How I’ve Stayed Financially On Track in 2020

This has been a year of surprises, to put it mildly. One thing that I want surprising me as little as possible is my finances. Despite the craziness of 2020, my little family has found some great ways to save money and track spending in the past six months. I wanted to share a list of those tips with you today.

Weekly checking to savings deposits

I set this up through my bank earlier this year. The funds go directly from my checking to savings every week. It’s such a simple way to watch my savings increase, and it’s exciting to see such a small weekly amount turn into a much more substantial yearly one.

Pigly

Pigly offers a variety of financial calculators to help me figure out my finances both easily and efficiently. The credit card, home and education calculators are a few of my personal favorites, but there are so many to use that I know my favorites have room to change as my lifestyle does. The free calculators can be used for figuring out everything from loan payments, estimating investment returns, or just about any other important financial decision. Pigly has been a pig – er big – time help in navigating my finances during a year of such uncertainty.

Making home-focused investments

I’ve never been much of a homebody, but this year has definitely helped me lean in to the comforts of staying in. Two of my favorite purchases this year have been my espresso machine and wine bar cart. Having a little station for coffee and drinks is not only super fun, it’s also helped me to stay safe and save pennies I’d otherwise spend on to-go coffee and cocktails.

Freelancing gigs

Blogging and social media opportunities have been a great way for me to make and save some extra money this year. I also love that it’s a way to try new things and stay connected to the community, even from home!

Using the info at my fingertips

If you’re a millennial, you probably remember growing up as public (I definitely typed “pubic internet access” at first and I’m really happy I caught that typo.) internet access came to be. It was pure magic. As a kid, I used this magic for growing virtual pets and collecting online stickers. Now I can use it to do other magical things like check my credit and educate myself on all things money related. CreditKarma is definitely a go-to of mine. I love that they not only keep me up to date on my credit score, but also provide me with helpful advice, recommendations and graphs on account info. CNBC and Bloomberg are two other online options that offer helpful articles to keep my wallet well-balanced.

Paying it off

This year I’ve really had time to focus on debts that I want to make much smaller or get rid of all together. I paid off my car note this year and can’t tell you how excited I was to get that title in the mail. It’s also pretty amazing to be worry free when it comes to car payments. More money in my pocket and maybe for a few extra bottles of wine too? Maybe means definitely, by the way.

What are some of your tips for saving and staying financially savvy in 2020? Dish on those dollars!

My Blogging Journey: The Good, The Bad and the Awkward

I often get asked about my journey into the world of blogging. I wanted to share that story with you today.

When people ask me how I got started as a food/travel blogger, I tell them the truth. The truth being that I started blogging way before it was cool. (Is blogging ‘cool’ now? Maybe the right word is “relevant”.)

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Before blogging even existed, I wrote on an online journal called Xanga. I was sixteen years old and homeschooled, and I mostly wrote about how annoying my brother and his friends were. It was all very exciting. After Xanga came MySpace posts, in which I  completed surveys which asked questions like “Have you ever liked someone so much that it hUrTs?” and wrote a slew of melodramatic poetry. Vox followed, and this was the first platform that could actually be considered a blog of sorts. I continued to write sappy poetry and shared nearly every detail of my nineteen-year-old life. I was in my first serious relationship (with the fellow who is now my husband) and thought this fact made me interesting enough to share mortifying amounts of personal information. Do I regret this? I don’t. I was incredibly young and newly in love and processing an onslaught of fresh emotions in the best way that I knew how. Do I look back at these posts and turn bright red while simultaneously shrieking in laughter and moaning in horror? Definitely, I do.

Eventually, I found a small community of like-minded bloggers who weren’t completely terrified of me. I even met a couple of these online friends in real life. I think this was when I began to realize what lovely opportunities could arise from the interwebs. When Vox shut down its platform, most of this little community made its way over to WordPress. This same platform is also where my blogging career would slowly start to take off. I found an online magazine that allowed me to trade my words for adventures. In exchange for a blog post, I would have the chance to zipline across the hill country of Austin, meet Willie Nelson at a movie premiere, flyboard (aka fly into the air propelled by a water jet-pack) across a lake, and view my beautiful city from both a helicopter and a hot-air balloon ride. I’ll never forget the wild elation that came from my first season of dreams coming true; the time in my life when I learned that the sky was both literally and metaphorically the limit.

My senior year of undergrad, another opportunity crossed my path. For years, I had been registered on an online modeling forum. I had mostly used this as a fun experience and had never really considered getting paid substantially for these opportunities. I had the chance to explore beautiful parts of my city, meet talented photographers and receive photos in exchange for my time. I absolutely loved it and didn’t think of it as much more than a hobby.  So when I received a message asking if I’d like to audition to star as myself in a nationwide commercial, I was surprised. I was also learning to live by the phrase, “Why the hell not?” I went in for the audition. I was totally myself, which mostly means I was an awkward ball of energy.

I got the part, awkward ball of energy and all. The part was me as my blogging self, and the company, U By Kotex. I would have never imagined that anyone would want to pay me to talk about my period, but here we were. The next few months were a complete whirlwind. A camera crew took over my house, visited my on-campus radio show and followed me around town to and from my blogging escapades. This wrapped up and, about a month later, I received a phone call. The producers of the commercial wanted to fly me first class to Detroit to film a second piece. I was at my old apartment’s pool when I got the call. I really liked that pool, so sometimes I would sneak back in for a tanning session. I vividly remember sitting on a lounge chair in happy shock, excitedly calling my husband to tell him the news.

I flew to Detroit, seated next to men at least thirty years my senior and drinking the complimentary wine to pass the time. The next two days were a blur of makeup, wardrobe and filming. I spent the day playing dress up and talking to a camera about my life, and well, feminine products, and the nights hanging out with the film crew, exploring spots that these Detroit natives loved best.

In the months that followed, I would graduate with an undergrad in Communications. In the years that followed, a Master’s in Business. I would find a passion for the storytelling powers of social media, and dive into a career in the marketing world. While I know that my degrees played a big role in moving this career forward,  I am also certain that I wouldn’t be where I am today without sharing my own stories – the big, the little, the good, the bad and especially the awkward. Editor’s Note: It is me that we’re talking about, so it’s all been a little awkward. 

Top 5 (New-To-Me) To-Go Eats

I remember telling people in the pre-quarantine days that I feared going insane if this shelter-in-place situation actually became a reality.  Even though I knew that it was necessary, I worried that my social and constantly busy self might shrivel up into a ball of unwanted isolation. Surprisingly enough, that has not at all been the case.  

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I’ve been savoring both the moments of solitude and togetherness. I’ve cherished the extra time spent with my little fam. And I’ve loved the extra time to further explore passions and hobbies that have been on the back-burner.

I’ve had the opportunity to read and write and exercise like it’s my day job (and honestly, it sort of is right now.) For the first time in, well…, ever, I’ve allowed myself to slow down and really reflect on what I want and what matters most. This slowing down and introspection thing means I’ve also had time to do magical things like have a family picnic on an empty downtown rooftop and go on a semi-spontaneous beach trip and, obviously, eat all of the things ever. I thought I’d take some time to list my top five new-to-me takeout eats that I’ve drooled over in the past few months. 

  • Via 313– Pickle Pizza. Pickle. Pizza. Enough said. But I will say a little more. I wasn’t sure if I’d be a fan of Detroit style pizza, as I visited Chicago and wasn’t a big fan of the deep dish. But that caramelized crust had me swooning. Lesson learned. I will never assume that thicker crust pizza is all the same, ever again. 
  • Bird Bird Biscuit – We picked up a couple of these big babes on our way to the beach, and it was absolutely the best way to start a mini-vacation. Hubs and I both opted for the Queen Beak  – spiced and breaded chicken thigh meat with cayenne black pepper honey and bacon-infused chipotle mayo. We added cheese because, cheese. That crispy, juicy chicken paired with the buttery, crumbly biscuit was an experience so delicious that it often makes its way into my daydreams. If you’re looking for drool-worthy eats + local black-owned businesses to support, you definitely don’t want to miss out on these beautiful biscuits. 
  • Halal Brothers – The lamb shawarma bowl is life-changing. Fresh, flavorful, filling and lasts me for dinner and lunch the next day too. (And honestly, I still can’t finish it all because the portion sizes are THAT big.) 
  • Tumble 22 – Hands down the best hot chicken I’ve had in Austin. And that macaroni? There’s something just slightly tangy about the decadent sauce that takes this mac to masterpiece level. This is arguably my favorite local spot right now, and I have some pretty serious chicken withdrawals if I don’t get my weekly fix. Full disclosure? I bought the $20 deal for a family of four tonight. I am the main fan of spicy fried chicken in my family of three, so I will be eating beans, kale slaw and chicken tenders for four by myself for the next few days. I ain’t mad about it. 
  • Big Belly BBQ – This unassuming little North Austin food truck packs a big barbecue punch. The brisket quesadillas left me swooning, and the dirty fried rice with chicken is a delicious way to spend $7. I tried all of the carbs on my first visit, but can’t wait to go back with my Keto husband to try ribs, sausage and brisket by the pound. And also the banana pudding, because your girl is definitely not carb-conscious. This is another incredible black-owned Austin eatery that you’ll want to hit up like, yesterday.

Alright, dish the details on your latest dishes. What delicious things have you eaten recently? 

PS: Just a quick reminder to wear your mask, stay safe and that all lives don’t matter until #blacklivesmatter. 

 

Roses, Ramblings and Life Right Now

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It was the day after Valentine’s Day, and I decided to buy myself roses.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Valentine’s. I’m a Halloween-Thanksgiving-Christmas (don’t make me pick one, they’re a package deal.) kind of human, and all other holidays following just don’t seem to sparkle quite as much.

My husband is not a writer but is definitely the hopeless romantic of the two of us, and will spend prolonged amounts of time trying to find the Hallmark card to perfectly suit our love.

Still, the day after Robby drove across town to acquire my very favorite cupcakes and brought home said perfect Hallmark card, I found myself discovering the pure joy that is Amazon Grocery.  Seriously, how can one say no to two dozen roses for $13.99 plus $10 off your first order? This is not at all a sponsored post, just me saying I will gift myself practically free roses any dang day of the year.

I haven’t blogged in roughly ten thousand days, so it may seem odd that I am coming on here to tell you that I bought myself roses about a month ago. It just felt nice. I like buying myself flowers. I like taking myself on dates. I like traveling alone. It’s all so liberating, and the older I get the more I thrive on feeling liberated.

But let me tell you other things too.

I spent the first few days of February in Los Angeles, sipping on rosé sangria, strolling the Santa Monica pier and looking at things I could barely afford to touch on Rodeo Drive. It was a trip full of laughter and girl talk and late night prank calls on my husband, because I am a mature adult. On our last night there, we finished happy hour and realized we were in walking distance to Venice Beach. With the wind in our hair and a slight chill in the air, we made it just in time to watch the sun set on the rolling waves. Life is magic sometimes.

Robby just turned 37 a few weeks ago. He’s old but also my favorite human and I love him a lot. A marriage goes through so many seasons, and we’re fortunate in that most of ours have been happy ones. But this one that we’re in right now? It’s one of the best so far. I mean, the guy still makes me googly eyed on a regular basis. Last week we shared an impromptu slow dance in the dining room to the the song we had our first dance to over ten years ago. I can’t type that without smiling. Eye roll, vomit, repeat, am I right?

For reference – I’ve loved him a lot since he was 25, at which time I was 19 and thought 25 was incredibly ancient. I turn 31 next month. GOOD GOLLY.

What else? I spent 2019 traveling to new places like Quebec City and Guatemala and Jamaica, and also learning to fight for myself in ways that felt both uncomfortable and empowering. I am still learning how to feel okay being uncomfortable. And to be honest, I feel uncomfortable almost every day. Because I’m challenging myself in new ways almost every day. In learning that discomfort and growth are oftentimes congruous, it’s something that I’m getting better at every day too.

And that’s put me in a really great place for 2020.

Traveling is still something that’s so important to me and always will be, and I’m giddy about my upcoming adventures both big and small. But there are other things on my horizon too. And no, that’s not another baby. Not yet. And, world? Honey? I love you, but it’s none of your business when “yet” ends for me. It baffles me that I was considered young to have a baby at 25, but now at 30 the world feels equally happy to inform me of my ticking clock. Ladies, that means we have maybe a five year window in which society deems it ideal for us to have our babies. Gross, right?

Soap box aside, I have big plans both travel and non-travel related for this new decade.

My twenties were so good to me, but thirty has treated me nicely in ways that I didn’t even begin to think about prior. In old people ways, if you will. A recently paid off car note. A growing savings account. A career that both rewards and challenges the hell out of me. A loud list of things that I plan to do in the next decade.

I want to buy a new house in an adorable town square and speak Spanish fluently and write a book. I want to take a solo trip to Europe and go on a road-trip to Utah and take my husband on a skydiving date. I want to run more races and read more books and love on my humans every chance that I get. I’ve got all of this and a whole lot more on this list, and that makes me smile.

Because I trust myself. That was something I learned to do in my twenties. To want something and go after it until I have it. But speaking loudly about these dreams and goals before I actually have all of them, and feeling confident enough in myself to do that? That’s thirty talking. And damn, I really love the way that she sounds.

GhostPillow Review

If there’s one thing to know about my little family, it’s that you shouldn’t wake us up. We love our sleep, and we wake up very, very slowly.

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I’ve always been more of a night owl than morning bird, and I definitely believe that the worm can be caught any dang time of the day or evening. I’ve been known to send my boss and fellow team members emails at 1 am. I also proudly break the rule of not working from the place you sleep. I don’t think I need to sacrifice my comfort to be productive. I also have a pillow that makes leaving my bed a very heartbreaking moment.

GhostPillow is a cooling pillow that feels like sleeping on a cloud. Or air. Or bliss. Or a blissfully airy cloud. These summer months in Texas have been especially brutal for the past couple of months, but I forget that every time I lay my head down. It’s what dreams are made of. Light and soft and cool and magnificent. This is due to the magnificent sleep scientists who have developed the Patent Pending thermo-sensitivity technology to sense heat and adjust to keep the sleep environment temperature cool – aka a pillow that stays cool all night. This beauty also keeps moisture away and offers immediate cool burst airflow as soon as I lay my head down. It’s like magic, but better. It’s pillow science.

Some added bonuses? A 101- Night Sleep Trial, Free Shipping AND industry leading five year warranty.

And as someone who travels often and has slept on many an uncomfortable hotel pillow, I absolutely cannot wait to bring along the game changer that is the GhostPillow.

To be totally transparent (Get it?! Ghost?!…Transparent?!….Okay, I’ll stop), I am totally in love with my luxurious new sleep-partner, and I would really just love to scream it from the rooftops. But since I don’t have a rooftop handy at the moment, I’ll scream it from my blog. Ahem. I LOVE MY GHOST PILLOW!

Disclaimer – I received my GhostPillow free of charge. All opinions expressed in this post are my own. 

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.