Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Year Ago Today

One year ago today, I walked into a coffee shop for what I thought would be a 1-2 hour date. Little did I know what an impact that day would have on my life. 4 plus hours later (with a second date on the books), I walked out thinking that something special might be in the works for me.

I remember the day before Thanksgiving, when Hank first showed up in my eHarmony daily email. I had only recently gotten back on the site, and was already discouraged by the choices being offered. Then his adorable bald head and big smile stuck out, and I decided I had to at least find out a little more about him. Long story short, we maybe set a record for completing all eHarmony communication steps in a ridiculously short time. We continued to email over the holiday, and then decided on meeting for coffee on Sunday morning.

As soon as I walked in the door and saw him sitting across the room in his handsome straight-off-the-Banana-Republic-mannequin outfit, I knew at the very least that I would enjoy looking at him across the table for a bit. But then the first hour flew by, and then the next, and the next thing I knew...I had completely missed all of the things I had planned to do that afternoon. We just had so much to talk about! I finally had to wrap things up, as the day was quickly ending and I really had things to do. Hank was smart enough to say that he wanted to see me again, and so plans for dinner the following Saturday were made.

It felt like the longest week ever, but the anticipation was half the fun. He picked me up and we ate at La Sombra and then had drinks next door at Apothecary afterwards. It was a great second, first date (because often the first ones are too nerve-racking to count). And the rest, as they say, is history.

To spare you all the gagging details, it has really been a wonderful year, and I expect that it will only continue to get better. Things have moved quickly, and maybe not in the usual order, but it has worked for us. As you all know, I had to deal with some family struggles surrounding the issue of me moving in. And in hindsight, it was actually a good thing. I have been going to counseling and had the chance to really deal with some things that should have been dealt with a long time ago. I know my parents love and care about me, and only want me to be happy. We're finding ways to move forward and this past Thanksgiving I couldn't have been more thankful to spend it with Hank AND my family. I appreciated how welcoming they were to him, and that we were all able to enjoy celebrating together.

My life was already pretty fantastic when he came into it, but I love that he has been able to bring even more good things to it. He makes me laugh, he gets concerned when I'm not taking good care of myself, he makes me coffee, and brings breakfast and the paper to me on Sunday mornings. He doesn't mind when I bring animals home to foster, and even looks for new ones on his own. He feeds my cats and scoops the litter box, and I never had to ask him to. He's my partner- he looks after me, has my back, would do just about anything for me. He makes me smile each and every day. And most importantly- he loves me exactly the way I am. In turn, I'd do anything for him. And I look forward to all the other things to add to my list as time goes on.

So tonight, we'll have fun celebrating at the restaurant where we had our second first date. It's now a different place, but the thought of going back just sounded too fun. I think it's important to celebrate all the little memories that have brought us to where we are, and I hope that we will always find fun ways to celebrate going forward.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Black Bean and Corn Empanadas

Our latest cookbook for Cookbook Club is "Year of Pies". I'm almost ashamed to admit that I had never made a homemade pie crust prior to getting this book. And now that I know how easy it is, I'm even more ashamed. It's seriously as simple as flour, salt, butter and water. Sure, a little elbow grease is needed when it comes to rolling it out, but it really is so easy!

I love that the book is broken out into seasons, but winter/holiday/pie all seems to fit together so perfectly. Last week I made a Gingersnap Crust Pumpkin Pie, and Salted Pecan Mini Tarts (of which I over cooked and therefore didn't take pictures of.)

Pumpkin Pie

Since the butter dough recipe makes enough for two pies, I was left with one dough ball that hadn't been used. I hated to see it go to waste, so I put my thinking cap on for a dinner/leftover lunch idea. I wanted it to be easy though, and I wanted to use what I already had in my pantry. Empanadas came to mind, and a quick Google search resulted in the idea for a black bean and corn concoction.

I didn't really follow a recipe- instead I just used what I had (with the exception of some pepper-jack cheese I got at the store), and added the flavors we like. You'll notice that I left out amounts in the "recipe", because I really did the seasoning to taste. I was more than happy with the end result, and leftovers were even better today since the flavors had time to settle in.

I like to place my ingredients together to get an idea of where I'm headed with the dish.

Final result- perfectly browned (and delicious) empanadas.

Black Bean and Corn Empanadas
(makes 10-ish)


1 small onion, chopped
chopped garlic
1 can black beans, drained
1 cup corn (I used frozen straight from the bag)
tomato paste
cinnamon (start with just a sprinkle- a little bit goes a long way)
cayenne powder
roasted red peppers (tomatoes would be a good substitute)
cubed pepper-jack cheese

dough** (This link for a dough recipe provides a lot of great info about why I like all-butter, and why I make my dough by hand. Just omit the sugar when using dough for a savory dish.)

1-2 T melted butter


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Sauté onion in a bit of oil until soft. Add garlic, and stir for a minute or so (until fragrant).
Add remainder of ingredients, stir to mix well, and then cover and cook on low for about 15-20 minutes.

While mixture is cooking, roll out the dough (thin, but not too thin- you don't want it to tear) on a floured surface. Cut circles about 6 inches in diameter. I just used a large ramekin and cut around the outside.

Lightly grease a baking sheet, and add the dough circles two at a time. Fill them with a spoonful of mixture, and a cube or two of cheese, and then rim the edges with a little melted butter to help seal. When you fold one side over, be sure to pinch the seams well to keep the filling inside. I also brushed the tops of mine with a little melted butter. (I used less than 1 T. of butter for all 11 empanadas that my batch made.) Press the edges with a fork to give it a pretty look if you want.

Bake for about 15 minutes- just be sure to check that the dough is cooking, but not overcooking.

Serve with salsa, guacamole, sour cream.....whatever your little heart desires!

**Quick note about pie dough- I mentioned that I prefer an all-butter dough recipe. I also do mine by hand, using a pastry blender to cut the butter into the flour. Don't even bother getting your food processor out- it's just one more thing to clean. Get a big bowl, and do it by hand!

Friday, November 16, 2012

In The Weeds

Just when I thought work couldn't get any busier...it did. And to make things worse, I was pulled out of the office for 4 days of training last week with no access to email. In the restaurant industry, we called this "in the weeds." It's been difficult to get my inbox to below 100 emails, and return even half of the voicemails that have piled up. But the good news is that I can finally see the light again (and also have time for Facebook/Pinterest/Blogging).

I inherited nearly 65 new accounts a few weeks ago, and I'm not quite sure how I'm going to scale the new workload to fit into my 8 hour work day. I have to find a way though because I cannot continue to function the way these past few weeks have been. I'll figure it out...someway, somehow.

There is a good story here- I promise! Our entire education sales force spent all of last week on the beautiful property that is Hyatt Lost Pines Resort. If you haven't been there before, it really is spectacular. Unfortunately, the location in Bastrop made for some really long days for me. I left my house at 6am, and didn't return before 10pm pretty much every day. But for once in my life, I got to attend a training that was engaging, interactive, and very informative. I actually walked away with a ton of information and inspiration, which made that time totally worth it.

I also walked away with two awards. One was slightly expected, and the other was a total and complete shock! I have worked my arse off this past year, and was able to surpass my sales expectations that at first seemed impossible. My main motivation was simply that I like to be successful. Give me a goal, and I'll do what it takes to meet it. There was also a shiny carrot (besides a nice commission check) dangled in front of me...a trip to the island of Nevis! You may remember that I attended the club trip to Hawaii earlier this year. But stakes were higher and they made the trip more exclusive by limiting exactly how many people would be invited this year.

I remember being at the final dinner in Hawaii when the new "Circle of Excellence" program was announced, and thinking how hard it would be to make it. Going in to last week I knew that I had met at least the main criteria (obtaining sales quota), and thought I had a good chance to be awarded the trip. What I did not plan on was also being awarded Inside Sales Account Executive for my region. I had not even given a moment's thought to it. So imagine my excitement at the final awards dinner last week, when my field counterpart was announced as Field AE for our region. And when they begin describing the Inside AE....and I realized it was me....I just couldn't believe it. The two of us as a team really beat the odds and had such an amazing year in a territory that was notoriously difficult to crack. I couldn't have done it without her, and it was so rewarding that we were able to win the honor together. All of the frustration, stress and headaches were totally worth it at that very moment.

My shiny, beautiful award

Accepting our awards on stage.

So...in just two short months, Hank and I will be basking in the sun on what appears to be heaven on Earth. I absolutely cannot wait to get away for an extended time, with no email or work calls, and just relax and enjoy a true vacation. I thought Hawaii would be hard to beat, but I think this trip will be spectacular.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Out and About: A Girly Weekend at the Domain

**Disclaimer- I have been buried alive in work, and am so far behind on posting anything exciting. This is from 2 weekends ago.**

I celebrated the 30-something birthday of a good friend who drove into town for the weekend. My sister booked a room at the Westin at The Domain, and we treated it like a little "staycation". It was so much fun!!! The hotel was nice, and it was perfectly located- close enough to all the fun shops and restaurants. They even offered a shuttle service making it quick and easy to get around.

I'll be honest, I haven't spent a ton of time at The Domain. There are some really great shops there, but it's not the most convenient place for me to shop. I've eaten at a few restaurants before, but that's about it. There really is a little bit of everything though, and it's totally worth spending a day there.

On Friday night I met my friend and sister at the hotel room and then shuttled us all to dinner at 2nd Bar & Kitchen downtown. I have heard nothing but good things about the two bars connected to Congress, so I was really excited about eating there. We weren't sure if we would go to Bar Congress, or 2nd Bar & Kitchen. But once we got there, the choice was easy. Bar Congress was darker, quieter, and full of couples. 2nd Bar & Kitchen had a more open space, with lots of people hovered around the bar and in tables. We waited for maybe 30 minutes at the bar and sipped on drinks. Our table was ready just as our order of truffle fries were, so we carried them with us to the table.

The menu had plenty of options, and I thought overall the pricing wasn't bad. Entrees were just over $20, but you could also get salads or pizzas for less. There were even a few vegetarian options. I chose a beet salad and a pizza, while the other girls got short ribs and a flank steak. Everything was delicious!!! Our server, Moe, was absolutely wonderful, and so attentive. His interaction with us made the evening even more fun. I can't tell you how much I appreciate good service. We finished dinner with several good desserts, my favorite being a pumpkin cheesecake in a jar with homemade graham crackers for dipping.

I had to get up and run the next morning, so I called it an early night while the other two had some fun people watching at the W bar. Running 8 miles the morning after a big meal and a couple of glasses of wine was no fun, so I was a little slow joining them the following morning. I made it back to The Domain in time for lunch at California Pizza Kitchen, followed by a little shopping. We then walked down the street to watch the UT/Texas Tech game at The Park. They are known for having a great brunch, but it's also the perfect sports bar. They have good food, reasonably priced drinks, and a huge patio area where we got to enjoy the game AND the perfect weather. Even better was the Horns beating the Raiders in one of their best played games of the season.

White sangria with St. Germaine. Yum!

After a quick nap, another friend (who recently had a baby) came out to join us for another dinner. We haven't seen her in awhile, so we were glad she could join us for the evening. We headed over to Sushi Zushi where we had reservations. Let me just say this- after the amazing dinner we had on Friday night, I was extremely disappointed by our experience here. To the point that I might email the manager. I already had to approach him at dinner when our server had not acknowledged us after far too long. I hate to do it, but nothing chaps my hide more than poor service. When you add sub-par food on top of that, it's even worse. But the company was great, and that was really all that mattered.

After dinner we walked over to Cru Wine Bar for some birthday fondue dessert and a nightcap before making our way back to the hotel. We were all exhausted from the festivities, so we called it a night and went to bed.