Orlando (or how to do Harry Potter World as an Adult)

Last weekend, Dan and I went on a FREE trip to Orlando.We stayed at a fancy hotel and ate lots of yummy food and flew in business class. It was the best. Absolutely. How?? Dan won a contest at work- his company sponsors Houston’s MLS team, the Dynamo, who host a fly-away trip every year for the sponsors. So us, and 25 other lucky people from a few different companies, traveled with the Dynamo to their away game against Orlando. They planned a super trip and we are so grateful.

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Gah, he’s so cute!

After an early dinner, we hopped on a bus to the game! Orlando has a huge fan base, so there was a big turn out. They’re currently building their own stadium, but until then, they play in the Citrus Bowl. We got to spend the pre-game down on the field watching the players warm up before heading into the stands. It ended up being 0-0, but we still had a great time. Aside from being booed as we left. Eek.

Saturday morning, a few us decided to wake up early and try to get to Universal Studios as soon as it opened- we Ubered and got there right at 8! SO worth it. The lines were infinitely shorter those first couple of hours, so we barely waited for anything. If you’re planning a trip, that is my #1 tip. Also, HARRY POTTER! Man. It is so impressive how well done it is. It’s actually split up between the 2 parks- Islands of Adventure (Hogwarts/Hogsmeade) and Universal Studios (Diagon Alley). You can even ride the Hogwarts Express between the 2 sides if you have a park hopper pass! You get to sit in your own little cabin 🙂 I liked Diagon Alley a bit better because it had a cozier feel (the alley is actually hidden off of a London street), although the rides on both sides are great. It blows my mind how much technology is incorporated into the rides now! In the Hogwarts castle, you actually felt like you were playing quidditch with Harry 😉 And BUTTER BEER. It was so yummy. We drank several- the frozen kind was perfect for the hot, hot day. They even had their own craft beer- Universal Studios, adult style.
Other than The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, we really liked The Mummy and Jurassic Park rides. Clearly I enjoyed it:
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I debated posting this photo, but figured I should be honest about my experience.

I’ve been dying to visit Harry Potter world since it opened, but not quite enough to plan an entire vacation around it, so this trip was such a surprising treat! Dan isn’t the most excitable guy, but after we got back he kept talking about how much fun he had at Universal. He’s a kid at heart 😀 Butter beer lovers unite!

Napa for the 4th

We spent the long 4th of July weekend in Napa Valley, and it was just unreal. Wine + beautiful weather + good company can’t be beat. Plus I spent some time each chilly morning on the porch with some coffee and a wine country appropriate book- Eight Hundred Grapes.

We stayed in an adorable Airbnb Dan’s mom found in downtown Napa, walking distance to some restaurants and tasting rooms, so we spent Friday night there. Oenotri  was super- huge housemade salumi selection, a wood burning pizza oven, and a really nice selection of rosés.
Saturday morning, we called in an order at Bouchon Bakery, which ended up being clutch. The line was a mile long, and we happily skipped right to the front to grab our pastries 🙂 Is there any better breakfast than a chocolate croissant?!
Then we were off to Frog’s Leap for our first tasting. The grounds were immaculate- a beautiful house set next to a barn, with tons of fresh produce growing throughout (that you are welcome to pick and eat!). To top it off, they had a large green lawn overlooking the valley. Man.  It wasn’t our favorite wine of the trip, but the setting made the visit more than worth it.
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For lunch, we stopped at Gott’s Roadside, because how can you not? Out of everyone I talked to and anything I read, this was recommended across the board.  It was the cutest place ever and the burgers really hit the spot.
Tasting #2 was at Sterling Vineyards. Definitely one of the most touristy places, but we all agreed that they have the tasting thing down pat. Each tasting is in a different spot, so it was never crowded, and it allowed us to see more of the production side. And that view!! The cable car to the top is a cute little gimmick too.
To wrap up Saturday, we went to Rombauer Vineyards, famous for their Chardonnay.  I felt like we learned a lot about the valley here, and enjoyed an extra bottle (or 2…) sitting in their garden. It was a great visit and we really enjoyed their wines- several can be found at Spec’s here in Texas!
We feasted at Bistro Jeanty that night and I really loved having a good French meal. They even served bone marrow, which was SUCH a treat. We pretty much closed the place we were having such a good time 🙂
Sunday morning, we picked up some more pastries at Alexis Baking Company (the english muffin was shockingly delish) before driving out to Saddleback Cellars for our favorite tasting of the weekend! The setting wasn’t as dramatic as some of the bigger wineries, but we loved how laid back it was, situated in the middle of the vineyard. And seriously, this wine was the best. We all strongly considered joining the wine club, and I still don’t think that’s out of the question.  The founder, Nils Venge, is a bit of a celebrity. He was the first American to receive a 100 point score from wine critic Robert Parker J. for his Cabernet Sauvignon. So ya, he makes some pretty awesome stuff.
After realizing Thomas Keller’s fried chicken stand, Addendum,  was closed (sadly) we scooted over to Hurley’s for a laid back lunch on their patio.
Afterwards, we visited Domaine Carneros, where I felt like I was at a gorgeous estate in France. This is another touristy one, but so fun. Seeing all the bubbles in multiple glasses gave me a little thrill. Apparently they manually drill tiny divots into the bottom of the glasses to make the sparkling wine even more bubbly!
Done with driving, we finished the day on foot walking around Napa. I fell in LOVE with St. Clair Brown Winery. It’s an urban winery surrounded by auto parts shops, but it felt like it could have been a tiny eatery in the middle of a European park. We shared a bottle while hanging out in the garden, surrounded by produce. If I lived in the area, I would be a frequent visitor.
Then we walked around Oxbow Public Market, which was really fun. It’s kind of a hodge podge of cute shops, restaurants, and an actual food market. We had an early dinner at Kitchen Door, which was nice, and headed back to the house for an early night. We watched Bottle Shock before heading to bed 🙂 🙂
Geez, sorry! That was a LOT! Huge thanks to Dan’s rents for treating us (and letting me plan things, haha)- Napa was my No. 1 US spot for a trip before kids. Now that I think about it, was this an incentive trip to get us to start having kids?! Kidding 😉  Now that I’m at least a little bit familiar with the area, I’d love to come back and just visit the smaller wineries, and branch out into Sonoma too.
Napa Valley, you’re a dream.

An Afternoon in Galveston 

Considering how close we live to the coast, it’s a shame we don’t make it down there very often. This year, I was determined to introduce Barley to the ocean, so we packed up a cooler and some sunscreen and headed down I-45 to Galveston for the best Sunday afternoon.

We stopped at Mosquito Cafe on our way in for lunch and it didn’t disappoint.

Afterwards, we headed to the beach and set up camp! The tailgating tent was a true life saver- it kept us surprisingly cool and prevented sunburns. We threw around the football, let the dogs play in the water, and just had a super relaxing afternoon. The pups were definitely pretty hesitant- we had to really encourage them to actually get in, but it was pretty funny to watch Barley try to jump over the waves and watch them play together.

All in all, it made me wish we did this more often. And in Texas, you can do it the majority of the year- we once laid by the pool in Galveston in January! Even if not’s the prettiest beach in the world, it still makes for a nice day 🙂 Especially when you’re there with great friends and cute pups!

Cooked

Dan and I just finished the documentary mini-series, Cooked, and we can’t stop thinking about it.

“Explored through the lenses of the four natural elements – fire, water, air and earth –Cooked is an enlightening and compelling look at the evolution of what food means to us through the history of food preparation and its universal ability to connect us. Highlighting our primal human need to cook, the series urges a return to the kitchen to reclaim our lost traditions and to forge a deeper, more meaningful connection to the ingredients and cooking techniques that we use to nourish ourselves.”

First of all, it’s Michael Pollan, who is great. But I think the best part of the series is getting to see people cooking in different cultures and countries. From India to North Carolina, it’s nice to see how cooking varies around the world. In Morocco, bread is considered sacred and served at every meal. I also loved that they have communal ovens they take the dough to so that can be baked. Bread is back, y’all! Just check out this article in the Wall Street Journal. In every episode there’s a big push to actually cook your meals at home, with real ingredients, which is something that I think is incredibly important. Since we’ve been married, I’ve tried to make a big point of cooking most nights of the week, but this encouraged me even more. Dan always gets home from work later than I do, so it’s nice to just be in the kitchen preparing a meal for us. (While I do mostly cook from scratch, this week we did have a boxed lasagna from Costco-the turkey, ricotta, spinach one is delicious. Oh and a bagged salad on the side 🙂 Also, I am aware that we are childless and cooking is thus infinitely more do-able, ha.)

Dan even has a sourdough starter going and made pain de campagne bread (using this book for the recipe)!! He’s gone down one of his curiosity holes, where he completely absorbs himself in a topic or skill. They are pretty fun 🙂 And now I get fresh baked bread, which is tough to beat. There’s actually a whole wheat loaf sitting on the counter right this second!

So if you are looking for something to watch while staying inside and avoiding the heat (dang, it’s gotten WARM), try out Cooked!

Fredericksburg Getaway 

Dan’s parent’s recently built a place in Fredericksburg, which is affectionally termed “The Cabin”. We’ve been out several times over the past few months and a few weeks ago, they lent it to us for a weekend friend getaway (THANKS!). It was so refreshing to hang out on the deck, drinking beers, away from the big city. There ended up being 10 of us, but through the miracle of air mattresses, we made it work! I was slightly intimidated to play host to that big of a group, but they are the sweetest and it actually ended up being a breeze. (I did forget to bring the nice camera, so the pictures aren’t stellar!)

Friday night, Dan grilled up some burgers and corn, and we had this lemony salad on the side. After we ate, we lounged around, star gazing and roasting marshmallows for some s’mores. And a short game of Quelf, which is always hilarious.
For Saturday morning breakfast, we cooked bacon breakfast tacos, which are a staple at the Witcher residence. We had to fuel up for a day at the wineries! Texas actually has the 2nd largest wine region outside of Northern California, and over the last few years it’s grown even more! Every time we visit Fredericksburg, it feels like a new winery has opened. Since we had so many people, I tried to stick with places where we could make reservations. The popular spots can get super crowded on nice weekends, so this was helpful.
We started at Pedernales Cellars, mostly for the amazing views! It’s not my favorite wine and on the pricier end, but the setting is beautiful. They have a nice patio to picnic on, also!
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However, we moved on to Kuhlman’s Cellars because it’s quickly becoming a favorite. I love all of their wines and they are reasonably priced (for the area… I splurge a bit when in wine country, compared to my typical $12 Kroger bottles). They were totally booked up by the time I tried to make a reservation (see?! book ahead!) but we were able to grab a couple  bottles and enjoy their deck as we ate lunch. I packed this delicious salad in advance, and it was surprisingly portable and actually perfect picnic food.  I did add chicken (because Dan refuses to eat a meal without meat) and had him grill it up the night before while he was working on the burgers. Everyone loved it, and it was so easy (although there are one million ingredients). All the recipes on her blog are on point.
Next up was Calais Winery, which was definitely the best tasting of the trip, and actually, ever in Fredericksburg. It’s basically a bunker in a field, so don’t come expecting hill country views, but the knowledge passed onto us was thorough and fascinating. It’s owned by a young, French guy who is making his mark on the Texas wine scene by using only Texas grapes with French oak barrels. He was the one leading the tasting, and we asked so many questions that he was happy to answer.
We ended at Lewis Wines, which is another one of the few who only use Texas grapes. We sat out on a patio, surrounded by vines and it was the perfect last stop.
We spent the next few hours playing outside like a bunch of kids. We played corn hole, frisbeer (Dan’s new favorite ever since the UT tailgate), and beer pong may have happened. Then we wrangled everyone up and headed into Fredericksburg for dinner at Fredericksburg Herb Farm.
On Sunday, we drove out to Alamo Springs, which has my absolute favorite burger. The drive is beautiful and I love seeing old German-style homes from when the area was founded.

For previous Fredericksburg trips, see here and here.

A New Truck!! 

We bought a new (to us) truck!!! Dan and I have been talking about this for about a year, and finally decided to just do it. We’ve both been so lucky to have great, reliable, cars that our parents gave us (thank you, thank you, thank you!!) so we’ve been trying to hold off on a car payment for as long as possible. But now it’s here. And worth it! Dan’s needed new tires, which were about the cost of the car itself, so it was perfect timing to upgrade. We also cracked his front windshield recently while trying to jam a bunch of lumber into the car for the deck, not to mention his interior upholstery has been peeling off or a while. Overall, it was a pretty smooth experience and we felt like we got a good deal on a 2014 F-150! My favorite part are the AC seats J They will be perfecttt for this upcoming summer. Can’t wait to conquer more projects and take more road trips in this thing! 

 

Dog Friendly Restaurants- Houston

Since I’ve been asked a few times about dog friendly places, I figured I’d write up some recommendations. Houston has a bad rap of not being very dog friendly. While it’s true that the city makes it pretty difficult to have a permit (from what I’ve heard), there are actually a lot of places that allow dogs, even if it’s only on one specific part of the patio. Dan and I are very clearly obsessed with our pup, Barley, and tend to take him everywhere. I’m pretty sure all the Lowe’s employees know him by now. So if a place is a dog-friendly, you better believe we will hit it up more often.

Let’s start with our personal favorites (which also happen to be some Houston favorites):

Onion Creek All the food is delicious, there’s a serious Austin vibe, it’s right off a walking/bike trail, and the drink variety is great (frozen mimosas at brunch, yes please). This is our major go-to if we want to get out of the house and just chill out for a bit. It’s also super shaded by trees, which is perfect for the devilishly hot Houston summers. [Dogs only allowed on concrete portion]

Cottonwood Voted the best patio bar (at least I heard that somewhere?), it delivers. The design is super cool, and while the food is mostly meh (seriously, I’ve tried everything on the menu- Sloppy JoJo is the only excellent thing), this one is a 5 minute walk from our house. AKA, it’s our most frequented spot. The beers on tap are constantly rotating and I love their Too Fresh cocktail. [Dogs only allowed on gravel] TIP: If you’re in the area, and want really tasty food, you should hop over to Shepherd Park Draught House, which is also dog friendly.

West Alabama Ice House This place is just a Houston establishment. It’s been around since the 1920’s and is absolutely no frills. Don’t visit looking for AC, but do visit for the ice cold, cheap beers and laid back vibe. Or if you like to shoot some hoops while drinking said beers. Even fun when your husband crushes you at a game of HORSE, while playing left handed. When he’s right handed. They don’t serve food, but there’s typically a food truck!

Restaurants worthy of a good date night:

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Giacomo’s Cibo e Vino Located in River Oaks, this place is a big favorite within the neighborhood. Fantastic Italian food, with a great wine selection, and a patio that somehow makes you feel like you aren’t sitting right on Westheimer. On top of that, service is great too. It’s nice without being frou-frou or overpriced, which I really appreciate in a restaurant inside the loop.

Zelko Bistro Everything I’ve eaten here is spot on- especially the mussels. The patio isn’t very large and is covered by a white tent that makes it feel intimate, but also like you’re at a wedding. There are also fresh flowers are on each table (when I’ve gone), which I always find charming. Put this at the top of your brunch list too- the sandwiches are all stellar.

Gratifi Set in a cute old house, in the middle of Montrose, this one is a winner. Full disclosure- I called this “Graffiti” for over a year, before realizing it’s actually pronounced like “Gratify”. I recommended it to several people this way, and am now embarrassed. This one has a wonderful brunch as well… leading me to branch out on this top.

For brunch:

Empire Café Super solid, true, breakfast items at an amazing price. Love this place. And so do other Houstonians based on the line that runs out the door every weekend! TIP: If it’s too crazy and you don’t feel like waiting, walk across the street to Brasil. It’s another yummy order at the counter place, with a big hidden patio in the back. Good luck finding the gate.

Backstreet Café Adore this place so much. While I haven’t sucked it up and paid dinner prices yet, Dan and I have enjoyed an absolutely delightful brunch here and I would love to go back (DAN!). They even brought out tiny baked goods with our meal. Someone get me a Backstreet Benedict, STAT.

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Tiny Boxwood’s Without a doubt, the CUTEST restaurant I’ve ever been to and my go-to when out-of-towners visit. It shares a lawn with a plant nursery. (My sis-in-law thought I meant a nursery for babies, so had to make that clear. That’d be an interesting concept…) The charm of this place just oozes and the food & drinks are worth the wait. Don’t worry, they set up a bar outside when they’re busy so you can sip your white wine mojito while you’re in line. Oh, and don’t forget a choco chip cookie. They’re Houston-famous. (Also, LOOK HOW TINY BARLEY IS!!!)

Just for Drinks:

Bar Boheme HUGE outdoor space. Actually, this place is mostly outdoor space. Go for the relaxed vibe, later than normal HH (4-8), and diverse drink options that still has all the classics. And if they have the frozen mojito, get that. And I know I said “just drinks” but do yourself a favor and order the Vietnamese fries too.

Axelrad Newer to Houston, this one is quickly becoming popular. Great local beer selection and they have hammocks, which is novel. Maybe not the best idea when people are drinking, as we witnessed! But amusing to watch people fall out J They also have a couple food trucks on site.

Karbach Brewing Company Probably our favorite Houston brewery. It’s closest to our house and they just do a really solid job with all of their beers. It’s been really fun to see them grow but also crazy how much they’ve expanded since we’ve lived in Houston! The actual restaurant patio isn’t dog friendly, which is weird, but the brewery area is and they usually have food trucks! Or you can order food at the bar in the restaurant and bring it out.

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Eight Row Flint Another newer place people are flocking to! Driving down Yale, it’s hard to resist the call of this patio. It always seems to be bustling, and for good reason. Although the whiskey selection is what they’re known for, the frozen margaritas are some of the best I’ve had. Another perk- they cook all the food out of a truck, but there are actual servers, so no waiting in line! And the chips are to die for.

Cheers to all my pup loving Houstonians!