Catching Katy

Reads, Eats, & Everything Else


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Palm Coast

July 4th can be a tough holiday because it sometimes falls in the middle of the week and most people just get the one day off. Luckily this year (and for the next couple of years) it fell on or near a weekend. So it was easy to take one day and make it an extra long weekend.

My father-in-law has a condo on the beach in Palm Coast, Florida, just south of St. Augustine, and we try to get down as much as possible (free beach and visit family? no brainer!). That usually ends up being just a couple times a year since it is about a 6 hour drive, but we decided to make an extra long weekend of it for the 4th this year.

I grew up going to the gulf almost exclusively, so I remember my first time to Palm Coast very distinctly. The beach looked so weird because there are tons of rocks. You can only be out on the beach during specific times (lower tides) because otherwise there’s not really a beach. But there’s still plenty of beach time and it’s kind of remote, so it’s never crowded, even during the July holiday. Our dog Royal loves the beach and he would run and splash and chase the ball and roll in the sand all day if he could.

We usually eat out when we go to visit and get around to different places, but there is one restaurant we go to every single time. Osteen’s Restaurant in St. Augustine has THE best fried shrimp you will ever eat. I’m sorry (but not sorry) I cannot speak to anything else on the menu but I’ve never gotten anything else on the menu. The shrimp are giant, the sauces and hush puppies are delicious, and the sides are always fresh. My go to sides rotate between green beans, coleslaw, and fries. Pro tips: cash only and no reservations; there will be a wait so either go at an odd time or get there between 7:30-8pm (they stop seating at 8:30); or get it to go!


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Artisan Custom Closets

My husband and I bought our first house together a few months ago. We pretty much instantly fell in love with this house. It was built in 1965, had the same owner until 2018 when it was sold to someone who completely renovated it, who then sold it to us. So we are the second family to live in it!

The renovation was beautiful but there were still a couple things left for us to do. And at the top of that list was the closets. Of the 3 bedrooms, only one has closets with any kind of hanging or shelving system. The laundry room was a blank slate as well. And of course we needed to hang clothes when we moved in, so we were luckily able to get going on this project even before we closed on the house.

We asked my brother-in-law who they had used for their closets. They loved who they used but it had a been a while, so they had actually merged with another company (or something). So we ended up at Artisan Custom Closets with Andrea as our Design Consultant.

She came out to the house and talked about what we wanted. She took a look at the spaces and took measurements. A couple weeks later she came back and showed us designs, including a photo mock up. Everything looked great. We picked out our finishes and other options (drawer fronts, pulls, hanging bar finishes, soft close, etc.) and put half down.

Then came the only downside. We had to wait. It took about 5 weeks for production, so we had to go a few weeks just having clothes in piles and on beds. Which was fine. First world problem, right? They produce everything in house and have their own installation staff, which was comforting. Then came installation day. It took a whole day to do 3 closets and the guy who did the installation was great. He was efficient, polite, and cleaned up well after.

We were very impressed by the whole process and very pleased with the result. And the best part was that it was VERY affordable. And the initial consultation is free, so why wouldn’t you at least check it out if you’re considering custom closets? Check out Artisan if you’re in the Atlanta area.

Our closets and laundry aren’t huge, so ours were fairly simple. They work perfectly in our house and are already being used well. The master closet was the largest project and we were able to easily do his and hers sides, with slight differences to meet each of our needs. My side has a long hanging bar (dresses) and more shelves to shoes. Not the greatest pictures due to lighting and small spaces, but it should give you an idea. Definitely an added bonus to our new house!

Laundry room is a long, narrow walk-in room with washer and dryer on each end
Shelves, cabinets, & a hanging bar!
Guest bedroom reach in closet
Long, narrow walk-in master closet
His and her sides – love it!


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Ponko

Many years ago, when I was in high school (yes, that was many years ago), there was a little restaurant called Food Ease. It was in a little strip behind the Applebees and it was delicious. Asian-inspired chicken fingers, fried in panko crumbs, that were sweet and savory at the same time. And how in the world did they get their rice so perfectly sticky? And omg the sauce.

But sadly, they closed. For years friends talked about Food Ease and the chicken and many tried to replicate. I even took a stab at a recipe. But it was no where near the same.

Then one day, there was news. The family was returning to Atlanta. And was going to re-open. And it was going to be near my house!!! I really can’t explain the excitement and I don’t think I will ever be as excited about a restaurant opening than I was then. It took a while to get open, but they were kind enough to do tray sales on certain days, so we could get our fix of chicken while anxiously awaiting the grand opening.

And grand it was. Ponko Chicken opened and it lives up to every memory and expectation. You can find it in the Chamblee area and Midtown because, yes, someone quickly opened a franchise location because, yes, it is that good. And the best is that there are so many options! Finger plates, sandwiches, tacos, hot dogs salads. OG, spicy, bbq. Numerous side options. Delicious flavored teas, beer on tap, and wine. Desserts.

My go-to is a finger plate, OG, with white rice and Ponko fries. But the tacos are also delicious. my husband likes the spicy fingers. And of course you cannot forget the extra Ponko sauce and ranch. And no, it’s not just any asian-style sauce or ranch. We always have a bottle of the Ponko sauce in our fridge at home because of course they sell it. They’d be dumb not to!

Anyway – if you can’t tell, I love this chicken. And the restaurant. And I am so happy they returned and re-opened to build their Japanese American chicken tender empire. If you haven’t checked it out – what are you waiting for?!


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AR Workshop

I like to be crafty and I like the idea of DIY but I am also a slight perfectionist (though not nearly as bad as I used to be). I also have trouble decorating. I have trouble visualizing decor and making decisions. So all around some issues! Luckily for me there are lovely little shops and activities that can solve many of these problems.

I’ve tried the sip and paint places and painting is definitely not my gift. I’ve done a couple and have never painted anything I would actually hang on the wall. Then last year my friend discovered AR Workshop. There are a number of them around Atlanta (and around the country) and we have now been to two different locations. They have mostly wood projects – signs, frames, display boxes, clocks, trays. You pick your date and project (some can be customized) ahead of time to reserve your spot then just show up! At the locations here you can also bring your own wine.

This is also not the cheapest activity you will do but think about it. You end up with a piece of decor that you made (or at least put together and painted) that you can actually use in your house. I love it!

Last year the shop in Lawrenceville had a Christmas in July sale so we made Christmas decor. I made a plank sign that I did actually hang on the wall, though I wish I had done a couple things differently. This time we hit up the Smyrna location since it was a little closer for two of us. Since we are moving to our new house soon and we got married last year, I wanted to do something cute with our last name.

When you get there, everything is set up for you! Your wood pieces, the stencil of your design, and any materials might need. You’ll have a pro or two (depending on how many people are doing projects) who will walk you through every step. Everyone mostly has the same steps, depending on how fancy you want to get. You’ll pick out whatever stain, method, and/or paint you need, and they have lots of examples to looks at as well expert advice to offer.

The first step is always sanding the wood, getting rid of rough edges. Then you stain any wood that needs staining. Mine was the frame that needed staining. You can also use different methods of staining to give it different looks, but since mine is just the frame I kept it to a simple dark stain.

The next step for mine was painting the main board. You could also stain this if you wanted to. I picked a nice gray since that is a main color in our new house.

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Next, you take your stencil and tape all over the cut-out space with little pieces of tape. Then you peel off the backing from the blue stencil and stick it to your wood. Then you peel off all the little pieces of tape. I’m going to be honest – I have no idea why you do these steps. I didn’t ask, I just did as I was told. I’m sure there’s some science around it and if I sat and thought about it for a minute I could probably figure it out. But I don’t really care how it works, just that it does!

Once your stencil is placed and tape-free, you paint! You dab the paint into the stencil (as opposed to painting strokes). This keeps the paint from getting under the stencil.

Then you peel off the stencil and voila! You have a lovely painted wood project! You may need to do some touch ups, which the expert can you do. And not pictured is the putting it all together. In my case it was using a nail gun to put the frame on. I know, I know – how could I not get photographic evidence of the nail gun. It’s obviously the coolest part. Next time.

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I loved my project and will definitely go back, even it’s once a year when there is a specific project I have in mind or holiday I want something for. I highly recommend getting a group together and checking it out. Find one near you!

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23andMe

I have never really had a serious interest in the whole DNA kit thing. It would be interesting to know where your ancestors are from but I didn’t really care to pay money to know that kind of information. I’m pretty sure I’m European and that’s enough for me.

But then a family member told me about 23andMe which also has a DNA health component that includes reports about genetic health risks, carrier status, wellness, and traits that are linked to your DNA. Now that interests me more. Especially to know if I have variants related to health conditions I might have or things I could potentially pass on. No, I’m not pregnant but that is something I would want to know eventually so why not go ahead and find out?! Most insurance companies do not completely cover this testing even when you are pregnant so you have to pay for it eventually if this is information you want to know.

So I did it! I got a discount code and ordered my kit. It came in a nice little box and had everything I needed. And by everything I mean a tube to spit in. There are clear instructions. Spit in the tube (don’t eat or drink for 30 minutes), seal it up and release whatever preservatives keep it fresh, seal it back in the box, and ship it back.

Then you use the bar code to register your tube with your account and you wait. In the meantime, you can take surveys online that also link to your account and DNA so researchers can use it to have even more accurate information about DNA and genetics. I work in research so of course I did all of this – but it is optional. You can also track where your DNA is in the analysis process.

research23andme tracking

It took 17 days from the day I put it in the mail to get my results back, which I didn’t think was that long and it was earlier than the ‘expected’ date. You can see everything online, of course, and there is a lot to go through!

My ancestry was not at all surprising. I’m very European (99.5%). And if you’ve seen me or know me you would not be surprised either. I guess the breakdown was kind of interesting, but again, nothing surprising.

23andme ancestry

The health information was very informative. You HAVE to remember though that this is not diagnostic at all or a guarantee of anything to happen. You can use it as a springboard to talk to your doctor about anything concerning. Luckily, I have nothing concerning.  There were a couple variants of health conditions that were detected, but nothing that I am at an actual risk of developing. Then there are carrier status reports – genetic variants that could affect your children’s health. No variants detected there! But this includes things like cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, and 42 other conditions I have never heard of.

health

The last reports are related to how DNA may affect your body’s response to diet, exercise, and sleep, and the genetics behind your appearance and senses. For example, I am predisposed to weigh about average. I apparently also have a muscle composition common in elite power athletes so it looks like I squandered that one! As far as traits, some are true for me and some are not. My report says I have “slightly higher odds of disliking cilantro” (yes, this is genetic), but I love cilantro. However, I am likely to have blue or green eyes (check), straight or wavy hair (check), and be bitten more often than others by mosquitoes (big check). It’s amazing what they can predict using genetics!

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I thought this was all very cool information. Luckily there’s nothing serious health-wise that I need to be concerned about right now, so some might say it was a waste of money, but I don’t feel that way. Let me know if you are interested in this and I’ll send you a referral code! They have the Health + Ancestry or just the Ancestry options. Think about it!

Use my referral link for a minimum of 10% off – or if there is a better deal happening you’ll get the better deal and I’ll still get the referral! https://refer.23andme.com/s/ak5bj


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Swimming Pigs

Since my previous post about our honeymoon was getting long, I promised to write one specifically about the excursion. As I said, there were plenty of free activities at Sandals Emerald Bay, but there were also optional excursions and we decided to not be completely lazy every single day.

Now I may have been – at first – a little underwhelmed going to the Bahamas (a feeling that was completely unfounded and wrong), but when my husband told me what excursion we would be doing I almost cried. Ever since I was little I have loved pigs. Don’t ask me why and I don’t know where that love came from (mom? dad? anyone know?), but I love pigs. So you can imagine my excitement when I found out we would be SWIMMING WITH PIGS. Even now, almost 9 months later, I am reliving the excitement. I had also seen this excursion on The Bachelor so I had a pretty good idea of what to expect.

The tour was done by Great Exuma Water Sports. They had 2 time options – a morning and afternoon. We decided we could suck it up and set an alarm one morning, knowing that the weather would be more mild than the middle of the afternoon on a boat. I want to say there were about 25 of us on the tour but that could be way off. There was a short bus ride to the other end of the island where we boarded the boat and took a nice little ride through the Exuma islands. The guide was great – telling us stories and history about the area and specific islands. And just riding around in a boat was fun enough!

But of course we were there for more. The first stop was Pig Island and it is definitely something you need to experience. As the boat nears the island, pigs literally begin running into the water. They swim to the boat, amidst sting rays swirling around below the surface. (You can see some of it in the video on my last post). We jumped out of the boat, into the water, and began feeding the pigs chicken hot dogs. Only the big ones really swim out into the water but there are little ones too that hang out at the edge of the water on the island. I guess eventually they learn to swim because that’s where the treats are. They also bring a bucket of leftovers to feed to both the big pigs and little pigs to make sure everyone gets some grub. We hung out with the swimming pigs in the water for a bit then made our way up onto the island where I immediately found a cute little friend. I held him like a baby and he fell asleep in my arms. Once again, I was almost in tears.

I could talk about the pigs for days. I was in love and would have brought that little piggy home if I could. But there was more to the tour! Our next stop was a little island that bordered both the Atlantic Ocean and the Bay where there is a cool blow hole. It also had beautiful views. I think you would typically do some reef snorkeling there as well but the Atlantic was very choppy that day and it would not have been a pleasant snorkeling experience.

Our guide found a live starfish along the ride, which we passed around the boat (then returned to the water). We stopped at another island to see and feed Bahamian Rock iguanas (who eat grapes). And our last stop was by the little island to do a little snorkeling since we couldn’t do it at the reef.

I would definitely recommend this tour if you visit Great Exuma. It was nice to get out of the resort for half a day and we still got some good nap time by the pool after we returned. I cannot imagine a better honeymoon – my husband did a FANTASTIC job planning – and Sandals definitely set the bar high for all-inclusive resorts.