Sunday, January 4, 2015

2014 in the Rearview

I know, I know, we all are reading about how everyone's year has gone and this is just another tale in the same setting. And while I would like to believe my year is worth writing about and worth your time reading, I know we all just realized that another year passed by in a blink and we have all wondered how the time went by so fast. So save your fleeting minutes if you must, if you have some to spare, enjoy.

This year has been one of the best years in my life. In November of last year, I took over Flowerama in Plano and started to see if I could figure out how to be a florist basically from scratch.  Needless to say, it was quite an undertaking. Being thrown right into one of the bigger holidays, Thanksgiving, was sure eye opening. Then Christmas came right around the corner. The moment Christmas ended, we needed to start planning for Valentine's day... and all the talk,  and all the planning, and all the good intentions in the world will never prepare a person for Valentine's day. When over 10,000 roses come and go from your store and you still have customers you have to turn away, it's overwhelming to put it lightly. But we persevered, we survived. We are now busier than ever but still had time to  add quite a few weddings in. We even did our good friend Jenni's wedding. It was beautiful and more on that will come in the future.

Michelle at the Shop
From Jenni's Wedding designed by Shelly

For another wedding also designed by Shelly

Now, onto the fun parts of the past year. And my tops top list. Speaking of Shelly. She was the best decision I made all year.  Hiring her was a no brainer and luckiest decision I got to make all year.

Yes this is Shelly and yes those are vegetables. She's a little off for sure.

What was the best bite of food I ate all year? You would think it would be a medium rare steak cooked with a slightly charred and peppered crust a well smoked brisket or something but surprisingly enough, it was a strawberry papaya I bought in Hawaii at a farmers market that I never knew existed but can't shake out of my mind. I dream of this fruit on occasion. It is just that good.

I took this photo off Google since mine didn't last long enough to photograph

Best crazy photo of Vinh this year. With so many odd faces and weird poses this kid throws out there, it was hard weeding through so many but this one is definitely my favorite.

There is just something wrong with this child.

Proudest moment as a father? Cora making the regional volleyball club team of course. She's been really getting into volleyball more and more and she is quite dedicated. I had coached her for 3 years prior and for her to still be able to make the club team in spite of my terrible coaching is an example of her awesomeness for sure.

My last moment of coaching my little girl. My they grow up so fast.

Best party I had been to this year? There have been an alarmingly high number of them this year. My liver and a number of unfortunate photos circulating around can attest to that. But our neighbors sure know how to rock out a 4th of July party like no one's business. Great food, roof diving and kayaks. Well done friends, well done.
Rob and Tammy's roof diving free for all

Best thing I cooked? Well I don't know if it was the best thing I cooked but this was by far what I was the most excited about cooking and it turned out pretty decent. Low and behold: pastrami!!

Look at how moist and juicy. Look at the crust. Now go slap your momma.

Favorite aforementioned unfortunate photos that involved neighborhood cronies and booze?  

Long live the East Side Panthers and all hail Deanna

What I will remember most from my eating expeditions for the year? How it's been over 15 years since my last trip to Salt Lick in Driftwood and I finally got the chance to go and enjoy some of the best ribs ever and I ordered enough for myself only to have Michelle, an avid rib hater, devour more than half my rib rack. She's just lucky she is so cute.

She knows she's eaten one too many of my ribs.

What every man secretly thinks about building in their backyard.

Last but not least, may favorite band of miscreants. I love these three people a wicked bunch and look forward to 2015 and all of our adventures to come.

What does a 2nd grader and a 6th grader have in common? Cuteness that's what.


So farewell friends. I'd promise to blog more often but we both know I will be lying so see you when I see you next time. Enjoy your life, hoped you are enjoying every moment and smile once in a while. You deserve it. To 2015 and a year full of living.

Friday, October 10, 2014

So This is What 10 Years Feels Like

As we all get older, we ask this one question more and more often; "Where does the time go?"

I can not believe it has been 10 years since I married my lovely wife. Looking back; I don't know how we got here. We  started off like most young couples, money was tight, most of our meals were at home, and many weekends were spend watching rented videos.  But with that, we had a chance to talk, to get to know each other more and more, have picnics in the park and go on long walks hand in hand.

I would add photos of back then but no one wants to see bad hair cuts and poor clothing choices.

Then, we decided to have kids and the madness ensued. We grew as a family.

Through it all, we smiled a lot, ate many good meals, gained loads of friends, and made some questionable decisions to say the least. I can say with all sincerity that I have been fortunate enough to have married:

A Loving Partner
My Traveling Companion
My Children's Doctor

My Biggest Supporter

And of Course, My Best Friend
At the end of these ten years I can honestly say, That I love my wife and even though money isn't as tight any more: I still love the meals we share at home, watching movies together, talking to one another, our occasional picnics and the walks we go on hand in hand. 10 years, and still not a person I would rather share a meal with. Now that's saying something.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Chicken Cacciatore

Been living life again and just didn't have much to write about. Too much to tell you about so I won't tell you anything I guess. Man of few words sort of thing. Thought I would come back talking about one of my wife's favorite dishes that I make. It's easy to make and tasty to eat. This is my Chicken Cacciatore.

What is needed:
3 carrots peeled and sliced
1 small yellow bell pepper
1 small red bell pepper
2 shallots diced
1/2 small onion diced
3 cloves garlic diced
2 tbsps. of cornstarch
1 or 2 cups of red wine
1 jar pasta sauce that you like to eat
2 chicken breasts cubed and some drumsticks or chicken thighs if you choose
Seasonings: 1 tbsp. salt, 1 tbsp. pepper, 1 tbsp. Italian seasonings

Step 1: prep all the ingredients as you see here. Use all the seasoning mix and cornstarch on the chicken.

Step 2: Brown the chicken. I tend to do it in different stages. Dark meat first then the cubes chicken breasts.

Step 3: Sautee the veggies on medium high heat. Once cooked through, add the red wine.

Step 4: Once wine reduced, add chicken back in and mix. Then add the tomato sauce. Reduce heat and let cook for 20-30 minutes.

If sauce is too thick you can add some chicken stock. 1 cup usually works fine.

I like to serve on a bed of rice with some peas. Enjoy!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Taking It Slow and Easy

I recently got back from Las Vegas.  After spending four days there away from my family and with so many distractions, I have come to realize that I'm definitely a family man.  It is fun to go out to eat, have buffet after buffet sitting in front of you and being able to stay out as late as you want but at the end of the day, it's nice to have someone greeting you at home each day, to say good morning to, to enjoy a good meal with and to just spend your life with.

So after a long and tiring trip and being extremely worn out, I decided to just go ahead and take a day off and enjoy being home.  I wanted to keep things light and easy without any fuss.  I had too many prepared meals and too many chefs on my plate the past few days (I know, it's a terrible problem right?) that I just felt in the mood to have a good home cooked meal. 

No other way around it, it was a day designed for a nice pulled pork plate.  If you didn't know, a good pulled pork, like living a good life, is easy to do but you just need to pay attention to the little details along the way and not take too many shortcuts.

I got up around 8 and pulled a nice hunk of pork shoulder out of the fridge.  You want it to be sitting out a little bit to get the meat slightly warmer so it would adhere more of the smoke flavor.  I then started off slowly cleaning the grill a bit, stacking the charcoal and wood chunks carefully in the smoker to get an even distribution of smoke all along the way and then lighting it.


After that, it was scorning the fat cap of the meat to add bark which is where all the flavor comes from.  I seasoned the meat. Some like to add olive oil on the outside before putting on the salt rub but I think this is an unnecessary step.  I let the meat sit there seasoned for about 30 minutes while getting my smoker up to about 150 degrees.  Once I notice the smoke slowly billowing out of the grill, I place the meat on.  The thing with smoked meats is once the outside of the meat hits a certain temperature, it won't take any more smoke. So in order to get the most smoke taste in that amount of time, you want a decent amount of smoke to be developing in as low of a temperature as you can.  After about an hour of me keeping the grill at 175-200 depending on how good the show I am watching is at that time, I get the grill up to about 225 and let it sit there for another 3 hours.

Slicing about 1 inch groves into the fat cap.

Season heavily
After four hours on smoker with fat cap down

Placed in pan with fat cap up

After about 10 hours of total cook time. Extremely tender and moist.

After a total of four hours, I remove off the grill and stick the meat in a tin foil pan and tightly cover with tin foil.  You have two choices after that. You can put it back on the smoker and keep cooking it while having to check the temperature here and there or just sticking  it in the oven and cooking it.  I like just sticking it in the oven and cooking it. Remember, after a certain temp, it's not getting any smokier, so keeping a consistent temperature is more important at this stage.  I like to keep it in the oven for about 5 or 6 more hours at 300 degrees. And after 10 hours of total cooking, you get tender, easily pulled and moist meat. Not too much of a fuss and really only 45 minutes of real effort.  Slap some Bush's baked beans in the microwave, toast up some thick buttered bread and maybe a steam fresh bag of corn and you have yourself a meal fit for kings.  I don't understand why BBQ'ing  is so difficult to some. It does take time to cook but if you do it right, you don't have to do too much at all. Sounds much like life again doesn't it?  I guess there are just some people who like to complain. Me, I'd rather just sit around and eat a good meal with my kids.

Till next time friends, keep it simple, take it slow, and embrace the small details of your life. You'd live more satisfying when things get done.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Here We Go Again

My how the times have gone. It seems like it's been so long ago since I last wrote. No real reason, just needed to live more than I needed to write. Things have changed dramatically in my life since my last post. We will find out soon if it is for the better or not.

A few months ago, I had a choice to make at work on whether or not it was still making me happy, and bringing fulfillment in my life.  There were many changes taking place at the office and I just didn't feel like the direction it was taking was best suited for me and if I liked my place in their plans.  So with my wife's blessing and support, I decided to just move on and find something else that was more suited to my needs and my family's demands. So I quit my job of 11 years and moved on. 

I planned my departure to coincide with the summer and when my kids were out of school.  A little break from the working routine and a lot of time with the kids was sure in order.  Though we still made sure we sent them to summer camps and such to save my sanity and give the kids a resemblance of structure, we made sure we planned fun and inventive camps for them to attend.  My lovely wife set it all up and took full advantage of my non-working status.  Parts of the summer had me picking up kids at various locales and taking them other places, other times they were only signed up for half day camps, sometimes I drove 5 minutes to drop them off and other times I was away for 30-45. It was tiring and fun. Did I wish I stayed at work a few of them days? Sure, but seeing how much my kids enjoyed having me available was really nice.

I took the free time I had to relax some. Went fishing one of those days and played a round of golf somewhere in there too. The rest of that time I just spent reading, researching and planning out my new career path. With everything on the table to choose from and so many directions I might want to go laid before me I decided to start narrowing the list. Going back to school, real estate, working in a kitchen, even starting a small restaurant or owning some other small business.  I spent months narrowing down the list, figuring out all the risks involved, figuring out the money and cash flows and making valuable contacts and picking their brains on the pitfalls and jubilation of their respective businesses. It's been interesting to learn about and talk to so many people in jobs and industries I didn't know about before. I have grown exponentially during this entire process.  Something I believe I would have never been able to experience had I not made this leap.

Now with the kids back in school, I have kicked up the job search and have it close to being nailed down. Once the deal is final, I will make sure to keep you all posted on my new adventure. It should be pretty interesting to say the least.  As always, I apologize for all grammar errors.  Enjoy the summer camp pics and various random shots of food and friends. Life is given to use one minute at a time, might as well enjoy every one of them.

First time tubing with the family.
Just a nutty kid.

First day of First Grade

Getting nuttier

Our California trip added on a few pounds with stuff like this.

Had to visit the legend that is Pink's

Being that nutty sure takes it out of him.

Photo bombed by Minnie Mouse. Cora wasn't happy about it as you can see.

But who doesn't like Mickey right?
Back at the nutty thing.

He learned that sweets eating thing from his mom obviously.

Monday, November 26, 2012

An Evening Out with an Old Friend

***I like to apologize for the lack of photos. I don't know how to upload more at this time. Having some technical difficulties.****
Here's my story:
I am getting to realize that things are just going to come with age. We all inevitably start becoming more and more like our parents and the memories of our unabashed youth start to trickle away. We get to the crossroads of barely remembering who we once were and we start focusing on our life now and where we want to go.  Maybe it’s part of being responsible or maybe it’s just part of being a father now, I don’t know, but what I do know is that I’m being called “sir” more often than I’m able to say it.
I now find myself eating vegetables, not because I have to but because I want to and ramen noodles are no longer a staple of my diet. My fridge is full of healthy, low-fat and organic items. I have even put down my bottles of Coors Light, Budweiser and Miller and have filled my fridge with Dogfish IPAs,  Sierra Nevadas and Old Chubb Scottish Ales. I drink wine now, not wine coolers and I no longer mix soda in my whisky.

I say all of this because I recently went to my first concert in a long time. I went to see a musician I grew up with and have always been a huge fan of. I’m talking about the one and only Eddie Vedder. Yes that Eddie Vedder, the lead singer of Pearl Jam, one of the biggest bands during the grudge explosion. Now if you told me 15 years ago that Eddie Vedder would be putting on a show that features him playing a ukulele or that I would be all hyped up to go to a concert to watch a guy play a ukulele, I would have never believed you. But there I was sitting at the Music Hall in Fair Park listening to him strum one and enjoying every minute of it.

The once brash, vocal, animalistic performer that climbed stages, hung from rafters, and spoke for  America’s youth was sitting before me with an plethora of various stringed instruments that even included a mandolin playing songs that my father would even enjoy. I enjoyed it. I left Music Hall thinking about how my life had changed since I first heard Vedder’s voice over the radio and to this performance. His voice is still strong and ever present but has grown older, more controlled and honestly better. I hope I could say the same for my life.

He seemed to choose his song list wisely and gave a little bit of everything, some Elderly Women, Crazy Mary, and songs from Into the Wild soundtrack and one of my favorite recent releases, Just Breathe. I do admit that I am not one of the die-hard junkies that know all the words to all the songs, follow their web page or anything. To me, they have just been one of the constants. They have always been good music for kicking back, around the light of a wintered fire with a drink, trying to make sense of the day having Yellowledbetter playing in the background. At the gym, lifting weights with Corduroy blasting at high octaves. Or tucking my kids in at night with Black and Of He Goes. I can’t help but always think of my loving wife when songs like Come Back and Just Breathe are playing.

Eddie Vedder has been around for a long time. I like to think of him as being a good friend. One you don’t always talk to or keep up with but when you need them, you know they are always up for lifting your spirits. I have changed and my tastes in food, drink, friends and music changed with it. I’m just fortunate to have had Eddie growing up with me. Till next time my friend.

 If you have a chance to go where he’s performing it’s a really good show. All in all he played 32 songs, used 19 instruments and a kick drum, and he’s banter with the crowd allowed you a glimpse into him as a person.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Anniversary in Vegas

It's funny how much we prioritize things in life and how that changes with each passing year, each major life change, or just with the accumulation of knowledge. When young we wanted to have fun, the older we got the more we focused on our jobs and earning money, then getting a spouse, then more money to have kids, then kids, then and then and then.... it just a constant flow of what we want, need and work towards.

Recently, my wife and I celebrated our 8th year anniversary.  It's been a long and winding road to get to where we are now but I could never have imagined myself traveling with a better partner through these years.  As with most people that have two young children in elementary school and in after school activities, countless plans with our friends,  families, our work obligations and so on, our life has been lacking in the alone time and quality time. When my wife asked me if I wanted to get away for our anniversary and go to Vegas for a few days, I didn't even let her finished asking the question before I started packing my bags.

With my totally awesome and great mother in law coming into town to take care of the kids, my wife and I ventured off to Sin City to see what mischief we could find.

Upon my arrival, I wanted to test my luck... 
After getting checked in and doing the time share stuff we headed out for a night on the town. Old Vegas. Yes folks, welcome to Freemont Street where the slots are as loose as their women...
Michelle standing in front of the swim/aquarium/casino place in the Golden Nugget.
I sit down for less than 15 minutes and I'm already up $50. This is going to be a good trip.
We ate at the Buffet at the Golden Nugget and it wasn't anything to write home about. Price was descent and food was slightly better than Golden Coral's. I wouldn't go back but I ate my fair share and headed out onto the famed lighted walkway.

Yes, you are seeing exactly what I wanted you to see. Vegas has all types.
Street performers. I call this man in a box.
We went back inside and quickly won more money on my new favorite game. Three card poker.
After taking money from Vegas we headed back to our resort to sort out the day and unwind. We already made plans for most of the trip and needed our rest. We woke up the next day to the sound of peace and quiet. If you have young kids, you know how rare this is...

We took our time getting ready and slowly made our way to my wife's only request for food. The brunch buffet at Paris. 

The reason she had to go was their crepes. I don't blame her.

I bypassed the long crepe line opting for a plate of sausage, fillet, and corn beef hash.

The brunch buffet at Paris was well worth the long line to get and and the price. I was stuffed to the hilt and I was still wanting to try other items on display.

We then did some pretty touristy stuff like taking the gondola rides at the Venetian, shopping, more gambling and just staring at strange people.

This dude was about as Italian as I am but he told us about the city so it was a wash.

One of many fountain picks. Vegas has many a great fountains.

We had plans to watch the Cirque Du Soleil show "O" but before we went, we stopped by Chef Todd English's restaurant Olives for an appetizer and some cocktails. 

Beef Carpaccio atop a polenta cheese wedge. Very delicious.
Glass of Bulleit Rye Whiskey and bread basket and olive accompaniments.

"O" was a really good show. I thought I would get bored but it was quite entertaining and visually appealing. Two thumbs up from this guy.

The next morning we had a trip planned to see the red bluffs outside the city so with a quick bite to eat we went on our way.

I don't know which site I'd rather look at. :)
Just a  beautiful place with a beautiful woman.
 No one else booked this trip so it was our own private tour.  Ashley our friendly, knowledgeable and cheerful tour guide was a pleasant addition to the trip. She even recommended that we go eat at the Ellis Island Casino and Microbrewery so we did.  I passed on microbrewed beer since it was only 11:15 in the morning, regardless if I'm in Vegas or not, I still find that wrong. I opted for the rootbeer which was very refreshing and tasty. The food was served in big portions but wasn't anything spectacular. We had the shrimp cocktail, club sandwich and fish and chips. All ok but not great. Service was a tad slow but it was really busy there. 

Worth the trip to Ellis just for the root beer.

BIG sandwich, I just wish the flavor was as impressive but it wasn't.
We chilled at the resort actually relaxing by the pool and enjoying a champagne mixer before we headed out for the evening.  My food request for the trip was to eat at my favorite celebrity chef's restaurant. The chef is the one and only Wolfgang Puck and the restaurant isn't his famed Spago but his steak restaurant CUT. Many people told me to venture to other steakeries and what they thought were better eating establishments but I have always liked watching the way Wolfgang prepared food and seeing how he interprets dishes.  No one was going to convince me to eat anywhere else. I know he's not there searing the meat but I am sure he wouldn't put his name on a place in Vegas unless he knew that food they were putting out was worth eating. Well hopefully that was the case at least.

We got seated at a large table in the back away from the large room and loud tables. I noticed they did take into account that I made this reservation for a special occasion and they instantly got my approval.  They brought me an iPad with a list of their scotches and wine selection. I chose a nice glass of Springbank 14 year distillers edition and my wife snapped up a glass of pinot noir as she often does. She knew this was my thing to eat here and let me order our meal. I started off with a braised pork belly appetizer (almost Asian styled braised pork belly that was mouth melting and packed full of flavor), followed by a 20 ounce NY strip steak for us to share (seared perfectly and almost a crispy crust on the outside and very well aged and tender) and sides of brussell sprouts (my wife said mine is better and I have to agree) and roasted root veggies (healthy and delicious). We ended our meal with a coffee and doughnuts which was my wife's choice since she is the sweet tooth and it was mighty good. the coffee semifredo was much better than the vanilla doughnuts that came with it and with us being really full we chose to polish off the semifredo and left a couple of the doughnuts on the plate. The doughnuts were really good but the semifredo was great.

This is one instance where you build up eating somewhere in your mind so much that it's is hard for the restaurant to live up to your expectations but Cut did manage to meet and exceed my vision.  Well done Chef Puck, well done indeed.

In front of Cut.

Sorry for the terrible pictures but this was the braised pork belly.

My share of the NY strip. Cooked perfectly. Grlled then broiled under intense heat giving it that crispy crust.

 The coup de grace. 

What do you do after such a fine meal? Give Vegas back it's money of course...
 The next day was just more touristy stuff with my favorite lady. We started off the day with a hearty breakfast at the Hash House a Go Go. Huge plates of food is putting it lightly. I think my wife was served a loaf of bread disguised as french toast.  We went to the shark reef at Mandalay Bay and drank some drinks at a bar that was 5 degrees below zero. Our glasses were made of ice, the benches, tables, and everything else were also made of ice. We didn't stay there long but it was a fun expirience. We ate at the Burger Bar at Mandalay Bay which was pretty good. I also had an oxygen treatment at an oxygen bar but that wasn't a fun filled event. 

When you get an awe-inspiring look on my face, it's that impressive.

Yes folks, that's chicken and waffles.

Waffles stuffed with bacon that is.

Michelle loafing around. She didn't finish one slice off that plate but drank the tar out of that caramel coffee.

Petting sharks, just another thing this guy does that is awesome.

Strawberry banana shake at the Burger Bar.

My $22 signature buffalo burger and sweet potato fries. I couldn't talk myself into ordering their $60 Kobe burger. I don't love myself that much...

The cross section of a fine burger.

That night we ate at another disappointing buffet at the Rio. Their famed buffet was packed so we went to the seafood buffet there that was twice the price and wasn't anywhere near worth it. We did go to Penn and Teller after the meal though and that was an extremely entertaining show.

Impressively disappointing.

Teller after the show greeting people and getting photos snapped. Great show and two really nice friendly people.

 At the end of the first adult trip after having kids, we were surprisingly well rested and filled with the joys of a great vacation. We did miss the kids and our bed so we headed home.  The moment the plane touched down in Dallas though, I had a message from the school that the 5 year old fell and busted his chin and probably needed stitches or a glue job. Welcome back to reality. We rushed to the Urgent care facility where Grandma had taken the young guy. She told us how they had to pin him down to have the chin glued together. We got our marching orders from the doctor and left.

There were other places we had visited, eaten at, experienced on our trip as well as a  other things from the home front such as grandma's sideswiping and car driving skills, the reopening of the chin wound and the Houdini hounds and a very patient dog sitter.  There is only so much I am able to share. Till next time my friends, enjoy your life; it's the only one you are getting. Eat well, love long, and smile often.