Friday, November 22, 2013

Graduation Reflection

Throughout my career in the world of credit unions and technology I have often battled with the fact that people assumed I had a college education. I guess there was no blaming them; the jobs I have held over the past sixteen years have all had degree requirements. I overcame those obstacles with hard work and dedication and my own stubbornness for not letting anyone tell me I can’t do something, but when people assumed I had a degree it always bothered me. Who were they to assume that a piece of paper mattered?
I grew up with the idea that college was more an aspiration than an expectation. I saw my parents struggle through their own lives and the daily battle to keep afloat sometimes even drained what hopes and dreams they had for me. Many people don’t know this but they didn't go to college. If you have ever had the pleasure of meeting them you never would have guessed. I think this was part of my avoidance in pursuing higher education for so long.
My father worked tooth and nail to rise through the ranks of the government to achieve great success on his own merits and for that inspiration and motivation I will forever be thankful. My mother fought hard against some of the worst odds one can imagine, and with grace set an example for me that built my character and strength on which I have survived all these years. My respect for both of them has grown exponentially over the years as I have raised my own daughter. They both have instilled values and morals with me that will remain forever. My father passed in 2001 and when life milestones hit, I take comfort in knowing he’s still watching over me and knows how much I love and miss him. My mother continues to inspire and support me throughout life’s ups and downs. She is my rock.
A child of divorce, I remember the projects we lived in on Wayne Avenue, a tough neighborhood on the wrong side of the tracks in a small Podunk town. My mother always made sure to make us feel like we had a home even when we had very little. At the time I was unaware of what it meant to live in government housing and what that must have been like for her. As hard working, single mother, she gave everything for us so that we could be given the best education and chance to succeed in life. Her strength gave us what we needed to succeed, but the road was not an easy one. She taught me that anything is possible, even when others tell you it’s not. As I raise my own daughter I can only hope to be half of what my mother was for me.
Looking back, I grew up in a world of unlimited opportunity. Our home might have been short of fancy clothes, the latest gadgets, and the things that kids seem to expect as the norm these days, but my home was always full of books.  Each night I would read, and reading opened up the world to me.  I love reading history and especially biographies. There was a series of books called Value Tales that were sold in the grocery store. I got excited every time we had a little extra money and could get a new one so I could learn about the amazing people who had lived before me.  In biographies, you are almost always reading about people who started out unimportant but ended up having a significant life. At a young age I was determined to live a life that could one day be momentous. I'm still determined.
Growing up I had my own trials and tribulations. The events of my teen years nearly cut short this amazing life I have been able to live, but again I was given the strength and support I needed to survive and this time from an at the time unexpected source. I was the most impossible teenager; stubborn, wild, and a perfect example of the opposite of what I want my own daughter to be. My Stepfather and I did not have a good relationship during my teen years, but looking back now as an adult it’s his tough love and never-ending push for me to live a better life that got me over the tough parts. I am blessed to have him in my life and count him in the top ranks of my mentors and people who helped me reach this milestone.
After surviving being a teenager and graduating high school at 16, I was not ready to make informed decisions about my future. I had an opportunity to attend college which I never dreamed would happen. I wasted that opportunity and stupidly dropped out on the first day because I felt that there was nothing they could teach me that I didn’t already know. I reflect back a lot on that day and wonder what life would be like had I made a better decision
Part luck, part stubbornness, I did survive the next 14 years, and did quite well for myself. I ran and owned my own catering and event business. I started a job working for a small California credit union as a teller (for 1 entire week) and then realized they had an opening in the computer room and that seemed like it might be more fun.
That first opportunity, that data center and its 9-track reel tapes and phone coupler modems opened up my eyes to the possibilities ahead of me. At a conference in San Diego one night, upon returning from dinner with a long walk along the bay, my CEO Diana Dykstra gave me a few words that changed my career path forever. In talking about work and prioritizing my initiatives she told me “Don’t give them what they ask for, give them what they need”. Those words set off a firestorm in my brain and I have spent my career attempting to live up to this amazing advice. Having someone who believes in you will help you change the world. Diana was that person for me. I am truly grateful for her early mentorship and trust in me. It kicked off so many great things in my life.
The next ten years I spent doing everything I could to self-educate on technology and explore the limitless possibilities that were out there in the solution space. College was still not part of the process for me because that stubborn brain of mine still fought the traditional roles in society. I didn’t need a piece of paper to tell me I was smart.  It wasn’t until moving to San Antonio and having a daughter of my own that I started to consider what I wanted for her and what it would take to ensure a future for her.
My daughter is my light. When I feel like giving up or something is impossible, all I have to do is think of her and I am instantly reinvigorated. No task is too big, no problem to solve impossible, because I would do anything to give her the world. When she skipped Kindergarten and entered the first grade my heart skipped a beat. This little genius of mine needed support for her education. I wanted her to have a college education and as my parents did for me, I wanted more for her than what I had in life. On that very day I decided I had to set an example for her and obtain my own college degree.
I immediately started searching out schools and possibilities. Most of my friends were all graduated with Masters and some even PHD’s and all I had was a high school diploma to my name. I also saw the student debt and the mounting costs of what college was for my friends and again I was terrified of trying to figure out how to make this happen. They balked at the idea and often made comments like “why do the work, you already have the job”. But Emma is my light and I knew she was the why and that I’d find a way. She was worth it.
In my research at work I came across a document entitled “Tuition Reimbursement Program”. This benefit for all SACU employees states that any employee who works 25 or more hours a week was entitled to 100% reimbursement of higher education up to $5,250 per calendar year. At first I thought it was a typo and too good to be true. I had already found a school willing to take me on at a discounted rate, and had figured out that if I took six years to complete my degree I could budget $5,000 a year towards my goal. This discovery now meant no budgeting was required and I could achieve my goal for free. No student loan debt. No out of pocket costs. No more excuses for not going after a college degree. Suddenly the impossible was becoming possible and free.
In the past 5 and half years I have had the full support of my employer and managers in my various roles. Melissa Zahn and Yvonne Garibay in App Dev, Zandy Reinshagen in eServices.  These amazing women – who are all college educated technology professional role models for me, gave me the support and inspiration to keep after my goal year after year, test after test, and exam after grueling exam. In my head I couldn’t let them down. I didn’t want to fail. I couldn’t fail. This degree was no longer only about my daughter Emma. I wanted this degree for me.
The tuition reimbursement program required that grades must be A’s or B’s for reimbursement. Because of this I gave it my all and when I got my first B I was heartbroken. I almost quit the entire program over the fear of not succeeding. Then a helpful hint in the form of laughter at my distress from Zandy brought me back around. She reminded me that my being an overachiever was standing in my way. She reminded me to put my ego in check and work for what I wanted. She helped ground me back in reality and I set back on course and made straight A’s from that day on.  I even added a few classes to weight out the B. I owe my honors to Zandy for keeping me grounded. Left unchecked I am my own worst enemy. She helped me grow from an egotistical superstar to a successful student and professional.
The past six years haven’t been easy. In addition to being a part time student, carrying 1-2 classes every semester, doing homework until 2 am so it didn’t interfere with my time at work or with my family and friends, I have also navigated my way through a divorce, created a home for my daughter as a single mom, and doing everything in my power to keep checking off dreams on my bucket list. Then I found out my baby brother had started college. I immediately doubled up on classes. In addition to needing to have a degree before my own daughter started college there was no way I was going to let him beat me to the finish line. Sibling rivalry is a great thing. I am so proud of my brother Duke and can’t wait to celebrate his upcoming graduation. Our family has come so far and our Dad would be so proud of how far his kids have come against all odds. I know Mom is. I can see it on her face every time I see her.
I refused to quit or give up, and the persistence, motivation, and dedication finally paid off. This awkward tall girl from the projects on Wayne Avenue can now say with glowing pride that I am a college graduate.  When I fill out a survey, that aching pit in my stomach next to “highest level of education” is gone. Not only that but with not just one but two degrees. In the past six years I also became a certified Cicerone (beer expert), raised an amazing gifted and talented little girl who will rule the world, traveled to 6 countries, and found the love of my life. I am living my dreams. Not just one of them. All of them.
The icing on the cake is I did all of this with zero loan debt and zero out of pocket costs. I owe this amazing and generous gift to SACU. They footed the entire bill – books, tuition, everything. This benefit goes above and beyond any expectations I have ever had for any employer ever. They already have given me my dream job as a Technology Solutions Architect in the eServices division. I can never thank them enough for their generosity and support. This employee benefit is at the top of my long list for why SACU is the best place in the world to work.
I am thankful to be blessed and surrounded with so many amazing people in my life. And this graduation is only the beginning of so many more great things to come.  I plan to continue on through my masters and beyond. The most important lessons I have absorbed through this experience are that learning is a lifetime activity and that anything is possible and to always dream big.
My advice to anyone who thinks they don’t need a degree is that they are absolutely right. You can do great things without a diploma. But let me tell you how many more things you can do and how much more possibility becomes visible when you pursue it. I didn’t need my degree to do what I have already done. But now I know how much more potential I have and have great aspirations for what I will do with my amazing future.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Screen Scraping is Bad

It's been a year since I've written a blog post. It doesn't seem like I have the time anymore to write anything longer than a 140 character tweet. All that time gets eaten up with work, and then play :) So what better way to get in a post than to just copy an email I crafted earlier today. I'll have to find something fun that I'm playing with to create the next post.

I work in self-service banking. Security is a major part of our jobs. So here's my response to an employee who was questioning why we don't allow account aggregators to screen scrape our member's data from their online banking site. (Besides the obvious answer of "Because screen scraping is BAD"!)

"The scenario described in the attached emails is described a screen scraping interface which we do not allow for security reasons. We do however support OFX (Intuit) and that is how other system aggregators are able to access our data.

The  practice commonly known as “screen scraping” or “information aggregation” whereby so-called “information aggregators” make available to their customers a web site on which the customers may view information obtained from other web sites. For example, a Credit Union member, John Doe, might have brokerage accounts, credit card accounts, bank accounts, insurance accounts and loans with a number of entities that provide online access to Mr. Doe. For each entity with which Mr. Doe has online account access, Mr. Doe might have a separate user ID and password, and he would have to log in separately to each entity’s web site to view account information or perform a transaction in a particular account. An information aggregator, or “screen scraper,” instead gives Mr. Doe the option to view and manage all of his online accounts held by the various securities, insurance, banking and lending entities in one place - on the aggregator’s web site.
Often, the composite information from the various entities is reformatted to the information aggregator’s standards. To make this possible, the information aggregator will ask for the user ID and password for the various online accounts to view the information aggregator’s web site. If the information aggregator is given this information, the member does so at their own risk. The Credit Union cannot verify the identity of the person gaining access to the account with the user ID and password, whether that person is the member, another individual to whom - despite the Credit Union’s warning – the member has given the password, or if they have shared with an information aggregator.
The Credit Union is not liable for the consequences if password and account information is shared with others. Members agree that if they use an automatic check writing service operating through use of a personal computer or otherwise, the treatment of each item presented against their account through that service and the Credit Union's rights and obligations regarding the items presented will be the same as if the item were signed or initiated personally by that member. The Credit Union’s privacy policies protect members’ nonpublic personal information. If members choose to give their password and account information to a screen scraper or information aggregator, they should understand that the person or company may not protect your nonpublic personal information to the same extent the Credit Union will. They should read carefully the screen scraper’s terms and conditions of service before they subscribe for any services.
All that being said, the best advice we can give this member is an explanation of screen scraping and encouragement for them to protect their data. If they choose to do business with a screen scraper, our MFA will not allow the screen text to be scraped and the data pull will not work. However the vendor in question now has full access to their account and non-public information. If they choose to use an account aggregation service that reads OFX data in a secure environment it will work as we are a registered FI in the OFX database (ex: this is how and other OFX aggregators work)."

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Chef McHugh - Pick Me Pick Me!

I got a little giddy when I saw the Facebook post from Lüke San Antonio River Walk. 
I almost had to do a double take. Did they really just say they are hosting a contest so share our favorite beer pairing recipe for a chance to win a spot at the upcoming beer dinner? And did they also say Brooklyn Brewery? Hell Yes!

The Contest:

Do you love beer? If you answered yes, our Brooklyn Beer Dinner Recipe Contest is for you. Share your best pairing recipe on our wall for the opportunity to have your recipe featured at an upcoming Lüke beer dinner, plus complimentary tickets for you and a guest.

- Post
your recipe on our Facebook wall between May 1 and May 18

- Recipe submissions may be paired with any Brooklyn Brewery beer and can be for any course

- Chef McHugh will select his favorite recipe and use it as inspiration for a course at the Brooklyn Beer Dinner on June 7

- The winning recipe will be announced on our Facebook page on May 28

- The winner will receive two complimentary tickets to the Brooklyn Beer Dinner on June 7

- Additionally, the winner will be offered the opportunity to cook with Chef Steve the week of the event and to present the dish at the beer dinner

Need I remind anyone how much I adore Brooklyn Brewery beers? If my fridge and buying habits didn't give it away, then perhaps you might have noticed that Brooklyn Local 1 is the single beer to have appeared at all 4 of my Saucer plate parties. I once gave a bottle to a mom-to-be at a baby shower (for after the baby arrived of course!)  I adore the Brooklyn Brewery.

So my only problem with this contest would be trying to decide what to submit as I have spent a great deal of time pairing their beers with delicious food in my kitchen and at restaurants across the country.

I almost wanted to go with my Five Spice Short Rib paired with Brooklyn Sorachi Ace, or my Smoked BBQ chicken (which I dehydrate the beer for my rub) paired with Brooklyn Lager...  but I feel drawn to sticking to my tried and true first love of beers. Brooklyn Local 1

(Dear Chef McHugh - if you want either of the other two recipes above because the one below isn't what you're looking for I'm happy to share them as well - because cooking with you over Brooklyn Brewery beers would be rad)

So here's my submission to the contest... I hoping going somewhat simple will win me a spot at this dinner.  This is something I've been making for years for my family and friends. Brooklyn Local 1 paired with Japanese Squash Soup and Pâté (seriously how can you go wrong with squash and duck fat? Paired with a Belgian-inspired Strong Golden Ale? YUM!)

Japanese Pumpkin Soup with Pâté Dipper

1 medum japanese pumpkin
1 tsp olive oil
1 medium sweet onion (sliced)
1 Tbsp butter
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 cups milk

Cut pumpkin into 2, remove seeds. Place flesh side down in roasting pan and roast for 45 minutes at 35 or until soft. In large sauce pan heat up olive oil and  saute onion until they start to brown and caramalize. Pour chicken stock over onions and bring to a slow boil. Scoop out squash and add to broth. Simmer over low heat for about 10 minutes then add butter cinnamon and milk. Use an immersion blender to blend the mixture until smooth and creamy. Season to taste with salt and pepper. I sometimes drizzle Crème fraîche on top if I have it.

Serve with the Pâté Dipper below:

3 oz duck fat
1 large shallot, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 duck liver, chopped
1/2 tsp herbs de Provence
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 tsp Cognac
Sliced baguette, toasted with butter

Cook duck fat in a skillet over high heat for 5 minutes or until browned. add the shallots and garlic, stir. Add the liver and herbs de Provence, stir. Add the salt and pepper and cook on high heat for about 2 minutes. Transfer to a blender and pour the Cognac over and blend until a smooth texture has formed. Cool in the fridge for 2 hours and cover until ready to serve.

Spread the Pâté on the toasted buttered baguette slices and place on the edge of the bowl.

So there you have it - my submission with fingers crossed... I'm also going to have to go to Central Market now after work and pick up a few bottles of Local 1 for the weekend - because now I want to eat this.

I also have to mention my favorite cheese to pair with this beer only because the combination of these two things in my life is a cause for Foodgasm.
Saint Angel and the Brooklyn Local 1 with a few slices of granny smith apple is one of the most decadent things you could place on your tongue... I am definitely making a beer & food run tonight!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Greenling Quickfire Round 14

The amount of fun I have had week after week with this little challenge has been exponentially growing with each new box. And once again this week is no exception.

Upon arriving home I discovered a surprise waiting with me Greenling box. An awesome box of goodies from Greenling and an awesome note to let me know they read this blog. Totally made my night!

My daughter thought it was super cool and so did I. Even better was the yummy treats waiting for us inside this week's box. Last week we had turnip greens - this week we got the full turnips! Golden turnips to be precise!
My first thought was to make a redo of the braised turnip greens from last week because they were so delicious, but then I had an idea. I decided to make 2 dishes, one with the turnips themselves, based on an old Julia Childs recipe and the other with the turnip greens.The Julia Childs recipe for caramelized turnips is something I have made for years. Basically you peel and chop the turnips and caramelize them in a brown butter and sugar sauce. For this meal I decided to take that a step further and make a Turnip Hash
The first step in the turnip process is to parboil the turnips in salted water for about 5 minutes. This helps soften them. Once the five minutes is up, you remove them from the water and cool them down and pat dry. Once dry you can add them to a saucepan with butter and sugar and all sorts of yummy goodness until they turn a beautiful golden brown.
While the turnips were boiling I chopped up a yellow onion, zucchini, and the greens from the Greenling Box. My trick with turnip greens it to remove as much of the steam as possible from the leafy part.

I decided to give my new Calphalon Unison Fritatta pan a spin and what better way to use up the delicious vegetables!

Once my parboiled turnips were cooled and dried I placed them back in the pan with this awsome combination of sugar and spice. And a generous helping of butter of course.

A gift from my Mom that she picked up from a local vendor back home in Florida, I am never without a fun way to spice up a dish. These spice blends are fun - although I've never used them for what they were originally intended for. Who want's pork chops when you can have turnips? The sugar in this one was perfect for what I needed.

I sauteed the greens and onion in butter as well as the turnips (with the added sugar rub). While those cooked I boiled up some organic chicken apple sausage for the hash. The benefit of having the fritatta pan is that the two sides can be used independently or together and they are both super easy clean up.

Here's a pic of the beautiful results of the new magical pan. A perfect fluffy fritatta with no mess and no fuss!

I topped off the fritatta with some fresh grated parmesan and romano cheese and served along side the turnip hash.

I paired the dinner with Abita's SOS. An awesome beer that benefits an even better cause. For every bottle sold Abita will donate 75¢ to the rescue and restoration of the environment, industry and individuals fighting to survive the disastrous oil spill in the gulf.

My other favorite part about last night? That's easy - in addition to Paul winning the Top Chef elimination challenge and making it into the finals he also won a Prius V. As if He wasn't awesome enough already he and I now have matching cars!

I've been Team Paul from the start and I'm crazy excited to see him go for the win!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Greenling Quickfire Round 11-13

I know... I know...  I was supposed to be doing this every week and keep up with each episode and make a corresponding dinner using my weekly Surprise Me ingredient from Greenlingand then the holidays happened and then vacations...

So what's my excuse this time? Trust me it's a good one. I was out of the country on a cruise with the band Weezer!

But this week I'm finally getting caught up and what better way to celebrate than with a yummy treat?

This week's Surprise Me ingredient was turnip greens!
 My favorite family recipe for any type of greens is "bacon and butter".

So that's just what I did! The secret I use is to boil the bacon first - this allows you to easily remove the fatty pieces and leaves you with a delicious pile of smoked pork.

I only boil the bacon for a few minutes, just long enough to cook off some of the white. Then I let it cool off in the liquid and let the fat separate and float up to the top.  Once cooled it easily pulls apart and from there I just chop it up.

Throw the bacon meat in the pan with a heavy helping of butter and some chopped onion.

Stir until the onion is caramelized and the bacon starts to crisps up.

This will also make your house smell like heaven.

Just as the bacon starts to crisp throw in your greens, remove from heat and stir until they are wilted. For turnip greens I also threw in a pinch of sugar and a dash of Maldon seat salt for good measure 
 For this meal I also chopped up one of my tomatoes from my Greenling box and an avocado.

tossed them in a bowl with some fresh lime juice, sea salt and fresh cracked black peppercorn for a quick and refreshing avocado salad.

And not that it really goes with turnip greens, but I had a flank steak marinating in the fridge in orange juice, orange zest, habanero pepper and honey so I pan grilled it up medium rare.

The finished meal? A mismatched habanero orange honey steak, avocado salad and southern style turnip greens.

I was a little off in the pairing of these 3 - but each on its own was pretty damn fantastic.

I could have eaten an entire plate of just bacon and butter turnip greens, but I had a dinner guest and had to share :D

And Paul Qui is rocking the Top Chef competition! Life is good!

And just in case you didn't believe my excuse - Here's a pic of me and Weezer!

Best Vacation Ever!!!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Greenling Quickfire Round 10

Tonight's Greenling Surprise Me item was Watermelon radish! I love this veggie and pick them up any time I see them at farmers's markets or at the grocery.

Round and encased in a pale green, thin skin, the watermelon radish has pinkish-red flesh, with a mild, sweet flavor.  

I love to pickle these radishes, but since I had already used that approach with the breakfast radishes on a previous challenge I opted to take a different approach. I once had a really great radish tempura. So why not deep fry them and make chips?
 This week I also decided to switch up my beverage selection from wine to beer. And since this is Top Chef Texas - I opened up a few of my favorite Texas beers.

Texas has so many great brews to choose from but Shiner is almost always at the top of my list as a great Texas standard. 

Their Holiday Cheer seasonal is a fantastic mix of peaches and pecans and always a winter favorite in my house. The bottles are labeled with a cute gift tag and make great gifts.
 Back to tonight's dish. I decided to tap into one of my favorite secret ingredients to finish off the radish chips. 

Truffle salt

This amazing jar is filled with some of my favorite spice ever. I picked up the jar based on a foodie recommendation at Central Market from my favorite resident foodie Mimi. 

She made duck fat fried potatoes with this salt and I've used it on every chip made in my house since.

 To go with the chips I pulled out a giant loaf of sourdough bread from my Greenling farmstead box.

Sweetish Hill makes some of the most fantastic baked goods ever. This bread is no exception.

I also had some leftover lobster tail in my fridge from last night's dinner of trufled lobster mac and cheese - sometimes I really love my fridge :)

As a native New Englander these ingredients can only mean one thing - Lobster Roll!
 My basic lobster roll recipe has a slight twist of Sriracha - then again, most of my recipes have that same twist. I must go through a bottle or more of this stuff a month.

I also added some chopped sweet onion, a tiny bit of fresh mayo, chopped celery, salt and pepper.

Mixed all of that up with the lobster meat in a small bowl and then topped off the amazing sourdough, and squeezed a bit of fesh lime on top of the lobster meat mixture,
 The result?

Possibly one of my new favorite dinners of all time. My daughter downed hers in record time and asked for seconds.

Luckily greenling sent two gigantic watermelon radishes and we had an entire pile of chips to finish off (which we did)

The watermelon radish chip was absolutely fantastic - slightly sweet and super savory.
I'm now watching Top Chef and it's Restaurant Wars! One of my favorite episodes each season.

Paul Qui is making roasted pork belly - OMG yum!

My favorite beer to pair with pork belly? Texas's own Real Ale Lost Gold IPA

Cheers to all the cheftestants!