Saturday, October 5, 2013

Blog Migration!

***PLEASE READ!!!***

Hey friends, I have moved my blog. I will no longer be posting any new posts on this Blogger version...I am now on WordPress. The name is the same, just a different URL. 

So now you can follow me at - come check it out! 

So change your bookmarks and if you are kind enough to have my blog linked on your page, be sure you change the link, too! 

See you guys on WordPress! 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Playing Catch-Up

Hey folks, it's been a while since I've caught you guys up on my goings-on, so here goes!

School Update
At the end of August, I started my third (of six) semester of my speech pathology grad program. It really IS going by so fast! I worked with kids over the summer, so this fall it was time to work with adults (we have to have experience in each for our degree). I was pretty nervous because I just didn't know if I would enjoy or be good with adults. But as it turns out, I LOVE it! Still undecided what direction I will go with my career, but I am enjoying my adult practicum SO much more than expected. I can't say any details about where I work or who my clients are due to HIPAA, but I'll just say I love them all. Most have had neurological injuries such as strokes and traumatic brain injuries. I love seeing how motivated they are to work and get better. The day one of them said to me "I want to tell you I was wrong...I thought I could never read a book again, but I CAN and I am really enjoying it" just absolutely made my life! So that definitely gets two thumbs up. Not gonna lie, though, I'll be glad when the whole "being a student and going to class/having exams" part is done though! If I ever say I want to get ANY more degrees/go to more school, please PLEASE do not let me! Been there, done more! Turns out I'm pretty much over the student lifestyle. Oh well, it's worth it for the end goal.

Life Updates
I've been spending lots of quality time with my wonderful friends lately, which I just love! Here are a few of the highlights:

Ollie comes home
In mid-August one of my very best friends (and roomie from law school) brought her son Ollie home from Uganda. After two years of watching Rach and Jesse go through the struggles, setbacks, joys, and disappointments of international adoption, their coming-home day was filled with emotion. I definitely did the ugly cry...but so did Cat. We ugly cried together and it was beautiful. Ollie has flourished at home - he is the happiest, funniest little guy. They could not be a more adorable family!

Cat, Erin, Sarah, and I gathered at Sarah's house on the morning of their arrival and made some awesome signs for Ollie. Lolly couldn't be there in person but she was obviously there in spirit with this lovely head-on-a-stick sign we made for her. If you can't see it, it says: Our names rhyme! #besties  We felt it was a fitting tribute to Lolly's fun personality...and hey, what's more fun than scaring a jet-lagged, overwhelmed baby coming to America for the first time by sticking a dismembered head on a stick in his face?!  (Luckily, Ollie did not seem to notice that the rest of Lolly was not attached to the stick...he was totally OK with it).

A group of at least 30 people gathered at International Arrivals in DFW airport to wait for the Leos family to make their official homecoming. There were LOTS of new friends for Ollie in tow:
Some of them MIGHT have licked the airport floor...yay germs!
This was just a practice run for when they came through the assured all eyes were on them and  many tears were being shed when the real moment came!

And here he is in his grand debut...Mr. Jesse Oliver Leos! I stole this pic from Rachel, taken after they got home from the airport to find signs and gifts waiting for them at home. Ollie is so loved!
You are such a blessing, little one! 

Restaurant Week 2013
Every year I love to take part in Dallas Restaurant Week and hit up at least two new restaurants. This year I was lucky enough to try THREE! Steven and I went to Capital Grille and Cafe Pacific on our own and Stampede 66 with friends. We really enjoyed all the delicious meals and tried not to feel guilty for the week of extreme gluttony. No pics from our solo dinners...we suck at selfies (note to self: take more selfies, never say "selfie" again). But here's a couple pics from our group date to Stampede 66, a Texas-themed restaurant that is VERY Texas and VERY Dallas. We loved it so much!
Erin, me, and Cat: purveyors of food and fine (or pretty much ANY) wine
My love

Visit to Tyler
A couple weeks ago I drove out to Tyler to visit my mom while my dad was away on a work trip. We donned our best Aggie gear and watched the A&M/Bama game. Despite our screaming and jumping around, the Aggies lost (though they did give a good showing)! I love spontaneous trips to Tyler and spending time with my mama!
Gig 'Em! 

Brunch Bunch
A couple of Sundays ago, it was time for Second Sunday Brunch Bunch. This has been such a fun group that combines so many things I love: friends, food, festive cocktails, and lots of fun! In case you missed earlier mentions of this awesome "club", it basically consists of a close group of girlfriends gathering on the second Sunday of every month and selecting a restaurant from a huge (and well-organized, thank you Cat!) spreadsheet of Dallas' best brunch spots. We have checked off quite a few to date! This time we went to Hattie's, a sweet southern food joint in Bishop Arts. In addition to the normal excitement of brunch bunch, it was an especially momentous occasion since it was Laura's first brunch outing and FIRST cocktail post-baby! Her smile says it all here:
Finally, a chance to use all those breast-milk alcohol test strips from the baby shower!
Sarah and I split a monstrosity of fried chicken, bacon, and gravy called The Biggie. It was quite delicious, but I was so glad I didn't attempt to take it down alone!
My half of the aptly-named Biggie

For more on our Brunch Bunch, check out Cat's posts documenting our delicious adventures!

Well, I guess that's all for now. I think will start doing weekly wrap-ups rather than every few months, so stay tuned for those! See you soon! 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

BBQ Stuffed Sweet Potato

I call this a comfort food classic with a twist! I mean, who doesn't love a delicious loaded baked potato?? But here's the twist...this is a baked SWEET potato! So much healthier than the typical russet potato. Ignore the cheese and sour cream....what? did you think I would leave those OFF in the name of health? pssh! Anyway, here's something ELSE healthy...I don't use any butter on the potato. So there! You really don't need it, believe me there are plenty of great flavors! Plus, I'm pretty sure no butter earns me an extra sprinkle of cheese.

This meal is super easy to make, and you can customize it to your tastes without a problem! I start by throwing some boneless skinless chicken breasts into the crock pot with my favorite bottle of BBQ sauce. I usually use Stubbs, and that's what I did this time too...but it was a new flavor of Stubbs called Sweet Heat. I give it two thumbs up! Here are the steps to make the chicken (or brisket, or pork shoulder):

1. Put chicken breasts in crock pot (I used 4 large breasts)
2. Pour BBQ sauce over chicken, add other spices as desired - this time I added a little (1/4 c) white vinegar to cut the sweetness of the sauce and also threw in some garlic powder and worchestershire sauce.
3. Cook on low 4-6 hours, shred chicken with fork, and return shredded meat to crock pot to simmer in sauce for additional 30 minutes.

Once you have your shredded meat, it's time to assemble your delicious potato. You can bake the sweet potatoes in the oven or, if you are lazy like I am, quick-bake them in the microwave. I usually halve the potato and that will be one serving for me for dinner (or lunch) because it's so loaded with goodness I couldn't possibly eat a whole one. On top of the potato I sprinkle some shredded cheese (this time I used pepper jack), some of the shredded meat, sauteed chopped jalapenos, diced fresh tomatoes, diced avocado, a dollop of sour cream, and an additional drizzle of BBQ sauce. Other good topping options: sauteed onions, diced raw green onions, pico de gallo, and just about anything you can think of!


Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Napa Chronicles: Day 4 - Another Day of Wine

After falling in love with Napa Valley the previous day - the scenery, the wine, the relaxation, what's not to love?! - we set off on our second straight day of wine tasting. We did all agree that on future Napa trips, it might be best not to schedule two back-to-back days of 7 hour wine tours in a row. I think a day or half day in between would be nice. Some might argue that you don't actually have to DRINK the wine on the tours but merely TASTE it and use the spit buckets.  To these people I say....HAAAAAAAAAAHAHAHA. Hahahaa. Ha. Yeah, not gonna happen.

Anyway, we may have been moving a bit more slowly and some of us may have been a bit worse for the wear, but nevertheless we loaded up on the bus and headed out for another fun-filled day at the vineyards. This time we used a different tour company (Eclectic Tours) - two had come highly recommended to us, so we decided to try out both to get different experiences. Our driver was very nice, as was the van, but we all agreed that we by far preferred Platypus Tours and especially our driver Mark. Eclectic was a bit more stuffy, whereas Platypus was super laid back. For our group, the attitude is essential. I assume Eclectic is perhaps  more used to a certain level of sophistication and wine knowledge that our group just...lacked! Considering Lane would later take a deep whiff of a cabernet and declare he was picking up "hints of frito pie," I'd say that's a safe assumption to make. (More on that later!)

In front of the Eclectic Tours van

Unfortunately for the hungover/dehydrated among us, our first stop was at Kuleto, which can only be accessed by driving straight up a mountain...seriously. The road to Kuleto is rocky, steep, and narrow. Not a drive where you'd want to look out the window too much if you're squeamish about sharp drops into rocky ravines. Despite my fear of heights, I actually didn't mind it. Probably because I knew lots of wine awaited me at the end! Kuleto did not disappoint. It was probably the most breathtaking property in terms of scenery. And the colorful stories about the vineyard's proprietor didn't hurt either. We were told to keep an eye out for the fun-loving 60-something Pat Kuleto...he can sometimes be seen walking around sans pants on his boat...which is made in the ancient no-nails style of construction, which floats on his turquoise pond that gets its color from some sort of algae treatment used to keep the water pure, which is located at the bottom of the terraced hill where Mr. Kuleto had Mexican brick layers hand craft custom patios and pizza ovens on every single level. So yeah...the place was RIDICULOUS. Oh, and the wine was also fabulous! We basically spent half the tour fantasizing about how we could gain regular access to the place. Seeing as the dude's wife is in her early 30s, we may have to draw straws for who is going to take one for the team and become the next Mrs. Kuleto. Here are some pics from the fabulous property:

My favorite picture 

Chase Cellars
Next up was a vineyard of a much smaller and more humble scale - Chase Cellars. It's an adorable family place part-owned and run by the fabulous Katie. After hanging out with her for just an hour we'd hatched a plan to get our previous day's driver, Mark, to go out to Chase so they could meet, fall in love, and invite us all back to their wedding. Still waiting on that invitation! Katie was lots of fun, the wines were great, and there were a couple unique experiences that made Chase one of the surprise stand-outs. First, we got to actually walk in the vineyard amongst the vines. She showed us how to tell by the trunk of the vines if they were old or young and described the planting and harvest process to us. So interesting! She also had a very fun ring-hook game that only Steven and Derek managed to master. But maybe everyone's FAVORITE thing was the Zinfandel Chocolate Sauce she brought out for us to try. Pretty sure Derek chugged half of it when she wasn't looking! Most of us brought a bottle to bring home - hellloooooo grown-up ice cream sundaes! Here was our lovely time at Chase:

 These girls. I love them. 

yummy wines! 

Good job, boys! 

Lunchtime - Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen
After Chase, we needed to counteract all the liquid nutrition with a little bit of ACTUAL nutrition, so we went to lunch at Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen. Aside from Bottega, this was my second favorite food experience of the whole trip! It was homey, unpretentious, and delicious. Apparently they make a damn good margarita, too...just ask Lolly, who enjoyed two with her lunch (which later turned out to be a rather ill-advised decision)! I think we were all a bit loopy at lunch, and thank goodness the hostess sat us upstairs in the gallery where we were away from the majority of the respectable restaurant customers. Words cannot really express it, so I'll let the pictures do the talking:

The proper way to present a delectable dish
The proper reaction to the above ridiculousness

how'd those margs treat ya, Lolly?!

Our final winery stop of the day was Kelham, and it turned into what I - very affectionately - call a total shitshow! Kelham has an amazing, sprawling patio on its grounds where the you can lounge on plush patio furniture, take in the scenery, and taste their wines. As the host walked up to seat us, Lolly stepped forward and announced "Hi, I'm Fun Lolly. You're gonna like us!" While I don't know if her prediction came true, we did have a heck of a time at Kelham. We met the matriarch of the family, who was a hilarious, spirited woman who thankfully could handle our rowdy crowd. Her son also sauntered over to chat us up as well, and...let's just say he'd fit right in at some of the more douchey clubs in Dallas. From his skull belt buckle and tight jeans to his perfectly coiffed hair, he was definitely entertaining! We didn't end up purchasing any wines from Kelham - they were good but not worth their price tag in our opinion - but we did use our time there to show just how sophisticated and well-refined we Texans are. Cue Lane expertly swishing his wine, smelling it, and declaring that he was getting "hints of frito pie" and that it would "pair nicely with a plate of chicken wings." I'm not sure which statement exactly did it, but one of those proclamations caused Josh to do a classic spit-take onto the table and his wife (luckily it was one of the white wines since she was wearing white pants)! I may have been in a bit of a wine haze, because I didn't actually catch what Lane said...Josh's spit-take snapped me back to reality and I had to ask what was so funny! Oops! It was around this time that Lolly also decided to befriend the winery employee who was refilling our waters and removing our trash. The woman didn't really speak English, which prompted Lolly to try to proclaim her love for all things Spanish.  I think the girl was a bit alarmed, but we all got a huge kick out of it! No matter how silly we were, though, we can at least say we weren't as drunk as the group of idiot girls who jumped into the Kelhams' pool!

 "hints of frito pie" 

 We were only a few glasses away from this 

After our tour, we were all in serious need of a nap, so we headed back to the hotel to rest and relax before our fanciest dinner of the trip - Auberge du Soleil. We were so pumped to be able to get a reservation on the famed terrace with beautiful views of the valley. In retrospect, it was not probably not the BEST idea we've ever had to book this nice of a dinner at the end of 2 straight days of wine bingeing. Honestly, a burger and fries would not have been an unwelcome sight. But we were NOT gonna miss out on the chance to eat at this fabulous restaurant, so we made ourselves presentable and headed out. Well, most of us did. After several minutes of waiting for the Arnolds to appear, Lane traipsed down to our van, announced that they were bowing out due to Lolly being indisposed (aka asleep on the bathroom floor), shouted YOLO!!!, and walked back into the hotel. So, sadly, we dined without the Arnolds that night. The food at Auberge was excellently crafted, but the real treat was the ambiance and the view.
What an amazing view!
 Fancy food! Both beautiful and delicious!  

Well, that FINALLY wraps up the posts about our Napa trip! It took me a while to get around to writing down all the memories, but I know I will always look back on this trip with the fondest of feelings! It was my first vacation with my sweet Steven, and the first out-of-state big group trip with the most amazing group of friends a girl could ask for (minus a few noteworthy couples who couldn't make it)! Needless to say, we will all be revisiting Napa as soon as possible!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Napa Chronicles: Day 3 - First Full Day in Napa

Ok...time to finish up these Napa vacation posts before I forget what all we did!

For our first full day in Napa, we booked an all-day wine tour through Platypus Tours. I was in charge of booking this portion of the trip, and those who know me know I enjoy planning things and working out the logistics but that I also get really consumed with making sure everything is perfect so that everyone has the best time possible. So imagine my nervousness over what I took to be an apathetic, minimally responsive tour guide. Let's just say he wasn't the best at answering emails, and when our trip was only days away and we still hadn't finalized the itinerary, I really started to worry. As it turned out, my worries were totally misplaced and our tour guide Mark ended up being the most awesome person to complement our group. He was probably a few years younger than most of our parents, and he was a true California dude from his casual Hawaiian shirt and sandals combo to his tour bus named Elroy. He was weird and quirky and funny and tolerated our silliness and inappropriateness with plenty of his own. We. Loved. Him. Plus, he totally looks like Bill Murray!

 Our bus, Elroy. 

Mark, the best tour guide (and Bill Murray look-alike) EVER

Partying it up in Elroy

Anyway, that morning Mark picked us up and we started the day with a tour of the Schramsberg winery and caves. The place was beautiful and the tour was so interesting. The wines were great for what they were - which is sparkling wine. I am just not a sparkling wine/champagne person unless it's mixed with orange juice and served with brunch. But I do have to admit, these were the most smooth, sippable fizzy wines I've ever had!

 Girls at Schramsberg

 These beautiful dusty bottles age in the caves for years before making their way into the bellies of happy wine enthusiasts! 

 This cave probably has some reaaaaaalllly happy bats. 

 Our romantic cave wine tasting 

After trying at LEAST 5 Schramsberg wines (not bad for 10:00 a.m.), we were off to soak up the wine with some lunch (and more wine...obviously). Our lunch stop was the small family-owned winery Benessere in St. Helena and it was hands down one of everyone's top 3 favorites of the entire trip. The road coming up to the winery was absolutely gorgeous. We had the entire place to ourselves, and our sweet tour guide even personalized the tasting menus for us. We toured the grounds complete with the family's unassuming and cozy home (with the most amazing porch EVER) and got to see the beautiful vines up close and personal. Afterwards, we gathered around a couple picnic tables for a fresh, yummy lunch Mark brought for us. And then there was the wine...oh, the wine!!! It was amazing. Not found in stores, very small quantity releases. The Old Vine Zinfandel rocked our socks off (and we bought some to take home). It's probably the only winery where we may actually consider joining the club.

The road to paradise...aka Benessere

 Benessere grounds...just gorgeous! 

 I'd never leave this porch. 

 Some serious deliciousness comes from these vines.

Benessere welcomed us like family. 

 We never wanted to leave Benessere!  

After that we were full and happy and possibly a tiiiiiiny bit silly. Bless Mark's heart. We commandeered his radio and blasted questionable rap music en route to the next location. Bad white-people chair-dancing occurred. Mark even got in on the action, doing his safe-driving version of the Dougie from behind the wheel. Before we knew it, we were pulling up at our next winery stop - Frog's Leap. This was a much larger place with expansive grounds that were open for wandering. The wines were served from a bar set-up on the grounds, which was kind of fun because we could go at our own pace and explore while drinking the wine. The wines were pretty good, but nothing incredibly special...especially when compared with Benessere! We were so glad this was a stop on our tour - it gave us some time to sit back, relax, and enjoy the beautiful California weather.
The yummy Frog's Leap selections

Ahhh, California sunshine

  Lane & Josh enjoying a cigar on the romantic loveseat. 

I...have no idea what's going on here. Ha! 

After tasting several (4...5...6?? who knows) of the offerings at Frog's Leap, we piled back in Elroy and headed to our last stop of the day - Kathryn Hall. We got seated at a prime table on the cool, shady patio and settled in for a 10-wine tasting. Ohhhhh yeah...we did. Ten wines at the end of approximately 6 straight hours of wine tasting. Go big or go I right?! Hall was heavy on the reds, Cabs in particular, which made all of us red-lovers very happy. And thank the good Lord for Mark who yet again proved he was perfect for our group by busting out a huge tray of delicious cheeses and crackers. It was the perfect way to top off our first day in Napa.

The beautiful ivy-covered tasting room at Hall

 Bring on the 10-wine tasting! 

Everyone was feeling very lovey at Hall...peace, love, and wine, baby!  

After making our purchases at Hall, we headed back to the hotel to nap for a short while before dinner. Steven and I doubted our ability to sleep it off and then rally for dinner, so we wandered around the grounds until time to catch a cab to Cole's Chophouse.

Cole's is a classic steakhouse, which means big juicy cuts of meat, potatoes, and lots of savory goodness. We were all very happy with our meals and enjoyed the casual yet gourmet ambiance of Cole's. Upon sitting down, we noticed that the table directly behind us was B-list celebrity Judy Greer (the best friend in tons of chick flicks, and more recently the boob-flashing secretary on Arrested Development). Maaaybe, just maybe all the wine we'd had that day made us a little loopy, and this celebrity sighting started us down a path of unrivaled silliness. We tried to snap pictures of her between Lane and Lolly's shoulders, and Lolly decided she'd found a new bestie. She threatened, much to our embarrassment, to tweet and tag Judy Greer while we were all sitting there 10 feet from her. Luckily we persuaded her to at least wait until we left the restaurant. No doubt if Ms. Greer had been accompanied by a bodyguard, we would have been asked to leave the restaurant.

Don't let these dapper faces fool you, we were neither mature nor composed during this dinner! 

 Hey Judy Greer, why are you looking so oblivious to the presence of your new #bestie?!!

What a fun-filled and BUSY first day in Napa we had! And the very next day, we did it all over again with another all-day tour and tasting schedule. Spoiler alert: we found out that hangovers and high altitudes don't mix well, kept a lookout for a pantsless 65-yr old man, probably got black-listed at one of St. Helena's best restaurants, and met a gentleman whose pretentious attitude was only rivaled by the size of his skull belt buckle. Stay tuned for the final installation of the Napa chronicles!