I finally had a three day weekend. Claire and I decided to take full advantage of it too. In early February the Central Texas Wineries get together and do what is called the Wine Lover's Trail, which is basically a self guided tour of all the wineries around the hills of central Texas. However, since Claire and I waited til' the last minute to buy the 30 dollar ticket we missed out on some of the extra treats that you get when you a "official" part of the tour. Howie, Claire's cousin, assured us there would be no need for a ticket and we would be able to taste for free or for a minimal fee at most of the wineries. This ended up being true.

So on Saturday the 7th we loaded up with Howie and Jenny in our Jeep with some crackers, cheese, and no map at all. Luckily Howie has recently become a wine connoisseur and has visited most of the wineries about 5 or so times and has it all mapped in his head.

The first stop was Spicewood Vineyards. The place was pretty nice. Since this was the first time I had been on any wine tasting I didn't really know what to expect. So it was nice to find a relaxing, unpretentious place to sit and chat while tasting. The best wine they had was the Semillon.

After that we headed through the middle of nowhere to McReynolds Wineries where we found one of most entertaining hosts of the whole trip, lots of good chocolates and snacks, and some dogs. Jenny said she judged a winery by how cute the dog they had was. McReynolds is a experience. Wasn't really impressed by the wine but it was fun to listen to this lady talk about everything while tasting.

Next up was Texas Hills Vineyard. They have a incredibly nice building and set up but it was jam packed full of people and so the tasting experience was somewhat rushed. Claire and I have had their Orange Muscat before and it is delicious.

On our way into Fredericksburg we hit up Perdenales Cellars where we debated whether this Buffalo was wearing a blanket or just had a white stripe.

He had a white stripe, it turns out. Becker Vineyards, Grape Creek Vineyards, and Woodrose Winery were also on the way into town. At Becker there was a HUGE! tree by the vineyards. Notice the tiny human being (below the tree) photographing this giant of nature.

I think we did a total of 9 wineries the first day, which I thought was a ton but Howie said he has done more. Like I said he is a pro. Grape Creek was probably our favorite of the day as they had some really good white wines and nice hosts and facilities.

Although it was about 3pm when we got into Fredericksburg no one was hungry for lunch because we had snacked on cheese and crackers while driving. MMM...Beemster Vlaskaas is so good! Once we found our awesome Bed and Breakfast, Das Garten Haus, we unpacked and headed into town to check out some shops.

Our first stop however was for ice cream at The Clear River Pecan Company. They had some fun hats which Howie and I proudly modeled.

More importantly they had tons of varietals of homemade ice cream and all I can say is YUM. We walked around on main street and checked out some of the design stores that Claire enjoys as well as the toy store, dog store, and the famous Rustlin' Rob's gourmet foods.

They have thousands of sauces, jams, dips, etc for the tasting. So even though no one was hungry we managed to eat ice cream and a billion dips. Since we were planning on having a nice dinner later that night at The Nest (reviewed at my other blog) so we tried not to stuff ourselves. Anyways, after wandering around for a bit more we headed to the Fredericksburg Winery on main street where you can taste like 10 wines for free. Howie and I got started on this while Jenny chatted on the phone outside and Claire attempted to go to a store she'd really wanted to visit, Red, which was closed. She joined us eventually. I decided I liked almost every wine they had and so it quickly became one of my favorite wineries.

By this time we are all exhausted so we head to the B&B to chill for a bit. Our dinner spot, The Nest, happened to be across the street from Das Garten Haus so we just walked on over and had a very interesting dinner to say the least. We had steak, scallops, and lamb. Claire just had soup but was satisfied and the soup was actually one of the best plates on the table. The restaurant was nice and tasty but service just wasn't up to par. We were all pretty tired after that so we headed back to our rooms and relaxed, watched some TV, made coffee, snacked on toffee and sat outside on the patio for a bit.

In the morning we got up for our first ever Bed and Breakfast experience. It was incredible actually. The food was superb, most notably the pear baked in cream. We chatted with some other guests for about an hour and enjoyed a relaxing morning with coffee and incredible food. There is just something about rolling out of bed in your pajamas and walking down to a table prepared with delicious homemade food.

As the everyone got ready Claire and I took photos of our B&B. Then we headed north to visit another 4 wineries before heading home.

We visited Fall Creek Vineyards which really is in the middle of nowhere but they had some really cheap, good wines. After that we dined gourmet at Dairy Queen. At Alamosa Wineries we stopped and hung our for a while. We bought a bottle and drank it out on the patio. The wind was like west Texas and was blowing 100 miles an hour. It was still nice to take it slow rather than rush from winery to winery.

We visited two more wineries, Texas Legato and Pillar Bluff, before the day was over. Pillar Bluff had the most amazing blue cheese dip. It outshone all of their wines. Howie has the recipe and someday we will have to re-create it.

We finally headed home after a whirlwind of a two day trip. Having Howie as a guide was fantastic as we didn't really have to worry about finding the places. He only had us take a few wrong turns, which only resulted in minor bickering.

It was a lot of fun to taste and learn about all the different grapes and the wine making process. I would probably take it a bit slower next time and just do a few select wineries and hang out in Fredericksburg. I had a blast just hanging out with Claire, Howie, and Jenny. We fought over Buffalo in blankets, wrong turns, Howie going paparazzi, whether Claire wants salad or not, and probably a multitude of other things. Those little things are what make trips like this so much fun and so memorable though. It is great to get to do things like this with good friends because you can always go back and laugh at the demanding waitress or the crazy wine hostess. The wine, the company, the food, and the Texas countryside were all great. I can't wait till the next time around.

recipe not so much for disaster

So as part of my "resolutions" this year I wanted to cook more at home. Specifically cook more from recipes out of a cook book. In doing so I hoped to expand my knowledge base on ingredients, spices, combinations, techniques, and foods I had yet to work with. The following are my 3rd and 4th attempts.

The first was a salmon with a sesame seed crust and red pepper mayo. It all sounded like it was going to be amazing. I paired it with some sauteed mushrooms and zucchini as well as some sesame ginger rice (from a box, which is really good).

The real problem was that the sauce was lackluster, and the salmon just needed some more life to it. Coated in flour, salt, pepper, and sesame seeds the salmon hid underneath the light batter, so the sauce/mayo needed to be amazing.

Nothing was bad though, just not up to my standards. Is it narcissistic to critique your own cooking? Oh well, I enjoy talking about it, ha! A couple nights later I attempted some fish tacos with a black bean & mango salsa.These were actually pretty darn tasty. My problem: I don't know how to pick a ripe mango. HA, so the mango I got was piney/crunchy. Not the right texture or flavor. Once picked through this was however a quick and satisfying meal.

I'm not going to post the recipes on these guys since I didn't "create" them. If, however, you must try them I can pass along the recipe's along with what I would change/do different.

Anyways enough about food, on to wine. Claire and I are going on a Wine tour this weekend! Woo Hoo. It will be our first time to get away from Austin where we aren't visiting family and are just relaxing. Just the two of us, sorta. Claire's cousin and girlfriend are acting as semi-professional tour guides and are gonna hang out with us all weekend. Howie is a proffesional at this wine stuff and knows quite a few of the winos (ehh..or..guys that make the wine at the vineyards). So it should be pretty exciting. We get to stay the night on Saturday in Fredricksburg (I know your jealous Mom) at a bed and breakfast. We are also gonna test out Nest on Saturday night for Dinner. Really I am just excited about spending some time away from home and work.

Off to cook dinner.

aaah, the dreaded 25...

Honestly, we only have like ONE blog reader (RA, ahem, ahem) who doesn't have facebook (that I know of, well, excluding family)...

...but this "25 random things" thing has been spreading around my friends on facebook like wildfire. You've seen these before, I'm sure...where you get 'tagged' and are required to share some number of random things about yourself and then 'tag' other people, or forward it on, or whatnot. It's all just a time-waster really...but since I wasted so much time writing one I thought I'd at least get two posts out of it, and put it up here too. Hey - maybe you'll learn something about me you didn't already know. Chance did! (:

So, here it is:

Since I've been tagged by 9 people, I figure it's time to give this a go. I thought about waiting 'til that number hit 10, but I'm in procrastination mode and figured..might as well.

1. I love food, so what better way to start this? - Donuts and Ice Cream are probably my two favorite edible things in the entire world. If only one could exist, and I were forced to choose, I might throw myself from a building.

2. Toffee is my favorite candy-type substance. Tied for second: Cadburry Eggs and Brach's Mellowcreme Pumpkins. Mmm, seasonal candy. (Okay. Enough about food for now).

3. When my house is clean and things are organized, I feel like a completely different person than dirty-house-Claire.

4. I love lists. To-do lists, wish lists, lists of restaurants I want to try, lists - lists - lists! But sometimes I get irritated when I can't get through them. Once I set my mind to doing something, I have to finish before I can really rest.

5. I often daydream of having a 'real job' where I get to go to happy hour with my coworkers, instead of sitting around the house smelling dog farts all day. But if I had a real job, I'd miss those farts, I think.

6. I almost always refuse to spend more than $20 on a piece of clothing, yet I'll spend much more than that on things for my home. Guess I'm only half-cheap.

7. I have a difficult time listening to music while I'm working - I start listening too hard and forget to work.

8. I really can't multitask at all, although I've been told that no one can ACTUALLY multitask - but I feel I'm worse than others at faking it.

9. I herniated a disc in my back about 4 years ago. It was a 3 step process that involved trying to learn to booty dance, a major tumble on snowskiis, and rearranging the furniture in my room single-handedly. Lately, it's been hurting again.

10. I was tall for my age, until 6th grade when I stopped growing and everyone else shot above my measly 5'2".

11. Ross Sudderth called me fat in first grade...but I didn't get fat until 3rd or 4th grade (and then I was a REAL tubbo). Maybe he was a psychic, but that scarred me for a long time. He also sang Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire accompanied by vulgar movements at Christmastime that year. Perhaps I shouldn't have taken him seriously.

12. I used to have imaginary friends that were mice named Michael and Jennifer. I think they were somehow inspired by David the Gnome. They kept me company when I got in trouble and had to go to time out.

13. Speaking of time out, for quite some time when I was little, I had to sit in the time out chair in the hallway EVERY Sunday. I'm not sure why I misbehaved every Sunday, but I did. At least I had company...

14. I dream a LOT, but my dreams are rarely good. I only remember ONE good dream, and I had it when I was probably 5. Batman (Adam West) and Robin came to my grandparents' house and they were sick and I had to nurse them back to health. I loved that dream. Most of my dreams are fairly pertinent and realistic, and I have a hard time not getting them mixed up with my real life and letting them affect my mood.

15. I have kids' names picked out even though I'm not even sure I want them. In fact, at this stage in life I'm 80% sure I don't. But I do love the names. Maybe we'll use them for future pets.

16. I've only walked out of a movie theater once that I recall. If I remember correctly, my dad had taken me to see the animated movie Cool World when I was 8, and it ended up being WAY too 'grown up' for me to watch, so we walked out. I still haven't seen the movie.

17. I have hundreds of stuffed animals that I've collected over the years. They're currently in my garage and I'm giving 3/4 of them (at least) away. It's heartbreaking to let go of them - they all have names and memories. Luckily (in this instance), in the past two years my memory has gotten bad, which makes this process slightly easier.

18. I HATE the movie Home Alone, and I'm just now getting over my hatred of Macaulay Culkin. I watched that movie the night my parents told me they were getting separated...and have hated it/him ever since. He was pretty funny in Saved though, and that redeemed him a little.

19. I think some numbers are just UGLY. Like 19, which also happens to be my birthday. Appropriate?

20. Last month, I got homesick for what was possibly the first time EVER, and I actually entertained the idea of eventually moving back to Tyler. Yikes. I honestly can't see myself ever leaving Austin. Love this town.

21. I'm passionate about music, houses/architecture, and interior design. I'm hoping to eventually develop at least one of these into a career.

22. I've always been one of those people who was well-rounded, GOOD at a lot of things, but not exceptionally great at any one particular thing. I've always been jealous of people who are just 'gifted' and 'know' their calling because it's so obvious. I shouldn't complain, but I've always wanted to be exceptionally great at ONE thing, rather than good at several.

23. I love my close friends so passionately that my friendships often feel like 'relationships', and if one ends, it hurts like a breakup.

24. I think some numbers are just beautiful, and this is my favorite. I really SHOULD just stop here...

25. 99.9% of the time I get in bed at least 10 minutes after Chance at night - and I always warm my freezing appendages with his body. He doesn't appreciate it, and he always squirms. I'm not sure if I do it more for warmth or for the pleasure of watching him wiggle and protest.

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