Tuesday, October 25, 2011

celebrate good times, come on.

Fall is a busy season for birthdays in my family. Within the span of about a month and a half, we have my birthday, Haylee's birthday, Michelle's birthday and Mama bear's birthday. As such, there is much to celebrate - cakes to be made, presents to wrap, streamers to hang and the list goes on. Since I feel three posts is a bit superfluous, I'm going to bring it all together into one nice little recap post for your reading pleasure.

Haylee's 5th birthday

Miss Haylee Grace celebrated her 5th birthday towards the beginning of the month. On her actual birthday, I had the pleasure of taking a little break from my work day to spend some time with the birthday girl and to give her a sweet little bouquet of bright pink flowers.

The day after her birthday was when the real celebration took place. She chose pizza for her birthday dinner (a girl after my own heart) and she specially requested a strawberry cake with white frosting and pink hearts. Well...she got a strawberry cake with white frosting and one pink heart (I didn't want to push my luck). As for her gift, I had spotted some sparkly pink Toms on a website about 3 months prior to her birthday and I knew right then and there that I absolutely had to get them for her and it killed me to wait until her birthday. Nevertheless, I held out and saved them for her actual birthday. I think I was way more excited than she was (who can compete with the Little Mermaid paraphernalia?), but I hope she will grow to love them.

As if that weren't enough, she followed up our family celebration with a very special day reserved for her and two of her best friends. They donned their best Disney princess costumes and had their hair done, their nails painted and their lips strawberry-glossed. She even experienced her very first rite of passage as a girl: the all-important ear piercing. Haylee selected a pair of sparkly crystal flowers and took the piercing like a champ. The excitement was capped off with festively frosted cupcakes from the Cupcake Lady. (As an aside, do you just die at the pic of the girls in their costumes pointing to the cupcakes in the case? The cute factor is through the roof.)

Paolo, Pizza and Pinot

As if I hadn't already celebrated enough, I was blessed with another opportunity to toast another year in my life with a pizza party and brown bag wine tasting. I had been dreaming and scheming of a make-your-own pizza party for years and my idea finally came to fruition a few weeks ago and let me assure you, it was everything I wanted and more. I made two types of dough earlier in the day (whole wheat and regular) and had each party goer bring their topping(s) of choice. We had a veritable smorgasbord of accoutrements to choose from, including mushrooms, feta, peppers, goat cheese, prosciutto, pineapple, spinach, pear, arugula, sundried tomatoes, pepperoni, mozzarella, canadian bacon and the list goes on. We had such a fantastic time creating our perfect pies and most of us went back for another round to create a second culinary masterpiece. Amidst all the pizza pie-making, we also conducted a brown bag tasting of Pinot Noirs. Notes were taken, price points were guessed and identities were revealed. It was so much fun and I highly recommend it for your next dinner party.

Despite being totally stuffed with pizza, we couldn't have a birthday celebration without something sweet. It just wouldn't be right. Be that as it may, we didn't have just any old dessert on the agenda...no, no. We caravanned over to Tillman's Roadhouse for homemade tableside s'mores. That's right, HOMEMADE -- meaning they make their own graham crackers, their own chocolate and their OWN marshmallows (in orange, coffee and maple flavors!!!). It was every bit as ridiculously awesome as it sounds and I give them not one, but two very enthusiastic thumbs up for taking on such a formidabble task. It was a sweet way to put an exclamation point on my final birthday celebration.

My "Seester's" Birthday Weekend

For the past several months, Michelle has been wishing for a birthday weekend in Austin where she could kick back, hit up her favorite restaurants and taste the grapes of Texas Hill Country. I was able to take her on this trip for her birthday, but sadly, our trip was not all fun and games as we had another very important reason for making the drive southbound, 35. Our dearest Mimi has recently been diagnosed with cancer and has declined treatment. Upon receipt of this news, we knew this trip was a must so that we might be able to spend some time with her as well. Our time with her was heavy, but sweet. She is our beloved grandmother and it is very tough to see her suffering. Nevertheless, I know it was a gift to Michelle to be able to see her on her birthday.

Apart from our time with Mimi, we did manage to celebrate Michelle's life and honor the blessing that she is in our lives. Per her request, we spent a lazy afternoon sipping on the grapes at Stonehouse Vineyard and enjoying the 85+ degree weather that is customary of fall in Texas.

Later that evening, we feasted on tapas at Malaga (authentic or not, it's still delicioso in my book). There was a duck flatbread, spinach/artichoke spread, fried goat cheese drizzled in honey, mahi-mahi skewers, piquillo peppers stuffed with goat cheese and spiced chicken with pita. We concluded our celebration with champagne-infused cocktails at the Eastside Showroom. We sipped our 20s-inspired beverages whilst listening to the prohibition era-style live music. This five-piece band was a feast for the senses. Not only did they look the part, but their sound made me feel like I was right back in the 1920s, sipping on a cool cocktail in a dimly lit speakeasy. Despite arriving home at an hour that would suggest we were still in college, Michelle and I still indulged in the double-chocolate chip brownies that I had made, but as soon as our heads hit the pillow, we were out like a light.

And there you have it. A month's worth of festivities rolled into one little blog burrito. Here's to beautiful years full of Christ's love and light.

Monday, October 24, 2011

cheers, chin-chin, salud: Cali day four

I began the last day of my whirlwind tour the only proper way a day of vacation should begin: with a dainty mug artfully filled to the brim with piping hot shots of the most delicious espresso ever to grace my thankful tastebuds. Being that we were staying in one of the most charming little town squares (Sonoma square to be precise), there was obviously the most charming little cafe at which we procurred said espresso. If only every day could begin in the same sublime fashion...I might actually pop out of bed after only 3 snoozes (instead of the standard 6-7).

After my caffeine jolt was properly savored, I took a little jaunt across the square to the boulangerie which was packed with every type of indulgent pastry, cookie, cake and bread that you could fathom. I was overwhelmed by my selections, as could be observed by the dozens of questions I asked the counter clerk. It took my upwards of five minutes to finally settle on a chocolate croissant and cinnamon shortbread cookie. Sadly, I have no pics of these sugary, buttery delights, but I did take a couple shots of the street as viewed from our hotel.

With pastries in hand, we said a reluctant goodbye to Sonoma and hello to Napa. Our drive through Napa could not possibly have been more dreamy (with the exception of poor navigation on my part and the close call we had with the gas gauge). I felt as though I had been transported to the sweeping, lush landscapes of the Tuscan countryside. It was tough for me to contain my excitement or keep my exclamations of enthusiasm to a minimum. With each vineyard we passed, I became more and more transixed on my surroundings and increasingly more convinced that I must take up residence in this glorious region. It was hard to believe this was part of the continental United States and I began to understand my mom's ardent adoration for all things California. If only the cost of living wasn't a 500% increase over and above my current expenses...

I literally could have driven back and forth across this stretch of greenery for hours, but time was of the essence, so we headed straight to Sterling Vineyards and I'm so glad we included this spot on our agenda because it was definitely an experience from start to finish. The winery grounds were perched on top of a "mountain" and we purchased our tickets at the base and rode the enclosed gondola (otherwise known as a ski lift) up to the actual building. The views were nothing short of spectacular. Even the cloudy skies coupled with the light mist couldn't dampen my spirits. At Sterling, we took the self-guided tour which walked us around the different buildings and had tasting stations set up at each point. The wine wasn't necessarily my ultimate in terms of taste, but the experience was like no other and I definitely recommend it based on that alone.

Sadly, it was after Sterling Vineyards that the harsh realization began to sink in - my trip was coming to a close and I only had time for one more stop. Knowing it was my last winery and wanting to end on a bang, we put the pedal to the metal and reached our destination with plenty of time to spare. My last hurrah was none other than Chandon Winery. How could I go to wine country and not sample champagne (sparkling wine technically), my signature drink? We wouldn't hear of it, so my traveling companions indulged my taste for the bubbly and we raised our glasses five times over and tasted all the fruits they had to offer. Our "pourer" was so incredibly friendly and chatted with us extensively. She even let us sample a sparkling red (not rose, red) which was surprisingly delightful. If my trip had to come to a close, I can't think of a more perfect way than by sipping on golden glasses of bubbly champagne and toasting to a wonderful trip, overflowing with God's beauty and love.

After Chandon, the girls dropped me off at the Napa bus station and I hopped on a bus headed to the airport. I slept most of the way and dreamt of lush vineyards, ripe grapes and flavorful wine. Here's to a wonderful inaugural tour of wine country: Cheers, chin-chin and salud!