Today is my brother’s 24th birthday. Not going to lie, it’s weird to think he’s that old (no offense, bro). It’s to the point where I have to do the math every year. “If I’m 27, that means he’s… 24?!” It’s crazy to think that my little brother is now in his mid-twenties. He’s been in the “real world” for a year and a half now and I’m so proud of how much he’s grown in his position at work, how he’s making a life for himself in Denver, how he loves those around him, how I can see him maturing even when I’m far away in Texas. Growing up in a close-knit Hispanic family, Alex and I spent a lot of time together when we were kids and he was often my closest friend. We would play different games together while my dad was at work and my mom was napping following her nights shift at work when we were younger, throw the baseball in the backyard together, fight over the TV remote, wrestle, and just hang out together. While there were moments when he was less than charming, like when he threw my beloved NSYNC CD in the trash, I love that we have always been close and that we can talk to each other about anything. Who would have thought that I would be talking about health insurance and rent vs. mortgage payments with the same guy who used to put his racecars outside my bedroom door so I would step on them first thing in the morning (sweet, right?…). We may not see each other as often as I would like, but I am so grateful for my brother and that he’s always just a quick phone call away. Happy birthday, bud. I sure do love you.
Eleven days into January is the right time to post pictures from Christmas, right? Right.
We had a great Christmas in Tucson. We started the drive once Chip got off of work on the 23rd, spent the night in Van Horn, and got to Tucson Christmas Eve afternoon. The dogs did great on the drive with plenty of “are we there yet” faces from Wrigley.
And now for a special presentation, Molly and Wrigley singing along to “Blue Christmas.”
Overall, it was a really relaxing time at home. After a busy December, it was nice to get time to sleep in, take it easy around the house, walk the dogs, and just spend time together. I’m a sucker for being sentimental, and looking back, I love the little moments throughout the trip that reminded me of some of my favorite memories growing up. Whenever I can go home for Christmas, my parents always save Santa’s Marching Band as my decoration to put up in the house. I was obsessed with Santa’s Marching Band as a kid and would slowly put each little soldier on the snow blanket and do my best to hide the electric chords. Some of these little guys have taken a beating over the years and will occasionally get stuck, but they still work great. I secretly love seeing how long I can have these guys play before my dad tries to turn them off.
We were able to take Chip up to Mount Lemmon for the first time and were pleasantly surprised to see some snow at the end of our drive. I hadn’t been up to Mount Lemmon in over seven years, so it was fun going back up. Molly and Penny weren’t too sure about the snow, but Wrigley loved it, even when Chip kept throwing snowballs at his face. Later that day, we got to see some of my old high school friends, most of whom Chip was meeting for the first time. It was a highlight of the trip getting to catch up with them, some I literally hadn’t seen since graduation almost 10 years ago. And to my surprise, while we were eating at Le Buzz our last morning in Tucson, I ran into my third grade teacher. It was so nice to see her again and funny to think about how she used to seem so incredibly tall to me.
I am so thankful we were able to spend some more time in Tucson, we really do love that city. Chip was back to work that Monday after Christmas while I had a few extra days off. We spent New Years Eve with some of our great Trinity friends out in Fredericksburg. It was so great ending 2014 with some of the friends we love most. Hope 2015 is off to a great start for all of you!
This year’s holiday season is looking very different from last year. This time last year, I had just left my job at Bromley and didn’t know what to do next. I spent the holidays resting while trying to figure out what kind of job I felt I was right for, and also feeling a little guilty that at 25, I had left my job without a plan as to what would happen next. This year, I’m in a job that has been such a good change for me. I’ve now been at the Southwest School of Art as their Executive Assistant for a little over six months. I work with some really amazing people and am inspired by the creativity of this place. I may not be done with our Christmas shopping or have our Christmas cards out in the mail like I did by this point last year, but I am so grateful for all that has happened in the last 12 months.
December has been a whirlwind and I find myself needing to take time to savor this season and remind myself of the huge purpose of Christmas: the birth of our Savior. It’s so easy to get caught up in the commercial side of Christmas (hello, previous paragraph and my uncompleted Christmas shopping), which feels so cliche. I am thankful that Christ frees me from these petty worries and struggles and that we have had some really sweet moments this month celebrating the Christmas season. Last weekend was my favorite weekend of the year that started with the Trinity Christmas concert on Friday, and ended with the Redeemer Christmas party on Sunday. It was all extra special this year since my parents were in town to join us on these traditions for the first time. Yes, it was fun getting to sit in Trinity’s Laurie Auditorium together and listening to great music, but it was so special getting to serve alongside my parents at Redeemer Christmas boxes the next morning, sharing our traditional lasagna dinner as we decorated our tree in the evening, and having them come as our guests to the Redeemer Christmas party Sunday evening.
I hope you are all getting time to enjoy this Advent season. It sometimes means consciously ignoring the to-do list and muting all of the holiday commercials on TV, but it is so good for the soul.
While I get most of my dinner recipes from Pinterest, I still love making my way through a cookbook and having it propped up in the kitchen, with small stains of olive oil and melted chocolate. I’ve shared before that my mom and I are (slowly) going through Julia Child’s cookbook (have a few more recipes I need to post!), but another favorite chef of ours is Ina Garten. I first got her Foolproof book as a Christmas gift last year and I have to say, it has some of my favorite recipes (here, here, and here). Her new book Make It Ahead came out about a month ago, and I’ve already been able to try out a couple of dishes from this book. My mom is also an Ina Garten fan (she’s the one who got me these books in the first place) so while we were in Tucson for Thanksgiving, I convinced her to do an Ina themed dinner together, complete with a class white button down and red scarf to match the cover of Make It Ahead. We had a blast and Chip and my dad definitely enjoyed the food. For now, I think Foolproof is my favorite of these two cookbooks, but I know I’ll be using plenty from Make It Ahead.
We chose an appetizer and main dish from Foolproof and our dessert from Make It Ahead. Recipes are posted at the end, along with some pictures from Thanksgiving!
And now for some Thanksgiving pictures!
Tomato Crostini with Whipped Feta – From Foolproof
- 6 ounces good feta, crumbled
- 2 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
- 2/3 cup good olive oil, divided
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black epper
- 2 tablespoons minced shallots (2 shallots)
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic (2 cloves)
- 2 tablespoons good red wine venigar
- 2 pounds ripe heirlooms or cherry tomatoes, 1/2 inch diced
- 3 tablespoons julienned fresh basil leaves, plus extra for serving (we unfortunately bought some bad basil, so we had to skip this part)
- 20 to 25 (1/2 inch thick) diagonal baguette slices, toasted
- 2 tablespoons tasted pine nuts
- For the whipped feta, place the feta and cream cheese in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse until the cheeses are mixed. Add 1/3 cup of the olive oil, the lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and process until smooth.
- For the tomatoes, up to an hour before you’re serving, combine the shallots, garlic, and venigar in a medium bowl. Set aside for 5 minutes. Whisk in the remaining 1/3 cup olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Add the tomatoes, stir gently, and set aside for 10 minutes. Stir inthe basil and taste for seasnonings.
- To assemble the crostini, spread each slice of bread with a generous amount of whipped feta. With a slotted spoon, place the tomatoes on top. Put the crostini on plates and scatter with the pine nuts. Sprinkle with extra basil and serve.
Lobster Mac and Cheese – From Foolproof
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- Kosher salt
- 1 pound elbow macaroni
- 1 quart whole milk
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, dividied
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 4 cups grated Gruyere cheese (12 ounces)
- 2 cups grated extra-sharp Cheddar (8 ounces)
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 1/2 pounds cooked lobster meat, 1/2 inch diced
- 1 1 /2 cups fresh white bread crumbs (we used wheat bread) (5 slices, crusts removed)
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
- Add the oil to a large pot of boiling salted water, add the pasta, and cook al dente according the directions on the package. Drain well.
- Heat the milk in a saucepan, but don’t allow it to boil. In the large pot, melt 6 tablespoons of the butter and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring constantly with a whisk. Still whisking, add the hot milk and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until thickened and smooth. Off the heat, add the Gruyere, Cheddar, 1 tabelspoon salt, the pepper, and nutmeg and stir until the cheese melts. Stir in the cooked pasta and lobster. Pile the mixture into 6 to 8 (2-cup) gratin dsihes (we didn’t have these, so we just split it into two dishes).
- Melt the remaining 2 tabelspoons of butter, combine with the bread crumbsm and sprinkle on top. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the sauce is bubbly and the pasta is browned on top.
Fresh Apple Spice Cake – From Make It Ahead
- 1 cup chopped pecans
- 1/2 cup dark rum
- 1 cup golden raisins
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
- 3 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
- 3/4 cup vegetable oil
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 2 teaspoons grated orange zest (2 oranges)
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 1/2 pounds Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and 1/2-inch-diced (3 to 4 apples)
- Vanilla ice ceram
- Caramel sauce
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9×13 baking pan.
- Place the pecans on a sheet pan and toast them for 5 to 10 minutes, until lightly toasted. Set aside. Combine the rum and rasinins in a mslal bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and microwave for 60 seconds. set aside.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the granulated sugar, brown sugar, eggs, vegetable oil, vanilla, and orange zest on medium speed for 3 minutes. Sift the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves into a medium bolw. With the mixer on lowl, slowly add the flour mixture to the wet mixture, just until combined. Drain the raisins, discarding the liquid. With a rubber spatula, fold the rasins, pecans, and apples into the batter. Spread in thte prepared pan and msooth the top.
- Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Set aside to cool, cut into squares, and serve warm or at room temperature with a scooop of vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of warm caramel sauce.
Finally, it’s here! The last post on our vacation to California back in August! If you missed any posts, here are parts one, two, three, four, five, and six. I could have sworn I just wrote four posts. Whoa. Six? Maybe next time I’ll take fewer pictures and take less time to write about our trip. Mm, probably not.
Thursday was the last day of our vacation. We had one final breakfast at Oxbow (shocker, I know) and let me tell you, I really miss those C Casa breakfast tacos. I know San Antonio has breakfast tacos at just about any restaurant, but these were so different from what we have here. Don’t worry, fellow San Antonians, I won’t be turning down any bacon and egg tacos anytime soon. Unless, of course, C Casa opens up a location here in town.
After breakfast, we got the car loaded up and started the drive back to San Francisco. We made really good time before our flight back in the afternoon, so we were able to have one last meal at Tacolicious as well as do some sight seeing around Ghirardelli Square and Fisherman’s Wharf before heading to the airport.
In case you couldn’t tell from all of these pictures and somewhat lengthy posts, we had a really great time on this vacation. If you haven’t visited Northern California before, you should try to make it out there sometime! I promise you won’t be disappointed.
When my mom and I started planning this year’s family vacation to Napa, she asked if there was any winery Chip and I had visited during our anniversary trip last year that we would want to go back to. It was an easy answer for us: Frog’s Leap. We really enjoyed our time at this winery last October and appreciated how relaxing it was, how beautiful their grounds are, and how great their wine was (and more affordable than other wineries!).
Frog’s Leap was booked on Monday and Tuesday, so we made reservations for our tasting tour on Wednesday morning. We started the day off with breakfast at Oxbow again before we made the drive out to Frog’s Leap in Rutherford (where wines are known to be “dirtier”). We got there a little before our 10:00 tour started, so that gave us time to walk around the grounds, which seemed to have more flowers and garden space since our visit last year.
There was another family in our tour group and we had a great time touring the grounds and seeing their wine barrel room with them. With this being our third winery of the trip, it was really interesting to see how each of them differ in their wine making process, from whether or not they irrigate their vines (most don’t, when the vines have to “work” to get to water, you typically yield more quality vs quantity grapes), to how many times a single barrel is used to age wine.
Our tour guide encouraged us to try a couple of grapes from the vines while we were out on the property (not that we needed any encouragement). We were there a few days before the harvest started, so we were lucky the grapes were still out on the vines for us to see (and taste!).
Frog’s Leap is a great casual, friendly winery. Each of the wineries we went to were all unique and different, and we loved how accessible Frog’s Leap is in how laid back the tours are as well as in price. They even sell a few bottles at HEB every now and then; Chip and I like keeping our eye out for them so we can have some Frog’s Leap Cabernet on date nights at home.
After our tour at Frog’s Leap, we drove down the road to Mumm Napa, a sparkling wine winery. After enjoying the four vineyards of this trip, it was a lot of fun to end the trip on a little bit of bubbly. Our tour guide there was a lot of fun and walked us through all of the differences between the regular wine and sparkling wine making process.
After our tour at Mumm, we drove to Sonoma for lunch at The Girl and The Fig. We were pretty hungry by this point and the food did not disappoint. It was pretty easy to see why so many wine country blogs mention this restaurant. After our late lunch, we walked around downtown Sonoma for a little bit before driving back to our rental home in Napa.
Remember that trip to Napa we took last month? Don’t worry, the last couple of posts on this trip are on their way.
Like most of our mornings in Napa, we got the day started with breakfast at Oxbow Public Market. Over the course of our time in Napa, we loved spending our mornings and free evenings at Oxbow. There were plenty of little shops to check out and great places to grab food. There was actually a farmers market there on Tuesday morning, so we were able to have some fruit and pastries outside before heading back into Oxbow for breakfast tacos at C Casa.
After breakfast, we drove to Del Dotto Vineyards where we were scheduled to do their barrel tasting at their Napa location. Del Dotto is a family-owned winery that focuses on small production of premium wines. A large amount of the wine at Del Dotto is already “sold” by the time it is aging in a barrel. We were really excited to tour their cave where many barrels are kept and try the wine straight from these barrels. Our tour guide Adam was great and like Cristhian at The Hess Collection, he gave us some hearty samples as well as a few extra ones. Our favorite samples were when we could try the same type of wine aged in two different barrels and see how differently they turned out. If you want to have a great experience at any winery, do your homework. Learn the basics about the wine-making process so you can ask the guides questions and get more from the vineyard experience. Adam taught us a lot not only about the wine making process, but also tips for a better tasting. For example: don’t hold your wine glass around the bottom of the glass, but at the bottom of the stem (just hook your pinky underneath so it feels more stable). When you keep your hand around the actual glass part, you’re unintentionally warming the wine. He also encouraged us to share whatever it was we thought we were tasting in the wine. I was so surprised when a wine reminded me of breakfast sausage and he told me I was correct. I know it sounds weird, but it was tasty.
This is when I stopped taking pictures of our cave tour and barrel tasting. It was pretty dark in there and the amount of time I needed to stay still for the slower shutter speed on my camera in this lighting just wasn’t happening by the time we got through our first few samples. Looking back, we should have put my camera on auto focus after our first half hour there. Let’s just say that by the end of the tour, it was like we had had several full glasses of wine and our manual focus was a bit sub-par. Oops.
We left Del Dotto in very high spirits and decided that we now only do tastings from barrels. We’re such a classy bunch. We had been planning on grabbing lunch at Melted, but since we were pretty full from our wine session, we went back to the rental home to relax. Alex and Teresa had to fly back to Denver that evening, so after grabbing their suitcases, my parents dropped them off at a shuttle bus that would take them directly to the San Francisco airport. Chip and I said our goodbyes to Alex and Teresa at the house, and while my parents dropped them off at their shuttle, I took one epic wine-induced nap.
We took it easy and hung out in the cozy backyard when my parents got back and eventually went to dinner at Pearl. I really can’t give a thorough review on their food. I still wasn’t very hungry, but everyone else seemed to really enjoy their meal. we did some more walking after dinner and went to bed early for another full day in Napa on Wednesday.
Don’t worry, just two more posts to go!