Monday, October 20, 2014



As the oldest sibling of four, I had a lot of firsts in my family. First teenager. First driver's license. First to graduate high school, then college. First to get married. And first to turn 21.

I'm not shy about my love of alcoholic beverages. You just have to click over to Fueled by Cocktails or browse my list of cocktail recipes here to know that. My family knows it too & I've been honored to share my passion of a good cocktail with them.

Part of sharing this passion (obsession?) is making sure my brother & two sisters celebrated their 21st birthdays... and this past weekend I checked the third and final sibling off the 21st birthday list.

Jessica: While Jessica was pregnant and/or breastfeeding through both her 21st and 22nd birthday, we finally went out to celebrate on her 23rd. We started at Max's Wine Dive, where we were gifted a half-empty bottle of champagne from the bartender, and had one of my favorite meals ever. We then went to Sixth Street in Austin, where I tried to get her to branch out past cheap beer and tequila. We watched the crowd at Coyote Ugly and had such a fun girls night, just the two of us. (My blog post from her birthday.)

Dana: I think I was planning Dana's 21st birthday way longer than I should admit. We made an all night affair of it, starting with dinner at a fancy restaurant and moving on to Sixth Street (again) during SXSW. We listened to a great 90's alt band, got lost on the dance floor dancing to an extended club version of Gangham Style and ended with amazing street food. (My blog post from her birthday.)

Clark: My baby brother turned 21 this weekend. We celebrated with the entire family at his request, eating his meal of choice: my grandma's chicken fried steak, squash casserole and mashed potatoes. After a few hours of family time, I took Clark over to the Dam Red Barn in Canyon Lake, Texas, at his request. In the warehouse-tunred-bar, we played a really bad game of pool, were given free cans of Mike's Hard Lemonade and drank more cheap beer on the porch while a Stevie Ray cover band played in the corner. We talked & shared stories in a way I haven't had the chance to do with him in a while. (Happy birthday, little brother. I love you.)

I know it's so easy to dismiss 21st birthdays as frivolous and possibly even dangerous affairs... but to me it's an opportunity to celebrate a new stage in life. My whole world opened up when I turned 21, and sharing that experience and feeling with those I love most was really important to me. Each experience perfectly fit each sibling - I made sure of it - and I'm so thankful I was able to keep up with this kind of family tradition through everyone.

And now I just have to wait 17 years for Danzig's turn... If he'll let me.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

During each of Texas A&M's conference games, I'll be posting a brunch recipe and complementary cocktail for us all to enjoy. The recipes won't be your typical tailgate fare. I'm classing these up to bring a little extra fancy to our everyday lives. And really what's not to love? Brunch and cocktails is pretty much the best combination around. Get a group of friends together & celebrate your weekend! See all SEC Brunch posts.

Brunch Your Way Through the SEC: TAMU vs Alabama

One of the things Aggies love to hold on to is our shared past of famed coach Bear Bryant. While he reached his fame at Alabama, he also coached for Texas A&M, and we like to remind people of that. What I like most about him, though, are the stories and tales that surround him. To me, Bryant isn't so much a real person as a legend. And all legends have a collection of stories that may or may not be true, but are entertaining nonetheless.

Today's SEC Brunch is an ode to my favorite tale of Bryant. Whether it's true or not, it's great. And I wanted to share it with you today...

Once upon a time, the new Alabama head coach Bear Bryant was on his way to check out a possible recruit in South Alabama. On the way, he got hungry & stopped at an old cinderblock building with a sign outside that just said "Restaurant". He walked in to realize he was the only white person in the place, but went up to the bar and asked what they were serving for lunch. The owner told Bryant, "You probably won't like it here. Today we're having chitlins, collard greens and black-eye peas with cornbread." Bryant responded, "Sounds like I'm in the rice place," and ordered a plate.

While eating, Bryant and owner talked. Bryant revealed he was the new football coach from Tuscaloosa and was out on a recruiting trip. As he was leaving, the owner told Bryant the food was on him. Bryant tried to insist on paying, but the owner just asked for a signed photo instead. He didn't have any photos to give yet, but promised to mail one later, which he did the next day.

Many years later, Bryant was approached by a recruit who had already turned him down but had changed his mind. When Bryant asked him why, he said, "When my grandpa found out that I had a chance to play for you and said no, he pitched a fit and told me I wasn't going nowhere but Alabama, and wasn't playing for nobody but you. He thinks a lot of you and has ever since y'all met."

You can read the full version of that story here.

Black eyed pea with polenta and collard greens
Black eyed pea with polenta and collard greens
Black Eye Pea and Polenta with Collard Greens

This is my version of the dish Bear Bryant was served in that restaurant. This dish is southern with a modern twist. It's easy to make. And it goes perfect with a smooth bourbon drink.

Black Eyed Peas & Collard Green Polenta

Ingredients

  • 1 can black eyed peas
  • 1 cup chopped tomatoes in puree
  • 1 tsp cayenne
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • Salt, to taste
  • 1 bunch collard greens, cleaned, de-stemmed and chopped (really, really clean them)
  • 1 pound bacon, cut into small pieces
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • Tube of pre-cooked polenta (18 oz.) - try to get a seasoned one like Basil or Sun Dried Tomato - cut into 1/2" discs
  • Small container of fried onions

Directions

Start by pre-heating the oven to 350 degrees. Next, pull out a large pan & start cooking the chopped bacon. Cook until crispy.

Mix the black eyed peas, tomatoes, cayenne, onion powder and salt in a pot. Bring to a boil & then let keep it warm until everything else is ready.

Just before the bacon is finished, put the polenta in the oven on a pan and cook for 15 minutes.

When the bacon is crispy, remove it from the grease with a slotted spoon. Let the bacon drain for a little bit on paper towels and then add to the black eyes peas.

Once the bacon is removed from the grease, add the garlic & red pepper flakes to the pan & stir until fragrant. Add the collard greens to the pan and stir until coated. Add 1/2 cup water and steam for 10-15 minutes with the lid on until the collard greens are fully cooked.

Now you should have cooked black eyed peas, cooked collard greens and heated polenta. It's time to assemble your plate...

Arrange the polenta on a plate; top with collard greens and then black eye peas. Sprinkle the dish with the fried onions.

And now make yourself a drink & enjoy.

Grilled Lemon Arnold Palmer
Black eyed pea with polenta and collard greensGrilled Lemon Arnold Palmer

Grilled Lemonade Arnold Palmer

I created a slightly new take on an Arnold Palmer to go with this dish. What makes it special? Grilled (homemade) lemonade. Mix with a little bourbon - or leave it out if you want to make it family friendly - and you've got yourself a really good, refreshing cocktail.

Learn to make your own Grilled Lemonade Arnold Palmer over on Fueled by Cocktails.

Black eyed pea with polenta and collard greens
Black eyed pea with polenta and collard greens

Happy brunching!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

During each of Texas A&M's conference games, I'll be posting a brunch recipe and complementary cocktail for us all to enjoy. The recipes won't be your typical tailgate fare. I'm classing these up to bring a little extra fancy to our everyday lives. And really what's not to love? Brunch and cocktails is pretty much the best combination around. Get a group of friends together & celebrate your weekend! See all SEC Brunch posts.

 Ole Miss

Playing two teams from Mississippi in a row allowed me to really dive into the Mississippi cuisine. While last week's Game Day Strata was good, it didn't represent the state very well. So I tried to make up for that this week by making fried catfish. My research showed that Mississippi cuisine isn't very unique, but there's catfish, biscuits & fresh garden vegetables. I used two of the three (no veggies this week, sorry).

I'm not a huge catfish fan, but I can enjoy some fried catfish every now & then. It was my first time cooking catfish myself & my cast iron skillet came in handy. And because we're playing Ole Miss (Hotty Toddy), I had to serve a Hot Toddy. Which was a great call, because it's rainy & in the 60's today.

Fried catfish & a Hot Toddy
Corn biscuits and fried catfish with a Hot Toddy
Corn biscuits and a Hot Toddy

I didn't make up any of my own recipes for this. I just found great components and put them together. There are three parts to this meal:

#1: Fresh Corn Buttermilk Biscuits

These biscuits were sweet and a great counterpart to the catfish. I'm not a great baker, which is why the biscuits turned out a little flat for me. But I have every confidence you'll fare better. The taste was solid & they were really easy to put together.

Find the recipe here.

#2: Mississippi Fried Catfish

Frying catfish has three steps: Batter the fish. Fry the fish. Let the grease drain. They cook quickly & are fall apart tender when done. If you lot it more spicy, add more cayenne to the batter. Don't be afraid to experiment a bit.

Find the recipe here.

#3: Lemon aioli.

The lemon aioli is the glue that holds the whole dish together. It melds the flavors of the biscuits and the catfish together to make it a complete dish. Don't be shy. Smother everything with the aioli. You won't be sorry.

Find the recipe here.

To assemble the dish:

Place the biscuits on a plate. Place the fried catfish on top. Pour the lemon aioli over the plate. Serve with hot sauce, lemon and a drink.

Fried catfish and biscuits with lemon aioli

Hot Toddy

I made a Hot Toddy to go along with the meal. I love Hot Toddies. And while there are many varieties and versions (did you know you can make one with Tequila?), I opted to go very traditional with this one. Bourbon, honey, a little bitters, lemon juice & boiling water. It's super simple & a great drink on a cool day.

View the Hot Toddy recipe on Fueled by Cocktails.



Happy Brunching!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014


Just hanging out at the dog park. Our new Sunday tradition.

My seasonal bucket lists sort of died this summer. I grew uninterested and wasn't having a great time trying to complete them. So I just let them stop. I let the summer run its course. I created a new website (hello) and now it's fall.

Usually fall is when I like to kick back & stay at home. I use it as my season of rest after a crazy summer and before the crazy holidays. But this fall is going to be different. We already have a lot on our calendar. I can count my free weekends on one hand between now & Thanksgiving. And while I'm grateful for a life full of adventure and fun, I'm also the type of person who craves security and rest.

Here's a few things I'm looking forward to this fall...

Backyard fires. One of my favorite things about the cooler weather. I love sitting out back with some beer, watching a fire & talking to friends.

Mexico City. We're going to Mexico City for Dia de los Muertos in November. I haven't been to Mexico since I was a teenager & can't wait to see it as an adult. We're staying right downtown & I can't wait to soak up the culture (and see how Mexico does cocktails).

More Aggie football. Last year the season ended before I realized it was December. I really want to try & soak up as much of this season as possible. Even if it's frustrating at times.

Tights & boots. I know it's super cliche, but I tried to wear boots the one day & ended up sweating walking back to my car after work. I can't wait until that's not the case.

Open windows. As soon as it's consistently below 80, we open all the windows in our house until it gets too cold to stand it. Hopefully that'll be soon!

Concerts. We've had the pleasure of seeing quite a few great concerts lately. We saw Jenny Lewis last week & are going to see our favorite band - Brand New - at Stubbs in just a few weeks. We saw them earlier this summer for my birthday in Dallas, but that was assigned seating in a giant auditorium. This next Brand New show we're going in total high school - sober & right in the front. Mosh pit & crowd surfers be damned.

Camping in the woods. I'll only camp between the months of October and Novemember, then March and April. It's a narrow window, so hopefully we'll have a chance to take it.

Soups, stews & all the comfort food. I'm craving a good stew right about now & have decided this fall will be the fall of soups & stews. Can't beat some crusty bread and a thick gravy-like stew full of veggies and meat.

My friend Meredith. I went & saw my friend Meredith get married in Canada last year & now this year she's coming down to visit for over a month. We're so excited to catch up & hang out with her!

And that, my friends, is what I'm looking forward to this season. How about you?

Monday, October 6, 2014

Crooked Cactus Photography - Gallery Page

All the way back before Christmas, Heather asked if I wanted to help re-build her site. I eagerly said yes. I knew working with Heather would be a great experience, but mostly I knew it'd be a difficult one (which is something I was really excited about!).

Heather is a photographer and graphic designer. She is used to seeing things exactly as they should be & then making them that way. On the other hand, I approach web development with a much more "let's see how it turns out" way. I don't believe in "pixel perfect" and while I think quick wireframing for websites is a good thing, most of what I build comes together in a browser & not in photoshop. So, I knew this would be a great learning expereince for me... just because I do something one way doesn't make it the only way. Heather was the client & so I had to adapt to that.

Together, we learned the different jargon of print designer versus web developer. I learned how to go through each page with a finer tooth comb than I thought possible. I also learned quite a few technical things that have helped me in other projects. This was a labor of love and dedication for both of us - she was patient with me as I learned my way through it; and I was patient with myself as I learned new ways & techniques for doing things. It took me way longer than it should have to complete for a lot of reasons. But now, once it's done (or at least this iteration is complete), I'm really proud of it.

Heather had a lot of great ideas when she designed the site. Here are some features that I absolutely fell in love with:

  • Multi-color menu. Each menu item has its assigned color for the hover background. I loved how this added texture to the site without making it too busy.
  • Showing the project title on hover. For her design page, we decided to just show thumbnails on the page load, and then have the project titles show up when you hover on the image. Again, it adds something to the site without making it too busy.
  • Adding a heart "like" button to blog posts. This took me forever to figure out how to do, and I even reconfigured the whole thing just last month when I learned a better way to do it from another site I'm working on. It turned out great, though, which I'm so happy about. (See the "heart" on the blog feed.)
  • Sort the gallery by type. Photo galleries are tough, but I love how beautiful this one turned out. Instead of various pages of different galleries, we just added a drop-down select option so you can see whatever catgeory you're interested in. I love how seamlessly it works across all devices & think it allows her photography to stand on its own.

Go on over & check out Crooked Cactus Photography. Heather has so much talent & it's so cool that I got to take part in show it off to the world.

Crooked Cactus Photography - Gallery Page as shown on a phone and tablet screen

Client: Heather Pitts // Crooked Cactus Photography
URL: http://crookedcactusphotography.com/
CMS: Drupal
Theme: Custom template using Zen base theme
Time to Complete: 37 hours to complete

Looking at sprucing up your own website? Check out my web development info here.

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