Category Archives: Friends

Reasons to Gather: Friends, Risotto, and Pinot Noir

Our friends Kimberly and Scott invited us over for a taste of Scott’s famous risotto and some very special boutique wine (who could say “no” to that?). Alexander greeted us and gave us a whirlwind tour of their family’s holiday traditions: the tree decorating, the stockings (hung on the windowsill, not on the hearth), the nativity scene hand-made from corn husks by his grandmother, the nutcracker painting made by his brother Patrick, and the Elf on the Shelf game.

Meanwhile, Kimberly and Scott were preparing a knock-out blue cheese, grape, and walnut pizza (Kimberly is not a fan of blue cheese, so when I heard her rave about this pizza, I knew it had to be a winner). Scott corked some Road 31 Pinot Noir (formerly Green Truck Cellars), and we sank our teeth into the first bite of a very heavenly meal.

When we arrived, Scott had been preparing the risotto on the stove, but the boys – Alexander and Patrick – were in for a special treat: spaghetti and meatball marinara all the way from an Italian market in Cincinnati, OH. It had me wishing I had a seat at the kids’ table.

Scott didn’t let us adults down. We have been hearing rumors of his risotto for the past two months, and finally, the winter break from classes afforded us the opportunity to dine chez leur. The risotto (which included a full two cups of Albariño and a generous amount of freshly-grated Parmesan cheese) was topped with a warm sautée of sausage, onions, mushrooms, and tomatoes. Divinity!

Kimberly wasn’t about to let her husband steal the spotlight. She prepared a rich, yet fluffy, Mexican chocolate cake with walnuts. Served with a glass (or two) of Tawny Port, it was the perfect way to top off a holiday evening with friends.

We left Kimberly and Scott’s home with full bellies and a long list of restaurants and B&B’s to try in Charleston, NC. Thank you for a wonderful evening. The next one’s on us!

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Filed under Dinner, Food, Friends, Holidays, Photography, Wine

Giving Thanks

First anniversary - we made it!

I’m thankful for my husband. He puts up with a lot – my mood swings, some tears, my obsessive compulsive personality, and my long ramblings about what happened today and why it was such a BIG deal. After all of this, he still rakes leaves and gives me back rubs. He takes the dogs out at 2:00 in the morning when I’m too lazy, and he rides the moped in the cold weather because I’m a wuss.

Bella the Cat

I’m thankful for my pets. My dogs Orson and Nana jump all over me and wag their tails all around just because I come home after work each day! They also have a wonderful smell. If the verb “home” could have a smell, it would smell like my dogs. My cat Bella is a diva. She wants people to open and close doors for her (even though she can use the pet door), and she wants to be picked up and carried past the dogs (even though she knows perfectly well that they’re harmless and she could totally take them). My pets can sense when I’m having a bad day, and their temperaments change. The dogs settle down and the cat becomes more affectionate. I love this sixth sense of theirs. It’s like they have a emotional radar or something.

With Mom and Dad in Zihuatanejo

I’m thankful for my parents, who worked their whole lives so that their kids could have innumerable luxuries and opportunities. As an adult, I’m finally beginning to appreciate how much work they do everyday and that doesn’t include raising kids – because my husband and I haven’t gotten that far yet. Sans kids, the adult stuff (i.e., taxes, cars, insurance, bills, work, relationships) is really hard. I hate to say they told me so, but yes, I do miss those days when I was a kid. And yes, I do understand what life is really like now that I’m older.

Sisters don't let sisters get married without lip gloss

I’m thankful for my sister. She’s so smart, beautiful, and hardworking. She’s my confidant, my adviser, and my friend. And she’s the only person who can eat more ice cream, more often, than I can and still not have it “go to her hips.” Way to go girl. No matter what my sister does in life, she’s going to be successful. Caitlin, if you’re reading this, take a break from the books and have some fun.

Peter and Kate on their wedding day

I’m thankful for my friends Peter and Kate. They are two of my best friends who happen to be married to one another, which makes it really convenient for me to keep in touch with both of them. They are always there to support me in good times and in bad, and they’re always down for a fun time. I’m amazed that a med student and a future business tycoon (the good kind) have time for a crunchy-granola friend like me. Peter visits RVA once a month, and Kate calls “her wife” religiously. Gracias amigos!

St. Christopher's students and faculty in formation for the commemorative Saintennial photo

I’m thankful for my colleagues at St. Christopher’s and St. Catherine’s. I’ve never felt so welcomed by a community in all my life. Literally, I have felt at home since my first day at both of these schools. The faculty are amazing. They can switch from talking about pedagogy to tatooes in about 30 seconds. I’m proud to be a small part of such an accomplished and fun group.

Who wouldn't want to pet-sit for these angels???

I’m thankful for my neighbors Gene and Julie Bruner. These guys are rockstars. Not only do they manage their own jobs, family, and pets, but they also pitch in once every two weeks to help us with our pets. We couldn’t ask for more generous and kind neighbors. Oh, and did I mention that they’re both runners and Gene is a bad-ass kayaker and stand-up-paddler? Totally cool. My neighbor can out run and probably beat up your neighbor.

I’m thankful for blogging, because – aside from cooking – it’s my only outlet for creative expression. I’ve never been able to draw, paint, or sculpt; I stopped playing the piano in high school; and I definitely can’t carry a tune. I’m not much of a fiction writer (in fact, I don’t consider myself much of a non-fiction writer either), but I do find that blogging about my life, my family, and my reactions to the world around me is a fantastically cathartic process. I wish I had more time to blog (and to cook). Perhaps I’ll take the Post-a-Week Challenge in 2012…

Happy Thanksgiving! What are you thankful for?

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Filed under Family, Friends, Holidays, Pets

“Crawling” around Richmond

A few weekends ago, Christian and I were invited by our new friend and coworker, Asha, to “crawl” around the various neighborhoods of Richmond, VA, and get to know our new hometown. All three of us being Spanish teachers, we figured a Spanish-style tapeo would be the perfect way to see the city and sample the fine food and spirits of its eclectic neighborhoods.

Salud!

First stop: the Water Grill in Carytown. Like true Spaniards, we each ordered an appetizer to share. Not able to overcome the Southern gourmand in me, I ordered the fried green tomatoes with pimento cheese sauce (nom nom nom). Asha and Christian agreed upon the mussels in coconut curry broth and the lobster dumplings. Double delish!

Lobster dumplings at the Water Grill in Richmond, VA

Fried green tomatoes and Coconut curry mussels

Second stop: Sticky Rice in the Fan. When Asha discovered that Christian and I love sushi, she knew just where to take us. Apparently, she uncovered my secret love for dive bars and nostalgia for all-things-Austin. The sushi at Sticky Rice was not our favorite, but it got the job done. (We prefer Osaka on Cary St. Rd.). However, the atmosphere and the service trumped all previous restaurants Christian and I had visited. Football fans gathered around bright screens, the bar was dimly lit and musky, they had a good craft beer selection, and the place was filled with tattooed hipsters. As soon as we entered, we did a double take. Were we in Austin? Did we enter into a different time-space continuum? (To our dismay, this was not an episode of Quantum Leap).

The tapeo continues at Sticky Rice

Third (and final) stop: Kuba Kuba (also in the Fan). Stuffed with sushi and appetizers from Water Grill, we mustered up the strength to order some vino and a slice of (very rich) chocolate pie. Christian oggled plates of cuban pork and plantains that waiters were hurriedly carrying by. I loved the atmosphere. It was sort of like a 50s soda fountain meets hipster hangout, with deliriously decadent smells wafting from the kitchen window. Kuba Kuba will be a definite repeat in our future.

Kuba Kuba's atmosphere was one of a kind.

We didn’t make it to Shockoe Bottom that night. Our tapeo didn’t leave room for pizza at Bottoms Up. But there’s always next weekend…

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Filed under Austin, Food, Friends, Nostalgia, Richmond

Giving Thanks for Friends and Asylum

Christian volunteers for the Center for Survivors of Torture, and one of his mentees – and dear friend – Suresh Pokhrel was recently granted asylum by the United States Government. It was a long, difficult road from the mountains of Nepal to the courts of San Antonio, but Suresh and his wife Manju finally won their freedom after years of persecution and struggle. Suresh is a poet and a lawyer, who speaks Nepali, Hindi, English, German, and is learning Spanish and French. Recently, he earned his certification to translate between English and Nepali speakers here in the U.S. He and Manju currently manage a convenience store in North Austin. Within weeks, Suresh and Manju will be reunited with their children, who have been living in Nepal for six years without their parents. Suresh and Manju recently invited us to their home to celebrate this great victory for their family.

Suresh presents us with gifts - journals to record our moments together

Suresh and Manju in their home in North Austin

Christian signs the Pokhrel's guest book. They are collecting memories from all their friends in Austin.

Christian, Manju and Suresh

Suresh drove us (in his NEW CAR!) to an Indian restaurant that Manju’s friend had recommended.

Suresh in his new car (a gift from Manju)

We let Suresh do the ordering: Chicken Tikka (skewered chicken cooked in tandoor with spices and yogurt), Goat Biriyani (a savory mixture of basmati rice and goat meat), Masoor Dal (split red lentils, very spicy but very good), Naan (one of many Indian flat breads), Raita (a tangy sour yogurt mixture, perfect for cooling your tongue after spicy dal), and for dessert: Gulab Jamun (deep-friend dough balls in a sugar syrup), Ras Malai (sugary white paneer cheese soaked in cream spiced with cardamom), and Pistachio Kulfi (creamy pistachio-flavored ice cream).

Passing the goat biriyani, mmmmm so good!

Sharing a feast with friends

Thank you for a wonderful dinner Suresh and Manju! We are so blessed to count you as friends!

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Filed under Austin, Food, Friends

Wedding in Paradise

After a week in Zihuatanejo, we were ready for the grande finale: the wedding of our close friends, Sandra Sotelo-Miller and Tom Simmons. Sandra’s father’s family is from Zihuatanejo, so it was very special to celebrate their marriage in the village where she had her roots. The couple rehearsed their vows on Playa la Ropa in front of La Perla restaurant…

Los novios durante el ensayo

While the betrothed rehearsed, we found other ways of amusing ourselves…

Totem pole!

The rehearsal dinner food was excellent – tiritas de atún, guacamole, and parillada de mariscos y carnes – but the real topper was the 75-year old (Sandra, correct me if I’m off on this!) bottle of tequila brought by one of Sandra’s aunts. We sipped it during dinner and toasted the lovely couple with it. I’ll choose that over champagne any day!

Gustavo Sotelo, in his element

When we arrived at the wedding the following evening, we were greeted by the bride and groom. Judith (Tom’s brother-in-law’s mother) had painted colorful portraits of the gringo and the chilanga and set them by the entrance…

Portraits of the bride and groom hand-painted by Judith

Sandra and Tom had worked hard to plan a beach wedding, but sadly, the rain gods weren’t cooperating.

La lluvia amenaza

Luckily, they were able to have the ceremony under a palapa overlooking the beach, so we were still surrounding by the majestic views and soothing sounds of the ocean. But we were much more captivated by the beauty of the ceremony unfolding in front of us…

La ceremonia

The party decorations were colorful and vibrant, just like our favorite newlyweds!

Las flores flotando en la pileta

Each table was named for a place that Sandra and Tom had visited (they are avid travelers).

Table decorations at the reception (Tom's sister Shannon did all the stationary)

After a long day of getting dressed and worrying about the weather, followed by GETTING MARRIED, greeting all of their eager guests, and listening to toasts made by relatives, the couple seemed ecstatic to finally hit the dance floor.

La primera danza

A Simmons family gathering wouldn’t be complete without some kind of performance, and Patrick, Jason, Elisa, and Shannon delivered. They had prepared a song about Tom and Sandra’s future life together and sang it to the tune of the Black Eyed Peas “Tonight’s Gonna Be A Good Night.”

Los hermanos de Tom prepararon una canción especial para los novios

Then “tía Sandra” was honored by her two nieces, Ingrid and Galia, who had prepared dances for her…

Galia baila

And then the pool party ensued (led by the life-of-the-party bride and groom, of course!)…

Bridesmaids in the pool always makes for a good reception party

When the mariachis arrived around 3 a.m., we all climbed out and continued to dance the night away. It was the perfect ending to a perfect wedding. Congratulations to Sandra y Tom. Two of our favorite people in the world. We wish you well in your future life together. A huevo!!!

Los mariachis serenaron a los recién casados

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Filed under Friends, Travel