napa valley getaway

While we were in California, we left Harper with Aunt Kari and Uncle Brett for a night (her first night without both of us!) and headed up to Napa for a short wine tasting getaway. It was our first night away, just the two of us, since February 2012.

On the way to our B&B, we hit up Frog’s Leap and Conn Creek, grabbed lunch at Gott’s Roadside and ended the day with a tasting at Corsion.

Frog's Leap

Frog's Leap

Frog's Leap

Corison

After checking into our B&B, we headed to dinner at the Grill at Meadowood and had a fantastic(ly pricey) meal! Where we could eat as slow as we wanted! And not pick up forks and food off the floor!

Napa Farmhouse Inn

Napa Farmhouse Inn

The next morning, we tasted at Raymond, Cliff Lede and Clos Du Val, stopped for lunch at Bistro Jeanty and checked out the art at Hess Collection before heading back to Kari and Brett’s.

Raymond

Crystal Room at Raymond

Rooster at Raymond Vineyard

Raymond

Cliff Lede

Cliff Clede

Cliff Lede

Cliff Lede

Clos Du Val

Bistro Jeanty

Hess Collection

Until next time, Napa!

Hess Collection

weekend getaway to texas wine country

After over two years living in Texas, we finally made it to Fredericksburg. We kept thinking, “why didn’t we do this before we had a baby?” But we brought the baby along and she had fun too! Oh, and we brought the cats too… It was a regular Griswold family vacation!

We stayed in a quaint, old cottage from the 1800’s. Maeby enjoyed exploring – knocking over plants, climbing onto window sills, and sitting in the claw foot tub. Margot enjoyed hiding under the bed.

Fredericksburg

Cat in a claw foot tub

We ate German food, walked around the shops downtown and hit up a few wineries. It was relaxing, scenic and even the weather was tolerable (much cooler than in Austin!) We had fun taking a few pictures of our girl.

Fredericksburg

Fredericksburg

Fredericksburg

Fredericksburg

Fredericksburg

Fredericksburg

Fredericksburg

Fredericksburg

Fredericksburg

Baby on a wine barrel

Fredericksburg

Fredericksburg

Fredericksburg

Fredericksburg

Fredericksburg

start spreading the news

At the end of August my husband and I, along with my mom, went to New York to visit with Lisa and Branden. We planned an engagement party for them and it was also my sister’s 30th birthday. I know – 30? Geez! I can’t believe my sister is 30.

First we spent a little time walking around Brooklyn and looking at the venues they’ve chosen for their wedding. We stopped by the Brooklyn Historical Society where they’ll have their ceremony in the library. Very fitting for my sister who works in publishing and loves books. The library has beautiful wooden shelves and an open balcony surrounding the study tables (which is where the ceremony will be set up.)

Brooklyn Historical Society

Brooklyn Historical Society

We also stopped by Bubby’s, a local restaurant where they’ll have their reception. Both the Brooklyn Historical Society and Bubby’s are in their neighborhood. Bubby’s is where Lisa and Branden go for brunch quite often and they love their photobooth (which will be fun for the guests during the reception.) What’s probably best about Bubby’s (besides their mimosas) is the view of the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges through the large windows. It will be a beautiful view that night.

Bubby's Brooklyn

We walked through Brooklyn Bridge Park, which is where we’ll probably have a lot of wedding pictures taken. I’ve walked around this area everytime I’ve visited the past few years and I think I have enough pictures of the Brooklyn Bridge by now, but I can’t stop myself from taking more. The city has turned a few of the piers on the Brooklyn side into green parks and playgrounds.

New York - 8/2010

New York - 8/2010

New York - 8/2010

New York - 8/2010

New York - 8/2010

New York - 8/2010

New York - 8/2010

Brooklyn Bridge Park is actually where Branden proposed to Lisa back in May. Lisa showed us exactly where he took her – some steps overlooking the Manhattan skyline. What a backdrop huh? Who could say no? 😉

NY

Later we went to the Brooklyn Art Museum where we saw Abdi Farah’s exhibit from Work of Art/Next Great Artist and Warhol’s art from his last decade. This is perhaps my favorite Warhol – a piece from the “Yarn” collection.

New York - 8/2010

That night, Lisa opened her birthday gifts and we watched a little photo slideshow I made in honor of her birthday.

Lisa and Branden’s engagement party was a fun way to cap off our trip. We met for dinner at City Winery in Manhattan, not too far from where Lisa works. It’s a big, open restaurant and winery – sort of looks like it used to be a warehouse. She had a lot of friends come out for drinks that night. We had fun meeting everyone and watching Lisa and Branden enjoy time with their friends.

Lisa & Branden's Engagement Party

Lisa & Branden's Engagement Party

Lisa & Branden's Engagement Party

Lisa & Branden's Engagement Party

Lisa & Branden's Engagement Party

We’re really looking forward to their wedding next May. Until then, I’ll be busy designing their website (brandenandlisa.com) and doing some arts & crafts for the wedding!

See the rest of my pictures from our weekend in New York and Lisa and Branden’s engagement party.

*Blog post title is a lyric from the song “New York, New York” by Frank Sinatra

in the summer the grape grows

My mom, sister and I finally took that girls trip to wine country we’d always talked about. We planned it back in January, before my sister became engaged. So it ended up being a busy year to go, but it gave us plenty to talk about while we sipped wine and looked out at the vine covered hills.

My mom and I (coming from Chicago) flew into San Francisco and met my sister who flew in from NY and got situated in our rental car, me being the designated driver for the trip. You bet we got a covertible – what better place to drive with the top down!

Driving a convertible is as fun as it looks.

We spent the afternoon in San Fran, walking along fisherman’s wharf and up to Ghirardelli Square.

Not many sea lions left.

Then we drove over the Golden Gate Bridge (with the top up, it was chilly) and pulled off at the lookout on the other side. I’d read that this was the best view of the bridge – looking back across with the skyline in the distance. It was quite windy up there, but it was a clear day, so we couldn’t ask for better conditions to snap some photos.

We had an early dinner at Horizons in Sausalito, just 2 miles from the bridge lookout. The restaurant was a perfect choice – we timed it just right and it was right up the road. (I can take credit for that because I planned every step of this itinerary.) Actually, the restaurant was recommended to me by an acquaintance who used to live in Sausalito.

I wish we could have spent more time in Sausalito – what a quaint little town outside the city. It is all hills right up to the water, the main street through town is right on the edge of the bay overlooking the city. And the hills are peppered with little homes all around. I can imagine the cost per square foot of a home in Sausalito is pretty comparable to NYC – but the view would be worth every penny.

Back to the restaurant. Guys, it is right on the water. I mean literally. Boy, what a view. We ate outside and could see the SF skyline from our table. A sailboat floated by. A cruiser pulled up right next to the restaurant and docked for dinner.

So this is how Californians live? Man I’ve been stuck in the Midwest for too long. Did you know I was born in California? We left when I was 2. I think maybe I was destined to live in CA all along, and I’ve just taken a long detour in the Midwest. Yeah, that’s it.

See the rest of my San Fran pictures on Flickr.

We had to eat early so we could make it to Napa to check in to our bed and breakfast. We stayed at the Hennessey House in downtown Napa. It is on the National Register for Historic Places. It was my first time staying in a B&B and I really enjoyed it. Once you go B&B, you don’t go back. The owner was so nice and she made gourmet breakfasts every morning. She had wine and cheese in the evenings. If you are going to Napa, you must stay at the Hennessey House.

The next morning was the official start to Operation Wine Tasting. As I said, I planned the entire trip down to every detail. That’s just how I travel. Of ALL the wineries in Napa and Sonoma Valley, I had to narrow down the choices to a few a day. That was so hard. I kept 4 on the list each day, assuming we’d only get to 3.

But I underestimated my mom and sister. They were total champs. By god if we didn’t make it to all 4 wineries each day!

Disclaimer: I do not recommend 4 wineries a day for 3 days straight. Not that you wouldn’t completely enjoy yourself. It’s just not for the faint of heart. It’s not for amateurs.

Not a bad view to begin our wine tasting adventure.

Our first stop was Artesa in Carneros Valley. It’s a more modern winery, built into the side of a big hill with the top cut off. Hilltop wineries have the best views.

We toured the place and saw the bottling process and their barrel storage.

Mmmm. I’ll try each one please.

Next was Viansa. I loved the buildings and patio overlooking the vineyards, where we sat to have a picnic.

Our third stop of the day was Schug in the Carneros Valley. Walter Schug founded the winery in 1980 after helping create Joseph Phelp’s award-winning Insignia.

Schug is a Pinot house. Carneros Valley and the Russian River Valley north of it are where the Pinot grape thrives.

Our last stop of the day was Domaine Carneros – known for their sparkling wine. We each had a flight of 3 sparkling wines. What a way to end the first day!

But wait, the day ain’t over yet! We had dinner plans! We headed back to the B&B for some afternoon wine and cheeses (no we had not gotten enough wine at the wineries apparently) while we waited for the evening to roll in.

I took my mom and sister to Brix, where we had eaten with my family-in-law in 2008, because I loved it so much. I knew they would appreciate the farm-to-table cuisine. Brix has its own garden right in the backyard. We ate out on their patio overlooking the garden. While we waited for our food, I walked around it and snapped some pictures.

Thus our first day came to an end. Total Bottles Purchased So Far: 4

The next morning we started out at Grgich Hills where they grow their grapes organically and biodynamically. While we were there, the founder of Grgich Hills, Mike Grgich himself, walked by!

From there, we spent some time at V. Sattui wine tasting and picnicking. The niece of the founder was our pourer. V. Sattui is family owned and is celebrating their 125th anniversary this year. They only sell their wines at their winery in Napa.

Another very scenic winery. Love the ivy-sided buildings, fountains and flowers.

Our third stop was Duckhorn in Napa. Duckhorn is another small winery, but with big prices. We sat outside (although it was rather hot) on a wrap-around porch and tasted mostly cab’s and merlot’s. While we enjoyed the wines, we didn’t make any purchases here.

My sister is getting married next year. Hence, the cheerful glow.

Our final stop was one I’d been looking forward to all year. It was the only winery that was a repeat visit from my 2008 trip – one of our fav’s. Joseph Phelps is known for it’s Bordeaux-style blend Insignia. And because I will probably never own a bottle of Insignia of my own, the next best thing is to savor a small tasting of it while looking out at the vineyards. Another great view.

Dinner that night was at FARM at Carneros Inn. The name belies it’s elegant ambiance. It had cushy chairs and couches under an open-air lounge area. FARM, like Brix, is all about farm-to-table cuisine. Another great dinner.

End of day two. Total Bottles Purchased So Far: 10

The next morning, my mom got up at 5am for a hot air balloon ride. I lent her my camera (rule #1: do not take the strap off your neck!) and she did a great job capturing the whole process from beginning to end. It looks like she had a blast! After they landed they had a champagne breakfast. I wish I could have gone too, but Drew has made it clear that he’d rather me avoid “extreme sports” thank you very much. So I waited until I got home, showed him my mom’s pictures and said “Look what I did!” Ha!

Later that morning we headed back to Sonoma for day 3. Our first stop was Buena Vista, the oldest premium winery in California. It was tucked away on a tree-lined country road. It was hard to find even though it’s a pretty popular winery in Sonoma.

Our second stop was Sebastiani. This one wasn’t hard to find at all. It’s in downtown Sonoma – right around a residential area. We stopped at Vella Cheese down the street to grab some picnic items for lunch first. They have a really cool barrel room.

That’s what I love about visiting all these wineries (besides the wine itself) – the buildings, the views, the decor. They’re all so unique.

Our third stop was Gundlach Bundschu – Gun Bun for short. Another old winery. The founder came from Germany and purchased land before California was even a respected wine region. Read the history on their site – it’s a pretty neat story.

By this point, I thought we were done. We had a hard cut-off of 5pm to get our wine shipped home and by this time it was about 3:45. We’d had enough, right?

Wrong. We thought we’d fit in one last more. Let’s head to Black Stallion!

I’m glad we made time for this one. It’s a newer winery, but it’s pretty cool.

Wish we could have spent more time there. We stayed just long enough to try a few and purchase a few. Then we had to run back to the B&B to pick up the stash and take it to Buffalo Shipping. We had a hard time fitting all the bottles into the car! It’s not that we bought too much wine. Those convertibles have small trunks, you see.

Total Bottles Purchased So Far: 15

After we successfully “turned in” our wine to Buffalo Shipping and told them to pack it with tender loving care, we had some time to kill. The sommelier at Buena Vista had told us about this place in downtown Napa called Bounty Hunter. So we went there for a little pre-dinner snack and, yes, more wine. Although my mom had a beer to switch things up. They had an excellent selection of both.

Our last night’s dinner was at Mustard’s Grill. We’d heard it got a good review from Bobby Flay. It was excellent!

The trip came to an end all too quickly, but we had so much fun together just us girls. We vowed to do it again in a few years. There are plenty more wineries to visit!

I suppose I could have talked about the wine more in this post. Suffice it to say that I liked them all!

See the rest of my pictures from the trip on Flickr.

*Blog post title is a lyric from the song “In the Summer the Grape Grows” by Pisces

wax is dripping from the frosting on the cake

Last Monday I celebrated yet another birthday. And I’m pretty sure that’s the last time I will celebrate it. Although I’ve been saying that for a few years now.

This year my husband decided to bake me a cake. It was the first cake he has ever baked all by himself. And it was my favorite kind – funfetti!!

He did an awesome job. He even did the double layers with frosting in the middle! Dude – that there made turning a year older totally worth it.

Wait – you mean I turned another year older?

Who cares – did you see all that frosting?

We went to dinner at Cafe Lucci. It’s been right down the street all these years, but we’d never tried it. Great Italian place. When we got home we cracked open a bottle of Chardonnay that we brought back from Napa.

And I got a new iPod Nano!! These Nano’s are awesome! They take video. They shuffle to the next song when you shake it! The screen changes orientation when you turn it! But it’s still nice and small. And blue’s my favorite color.

It was a great night to cap off a fun day I spent downtown for lunch and wine tasting with a few girlfriends. All in all, the weekend wasn’t too shabby. Except for the whole year-older thing. I’ll try not think about that part.

*Blog post title is a lyric from the song “Birthday Gal” by The Replacements

gonna take your mama out all night

For my mom’s birthday, I surprised her by taking her downtown to The Wooden Spoon for a cooking class. As if the woman needs any instruction in the kitchen. But we love to cook together and this was a fun reason to go downtown on a nice spring day. There were 12 people in the class and together we created a meal of crab fritters with curry dipping sauce, goat cheese salad with roasted beets and fig-balsamic vinaigrette, pork medallions with arugula cream sauce, roasted potatoes, and a lemon custard fruit tart with raspberries. And we brought our own bottle of wine to sip on while we cooked.

Yes – those are onion goggles. Both stylish and functional.

Check out the rest of the pictures on Flickr.

The best part of the class? You got to eat what you made! It was all muy delicioso!

we’re out there having fun in the warm california sun

Our final day in Napa brought us to Mumm Napa – a small winery that specializes in sparkling wines and champagne. We sat outside and shared each other’s bubblies before heading in to peruse their Ansel Adams art gallery.

The next and final winery on our trip was a little vineyard in the hills off the beaten path. Joseph Phelps has an outdoor tasting area that offers a relaxing and scenic view. It was a memorable way to end our tour of California wine country. A toast to Barb and Steve for whom we planned this family trip – to celebrate Barb’s graduation and “big” birthday, and their 30th wedding anniversary!

We ate dinner that night in downtown Napa at Ristorante Allegria. In a blink of an eye, we were on the plane back to Chicago already wishing we could return to Napa—sooner rather than later. There was so much more to see and taste!

Check out the rest of my pictures from Day 3.