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.

Houston Rodeo 2016

We got lucky and for the second year in a row, Dan was rewarded with suite tickets for the rodeo. So dang spoiled, and we know it.  It was a gorgeous Saturday, so we went early to walk around, see the animals and scope out the fried foods. We somehow resisted! Although we did get to check out the wine garden, which we hadn’t visited before. They sell it at cost, which means it’s all really reasonably priced. Then we headed inside NRG stadium for the actual rodeo and show. Turns out it was the finals, so we got to see all the events twice (and fully take advantage of the suite’s food & drinks). The winner of each category went home with $50,000! Not bad. Brad Paisley was the performer, and put on a great show- jumping out into the dirt, high-fiving fans, and stealing their phones to take videos. He’s also got some serious guitar skills! It was such a nice day and felt great to be in Houston, enjoying our city. And I always love seeing Dan in a hat and boots 😉

See last year’s rodeo here.

NYC: Endless Food & Drinks

Oh New York City. Gets me every time. Especially when it keeps on serving up some awesome weather every time we visit. Such a game changer in travel.  (See our last trip to NYC here and here). Once again, it’s embarrassing how much we ate. But what can I say. My list of places I want to try in NYC is WAY too long to stick with just the standard breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

THURSDAY

We flew in late Thursday night and stopped by the Ace Hotel and Bar Nomad for drinks. Ace Hotel = so trendy and cool. As in, lobby of the hotel was dimly lit with blasting music from a DJ. Somehow there were people spread around the couches on their laptops working? I don’t know, I wouldn’t be able to concentrate. Bar Nomad had SUCH great cocktails. And the bartenders wore aprons and bowties, which was very charming. Unfortunately, we missed the magic show. We were however, welcomed with hugs by a group at the bar. Really- in NYC. They proceeded to share a giant pineapple concoction with us and just generally be entertaining. It was a totally unexpected welcome to the city that had me smiling. Aside from one girl chatting with Dan who literally stopped talking with him once she realized we were married and proceeded to blurt out, “How old are you?!”

FRIDAY

Mind was blown by a bagel. I’ve always heard about New York bagels being the best, yada yada. I just thought they partial to their own city, but goodness gracious. I would gain 10 lbs from eating an everything bagel with feta and olive cream cheese every single day (a la me in Europe with chocolate croissants). Thank you, Brooklyn Bagel, for the experience. (P.S.- I got a bagel here in Houston last weekend at Cafe Brasil… and they served the bagel with a tiny thing of Philadelphia cream on the cheese. FAIL.)

After stuffing myself full of bagel, we walked the High Line down to The Whitney, which is now in its new location in the Meatpacking District. It’s not a huge collection, so I figured it’d be a good one to hit with Dan ☺ I loved seeing Pollock, Calder, and Jasper Johns pieces, but the best was Calder’s circus, made to entertain his friends in Paris. The wires allowed him to move the pieces to put on a performance. I also loved the 5th floor exhibit, which rotates. When we first walked in, we saw a giant room with floor to ceiling windows on each end. The walls were blank. The exhibit was the sounds being played in the room- recordings from the artist from Sing Sing, a prison in NY.


For lunch, we headed over to The Lobster Place at Chelsea Market and split a whole lobster, dunked in lots of butter. YES. We also stumbled on a sample sale for Faherty Brand and got Dan a bunch of tee’s for only $10 each! Such a steal. 

Next up, I had some beer bars in mind for Dan. First stop- The Standard Biergarten. It’s under the highline and has an authentic German beer hall feel, but amped up with a trendy factor. I was surprised at how few beers were on tap- just 4 and of course, all German. The ping pong tables were also fun. Then afterwards, Blind Tiger, which had a ton of New York beers on tap that we’d never tried. Oh and full disclosure, we stopped for Magnolia Bakery’s famous banana pudding in between (although, if I’m being honest, I’ve had better at various BBQ establishments throughout the TX hill country).

We enjoyed a walk around the Village in the golden hour light, before stopping at Babu Ji for an appetizer. It was divine and has me seriously craving Indian food. Anyone have any Houston suggestions?? The Gol Gappa straight up melts in your mouth and is bursting with flavor.  Then it was on to Raclette (BYOB!) for dinner to experience cheesy goodness poured over our meats & veggies. The place was TINY, and only seats 12 people! Only in NYC.

  
That night, we went to a show at the Comedy Cellar and I don’t know if I’ve ever laughed harder in my life. Some seriously talented comedians! Getting to sit right up front was a nice treat and one of the comedians told me afterwards that I had a nice laugh. Which was an insanely nice compliment to receive and I’m trying to not let go to my head 😉 After dinner, we stopped in at Little Branch, an underground speakeasy with more good cocktails.
 

SATURDAY

We brunched at Bar Primi, which was number 1 on The Infatuation, but kind of underwhelming. Maybe because we were just about the only people there. I think I made the (unnecessary) reservation too early! Then we walked around SoHo, soaking in the weather, and ended up grabbing tacos at La Esquina that were phenomenal. I was a little hesitant to get tacos north of Texas, but it was worth it.  That afternoon, I shopped around with a friend from college before meeting back up with Dan for drinks at Mother’s. We drank spiked slushies, which would sell like hot cakes in Houston during the summer time.

We needed to grab show tickets at TKTS, but I was dreading heading up to Times Square, so we went down to South Street Seaport and scooped up some School of Rock tickets before heading to dinner at Il Brigante– legit Italian food. The ravioli was handmade and perfect and smothered in butter. I like butter, okay?? Afterwards, we raced up Broadway and barely made it on time to School of Rock, which was adorable- of course, all the performers were extremely gifted, but the end had me tearing up from the sweetness which was a big surprise.


Then we had a second dinner. EEK, I know, but I just had to try Quality Eats and Dan is the sweetest. It ended up being the best meal of the weekend, so I’d say worth it ☺

After dinner, we met back up with my friend at 205 Bar, which seemed very trendy. We definitely wouldn’t have gotten in without saying we were with a party. We were both still in jeans and t-shirts. Ha. Then we proceeded to stay out dancing until 4 AM and I don’t even know how that happened. But the DJ was amazing and had his audience nailed on the head- think N’Sync and Spice Girls mashed with current music. We clearly had a good time, even if it was the polar opposite of how we spend weekend nights (friends over for dinner, in bed by 12 at the latest).


SUNDAY

By the time we finally got up and headed to brunch, Russ & Daughters Café had a 2 hour wait. TWO. So ya, that wasn’t happening. We were too hungry (somehow?) to look much further and ended up next door at Black Tree, which hit the spot. Afterwards, Dan spotted a place tucked into the end of an alley. Luckily, I hadn’t had a Bloody Mary yet, so we were able to stop in 🙂 The decor was so perfect- if I ever owned a restaurant, I’d want it to look like this place (Freeman’s). Thanks for spotting it, Dan! And to be perfectly open, we did indeed stop at Prince’s for one last slice of pizza before heading to the airport (don’t worry, we shared). No shame. 

I ❤ NY.

Happy (belated) Valentine’s Day

I love celebrating love. Dan is one of the types that thinks Valentine’s Day is stupid, but I’ve always loved it. What’s not to like about sweet, cheesy cards, chocolates, and flowers?!

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This year, Dan woke up early to pick me up a chocolate croissant (my favorite) from a local bakery/ dessert place- Red’s Dessert Dive. If you know how much Dan likes sleep, then you’ll understand how thoughtful of a gesture this was! He even had a sweet little poem for each piece of our day- even just going church. It was too sweet and I loved it.

Our big event was a beer and cheese pairing at Saint Arnold’s Brewery! Houston Dairymaids provided the cheese and we learned about where it was from (all over Texas) and why it pairs well with beer. Supposedly, beer pairs better with cheese than wine!! Something to do with the bubbles in beer. I was too busy salivating over the cheese. We ended the night with more cheese in the form of Pink’s Pizza. It was a perfect, low-key, day.

 

We actually drank the wine Monday night because I wanted to stretch Valentine’s out. It’s from William Chris Vineyards in Fredericksburg and has the most perfect wine label for the occasion. If I’m remembering correctly, the lip prints are actually from real people at the winery. We’ve been saving it for Valentine’s and totally forgot… for the last 2 years! Ha. At least wine ages well 😉

Sidenote- I’m in love with Emily McDowell’s Etsy shop– her cards are heart felt without being sappy and the lettering is beautiful. I got some Valentine’s cards here this year (and have in the past), but she also has the best sympathy, mother/fathers day, and anniversary cards! I’m not always the best with words, but I think she nails it. A few of my favorites, that I may or may not have purchased:

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And Happy Anniversary to my sweet parents!! Married 35 years 🙂 Look how cute:

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Beach Getaway- Jamaica Edition

I did not want to leave Jamaica. Wasn’t ready, at all. Such an easy going trip, with our big decision in the morning being: pool or beach? I hadn’t heard the best reviews before we left from several friends- people were pushy, the country was poverty stricken, it’s really not as pretty. Considering how much I love new places, solely based on the fact that they are new, it’s generally pretty hard for me to not like somewhere. Even so, I loved this country so much, regardless of the fact that it was new to me. And it just goes to show, that sometimes you need to experience a place for yourself. I think the biggest factor that contributed to our great time, and made it a more unique experience, was the area we stayed in.

We stayed at Jake’s, on the southwestern side of the island (St. Elizabeth parish), in a sleepy fishing community. The roads aren’t the greatest (think narrow with lots of pot holes), so it took us over 2 hours to get there form the airport in Montego Bay. Luckily, our driver was super cool (Hey Andre!). It amazed me just how few people were in Treasure Beach! The hotel consists of several cottages spread over the property, and while on the water, doesn’t have a true beach. There are several a short walk away, and while pretty, they aren’t the prettiest I’ve ever seen, so I’ll agree on that part. But that didn’t matter, because the vibe from the whole place was instantly relaxing- slow paced and easy and inclusive. Jake’s has a quirky, artsy feel and the service was excellent. The people make you feel like you belong- we were even invited to the local football match, which was a surprise treat. And the jerk pork & chicken!! Oh man. We stopped at a couple of road side places and feasted. We also spent some time at Dougie’s Bar, chatting with Christopher (who makes a mean piña colada), and had lunch at Eggy’s, which juts out right over the water- I could have stayed all day. And I tried conch for the first time 🙂 And just a side note: I can’t even tell you how many times Dan said “Red Stripe” in a Jamaican accent. Probably 100.
Our only real “activity” during the vacation was to take a boat trip with Captain Joseph & his wife, who were awesome and had the best smiles, and a fun couple from England. Captain Jo built a shaded area on a secluded stretch of beach and we feasted on freshly caught lobster, fish, and unlimited rum punch and Red Stripe. Dan joined the guys for a game of cricket, which was a blast to watch. True to Dan, he was a natural, and managed to play with a beer in hand 90% of the game. Then, we rode over to Pelican Bar, which has to be the coolest bar on the planet. It’s built way out off the coast, on a sand bar, out of a hodge podge of old wood.
Leaving was tough. It didn’t help that most of the people we met were staying for at least 2 weeks. 2 weeks!!! In one place! I can’t imagine. Home away from home, I’m sure. Oh Europeans and their massive number of vacation days. I can’t rave enough about how wonderful Jake’s is- truly an oasis.
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Houston Eats & Drinks

With the weather just too perfect for words here in Houston, we spent quite a bit of time outdoors & with friends this weekend! Barley was utterly wiped by the end of it. Some places to check out if it’s as good this weekend (or I guess you could just sit inside):

Feels very old school mod, from the cocktails to the furniture. The Mexicali Sour was so fresh and tasty, but the drink specials change regularly! From the people at Treadsack, AKA all the great and trendy restaurants in Houston.
In a converted gas station, this patio is a dream. Apparently people agree because it was pretty packed. And the frozen margaritas are divine. I’ve been converted from an “on the rocks” girl- exception made only for this place. Check it out, and make sure to get some tortilla chips, because they are perfection. No wonder I like it, it’s the same people behind Coltivare!
With an amazing selection of Belgian beers (my personal favorites) and all the Belgian delicacies you can imagine, this place was delicious. The mussels come out in a big hot pot (YUM) and I had to follow it up with Belgian waffles because I’m into clichés. Of course, the Belgian Frites were great too. But beware- service is SLOW.
And my favorite restaurant this weekend… our own home. REALLY loving our kitchen. And the people who fill it. And the food that’s made in it. And I promise I’ll post more on the remodel soon…. in the mean time, this Thai Chicken braised in Coconut Milk was just great, even if the pictures weren’t as pretty!