A Day at the Farm

Boggy Creek Farm

Today we took a trip to Boggy Creek Farm where they were hosting the Green Corn Project’s “Grow Locally, Cook Globally” annual fall festival. The Green Corn Project is a volunteer-run organization that helps Central Texans grow their own organic vegetables by installing gardens for elderly, low-income and disabled community members, as well as elementary schools, community centers and shelters in underserved areas of Austin.

Today’s festival featured some of our favorite Austin eateries, including Olamaie and Odd Duck, plus some new must-try spots like Vox Table and Delicious. Olamaie served up blue corn cornbread topped with creamed collards — yum! And Vox Table had me with their chickpea fritters topped with pickled pumpkin, which I was told takes days to pickle. My libation of choice was a honeysuckle lemonade which went down way too easily.

Nora, of course, was partial to Dolce Neve’s gelato. She was told she had to finish her slice from Bola Pizza first. Such a rough life this girl leads; you have to eat your pizza before you get gelato.

Ice-cream eatin'

After she got her fill of pizza and gelato, she wanted to see the animals. I think she had pigs and cows in mind, since I was really talking up our visit to the farm, but luckily they had some chickens.

Chickens

It was a good day. A little hot for almost Halloween, but the sun was shining so I can’t complain. Our bellies were full and satisfied and we got to help a good cause, to boot!

Bike at Boggy Creek Farm

 

New Orleans-style Snowballs in Austin, Texas

Sweet Caroline's

After a year and a half of living in Southwest Austin and frequently passing this cute little food truck in Circle C, we finally made a stop. We were hot and sweaty after an afternoon at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and anything frozen sounded delightful (Weight Watchers, be damned!).

Sweet Caroline’s serves up New Orleans-style snowballs, and, despite my former days as a Hawaiian shaved ice maker (Hawaiian in Southern Illinois…), I had no idea what a “New Orleans-style” snowball was. According to the folks who run Sweet Caroline’s, snowballs are light, fine and fluffy, whereas traditional snow cones are coarse, crunchy and granular. Snowballs absorb the flavor instead of draining to the bottom of the cup like a snow cone. And this place is so legit that they even buy all of their machinery and flavors from local New Orleans businesses.

Amazing Grace at Sweet Caroline's

I had the Amazing Grace: peach, strawberry, vanilla and cream. And it was amazing. I’m not a snow cone fan, but I am now a snowball fan.

We won’t be waiting a year and a half until our next visit!

How Do You Take Your Coffee?

 

Coffee creamer

I’ve been taking little steps to remove as many chemicals from my daily life as possible. If I can’t pronounce the ingredients, I probably shouldn’t be putting it in or on my body. Of course, there are plenty of exceptions to this. I’m sure wine gums, my favorite candy ever, have plenty of stuff that’s bad for me but I’m going to keep on eating them. Baby steps.

One of my first vices to go was my beloved Coffeemate. And sadly, I hate to report that my morning coffee just isn’t the same without it. Rest in peace, hazelnut creamer… I’ve known for a long time that it’s oh-so bad for you (just Google it if you’re curious), but it’s oh-so delicious. It was really hard to cut ties, but I did it about two months ago. You know how they say it takes 21 days to break a bad habit and then you’re magically “cured” of said habit? That’s not the case with Coffeemate. I still miss it. But I haven’t caved. I have, however, tried lots of alternatives and here’s what I think of them:

Whole milk just isn’t as creamy, and I long for the sweetness of Coffeemate. It’s doable, but not remotely as tasty, obviously.

Vanilla almond milk is a step up from whole milk. But again, not as creamy, not as sweet.

Agave combined with the whole or almond milk helps a little, but the sweetness is more of a sugary sweetness, not whatever the sweetness is in the crack cocaine-like Coffeemate. Agave with almond milk is my go-to at the moment, but I’m still unsatisfied.

Kalona Half & Half was one of the two “healthier” options I decided to sample on a recent trip to Whole Foods. It’s creamy, but it didn’t wow me enough to trump almond milk or even whole milk.

SO Delicious Hazelnut Coconut Milk Creamer was the other option from Whole Foods. This one was my least favorite. Perhaps the “dairy free” label should’ve tipped me off, but this one was overpoweringly sweet and oddly flavored. I can’t put my finger on whether I found it to be tart, sour or bitter. All I can tell you is that I threw this one away before finishing it.

I’ve seen plenty of recipes on Pinterest to make my own creamer. Honestly, it seems like a lot of work for something that won’t taste as good as the real deal. According to my sister, she tried one of those recipes and it wasn’t any good; ergo, I won’t like it, either.

How do you take your coffee? Are you a badass black coffee drinker? Do you still use Coffeemate or something equally terrible? Sugar? Milk? Open to ideas here!

My 3 Favorite Wineries in Oregon’s Willamette Valley

Pinot Noir at Torii Mor

Pretty much the whole reason we chose to go to Oregon for our anniversary trip was wine. We went to Napa for our first anniversary and had a delicious time, but we’re more pinot people than anything else, so the Willamette Valley seemed like the perfect place to visit. And it was.

We tasted wine at seven or so wineries over the course of about two days which may seem like a little or a lot, depending, but it seemed just right to us. After all, we had to fit in ample nap time at our home away from home, the glorious Black Walnut Inn.

I like wine a lot, but a wine connoisseur I am not — nor is KP. We’re very much the types who know what we like but you definitely won’t find us waxing poetic about tannins, oxidation or balance. Maybe that’s why, near the end of our trip, I decided that everything tasted like cherries. Leggy, approachable cherries.

Here are my three favorite places where we sipped — and rarely spit — in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

1. Anderson Family Vineyard

Our first stop was Anderson Family Vineyard in Newberg. It was highly recommended by our concierge at The Nines in Portland and he made the required reservation for us. We like these smaller vineyards that compel you to join their club — because you can’t really find the wines elsewhere. And I loved the Anderson family’s story; operating a vineyard was their lifelong dream and they’re living it. Cliff and Allison, the husband/wife duo behind Anderson Family Vineyards, are very hands-on; she conducted our tasting (and turned me back onto pinot gris!) and he was there, running around doing things a busy vintner does, I guess. Their wines — pinot noir, dijon chardonnay and pinot gris — were so good that of course we had to join the club. Now if only it would cool off in Austin, we’d get our first shipment…

This is the picturesque tasting room at Anderson Family Vineyard.
This is the picturesque tasting room at Anderson Family Vineyard.
And this is the unspoiled view...
And this is the unspoiled view…

2. Torii Mor Winery

One of the cool things about Black Walnut Inn is that they provided a list of their favorite local wineries, categorized in different ways. If memory serves, Torii Mor was classified as a “hidden gem” or the like. It was one of my favorite wineries we visited because it was so uniquely beautiful. Yes, every single winery we visited was picturesque; it’s hard not to be in that part of the world. But Torii Mor was really memorable — and the wine was amazing.

I love the story of this winery’s name. “Torii” refers to ornate gates often seen at the entrance of Japanese gardens. “Mor” means earth. Together, it is “beautiful gate to the earth.” There are “gates” like this all over the property.

IMG_3021

Torii Mor was probably the quietest, most peaceful tasting room experience we had while in Oregon. There is a small Japanese garden adjacent to the tasting room, and there’s a huge wrap-around deck on the back of the property which is nestled in the trees.

3. Archery Summit Winery

Archery Summit felt like the black label of all of the wineries we visited. Very high end. Very pricey club. Very exclusive feeling. We tasted several pinot noirs and I was on my best behavior.

This is what five years looks like.
This is what five years looks like.

Other Wineries We Visited

Erath Winery

Erath is pretty common. We’ve bought it at Whole Foods and HEB. It’s good pinot noir. But the tasting experience there compared to Anderson and some of the others felt a little more “corporate,” for lack of a better way of putting it. Less of a personal touch, more robotic. As one of our wino friends said, it’s the Mondavi of Willamette. Still, the wine was wonderful and the scenery even more so.

White Rose Estate

I don’t remember exactly how we stumbled upon White Rose. I think we went because it was close to Archery Summit, and we were more fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants on this trip. If we visited a tasting room and there were others closeby, we checked them out, too, usually. The wine was fine, but my favorite part of White Rose was the cute little tasting room. It was this little log cabin-like building, and it was really dark and cozy inside.

White Rose Estate Tasting Room

There was lavender everywhere. Seriously, Willamette couldn’t be more picturesque if it tried.

White Rose Estate

Durant Vineyards

Durant Vineyards and Red Ridge Farms is also near White Rose and Archery Summit; I think that’s how we ended up in that area to begin with. Everyone in the area raved about the farm and the olive oil and we wanted to do some gift shopping and get some snacks, so that’s where we went. The tasting room wasn’t even on the agenda, but since we were already there, how could we not?

Red Ridge Farms is a really cool little place. It’s part nursery where I suppose locals go to buy plants and gardening stuff, part gift shop where you can do olive oil tastings (and buy olive oil in every variety imaginable) and buy luscious lavender lotions and bath salts, kitchen stuff, oh, and picnic accoutrements to pair with your wine tasting on their lawn.

Red Ridge Farms

They also have these amazing little ice-cream sandwiches. (He even let me have a bite.)

In his happy place

Seven of Hearts

Seven of Hearts was another, well we’re already here tasting. We went to Carlton to check out Republic of Jam (and I’m sorry, but calling that little shop a “tasting room” that has “flights” of sweet and savory bites is a bit of a stretch… we were told we could sample whatever jars of jam they had — in little cups) and Seven of Hearts has a tasting room just a few doors down, so in we went. Full disclosure: we went in so I could use the bathroom, and doing the tasting was my way to not feel guilty about that. Surprise, surprise… the joke was on us. Because we walked out with a case of wine headed our way.

I did a relatively good job of jotting down notes on all of the wines that I liked. Just now, I wanted to share which Seven of Hearts it was that sucked me in (because one of the whites was so good, I couldn’t resist… the 2013 Viognier & Roussanne?). But I have no idea where said notes are. See, a true wine connoisseur wouldn’t be so callous. Thank goodness we have some shipments coming so I can remember what it was that I liked so much.

By the end of our trip — I can’t believe I’m going to admit this — KP and I both needed a little bit of a wine break. You know those things you see on Pinterest about what to do with leftover wine? I always scoff. Who ever has leftover wine?! Well, after all wine all day for consecutive days, I needed to get some vodka in the mix, or something. And I can only take so much serious wine talk for so long. By our final day in the valley, everything was leggy and approachable as far as we were concerned.

Where I Ate in Portland, Oregon

KP and I are fresh off of three days in Oregon for our fifth anniversary and I’m still dreaming about the weather, the scenery, the wine, the coffee and the FOOD. We spent time in both Portland and the Willamette Valley — a good mix of city and country. And as is par for the course for us, we certainly didn’t go hungry. Here’s where we ate in Portland.

Portland Penny Diner

Portland Penny Diner

KP and I are big fans of Top Chef. It took me ten seasons to finally get annoyed with some of the ridiculously hokey challenges, so I went on hiatus for season 11, but tuned in again for 12. That’s how I heard about Portland Penny Diner (and Imperial next door) — because Chef Doug Adams is the Executive Chef and he was on the show. We knew we wanted to eat at one of his two restaurants and although Imperial probably would’ve been my top pick, we had limited time. So it was breakfast at Portland Penny Diner.

The breakfast menu consists of a handful of sandwiches and baked goods. Both KP and I had the New Yorker sandwich — sausage, bacon, egg and cheese on a parker house roll. The roll was seriously the best part. So soft and perfect. My latte was perfectly made, too, and it was nice to actually be in a climate where I could enjoy a hot coffee instead of one on ice (thanks, Texas).

Latte at Portland Penny Diner

Donut Byte Labs Food Cart

I need to be 100% transparent here. Yes, we visited the Donut Byte Labs Food Cart after breakfast at Portland Penny Diner. But the visit didn’t immediately follow breakfast, so don’t judge us. Also, as you’re about to learn, they’re mini donuts.

After the diner, we walked around a bit. Went down to the river where there were lots of homeless folks and lots of joggers and bikers. We did a little shopping. And then we went back to the hotel to figure out what else to do. The concierge walked us through his map of Portland and then I heard, “Voodoo Doughnuts” and quickly remembered that was a place on my list! He concurred — a must-visit. Such naive tourists we were. We just leisurely walked over to Voodoo Doughnuts like we were going to saunter right in and order a doughnut and savor it. Then we saw the line out the door, wrapped around the side of the building. And it wasn’t moving. At all. They need to get the Soup Nazi in there to speed things up a bit.

So we walked up to the Chinatown gates and turned around. We were bummed. We were totally craving doughnuts. After all, it had probably been a whole two hours since those New Yorkers. And then I saw this adorable little food truck.

Donut Byte Labs

Genius location on their part. Why yes, I think I’ll park my doughnut truck right around the corner from the most popular doughnut shop in town. I’m sure there are doughnut aficionados who prefer one or the other, but Donut Byte Labs seemed pretty ideal to me. Mini doughnuts! They are the future, I’ve learned.

Mini Donuts are the Future

While some people may see the minis as a great way to get just a little bit of that doughnut taste they’re craving, KP and I like to go big or go home (again, Texas). So we ordered a half-dozen minis — to share, of course.

Clockwise starting top left: Salted Caramel, Peanut Butter Cup, Bacon Maple, French Toast, Chocolate Sprinkle, Burnside Cream
Clockwise starting top left: Salted Caramel, Peanut Butter Cup, Bacon Maple, French Toast, Chocolate Sprinkle, Burnside Cream

Every single one of those minis was delicious. My favorite was probably… oh gosh… all of them? My least favorite was the Chocolate Sprinkle. It was good, but a little basic for my refined palette.

Departure Restaurant + Lounge

Departure Restaurant + Lounge

Again with our Top Chef fandom… also on season 12 was Chef Gregory Gourdet. KP wanted him to win pretty much from the first episode, I think. I liked him (but was glad Mei won), and I am really into Asian flavors so I was game to try Departure, which is where he is the Executive Chef.

The sole photo I took at Departure was in the bar, which takes up a huge chunk of the restaurant’s space on the 15th floor of The Nines luxury hotel. The photo doesn’t do it justice, but the room is filled with skylights so it’s very bright and airy, and the walls are covered with map murals with labels like Sea of Lust and Daydream Mountain. It’s a cool place but that’s clearly what it’s meant to be — cool, hip, trendy. Our waitress was truly fabulous but the rest of the service was so awkwardly clunky and it was like amateur hour at the hostess stand. The food was good but nothing memorable. I don’t have much to say about Departure other than that it was meh.

Portland is such a foodie destination. There are so many great restaurants, many of which really focus on all of their incredible local bounty. And there are food carts galore! Their “Keep Portland Weird” slogan isn’t the only similarity I see to Austin.

9 Things I Learned From a Juice Cleanse

Last weekend I attempted a three-day juice cleanse.  Less than 24 hours into the cleanse I called it quits. But nearly one day of cleansing taught me plenty.

  1. Preparation is key. Prepare the night before you start the cleanse. On the first day of my cleanse, I had to go to the grocery store because I was missing a few ingredients for my breakfast juice. Then I had to clean the kitchen because we still had a few stray dinner dishes in the sink. The night before, ensure that you have all of the produce you need. Clean your kitchen so that it’s free of clutter and set up an area to juice. Get out your juicer and put it together, and pull out any extra containers you might need. While I love our Breville juicer, the pitcher that comes with it is relatively small and doesn’t even contain some recipes, so I had to use a larger pitcher and juice in batches.
  2. Prep your produce properly. Many fruits and vegetables simply need to be washed before they’re fed into the juicer. Others need more preparation. The Reboot plan that I followed has a handy guide that outlines how fruits and veggies should be prepped for juicing.
  3. Juicing is expensive. And it’s even more expensive if you buy the organic variety of the dirty dozen. I now understand why some people choose to buy juice cleanses rather than prepare them themselves.
  4. You’re consuming copious amounts of produce. And a lot of it will likely be kale and other fibrous fruits and veggies. As my juicing guru friend told me, prepare to get cozy with your bathroom.
  5. Hangry is a real thing. This is not rocket science. Hunger causes irritability.
  6. Juicing is not toddler-friendly. It’s probably not baby-friendly, either. Despite the fact that I was cleansing and hangry, I still had a two-year-old daughter to care for and entertain. Luckily, my husband was home, too, and it was nice to have an extra set of hands and brain power to keep little miss entertained. (Also, thank you to The WigglesThomas the Train and Sesame Street.)
  7. Busy is good. An old colleague juiced semi-regularly, and she said it was important to keep busy. Of course, as a single, child-free woman, “busy” to her meant scheduling massages, napping, going to the movies and other amazing activities — when cleansing. I imagine a massage would’ve felt lovely on Friday afternoon, hours before I decided to kaibosh my three-day cleanse. Obviously, the thought is to keep yourself so busy that you don’t really think about eating. Distract yourself.
  8. You will lose weight. I lost nearly two pounds in less than a 24-hour period. I’m not condoning a juice cleanse for weight loss purposes, as it’s not maintainable, but I suspect you will shed a pound or two.
  9. It’s okay to quit. Not everyone is cut out to solely drink juice for three days. I’m not. I beat myself up about it for a tiny bit of time, but I’m totally over it. And now I know.

My Three-Day Cleanse Diary

Remember that three-day cleanse I wrote about last week? I wish I was writing to tell you that I powered through the cleanse and have beautiful, glowing skin and so much energy that I don’t know what to do with myself. Spoiler alert: this is not what I’m writing to share with you. The cleanse was a bit of a… disaster. I almost made it through one full day, but not quite.

Day 1:

I woke up a little before 7 a.m. and, remembering that we didn’t have any sweet potatoes for our breakfast juice, decided to run to the grocery store before traffic got crazy. I got the sweet potatoes and the rest of the fruits, veggies, tea and coconut water that we’d need for the first two days of our three-day cleanse. I paid around $90. For this:

3-day juice cleanse

Around 8 a.m. I had a cup of hot water with lemon. I’ve heard people rave about this and had never tried it, but it’s not bad. It’s quite… cleansing. By 9:30 a.m. I still wasn’t particularly hungry — I don’t ordinarily eat breakfast, just have coffee — but I had my breakfast juice: peach delight. I figured I should have it then so that I could enjoy my coconut water as my mid-morning snack before lunchtime. Yes, I looked forward to a coconut water treat. I enjoyed my “breakfast.” The peach delight is one of my favorites. It’s satisfying and has a yummy, sweet taste.

By 11:30 a.m., I was tired. Not hungry, per se — tired. My day normally starts with two cups of coffee. I need the caffeine. My body was struggling. So I decided it was a good time to enjoy my coconut water.

Between noon and 1:30 p.m.  I started feeling super hangry. Full-fledged hunger hit me. And I was oh-so tired. I prepped our green juices for lunch and dinner and damn, it’s a lot of work. Now I see why people bitch about cleaning the juicer, and better yet, why people just buy juice cleanses. I had kale everywhere and the last thing I wanted to do was drink a juice made of it.

Around this point, I came to the conclusion that juicing was a lot like breastfeeding (my brain could’ve been off due to lack of caffeine and the rest of the garbage I put into my body on a daily basis). The two are quite similar in that you put in all this effort — both are a production — you clean up the mess and you just want to take a nap, but you can’t. Because you have to start the process all over again. It’s exhausting.

By 1:30 p.m. I told KP that I thought I was finished. Then I drank my green juice and took a nap. Somehow bits of kale from the soles of my feet ended up in our bed. I hoped by some miracle I would wake up with more energy and feel renewed, with a desire to drink my afternoon snack, my dinner and my dessert juices. Nope. I woke up with a headache and hunger. The detox-like part of the cleanse?

Despite being angry with the world, I also felt enlightened. After sitting on the couch for about five minutes, contemplating, I decided my cleanse was over. Not even 24 hours into the three-day cleanse and I was over it. I came to grips with the fact that I am simply not cut out for this.

With what did I break my cleanse? Strawberries. And then it went downhill from there… KP fell off the wagon later that night, too. Misery loves company.

Day 2:

I woke with a spring in my step, not kale on my heels — a spring in my step. I don’t know if it was because I had nearly a full day of cleansing under my belt, or because I kicked the cleanse to the curb — I’m betting on the latter.

I thoroughly enjoyed my usual two cups of coffee — with hazelnut creamer — for breakfast. It paired nicely with a slice of homemade zucchini bread.

But rather than go back to normal, KP and I decided we’d do what I’ve done before — replace one meal per day with a juice. It’s not remotely as intense as all juice and nothing but juice all day, but it’s still a good way to incorporate a healthy juice into the day. We had a green juice for lunch and I actually felt pretty great afterwards. Or maybe I felt great going into it since my day started off with a solo trip to Target. Either way, I felt good.

We went all out and really broke the cleanse that evening — dinner at Maudie’s, one of our favorite local Tex-Mex places.

A wise woman pointed out: avocado juice, tomato juice, lime juice, agave juice
A wise woman pointed out: avocado juice, tomato juice, lime juice, agave juice. Not pictured: KP’s raspberry juice.

Day 3:

By day three, life was back to normal — that is, our new normal with one juice per day. Feels more manageable. More realistic.

I can’t imagine how I would’ve made it through three days of straight juicing. Admittedly, I’m a little bummed. I thought I had more will power. But I knew things were going downhill when, on day one, I compared less than 24 hours of cleansing to what a drug addict in detox might feel like. Perhaps a bit dramatic. Still, I’m glad that I gave it a shot and knew when to concede.

Girlfriend Getaway in Los Angeles

California Dreamin'

After I gave birth to Nora, KP suggested that I sign up for this motherhood class offered by the hospital. It sounded like an awful idea to me. I have no idea why I thought that — maybe the hormones? I was certain it was going to be some stereotypical new-mom gathering where we held hands and sang “Kumbaya,” and/or a husband-bashing session. Begrudgingly, I signed up for it.

I think it was called Transition to Motherhood, and it was specifically for first-time moms. And yeah, there were some Kumbaya-ish moments, but not many. There were more husband-bashing moments (see above regarding hormones). It was more so about connecting new moms who were going through this new journey in their lives and giving them a sounding board. We were all hormonal. And we did our fair share of bitching. And maybe even a little crying.

After only a few weeks, I had to do what I hate doing — admit KP was right about something. The group was awesome. But more so, the little group that I kept in touch with after the class ended now consists of three dear girlfriends that I’m so lucky to have in my life. I can’t imagine going through Nora’s first (or second) year of life without them. Their kids are all the same age as Nora so we’ve all gone through a lot of the same things — often at the same time. Now I’m the stereotypical mom, but they seriously are my mama tribe — and then some.

Post-motherhood class, the tribe and I got together on a regular basis and our mom talk turned into more just regular friend talk. Of course we talked about our kids a ton, but these ladies went from being my “mom friends” to just being my friends. It wasn’t long before two of us left Chicago, though, breaking up the tribe. Shortly before I moved to Austin, another friend moved to Los Angeles.

Sure, we’re all still just a text or email away, but it just isn’t the same. So we’ve vowed to get together in person as much as possible, and our first trip was to Los Angeles in March. Two and a half baby-free and husband-free days, and three wild and crazy nights. Ha! Who am I kidding? “Wild and crazy” barely fit into my vocabulary anymore. Now it’s all about being home by 11 and in comfy pants!

It’s funny how my priorities have changed since having a child. Girlfriend getaways used to mean lots of booze, late nights and sleeping in, then rehashing it all the next day over brunch. Now I’m too tired for that! And I wasn’t alone. I feel confident speaking for all of us by saying that we mostly wanted to relax, soak up some California sunshine and eat some yummy food. And that’s exactly what we did on this blissful girlfriend getaway in sunny Los Angeles.

Where I Ate, Drank and Slept in Los Angeles

Pump

Vander Pump Restaurant (or simply, Pump)

Touristy, yes. But with three of the four of us being fans of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, we felt obligated to at least have a cocktail at Pump. Plus, I love Lisa’s decorating style and wanted to see one of her places in person! It’s as gorgeous as it looks on TV. Loved these chandeliers over the bar on the lush patio. Pump was just a quick stop for a cocktail before dinner, but we were all a bit nippish so we ordered the hummus and pita. And then we laughed. The dish consisted of a normal portion of hummus, but with just four sad looking pieces of hummus. And this is how Hollywood stays thin. We had our first celebrity sighting, although we debated if we should even count it since we were in his restaurant… but Ken was there with Giggy. I gave him a little pet on the head (Giggy, not Ken), which Ken didn’t seem to appreciate.

The Church Key

The Church Key was on Bravo’s Best New Restaurant, a show that I somehow missed entirely, which is surprising given the amount of Bravo that I watch. That said, I don’t know if they won or lost, but I felt like a very hip mama hanging out there. Lots of pretty, edgy people. And while Pump left us hungry, The Church Key did not. They have these dim sum-style carts that came around very sporadically, but we fared better with the regular menu. My favorites were the Jidori chicken “tikka massala” and the brioche doughnuts for dessert. A perfect ending to the meal — and I’m not even a big dessert person.

Gjelina

More pretty, edgy people at Gjelina. Noticing a trend here? It’s LA, after all! Don’t ask how, but we managed to score patio seating for our big group (we had some more friends join our four-some) on a busy Saturday night. Even though it was so dark I could barely read the menu, I loved sitting outside. Our table ordered lots and lots of dishes to share. If memory serves, I glanced at the menu (squinted, rather), and decided to leave the ordering in the hands of my talented friends, all of whom have good taste buds.

The Farm of Beverly Hills

We spent Saturday afternoon hiking Runyon Canyon, then cruised around Beverly Hills. Naturally the Real Housewives fans had to see the Beverly Hills sign in person. We parked ourselves at The Farm for a late lunch. I loved this place, and not just because of the life-changing tea we drank. More on that in a sec. We weren’t able to score a table outside, but the front of the restaurant was open so it was light and airy inside, too. This is just one of those comfy, casual spots to grab a leisurely lunch with the girls. Yes, comfy and casual in Beverly Hills. Or maybe I just decided it was casual since the four of us were all in our workout pants and probably a tad bit sweaty post-hike. Regardless, we all had this tea that cooled us off and was so delicious it was addicting. We even got to-go cups. And because we were so obsessed with it, we had to ask… it’s Art of Tea Passionfruit Jasmine and according to the website, it’s award-winning… so don’t just take my word for it. The food was great, too. Think wraps and salads and such.

 

Pinkberry

Pinkberry

My Pinkberry obsession began with this trip to Los Angeles. I couldn’t get enough. And, the trip just so happened to be after I saw Still Alice, so I went with Alice’s go-to every time: original with coconut and blueberries. Thank god we have Pinkberry in Austin.  And thank god they aren’t as prevalent here as they are in Los Angeles.

Hotel Wilshire

Hotel Wilshire

Since we were in LA to visit a friend, we stayed with her. She and her family live in this adorable apartment in Brentwood, and I’m so jealous because she has so many great places that she can walk to in her neighborhood, including multiple coffee shops, nail salons, the farmer’s market, Whole Foods… I could go on and on… but I digress. We slept at her place two of the three nights.

We decided to splurge and stay at a hotel on Friday night. It was our treat for our hostess. I think we were all thinking we’d sleep in, forgetting that we’re now moms who are programmed to wake up early, regardless of whether or not there’s a screaming child in the next room. (Spoiler alert: we didn’t sleep in.) We booked Hotel Wilshire, and the Pretty Woman quotes began (“Reg. Bev. Wil.”), even though that’s a different hotel… Hotel Wilshire is what you’d expect from Kimpton, which is what I love about them. Although each hotel is a little different, you know what you’re gonna get. Hotel Wilshire is modern and trendy, a little CB2-ish. Our room was big enough for four women to have a bit of space, and there was a completely separate sitting area that we didn’t even use. But the best part of the hotel was the rooftop pool and restaurant. It was so nice to soak up a little sun at breakfast before we checked out of the hotel.

Los Angeles was the perfect spot for our girlfriend getaway. It was March, so the Chicagoans in the group got a much-needed reprieve from the cold. The weather was amazingly gorgeous the entire weekend — sunny and warm. And we got to do exactly what we wanted — hang out, catch up and eat delicious food. It’s my turn to host the ladies next spring, and I hope Austin can measure up to So Cal!

Blueberry Lemon Poundcake

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Summer isn’t even officially here yet, but we’ve already had a few gatherings to kick off the season — Nora’s birthday, my nephew’s high school graduation and visits from family. For the latter, I always like to have some kind of dessert on-hand. I don’t normally have cakes or sweets in the house (ice-cream being the exception!), but having company is a special occasion, and a special occasion calls for special treats, in my book.

Perusing my Stressed is Dessert Spelled Backwards board on Pinterest, I came across a gorgeous lemon blueberry poundcake photo and decided I was totally capable of making the cake. Apparently the recipe originated simply as sour cream poundcake from Better Homes and Gardens, but genius Grandbaby Cakes took it up a notch by adding blueberries and lemon.

lemon blueberry poundcake

Save for zesting lemons, this recipe is seriously easy and seriously delicious. The cake comes out nice and dense as a poundcake should be, and the lemons and blueberries give the perfect balance of sweet and tart. I’ve whipped up two in the month of May alone, and I’m certain that won’t be the end of it!

Blueberry Lemon Poundcake

Original recipe

Ingredients:

1 cup butter

6 eggs

1 cup sour cream

3 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

2 cups sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

Zest and juice of two lemons

2 cups fresh blueberries, tossed in 1 teaspoon of all-purpose flour (to keep them for sinking to the bottom)

Glaze: 2 Tbs fresh lemon juice and 1 cup confectioners’ sugar

Directions:

Allow butter, eggs, and sour cream to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Grease and lightly flour a 10-cup bundt pan; set aside.

In a medium bowl, stir together flour, baking powder and baking soda; set aside.

In a large bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high-speed for 30 seconds. Gradually add sugar, beating on medium speed about 10 minutes or until light and fluffy. Add vanilla. Add eggs, one at a time, beating on low to medium speed for 1 minute after each addition and scraping side of bowl frequently. Add lemon juice and zest and mix to combine. Alternately add flour mixture and sour cream to butter mixture, beating on low-speed after each addition just until combined. Fold in the lightly floured fresh blueberries.

Pour batter into prepared pan, spreading evenly. Bake for 75 to 85 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near center of cake comes out clean.

Cool in pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes.

Remove from pan, drizzle with glaze while warm; cool completely on rack.

Blueberry lemon poundcake

“You Are My Sunshine” Birthday Party

Nora Turns Two!

Nora turns two!

I’ll make the cliché statement right up front: I can’t believe Nora is two. You hear people say things like this all the time, and I remember when I was a kid, we’d see distant relatives once every few years and they’d act startled that I’d grown since the last time they saw me. “You were only this big,” they’d say, positioning their hand mid-thigh or wherever, indicating how tall I was the last time they saw me. As a kid, I found it so annoying. But it’s true. Time goes by so fast. Seems like I was just rocking my little newborn to sleep after fumbling through a feeding session, then I blinked and she was climbing up the ladder (by herself!) to her new swing set.

We had a small birthday party with family to celebrate Nora’s birthday. I landed on “You Are My Sunshine” for the theme, after a brief detour down the cowgirl theme path (we’re Texans now, after all). “You Are My Sunshine” is one of the two songs we sing to Nora at bedtime every night, and I’ve sang it to her for as long as I can remember. And when she sings it now — particularly when she stretches to reach the really high notes — it’s the best. Also, it’s an easy theme! Anything yellow = sunshine-themed.

“You Are My Sunshine” Birthday Party Décor

I thought it would be really easy to pull together the décor for Nora’s sunshine birthday party, but finding an invitation that I liked proved to be a bit of a hunt. There are a lot out there, but I couldn’t find any that were my taste (read: not cheesy looking). I found this adorable design from inBloom Studio in their Etsy shop.

You Are My Sunshine invitation

I kept the decorations simple, placing framed photos of Nora, a framed party invitation and fresh flowers on our entry table. I also bought one of those chalkboards from Michael’s to create a board of Nora facts. I thought it was a great idea that I could repeat for every birthday (or use for other parties and holidays). Nice idea, except for the fact that the chalkboard I bought isn’t technically a real chalkboard, I guess, and the chalk markers that I used won’t wash off. Guess Nora can hang onto that for posterity… The one thing that had me kicking myself was my brilliant idea to make sunshine photos of Nora from her second year, which I clipped onto the wreath above our entry table. I can think of many other useful ways to spend my time rather than cutting out twelve little sunshines.

You Are My Sunshine birthday party decor

Luckily, “You Are My Sunshine” must be a popular theme at the moment, because everywhere I go I see all kinds of canvas artwork — and they’re inexpensive. I picked up a couple at TJ Maxx and put one on our mantle along with a big framed photo of Nora from last fall. I also got wooden T – W – O letters from Target and painted them yellow. Voilà!

You Are My Sunshine birthday party decor

Much to Nora’s chagrin, I made her another party hat this year. And it was as well-received this year as it was last year. By that, I mean she only agreed to wear it for a few photo opps before demanding it be removed. The hot glue gun scar I’m now sporting on my left wrist wasn’t worth it!

Party hat

“You Are My Sunshine” Birthday Party Menu

Since Nora’s party was an afternoon soirée and not at lunchtime, I decided to just serve snacks. Originally I thought about doing all yellow foods, but that menu got a little odd… so I nixed the idea. Instead, the spread included: chips/salsa/guacamole, mac and cheese bites, meatballs, hummus and pita chips, lemon Jelly Belly beans and chocolate-covered Oreos (with a yellow drizzle!). The signature drink — because what two-year old’s birthday party doesn’t have a signature drink — was this delicious sunshine punch. I channeled the baker in me to whip up a lemon sunshine cake, which didn’t come out half bad!

You Are My Sunshine birthday cake

I have no doubt that our little sunshine felt the love on her second birthday. And I have no doubt that I really will have a scar from that hot glue gun mishap. Guess that’s what I’ll hang onto for posterity.