Monday, December 15, 2014

A Reunion in Dallas

This past weekend, our friends Nate and Kate came to town to visit us along with our friend Joseph! As I've mentioned before (and again here), Nate, Joseph, and I came to be good friends while studying abroad in Toulouse, France. We even gave ourselves a cheesy nickname -- The Trio!  We've been scattered across the country over the past few years, but upon our recent relocation to Dallas as well as Joseph's, we figured it was high time for another reunion. We had a great time catching up and exploring our new home together.




McKinney
We kicked off the weekend in McKinney. We took them to some of our favorite spots, tried a few new ones, and spent some time at our house playing with Charlie and mixing cocktails in the kitchen.
  • We sipped wine at a cozy corner table at Lone Star Wine Cellars.
  • We devoured breakfast sandwiches at Snug on the Square. The spinach mushroom melt with their homemade green salsa is the best.
  • We brosed shelves piled high with rare and vintage books (including some cool signed first editions) at The Book Gallery.
  • We had pie for lunch at Emporium Pies. Our favorites from the winter menu were the Father Christmas (peppermint cream pie with chocolate cookie crust), Buttermilk Blitzen (chai-spiced buttermilk pie), and Merry Berry (cranberry pecan topped with a layer of chess pie)
  • We went wine tasting at Mitas Hill Vineyards right outside of McKinney in a little town called Squeezepenny.  We loved the "Sip and Savor" deal where you could try four different wines while chatting in the tasting room and admiring the lovely grounds.
The whole gang at Mitas Hill:


Dallas:
Next, we headed into the big city. It was time to explore Dallas with Joseph's apartment as our home base. We rolled into town just as the sun was setting Saturday!

  • We explored the Bishop Arts District! After reading about this trendy part of town flourishing in the Oak Cliff neighborhood, we were excited to see what all the fuss was about!
  • We snacked on appetizers and clinked cocktail glasses at Stock and Barrel. This place was phenomenal. We loved the goat cheese dumplings and the caramelized Brussels Sprouts doused in chili oil. I can't wait to go back for a full meal sometime soon!
  • After sampling the BBQ at Lockhart Smokehouse, we sipped cider at Bishop Cider Co. The boys preferred their peach and pecan-laced cider, but Kate and I loved the OC Funk, an unfiltered and wonderfully funky (as the name implies) cider.
  • We poked around the crowded shelves of M'antiques. What a cool antique store, targeted toward the men-folk, but just as enjoyable for the women.
  • We took a little hike along the Katy Trail on Sunday morning and stopped for breakfast at the Katy Trail Ice House. The outdoor tables are plenty warm thanks to blankets, heaters, and wood fires, and we loved introducing our Buffalo friends to breakfast tacos! The classic bacon, egg, and cheese was great, but our favorite was the brisket, egg, and cheese that they made for us upon special request. The Paloma cocktail was pretty delicious as well!
  • Lunch found us back in Bishop Arts at El Corazon de Tejas for our TexMex fix. Along with $1 mimosas (!!), my lunch combo of a sour cream enchilada and a cheese taco (doused in queso) was ridiculously good. The atmosphere is also lots of fun for TexMex newbies and veterans alike.
  • After lunch, we popped into the Zoomos Pop-Up Shop where we posed for photos with their fantastic "You + Me = Love" mural. Super cute, right?

This was our last stop before delivering Nate and Kate to the airport, and what a perfect way to wrap up a fun weekend with such special friends!  I'm so glad they came to visit!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

My 10 Favorite Things in November

Did everyone have a wonderful Thanksgiving? Are your Christmas decorations up? We have Christmas trees decorated, lights hung outside (a fun first for us), and I have the NSync Christmas album on in my car. The Christmas season is upon us, but before I get too swept up into the most wonderful time of the year, here are some highlights from the past month!

1) Decorating our first big Christmas tree!
 Our little Christmas tree served us well over the years in our cozy Boston apartment, and it will continue to bring festive cheer in our library, but this year, we graduated to a full-sized tree in our living room. I'm pretty excited about it! 
2) Thanksgiving with the family
As I mentioned, this was our first year to spend Thanksgiving with family since moving away from Texas. We drove to Austin to spend the day with my husband's wonderfully large and boisterous family. We ate well, we chatted and laughed, we watched football, and we played with puppies and little children.  Later at my in-laws' home, Charlie had the best time playing in the lake bed of Lake Travis, intrepidly jumping in and out of the chilly water (a little stream through the lake bed is all that's left on their part of the lake)!
3) Our first fire in our first fireplace
 November brought unseasonably cold weather (and even a little snow!!) to the Dallas area, so we enjoyed the excuse to put our new fireplace to use. Curled up on the couch in pj's, dog curled up on the rug, and Apple-Ginger Hot Toddies in hand, it was pretty great.
4) Pie Night!
 Do you know what else I was thankful for this Thanksgiving season? Living within driving distance of our friends Liz and Peter, who hosted their annual Pie Night celebration on Thanksgiving Eve. This year, Liz baked 17 pies from scratch, and we happily helped her eat them. My favorite (besides her classic French Silk Pie) was a Lemon Sour Cream Pie. Delicious!
Wurstfest is one of my favorite places on earth, and we had the best time this year with my husband's family. Beer, bratwurst, and polka music -- what's not to like?
6) Breakfast Date at the Allen Café
Both my husband and I have work schedules such that every other Friday, we have the day off. On one of our off Fridays this month, we went out for a "Breakfast Date" as an excuse to try the Allen Cafe. It's the cutest little local spot serving up classic diner fare...and one of my personal favorites, Chicken Fried Steak and eggs!
7) Catching an Allen Americans game
Why are minor league sports so much fun? I love minor league baseball and hockey games, so we jumped at the chance to go see the Allen Americans take the ice. They won the game, and there were a couple good fights, so it was quite a success!
8) Wine and Star Wars Mad Libs
I can't say this is one of the fanciest date nights we've ever had, but gosh did I enjoy sipping on a glass of wine and laughing over silly Mad Libs stories about lightsabers and the Force. (Speaking of Star Wars, everyone saw the Episode VII trailer right? I went from cautiously excited to very excited).
9)Paying a visit to perennial Longhorn Band favorite, Posse East 
My husband and I went to the Texas-TCU game on Thanksgiving, and beforehand, we grabbed a beer at this wonderfully dive-y bar, a much-frequented haunt of Longhorn Band kids (and plenty of other UT folks), and it was great to be back! We also ran into friends at the Unofficial Official Longhorn Alumni Band tailgate on our way to the stadium! Despite the score, it was great to be back at Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium (our first time back since graduation).
10) A good bowl of Pho!
Last but not least, we found good pho in Fairview at Pho Crystal! It seems to be a little family-run place, and the food is wonderful. I've been hooked on pho ever since trying the (admittedly unorthodox) vegetarian pho at Happy Veggie in Redondo Beach, and I've been missing Pho #1 in Woburn, so finding this little gem was pretty exciting news. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving Dreaming

Happy Day-Before-Thanksgiving everyone! Are your turkeys thawed? Have you started cooking yet? Is your family in town? Do you have your stretchy Thanksgiving pants ready? This year, we'll be spending the day with my husband's family, our first Thanksgiving with family in 6 years! I can't wait! But as excited as I am, I'm a little bummed that we're not cooking this year. Gosh did I love hosting Thanksgiving in Boston, spending the day cooking, decorating the house, sharing the day with friends who were also a long way from home (or celebrating with just the two of us like last year). So to help scratch that itch, I decided to put together a Dream Thanksgiving, if you will. If we were hosting this year, this would be my road map, my inspiration, and my menu.

First let's decorate! How fun would it be to make these "I am thankful for..." placemats? And I  definitely would want to recreate these adorable rosemary place setting cards. When it comes to centerpieces, I love to use seasonal produce, greenery from the yard, and candles. They make for lovely and affordable decorations, and arrangements tend to be low and spread out so guests can still see each other. I also love this leaf garland for the dining room wall.
 1) Photo from Oh My Deer, 2) Photo from Apartment34, 3) Photo from Country Living,
4) Photo from Glitter Guide, 5) Photo from Garland of Grace, 6) Photo from A Texas Belle

Now for the food! Every year, I start with these Rosemary Roasted Cashews.  It's nice to have something to nibble on while I put the finishing touches on dinner, and these are light enough so folks don't ruin their appetites.  Also, they're delicious.
(Photo from Family Spice)
 
For dinner, the star of the show is a smoked turkey. We get up early to get the smoker going, season the bird with this simple but flavorful rub, and by dinner time, we have a beautiful turkey that left the oven free for side dishes. Speaking of side dishes, how good does this Cornbread Chorizo Cherry Pecan Stuffing sound? I don't know if I could branch out from our classic family cornbread stuffing, but this recipe makes it awfully tempting. I'm also itching to make these Mashed Potatoes with Mushrooms. What an ingenious idea. For something green, I love these Seared Brussels Sprouts with Bacon Lardons, which we made last year. And for something green covered in cheese, I like to make my great-grandmother's Green Pea Casserole rather than the more traditional green bean casserole. Finally, we can't forget the Cranberry Sauce! I make this super simple recipe from Sam Sifton, the man who literally wrote the book on Thanksgiving. It made me a believer in real cranberry sauce. In addition to the homemade stuff, I always leave a little room on my plate for a slice of "can", the canned jellied cranberry sauce that I will always love, regardless of stigma.
1) Photo from A Texas Belle, 2) Photo from The Bitten Word, 3) Photo from Joy the Baker,
4) Photo from A Texas Belle, 5) Photo from Serious Eats, 6) Photo from A Texas Belle

After dinner, I would serve theses Hot Ginger Apple Toddies. It's fall in a mug, perfect for chilly evenings. They're great with a generous splash of bourbon or cognac.
(Photo from The Kitchn)
 
Finally for dessert, I would stick with a classic pumpkin pie, but if I was feeling extra adventurous, I would love to try this Salty Pumpkin Spice Cake with Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting too.
(Photo from Libbie Summers)
 
As a side note, how lovely are these Thank You notes from Rifle Paper Co for thanking the host/hostess or thanking your guests for helping you celebrate? You could also use them for guests to put on paper what they're thankful for this year!
(Photo from Rifle Paper Co)

And let's not forget the day after! I would start the day with strong coffee and this Cranberry Orange Cake with Vanilla Crumble. If you feel guilty eating cake for breakfast, maybe call it Cranberry Orange Coffee Cake. That sounds more breakfast-y, right?
Then to use up all of those beautiful leftovers, here are some of my favorites: Cranberry Brie Grilled Cheese Sandwiches, Thanksgiving Leftovers Couscous Salad, Turkey Terrific sandwiches, and Turkey Gumbo.

So there it is! There sure are a lot less dishes to wash this way. As much as I'm going to miss hosting this year, it's such a blessing to have family welcome us in their home and cook for us. I'm so thankful for our families, and I'm thankful to finally be able to share this holiday with them after so many years away from home. And hopefully someday it'll be my turn to return the favor!

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, everyone!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Wintry Weather

Brrr! This week brought wintry weather down to Texas, and, weirdly, it's been such a treat! I hated the long Boston winters, but there are things that go along with the season that I really enjoy. Things like warm beverages, simmering stews on the stovetop, and the sight of snow falling. This wintry blast gave us just a taste of cold weather, an excuse to partake in the enjoyable accoutrements, without feeling the need to linger for 6 months. After all, it's going to be in the 60s this weekend!

Sunday night, a pretty dusting of snow fell on our little house and yard. As it snowed, we snuggled up on the couch in cozy pajamas with a good fire going in the fireplace...our very first fire in our very first fireplace!
Meanwhile, Charlie, terrified of the fire, curled up between us, trusting us to protect him from the fire breathing monster in the wall. His fear of the fireplace was only matched by his love of the powdery white stuff in the backyard. He had the best time exploring "the frozen tundra" and playing in the snow. Here's our intrepid explorer!
We've sipped on mugs of Hot Apple Ginger Toddies, my favorite winter beverage, and I had an excuse to buy a pretty new coat -- this fanastic Paddington Bear-esque toggle coat from Old Navy (my New England parka is a bit overkill around here).
(Photos from The Kitchn, Old Navy)
 
Finally, the cold weather has helped ease our Boston homesickness a little bit. As much as we love our new home, we find ourselves wistfully missing our old stomping grounds. Now if only we could find some legit Italian food and a good lobster roll, we would be all set!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Wurstfest


It's that time of year again! Wurstfest, the self-proclaimed 10 Day Salute to Sausage, is upon us! This weekend, we made the pilgrimage to the little town of New Braunfels, home to a sizeable population of German Texans, to revel in all things bratwurst, beer, and polka!
I was introduced to Wurstfest, arguably the real "happiest place on earth," by two fellow clarinetists in the Longhorn Band who grew up in New Braunfels. Thank goodness for Sarah and Christina! Each year, we would gather a group of friends and drive south from Austin to participate in the festivities. I haven't been back since graduation (and my husband had never been), so this was an eagerly anticipated occasion!
We kicked off the festivities with my favorite Wurstfest combination -- a pitcher of beer and a "Wurst in Taschen." This is a bratwurst under a pile of sauerkraut tucked inside a fluffy pocket. I like mine topped with a couple pumps of spicy mustard. If this doesn't sound like your thing, food abounds in the "Marktplatz" where you can find everything from bratwurst-on-a-stick to reuben sandwiches to bratwurst nachos! A new favorite discovered on this trip were the fried mushrooms topped with cream gravy -- fair food at its best. This is a place where German and Texan cultures collide in the best possible way. Whatever you do, come hungry!
We ate in Das Grosse Zelt (The Big Tent) which is set up like a covered beer garden with a music stage where the Comal Community Band serenaded us with German and Texan favorites.
Our next stop was the Craft Beer Garden for some local brews (favorite name award goes to the New Braunfels Oktooberfest named after the favorite local pastime of tubing down the Comal and Guadalupe Rivers). At the neighboring music stage, we clapped along with the fantastic accordion stylings of Michael Bridge, the Canadian National Champion Accordion Player! 

Finally, we ended the afternoon in Wursthalle with singing and dancing to polka music thanks to The Seven Dutchmen Orchestra.

The festival wraps up this weekend, so if you're in the area, treat yourself and join in the small town tradition! Just don't forget your lederhosen!