How To Drink Your Wine And Have White Teeth Too

If you know me, you know that I am a huge fan of both coffee and red wine. If you know teeth, you know that’s not ideal for those pearly whites. 

Still, it’s important to me to keep my teeth as bright, shiny and healthy as possible, so I’ve tried a little bit of everything. That includes Crest White Strips, a slew of different whitening toothpastes and even a professional whitening treatment about six months ago. I’ve noticed results from all on different levels. The professional whitening treatment was the one that provided the most drastic results, but it was too pricey for me to keep up on a regular basis. I figured I would just have to be happy with the more minimal at-home solutions save the once or twice a year I planned on treating myself to an in-office treatment.

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Enter Smile Brilliant. Their team recently reached out to me to see if I would be interested in trying their in-home whitening kit. It was perfect timing, as I was trying to decide between another professional treatment or a grocery store bought kit. I figured the kit would be similar to the other at-home kits I had used in the past. They definitely proved me wrong on that front.

This kit was completely tailored to me and my teeth. My first box received included the whitening material and a playdough like mold to apply to my teeth. I sent these molds back to Smile Brilliant, and they sent me exact replica trays of my teeth in plastic form. Seriously! It was pretty crazy to see my teeth in a more flexible form, but it also made me realize that Smile Brilliant is not here to play. They mean business with this teeth whitening stuff.

Y’all, I was so amazed by how simple and effective this process was. Not only did I receive teeth whitening gel syringes, I also received desensitizing gel syringes to apply after the process. I added these gels to my teeth trays and then put those perfectly-fitted trays on my teeth. Really, it was that easy. I’ve tried kits in the past that have been uncomfortable or messy, but this just felt like I was wearing a second and lighter pair of my own teeth. That sounds strange, but trust me on this one, it’s ideal for a teeth-whitening experience. There was no pain and little sensitivity, and the results were incredible. It only took a couple of treatments for me to start seeing the whitening process do its work.

This convenient and cost-effective product was just as effective as a professional treatment. My teeth are whiter and brighter than ever, coffee and red wine drinking habits included. And that has caused me to Smile Brilliant indeed.

 

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30 Lessons Learned Before 30

I am officially 30, and that’s super weird. My twenties are obviously all that I’ve known for the past ten years, and I can confidently report that they were a decade worth getting to know.

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As far as 29 goes, it was the ideal way to say farewell to my twenties. I traveled well, ate deliciously, scored a job that I am passionate about, celebrated nine years of marriage with my favorite adult human and partook in baby goat yoga. The latter may seem out of place with the rest but must be mentioned, because baby goats.

Being a twenty-something was pretty great. It wasn’t always picture perfect, but it was a time overflowing with joy and growth and magic, just the same. It was a season that had me feeling happy, sad, confused and lonely at the same time. Just kidding, those are Taylor Swift lyrics. Here are some of the true feelings, insights and lessons that my twenties have gifted me:

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  1. Taking yourself on solo dates is important and liberating.
  2. If you have the choice between a new item or a new experience, always, always, always choose the new experience.
  3. Be careful when ziplining in Costa Rica. First aid kits are not necessarily required and dangling from your finger in the middle of the jungle is even more unfortunate than it sounds.
  4. Facing your fears is much easier than facing yourself afraid to face fears.
  5. Compliment strangers. Give out genuine smiles freely. Ask someone how their day is going. You have time for kindness.
  6. Confidence truly is its own kind of beauty. Others are attracted to the light that you have created all for yourself.
  7. Finding a job where you get paid partly to eat food and drink wine is, in fact, as amazing as it sounds.
  8. I can and will do things in my own time. We live in a society that says we have to do this, this and this by this age. Oh, but don’t do x, y, and z until you’re this age! And at some point two simple words went through my mind – “Or what?” What happens if I don’t do things like they tell me to? What if I don’t finish college at 22, get married around 27, have 2 kids by the time I’m 31? What if I marry at twenty, graduate at 24, have my first baby and renew my vows in Vegas at 25 (not on the same day, mind you.), graduate with my Master’s at 28, find a job I’m passionate about at 29, and, at 30, have absolutely no idea when I want to have another baby? True happiness found on my own time, by my own rules. That’s what happened.
  9. Petty as it may be, proving others wrong is very, very fun.
  10. Therapy helps to heal. Along with my decision to attend grad school, going to counseling for the first time was one of the best decisions made in my 26th year.
  11. Starting a serious, long-term and healthy (please note that healthy is key here) relationship at a young age does not mean that you will never have the chance to “find yourself.” This is a nonsensical notion pushed mostly on females in our society. Having or not having a significant other has never and will never define who I am. We as women are strong enough, smart enough, independent enough and resilient enough to learn, grow and flourish regardless of our relationship status at any given time in our lives.
  12. I don’t want and/or need that many friends. Younger me would be appalled with this one. In my late teens and early twenties, I collected friends like I now collect coffee mugs from my travels. (Note – My husband bought me a display storage case for my coffee cups because they were overflowing in our cupboard. Now we’re back to step one because the display storage is full. Fine, whatever, I have a problem.) This resulted in me obtaining unhealthy, volatile friendships and also not giving the quality friendships I did have the care that they deserved. Proudly picky is my mantra now.
  13. Jim and Pam are the cutest television couple to ever exist and there is absolutely nothing wrong with You-Tubing “Jim confesses his love to Pam” and watching said video approximately five times in a row. Anyone who says differently is a liar.
  14. Everyone will have an opinion on what you should want, need, do, be. There are so many voices out there, and every single one of them will think something differently. So focus on your voice. Focus on what you want, what you need, what you want to do, who you want to be. Just always remember – You have to live with you for the rest of your life.
  15. Confrontation is awkward and unfortunate but also sometimes very necessary. Because I am bubbly and nice and energetic, there is occasionally this misconception that I am also proper punching bag material. It wasn’t until my late twenties that I discovered that I would much rather face an uncomfortable discussion than let someone speak to me disrespectfully or treat me unfairly. It’s been worth every incredibly awkward confrontation since.
  16. There’s nothing wrong with “faking it until you make it.” In fact, sometimes faking it can actually give you the confidence and drive to make it.
  17. Coffee gets all of the credit, but English Breakfast Tea will sneak up on you in its utter delightfulness.
  18. Getting a tattoo at 18 is not something to regret years down the road. Even if it doesn’t fit your current narrative, it was an important part of your story at one time, and it’s a small piece of the person that you used to be. To have a tangible memory that will forever be a part of this past you? That is something to treasure, never to regret.
  19. Creating a human is awe-inspiring and miraculous and incredibly beautiful. Creating a human much like yourself is equal parts terrifying and hilarious.
  20. Despite what some say, having a child does not mean you can’t have your own life. It doesn’t mean you can’t travel the world. It doesn’t mean you should stop following your own dreams. It means you do all of these things, but more fiercely and with more gusto than ever before. Because you love these things. Because she is watching. Because so many women are still told they can’t or at least should not have it all, and enough is enough of teaching our next generation that crap.
  21. Growing up, I was told by romantic comedies and fictitious love stories that there is somebody out there who would be perfect for me in every way. False. (Said in Dwight Schrute’s voice.) My husband and I don’t have much in common. At all. We have different hobbies, different personalities, different goals and dreams, different ways of understanding and looking at the world. But he also makes me laugh, every single day. He’s truly my best friend. He’s always smiling. This isn’t an exaggeration. He’s like a smile machine. I can tell him every silly, crazy, ridiculous thing that’s on my mind, and I always do. Our daughter looks at him like he’s her own personal superhero. And he loves me more unconditionally than anyone that I’ve ever known. Maybe that’s not enough for everyone. But I’ve learned that it’s more than enough for me.
  22. When feeling worried or paranoid, never under any circumstance Google what you’re feeling worried and/or paranoid about. Google thinks you are definitely pregnant, that your identity has been stolen and that your mysterious new illness will, in fact, cause an imminent death.
  23. There is not a manual to traveling ‘right’. Often I’ll hear how I must pack this, go for this amount of time, “Wait, why would you go to Oklahoma?”, blah, blah, blah. As someone who traveled often in her twenties and plans to do the same in her thirties, I’ve found that these constraints completely defeat the purpose of traveling. Because, for me, traveling is about freedom and adventure and trying new things and meeting new people and letting go of the rules that others have tried to create for me. Traveling is about learning and experiencing those things for myself. And if someone tells me that I have to do all of that in these particular places in this certain amount of time? Thank you, next.
  24. Humans like to put other humans into boxes. Good or bad. Wrong or right. Happy or sad. Do this, or you must be like that. But we aren’t “ors”. Life is never that simple. We are “ands.” I am good and bad and wrong and right and happy and sad. I am this and I am also that. I am all of these things, sometimes all within ten minutes. Boxes are made for things, not people.
  25. Running, music and a good meal. These things are all works of art in their own right. They are exercise, and dance parties and sustenance, sure. But looking past the basics, they are also free therapy and the wind in your hair and your story with a melody attached. Always be willing to look past the surface. That’s where the most beauty is found.
  26. My life story and experiences should never be used as a scale to judge another person’s life story and experiences. Not everyone gets a happily ever after. Many work really, really hard and still can’t make ends meet. Some were born into hardships that I can’t even begin to understand. Just because my life has been fair, does not mean that everyone else’s has.
  27. Life works in circles and juxtapositions. Don’t try to figure it out, but be willing to roll with it anyway.
  28. Don’t regret your journey. It is possible to feel remorse for the hurt that you have caused yourself and others without wanting to take back the missteps it took to get to where and who you are now.
  29. Family is worth the fight. Just know that sometimes “the fight” can also mean knowing when to let go.
  30. Being a strong woman sometimes means feeling uncomfortably loud. I am a female manager in an industry of male leaders. Oftentimes it would be so much easier for me to be mild and meek and agreeable, and doing the opposite has often led me to wonder if I am being overly aggressive or coming on too strong. But I also understand that I feel this way due to society’s lingering standards of how women should act. So I bask in the discomfort, and I continue to be loud.

Bonus (Because I’m 30 and 9 days now, folks.):

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31. Not everything or everyone is worth figuring out. Not everyone will like you, things won’t always go as planned, some people are mean for seemingly no reason at all, life is going to break and heal your heart in equal or unequal measures, the perfect comeback generally comes thirty minutes after a heated conversation, not every human or situation can be fixed. Take a deep breath and let it go. Then do a dance, drink some wine, eat a little cheese and remember that life goes on.

This One Time At Band Camp (Just Kidding I Was Never in Band.)

A few months ago, my former high school reached out and asked if they could feature me as an alumni spotlight. I’ve been meaning to share the article I wrote up for a while, but it’s been a busy summer and I’d never quite got around to it. Today was the first day of school at my old stomping grounds, so it seems like as fitting a time as any to share!

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“Eleven years ago, I was an eighteen year old sitting in a freshman geometry class. At the time, I very much doubted I would even pass this geometry class. By the hair of my chinny chin chin and with the help of some great teachers and friends (shout-out to Mrs. Pope and Bryant Phamvu), I graduated with my class of 2007.

I started at Summit a socially awkward home-schooled girl, and I graduated without even the faintest idea of what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. It took years of waitressing, community college and even a brief stint as a lunch lady (I rocked that hairnet.) to figure any of that out. It took moments of perpetually feeling like a deer in the headlights before I found my place to shine (sans the headlights).

Now that I’ve found that place, it feels like the sweetest of spots to be. But let me rewind just a bit.

In 2008, I met a guy at my friend’s BBQ. He had a sweet smile, a kind heart and a thick southern drawl. I was young, naïve and still had absolutely no idea what I was doing with my life. It wasn’t something that should have ever worked out. Fast forward to 2018, and I’ve been married to my best friend for nearly nine years. Our redheaded four-year-old daughter is so lucky to have always known that sweet smile, kind heart and thick southern drawl.

Shortly after meeting my husband, a friend asked me to tour Concordia University with her. I never saw myself going to a four-year-college, but something changed that day. I spoke with a student adviser, and from that moment I knew that this was where I wanted to be. I soon transferred from community college to Concordia, and three years after this I graduated with my Bachelor’s in Communication. This made me the first female in my family to graduate college, and it sparked in me a fierce and passionate love for learning. Three years later, I would graduate with my Master’s in Business from this same university.

Today I work as a social media director and as a freelance food and travel blogger. You can often find me eating and adventuring my way around Austin, hopping on a plane or chasing around that vivacious little lady of mine. There’s never a dull moment, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I’m living a life that I once only dreamed could exist, but it took many awkward moments, handfuls of hairnets, plenty of mistakes and a failed geometry test or five to get here. It’s been a long and sometimes messy journey, but it’s been my journey. Sometimes I think that I’d love to go back in time and tell my eighteen-year-old self a few things. For starters, I’d tell her that being ‘cool’ is overrated, that beautiful things can happen in the most unexpected places and that big dreams can often be found in the smallest of moments. But then, I know I wouldn’t actually say any of that. Learning all of those things firsthand was the very best part.”

Tasting at Nixtamal

Okay, friends. Ready for a history lesson? Yes? Okay. There’s this little suburb of Austin called Round Rock, Texas. It has a quaint downtown and is such a fun little area to explore. I actually lived in this city as a kid, but my former obsession with the local library aside, I still didn’t know much about this neck of the woods. Until my recent tasting at downtown Round Rock’s newest restaurant, Nixtamal.

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Nixtamal is the process of the preparation of maize, in which the grain is soaked, cooked and hulled. This eatery is appropriately named considering all of the tortillas at Nixtamal are homemade. But I promised you guys a history lesson and now we’re venturing into food science, so let’s jump back to this in a moment.

Back in the 1800’s, there was a gang member and train robber named Sam Bass. Sam Bass made his way to Round Rock and decided to rob the town bank, but this plan quickly went awry. When local sheriff A.W. Grimes confronted Bass and his gang, Grimes was shot and killed. Bass was shot as well, and died shortly thereafter. Both men were only twenty-seven years old. Today Sam Bass and A.W. Grimes are two of the most prominent street names in Round Rock. As for that bank? It’s now a restaurant. If you guessed that this restaurant is now Nixtamal, you would be correct.

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With the gorgeous floor to ceiling murals and natural lighting of this spot, Nixtamal seems more like an Instagrammer’s dream that an old-timey bank. It’s only the vintage bank vault turned small dining area that gives it away. But let’s be real, that only completes the photo-worthiness of this lovely location.

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I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to write about the food, because everything I devoured was absolutely impeccable. The white queso was rich and decadent, and the salsa flight took my taste buds on a journey of flavors and spices. The Mexican street corn was amongst the best that I’ve ever tasted, and had just the right amount of both creamy and tangy.

As for the tacos? Well, they’re just about 85% of what I’ve been daydreaming about for the past few days. I began with the barbacoa taco. The homemade blue corn tortilla paired with the beans, cilantro and juicy barbacoa instantly had me hooked.

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The next taco was carne asada with beans and guacamole. A kind waiter suggested I add queso to the taco, and I happily obliged. The flawlessly seasoned meat paired with guac, melted cheese and warm homemade blue corn tortilla? Seriously, I can’t stop salivating as I write this. It was everything a taco should be and so much more.

As wonderful as the first two were, I would have to say they saved the best for last. The Diego is baja styled fried fish with pico, cabbage and cream sauce. I’m not usually one for seafood tacos, but I was a changed woman after one bite of this one. The flakiness of the fish paired wonderfully with the crunch of the cabbage and luxuriousness of the cream sauce. I was stuffed after my other courses, but I simply could not resist engulfing this entire dish in just a few bites. No shame in my taco game, y’all.

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I can’t forget to mention the drinks. They completed my feast but at the same time were in a league of their own. The Oaxacan Cure paired mezcal, fresh ginger, honey and lemon, while The Como La Flor combined hibiscus and mezcal. Where the Oaxacan Cure gave a light sweetness from the honey and a zestful kick from the ginger, the Como La Flor provided a refreshingly floral treat. With both of these cocktails, I loved the smokiness of the mezcal combined with the flavors of freshly homemade corn tortillas. 

It wasn’t just the amazing eats, the charming staff or the enchanting and historic interior that made this one of my new favorite places in Round Rock. It was little pieces of all of those things. Sam Bass and A.W. Grimes didn’t have a whole lot in common. But I’d like to think that if they came back to life for just a day, they might put aside differences to enjoy a taco or ten at their old stomping grounds.

 

Burnt Kitchen Tasting

Have you ever been to a restaurant so amazing that you leave just wanting to shout praises from the rooftop? And if the restaurant doesn’t have a rooftop, go find a random rooftop to happy scream on?! That’s how I felt about Burnt Kitchen, y’all.

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This farm-to-table concept in Leander, Texas was five years in the making, and the wait was more than worth it. Owner Deepak and Chef Greg have created an absolute gem of an eatery, and mark my words on this one. It will soon have every foodie in Austin driving out to the ‘burbs for a feast they’ll never forget. Lucky for me I got to be one of the very first foodies to enjoy said feast.

Deepak explained to me that everything from the bread to the chicken and veggies are locally sourced. In fact, one of the farms Burnt Kitchen uses is only a couple of miles down the road! This tasting had me impressed long before I ever picked up a fork.

But then I did pick up a fork and it was pure magic. The menu is relatively small and changes by season, which is a testament to the quality of everything served. As the plates arrived for my viewing and eating pleasure, it took a lot of self control not to immediately face-dive into all of them.

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The shrimp and grits were truly love at first glance. This was by far the most gorgeous presentation of the dish that I had ever seen, and arguably the most delicious too. Gulf shrimp, blue corn meal grits, heirloom tomatoes and shaved parmesan combined to make a harmonious and beautiful meal. I commented to Chef Greg that, though I love shrimp and grits, it often leaves me feeling overly full and bloated after eating. Not this time! Those fresh ingredients made all of the difference. I also loved that the shrimp had an ever-so-slight lobster-y taste to it, and that the grits were blue. Trust me on this. Blue grits are bomb, friends.

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The burger with a farm egg and green chili was another favorite of the evening. Deepak noted that at Burnt Kitchen, they rely very much on the quality of the ingredients and very little on the seasonings. For the most part, they only use salt and pepper to season. I was amazed and curious when I first heard this, but once I bit into this burger, I understood. The fresh farm egg paired with local beef and green chili was all that was needed to create an incredible array of flavors.

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The dill and peppercorn brine fried chicken sandwich and the carrot and beet salad with feta were two more plates that left me captivated. Chef Greg and team have this incredible ability to quickly cultivate simple items into culinary masterpieces, and it flabbergasted me in the very best way possible.

Another thing that had me happily awestruck? The 512 Pecan Porter Float. This float made with a popular Austin porter and vanilla ice cream was a sweet, creamy, boozy taste of paradise. The Pecan Porter is just one of the local brews that Burnt Kitchen offers on draft, and the options pair perfectly with their beautiful menu.

I ended my evening with smores. But these smores were not your regular, every-day smore. Nope. The chocolate stuffed inside the graham cracker and paired with a marshmallow was made from 70% cacao, making it a decadent, grown-up take on a beloved classic.

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While there, I texted my best friend about how blown away I was with this spot. Burnt Kitchen eats are inventive, flavorful and so very fun. While I can’t guarantee that you will have the same exact menu items as I did, I do know that your meal will be made from the highest quality and locally grown ingredients. Soon word will spread like wildfire and Austin foodies will be flocking to the suburbs. A little birdy also told me that this restaurant plans on expanding to Austin proper in the next few years. But for the time being, Leander has a pretty big one-up on us Austinites, and it’s in the kitchen. The Burnt Kitchen.

 

The Great Medicine Park Break-In Of 2018

It’s after midnight and my family has nestled into our lovely little cabin in Medicine Park, Oklahoma. My daughter is fast asleep. My husband heads to the patio and I follow shortly behind. Our deck overlooks the Wichita Mountains – There are twinkle lights and stars in the sky and a fire burning. It’s just absolutely perfect.
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I close the first door leading to the patio but it’s dark and now I’m feeling my way through the laundry room, trying to get to the door that will take me outside. I can’t find that handle so I try to get back to the kitchen, but the door knob won’t budge. At this point I feel claustrophobic and bang on the window until my bemused husband lets me outside. This is when we realize that the door back into the kitchen is, in fact, locked. As is the only other entrance at the front of the cabin. Oops.

My husband attempts to get the laundry door open to no avail, and we begin mulling over our options. There aren’t many options. Here’s what we’ve got: A. Traumatize our four-year-old for life by banging on her window until she wakes up and can open the door for us, or B. Sleep on the deck. It’s a beautiful night and all, but neither of us are really feeling option B., partly because our child would still be traumatized if she woke up and we had seemingly disappeared.  We eventually settle for option A., and both of us take turns banging on her window and yelling her name. The kid will not wake up. We huff and we puff and I swear we could have blown that cabin down, and our child is still dozing away peacefully.

After much debate and after facing the very real possibility of being trapped outside for the night, we turn our attention to the windows. Surely they must all be locked, right? But wait. Could it be?! Is this window MOVING? Just as we’d almost lost all hope, the miraculous stain-glassed window nudged open, and next thing I know I am diving head first onto the kitchen table.

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Afterward, when we were safe and cozy back inside our cabin, I couldn’t help but laugh. “Hey Robby…. Remember that time in Venice?” He smiled because he did. Four and a half years ago my husband and I were wandering the streets of Italy when a massive storm suddenly decided to let loose on us. To top it all off, we soon realized we were completely lost. By the time we finally made our way back to our hotel room, we were both soaking wet from our heads down to our sloshing shoes. But before we had found our way back, I found myself giggling. Robby, probably thinking his at-the-time seven month pregnant wife had completely lost her mind, asked me what was funny. “You know, this is going to be a great memory for us some day.” And it is. As are so many other misadventures made while traveling with my favorite guy. So too will be the great Medicine Park Break-In of 2018.

 

West Pecan Coffee + Beer Tasting

I am simply nutty over the newest coffeehouse in town. Well, just slightly out of town.

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West Pecan Coffee + Beer is a brand new coffee shop slightly outside of Austin in downtown Pflugerville.

It is all things adorable and amazing and delicious and delightful.

Walking into West Pecan, I was greeted with the smell of strong coffee and the open and inviting atmosphere. You guys, the interior is absolutely gorgeous. Many pieces, including the breathtaking floor-to-ceiling bookshelf, were handmade by the owners.

As if I wasn’t already blown away by the design, a giant and gorgeous flower mural was being painted during my tasting. It felt like the quintessential and quaintest of coffee shop moments, and I was giddy to be there to experience it.

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The tasting itself was a caffeine and beer lover’s dream.

Each drink or eat presented to me offered something unique and lovely.

The hand shaken iced tea was refreshing, light and so perfect for a hot summer’s day.

The cortado was strong, smooth and ideal for a morning wake-up call or afternoon pick-me-up.

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The S’mores brownie was just the right amount of sweet, and the cheese Danish simply left me googly eyed. Ordering a cheese danish has never been something I do on the regular. But after trying the flaky, buttery, creamy piece of perfection at West Pecan, I will be ordering ridiculous amounts of them.

The Saison comes from Adelbert’s, one of my favorite breweries in Austin. It was slightly fruity and subtly tart and all things that I love about the best saisons.

The cheese plate, oh, the cheese plate. This one comes from Antonelli’s,  an Austin shop famous for its cheese. Prosciutto, olives and a variety of cheesy goodness graced said plate, making it a lovely arrangement of mouthwatering items.

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With its picturesque charms, sweet staff and stellar eats and drinks, West Pecan has easily made it to my list of top Austin area coffee shops, and is more than worth the trip to the ‘burbs. I’m currently and eagerly planning a trip back and am seeing a ridiculous amount of cheese danishes in my future.