Monday, April 28, 2014

Outside! Outside!

Taking a quick break from vacation recaps to do a small "life" recap instead!

This past week it really felt like spring arrived here in Charlotte. We have been outside so much and while M and I are both suffering from all the pollen, we'll take this any day over being cooped up inside! We have been playing in the yard and driveway a TON these past few days, and even though our favorite play ground is covered in cankerworms (ewwww!), we have managed to spend a lot of time swinging and sliding. Spring is here and we're pretty darn thrilled about it! 

Part of our fun and sunny weekend included a trip to the US White Water Center on Saturday morning. M didn't care much for the exhibits they had set up, but she sure loved walking around and climbing on their kiddy rock climbing rocks.

We spent all of Saturday afternoon picking up and cleaning up our yard, and it looks so much better out there now. Also, our little garden is finally starting to sprout! We have zucchini and cucumber coming up.

Also, notice the lovely chicken wire around our garden this year. Layla can be the one to thank for that....

After church on Sunday I made J snap a few quick pics of M and myself before putting our play clothes on!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

California Trip: Day 3

After a great first two days in California, we woke up Friday ( still early, but not quite as bad as Thursday!) ready for another fun day.

On Friday's agenda we had 3 wineries plus dinner plans. I had left our lunch open since I wasn't sure how long our wine tastings would last.

We began the day at Frog's Leap in Rutherford, which also ended up being our favorite winery we visited! This was the only winery where we also took a tour in addition to our tasting, and I'm so so glad we did, especially first thing in the morning when we were still feeling fresh and energized!

One of my favorite parts of our tour (in addition to our tour guide, Erin) was the fun straw hats they had us all wear! We loved that Frog's Leap had great wine but also didn't take themselves to seriously. She made it very clear to us that their founder and owner just wants to people to enjoy the wine with great food. I can get behind that! We learned on our tour that a lot of their wine is made with organically grown grapes, they practice "dry-farming," they had an adorable dog running around named Abby, and they have garden full of all kinds of great veggies, herbs, and flowers on their property. Oh....and chickens! Frog's Leap was just so fun. If you make the trip here, I highly recommend the tour!!

We left Frog's Leap and decided to stop for lunch at Farmstead, after having it recommended to us by our tour guide at Frog's Leap and an employee of the cottages. This may just have been my favorite meal here!

J got a gnochhi with a beef ragu and I had a smoked roast beef sandwich with a vinegar coleslaw. Aaaaaand we may have started our meal with an appetizer called "the potted pig." That dish in the back was our potted pig, and I still don't know exactly what it was (some sort of pork pâté?) , but I will probably be thinking about it for the rest of my days. It was SO good!

We left our yummy lunch and headed to Duckhorn Vineyard in St. Helena. 

We liked the wine here, but overall, a pretty blah experience. We had made a reservation, but they had no outdoor seating, so were stuck inside at a table and there really wasn't much to see. Overall, this was definitely one I'd skip if we went back. Nothing special here for us. In fact, I think this is the only place we visited where we didn't purchase a bottle.

We had a little bit of time to kill before our last tasting reservation of the day, so we wondered around the town of St. Helena some (which was way cute!). We visited St. Helena Olive Oil Co. (thanks to the many bloggers who suggested this!), and had a ball sampling the different oils and mustards. We brought back a a souvenir from here for my parents and something small for us!

We headed out of the small town of St. Helena and headed to Kelham Vineyards. A friend of mine from home and Kate both highly recommended Kelham to us, and we're so glad we made the reservation. It was such a change of pace from everywhere else we had been. Kelham is family owned and their two sons (who are the wine makers), also did our tastings. Both of the brothers were so nice and personable. Talking with them, not only about wine and their vineyard, was definitely a highlight. The grounds were beautiful, and once again...adorable dogs running around! And they were rescue dogs! Double win. We noticed they had a lot of older wines on their tasting menu compared to the other places we had visited and they assured us these wines would continue to age well, so we bought a bottle here to share on our 10 year anniversary in 2018!

Other than that odd bird statue/sculpture above, we loved Kelham! 

To top off our third day, we went and took a another nap (once again, West Coast time plus wine all day will do that to you!), and then that evening we drove to Napa and had dinner at Carpe Diem (thanks BHB for the suggestion!). We had to wait about 20 minutes after our reservation time for a table BUT they gave us each a glass of bubbly...that's good service there, folks! The food was tapas style and absolutely delicious (are you sensing a theme with the food on this trip?). J was hesitant going into this dinner since they call themselves a "wine bar," but even he proclaimed how impressed he was with this great dinner find! Only complaint, which had NOTHING to do with the restaurant, was the two crazy girls at the table next to us. Thanks to these "ladies" (I don't think that term could really be used to describe these two...) and they're noisy conversation and smart phones, I learned all about tinder (which ps, I'm still bothered by this app) and their dating habits. I could have really done without them. But I suppose it makes for a fun story?


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

California Trip: Day 1 and 2!

Alrighty, time for a good ol' trip recap! Mostly for us and posterity's sake, but also as a reference for any friends traveling to Napa and San Francisco who are looking for recommendations. I can't say thanks enough to other bloggers and friends who gave us such great suggestions! It makes planning a trip so much easier when you have such rave reviews to help you plan!

So let's begin, shall we? It's always fun to talk about vacation and wine!

When we got into San Francisco, it was only about 10:30 AM PST. While we were definitely tired from our 3 AM EST wake up, we were ready to make the most of our first day!

After a quick trip to Target for some sunglasses (oops....left them in my diaper bag at my parents' house!) and sunscreen, we headed to the little town of Tiburon and had lunch at Sam's Anchor Cafe. It was more or less on the way to Napa from SF, and a friend of mine who used to live there told me it would be a great lunch spot that provided a great view of the city. She was very right. Good food, cute place, and yes, nice view of SF! 

We left Tiburon and headed to Napa and enjoyed the views from our window as we drove into the Valley. It was a beautiful day and I won't lie, driving without a Daniel Tiger soundtrack playing was a big plus! 

We headed to Girard's tasting room where we did a private tasting paired with cheese and charcuteries. What a great way to dive into Napa! Awesome wine, we really liked Kevin who did our tasting, and the cheeses were not too shabby! Funny note about Kevin, he adamantly told us that Charlotte was his favorite city in the US after Napa. This made us chuckle a little bit but I think it might be part of why we liked him so much!

From here, we headed to The Cottages of Napa Valley to check in. A million thanks to Kate for this recommendation. What a GREAT and cozy place to stay in Napa. I have zero complaints. Charming, clean, fresh pastries for breakfast, heated tiles on the bathroom floor, french press....I could go on and on. We loved it!

After getting settled and a a change of clothes, we headed off to Mustard's Grill for dinner. So many suggested this place to us, and it was quite yummy! I ordered a smoked duck entree, which I sort of wish I hadn't done since I am not one to love duck, but it was still good.  I should also point out here that another great perk to staying at the cottages was they'd drive you to dinner at most of the nearby restaurants. This was such a nice little bonus!

Day Two! 

My morning began bright and early at 6:30AM (thanks time change!). But thankfully, our morning also began with some fresh baked goods, fruit and coffee. We also got to Skype with M after her trip to the zoo with my parents before she went down for her nap and it was at this time I knew she wasn't missing us at all. That girl was having a ball back in Richmond!

Since this was our first full day in Napa, we decided to do a tour and let someone else chauffeur us around for the day and do all the planning! I booked us a tour through Platypus Wine Tours based on their reviews on yelp and trip advisor, and was pleasantly surprised to find that everything I read was true. We had a GREAT driver/guide, they took us to a great variety of places (in size and wine), and they provided us with an awesome lunch plus endless bottles of water and cheese and crackers. We only had two other couples on our tour and both were really nice. It was a really fun day, and I'm glad we went this route for our first day here. 

Wineries on Day 2:

We started our day at Ballentine Vineyards in St. Helena where we got a fun history lesson, not only about the winery, but also about wine in Napa in general...something we didn't know much about going into this trip. We got to do a barrel tasting and then visited their tasting room where we met the sweetest lady who was working. She made the experience so fun. Ballentine had great wines, great people, but wasn't especially pretty or nice. Does that make sense? I'd go back here for sure, but I also wouldn't mark this as a MUST visit if you're planning a trip.

From here, we headed to Tudal Winery, also in St. Helena. This was probably my second favorite winery we got to visit on our trip. Not only was the wine good (with generous pours), but the place was just gorgeous and so laid back. 

We had lunch here (again provided by the tour....wonderful croissant sandwiches with a a quinoa salad). I wish I could remember in detail more about the wine we tasted everywhere, but when you do 8 tastings in 3 days...well, it all sort of blends together! If you're planning a Napa trip, add Tudal to your agenda. A small, but fabulous winery. We got one picture together here before heading off to our next destination!

From here we went to Dutch Henry in Calistoga. Highlights here were visiting their cellar and their cute terriers that were running around and having fun! But I won't lie, the gal working behind the bar who did our tasting was very blah. Had she been more fun or perhaps had more to share with us (info...not wine!), I would have enjoyed it more. The wine was great and they had a nice property, but it was just an okay experience.

We left Dutch Henry and headed South again and went to Rutherford Ranch, back in St. Helena. For our last visit of the day we did a chocolate pairing with our tasting. Who doesn't love wine + chocolate? 

Although I wish we got to see more of Rutherford Ranch and learn more about their history, I will say I liked their wine. We tried one here called Predator that was an "old vine Zinfandel" that I can't wait to pair with some smoked ribs or brisket. It was excellent. And this is coming form the girl who remembers very little about the 40+ wines we tasted here! We managed to sneak in another picture together here.

We got back to our cottages around 4:30/5 and at this point I gave my past self a pat on the back for making late dinner plans that allowed us to get a nap in before dinner! We snoozed till about 7 and then got ready for dinner at Ad Hock. When I told people we were going to Napa, Ad Hoc was probably the #1 recommendation I got (for food or wine!). After eating here, I can see why! Ad Hoc has a four course family style menu that changes daily, and boy oh boy. It was good! But, with all this said, I won't lie. Even after a good nap, I was still EXHAUSTED at our dinner. I think the early wake up + lack of sleep from the day before + tastings at 4 wineries = one really tired Rachel. I sort of wish we had planned a more low key dinner for our second night here so I could have eaten something small and caught up on my sleep. Not a huge problem, but a suggestion to anyone visiting Napa from the East Coast.

But y'all....the food. It was really really good!

I'll post part two of Napa later this week and then onto San Francisco!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Back in town

So, as expected, our trip to California was amazing.
While we missed our baby girl (a lot), we had a ball exploring northern California, tasting wine and beer all over, and eating some incredible meals.

M may have had an even better time with my parents while we were gone.
She was spoiled rotten and didn't seem to miss us nearly as much as we missed her! Every time my mom would send me a picture of her, she had on a new dress or new shoes, or had a new toy in her hands. Also, she got to eat a lot of pie with them!

And she got to visit the zoo (where she shared her water with the monkeys).

Hoping to get my trip recap posts up soon! We had the best time!