All Hail the Mighty State

Given that today is Texas Independence Day, it seems appropriate to share my trip back home to the great state last weekend. The weekend was really the perfect build up to Independence Day, and the fact that I landed on Go Texan Day and National Margarita Day certainly didn’t hurt.

Love me a trail ride...

Love me a trail ride…

Go Texan Day kicks off the rodeo. Since 1952 trail riders have made their way into town with their horses and chuck wagons. What started with four men now has over 3,000 participants each year. The trail ride actually runs down the feeder roads of major Houston freeways juxtaposing 21st century life with our history. Joni and I saw them this year on our way in from the airport.

You can't have just one.

You can’t have just one.

I celebrated Go Texan Day and National Margarita Day with the Tatas and one of Houston’s best locations for margs – Lupe Tortilla. We had a side of fajitas with our strawberry margaritas and the flour tortillas made me homesick. I really do try to give TexMex outside Texas a shot, but the flour tortillas (and everything else) just don’t measure up. Fresh and hand-made are the only way to have ’em.

Mr. + Mrs.

Mr. + Mrs.

I was in town over the weekend because my brilliant, beautiful cousin Taylor was marrying the fabulous Justin Price. The reception was at what I can only describe as one of Houston’s finest restaurants – Brennan’s. Brennan’s was almost lost to fire during Hurricane Ike, but it is now back better than ever. The turtle soup and pecan crusted mahi-mahi are not to be missed.

Bungalows of Brunch

Bungalows of Brunch

The weekend wrapped at a family brunch the next morning at Baba Yega. (Almost everyone made it, some had a case of the wine flu…) Located in one of Houston’s most eclectic neighborhoods, Montrose, the connected houses create a breakfast buffet wonderland. Really, the whole weekend was a Houston wonderland spent at the places and with the people I love most. Until next time, H-town… until next time.

 

 

Photo credits: The delicious margarita image is courtesy of  Marmalade Chainsaw.

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¡Viva NashVegas!

What do you call a weekend filled with snow, speakeasys, girlfriends and frozen strawberry salad? I call it Nashville. The relaxed class of this city makes it easy to want to return time and time again. And I swear my unhealthy obsession with ABC’s hit show Nashville had nothing to do with my excitement for this trip. Nothing.

Waking up to Winter

Waking up to Winter

The Bluebird Café is prominently featured in the show, but I fell in love with the Bluebird when I first moved to Atlanta. At midnight on CMT they would show previously recorded performances – it showcases  songwriters better than any other venue I’ve experienced. The best part… it is in a nondescript strip mall. Only in Nashville.

You could drive right by and miss it.

You could drive right by and miss it.

I headed to Nashville to visit one of my very first friends in Atlanta, Erica, who has since moved with her family there. Erica has an almost three-year old and a three-month old and STILL knows all the cool places to go. Moms are hip y’all. She made reservations at Midtown Café. (The trout was insane.) From there went to a secret bar – the Patterson House. I have quite the crush on this place. No sign outside, just a velvet rope to let you know there is something behind the doors worth waiting for.

Rocket Fuel with an Orange Twist

Rocket Fuel with an Orange Twist

After nearly drowning in bow ties and tweed jackets, we made it behind the curtain. What awaited us was hand crafted cocktails, mixologists in speak easy apparel, and walls lined with book shelves – my nerdiest fantasies were coming true. And the second drink I ordered was possibly straight rocket fuel. This place doesn’t fool around. And neither does Nashville, you really should visit.

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What? No GameDay?

Is it just me or did this morning feel odd? No Herbie or Dez. My whole Saturday was a bit off. I guess you could say I have a bit of a college football hangover.  What was really great though was being in Anniston, Alabama the morning after the Crimson Tide claimed their third title in four years and the state brought it home for the fourth year in a row. I don’t care who you cheer for, that is impressive.

Four more years...

Four more years…

The last time I was in Anniston was the week leading up to the SEC Championship (aka the actual national championship).  These folks were amped. This trip they were in a state of delirious relief. It is similar to Thanksgiving. In the weeks before, you fantasize about the meal to the point of sheer giddiness. Whereas the afternoon of, over consumption has led you to a state of exhausted relief. To celebrate we went to see my favorite ladies at the DeSoto Pastime Center where they gave samples of the peanut butter chocolate cake for the next day.  Y’all know I love free samples. The celebration continued the following day at Brad’s BBQ. Has there ever been a celebration in the South that doesn’t involve BBQ? Not to mention the fact you just have to say ‘okra’ is the side. Everyone already knows that it is fried.

I declare this the best restaurant slogan ever.

I declare this the best restaurant slogan ever.

And, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that part of my celebrating was because my Ags and Johnny Football were the only team to beat the Crimson Tide this season. Gig em, Ags.

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2013 is Happening

In spite of the Mayan prediction and yet another Christmas with the fam,  Danimal and I survived and will be ringing in 2013 tonight with friends. But, we really threw down the weekend of December 15, just in case that was the last weekend on earth.

Spend time here. Check.

Spend time here. Check.

We went to where all the end of the world rumors began, Tulum, Mexico, for the nuptials of our wonderful friends, Kristen and David. Having grown up in Texas, I have vacationed quite a bit in Mexico. And, I can say with confidence that Tulum is the best destination I’ve been to in the country. Perhaps it is the lack of all-inclusive resorts and the plethora of boutique hotels, but this place has authentic charm.

I'm moving to Playa Azul.

I’m moving to Playa Azul.

We stayed at Playa Azul, which also happened to be the location of the welcome party. Every room is different and there are a mix of beach and jungle view rooms. The food and service was personal and kind. (Note: This doesn’t mean fast… remember you’re in Mexico.)

Also, apparently pinatas are for adults now. Awesome.

Also, apparently pinatas are for adults now. Awesome.

Kristen and David are my travel idols. One of their favorite travel activities is scuba diving. That is how they initially discovered Tulum and they wanted their guests to have this experience as well. While we weren’t certified to scuba, they arranged for the wedding party and our loves to have a guided snorkeling tour of the Cenotes.

Cenotes Dos Ojos: "To the Baticueva!"

Cenotes Dos Ojos: “To the Baticueva!”

This is one of the cooler travel experiences I have had. It ranks up there with baby lions. And, I should preface this by saying that I don’t particularly enjoy snorkeling. The cenotes were formed when limestone bedrock collapsed exposing groundwater underneath. You aren’t there to look for marine life, but the underground stalactites and stalagmites are like nothing else I’ve seen.

The #1 thing my mouth tasted.

The #1 thing my mouth tasted.

I don’t want to forget the food on this trip. We could have done nothing but eat and that would have satisfied me. From the brick oven pizza at La Siesta to the steak and fish at Casa Banana, it would have been impossible to starve. But the hands down award winning bite of the trip, was the ceviche at Ak’iin.

No money. No problems.

No money. No problems.

I want to say a huge thank you to Kristen and David for allowing their wedding to be an adventure that included all of us.  And, when I say included all of us, I mean everyone. These cats wondered down the beach in between the ceremony and reception. I tend to think they are less stressed out than I am.

The Danimal and I lovin' us some Tulum.

The Danimal and I lovin’ us some Tulum.

The best thing about the world not ending on December 21 is that you can visit Tulum. Perhaps it can be one of your resolutions for 2013.

Photo credit: I don’t have a fancy underwater camera so the picture of the cenotes are from a cool website called BlooSee: Take the Ocean Further.

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Grown Up Christmas List

I love giving gifts which is one of the many reasons I enjoy the holiday season. I know there are some of you who haven’t purchased gifts yet – Dad, it is time to start. If you still need some ideas, here are a few inspired by the incredible places I was able to experience in 2012 – some for the first time.

For the Home

While I crave NOLA for the food, this year I discovered a fantastic local artisan that creates beautiful pottery. Pots-a-lot Pottery is located on a quintessential New Orleans street – Magazine, but you can also order online. It should be just fine as long as you don’t bake it above 4,000 degrees.

It is almost too pretty to use

It is almost too pretty to use

For the Taste Buds

Gourmet tasting baskets make great personal gifts. This year in particular we were able to experience so many good eats, I almost have a hard time knowing where to start.

Cheese, Glorious Cheese

It probably won’t make it in time for Christmas, but you can always start the trend of New Year’s gifts. The cheese from Reypenaer’s, in every variety, was some of the most flavorful I have ever had.

CHEESE!

CHEESE!

Some Drink

We visited De Halve Maan Brewery in Belgium and you can find some of their tasty brews in the states – in particular, Straffe Hendrick. (If you live in Atlanta, you can get this at Green’s.)

Where the magic happens

Where the magic happens

For the Experience Lovers

Vino

Few things relax me like good wine. Head up to the North Georgia mountains, for a tasting at Blackstone.

Good view + good wine

Good view + good wine

Shoot the Hooch

I grew up floating the Guadalupe River in Texas, but in Georgia they call it shootin’ the hooch. Head up to Helen for a relaxing ride.

Tube Time

Tube Time

For the Person Who Has Everything

American Red Cross

Y’all know how badly I want to live in New York.  The City and Jersey Shore are American treasures and landmarks that still need our help after Hurricane Sandy hit this October. Make a donation to aid the relief efforts in these states so they can come back better than ever.

bryant park

I Heart New York

Wounded Warrior

On a recent trip to Alabama, I got to see firsthand the meticulous detail that goes into the combat vehicles that protect our troops. However, many who return home have made incredible sacrifices and their lives have been forever altered due to injuries (seen and unseen) on the front lines. Support our troops this holiday season with a gift to the Wounded Warrior Project.

Heroes!

Heroes!

Happy shopping and Merry Christmas!

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Photo Friday: Perfection

I mean - gorgeous.

I mean – gorgeous.

It is 47 degrees in Atlanta right now, but the Danimal and I are here. Thank you, Tulum. Thank you.

(More details to follow when we return.

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An Order of Warm + Fuzzy. Fried, Please.

There are some places you visit that just make you feel warm and fuzzy. That’s why I love living in the South – you get that feeling a lot here. And generally speaking, the smaller the town the more warm and fuzzy it gets. People say things like “I know you don’t want a salad. You’re my cheeseburger baby.” Only in the South…

Downtown Anniston

Downtown Anniston

I’ve been in Anniston, Alabama this past week for work and dined with the team at Damn Yankees on downtown’s Noble Street. Don’t let the name confuse you, this place serves serious southern food.

The North turned South

The North turned South

The special was a butterflied filet, stuffed with cheese, beer-battered, fried, and smothered with sausage gravy. When my new colleague, Betty, ordered this, even the waiter admitted that he had not been brave enough to try it. That is when you know you made a strong order. Well played, Betty. (And, she said it was incredible.) My shrimp and grits were perfect, too. The grits were precisely how I love them- melting in my mouth.

Told you this was serious.

Told you this was serious.

We were in Anniston to work on a project for the Anniston Army Depot. When I initially learned about the project, I was intrigued. I had never worked on a project quite like this and was looking forward to the challenge. And, working at an army depot… what on earth would I wear? Clearly this could be an opportunity to expand the wardrobe.

The closest I will ever get to working for the CIA.

The closest I will ever get to working for the CIA.

While I can’t talk about the project, I’m pulling a sentence from Wikipedia, that any of you could access, because you all need to know about the important work they do.

“The depot is designated as the Center of Technical Excellence for the M1 Abrams Tank and is the designated candidate depot for the repair of the M60 Patton tank, AVLB, M728, M88 Recovery Vehicle and M551 combat vehicles. During the Iraq War, over 1,000 M1 tanks, howitzers and other armored vehicles were stored awaiting re-engineering.”

Our troops and their families have given so much. And I am so proud to say the people who work at the Depot- at EVERY level- work incredibly hard to ensure they are safe. No detail is too small to be important.

I’m already looking forward to seeing my new Anniston friends again in February.

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