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.

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.

Roma

ROME! Such a fantastic city. Love the history, love that it’s so walkable, love the food. Now the wine… not as good in Rome as it is in the rest of the country 😉 But you still can’t beat $10 table wine in Italy.

After our terribly long day of traveling from the Amalfi Coast, I was wiped out. Luckily, I got a burst of energy once we arrived at our VRBO rental. It was the best room we had the entire trip- maybe it was the A/C? No, definitely more than that. Lofty ceilings made of the original wood, from the 1600’s, smack in the middle of everything. The owner also left us a great map marked with his favorite spots. Charm was just oozing.
We started the night off with a walk around the neighborhood- we hit the Pantheon, the Torre Argentina (ruins where they think Caesar was killed- also a cat sanctuary), and the Piazza Navona, following up with pizza at Da Baffetto. 2 packed stories of deliciousness. They make the pizza right in the center of the restaurant- I can’t imagine how many they make in one night! Afterwards, we stopped for a drink and stood outside surrounded by Italian conversation. Languages are so beautiful.
It was pouring rain the morning we went to the Colosseum- I had wanted us to get there early to avoid the crowds. We definitely avoided the crowds, but I think it was mostly due to the rain. We donned our ponchos and had the place almost to ourselves 🙂 Luckily, the weather cleared up pretty quickly and we were able to leisurely enjoy the Roman Forum. I know I’ve said it a dozen times, but the history of this place!! Unreal.
Our second night in Italy was spent on a “Food Tour of Rome“. We went to several different neighborhoods, learning the history of Rome and tasting food at 7 different places. Meat, cheese, wine, pizza & pasta, cannoli, espresso, gelato (Cortona was the best gelato of the trip- so fresh). The company was great too! It was quite the the last hurrah. Our guide baffled me, since he grew up in Rome, but had a 100% American accent. Apparently he spent some time in Oregon post high school and worked extensively on losing the Italian accent when speaking English. It worked, but was amusing to hear him make the switch to speaking flawless Italian.
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Our last day was spent on foot, walking around the city. We started the day with a trip to the Vatican. We skipped the museum because I had gone a couple of years before, but we hadn’t actually gone into the Basilica. So glad we made it this trip because it  was overwhelmingly extravagant. We climbed (approximately one million steps) up to the top for a view of Rome, but my favorite part was seeing the dome of the church and the status on top, up close. The stairs are extremely narrow and fairly claustrophobic, so getting to the top was a breath of fresh air. Then, after we left, we got to see the POPE! We aren’t Catholic and don’t speak Italian, but it was still a cool experience. People really love him and I feel privileged that we were able to be there.
The rest of the day, we just roamed (sorry, I had to). We walked through small campos, past markets, and along the water. A perfect last afternoon and a summation of our entire trip. Oh and we rented segways in Villa Borghese- maybe Dan’s favorite part! Such an odd juxtaposition.
On our last night, I think 1/2 of our conversation consisted of lamentations on having to return home. As much as we missed Barley and our bed, feasting your way through one of the best food countries in the world without a single thought of calorie consumption is truly magical. We walked around the corner from our rental and dined at Trattoria Moderna, and had our last aperitivo, primi piatti, secondi piatti, and dessert. And man, was it a great last feast. And then a long flight home. LUCKILY, we got moved into an exit row, which made the trip infinitely better.
And that (finally) concludes our Italy re-cap! Only 5 months later 🙂  A once in a lifetime trip. I know some people don’t visit Italy because it’s too touristy- and I say, it’s that way because it almost can’t be beat. The diversity, the people, the landscapes, the food & wine. Just beyond. And always a new corner to discover. The Trevi Fountain was under renovation and we weren’t able to toss a coin, so hopefully that doesn’t keep us from returning one day 😉

To see the rest of our trip, in order:

Tuscany

In order to really experience the Italian countryside, you need a car to get around. We picked up our rental car, a Fiat Panda, at the Florence airport and had a slight panic attack when Dan straight up didn’t fit in the car. After pushing the seat back as far as it would go, his head was touching the ceiling and his knees were up at his elbows, no joke. We went in to see if we could get a larger car but it was going to be significantly more expensive to upgrade. We headed back to the Panda to debate… and then Dan found a magic lever that further moved the chair back! Phew. Off we went.

On our way, we stopped in San Gimignano, which we had a lot of fun learning how to say. This is the most charming town and was packed with visitors! But it’s a hit for a reason. We started the day off with lunch overlooking the Tuscan hillside and spent the afternoon walking the streets and eating gelato. It was the first of many walled, hilltop towns that we would explore over the next several days and maybe my favorite.

I researched hundreds of places to stay, no joke. There are SO MANY options! But, many require a week long minimum and others can be quite pricey. With our $100 budget, I was looking for a place with history, a nice view, and a pool. Oh man did we enjoy having a pool. We ended up at Foresteria il Giardino, about 20 minutes from Arezzo. It is smack dab in the middle of a working orchard in a building from the 1700’s. We stayed in what used to be the tabacceria. There was even a truck that came by each morning with fresh baked goods! When we arrived, we were greeted by the sweetest woman who gave us a handdrawn map of the area and circled the few places to eat with 15 minutes of us. This was the beginning of no air conditioning and very limited wi-fi for the next week. FYI, Italy in late August isn’t much cooler than Texas. 

After we settled in, we went over to Civitella to take in the sunset, took a dirt road down the side of the mountain, and ended up at a butcher’s shop for dinner and the best biscotti ever.

In the morning, we drove out to Siena without a plan, which may have been a bad idea! We kind of just roamed the town and ate some food. The was a church there was stunning! But aside from that, the drive was a bit long to justify the trip. We probably should have stayed by the pool all day 🙂

To celebrate on our actual anniversary, we just bought some food at the local grocery store and cooked up an Italian meal in our kitchen. Almost felt like we were at home 🙂 We dined at the picnic table outside our door and reflected on the last year of marriage, soaking in how lucky we both felt to have each other. The answer- very, extremely, lucky. 

The next day, we spent the morning in Arezzo and the afternoon in Cortona (where Under the Tuscan Sun was filmed). Arrezo felt much more like a real city after the tiny towns we’d been in- shopping and people and flags! Then Cortona was just beautiful. We somehow ended up walking all the way to the top… in not great shoes with the sun beating down our backs. Dan and I kept seeming to work long hikes into our days, not on purpose!

One of the best evenings of the trip was a tour of Baracchi Winery. So glad this was recommended to us. It ended up being just us and a Cardiologist from Brazil, who knew much more about wine than we did, with a personal tour by the owner. They make a sparkling rose out of sangiovese grapes that was fantastic- we brought some home and I can’t to open it. After the tour, we had our wine tasting on the patio with charcuterie. When it came time to open the rose, the owner proceeded to pull out a sword… then told me I would be doing it! Of course, I somehow managed to break the bottle, which he said he’s never seen happen. Of course. He said it had to do with the bottle being bad, not me. Still embarrassing. I did succeed on the second try ☺

On our last magical day, we did a winery tour at Palazzo Vecchio in the Montepulciano region, followed with a homemade lunch. We just died more and more with every dish they brought out. My goodness, the deliciousness was out of this world. They gave us their recipe for the sage bread but Dan and I have yet to try it. These pictures are going to make you hungry… be warned! The winery had served many purposes in it’s past, including a convent and an orphanage and the grounds were just gorgeous with the typical stunning hillside views. We also had a couple friends join us for lunch in the form of 2 sweet labs. Dan and I were really missing Barley, so we loved their company 🙂

Then that night, we were beyond spoiled again!! The place we stayed prepares dinner one or two nights a week but it depends on whether there are enough people staying. Thank goodness it ended up happening, because the food was fantastic. Each couple had a table set up for them on the patio with candles and the sunset in the background, making it incredibly romantic. This was definitely a full day of eating. We were bursting at the seams in the best possible way.

 

We were so sad to say goodbye to this little slice of paradise. It worked out really well to have a slower pace in the middle of the trip to give us some relaxation. What I would give to be laying by that pool again…

OH and for lunch on our way out, we stopped at the best winery of the trip- Avignonese!  We brought back a bottle of their merlot but seriously debated splurging on the 50&50.

Land of Beer and Beautiful Weather (at least sometimes…)- Portland!

Wow, I’m WAY behind. Work has been crazy between traveling (to Midland- most exciting city ever ;)) and us moving floors and just lots of projects. Trying to play catch up now! And this post deleted mid-writing so forgive me if it’s not very detailed, because I just got a little tired of it.

A few weekends ago, we flew up to Portland for a family visit. My brother-in-law grew up there and was our official tour guide! Considering I’m such a huge planner, you will be shocked to discover- I did no planning. NONE. I looked at one Thrillist article about Portland breweries and that was it. Weird for me, but also kind of nice to just go with the flow. The main point of visiting was to hang out with family anyways, so any activities were just extra.

Y’all, the weather was beyond unbelievable. Having visited in January, I know it wasn’t the norm, but man was it good. I swear, we’ve been the luckiest lately! First NYC, then Portland. Fingers crossed this continues. We spent the evenings just hanging on the back porch of Rob’s parent’s house, in their beautiful backyard, surrounded by raspberries bushes. Which I ate handfuls of. The summers there are like something out of a dream. Mostly because that could never be a reality in Houston. If we try to sit outside, we get covered in mosquitoes and start sweating within 3 minutes.

We got into town fairly early, so we headed to Portland Brewing Co. for dinner. They make Pyramid, if you’ve tried that! It was the first of many breweries. The fish and chips were great! Then after the kiddos went to bed, we walked over to Laurel Public House. They have a few locations in Portland. Heavy on IPA’s so not my favorite ever.

The next morning, we drove up to Mt. Hood to see some snow. They had a dry winter, so while there was snow, there was’t much. However, people were still skiing! We got to see Timberline Lodge, which was beautiful with really nice woodwork inside. This is where the exterior shots of the lodge in The Shining were filmed.

After that, we drove on to Hood River for lunch at Full Sail. Their Amber is one of the best and there was a nice view of the river. We also tried out Double Mountain Brewery. The service was fantastic and they had a Red Ale called the Engineer just for Dan 🙂 Plus, we hit a couple great fruit stands. The cherries… and blueberries… and everything, so yum and fresh. I could have spent days in Hood River.

To take a break from beer, we visited Cathedral Ridge Winery. The wine was great, but even better was sharing a bottle while laying in the grass and enjoying the scenery. Man, I really loved it.

On the way back into town, we stopped at Multnomah Falls. This is a can’t miss when in Oregon. Beautiful!

Saturday morning, we went to the Rhododendron Gardens which were stunning. The kids (and adults) loved feeding the ducks and geese. I was legitimately more scared of the geese than the babes were. I’m a huge chicken. But they were mean!!

We had lunch at Widmer Brothers. Their hefe is one of my all time favorites. The brewery scene is SO different in Portland. Pretty much all of them serve food and it’s actually very good. We spent the afternoon brewery hopping in the Pearl District.

Deschutes- Packed! But great. The actual brewery is in Bend, which we hope to visit sometime.
Fat Head’s- A crowd favorite. Lots of fun beers, like blueberry, which was surprisingly tasty and not at all syrupy. If you ever visit, try to branch out of the norm. Dan’s mom picked her flight, to the boy’s skepticism, and it ended up being the best. Tons of options!
10 Barrel Brewing- I liked the interior and the beer but it wasn’t super special.
Rogue- We sat on the patio and tried some pretty interesting beers. For example, Beard Beer, made from yeast in one of the brewer’s beards. Weird, yes. But it tasted good. They also have several local influences, like Marionberry and Voodoo Doughnut beer. Loved it.
Cascade- On the way back, we stopped here for their sour beers. And I’m sorry, but I’m just not a sour fan. Yuck. Not sure how this is becoming popular, but I guess some people like it!
Forewarning: Dan and I take a picture in front of every brewery we visit… it’s the only time he willingly takes photos with me so I take advantage.

That evening, we soaked up the weather while Rob grilled. We also had to soak up being around our niece and nephew!! We most likely won’t see them until November, and when you’re that age you change so much. I’m going to miss them so much. We’ll miss you too Rob & Jenny 😉 Ugh just look at these cute faces.

That night, we went out with Dan’s parents in Nob Hill (a bartender had told us it was cool), just because we could because we are kid-less. Gotta take advantage while we can! Will have to explore that neighborhood more the next time around.

Thanks Rob & family for showing us a great time in Portland! We truly had a blast and hope to visit again soon.

Memorial Day Weekend in the Hill Country

After a bridal shower in Houston, we were off for Memorial Day weekend! Barley was clearly stoked.


We got in fairly late Saturday night and met up with Dan’s parents at Cultures Bar. Pretty typical bar/grill with a good beer selection and ice cold mugs. Bonus points for icy mugs. Dan needed a cold one after how intensely he had to concentrate, driving through all the rain! Dan’s mom had made dinner reservations at The Nest, which was just divine. It’s in an adorable old home, a few blocks off Main Street with the perfect amount of lighting and the most affable servers. We had a French grandma who was a hoot! Not to mention the quality of the food, which all of us agreed was top notch. Dan and I both had seafood (scallops and shrimp) while his Dad had the filet and his mom tried the quail. We finished the night with a chocolate martini, because when you’re with Ann, chocolate is a requirement 🙂

We stopped by House Wine on the way back to the hotel and they let Barley come in and hang out. He loved it, of course.

  

Sunday morning, the sun came out and we were all surprised at what a beautiful day it was! Luckily, El Milagro has a charming patio with a fountain where we ate breakfast and enjoyed the weather. Note: only 1 breakfast taco is necessary. Barley mostly enjoyed chasing the birds and debating drinking the fountain water.

Later on, we met up with some of my best friends from home for lunch at Fredericksburg Herb Farm in their Farm Haus Bistro. The cutest, with a big garden in front! I was also shocked at how affordable it was too! The weekend was definitely full of good food at new places. You can stay in the most precious cottages on the farm too. Maybe next time 🙂

      

Afterwards, we just had to hit up some wineries… because when in Fredericksburg this is a must. First up was Hilmy Cellars. I had been wanting to go back because of the good wine, but mostly for the cute wine dogs 🙂 No sighting of them that day, but JB made friends with the rooster out on their gorgeous patio and we had a guinea sighting! A view of vineyards makes for excellent scenery.


    

Then we were on to Grape Creek to meet back up with Dan’s rents. They have been wine club members there for a while and I have to agree that it’s the most beautiful winery in Fredericksburg. Best to just buy a bottle (or 2) and sit and enjoy. The live music wasn’t too shabby either!

Barley’s face!! Derp.

        

We headed on to Johnson City that evening and had dinner at Pecan Street Brewing. Not that there are many other options in the small town, birthplace of LBJ with a population of 1,700. We were seated in the front and scarfed down our brick oven pizza. Then, I saw a sign in the back pointing to games & dancing! Through the door it was a totally different restaurant. Garage doors pulled up to let in the warm air, a big band playing country classics, and locals two-stepping across the dance floor. They also had a huge loft with pool tables, shuffleboard, and folding chairs galore. Even though the boys got fairly competitive at the shuffleboard table, it was a blast. Dan even swept me around the room while they played the last song of the night and it was the best. Just have to get a few beers in him to get him dancing 😉


The next morning we visited some re-sale/vintage shops where Joanna Gaines gets some of the things she uses on Fixer Upper! They were pretty awesome and I could definitely see the potential  of a lot of the pieces. My favorite was a wooden trough, but it was $300, which was a little expensive for a centerpiece. Dan’s mom was able to find some awesome doors to use as a countertop on their kitchen island, and gorgeous sliding barn doors! Successful trip for them!


What We’re Watching

true-detective

Fun fact: Dan and I toured the plantation this tree is at- Oak Alley.

Dan and I finished the first season of HBO’s True Detective this week. I know, I know, we are late to the game. We watched the whole season in a week, which I guess isn’t that terrible since it’s only 8 episodes. I didn’t understand the hype after the first episode, but it quickly drew me in. It was SO creepy but incredibly addicting and I’m really glad Dan isn’t out of town at all this week (hallelujah) because I would be scared of the dark if he was gone. GAH. Casting was perfect and of course I love Matthew McConaughey, because Texas. And just everything he’s been in lately.  I’m curious what spurred him to start taking more serious roles. He’s fantastic. Also- is the Louisiana bayou really that dangerous compared to the rest of the US?

And the casting for season 2?! Rachel McAdams?! Hooray 🙂 The teaser trailer doesn’t give much away, but I’m excited. Fingers crossed it’s just as good.

We also watched Somm this week! It’s a documentary on the process of becoming a master sommelier and follows a few guys studying for, and taking, the exam. We learned how to properly pronounce sommelier and can now sound that much fancier at nice restaurants 🙂 You actually get really nervous for the candidates, knowing how much time they’ve spent preparing! Dan has been studying to take the cicerone exam, which is similar to being a sommelier, but for beer instead of wine. He has passed the first level and has 2 to go. And is now wanting to become a sommelier as well. I’m hoping this doesn’t happen as it seems to take over your life, according to the documentary, and also seems incredibly expensive as you’re tasting expensive bottles of wine on a regular basis. Then spitting them out. Dan’s actual words: “I want to become the first master sommelier to study for the exam without a spit cup.” He’s weird. And has 1,000,000 interests. I like him.

FYI- we didn’t JUST watch HBO/ Netflix all week and the fence is coming along nicely 🙂