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Love and Arkansas

Love is setting multiple alarms so I wouldn’t miss an early morning flight home. Actually, love is being willing to wake up this early for anyone, ever.

Love is Brandon braving his fears of tornados and water moccasins to fly halfway across the country with me in order to spend a mere 5 days meeting pretty much every person I’ve ever known. And doing it all with a smile on his handsome face.

Love is friends who are willing to drive through Dallas traffic to meet for a late lunch so that I could share the deliciousness that is Torchy’s queso with my boyfriend while introducing him to great friends and the first of many, many new people he would meet within a few short days.

Love is a favorite meal shared with friends, a meal not only of food, but of laughter and reminiscence.

Love is a friend who is willing to share her home and stay up way too late on a work night simply for the chance to catch up. 

Love is a meal of Whole Hog BBQ, another stop on the mission to eat all the Southern food.

Love is revisiting the campus where so many wonderful memories were made and trying to explain Harding to my favorite Oregonian.

Love is fried chicken and staying up late playing games and breakfast with enough food to feed an army.

Love is Midnight Oil granitas and best friends who are willing to create the time and drive hours just to meet the man in my life.

Love is a weekend spent in my little hometown. It is my dad’s blueberry pancakes. It is seeing the beautiful place I grew up through the eyes of someone to whom it was all new.

Love is time spent with family – in the car, over Easter dinner, and while drinking tea and laughing so hard that I couldn’t breathe.

One of my favorite pictures from the entire trip – my people being my people.

Love is the people and places that I call home. Especially the people. People who were so excited to meet Brandon and who welcomed him with open arms and open hearts. Love is, for the first time, visiting the home of my past with the one with whom I am building a future.

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I Love Arkansas: The Places

I am going to keep this one relatively short. Notice I said “relatively.” My idea of short seems to be everyone else’s idea of long-winded. The reason for the brevity is mostly related to needing to unpack and wanting to explore my new home in Oregon. I will be honest, there has been much more exploring than productive activity happening. Plus, I do not have any furniture yet and sitting on the floor to type a blog post is rather uncomfortable. And just like that, I have written a paragraph about nothing except how I am going to keep this post short. So much for that…

As I may have mentioned a few times, I feel it is my obligation to share some of the amazing things about Arkansas because it is a state so often overlooked. In fact, I met a couple the other night (when I went to a dinner concert at a vineyard BY MYSELF – who is this person and what have you done with me?) who previously lived in Texas. They had been to every state except Arkansas and something far away like North Dakota. Seriously – they had lived in Texas, had travelled extensively in the US, and yet had never been to Arkansas. See what I mean? It is totally overlooked as a destination. In the interest of trying desperately to keep this post moderately shorter than usual, I will not attempt to list every fun thing to do in Arkansas and I will not write much about each one, but I will try to provide a reasonable overview. I will say that I was glad for the monthly delivery of tactical gear throughout the trip! As opposed to the last post when apparently my goal was to list every. single. restaurant in Arkansas.

So, my (maybe) quick list of awesome places/things to do in Arkansas includes:

1. Anything outdoors: While one of my personal favorites is hanging out anywhere on the family land, I realize this is not exactly an option open to everyone. But if you have a chance, it is beautiful.

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Thankfully, Arkansas has plenty of other options. From floating the Buffalo River in the Ozark Mountains to exploring Mount Magazine to spending time on or near one of Arkansas’ lakes or rivers there is so much to do outdoors. One of the amazing things is that even if you live in or are visiting one of Arkansas’ larger cities, outdoor activities are never far away. In fact, within Little Rock, there is a portion of the Arkansas River Trail, including the Big Dam Bridge, where I spent part of a morning with my cousin and her family. It was a fun spot to let her kiddos run off a bit of their abundant energy before lunch.

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It is even more amazing at night when it is lit up and it is not a bajillion degrees outside.

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Also in Little Rock is Pinnacle Mountain State Park if you are in the mood for some hiking. Elsewhere in the state there are countless outdoor opportunities accessible from cities. For instance, Petit Jean State Park is relatively close to Conway. In fact, hiking at Petit Jean was something I had always wanted to do, but finally had the opportunity to do on my recent trip home. And, I managed to drag my brother along.

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Even though it was cloudy and rainy, we had a great time. We decided (and by we, I mean I – I do not seem to have outgrown being bossy) to hike the Cedar Falls Trail, and then used the Canyon Trail and parts of some of the other trails to loop around rather than hiking in and back. It was a wonderful day outdoors and the perfect way to catch up with my brother.

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If you need more mountains in your life (and who doesn’t), both the Ozark Mountains and the Ouachita National Forest are scenic and accessible. There are also plenty of opportunities for fishing and hunting. Of course, these are just a small sampling of the outdoor activities available in “The Natural State.”

2. Hot Springs National Park: Arkansas is home to one of the few National Parks located in the South. It is definitely worth checking out the thermal springs!

3. Mount Magazine: Okay, technically, this is outdoors, too, and I have already mentioned it, but it deserves its own category because there is so much happening here. Check out their website for more information.

4. Unique towns throughout Arkansas: Arkansas has small towns throughout the state that are unique and fun to explore. Some that come to mind right away are Mountain View, Eureka Springs, and the above mentioned Hot Springs. Of course, the larger towns like Little Rock and Fayetville (which is also in a gorgeous area) are not to be missed.

5. City Life: Speaking of Little Rock, it boasts such attractions as the Clinton Presidential Center, the Heifer Project, and a great reparatory theatre. Murry’s Dinner Playhouse is also a fun way to spend an evening (which is far more innocent than it sounds). I also love the River Market. And, I may have mentioned that I love some of the restaurants here? There are also a couple of fun music venues like Juanita’s and Stickyz (please forgive me if these are no longer cool. And also don’t remind me how old that makes me. Thanks). Plus, Little Rock is relatively close to Memphis if you need even more music and barbeque.

6. Wineries: Okay, I have to admit that I’m kind of digging being literally surrounded by wineries and vineyards. Like, literally surrounded. I could probably start walking in any direction and end up at a vineyard. But, Arkansas also has a small number of wineries. I know next to nothing about them, but I should probably correct this.

7. Crater of Diamonds State Park: Ummm, you can dig for your own diamonds. What more do you need to know? Okay, well maybe it would be helpful to know that I have done it (more than once) and it is mostly hot and dusty, but still fun, and I have known people who have actually found diamonds.

Okay, what am I missing? I know I must be missing something because I wrote this post in about 30 minutes and basically just typed whatever popped into my head. Quality blog research right there. I clearly know what I am doing. If you leave any cool Arkansas things in the comments, I will update this post with that information. Which will probably be better than anything I have written so far. Except the diamond thing. That is pretty cool. Also, there is a great tourism website (http://www.arkansas.com, strangely enough), that covers even more of the things to do in Arkansas. Which, now that I think about it sort of makes this entire post irrelevant.

That’s it for the Arkansas posts. If I were completely writing about the things I love about Arkansas, I would also have to include a people addition. But, I am guessing that the world at large is less interested than I am in my family barbecue, the cutest baby in the world (aka my nephew),

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the quiet moments I spent with my Granny, how much joy I felt meeting my best friend’s new baby for the first time,

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or the afternoon my dad and I spent hanging out on “the mountain,”

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not to mention the many other amazing people I had the privilege to spend time with during my week in Arkansas. For me, the people I love are the best part of Arkansas. No other place in the world can hold the same claim on my heart, so I admit I may have a bias. But, even if most of the people you care about do not live in Arkansas (although Tennessee, Texas, and Oregon are in the mix, too), it is still a great place to visit! And to all those people on my “People I Love Who Live in Arkansas” list, Oregon is also a great place to visit. Hint, hint.

P.S. – I do not think I did a great job keeping this post short. Maybe next time.

P.P.S. – Don’t forget to leave other fun Arkansas things in the comments and I will add them to this post.

I Love Arkansas: The Food

I apologize for falling a bit behind with the blog. Something about moving halfway across the country has taken up most of my time lately. I have arrived in Oregon. As I write this, I am sitting on the floor of an empty living room (my stuff is still en route from Texas) greedily taking in the view of the mountains that I can see out of my backdoor. My dog, Sydney, who went from somewhat anxious to completely neurotic during the course of our cross-country trip is now resting quietly and seems to be adjusting. With a major move behind me and a new life in front of me, it feels odd to again think about my trip to Arkansas. Nevertheless, there are still some things I would like to share.

So, let’s start with the food, because food is awesome. Arkansas has some great restaurants. During my trip, I visited old favorites and tried a few new places. In no particular order they are:

  1. Stoby’s: Two words: Cheese dip! If you have nothing else at Stoby’s, you must have the cheese dip. IMG_1225Their sandwiches are pretty good too and their breakfast is supposed to be excellent, although I can’t personally attest to that. This tiny restaurant in Conway is always packed and the Tuesday night I was there with my family was no exception. IMG_1235I of course shared some cheese dip with my family and then followed that with a burger for my meal. As if cheese dip and a deliciously spicy Jamaican jerk burger were not enough, I decided to split dessert with my sister-in-law and niece. Made at PattiCakes – the bakery next door – the Reese’s-Cup Cake that we ordered was HUGE.IMG_1232Despite three of us giving it our best effort, there were still leftovers. The only problem was my sweet niece just wanted to eat the peanut butter icing part. We had to have a small chat about how it was totally unacceptable to have more than her share of the peanut butter. And I may have told her she was crazy for not liking chocolate.
  2. The Root Café: This was a new to me spot in LR. On Wednesday, I went to LR with my cousin, her husband, and two kids. Because they are various combinations of gluten and dairy free, this is one of their favorite places. Basically The Root offers lots of deliciousness straight from Arkansas farmers and caters to all sorts of diets. IMG_1340My cousin,  Holli, and her family especially love the gluten-free bread, which is made at a nearby bakery. I tried a bite of their toast and I have to admit, it was tasty.
    These two adorable ones were obviously enjoying their lunch
    These two adorable ones were obviously enjoying their lunch

    IMG_1345The vegetarian  bahnmi and sassafras cream soda I ordered were both so delicious.

    Bahn mi made with fried tofu
    Bahn mi made with fried tofu

    IMG_1355The Root is open for breakfast and lunch. We arrived at 10:55 to an empty restaurant and by the time we sat down after ordering there was a line out the door.IMG_1342There is not much indoor seating and I would definitely recommend trying to find a spot inside when it is August in Arkansas, so it may help to arrive early – they close at 2:30.

    Lily insisted on a "girl picture"
    Lily insisted on a “girl picture”
  3. Green Corner Store: The Green Corner Store is across the street from The Root. IMG_1328The store is a mixture of an old-fashioned soda fountain and small store selling eco-friendly products. IMG_1363It only makes sense to follow a yummy lunch at the Root with ice cream. In this case, the ice cream is from Loblolly Creamery. IMG_1370Not only are there a variety of ever-changing handcrafted ice cream flavors, they also offer two flavors of dairy free ice cream at any given time. IMG_1373Their homemade ice cream cones are gluten free, making Green Corner Store another recommended stop for those with food allergies or sensitivities. My choice was salted caramel ice cream in a (gluten free) chocolate cone. IMG_1379It was an exceptionally delicious ice cream cone. P.S. – the items I purchased for the giveaway were from Green Corner Store.

    Spending time with my cousin and her family made the day even more fun!
    Spending time with my cousin and her family made the day even more fun!
  4. Blue Diamond Café: I had never been to the Blue Diamond Café in Morrilton prior to this trip, but it was a convenient place for lunch with my brother after we spent the morning hiking together. We relaxed over a long and delicious lunch. The Blue Diamond represented the best of what you can find in many small towns in Arkansas – a local diner with excellent food and friendly service. IMG_1550
    It only makes sense to eat fried pickles after hiking.
    It only makes sense to eat fried pickles after hiking.

    And to also enjoy a yummy ice cream sundae.
    And to also enjoy a yummy ice cream sundae.
  5. Arkansas Mexican Food: Okay, this is my own description of what you find in almost any town in Arkansas. Throughout the state there are locally owned Mexican restaurants that serve remarkably similar food that is distinct from what I have found anywhere else. Until last week, i lived in Texas, where all varieties of Mexican food and Tex-Mex abound (one of my few regrets about moving to Oregon…), and yet I always look forward to a meal (or maybe two) of “Arkansas Mexican food” when I visit. One of the distinguishing characteristics for me is the white queso, which seems almost impossible to find in other places. If you are feeling especially indulgent order arroz con pollo. Although sometimes offered under a different name, the dish is essentially rice topped with fajita chicken and covered in queso. Trust me, it is delicious, especially with a little salsa on top.
  6. Janssen’s Lakefront Restaurant: My parents wanted to take me out for a nice meal while I was home. One of their favorite spots is Janssen’s on Greers Ferry Lake. IMG_1566Not only is the food yummy, but there is also a great view of the lake. IMG_1569If it is not 90+ degrees outside, there is also a really nice patio outside. We settled for a seat by the window instead. I ordered a BLT with avocado and sprouts with a side of sriracha fries (ummmm, yes). IMG_1572My dad had never heard of sriracha, so that sad, sad oversight obviously needed to be corrected. While my sandwich was delicious, it did not quite compare to my dad’s fried chicken.IMG_1574 Next time, I will just order the fried chicken for myself. I ended the meal with a slice of homemade pecan pie. IMG_1576My only excuse is that I am moving far, far away from delicious Southern food like pecan pie, so I had to eat it while I could.
  7. Midnight Oil: This little coffee shop in Searcy has a special place in my heart, but also happens to have earned my undying affection by serving the best coffee drink ever, as well as the second and third best coffee drinks ever. IMG_1617These are the  granita, the Mr. Blond (white mocha) shake, and a Kick in the Face – an espresso float that served to  caffeinate many late night study sessions.
    And, as if all of that were not awesome enough, there is now a blond version of the granita. It is basically perfection in a cup.
    And, as if all of that were not awesome enough, there is now a blond version of the granita. It is basically perfection in a cup.

    The coffee and food are excellent and the atmosphere is everything you could want from a coffeehouse – the walls are covered in cool art, proceeds benefit communities in East Africa, and you will always run into someone you know. IMG_1626I spent many, many days and nights studying here, gossiping here, and both laughing and crying here with friends, sometimes at the same time. Even now, when one of my college friends is having a tough time or an especially joyful time, we will say, “I wish we could go get a  granita together to celebrate” or “Ugh!! I hate that, I just want to take you out for agranita and give you a hug.” Of course I realize that this little coffee shop and the oh-so-amazing  granita will not represent friendship and good times to most people in the world, but if you are in Searcy (although to be fair, there are not too many reasons to be in Searcy), MO is definitely worth the stop. Enjoy a  granita for me!

    And maybe also try an "Untitled" sandwich
    And maybe also try an “Untitled” sandwich

    This just so happens to be one of the friends I frequently laugh-cried with while we were in college. Now that we are somewhat removed from the college years, we kind of still do the same thing...
    This just so happens to be one of the friends I frequently laugh-cried with while we were in college. Now that we are somewhat removed from the college years, we kind of still do the same thing…

Of course, I could not fit every delicious option into a single week. The following are some of my other favorites, as well as a few places I have always wanted to try. Keep in mind that these restaurants are mostly located in Conway and Little Rock because that’s where I usually spend my time, but I know there are plenty of other great places elsewhere in Arkansas!:

  1. Stringbeanz: This family owned restaurant in the tiny town of Eglantine near Greer’s Ferry Lake is known for their pies. I wanted to go last time I was home, but the owners were out-of-town on vacation. Next time!!
  2. Cotham’s: The original location in Scott, Arkansas – Cotham’s Mercantile – is the home of the hubcap burger. There is now a second location in Little Rock. I have yet to eat here, but it has been on “my list” for years.
  3. Georgetown One Stop: There is no shortage of great catfish places in Arkansas, and really it is hard to go wrong when you’re talking about frying fish and adding more fried foods to go along with it. For my vote, the Georgetown One Stop is one of the best. It is the epitome of “hole in the wall.” I don’t even know if they have a working phone. A couple years ago, this widely known secret closed down to much mourning. Thankfully, they recently opened again. Their food is just about as fresh as you can get – they literally catch the catfish in the nearby White River. You generally sit at large communal tables and the primary décor scheme is brown, but it really doesn’t get much better than this.
  4. Whole Hog: When I first moved to Texas and went to my first Texas BBQ restaurant, I made the mistake of ordering pulled pork because that’s what I had always ordered at a BBQ restaurant. And for good reason – pulled pork in Arkansas is deliciousness. No one does it better than the Whole Hog. Not only is the BBQ excellent, you also gets to mix-n-match your choice of sauces, my personal favorite being a combination of sweet and spicy. As if that wasn’t enough, you can also choose a homemade brownie as one of your sides. Sold!
  5. Brave New Restaurant: This is a great date night restaurant. It’s pretty much the whole package – quality seafood, a great view, and a friendly and helpful staff. Oh, and chocolate crème brulee.
  6. Trio’s: I haven’t been here, but it is consistently voted one of the best in Arkansas. Maybe this should happen the next time that I’m home.
  7. Mike’s Place: This is one of my parent’s favorite places. Located in Conway, it operates as a private club to bypass Arkansas’s alcohol restrictions (Conway is in a dry country, if you even know what that means). So, in order to dine there, you have to “purchase” a free membership, but then you have the opportunity to enjoy great food and wine, which is always a combination that works for me.
  8. Bruno’s: Craving Italian food? Then head to Bruno’s Little Italy. That’s all I’ve got because it is another place I have yet to try (maybe next time I’m home I should eat less Arkansas Mexican food and try some other things…).
  9. Victorian Garden: If you are anything like me, (and I realize most people probably aren’t) you grew up having tea parties with your cousin because you did not have a sister. And I am talking tea parties – we would spend hours dressing up and sometimes my aunt would even fix us “fancy food” to go with our tea. Now that we are (more or less) adults, we still enjoy having tea together now and then, but dress up clothes in the living room just don’t cut it. Enter Victorian Garden. Located in a nondescript building, the inside is cozy and they serve dainty girly food. They serve a full menu, but also offer afternoon tea by reservation. It might be a tad more sophisticated than our tea parties as children.
  10. Iriana’s: This place serves some of my favorite pizza in LR, or favorite pizza ever. I also love their ranch dressing. Like I-could-eat-it-with-a-spoon love their ranch dressing. However, my preferred method of ranch delivery is pizza crust, not spoon.
  11. ZaZa’s: My friend Jessi introduced me to this relatively new (and by new I mean since I moved away 7 years ago) Conway restaurant. (there’s also a location in LR). They serve pizza and salad and do both really, really well. The salads are almost as good as the pizzas. Many of their ingredients come from Arkansas farmers.
  12. Community Bakery: This place. As you know, I love chocolate. I truly have a weakness when it comes to chocolate of any kind. Thus, I have had plenty of opportunities to try all kinds of things made of chocolate. Community Bakery serves one of my favorite chocolate things ever – a turtle cheesecake that is beyond words. I’m thinking about driving to Arkansas as I write this just to have the cheesecake… Okay, maybe not since I just spent most of the last week in my car and it is a really far drive. But throw in the opportunity to see my nephew and it does seem tempting. Anyway, back to the chocolate amazingness – it is cheesecake topped with caramel and pecans and then coated in decadence, I mean chocolate. Seriously, ah-maz-ing. I am sure they have other things that they sell, too, but I have never noticed.
  13. Coursey’s: This is a little place in the Ozark Mountains. Not only is the setting beautiful, but the place smells wonderful. That is because they smoke meats here. All kinds of meats. And not only can you buy this meat, you can order a sandwich right then and there so that you don’t even have to wait until you get home to eat the meat. There are outside picnic tables where you can sit down and enjoy the simple perfection of a Coursey’s sandwich. Or you can pick up a ingredients for a picnic lunch on the Buffalo River. Composed of only the basics – bread, meat, and cheese – the quality ingredients speak for themselves. And I pretty much love any meal I can eat with a view. When my Tennessee grandparents would come to visit, my grandfather would always want to go here, despite the drive to get there.
  14. Doe’s: A branch of the Mississippi Delta restaurant of the same name, the menu is simple – steak, steak, and steak. You choose your cut of steak , which is served family style with salad, new potatoes, French fries, and Texas toast. There are several locations in Arkansas, although I have only been to the one in (the sketchy part of) Little Rock.

Okay, I have really got to stop. This post is getting a little ridiculous. But hopefully, you get the point – Arkansas has some wonderful restaurants that benefit from the amazing produce and other farm fresh foods that are available throughout the state. After eating at any one of these places, you will say “That was a great restaurant!” without even the thought of adding “…for Arkansas” to that statement. What would you add to the list? I’m sure I missed something! Plus, I need to have a list of places to try next time I am in Arkansas.

I Love Arkansas: Introduction and Giveaway Winner

First things first – the giveaway winner is Lucy Gaddy! Congrats, Lucy!!

Okay. Let’s talk about Arkansas. Probably because I am about to move 2000+ miles away, this Arkansan has recently been quite nostalgic about my home state. There are so many things that I love about Arkansas and I will dearly miss living a 6-hour drive away from my family and some of my best friends. Thankfully, I was able to spend a week in Arkansas before the move to Oregon (I still cannot fully comprehend that in a matter of days I am moving halfway across the country. Alone).

During my trip, I had a conversation with my dad about a time when he was working in Little Rock with coworkers from out-of-state. He would suggest one of Little Rock’s many great restaurants and a delicious dinner would inevitably be followed with a comment such as, “That was a great restaurant…for Arkansas.” Always said with a slight tone of surprise, his co-workers comments suggested that Arkansas was not a place where one would expect great restaurants. This (il)logic would extend to other areas – Arkansas could not possibly have culture or history or nightlife or anything fun to do. And when such things would be encountered, as they of course would, they would be met with the surprise of surpassed expectations. Because I think it is a shame that the world at large expects so little from a place that I love, I am taking it upon myself to share some of the amazing things about Arkansas – the food, the outdoors, and other activities. Some of these are things I enjoyed during my recent trip, whereas others are activities or restaurants I have either experienced in the past or have always wanted to do. I am by no means an expert, but I want to share some of my favorite parts of a special corner of the world before (and while!) I move far away. So up next on the blog (on an as yet to be determined time frame contingent upon internet access during the move) will be some of the great things about Arkansas!

I Love Arkansas: The Giveaway

Update: The winner of this giveaway is Lucy Gaddy. 

Last week, I was browsing the cute shop attached to an ice cream parlor in Little Rock where I had just enjoyed a delicious ice cream cone with my cousin and her family (more to come on what they dubbed “The Day with the Crazies…”). The problem was I really wanted to buy something. That was a problem because I hardly needed one more thing to pack up and move to Oregon. So, I decided to host my first ever blog giveaway! I got to buy something fun, but without having to keep it.

The giveaway includes a handmade soap and a chapstick. Both are all natural and made in my very own home state of Arkansas. As I prepare to move to Oregon, I know I will miss being close to “home.” There are so many things that I love about the state where I grew up. To enter to win, leave a comment on this post telling me where home is for you and/or what you love about it! Entries will be accepted through midnight central time on Saturday August 16 and a winner will (probably) be announced on Sunday August 17. Good luck!