Tuesday, May 29, 2012

CapTex Tri Recap, 2012

I did it!!! I was nearly sick to my stomach with the fact that I had hardly trained for this event. I went back and forth over whether I should do it or not, but knew I didn't want to miss out! Lucky for me, two short weeks of semi-targeted training (plus the fact that I've been running regularly) seemed to do the trick. I had already come to terms with the fact that it was going to take me awhile to complete the Sprint distance. In fact, I prepared myself to live with a possible time of 2 hours. I knew I would be disappointed in that time, but tried to focus on my goal of just enjoying the race.

After a super busy weekend (more on that in another post), Monday morning rolled around. My transition area didn't open until 7:15, so at least I didn't have to get up quite so early. I like to give myself plenty of time though, so I got to the parking garage shortly before 7. That meant I had plenty of time to wait before my 9:15 start. I got set-up, did a little stretching, and then watched the pros and para triathletes come out of the water and transition to the bike and run.

I finally have my set-up down to a science. 

I learned two important things during the 2 hour wait. 1- Amateur triathletes are a very obnoxious group of people. (This video is an entirely accurate portrayal of them.) 2- Para triathletes are the single most inspiring thing I have ever laid eyes on.

The CapTex served as the Paratriathlon National Championship this year, so there was incredible representation. With every athlete I saw head out onto the course, I was just amazed at their ability to overcome any obstacle.

The man on the left is blind. He completes the swim/bike/run with the help of a guide. Talk about having faith in someone! What an amazing/selfless gift to give someone by serving as a guide in the race.

One of many athletes who competed with prosthetic limbs.

There were also many athletes who competed with hand cycles and racing wheelchairs. 

Hunk and a friend of his were there to cheer me on, and it was nice to have the company while I continued to wait for my start time. We watched the Olympic distance group do their swims starts, and finally it was my turn.

As soon as I was in the water, I knew it was time to get down to business. So much of my race would rely on how I felt in the swim. I didn't train much, but knew I could rely on the fact that I've always been a pretty good swimmer. 750 km later, I came out of the water in 18 minutes and 40 something seconds. I was totally okay with that, and felt good jogging into the transition area. Next up- a 40 km bike. I was most worried about this, as I did the majority of my training on a stationary bike at the office gym. One lap down and I was feeling pretty good. There are only two short hills, and one very technical turn, so overall it's a great bike course. I kept my eye on the time, and realized I could complete the bike portion in just around 45 minutes. This was huge, because it was the only leg that I knew I could shave some time off. I made it back to transition after the 2nd lap, and had about 29 minutes to complete the run if I wanted to finish the race in 1:45 (a time I would be MUCH happier with).

I did my best to make a fast transition, and headed out for the run. The rap version of "Sweet Home Alabama" was blaring on the speakers, and it was just what I needed to get pumped up for the run. My legs felt good the whole first mile (which is usually the worst), and I was greeted by Hunk and the Gazelle's water stop just out of the gate. Gilbert himself was there handing out water, and I loved getting to high-five him. He has been such an amazing coach, gently pushing me to keep pushing myself. Yet another inspirational person to help me finish that last leg. I loved seeing Hunk out there, taking pictures and cheering me on. Sharing a love for sports has been such a fun part of our relationship, and having him out there to support me just made my day.

The volunteers and supporters for the race have always been fantastic, and this year was no different. All the fun signs and cheers make such a huge difference. I saw a triathlete friend Chris out on the course too, and his cheering and encouragement was great to hear as well. It wasn't my fastest run, but when I saw the final turn and knew that I was just seconds from the finish line, I kicked it into my highest possible gear and finished in 1:44:32 (according to my watch). Final results have not yet been posted, so I'm curious to see what my official times were.

The most important thing is that I finished the race, I stayed safe, and I had a great time doing it. That was all I needed to refuel my love of the sport, and motivate me to get back into training. Hunk asked if I would be signing up for any more races this year, and the answer was a definitive YES!!

No good triathlon is complete without an indulgent meal to reward your hard work. So we headed over to Shady Grove for a cold beer and some green chile cheese fries. Yum!! Thankfully, there was nothing else on the schedule for the day, so I got a much deserved shower and rest time on the couch. A perfect end to a really fun weekend!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Song of the Day: Andrew Belle - All Those Pretty Lights

Looking forward to a fun, and very busy, weekend. I've got way too many things packed into 3 short days, and there is nothing I'd rather be doing LESS right now than sitting at my desk. I'm ready to get the weekend started!! At least I found a few "new to me" tunes to pass the remaining hours. Have a fun and safe Memorial Weekend!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Beer + Cheese (& Brisket)

One of the first few dates that I had with Hunk was at the Slow Food Austin Beer and Cheese Pairing. I can't believe that I didn't write a post about it because we had such a great time. 6 beers, 6 cheeses, enough said. The company was just icing on the cake. But we talked about this event for months afterwards, and mentioned to a friend how fun it would be to recreate it at home.

My friend Jeff agreed, and offered to host it at his house. A simple Facebook invite went out, and a solid event was in the works! Jeff is notorious for his stellar cooking skills, and treated us to an 8.5 pound smoked brisket, and some fantastic home made bread. Everyone else was tasked with bringing a beer and cheese pairing.

I might gripe about getting older, but there is a definite plus when it comes to beer. I think all our of tastes have become much more refined. You didn't see any Kraft Singles/Miller Light pairings at this party. Oh no. We had home brew, craft beer, local beer and my favorite Belgian beers. Every single one was delicious. And I was so surprised with how serious everyone took their pairings. A lot of thought went into it, and it was fun to hear people share why they picked what they did. My overall favorite though had to be the lemon goat cheese paired with Hoegarden (a delicious wheat beer). A classic summer combination for sure!

I had every intention of taking some fresh pretzels and fancy mustard to go with, but ran out of time. I can think of a dozen other things that would only enhance a gathering like this, and I'm looking forward to doing it again soon!

The first of the cheeses

Fresh bread

That's a lot of meat!
As the party grew, so did the beer/cheese selections

Hunk and his bald twin (my friend from work). Standing behind the two of them just made me laugh. They were engrossed in the soccer game.

Lunch in a Box: Chickpea Spread

The current book for my Cookbook Club is Super Natural Every Day, by Heidi Swanson. It's unusual that we've had back-to-back vegetarian books, but I've certainly enjoyed it. This one is full of fresh, healthy dishes and I have yet to have made one that I didn't really like. It's divided by Breakfast, Lunch, Snacks and Dinner- and there are some perfect "make ahead" recipes that are great for lunches. It's also one of the prettiest cookbooks we've had in awhile. You can download a sampler here if you're interested in seeing more.

The Chickpea Wraps from the lunch section is one of the first recipes I made, and it has been repeated a few times since. It's easy to put together, you can use the spread in a variety of ways, it's tasty, and also really healthy! What I also love about her recipes is that it's really easy to improvise depending on what you have on hand.

For this lunch, I made the spread and served it over spinach with some naan bread on the side so that I could make my own little sandwich when I got to work. I also put some red bell pepper strips and sliced cucumber on the side, along with mango for dessert. It was delicious and filling!

Chickpea Spread
(adapted from super natural every day)

2 cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 chopped shallot
2-3 stalks chopped celery
2 T chopped fresh dill (rosemary or tarragon is also nice)
2 T dijon mustard
1 cup fat-free Greek yogurt (I use Fage. Plain soy yogurt will work, too. It's just a little sweeter.)
sea salt to taste
juice of 1 lemon

Pulse 1 1/2 cans of chickpeas in food processor, and then pour in a bowl with the remaining chickpeas. Add chopped shallot, celery, and herbs.

In a small bowl, whisk the yogurt, mustard and salt. I also add just a touch of lemon juice to the mix (and maybe some chopped garlic if I have it). Add 2/3 of the yogurt mix to the chickpea mix, and stir to combine. Add salt and lemon juice as needed.

You can use the remaining yogurt mix to spread on whatever type of bread you choose to make a sandwich. Or just serve a dollop of the chickpea spread on a bed of greens, and top with a spoonful of the yogurt mix.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Out and About: Snow Patrol @ Stubb's

There's nothing quite like having concert tickets months in advance, waiting what seems to be an endless amount of time before the show finally rolls around. That's how it felt waiting for Snow Patrol to get here.  Known for a slight rocker edge to some really good love ballads, we knew it would be a fun, romantic night under the stars at this great venue. We lucked out with beautiful weather, and had such a great time.

We started the evening early with some pre-show grub at Easy Tiger. We stuck with what had impressed us before- pretzels with beer cheese and the New Yorker platter. Hunk ventured out and tried one of their house made sausage as well, to good reviews. We were blown away our first visit there, so it was slightly disappointing that everything from the pretzels to the service seemed to have dipped down a tad bit in quality. The pretzel was overcooked, the corned beef was way too fatty, and our server was far too occupied with tables outside to provide us attentive service inside. Hopefully that is all due to growing pains, as they had a pretty packed house. We'll go back, but they'll have to get their act together if it's to continue in our usual rotation.

Next we made the short jaunt to Stubb's, careful to avoid the Salvation Army a block away. That's my only complaint about this venue- there is an awful lot of loitering in the area. Definitely not a place you should be walking by yourself. We got to the show a little early, grabbed a beer, and found a good spot in the back on a slight incline so that we'd have a good view of the stage. I don't remember the name of the opening act, and his act really wasn't all that memorable. He had a great voice, but it's hard to carry a show when you're just one guy on the stage. It just felt a little too mellow for me. The crazy work week was taking it's toll, and it would have been nice to hear something a little more upbeat if anything- just to stay awake.

Finally, Snow Patrol came on. The first 5 or 6 songs were easily recognizable, reminding me how many songs they really have. I guess I don't always realize how often you hear them on the radio. The middle part of the show was a little on the mellow side, but still good. They sounded great live, always a plus. The last few songs picked up the pace, and got everyone awake and moving again. I loved it. One of their songs is one of "our songs", and there's nothing like getting to hear it live.

If you haven't had a chance to see a show at Stubb's, I highly recommend it. You see people of all ages, and there's hardly a bad "seat" in the house. When the weather cooperates, there's no better place to see an outdoor show, in my humble opinion. Fortunately, we'll be back in just a couple of short weeks for The Head and the Heart...should be another great show!!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

May Birchbox

May Birchbox is here and I lucked out again by getting products that I like (for the most part). Opening and unwrapping all the little things in the box still hasn't gotten old! This month's theme is "Gossip Girl". Honestly, I've never seen the show, nor do I really care about it. But I love that the items in the box are inspired by Manhattan chic. According to the insert card, it has "everything an uptown lady needs for the highlight of the social season: a black tie ball". That might be a little bit of a stretch, but I certainly got some high-end products this month.

Algenist Regenerative Anti-Aging Lotion ($75): The price might be prohibitive for me getting a full bottle, but I love the silky finish of this product. It just FEELS like it's erasing all those fine lines that keep popping up on my face. It's lightweight and super hydrating- something I always need!

Miss Dior Eau de Parfum ($62): It would take a lot for me to abandon my Flowerbomb, but this stuff smells fantastic. Fancy, even. Definitely a scent I would wear more for a special occasion. It's a floral scent, with the tiniest hint of musk (from patchouli, so the description says). Warm, sexy, and not too overwhelming. This is a great scent.

Kerastase Age Premium Bain Substantif ($36): This is some high-dollar hair stuff. I don't know that I've ever spent more than $15 on a bottle of shampoo. But it's supposed to fortify hair against damage, and make it shiny and stuff. I haven't used this yet, but have heard good things about this product line.

Kerastase Age Premium Masque Substantif ($60): Alright...what's up with all the "age-related" products? Just one, and I wouldn't have noticed. But a total of 3, and I'm starting to get a complex. This is a once-a-week mask that is designed to hydrate and prevent hair from becoming brittle and dull. Trying to stay a "natural blonde" takes its toll every time I get highlights, so using something like this probably would help keep my hair healthy. But man, getting old and still trying to look good certainly comes with a price.

Stila Sparkle Waterproof Liquid Eye Liner ($22): I got the color "Rock Candy" in my box. I tried it this morning, and have to say I was a tad disappointed. The color really didn't show up that much. But- I do think I could use this over my regular brown eye liner to achieve a fun sparkle look for evening. It's not a bad product, just not something I would consider buying. I'm pretty plain jane when it comes to make-up, even for evening looks.

Notecards ($10 for set of 12): Insert Jim Halpert face here. I saw the pink envelope at the bottom of the box, and really wasn't sure what it was. There was no brand/designer name (turns out that Birchbox makes them), and the front of the card just says "XOXO". But I'm told there is no match for a handwritten note on fun, modern stationary. I just don't know that this counts. I've seen cuter notecards for the same price.

Again, happy with several of the products. I know the whole box can't always be spot on! For $10 a month, it's still a fun treat to get in the mail when I'm used to just getting bills and crummy catalogs.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

How to train for a sprint triathlon in two weeks

This post was originally supposed to be titled "How to train for a sprint triathlon in one month"....but, well. That was two weeks ago, and I never quite got the ball rolling. So here I am, two weeks out from my first triathlon of the season, the CapTexTri. I do this race every year, and even though I hesitated about signing up for this year, I knew I would be disappointed if I missed it.

The problem is that I just have not been real motivated to train lately. I've been running, and that's about it. My life is a little different now. This time last year, I wasn't dating seriously and I felt like spending most of my free time training. It took a lot of work getting ready for my first Olympic-distance triathlon, and I just didn't have it in me this go around. But I signed up and need to find some way to get through this without drowning/dying/passing out.

The good news is that the distances are short. It's a 750 meter swim, 20K bike, and a 5K run. The bad news is that I have not been swimming or biking since last fall. I can, however, run a 5K. It's just been awhile since doing it AFTER the other two sports. On Sunday I was able to get into the pool and swim 550 meters in just under 13 minutes. Not too shabby at all. I can work with that. I still have yet to dust off my bike and make sure it's still working. But I have been riding the spin bikes at work, so at least I'm getting my legs moving. Here is my plan for getting through this without completely embarrassing myself come race day.

Week 1 schedule:

Sunday- swim 10-15 minutes
Monday- bike 50 minutes, run 30 minutes, light weight training
Tuesday- run (Gazelle's workout), light weight training
Wednesday- easy 30 minute run, swim 20 minutes
Thursday- run (Gazelle's workout), bike 40 minutes
Friday- this might be a rest day, as I'm sure I'll be exhausted from the week
Saturday- bike 15-20 miles, run 3 miles

Week 2 schedule:

Sunday- swim 20-25 minutes
Monday- bike 60 minutes, run 30 minutes, light weight training
Tuesday- run (Gazelle's workout), light weight training
Wednesday- bike 60 minutes, easy run 30 minutes, swim 20 minutes
Thursday- run (Gazelle's workout), light weight training
Friday- bike 40 minutes
Saturday- easy 3-4 mile run
Sunday- REST

I'll be doing two (and sometimes three) a days, with workouts in the morning, at lunch, and possibly after work. The only actual brick (bike/run) that I will do will be on this Saturday. Yikes. Wish me luck!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Pretty in Pink Cupcakes

I've been on a bit of a baking binge lately. Work is driving me to insanity, and I guess in a way it's a relaxing distraction for me. I'll blame my sister for sending me the Ruffle Cake request. That's really what started it. Since then, I've made Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes, and these dainty little things for Mother's Day:

I found the cupcake liners at Bake it Sweet when I was picking up supplies for the ruffle cake. They just totally reminded me of my mom- so I had to get them. I also found the silver nonpareils there as well, and loved the different sizes. I knew it would be easy to come up with something pretty for Mother's Day. I tried a different piping technique than I usually use (starting from the center, working my way out) and love the look that it produced. I was really happy with the end product! They are just a simple white cake with a raspberry filling, and traditional buttercream on top. Simple, pretty, and oh so classy- just like my mom.

I've relied on youtube tutorials for the bulk of my decorating skills, but I'm really interested in taking a few classes. Bake it Sweet has a great schedule with tons of options, but I'm almost overwhelmed in finding a starting point. I started a Pinterest board just for cakes, and I'd love to try my hand at making some more difficult things, so I know a few classes would help. Stay tuned...as I'm not nearly finished in the kitchen.

Friday, May 11, 2012

I have a green thumb after all

When I first told my mom that I was spearheading the planting of herbs/veggies in Hunk's backyard, she just about laughed in my face. I don't have a great record of being able to grow things. In fact, the pretty flower pots on my back porch have been sitting empty for about 4 years now.  I used to have the excuse that I traveled too much to keep anything alive. But really, I just seemed to kill anything because I had no idea what I was doing, and often forgot to water them. Ferns are supposed to be impossible to kill, right? Yep- I had 3 die a slow and painful death under my care.

The good news is that I seemed to have turned over a new (green) leaf. Everything that we planted (with the exception of the plants that his dog Marley ate) are thriving. I'm sure the rain from this week will only help even more. Lucky for me, Hunk has been really diligent about watering everything, and it's so exciting to see new things growing each week. Here's a look at the before and after shots of everything we planted.


Heirloom tomatoes in the back, yellow bell and banana peppers in the front. The broccoli in the center fell victim to Marley's munchies. I have since learned that you shouldn't plant broccoli by tomatoes, so I guess I will forgive her.



First tomatoes!

Banana peppers. Hunk has picked off at least 5 or 6 so far.


From left to right: strawberries, parsley, tarragon, rosemary, basil, oregano and mint. We had to put the border up to keep Marley away from the strawberries. We have yet to pick a red one ourselves....she continues to beat us to the punch.




I don't really have a good before picture of this bed, and it has been the one I've fiddled with the most. Hunk has a gorgeous magnolia tree planted in the middle, so I've had to work around it. I now have onion, spinach, and lettuce seeds planted. There are 3 bell pepper plants, and some cantaloupe growing in the back. Hunk threw some seeds out there just for fun, and it's going nuts! 

We had to fence everything to keep Marley out. I replaced two pepper plants in here that she had eaten, so they're a little behind.

First bell pepper! This should be turning red soon. I also have orange and green ones growing too.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Song of the Day: El Ten Eleven- My Only Swerving

Serenity now.....I'm constantly repeating that in my head right now. I am about to lose my shit at work because one of the tools that I need to do my job keeps crapping out on me, and I'm seriously about to go ballistic on anyone who crosses my path. So I'm trying to simmer down before I get in the car and deal with the fun that is Austin 5 o'clock traffic. I'm hoping this song can help. No words. Just music. Sweet, soothing music. The kind of music you maybe want to drink some wine while listening to. Hey- that's a great idea. I'm house sitting for my parents tonight, and they have a GREAT selection of wine. Don't mind if I do.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Lunch in a Box: Black Bean Burger Sandwich

This is a classic go-to for when a) I don't have any good leftovers to use and b) I don't have much time to pack a lunch. I almost always have a loaf of Central Market's Sprouted 9-Grain bread, and a package of Morningstar Black Bean Burgers, in my freezer for this very reason.

Today, I threw in two slices of bread and a wrapped up burger, along with a side of pre-made hummus (I really love the Sabra brand, and the locally made Grandma's Hummus) and some chopped up veggies to add to my sandwich. I'm lucky enough to have access to both a toaster and a microwave at work, making for a nice toasty sandwich come lunch time. Since I have a ginormous batch of Tabbouleh that I made on Sunday, I added that as well. (I'll probably be eating that every day this week!) For dessert, I threw in an orange

Other variations to the sandwich include adding spinach/tomatoes/roasted peppers/whatever other veggies you have on hand. I have also used homemade hummus before (we make it without oil- less fat!!!) as well as a kale butter (recipe below) that we often make. Whatever you have in the fridge will work just fine.

Recipe for Kale Butter (adapted from the Engine 2 book):

one bunch of kale (it's only 88¢ at the store)
1/2 water and/or vegetable broth (I use a mix of both for flavor)
red pepper flakes *optional, but I like it with a little bit of a kick
1/2 clove finely chopped garlic *optional, but again- I think it enhances the flavor
1/4 cup nuts *optional (toasted walnuts, almonds and pine nuts work well)
salt to taste

Remove kale from stems and coarsely chop. Steam.
Add steamed kale, seasonings and just a little bit of liquid (start with a 1/4 cup) to a food processor or blender. Mix until kale is fully chopped (should have almost a pesto-like texture). Add liquid in small amounts as needed. This makes a great spread for wraps/sandwiches and also a dip for veggies and pretzels. You can even mix in a little bit of no-fat greek yogurt if you like a creamier texture.

Pink Lemonade Ruffle Cake

A few weeks ago, my sister emailed me a link to the picture below as she was beginning to plan for my niece's Baptism. She wanted to know if I could pull it off. At first, I just laughed. Because really...who am I to try and pull off a Martha Stewart cake?!

But then I started to think about the challenge. I love to bake, and I'm usually responsible for making/decorating family birthday cakes. I have just never tried anything quite like this. Bent on pulling it off, I set out to try a practice cake. I didn't necessarily want to follow her cake recipe, just the icing technique. So I chose to do Paula Deen's pink lemonade cake, and the swiss meringue buttercream from Martha Stewart. I had never made this particular icing before, but assumed from the picture that the consistency was what I needed to make such fluffy ruffles.

Results from round 1:

Swiss Meringue Buttercream is a big pain in my ass. The texture and taste were wonderful (not as sweet as traditional buttercream), and had a smooth, almost unnoticeable texture to it. But....directions said to keep it room temperature, so I did. And the result was droopy ruffles.

The cake was also too tart. I used 6 single packets of Crystal Light pink lemonade, and it was way too much. Back to the drawing board. For round 2, I decided to reduce the pink lemonade mix to just 4 packets, and go with a traditional buttercream. I found a recipe from Sweet Savory Life that had enough comments to convince me that it's the best buttercream ever. And they are right. This recipe is perfect!! I had also done some research on making flowers with fondant/gum paste. I thought the cake was a little boring, and wanted a way to dress it up a bit. The tutorial below helped immensely. She has a ton of other videos that I found really helpful as well.

Results from round 2:

I couldn't have been happier with the way the cake turned out. The buttercream helped keep the ruffles more defined (though I still had some temperature issues- you want to keep the icing cool enough to still be a tad firm.) I loved my flowers! All 3 were from my first attempt at making them. I used various sized round cutters, and a toothpick to frill the ends. You can't see it, but I also used the toothpick to make more realistic indentions on the flowers, too. Two of them have fondant ball centers, and one has some of the silver nonpareils.

The best part was that my niece adored her cake. All those hours of work were totally worth it when she kept saying "Georgia's pink cake". She could hardly wait to eat it.

Overall, it was a very special day for this very special girl. She was surrounded by friends and family who love her like crazy, and promise to support her as she grows.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Lunch in a Box: Mediterranean Veggie Delight

After a gluttonous weekend that included 1/2 a pound of meat, and a ton of pink lemonade cake (more on that in my next post), I knew I needed to get back to business with my healthy lunches.

Hunk has been sweet enough to not only let me take up garden space in his yard with herbs and veggies, but he also waters and takes care of them for me. And they are growing like crazy! The herbs are doing so well, and we're about to have tomatoes and bell peppers soon, too. I can't wait. Meanwhile, the parsley, oregano and mint are out of control, and we've been looking for ways to use them. In dire need of some veggies in my system, and a few healthy lunches on the menu, this is what I came up with:

This is my version of a Greek salad with dressing, Tabbouleh with herbs from the garden, and a side of bell pepper and carrot sticks. I also packed a snack of an apple, and a half portion of yogurt with fresh blueberries. Most of the time when I make salads, I just throw a bunch of stuff together without really paying attention to quantities. So my "recipes" below are merely my best guess. Please, always feel free to adjust to your own taste. After all, that's half the fun of cooking.

I used many of the same veggies for the the two salad dishes. So as I was cutting things up, I had two large bowls going to dump the ingredients in.

"Greek" salad
(makes 4-6 servings)

1 head of romaine, coarsely chopped
1/2 each of red and green bell peppers, diced
2 green onions (white and green parts), thinly sliced
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced and diced
2 banana peppers (seeded and finely diced- straight from Hunk's garden!)
1/2 container cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters
1 can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 cucumber, peeled/seeded/chopped
1-2 T chopped oregano (again, from the garden)
sprinkling of feta cheese (optional)

Do all your prep work (that's the hardest part), and then toss it in a bowl. The end.

Actually- you'll want to make some of this delicious "Greek" dressing to mix with it. This stuff is addictive- consider yourself warned.

"Greek" dressing

1 cup Fage 0% fat yogurt (this is my favorite brand)
1-2 T chopped fresh dill
1/2 cucumber peeled/seeded and really finely diced (I mean really small bits)
1/2 garlic clove, finely diced
juice of 1 lemon (this is one you might want to adjust- I used more, but I like things tart)
pinch of salt to taste

Mix everything together in a small bowl, and adjust seasonings to taste. Should make enough for about 4 servings. It's fat free though, so make as much as you want!

(makes 4-6 servings, depending on if it's a main or side dish)

2 cups cooked quinoa
1/2 each of red and green bell peppers, diced
2 green onions (white and green parts), thinly sliced
1/2 cup pine nuts
1 cucumber, peeled/seeded/chopped
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
juice of 1-2 lemons
salt and pepper to taste

Toss everything together in a bowl, and season to taste. Some people use olive oil in this dish, but I was trying to keep the fat content down. If you want to add a bit, go ahead. But I found that the mint and lemon gave it plenty of taste.

Out and About: Lupe Tortilla

Hunk and I have been waiting for weeks for this place to open up. A friend of his swore that they have the best fajitas anywhere, and he was so excited when the Houston chain announced they would be opening not one, but TWO locations in Austin. After all of his talk, we were dying to find out what the hype was about.

Finally, they opened for business last Monday, and Cinco de Mayo seemed like an appropriate time to give Lupe Tortilla a try. So did half of Austin. Once we found parking, we were told it would be a two hour wait. No biggie- we were expecting a wait anyway. And they had a nice big bar area with reasonably priced margaritas and plenty of room for standing. The tables in the bar area are first-come, first-serve, and they also have TVs going with whatever sport happens to be on at the time. On this particular evening, they also had a band playing on the patio area outside. Nice touch!!!

They use a number card system for seating, and we were able to watch the progress on a little screen in the bar area. It only ended up taking 1.5 hours to get our table, and we were definitely hungry by then. Since 3 of the 4 of us in our group had not eaten there before, they brought us all mini-fajitas to sample. Their beef is marinated in a lime-pepper concoction for 3 days, making each bite a tangy, melt-in-your-mouth experience. Man....it was good! We barely had to look at the menu as we had pretty much all decided on fajitas. However, we were hungry, and decided to start the meal with some queso flameado. You can get it with chorizo, jalapeño sausage, or seasoned ground beef. We went with beef. But the real reason we got this was to further enhance the tortilla experience. They make them on site, and they make them bigger than my face. Thin, warm, and oh so delicious!!!

I easily could have stopped the meal there and been fine. The cheese and tortillas were filling enough. But no. Hunk and I ordered 1 pound of beef fajitas. We tried to get his friend to share with us, but he was insistent on ordering his own 1/2 lb. He just said "trust me on this". I really haven't been eating much meat since we did our plant-based diet, but I was willing to fudge for this. And I'm so glad I did. I seriously could have eaten just the meat on our sizzling platter. It was so tender, juicy, and perfectly seasoned. The hint of lime was the real kicker for me though. They didn't add a ton of peppers for filling- it really was a pound of meat and a small side of sautéed onions. And of course, I wrapped that delicious meat in yet another warm tortilla and continued to stuff my face.

We had originally planned on going to meet some friends for a birthday celebration afterwards, but none of the 4 of us could hardly walk to the car. It was such a gluttonous meal, and not even dessert or an after-dinner drink sounded appealing. I just wanted to go home, put on stretchy pants, and go to bed.

I highly encourage you to go check out Lupe Tortilla if you have a chance. Go hungry, but be prepared to wait. I don't see the lines dying down anytime soon, especially if word continues to spread about how good this place was. Don't even bother to look at the menu. Just order some beef fajitas. You'll thank me later!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A weekend in Oklahoma

This past weekend, Hunk and I made the 7 (ish) hour trek up I-35 to visit his family and to participate in the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon. He did the running, I did the cheering/spectating. The drive up there was uneventful. We had both his dogs in the car, plenty of water and snacks, and no need to hurry. Our main goals for the weekend were to relax, have fun, and enjoy some quality time together. The trip up was pretty easy, minus an overturned gas tanker and some obnoxious highway construction. We did make a fun Starbuck's pit stop in Ardmore to meet up with a former student. It just kills me how fast they grow up, but it's so neat to see how well they are doing! I so appreciated her mom pulling her out of school a little early to come and say hi to me. After one final stop in Norman at the OK Runner store, we made it to Yukon (Hank's hometown) without incident.

Maddie making herself comfortable for the trip.
Marley was perfectly content to either chew on her bone, or take a nap on her bed in the back.

The water tower in Yukon, OK

Once we arrived at his parent's house, we spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out in the kitchen (he guaranteed me that his mom would be in there most of the weekend), snacking, drinking and getting to know each other. His parents couldn't have been more welcoming to me- they were just so nice! His brother's family came over to see us after dinner, and we called it an early night after such a long day.

On Saturday, we headed to the marathon expo where we both lucked out with a great new pair of shoes (thanks to the OK Runner expo sale), and then went on to see his niece's track meet. She was so excited to have her Uncle there to watch. It was a little warmer than expected, but still nice to be out. We were both starving though (and a little bit thirsty), so we headed to a new shopping area called Classen Curve to eat at a restaurant many of his friends had been talking about. Republic Gastro Pub was amazing, and was definitely the starting point for opening my mind to the fact that maybe Oklahoma isn't all that bad. The beer selection was incredible, and we had no problem picking out two tasty sandwiches (the BLT and the Reuben). I ordered the Abbey Road flight. It had Maredsous Blond, Ommegang Hennepin, Tripel Karmeliet, and St Bernardus Abt 12 ALL IN ONE FLIGHT. Even better was the fact that the heavy pours only cost $8. I fell in love with Republic at that moment.

Abbey Road beer flight at Republic

We went back to his parent's house for dinner that night, where we were joined by his brother and nephew. His mom cooked another great meal, and then we celebrated her belated birthday with some lemon cupcakes that I had made for her. It was an early night because Hunk was having to get up before 5 the next morning to head over to the race. Unfortunately, the weather was starting to look a little ugly, so I helped his mom move cars around in case of hail. Luckily, it was only rain (and a very small tornado watch) that ended up happening. I think besides an OU Zombie apocalypse, tornados were my biggest fear about being in Oklahoma.

I woke up by 6 on Sunday to drive with Hunk's dad, nephew, brother, aunt and uncle downtown to the finish line. There were tons of people, but I was lucky to score a spot where I would be able to see him coming down the chute, and maybe even get a picture. Hunk had already decided to just run the half, and even without much focused training, he did great!

Hunk crossing the finish line

We all headed for breakfast at IHOP afterwards, and then Hunk and I stayed downtown to visit the Oklahoma City National Memorial, and the Festival of the Arts held every year in conjunction with the marathon. His mom had shown me a book the day before from the bombing that had personal stories from the rescuers, survivors, and medical/emergency workers who were there at that time. The stories were fresh in my mind when we went to the site, and I have to say it was a very emotional visit. Hunk had also volunteered then, and was a runner who went to fetch families when victims had been found. He is such a compassionate person, and this is just one of the many things I love about him. I can only imagine how difficult that job was.

Original Murrah Building sign

The reflecting pond

The lawn with 168 chairs for each victim

They open the lawn on the day of the marathon, and allow visitors to leave mementos on the chairs

The playground area for the daycare center inside the building

The original fence with items that were left after the bombing. The museum rotates items out from time to time

Shout out to my home state!

View of the Arts Festival from the Botanical Gardens

I have to say I was really impressed with downtown Oklahoma City. This orange-blood girl had low expectations, but it really was very nice! After walking around, we made a quick stop through the outlet mall by his house, a super fast drive through "downtown" Yukon, and then back to his house to munch on some snacks that his mom made for us. After a short nap, it was already time for dinner! His brother's family came over again, and we all sat at the dining table for a Sunday roast dinner. Again, his family couldn't have been nicer to me. Even his teenage niece and nephew were a lot of fun to be around. I'm so glad I got the chance to meet them!

On Monday morning, we loaded up the car, said our goodbyes, and then took the long route home going through 183. After dealing with the headaches on I-35, we decided it would likely be more fun to take the scenic route. We took our time, stopped when we felt like it, and even happened upon a little gem called Mineral Wells.

Driving into town, we saw this behemoth building standing out behind the typical downtown square area. Completely fascinated, we decided to circle around it to get some pictures.

Mineral Wells first hit the map when their mineral springs were discovered in the early 1900s. One well was known for its "crazy water" that helped patients with signs of Alzheimer's.

First glimpse driving into town

Neat architectural details of The Baker Hotel

Shuttered since the 1970's, it's in pretty sad shape

The pool and recreation area. I can only imagine how neat the hotel looked in its heyday.

We were so intrigued by the building (there were no signs saying what it was), but a quick google search resulted in everything we needed to know about the Baker Hotel. It used to be a top tier spa destination in the 20's, and now just sits empty and haunted, with no signs of the restoration proposed in 2010. Town people swear they see the windows open and close at any time, and one of the more popular ghosts is that of the hotel manager's mistress who used to live on the 7th floor before jumping to her death from the roof of the hotel. You can read about the various hauntings here. We were fascinated by the hotel, to say the least. So much that the rest of the drive, we decided that should we win the mega millions lottery, we would spearhead the renovation ourselves, and name it The Baker Holland. We came up with marketing, events to draw people to the town. You name it, we thought about it. Now if only we could win the lottery....

But, it was back to reality in no time as we pulled into Austin, and especially when we sat at our respective desks the next morning to the emails that had amassed while we were gone. However, after 14+ hours in the car, I think our relationship is even stronger. It was such a fun weekend together and I'm so glad we had the chance to take our first road trip!