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.”

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.

 

Crushin’ on my City

Hi, friends!

Did you hear that Austin was named the best place to live  in the US for the second year in a row? I have to agree. I feel fortunate to call this place my home and personal playground. Here’s what I have going on in this lovely city as of late:

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  • Along with my full time job, I am now a freelance blogger and social media editor for Free Fun in Austin and Austin.com. It keeps me busy in the best way possible.
  • I am also a fairly new member of the Austin Food Blogger Alliance. I’ve been doing food tastings in the area for years now, so it’s amazing to finally meet up and feast with my fellow local foodies.
  • If you know me, you probably know that I love traveling and that I go somewhere new every chance I get. But this past January, I took my first completely solo trip to Chicago. It was liberating and inspiring and I already can’t wait to do it again. It’s also motivated me to go on even more solo-adventuring in Austin. Whether that’s a happy hour or a hike, I am finding all of this extra alone time to be both meditative and indulgent for my soul.
  •  Speaking of solo-dates, I turned 29 a few weekends ago and took myself out for an Austin goat-yoga date. (If you haven’t tried this goat yoga thing, I highly recommend it. I’m not the biggest yoga fan, but baby goats? They’re cool with me. Even the one who pooped on my mat.) I spent the rest of the day with friends who spoiled me, and the next day with my little family who spoiled me some more. There was a lot of pizza from Stanley’s Farmhouse and plenty of cocktails from Upstairs at Caroline’s involved. So yeah, I’m a pretty lucky twenty-nine year old. (I refuse to say almost thirty because, dangit, I’m claiming every last second of my twenties.)

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  • I’m on a mission to slowly but surely visit all of the pretty walls in Austin. There’s so many of them. Wish me luck. (This one’s on 101 W. 5th)
  • My husband and I recently learned that our house is worth almost 100k more than when we first bought it. Say what?! This blows my mind. Austin real estate is a force to be reckoned with right now. While we’re not looking to move out right this moment, it’s definitely one of those exciting future things to think about. There’s a few of those types of things on the horizon right now. (Definitely non-baby related exciting things, y’all. I feel the need to clarify that since I’m almost thirty now. Er… I mean, since I’m twenty-nine now.)
  • Hey, Austinites? Congrats to us for keeping it at #1. We may be famous for being weird, but we’re good at other things too. Like eating. And adventuring. And kindness. I’m proud to call you home, weirdo.

Tasting at Intero

I have a new love, and it’s called Intero.

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Intero translates from Italian to English to “whole” or “complete.”

This new Austin restaurant focuses on “Food, Chocolate and Family.” These are three of the things that make me feel the most complete, so the translation is fitting.

The environment at Intero is equal parts eclectic and inviting. The meals prepared are focused on sustainability and are locally raised and produced. These meals are also equal parts unique and comforting.  It felt like home, if only I knew how to cook, decorate and entertain like an absolute pro.

The incredible combination of flavors was amongst the things that had me most mesmerized. For example? Duck confit ravioli paired with caramelized cauliflower and golden raisins. Or grilled rabbit paired with creamy gnocchi, broccoli, pickled chile, feta and dill. Oh, oh and the whipped cannellini bean with house pickles, reggiano crackers and Texas olive oil. I mean, how?! How does one know how to take a variety of ingredients and turn it into a complete masterpiece? Because that is what comes to mind when I remember tasting these dishes. They are works of art. In presentation and taste, these dishes are exquisitely prepared.

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How to explain a meal like this? The succulence of the duck mixed with the sweetness of the raisins made for a divine duo.  The decadent gnocchi seemed like it was destined to find the tender grilled rabbit all along. I can’t say that I’ve ever tried whipped cannellini beans before, but they reminded me of a thinner, richer mashed potato. It sounds a bit odd to say then that these whipped beans had a small puddle of olive oil in the middle. And that we dipped homemade pickles and crackers into said beans and olive oil. And that, somehow, this strange little combination of things was completely incredible. I’m convinced it takes a genius to realize how to mix all of these random ingredients into something so flawless. So, yes, I am fairly certain that the team at Intero is made up of culinary geniuses.

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I haven’t even made my way to the chocolate yet. Y’all. They make homemade truffles. They were all enchantingly good, but my favorites were the hazelnut and the sea salt. I’m a sucker for anything sweet paired with just a little bit of savory, and these beauties more than satisfied that craving.

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Every once in a while I’ll have a food tasting where I just feel very strongly that the food was created with a lot of love. My experience at Intero gave me that inkling from start to finish. It was an evening that left me reminiscing on strolling amongst and dining at little cafes in Italy. Not only was every dish both original and superb, but the entire staff was warm, funny and kind. By the end of our dinner, both me and my plus one decided we needed to become best friends with co-owner Krystal.

The folks at Intero take their name seriously. It was an experience that truly left me feeling complete.

 

Mouton’s Southern Bistro

Years and years ago, I had one of my very first blog tastings at a little Cajun café in Leander, Texas named Mouton’s. I was treated like family and feasted on course after course of Southern delights. Since then, I’ve partaken in more food tastings than I could possibly count. But I still smile with nostalgia thinking back to that early tasting. It will always be one of my first memories of my history with food blogging, and it’s such a delicious memory to have.

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Fast forward six years later and Mouton’s has opened a second location in Cedar Park. Owner Ben greeted me when I walked in, and it felt a little bit like coming full circle.

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The new location has a cozy patio perfect for the beautiful weather we’ve been having. So I pulled up a chair and mused over a menu that made me very happy indeed. Of the many appetizing additions made since my last visit was a cocktail menu that had me swooning.

I started off with Rachel’s Greyhound, a stunning mix of Deep Eddy’s Grapefruit, Elderflower Liquor, lime, lavender, vanilla and soda. The lavender was made in-house, and by that I mean I was sitting right across from the lovely little pot of lavender. This immediately made me fall even more in love with this strong but subtly sweet concoction. Speaking of strong, I ordered the Frozen Hurricane next and y’all, they do not play with the drinks at Mouton’s. They use quality ingredients and do not skimp on the alcohol, and this made me feel momentarily like I was on vacation in paradise.

The crawfish dip arrived next. Bell pepper, onion and cream cheese mixed heavenly with the crawfish, and dipping all of this goodness into the buttery French Bread was pure joy. I don’t know that I’ve ever had crawfish dip before, but it immediately tasted like a comfort food to me anyway.

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The Grillades and Grits followed up that joyful introduction. Let me break this down for you, Cheesy grits with tenderized flat iron steak mixed, braised gravy, tomatoes and the Trinity of Cajun food. What is the Trinity of Cajun food, you might ask? I asked too. It’s onion, bell pepper and celery. And, guys. These three seemingly innocent vegetables make for a deviously good addition to the best of Creole meals.

The Catfish Jambalaya gave me a little taste of the best of Cajun cuisine. This was blackened catfish combined with chicken and sausage jambalaya and topped with a cup of shrimp etoufee. This mesmerizing mix melted in my mouth while the flavors danced on my tongue. I’ve adored Cajun food since I met my Boudreaux of a husband, but this meal just made that adoration grow even stronger.

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I finished off this feast with homemade key lime pie that was decadent and creamy with just the right amount of tang. The crumbly crust was the tastiest way to end a flawless four-course meal.

Pair all of this down home, delicious eating with great conversation and good company of Ben Mouton and team, and you have yourself one gem of a restaurant.

If you happen to find yourself in the North Austin area and feel yourself craving quality Cajun eats, I can now vouch for Mouton’s two times around. It’s a place to make memories, to enjoy a happy hour with good friends, and to dine like Southern royalty.

 

Tasting at Treaty Oak

The weather is FINALLY getting cooler here in Austin. Cooler for us does not mean cold. It just means not miserably hot. Think 75 degrees-ish. So why it might not feel exactly like fall, it is beautiful and the ideal time for sitting outside to eat, drink and be merry. This is one of the many reasons that Treaty Oak is currently one of my go-to spots in the Austin area.

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Treaty Oak is known for being a distillery and for making some of the tastiest cocktails around.  Whether you’re wanting gin, rum, vodka or bourbon, they’ve got it. And pitchers of the stuff, if your heart so desires. (No pitchers of bourbon though, kids. Because, uh, bad decisions would be made.) Pitchers of cocktails! As if that doesn’t already sound enough like paradise, Treaty Oak rests on 20+ acres of gorgeous land in the Texas Hill Country. With benches and games and twinkle lights galore and even a playground for the littles, this is one of the most magical places to spend an afternoon in the greater Austin area.

But, wait. I haven’t even made my way to the most exciting part yet. Treaty Oak has recently started serving culinary delights at their new restaurant, Ghost Hill. While Treaty Oak has always served tasty snacks, they now offer a chef-prepared BBQ menu that is absolutely divine.

Executive Chef Chris Andrews is something of a culinary genius with the combinations and flavors he has created in the dishes at Ghost Hill. The ribs were some of the best ribs I have ever had the chance to devour. Ever so lightly fried and with a sesame bourbon glaze, pickled carrots, Asian herbs and lime. I might be trying not to drool while typing this. I might also be failing.

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Truth be told,  barbeque is usually my least favorite type of food. This basically makes me a terrible Texan, I know, but there’s the truth. BUT Treaty Oak had me second-guessing my standpoint on BBQ.  Partly because the meats were all so perfect. The brisket, for example. Smoked to perfection and equal parts juicy and tender, this stuff quickly had me becoming a barbeque believer. And the roasted pork shoulder? Y’all. We’re talking achiote, cilantro, onion, cotija, lime and corn tortillas to pile all of this goodness onto. Obviously, this visit quickly had me converting into a BBQ believer. But another major factor in my newfound love were the sides. Chris and I both agreed that many popular BBQ places do great with the meats but slack on the sides. The sides are usually my favorite part about BBQ, so I am thrilled to report that they are most definitely not skimped on at Ghost Hill.

The potato salad was amongst my favorite of sides to devour. It’s both mayonnaise and mustard based, and this combo of flavors paired with the smoked brisket and lightly fried ribs left me swooning hard. But what equally impressed me in regards to each side was the care that was so obviously put into each. Chef Andrews knows that a meal is made extra special when every little detail is taken care of.  So, to my delight, every side dish could stand alone as its own delicious meal.

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Even the queso, though not exactly a typical bbq appetizer, was divine. I’ve mentioned before that I tend to judge a place based on how good their queso is.  To be fair, I wouldn’t have judged the queso quite as harshly at a barbeque joint, but Ghost Hill got so many extra brownie points (cheese points) for their decandently creamy, dreamy, cheesy goodness.

I can’t write a post about a distillery without giving a shoutout to at least a couple of drinks, I have to recommend the Dark & Stormy, which is Treaty Oak’s take on the Moscow Mule. Instead of vodka, they use rum! I absolutely love this substitution and now want to forever drink my ginger beer with rum. Not on their everyday menu is the seasonal spiked apple cider, which comes complete with an in-house made apple chip. Just the right amount of sweet and spice and everything nice. It was like drinking a cup of fall.

Oh, wait, wait, wait. How have I not mentioned the ice cream yet? Because, y’all. Homemade ice cream. I tried the strawberry basil and was absolutely blown away by the way the basil so elegantly complemented the strawberry. Chef noted that he has always loved adding herbs to ice cream flavors, and this is definitely a skill he has mastered. If you’re looking for sweets with a little aromatic kick, look no further than Ghost Hill.

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Treaty Oak is always working hard to make their space the best it can be, and it shows with every sip, every bite and every glance around their property. Though the distillery is only opened on the weekends,  the Ghost Hill hours have been expanded to also be opened on Thursdays from 4-9. May I suggest visiting the restaurant on one of these Thursdays? I may or may not have the inside scoop that the most unique of recipes are always being cooked up on this particular day. Chef Andrews has also started catering events for 10-500 people, so naturally I want to have every event ever in my life catered by Treaty Oak. But truly, whatever day and for whatever reason you decide to visit,  you’re going to feel like a kid in a candy store. Or an adult in a distillery store, if you will.

I could rave for another fifty paragraphs or so about the happiness I found at Treaty Oak. Whether it be the gorgeous property or the exquisite tastes, the good company or the bounty of libations, this spot has been added to my list of treasures. So I’m sending out an open invitation for all  reading this. Come for the BBQ. Or if you’re one of my vegetarian pals, come for the sides. Stay for the views and the pitchers of cocktails. And second helpings of barbeque.

Tasting at Coffee Shark

I have a new favorite coffee shop in Austin. Maybe even new favorite coffee shop ever.  It’s called Coffee Shark, and it will change your life in the best, most caffeinated way possible.

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Don’t let the name fool you. Coffee Shark serves far more than just coffee (also there’s no sharks), my friends. They’ve also got an amazing array of beer, sandwiches, (may I suggest the Pesto Mozzarella Tomato? Because I’m daydreaming about that cheese and pesto filled ciabatta bun right about now.) soups, pizza (from East Side Pies!), and so much more. I’m going to make a suggestion. Order the soft pretzels and the cheese plate and proceed to immediately dip the soft pretzels into the brie. GUYS. I am salivating thinking about this right now.

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The inside dons the open, industrial vibes that I am learning is something that I like a lot in my coffee shops. Games like cornhole and giant Jenga grace the back patio, which is perfect for drinking a cold beer on a hot, summer’s day. As far as beer goes, the flirty and fruity Hye-Biscus had me hooked from first sip.

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The best part? All is served with a heaping side of LOVE, y’all. Okay, I know that sounds super cheesy, (Speaking of cheese – Coffee Shark’s all comes from the local Antonelli’s Cheese Shop) but it’s true. Both the staff and clientele at Coffee Shark made me feel like family. I spent over three hours at this tasting, and when I wasn’t eating I was probably laughing or lost in good conversation. I hit it off with one group of customers so well that I made them take a picture with me and the owner joked that he had hired them for the day. After that, I spent another hour and a half chuckling and chatting with the Coffee Shark team.

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Though mine was more of a beer and food tasting, I can’t not mention the coffee. I had a regular drip coffee but this was far from any ‘ole regular drip coffee. Coffee Shark uses a steampunk coffee brewer. This is a hybrid (trybrid?) of the French press, siphon and pour over. They make their delightful drip coffees by using temperature, time, volume and water agitation.  So basically this coffee is pure MAGIC.

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I almost wish I could keep this place a secret, but that would be nearly criminal. I must share this good with the world. So, here you go, world. Coffee Shark is where it’s at.  Prepare to eat good food, drink good drinks, and make new friends.