Category Archives: Food

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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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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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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The One About Beer

My word – it feels like forever ago that I promised this post. I am choosing to blame the real world for my delinquency. When I returned to the real world last week it had all of this ‘stuff’ waiting for me. Isn’t that the worst part of returning from vacation? It is for me… especially this vacation because it means I’m required to do more than drink beer and eat chocolate (and read Game of Thrones).

Tasting Flight @ Cambrinus

Those that know me know I am NOT a beer girl. I never have been and I never thought I would be. Then I went to Belgium and had a lambic. If I had only known that lambics were the candy of beer (and pink!), I would have started consuming them years ago.  And the best part of Belgium is that they have lambics on every menu (along with other beers of course).

I’m in love with a lambic and I don’t care who knows it.

The first place we went for beers in Brugge was a fabulous pub (recommended by the Scotts) – Cambrinus. The menu had 49 lambic options and the lambic section was the smallest. If you have never had a lambic, it has heavy fruit undertones and cherry seems to be the most popular fruit. Danimal was in beer heaven here – over 400 options – not to mention that it has the infamous Westvleteren 12 (aka the ‘Westy 12’). Apparently Westy 12 is widely regarded as the “best beer in the world”.  It is pricey, but worth it because of the taste and the fact that it is nearly impossible to find.

Andrew atop the brewery

Located just south of Market Square, Danimal and I made a visit to De Halve Maan Brewery. This brewery has been in the family for four generations and in the same location. We have never been on a vacation where we didn’t visit at least one winery or brewery, and this one was definitely worth it. Andrew was a phenomenal tour guide and after the hour-long tour you are rewarded with a beer. Danimal deemed the winning beers from this brewery their Tripel and the Straffe Hendrick Quad. (ATL folks… you can find the quad at Green’s.)

Lord Danimal of Winterfell

Our final night in Brugge we headed over to the ‘oldest pub in Brugge’ – Herberg Vlissinghe. It may have been because I was immersed in Game of Thrones during this trip, but I felt like I walked into a pub in Winterfell. It is more removed location-wise than other places we had been and felt like we were in on a little secret. It isn’t big so make sure you go early to get a seat or just be fine waiting for a moment.

Proof that I drank beer – and enjoyed it.

I would like to say I have had a beer since I’ve been back, but I haven’t. It is only a matter of time though, my Aggies are playing LSU this weekend and I feel like it will be needed.

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Positively Medieval

After much debate, I am honored to present Brugge with the prestigious award  of “Cutest Town in the World”.  Myself, Danimal, our travel agent, Paul Henry, and the Scotts made up this elite judging panel. I know you don’t know all of them, but you can trust them – most of the time. The town has the majority of its medieval architecture still intact and that is what draws you in the moment you arrive.

Market Square

Brugge radiates from two large squares – the Market and Brug. From an urban design perspective, I love the activity around the squares. Unfortunately, these are also the most touristy parts of the City. Once you go and experience the squares, be sure to move along to other side streets and canals to find the better restaurants and better prices.

View from the top of De Halve Moon Brewery

Other parts of the town are touristy as well, but when touristy translates to chocolate shop after chocolate shop and pub after pub… I’m more than okay with that. We tried many of the chocolate shops throughout Brugge and we both agree that Chocolaterie Sukerbuyc is the best. The chocolate was the smoothest, had the best fillings and the most variety.

A rare moment not eating chocolate.

If you are able to tear yourself away from beer and chocolate long enough, there are incredible museums worth a visit. My personal favorite was the Picasso Expo and not just because I love art. More than any Picasso exhibit I’ve seen before, this one focused on the relationship he had with other artists, such as Miro and Matisse, and how they influenced each other.

Enjoying Picasso

If I begin to talk about the beer and churches now, this post would go on forever. So I will stop myself her because I may or may not need another beer.

The White Queen… on location

[Author’s Note: PLEASE let The White Queen on BBC be the next Downton Abbey – if for no other reason than we can say it was filming in Brugge while we were here.]

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Cheese, Glorious Cheese

Cheese. I mean, what isn’t better with cheese (especially goat cheese)? I know I swore I was done with tests and school once I passed my LARE exam a couple of weeks back, but hopefully we can all agree that Cheese School deserves an exception. On our final morning in Amsterdam, Danimal and I went to Reypenaer Cheese to eat cheese learn.

CHEESE!

Reypenaer Cheese has been in business for three generations- over 100 years. Basically, they know cheese. Our instructor was the fabulous Chrissie. Some of the more interesting factoids from Chrissie:

  • In the older cheese warehouse is 100 years old which is important for the flavoring. The cheese wheels within the warehouse must be turned twice a week and weigh 15 kilos. (I potentially have a new plan for getting better triceps cheese wheel flipping.)
  • The new warehouse holds over 120,000 cheese wheels. My only thought there is that is a lot of cheese.
  • There is a micro-climate in the cheese warehouse that includes opening and closing of shutters to ensure the appropriate taste for the cheese.
  • Reypenaer invented their own cheese guillotine.

Professor Chrissie from the House of Cheese

I’m not doing Chrissie’s explanation justice, but she gave me a whole new appreciation for cheese.

Now time for the hard part- cheese tasting. This was feaux-hard because let’s be honest… eating cheese is great – grading cheese is difficult. We tasted six different cheeses and they were paired with white, red and port wines. Another important cheese fact… cut that stuff thin, then it can better melt in your mouth. (It melts even faster with wine added…) My favorite cheese of the day was the Wyngaard Chevre. No surprise there since goat is my number one cheese, but I also loved the Reypenaer XO Reserve. It was smooth, but had remarkable sharpness to the flavor. Good news for everyone… you can order online.

Homework at cheese school is short answer and thankfully subjective.

At one point in time I may have gotten a bit overwhelmed about how awesome cheese school was.

Me (possibly too excited, spoken very quickly and hopefully quietly): All this cheese and wine might be making me drunk. I love this cheese… what do you think it smells* like?!?!

Danimal (calmly): cheese

* Part of our assignment was to say what the cheese smelled like other than cheese.

We graduated!

Now here is why you should never mess with the cheese or travel gods and instead blindly follow them. The girl sitting behind us in cheese school looked very familiar. At the end of class she mentioned the same. After exchanging where we were from, we realized that we met last summer when Colin and I were on our amazing speaking expedition that took us through Dubai. The world is flat, y’all. I encourage you to get and out go places so you can reunite with amazing people over things as fabulous as cheese.

Laura, my Dubai friend and fellow cheese graduate

Brace yourselves, we are now in Brugge which is a thousand kinds of amazing. Details to follow…

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Going Mainstream in Maui

The lack of regular travel for the first half of 2012 for me has been troubling. I’m itching to explore… thankfully, next weekend wedding travel season begins! Many of the trips this year will be to celebrate friends making it legal. And,  we are going to be heading to some cool destinations to witness these nuptials. In honor of wedding season, I’m featuring one of the most popular honeymoon destinations for U.S. travelers – Hawaii, specifically Maui. I fought Hawaii for years. It just seemed too mainstream… I mean if other, regular people liked it, would I? Then, I was convinced I should give it a shot. As it turns out, everyone was right – Hawaii is incredible.

It looks this perfect all.the.time.

From the gorgeous beaches to the sharp cliffs to the lush mountains to the volcanic formations, there is something for everyone. Now the rumors are true that the island is expensive, but you pay for what you get… especially food. Restaurant highlights include Mala Ocean Tavern (order the tuna), Sansei Seafood + Sushi (we went twice) and the unmatched, Mama’s Fish House.  Do not leave the island without going to Mama’s. And, if you like tuna at all, find a way to have it once a meal.

Cocktails @ Mama’s

Part of the reason I had hesitated to head to Hawaii is that I’m not really a beach gal. There is so much more to Hawaii than beaches. During our time there we snuba dived, hiked, zip-lined, went to a luau and even found a winery.

The closest I will get to a bathing suit shot…

Snuba diving is a combination of scuba and snorkel. In my opinion, a great test if you’ve enjoyed snorkeling to see if you might enjoy scuba diving. I do need to work on my underwater signaling… I mistook the ‘very poisonous’ sign for the ‘touch this’ sign.

A zip-line view

Zip-lining is one of the more adventurous ways to really see the island from above. Skyline Eco Adventures made this Danimal + my number one activity of the trip. Don’t wear a white t-shirt (you get dirty) and be sure to wear long enough shorts.

Hips don’t lie..

The luau was easily the most cliché meal, but you real need to check that box if you are going all the way to the islands. Do your research about luaus to find the least cheesy one possible. Cheesy or not, I will never be able to swallow fire or hula dance – my hips just don’t do that.

Thank you, Hawaii!

Whether you are celebrating wedded bliss or just need an escape, move Maui to the top of your list!

 

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