Tasting at Shack 512

Entering Shack 512 made me feel as if I was instantly transported to a luxurious vacation.  The drive out was a bit of a road-trip, albeit a beautiful and scenic one. But I knew as soon as I was taking the trolley ride down to the restaurant that it would be more than worth the miles.

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Breathtaking views of the lake paired with a relaxed yet stylish environment made me giddy for the rest of the evening. The eats and drinks I was served after, and the service that made me feel like I was part of the family only confirmed my giddiness.

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Shack512 has recently undergone a few alterations, this including name and ownership changes. Speaking with the owner Ashley, it was so clear to me the love and consideration that has gone into preparing each new dish and decision. As most Austinites will attest too, many of our lakeside restaurants are more about the location and less about the food. At Shack 512, the location and food compete for first place. The culinary creations here are unique, flavorful and fun. Take for example the pulled pork nachos that come topped with pico and smothered with queso blanco. Or the dipping sauce that perfectly accompanies this (and many other dishes), the Bourbon Glaze. Said glaze consists of (get ready for your mouth to water) sautéed garlic and onions in a sweet Kentucky bourbon and brown sugar reduction. It’s DIVINE, you guys. And let’s not forget the Mexican Martini,  which is spiced up with jalapenos and served in a HUGE shaker. It’s just as magical as it sounds.

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Really, I just loved being there. I loved sipping my Mexican Martini as the sun set. I loved the open, outdoor seating and feeling the wind through my hair as I laughed with other guests. I loved stuffing my face with bacon wrapped shrimp and Texas chicken alfredo. The whole evening was just so very enchanting. It was hard to believe that I had never been there before, because it felt like an evening spent with friends.

Did I mention yet that I was delivered a make-your-own-smores buffet with my own personal fire? Because that also happened. And it was just as amazing as it sounds.

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Shack 512 is something special, you guys. They’ll make you feel like you’re at home. But a home with gorgeous  and the biggest and the best Mexican Martini you ever did taste. So like, the best home ever.

Reviewing 2016

Two weeks into the new year and I still can’t quite believe 2016 is over.

What a whirlwind of 365 days, y’all. I originally spelled that whirlwine, so you all know what’s on my mind.

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I have to smile when I reflect on the adventuring and the milestones marked this last year.

I road-tripped Ireland with two of my cousins and kissed the Blarney Stone. We drove through rolling hillsides full of spotted cows, drank more than our fair share of Guinness in many a pub and stood at the edges of the Ciffs of Moher. We frolicked through the Hills of Tara, climbed on basalt columns at Giant’s Causeway and wobbled in awe down the crickety Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge. The beauty and history of this country is something that I feel so lucky to have witnessed firsthand and with people that I love a lot.

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Months later, cousin Shannon and I were checking off another shared bucket list item by whitewater rafting in New Mexico. I almost fell out within the first five minutes and had to be yanked back onto the raft by my lower body. It was exhilarating.

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Summer road trips to Oklahoma and New Orleans left me feeling grateful for long drives, adventures and the loved ones that made these things all the more worthwhile.

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My husband and I spent an anniversary trip in the enchanting Caye Caulker, Belize. We snorkeled with stingrays and sharks and that was slightly scary but mostly delightful. We bought a brownie from a stranger and laughed the night away. I took a group yoga class on a Belizean rooftop, and clumsily moved my limbs as the sun set. We sipped on four for one drinks and devoured the freshest of lobster and rode bikes through sandy, narrow streets. I couldn’t have dreamed up a better way to celebrate seven years of marriage with my best friend.

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2016 marked my first completed year and halfway point of grad school. It marked a year of development within my career and the blogging world. And it marked my one year of attending counseling, which has proven to be a turning point for my personal growth.

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There were a few times this past year where I noticed history trying to repeat itself in detrimental ways. The difference this time was that I didn’t let it. Can I just tell you how empowering that is? I found my voice, and I learned when and how to use it. I learned how to stand my ground, and I realized that sometimes this can and should be done silently. It was a year that taught me to openly make mistakes, to firmly disagree with those I love and to proudly show off both my victories and my scars. I wasn’t always right, so it was also a year that taught me how to be wrong. It was a year that left me feeling strong, brave and inspired. 2016 wasn’t perfect, but it taught me to roll with and even to sometimes revel in the imperfections.

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It was a year of discovery, of both things big and small, gentle and wild.

Happy 2017, friends.

Let’s be unapologetically flawed and untamable this year, shall we?

The Factory: Café with a Soul

I knew as soon as I saw photos of The Factory that it was something special – magical, even. I had an inkling that it might become one of my new favorite Austin treasures. I love it when I’m doubly right.

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Walking into The Factory felt a lot like stepping inside of a dream come true. I went from being outside of Northcross Mall to being transported to a land of swings and beautiful artwork and hanging lights and unicorns. Okay, I’m totally lying about the unicorns part. But it was so enchanting, I almost wouldn’t have been surprised. Co-owner Wendy’s talent for design is remarkable, especially when learning that she originally created the gigantic wall mural from her iPhone.

I could have been satisfied just staring at The Factory for hours, but the interior beauty was only the beginning.

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I’m not somebody who often says sappy things like, “I can taste the love in this.” But, y’all. At this tasting, I swear I could taste the love put into every sip and bite. I think that’s partly because everything about The Factory is a labor of love. I knew this as soon as I started chatting with Wallace, who owns the café with wife Wendy.

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When I asked Wallace to tell me more about how the café came to be, he launched into the love story of how he and Wendy first met. They were both attending college in LA when they found each other through mutual friends at a movie theater. Neither of them were fond of the other girl sitting nearest them, so they decided to talk to each other instead. And the rest is history.

History that has, thankfully, brought The Factory to Austin.

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Everything about the café had me smitten, so it’s hard to begin listing the things that left me swooning. But I guess the drinks are a good place to start. The Viva Matcha Latte was one of the creations I was most antsy to try, and it did not disappoint. Made from premium matcha harvested from Aichi prefecture in Japan, this latte was hands down the best matcha I’ve ever had the chance to sip on or look at. Visually a work of art, it was the perfect amount of sweet, foamy and delicate to taste. It warmed my soul, y’all.

If the matcha warmed my soul, the Marymint Monroe refreshed it. Freshly picked mint leaves and concentrated cold brew over ice make for a heavenly and mojito reminiscent combination. I was convinced this drink was mixed with mocha, but the intense and divine flavor just comes from the high quality of coffee that is standard at The Factory.

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I’m not done raving yet, guys. The Factory’s chicken and waffles is my new favorite brunch item. (A brunch item that tastes great all day, and pairs amazingly with the prosecco on tap.)  The classic side of syrup has been traded in for an egg tartar sauce and coleslaw, and the result is completely exquisite. I could have easily devoured a bowl of the egg tartar sauce alone, and the eleven spices mixed into the chicken batter made for a savory and distinct flavor. Juicy and tender with just the right amount of crunch, the chicken paired wonderfully with the soft and decidedly anti-sweet waffle. This dish made a statement, and its a statement that I simply cannot stop daydreaming about.

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The Factory, in and of itself, seems like the best of daydreams. The creations here are not just something to sip or nibble on, but something to take the time to enjoy and savor. Wallace explained to me that he had never really enjoyed coffee until he realized there was an art to making it. This art is one that he and Wendy have mastered. They have traveled the world looking for the finest ingredients, and the pride and joy they put into their work is immediately apparent. The café itself is devoid of WIFI, and is meant to be a place to relax and get to know friends and strangers alike. Walking inside is like a gentle reminder to slow down, to be fully present and to enjoy the magic that every moment brings.

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The Factory is something really special. I told my best friend that I was having a hard time writing this post because, for me, the café embodied everything I adore about Austin. And that’s a lot of love to try to fit into one post. But I’ll try. The Factory is a little wacky, a lot lovable and above everything else, so very welcoming. When my first matcha got cold over the course of chatting,  Wendy insisted on bringing me another. When I reached out my hand to shake Wallace’s on my way out, he requested a hug instead. This is what spending time at The Factory feels like. A big hug. A hug that includes coffee, and swings and waffles and good vibes. Austinites, rejoice.

Svante’s Tasting

Svante’s Ranch Direct is located in the delightful downtown Round Rock. Home of the famous Round Rock donuts and some cherished childhood memories of mine. Add to this list of memories the treasure that is Svante’s.

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This month Svante’s celebrates their one year anniversary. I’m almost disappointed in myself for not having made it out prior to this tasting.

The interior of the restaurant is much like a Pinterest dream come true. Simple yet intricately decorated with knick-knacks, shrubbery and artwork. It was love at first sight. And sip. And bite. Oh yes, let me get to that good stuff now.

Round one started off with the Ancho Pama-Rita made with ancho chile, pomegranate and Dulce Vida Reposado. You guys, it was slightly sweet, a little bit spicy, just the right amount of tangy and all delicious.

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Now let me swoon over their steak salad a little or, okay, probably a lot. I never order steak or salads if I’m choosing from a menu, but this salad has converted me. I am now a believer of steaks and salads, especially if combined with fish sauce, peanuts and red wine vinegar. I am salivating just thinking about this perfect combination of flavors that happy danced on my tongue.

If I wasn’t already a believer, the steak skewers with pickled watermelon completely did me in. I’m a sucker for the sweet and salty combo, and with rich, melt-in-your-mouth steak as part of this combo? I’m a goner. A giddy goner.

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Next was the Space Jam Burger, beef broth, house-cured gravlax on potatoes with crème fraiche and the Persephone Sour.  The Persephone Sour, with pomegranate, Deep Eddy Lemon vodka and an egg white, was enough to leave me swooning. The beef broth, rich and perfectly seasoned, whetted my appetite perfectly. And the house cured gravlax? I’d never had salmon atop potatoes, and you guys, the combination was divine and mesmerizing. Yes, I was mesmerized by salmon. Almost hypnotized, really. Svante’s can do that to a person.

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Finally, the Space Jam Burger was a work of art. An edible work of art. Three words that will change your life: Bacon onion jam. BACON ONION JAM. A masterpiece, y’all.

If it’s not apparent, I have a new favorite Round Rock restaurant. It’s charming and delicious and rhymes with… Lvante’s.

It’s Svante’s, if you were stumped on that one.

No One At The Kmart Knows About My Bologna

From my first days of knowing my husband, I also knew about his love for nonsensical phrases. He loves to incessantly repeat odd, meaningless things that he hears on films or commercials or on the side of the road. I’ve never watched Back to the Future or The Goonies from start to finish, but I can quote the crap out of both of them.

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So as we were binge-watching Shameless last week, and a stoned college student on a bad trip uttered the words, “No one at the Kmart knows about my bologna.”, I immediately knew this would be a new token phrase. Not only because Robby was nearly crying he was laughing so hard, but because it sounded just like him. I felt honored to be privy to a strange catchphrase in the making.

Robby and I are soon to celebrate seven years of marriage and an anniversary trip is in the works. Both of these things make me giddy.

In these seven years we’ve shared many things. Anger, but more joy. Fights, but more laughter. Eye rolls, but more weird dances around the house. Baby poop, but more group family cuddles. Okay, let’s be real, probably more baby poop. Babies poop a lot.

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 There’s a big learning curve when it comes to marriage, and I love that we’ve always found ways to learn and curve together. I was especially young when we said “I do”, and Robby has been unwaveringly patient and kind every step and misstep of the way. There are things I couldn’t have known at twenty that I know about myself now. That, as much as I value us, I also need space to breathe, to travel and to live outside of my marriage. That, as much as I cherish my family, I also value my independence and higher education and exploring the world. Not only that, I sincerely believe that having this time to myself makes me both a better wife and mother overall. This isn’t something that everyone understands, and that’s okay. Because he does. Robby has always wholeheartedly encouraged me to chase my dreams and to figure out what makes me feel happy and fulfilled. He is my person, and to have spent the past seven years crafting inside jokes and our own bizarre lingo makes me feel like I’m a part of the best private club. Ours.

I married young, but I married right.

His sweet laughter about secret bologna only reiterates that knowledge.

Soundtrack of Summer 2016

“The sun will steal the magic from us soon,

So let’s take one more trip around the moon.”

– Sam Hunt, Leave The Night On

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Oh, you guys. What a summer.

Last night I finished my last day of my first year of grad school. A year from today I’ll graduate with my MBA, and tomorrow I leave for New Mexico to go whitewater rafting. I’m a little bit high on life right now, and nostalgic with the memories from the past few months.

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It’s been a summer of travels and healthy overdoses of laughter. House parties and balconies and swimming pools. Road-trips and best friendship and fun strangers. Family and fireflies and anticipation. Long runs and late nights. Schoolwork and a classroom and making a family out of the people sitting in that classroom. And dancing. So much dancing.

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I remember my summers, and all of my other seasons, partly through the music I’ve listened to at the time. A tune so effortlessly takes me back to a moment, and bookmarks the feelings and essence of certain pieces of my life. Last summer was the summer of Sam Hunt, though if you can’t tell from the intro to this blog, his songs are making a comeback for this one too. Sam Hunt transposes all summers. Also if you don’t like him we can’t be friends anymore. I’m just kidding. Kind of. Friend two pictures above can’t stand him and I only judge her every single day.

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 So while I show y’all some pictures from the dreamiest of summertimes, I thought I’d also share with you the songs I’ve been listening to on constant repeat. This is what my summer sounded like.

Vandalizer- Sam Hunt

(Okay, but for real if you don’t like that song we can’t be friends.)

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Setting The World On Fire – Kenny Chesney featuring P!nk

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Latch- Disclosure featuring Sam Smith

Vacation- Thomas Rhett

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Home- Blue October

Vice – Miranda Lambert

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Luck- American Authors

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Snapback- Old Dominion

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Closer- The Chainsmokers featuring Halsey

(Aka all I’ve listened to for the past two days)

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Hey. If you’ve been a part of my summer, thanks. You’ve helped make an unforgettable soundtrack.

Paige’s Bakehouse

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Paige’s Bakehouse is pure happiness in the form of little square cakes, y’all.

A couple of weeks ago I sat down to do a tasting with Paige, and my taste buds still haven’t recovered from overwhelming elation. If you don’t think your taste buds could be elated, you haven’t been to Paige’s yet.

I adore hidden gems and this is the very definition of a tucked away treasure. I found Paige’s down a small, unassuming road in Round Rock, Texas. It isn’t hard to find if you know what you’re looking for (which is heaven in a square), but the location would otherwise be easy to miss. But, here’s the thing- Once you taste these little cakes they are impossible not to miss, so people continue having no problem seeking out Paige and her bakehouse time and again.

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Before owning the bakehouse, Paige went to school and traveled for the culinary world. She’s a lady who knows what she’s doing, and it’s noticeable in each and every bite. Though I should admit I had to stop and stare and take pictures with the Texas-sized petit fours before engulfing them. They’re just SO pretty, guys.

Paige gifted me a feast of  treats, and I felt just like a kid in a cake store. I dare you not to salivate at this one – The signature cake was the Tres Leches, which is a sweet cream soaked vanilla cake with a cheesecake filling. I just lost my own dare.

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From Dreamsicle to Red Velvet, all of the other mini-cakes were equally great at making me swoon. These bites of perfection were just the right amount of rich and decadent. They were sweet but not overbearingly so, each with their own uniquely exquisite flavor. Just holding the platter made me feel a bit like royalty.

To make things extra sweet, Paige and staff are both welcoming and kind. I really felt like I could taste the love in every bite. Paige has owned her bakehouse since 2008 and it has been successful mostly just through word of mouth, and uh, cake in mouth.

I was nice enough to share the leftovers with my husband and he fell in love at first bite too. Paige’s Bakehouse also makes everything from cookies to pies to regular-sized cakes, so I know where we’ll be hightailing it to for our slew of sweet tooth needs. Pst- It’s Paige’s Bakehouse.

Tasting at Napa Flats

 

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I recently went to a blog tasting at Napa Flats Wood-Fired Kitchen. Guys, I was so smitten that I barely made it a week before returning for happy hour.

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There wasn’t anything I didn’t love about Napa Flats. I loved the interior, which combined Californian, Italian and Austin vibes gloriously. I felt immediately welcomed into the environment that manages to be friendly, sleek, comfy and classy all at once. I also loved the playground on the patio, as this would be a place perfect to bring my fam back to. My toddler could have a blast while my husband and I could enjoy an air of sophistication that many kid-friendly restaurants lack. Classy in the front, two-year old party in the back.

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But now let me get to my favorite part. The food. Oh, the food. You guys, I’m practically swooning just typing this. They started me off with the wood-fired avocado. This dish was grilled with chimichuri sauce on top of a bed of corn salsa. The mix of grilled avocado and salsa and olive oil all mixed together so perfectly. I was drinking the chardonnay on tap while chomping down on said avocado, and all of the flavors felt just like a masterpiece on my tongue. Recounting this is a struggle because I want more right now but it’s midnight so I CAN’T.

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Next up the was the main dish. I asked my sweet waiter Chris for his recommendations, and he suggested  that I should try both the Mush N Spin pizza AND the Citrus Chicken. I was not one to argue with such a brilliant suggestion. The pizza’s toppings included mushroom, spinach, caramelized onions, whipped ricotta, mozzarella and fried brussel sprout leaves. Pst- Tossed in a white truffle oil. Is your mouth watering? Because mine is. I don’t think much else needs to be said here, except it was every bit as delicious as it sounds.

The Citrus Chicken was pan-seared, topped with a lemon white wine butter sauce and served with sautéed spinach and mashed potatoes. There is something magical about the combination of chicken and lemon. And butter, of course all of the butter. Napa Flats put together a divine combo of the three.

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Finally, DESSERT. I devoured the salted caramel gelato and the wood-fired Ghirardelli brownie with peanut butter gelato. Oh, and a side of sangria. The gelato was creamy and decadent and nostalgic of gelato hubby and I had in Italy back in 2014. The brownie was gorgeous and rich and the wood-fired aspect gave it an enticingly unique taste. And let  us not forget the sangria. Napa’s Signature Red Sangria was refreshing and fruity and made with whiskey! I’ve never had a whiskey-based sangria and it was surprisingly smooth and just the right amount of sweet.

If you can’t tell, I have a new found crush on Napa Flats. They spoiled me with their heavenly eats, amiable staff and welcoming atmosphere. I’m attending grad school right across the street from my new crush, so I may or may not make it to sangria stalker status soon.

Leave it to me to make a food blog creepy, y’all.

Delysia Chocolatier Tasting

Note: This post was written back in April. In between studying for finals and planning a trip to Ireland, I completely forgot to post it. Glancing at my blog drafts, I realized I have been withholding my readers from chocolate euphoria. My deepest apologies, dearest friends.

Hidden in an unassuming warehouse lot is a building that is half in Cedar Park, half in Austin. From the outside, you would never guess that this is one of the top ten chocolatiers of both North and South America. Walking inside, it’s not so hard to imagine. Welcome to Delysia Chocolatier, y’all.

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Delysia’s brings the taste of fine European chocolate to the Austin area, and the interior says as much. Simple but elegant, colorful but refined, the chocolatier immediately sets itself apart from its neighbors. Stepping into the doors of Delysia’s is what I imagine it must have been like for Hansel and Gretel to find the house made of candy deep in the forest. Except there is no evil old lady, which makes it all the more enjoyable.

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No, in this shop of chocolate you will find Nicole, the business owner and chocolate-maker who, in fact, does not eat chocolate. “It gives me migraines.” she tells me. Wait. Like, do you need a permanent taste tester? Just to keep you in the best of health? Because I’d totally be down for this gig.

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Nicole began dabbling in chocolate at eight months pregnant when her husband had an office party in need of food. She didn’t feel like leaving the house to buy groceries, and had recently been bingeing on Food Network. This is where her chocolate experimentation began. Years later, the divinity that is Delysia Chocolatier was born.

An engineer by trade, Nicole is now using her talents to design the loveliest and tastiest of chocolates. The exquisite flavors melted and danced in my mouth, and I somehow managed to fight the urge of jumping up and down whilst saying ‘OH MY GOD SO GOOD.’ But there is more to Delysia than just deliciousness. Nicole has turned the business of chocolate making into a work of art. The entire experience, from walking through the doors to eating little pieces of heaven to touring the facility, was like witnessing a masterpiece. I’m talking a fried chicken-baked potato-bloody mary-merlot chocolate (Yes, these are all actual options at Delysia) masterpiece. Excuse me while I go dream about bathing in truffles.

Pst-  For all my non-Austin friends, you can order Nicole’s chocolates online! They make a great gift if you can refrain from eating them all first. If you have the level of self-control that I do when it comes to delicious things, the empty boxes would make a pretty gift too.

 

Summertime and the Living Is…

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It’s summertime and the living is managerial accounting. And by that I mean, help me, I’m a grad student. This is the first time in my life that I’ve ever taken summer classes, and I’m a little surprised by how much I’m not totally hating it.

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It does help that I get to spend every Tuesday evening with my cohort family, and that our nights are laced with laughter and a list of other shenanigans. Pictured above you can see my gifting British friend Sam his very first jalapeno popper. If you haven’t ever had a jalapeno popper, you should do so immediately. It’s a gutted and halved jalapeno, stuffed with cream cheese and wrapped with bacon. I wrap it with maple bacon because I enjoy the taste of happiness. If you can’t tell by co-bro Samuel’s face, he most definitely approved.

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In between classes and studying, I’ve been able to squeeze in a few summer adventures too. Road-tripping Ireland with my cousins wasn’t too shabby a start. From hiking the Austin 360 Bridge for the first time to spending a poolside and margarita Memorial Day with my fam, the past couple of weeks haven’t sucked either.

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As for work, this month I’ve had the chance to help give away a $33,000 check to Susan G. Komen and to produce and star as Justin Timberlake in a Can’t Stop The Feeling music video parody. Spoiler Alert: I am a terrible JT and can’t dance to save my life. But dude, this social media director had such a blast making a dancing fool of herself.

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It’s summertime and the living might not be easy. But it’s fulfilling, and fun and so full of love. Dare I say those things are much better than easy?