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Stephanie-Johnson,-El-ideas

I had no idea what I was signing up for last week when I was texting with friend Jessie Freschl (of Covet Closet and Fresch Style) and told her I was en route to Chicago.  She pinged back that I should go to her brother’s restaurant and immediately got to emailing him.  Before I boarded the Chicago bound flight (for one night I may add), I was confirmed for the 7 p.m. seating and had completed the required pre-payment for the meal (a first for me).

I uber-ed over to the warehouse space in a largely abandoned industrial-looking dead end and the driver asked if I was sure I had the right address.  He insisted he wait for me while I sussed it out.  And here the adventure began as I entered the building to find an interior door with a sign reading ‘Get the EL in here!’  This was going to be fun.

Katelynn, who had helped me with my reservation and had inquired about dietary restrictions, welcomed me by name and sat me by the window in a table set for one.  There were only five other tables, a full house, and everyone else was already seated and enjoying a libation of their own bringing. BYOB and I hadn’t brought anything.  This was definitely the type of fourteen course meal (yep it’s true!) that would be best enjoyed with the perfect wine pairing, but alas it wasn’t to be as I’d forgotten this important note.  Chef Phil and team felt awful and offered me anything they might have hanging about including an open bottle of red that my server had in his car.  Hugely accommodating and it wasn’t even their fault.  I would enjoy these edible creations without interference from alcoholic beverages.

Stephanie-Johnson,-dishes,-

Chef Phil introduced himself to the room and explained that he wanted to turn the idea of fine dining ‘on its head’ and that he encouraged the diners to come to the open kitchen at any time and observe, inquire, chat with the team as well as introduce ourselves to fellow diners.  He announced our first dish, uni (sea urchin) with black lava sea salt, shiitake, coconut pudding with wild trout roe, and said they hadn’t been remiss in not providing silverware:  he expected us to eat with our fingers and ‘lick the plate.’  Did I say this was going to be fun?  Fun and crazy delicious.  Not known to be shy, and when given the opportunity to actually lick a plate clean (in a restaurant no less), of course I dutifully obliged and loved every minute.  Successive dishes included ajo blanco, described as the precursor to gazpacho, with cuttlefish, garlic and green almond, and cherry radish with basil, shattered olives and white chocolate.  Other stand outs were the ‘French fries & frosty’ whose preparation had the kitchen engulfed in white ‘smoke’ and Chef Phil came around with a ladle and cauldron and finished off our dish with the smoky ‘ice cream.’  Not a wallflower, I visited with other tables between courses and the consensus among us was assuredly that this was the most creative food any of us had ever eaten.  When I spoke to Chef Phil and confessed that this experience had really shown that I know absolutely zilch about food and commended him for the pure tastes that came across in his food, he offered that he didn’t like to use foods or flavors that would mask any of the other ingredients in the dish.  Mission accomplished.  Michelin didn’t award EL ideas with a star for nothing.

Stephanie-Johnson,-friend,-

Stephanie-Johnson,-Harbor-I

When I needed to escape another East Coast snow storm I looked to book the Caribbean but everything was sold out or impossible to get to.  I booked Harbour Island because it was available and I wasn’t terribly excited about it.  I worried the Bahamas wouldn’t be warm enough, I’d be bored to tears with no kids camp, tennis clinics or sunrise yoga on the beach, blah, blah, blah.  How wrong I was.

STAY

We stayed at the Coral Sands Hotel, situated right on the pink sand beach for which this island is famous.  Our room was large with a separate dressing area and a balcony with sea views.  We slept with the doors open and the sound of the ocean lulling us to sleep.  The pool is the absolute best on the island despite its lack of poolside services.  You will have to hike it a bit to the beach to collect towels or find an attendant to help you open your umbrella, and you will have to bring your own Goombay Smash up from the bar.  There is limited lunch service on the beach and no lack of boogie boards and sand toys for the little ones.  The staff was warm and welcoming:  Romanda helped us book our dinners and Terrence even bleached a conch shell for Erela.

The Dunmore next door on the same sweet beach has just had a complete overhaul and its 13 rooms are perfection in dark wood and raffia with island colors and all the modern conveniences.  The Landing reminded me of my days in Key West.  It’s one of the oldest buildings on the island; a cozy guest house on the harbour side with rooms designed by resident India Hicks and a bar where you could imagine Hemingway holding court.

EAT

In addition to being your cozy home on island, The Landing boasts the best breakfast on Harbour Island and some of the best dining altogether.  We ate there most mornings as Erela befriended the proprietor’s daughter, so it was ricotta hotcakes with honeycomb butter and French toast with whipped cream in caramel sauce along with a harbor view from your porch-side seat (and an additional five pounds to your waistline).

Stephanie

Dunmore Deli was another favorite for breakfast with fresh mango and papaya.  Arthur’s Bakery was a good spot to pick up a fresh baked breads and donuts.

As Sip Sip was closed for vacation before the season rush, we lunched beachside at The Dunmore daily.  The conch ceviche, lobster tacos and Norma’s Terrace salad were on high rotation.  Note that The Dunmore staff was friendly and happy to accommodate my five year old’s requests for pen and paper, but alas no children are allowed at dinner time.  The Rock House has a similar dinner time policy, allowing children to only dine early and by the pool rather than in the main dining room overlooking sunset views of the harbour.  The food, however, was exceptional with fresh mahi mahi in a coconut Thai curry nearly blowing my mind.

Other island options include sunset drinks at Romora Bay, where if you time it right you can see the nurse sharks circle as the fisherman bring in their catch.  Acqua Pazza was an excellent dinner choice with a child.  As I watched the sunset over the bay and sipped a Bahama Mama, Erela ran around the lawn outside the adjacent ‘haunted house’, climbed trees and hung out in the hammock.  An arugula salad from their own garden and local lobster ravioli were delicious.

There are several options on the bay side and Queen Conch reigns supreme.  A ‘shack’ near the water’s edge where the local conch man pulls conch from their shell and discards the shells in a pile on the beach and smiling women in head scarves prepare the ‘exotic’ salad with fruits and veggies, this is the perfect casual-dinner over-sunset-with-the-kids -place.  Liquor is BYOB so pop over to the bar next door for a Goombay Smash in a plastic cup to sip with your excellent conch fritters or spicy shrimp.

Want more Harbour Island?  Stay tuned for next week’s post, highlighting the island’s charming boutiques and my favorite things to do in this Bahamian paradise!

St

Stephanie-Johnson,-Joshua-t

For this week’s post, I’ve decided upon a bit of a departure from the travel and style guide blogs that are a mainstay on SJ’s Style Compass.  Over the last several weeks, I’ve been reconnecting with old friends through a series of inspiring, intimate dinners, and I’ve begun to realize that nearly everyone around me appears to be in a MAJOR state of change.  As a result, I’ve also been inspired to turn inward, to think about ways that I can challenge myself to get out of my comfort zone, and to make positive changes in my own life.  Whenever I think about change, I always come back to the subject of fear, as I believe fear is (and has been, in my own life) often one of the biggest impediments to enacting truly positive change.

I’ve always been a believer in facing your fears and am a subscriber to the thought that the thing you fear most is exactly the thing you should be doing.  There was a time where my absolute fear of public speaking caused paralysis and when I was asked to be a guest speaker on entrepreneurship at USC I politely declined.  I thought I could avoid fear by walking around it and saying no to any offer to speak in front of a group.  Shortly after the USC invitation, The Learning Annex asked me to teach a three hour class on how to start an accessory company.  I was smart enough to see that the universe was giving me opportunities to face my fears and move beyond them.  I said yes.  Hours before the class, which I had painstakingly prepared for including creating an A-Z manual on ‘how-to’ as well as listing valuable resources (for free!), I lost my voice.  My panic was so extreme that it was manifesting itself physically. The show must go on and rather than cancel I looked fear in the face and taught a great class that was deeply satisfying.  I taught classes for The Learning Annex in New York, L.A., San Francisco and San Diego for several years and selfishly looked at each class as an opportunity to face down the fear and hone a new skill all the while sharing the knowledge I had about starting a company from nothing.  In recent years, I’ve continued to face down the anxiety with a handful of television appearances.

Stephanie-Johnson,-Hallowee

I have discovered that being prepared goes a long way to helping with my anxiety, but more importantly that the love and support I feel from friends and family is what really buoyed me when I thought I might sink.  And recently I’ve noted that in almost every conversation I’ve been having I’ve heard women tell me some amazing story about how they are ‘in transition’ or are ‘reinventing’ and how many of them have connected with communities that are inspiring them to make change and do the impossible with their businesses and personal lives.  They are throwing fear out the window and realizing how it doesn’t serve them.  If change is the only constant, I am seeing it everywhere I look now.  People moving, getting out of relationships, moving into new partnerships, downsizing, having children, losing parents, getting sick, getting healthy, changing careers, selling it all and seeing the world, moving to another country, creating and inventing new businesses and new ways of doing business, leaving the known for the unknown in everything and embracing it.

I’m inspired to stop talking about it already and start a salon at home where friends share experiences, ask questions, motivate, inspire and support.  It seems I’m not alone in this movement and I’m excited to embrace the change that is inevitable, and to surround myself with like-minded people who have an equal desire to improve the quality of their lives and relationships.  Below are some of the resources I’m currently tapping in my quest for inspiration and everything good.

Stephanie-Johnson,-HK-swatc

Read:  The 4-Hour Work Week.  If this book doesn’t kick you in the ass and make you laugh while doing it I don’t know what will.

Do:  Juicing.  I received a juicer for Christmas and ever since, I have been obsessed and amazed at how much healthy I can put in my body in thirty seconds or less.

Listen:  Daft Punk.  The grooves on Random Access Memories inspire me to get moving and keep creating.

Role Model:  Gwyneth Paltrow is ‘the person whom I most admire’ at the moment.  Rather than talking about reinventing, she is enhancing the rich life she already has by adding author, fitness guru, and app designer to her already impressive resume as actor and mother.  Say what you want, but there is no denying that this is one woman who is going for it.

Do:  Join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture).  If you’re unfamiliar, here it is in a nutshell:  a farmer offers a certain number of “shares” to the public.  Customers purchase a share and in return receive a box of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season.  It’s a great way for consumers to buy local, seasonal food directly from a farmer.

Do:  JumpLife.  A super fun trampoline workout that feels more like playtime than anything else.

My Hero:  Erela.  My (nearly six-year-old!) daughter inspires me every day.

What inspires you to forgo your fears and embrace change in your own life?  I’d love to hear your comments below!

erela,-my-hero

 

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