Gemma

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A few weekends ago, James and I got dolled up on a Saturday evening to have a date night at Gemma, the latest Dallas hot spot that has won the affections of many of our friends, prompting us to try it out. We had a blast – the ambiance of the space is conducive to great conversation and lots of laughter (plus the decor is oh-so-pretty), and the service is excellent. Regarding the food, we weren’t totally crazy about our entrées (maybe we picked the wrong thing? I had roasted artichokes with a poached egg, Provençal sauce, and arugula and James tried the pasta with boar ragu – while both dishes were beautiful, they left a bit to be desired) but we were swooning over our gorgeous and delicious cocktails. For the first round, I had a Salty Dog (I loved the salt on the rim and Gemma’s addition of a rosemary garnish) and James drank an Old Fashioned. We both had the seasonal blood orange margaritas for our second round, and we loved them. We also polished off a plate of the fried olives (major yum!) and ate way too much of the freshly baked Gouda-stuffed bread they kept delivering to our table. For dessert, we really enjoyed savoring some fresh, tangy Meyer lemon ice cream.

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The verdict? We would be thrilled to head back to Gemma for cocktails, appetizers, and a little something sweet. The restaurant is pricey so we probably wouldn’t go for another round of entrées, but our friends have raved about meals they had so if you’re interested in going, dinner might be worth checking out! It’s definitely a spot I would be happy to go back to with James or with a group of girlfriends.

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Plant Panache

Plant Panache

Happy Monday! How was your weekend? Ours was filled with lots of outdoorsy goodness, especially because we’ve outfitted our backyard with zero-gravity reclining chairs (heavenly for reading and sunbathing) and a spankin’ new grill. Coupled with our twinkle lights and Tiki torches, we now feel like we have a little oasis in our backyard, and we love it.

Last month I got to write another piece for Bungalow Magazine, the beautifully designed and curated online quarterly about home decor in Texas. I wrote my third and favorite piece to date about how to use house plants to decorate your space, and I got to interview the talented and creative Brianne Denton, co-owner of the Dallas-based floral studio Blue Lotus. Heather shot the gorgeous images for the story, making it an all-around blast of a collaboration.

Head over to Bungalow to check out the piece (on pages 105 – 113). Even though I pride myself on maintaining a green thumb when it comes to my beloved succulents, I learned so much about using different kinds of house plants (like pencil cacti and bromeliads) to really bring the outdoors in. Bri gave some fantastic recommendations about surprising and beautiful containers to use, and she shares some good tips for keeping your plants alive. I especially love this quote from her, as it totally encapsulates the vibe I’m trying to create in our home: “I’ve made little vignettes around my house using plants. Putting a living plant in every nook of the house is inspiring.”

Happy reading!

Image via Uncovet

Week & End

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Happy Friday! I am so blessed to have a job that I love but I must admit that I very much look forward to my weekends. This week was full of greatness – Mambo Taxis at Mi Cocina with girlfriends to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, cooking adventures in the kitchen with James, a lunch meeting with our favorite videographer, one of my most favorite Girls Nights In to date at Korena’s (complete with build-your-own rice bowls and champagne on the roof), and the launch of Coffee & Tacos, of course! This weekend should be fairly low-key, as there’s not much on the calendar. I have a Skype Happy Hour date tonight with Erin, and I plan to go to City Surf tomorrow with Laura, celebrating our great workout with tacos and margaritas afterwards. I always love taking Callie on walks, especially since the weather has been so fantastic, and I am looking forward to soaking up some sun in the backyard while I finish up The Goldfinch. I most definitely will be poring over the wedding photos that Heather sent us, which we got this week – she is so beyond talented, and isn’t the way she packaged the photos so gorgeous?! It was such a treat that she gave us some actual prints, too! Happy early Mother’s Day to all of the beautiful mommas out there, especially mine!

This is not a new idea to those of you who are avid blog readers, but each Friday I plan to share some fun links from around the interwebs. I always love setting aside some time to scroll through blogs that post weekly recaps, which feels like a perfectly suitable activity for lazy Saturday mornings that include coffee and breakfast in bed and wearing pajamas for way longer than publicly acceptable. So enjoy these fun finds from this week:

I already sent Mom her Mother’s Day gift from Andrew & me (I hope she loves it!!) but if I hadn’t picked anything for her yet, I’d send her one of these gorgeous gift boxes. And then I would send one to myself.

My childhood friends Andrea & Natalie are just about to launch Yoga+ in Chicago. The concept, per their website, is this: “Our idea of the perfect friend date involves something active (yoga) + learning something new. Each month with Yoga+ we’ll offer just that! A vinyasa-style yoga class followed by an interactive educational event surrounding one of our other favorite hobbies or an activity that we’ve been itching to learn more about.” Their first event is a floral arrangement workshop – I wish I lived in Chicago so that I could go! I’ve already told them I would love to help host a Dallas event if they ever venture down to Texas because I think the idea is that fabulous.

I always come home from one trip ready to plan another (which, I recently read, is actually a good idea). Bri Emery’s travel posts on Tulum and Thailand have already got me daydreaming of new and exciting places.

Currently coveting this Salute the Sun pullover.

Okay, these house plant cupcakes are simply fantastic.

Ambergris Caye, Belize

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Before our wedding, I wrote about the plans that James and I made to spend our honeymoon in Ambergris Caye, Belize. We selected Belize based on the three criteria we had set up as we started dreaming about locations to visit – we knew that we wanted to use our passports, go to the beach, and travel somewhere that neither of us had ever been. After scouring TripAdvisor and reading travel blogs, we decided upon Belize – it met all of our criteria, it was affordable, it was close to Dallas (only a two and a half hour direct flight!), and it looked so dang beautiful. Sign us up!

Belize itself is a small country located just south of the eastern tip of Mexico. The mainland is known for its robust jungles and amazing Mayan ruins. The island communities off of the coast of Belize boast gorgeous beaches and amazing underwater adventures; after all, the second largest barrier reef in the world is located there. We decided to stay on Ambergris Caye, the largest of Belize’s islands. While perusing TripAdvisor one day, I stumbled upon Victoria House, a beautiful property that had a distinctly boutique feel. There were no more than 40 rooms, gorgeously manicured grounds, fabulous restaurants, excellent reviews about the staff and service, and a view that just couldn’t be beat. We were sold.

When we arrived, we knew we had picked the perfect place to celebrate the first few days of married life – Belize was breathtakingly beautiful. We took a 15-minute hopper plane from Belize to Ambergris Caye and we were completely enamored with the water, which was heavenly shades of turquoise and navy and teal and blue. Ambergris Caye itself is relatively small (just over 30 square miles, with a population of 25,000 people) and we loved that most residents and visitors traveled around via bicycle and golf cart. We spent our days soaking up the sun at the beach and the pool, eating delicious food, riding bikes into town, drinking plenty of tropical cocktails, reading great books, and relaxing. We splurged on a couple of amazing activities – a morning snorkeling adventure (where we got to swim with turtles, nurse sharks, and sting rays!), a half-day fishing trip (we caught over 30 fish that we got to keep and prepare to eat), massages overlooking the water, and a romantic dinner on one of the thatch roof-covered docks. It was heavenly.

If I had to choose a favorite memory from our honeymoon, I would say that it was our experience at Robin’s Kitchen. While drinking margaritas on the beach one afternoon, an older gentleman walked by with his dogs and stopped to talk. We learned that he was originally from Nashville and that he and has wife and had moved to Ambergris Caye a few months earlier. He told us that we needed to check out Robin’s Kitchen, a hole-in-the-wall owned and operated by a Jamaican transplant (named Robin, of course) where we would have one of our favorite meals on the island. Intrigued, we headed out for a walk in the sunshine and moseyed on over to Robin’s Kitchen. The aroma of chicken cooking on the grill was intoxicating, so we ordered some of the Jamaican jerk variety, accompanied by rice, beans, and plantains. We got cold beers at the restaurant next door and tucked into our food, which was incredible – so flavorful and tender and delicious (all for $6, mind you). Color us obsessed. The next day we went on our fishing excursion, and our guide suggested that we talk half of our catch back over to Robin’s so he could prepare it for us (after all, the chef had a poster on the exterior of his restaurant boasting that if “you hook, we cook”). Dutifully, we rode our bikes over to Robin’s with our fresh snapper and mackerel and he whipped up two dishes that blew our minds – a brown stew (that was cinnamon-y and earthy and rich) and a fish curry (that was spicy and decadent and peppery), both of which were served with rice and plantains. As we expected, the food was amazing, and he only charged us for our sides and sodas, saying that we had done all the hard work of catching the fish in the first place. Win!

The food itself at Robin’s Kitchen was incredible enough on its own but I think the reason that the experience was a favorite of mine from our honeymoon was because it was adventurous and spontaneous. It made me so excited to get to continue to travel and explore with James, knowing that he’ll be my comrade in adventure forever and always, willing to pop into holes-in-the-wall and venture down off-beaten paths. I’m already dreaming about where we should go next…

I wrote about our honeymoon experience in Ambergris Caye on Darling Magazine’s blog, so head over there to check out some additional recommendations I have if you’re hoping to travel there in the future. James and I definitely plan on going back some day – we absolutely loved our time there!

Now, for some photos…

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Wedding Decor

Table Place Setting

It’s been just over three weeks since James and I got married at Le San Michele in Buda, Texas, and I know that we can both confidently say that we had the wedding of our dreams. I want to keep reliving that beautiful day so each week I’m going to share snippets of our wedding, featuring different aspects of our gorgeous celebrations as time progresses. To start, let’s talk about decor. Our wedding was the perfect mix of so many of our favorite elements – the outdoors in general, certainly, but specifically European gardens, ranch life, Texas foliage, and starry skies. Our planners, Liz and Hannah of The Nouveau Romantics, helped us make our visions become a reality. Something we loved about them is that they are a one-stop wedding shop – they do in-house floral arrangements and paper design/production in addition to event planning, ensuring that everything about our special day was unified and seamless.

I spent many hours creating a Pinterest board with Liz and Hannah, which served as a visual bulletin board to guide as we chose linens and farm tables and lighting set-ups and floral arrangements, and then, later, over the phone, that helped us navigate our options regarding the beverages to serve at cocktail hour and the number of waiters to have during our family-style dinner service. We picked out china and vases and napkins and flatware, selecting everything carefully and thoughtfully. And I loved every single minute of it. It turned out so beautifully that as my family, bridesmaids, and I pulled up to the wedding venue on April 13th, I started crying at the sight of the perfectly-planned spot where James and I would become man and wife. It was all so overwhelming and special!

Heather Hawkins, our incredibly talented friend and photographer, captured so many gorgeous images that highlight the decor decisions we made for our wedding. I have so many more pictures of hers to share, so future posts will come on florals and getting ready with girlfriends and, of course, the wedding itself, but for now, take a peek at how our wedding day decor turned out. I love these photos more than I can say!

P.S. Here’s a romantic sneak peek of James & me…more to come soon!

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Chicken Enchiladas Verdes

Happy Tuesday! Thank you so much for your kind feedback about the launch of Coffee & Tacos – I’m so grateful that you’re along for the ride.

I’m going to test out a series idea every Tuesday called Taste & Try. Each week I’ll alternate between featuring a recipe and a restaurant, all of which I’ve tasted and tried myself. I love food oh-so-much  that, when dreaming up this new blog format, I knew that I’d need to schedule a weekly post dedicated to two of my very favorite pastimes – tasting food at delicious restaurants (both Dallas-based and beyond) and trying out new recipes (typically with a glass of wine or a fun cocktail in hand).

So, in the spirit of yesterday’s Cinco de Mayo celebrations, the first recipe features a Tex-Mex show-stopper – Chicken Enchiladas Verdes. Mom sent me this recipe, which she tore out of Real Simple Magazine, and already it’s become a Brown family favorite. These aren’t the healthiest treats on the block but James and I made these last week and, despite my constant cravings for them, I resisted sneaking bites straight out of the fridge and we had these for dinner for four whole nights, reducing the suggested number of servings and spreading out our sour cream intake just a bit. We skipped the rice, as the original recipe suggests, and opted for an arugula salad with lemon vinaigrette. I think you could use a rotisserie chicken instead of the bone-in breasts, but I just a little more proud of the dish when I cooked the chicken myself. The enchiladas pair deliciously with margaritas, of course.

Chicken Enchiladas Verdes

Recipe & photo via Real Simple Magazine

Chicken Enchiladas Verdes

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds bone-in chicken breasts (2 to 3)
  • 1 16-ounce jar salsa verde (we used a spicy salsa because that’s what we enjoy but any kind will do)
  • 1 cup sour cream, plus more for serving
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen corn, thawed
  • 1/2 pound Muenster or Monterey Jack cheese, grated (about 2 cups) (we used Monterey Jack and loved the result)
  • Kosher salt & black pepper
  • 8 6-inch flour tortillas

Directions:

  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Place the chicken in a medium saucepan, add enough water to cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes; transfer to a plate and let cool. When cool enough to handle, shred the chicken, discarding the skin and bones. Place the meat in a large bowl.
  2. Meanwhile, in a blender, puree the salsa and 1/2 cup of the sour cream until smooth. Transfer to a small saucepan and simmer until slightly thickened, 10 to 12 minutes. Stir in the remaining 1/2 cup of sour cream.
  3. Add the corn, 1 cup of cheese, 1/2 cup of the sauce, and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper to the chicken and combine.
  4. Spread 1 cup of the remaining sauce in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Roll up the chicken in the tortillas and place seam-side down in the dish. Top with the remaining sauce and cheese. Bake until bubbling and beginning to brown, 15 to 20 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, cook the rice according to the package directions. Serve with the enchiladas and sour cream. (And margaritas! On the rocks, with salt.)

The Beginning

Welcome to Coffee & Tacos, a fresh new space where I plan to record my musings about connecting with others through some of my very favorite things – food, travel, faith, and community. Surely lots of other topics will crop up here and there, but for now, that’s the gist. If you’ve followed me over here from Through Painted Deserts, a thousand thanks. I promise to leave my old site up forever and ever (probably more for my benefit than yours – it’s like an online scrapbook that I cherish so very much) so you can always refer back to it. But I’m entering a new season in my life and after giving the idea some serious thought, I decided to enter into a new blog domain, too.

I chose to switch to Coffee & Tacos, this new blog home, when I began preparing for my name change a few weeks ago. My husband, James, and I got married on April 13th (more on that perfect day soon!) and I started thinking about changing my website to reflect my new name (Rachel Brown). That thought process launched me into a rabbit hole of dreaming new dreams about writing and creating and growing and stretching, and I really began considering what it might look like to give myself a more grown-up platform, a more solid place from which to write. Don’t get me wrong – I absolutely loved using Tumblr for my blog (I did so for four years, after all!). And I don’t plan to monetize this space, to become a professional blogger, to quit my day job in pursuit of this creative outlet – those are all great things, but they are not for me. Simply put, blogging has just become such a beautiful way for me to record my thoughts, prayers, hopes, dreams, memories, travels, trials, and victories, and I felt that if I wanted my space to be able to continue to grow and change and progress with me into this new season of adulthood and love and life, it deserved a new place to do so. I wanted it to have a proverbial facelift, as it were.

So why the name Coffee & Tacos, then? Very arbitrarily, for literally no reason that I can recall other than the fact that I absolutely love few things more than a fantastic cup of coffee and a supremely delicious taco (even better when they’re paired together), I named the desktop folder in which I organize my writing projects “Coffee & Tacos.” Seriously, I don’t know why. I don’t even remember doing it, honestly. I guess I thought the name was creative or catchy or distinct, a way to set my writing projects apart from my work documents and personal files. But the title stuck, and I began to lovingly categorize all of my posts and pieces (for the likes of Darling Magazine, Bungalow Magazine, and, of course, Through Painted Deserts) in my Coffee & Tacos folder, which began to grow and flourish as I continued to write.

And, somehow, inevitably I suppose, I fell in love with the name. Maybe it’s because I’m so drawn to the concept of cultivating community around the table, of engaging with others while sharing good food and drinks and honest discussion, of finding God and truth and vulnerability and happiness while rooted firmly in a chair surrounded by loved ones and full plates. Or maybe it’s because I found myself gravitating towards other great blogs that had unique names, especially those that were food-related in some capacity. Or maybe it’s because, simply, I really do love coffee and tacos so dang much (if pressed, I’d say that Good 2 Go Taco is my favorite spot in Dallas for both) that I wanted to name my blog after them. My instinct is that it’s the former, that I care so much about loving others by feeding them and opening our home to them that I wanted this blog to have the same effect – that, maybe, you’ll decide that this is a place where you can be loved and fed (or, at the very least, entertained and inspired).

Bear with me as I adjust to this new format – I considered waiting until I had mastered this new site to start posting but that just seemed silly. The writing is the most important part after all, right? So if things change or break or look funny, hold tight – I hope to get the hang of this soon.

Now – stay awhile, won’t you?