disease brings to be surrounded by love the way we were. To know that through the mess you’ll discover a strength you didn’t know you were capable. To those still fighting, still mourning, still grappling with the bottom dropping out, please know that hope is real, healing can happen, and there is an entire community of people who have walked this path before you ready to be a support system.

If cancer has pushed itself into your life, please feel free to reach out. Whether you’re celebrating remission or just now starting this hard journey, I think we have a tendency to skim over the emotions instead of really settling in to what we’re feeling. If you want to share, vent, or have a question, I’m happy to provide whatever insight I can.

And congratulations on 16 years, D. Cheers to you.

Capture

Chase Those Waterfalls: Tallulah Falls Edition

Chase Those Waterfalls: Tallulah Falls Edition

I love living in the heart of the city. I love the pulse, I love the culture, I love the vibe – but sometimes you need to swap out the staggering skyscraper views for some scenic mountain beauty.

Enter Tallulah Falls + Gorge.

Just a quick 90-minute trip from Atlanta, the state park offers guests a glimpse of North Georgia’s charm. It’s a perfect weekend escape and *bonus* the price tag for the trip comes in at just $5 for parking.

The impressive two mile long, 1000 feet deep canyon boasts time-stopping views of sheer cliffs, towering trees, boulder-filled streams, and a series of six stunning waterfalls. It’s a striking sight for those hiking open-access trails that skirt the rim, but those who manage to snag one of the 100 daily gorge floor passes, which give permission to actually trek down into the depths of the canyon, get immersed in some really dramatic views.

We arrived at the Tallulah Gorge State Park Interpretive Center ten minutes before the park opened and found a line weaving throughout the parking lot. As we tried to count the heads in front of us, we convinced ourselves that if we didn’t get a floor pass, the scene from the top would be special enough.  Luckily, we slipped in at number 91 and 92 for the day and headed in for a 5-minute orientation on what to expect.  You’re given a map, a brief run-down about the gorge, your free permit, and then sent on your way.

As we started out along the forested path that is the Hurricane Falls Trail, we were immediately greeted with beautiful, birds-eye views. After a few minutes of soaking it all in, we began the descent down hundreds of metal steps that lead to the suspension bridge dangling over Hurricane Falls. The bridge sways a bit – but not enough to make you queasy.

After waddling across, you’ll meet another set of stairs and platforms that lead you deeper into the gorge, inviting you to catch the view of the falls from the bottom. This is where you have the option to break out you permits and pass through the Gorge Floor gate.

We were warned in orientation to slip off our shoes during this part if we thought we might slip in. It’s a smart move.  We both fell in as we leap-frogged our way across the boulder-filled river.

IMG_3241

Once you’ve safely made it to the other side, you’ll begin the wooded, rocky, unpaved hike to Bridal Veil Falls. The “moderate/difficult” rating the rangers give this portion of the hike is pretty accurate. It’s doable, but if, like me, you’re not used to hiking, it quickly turns into a full body workout as you make your way downstream.

IMG_3222

Here you come to massive, near-vertical sheets of rock. It’s intimidating – but the views… OH.THE.VIEWS….Pretty enough to make you forget you’re sore and a bit winded. We side-stepped our way along the top of the rocks, truly amazed at the sights that surrounded us. Even if you’re a super-human and not at all tired, you’re so deeply tucked in to the canyon at this point you’ll want to pause and appreciate.

DSC_0046

After another wooded stint, you’ll (finally) reach Bridal Veil Falls. This is the spot to stop, snack, and swim as fellow hikers slip down the waterfall. As someone with the pain tolerance of a sleep-deprived toddler, I insisted my husband try the natural slide first. I mean, yes, everyone does it, but doesn’t sliding along the boulder hurt your back and bum a bit? Good news – it doesn’t. You slip right down and land in the chilly, deep natural pool. I will note that getting out was a bit of a struggle for my tired muscles – seriously, the rocks are slippery and slimy.

DSC_0048

The next phase of the hike is where things took a turn for me. At this point, you have the option to go back the way you came or climb up the Sliding Rock Trail. The ranger had warned it was a difficult hike, but after the refreshing swim I felt recharged and ready to go.

NOPE.

To call it a “trail” is a generous term. It’s really just a steep string of boulders stacked up nearly 800-feet high. I stopped at least four times to announce I couldn’t do it anymore. The good/bad news is that once you get started you really don’t have another option but to continue. What was I going to do? Shimmy my way back down the steep cliff? That seemed more daunting. After a sip of water and pep talk from my patient hubby, I continued to climb – and curse – my way to the top.

The best part about choosing this route? You’re rewarded. When you do struggle you’re way up to the peak you’re given a gorgeous view with an easy walk back to your car. I imagine it’s much better than the millions of steps you’d have to take otherwise. Win.

DSC_0053

Thinking about making the trip? Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • The whole loop is about 3.2 miles and takes about four hours if you build in time to eat and swim.
  • They really do only allow 100 people to actually climb around the gorge floor a day. Get there early and make sure to check the schedule to make sure it isn’t a dam release day or else you won’t get the go ahead to pass the gate. Once you have a pass, you can go down into the gorge at anytime throughout the day, as long as you’re out by 4 p.m.
  • Definitely pack water, bug spray, sunblock, and a snack – which we didn’t consider. What’s worse than being sore and tired? Being sore, tired, and hangry.
  • If you’re not a huge hiker, you can still enjoy the park. We saw kids as young as four hiking along the rim trails and adults that looked to be well into their 70s.
  • If it is raining, some of the gorge floor becomes impossible to pass. If you’ve made it to Bridal Veil Falls and it starts to pour, you’re doing the Sliding Rock Trail whether you want to or not.

Anyone else have advice for those looking to check out Tallulah?

 

Relationship Test: 5 Tips For Living + Loving in A Tiny Space

Relationship Test: 5 Tips For Living + Loving in A Tiny Space

If you want to test your relationship – and I mean really give it a push – pack up all your things and move in to a 600-square foot apartment in the city together.

Let the chaos begin.

For one year, my now husband and I did this little social experiment and, for the most part, we did it pretty well. Somewhere between the stubbed toes, chorus of curse words, and shared closet space (#NeverAgain) we found a way to make it work and still actually like each other by the time our lease was up – most of the time at least.

A close friend of mine is now about a month into her own teeny living stint and asked me how we did it without being tempted to smother each other with a pillow in the middle night. I can’t say we were never tempted but we certainly got over it. 🙂 

 

  • Make Statement Pieces Count: It may feel counter-intuitive to move some big items in to your small space – but it helps you avoid clutter and makes the room feel less like a dorm and more like a home. Being in a tiny space that still felt good made the living situation way more enjoyable for us. Plus, you’ll be tripping over each other so why even introduce the opportunity to trip over knick-knacks?
  • Set Ground Rules + Set Them Early: While this applies for any joint-living experience, it’s especially – dare I say vitally – important in a tiny space. Ours were relatively standard: Shut the door in the bathroom, don’t use the chair as a landing pad for laundry, and no storming out when you’re mad. Full disclosure,  that last one did lead to one of us sitting in the bathtub with the dorm slammed shut a couple times, but knowing that we both refused to break our promise – even when we were categorically mad – served as a comforting reminder we’d get through it. Figure out what works for you, make sure you’re on the same page, and stick with it. I promise it makes life easier.
  • Plan Your Escape Route: This was key for us. I’m not even talking about week-long excretions to the tropics or  southern islands  (although those are nice…). Sometimes it’s just essential to get out of the house. We live a block from Piedmont Park and when the stir craziness threatened to overtake our sanity we’d simply pack up a picnic and have dinner out there. Scope out your own go-to place that can serve as a quick and easy escape…and use it.
  • Communicate: I know, I know. Duh. But unless your spouse is blessed with the mind reading super powers mine missed, you need to actively make this a priority. I vividly remember the night his favorite team had a late-night playoff game. He was in the living room but since the living room was literally 3.5 steps and a curtain away from the bedroom, he might as well been cheering and couch-coaching in bed next to me. I dramatically tossed and turned and “hmmph-ed” for the better part of an hour before I finally rolled out of bed and aggressively pattered over to the sofa. I explained how incredibly rude he was being for – at that point – basically breathing while he looked at me, completely dumbfounded how he could have upset me. When I finished my rant and 10-point presentation on why he should be more considerate he said, in the most innocent way, “Babe, if you want me to turn the sound off, why didn’t you just ask?” Uh, lightbulb. If you want something, or don’t want something, just ask.
  •  Embrace The Chaos: While there are moments that your cozy home will feel like a half-step up from a prison cell, overall, it’s actually really fun. You’ll grow as a couple and find comedy in the situation. Remember that it’s temporary and you’re making memories you’ll have forever. Who wants to reminisce about that time you got your dream, Pinterest-perfect house right away? How dull. Think of it as an adventure, and it will become one.

Oh, and  stagger out your sink time. After the first day we never again attempted to get ready at the same time. It. Doesn’t. Work.

FullSizeRender_1
See? I’m not exaggerating … 3.5 steps from the bedroom to living room.

Why my wedding will absolutely not be the best day ever.

Why my wedding will absolutely not be the best day ever.

My wedding day was beautiful. It was full of love – the man I love, the people I love, the scenery I love, the food I love. It was a day of love.

It went off without a hitch and if I could do it exactly the same way, with exactly every single silly little detail, I would. In my eyes, it was perfect – but it was absolutely, without a doubt not the best day ever.

Thank. God.

In this warped world of blush and gold delicate details someone, somewhere decided that this one expensive party was the end-all-be-all of our happiness. Our peak of joy. Blame it on social media pressure to out do that one chick from high school you never really liked anyway or the chance to live like a celebrity for a few hours – regardless of why it started, it’s real and it’s there.

And only we can buck that burden.

This industry built on unachievable Pinterest boards has actually taken relatively reasonable women and turned them into crazed, caffeinated, little monsters who just HAVE to have that $6,000 flower wall that will undeniably be wilted 24 hours later. Brilliant, successful women who end up in tears because the napkin color is two shades off and the tablecloths aren’t quite the length we imagined (#guilty). We build the day up so much that it becomes unobtainable and in the process we set ourselves up for disappointment. The wedding takes on a life of it’s own and before you know it you’re accidentally missing the bliss of being engaged to the love of your life.

Think about it. You just wake up the next morning and the best day of your life is already behind you? Talk about a happiness hangover.

What about when you land your dream job? Go on that dream vacation? I don’t know, have a child? Buy a home? We really let ourselves slip in to this thought that these moments won’t quite measure up?

My best advise for any blushing bride to be is simple: keep it in perspective.

I love weddings. I really do. I tear up at every single one and feel genuine joy to see two people commit to loving each other forever. I’m not some heartless cynic. I hope every person who ever walks down the aisle has a beautiful day – but it is a moment that goes by in a blur.

It is a moment of your life, a happy, beautiful one, but just a moment — not the defining moment of your happiness.

Is it a special moment worth celebrating? Absolutely. But I would argue the series of moments that led to this celebration deserve a bit more credit than the celebration itself. In this big ol’ world you found your person. Millions and millions of little moments worked together to bring the two of you together at the right time, in the right place. The focus should be on the millions of millions of wonderful new moments you get to create together, because in this same big ol’ world, you now have a partner no matter what sits on the horizon.

And that is the best.

 

13315663_905714889554293_6757180877839764628_n