Wednesday, January 13, 2010

13 months: No cupcakes involved

Since we no longer have month pictures, and cupcake pictures (a wee bit feeling sad that my baby has outgrown these) I figure that I still need something to keep me posting. I use the blog a lot of times to look back at what Emmy was doing at a certain point in time. For some reason I can't seem to write it on a calendar, but I will blog =) A lot of my friends do this kind of recap, so if you're not up for the Emmy roll-call of awesomeness, just keep scrolling down for an recap of Napa from the Hubs....

Since Emmy is a big 13 month old now she:
  • Still only has 4 teeth (with a BIG ole gap in between the front two) I'm starting to wonder if there's any more in there
  • Sleeps from 8-9 on a good day, 8-8 pretty typically. They swear that she sleeps at school, but is still not napping for mom. I'll take the late sleep in over naps though. I'm not complaining.
  • Signs Please, More, All Done : although sometimes she'll just run through these in a random order for fun, whatever works
  • Says: Mama, Dada, Uh-oh, Hi, Bye-bye, Dog, Baby and can mimic just about anything you say.
  • Will point at a cow and tell you it says moo - sounds like mmmmmmmmmmm
  • Gives awesome lick sugars on the cheek, usually in rapid succession to anyone in the room. She's an equal opportunity kisser, everyone gets one.
  • Is WAY into booty dancing and clapping. She will sqaut down, put her elbows on her knees and lift her little butt up and down in the air to music. She's especially fond of doing this to what Blake calls "church jams". If there's music on somewhere, she's dancing.
  • Wakes up in the morning and wants to go outside immediately and ALL DAY...
  • Will spend hours taking the things out of the bathroom cabinet, putting them in the bathtub and then doing it all over again. This NEVER gets old
  • LOVES to read. She will grab the book, walk over to you, turn around, back up, drop into your lap and put her hands in her lap to read the book. It's pretty much adorable. Until about the 15th time that you read the SAME book in a day.
  • Has somehow determined that if she sits on the floormat under the sink in the kitchen, she will get the food that she wants. She'll point at the cabinet and then go sit on the mat and wait. Sometimes signing please if she's REALLY putting it on thick. She is in love with grapes, cheese, anytype of crackers, and noodles.
  • Is the official greeter of wherever she is... she has actually followed people down the isle at the grocery store waving at them and saying Hi until they acknowledge her. If they don't smile than she'll contine to wave and say "hi" louder and louder until they say hi to her how she wants them to. She followed one poor guy around Macy's while Blake was trying on clothes for about fifteen minutes. Yes, I kept letting her do it because it was funny and I was bored.
  • Has developed a new "cute face" to charm her daddy. She puts her chin on her shoulder, and looks up at you from under her eyelashes. Yes, we're in trouble.

She's just a silly, silly, happy girl right now and is so much fun!

Monday, January 11, 2010

I Own A Restaurant!

...not really, but some people think so. When you have never gone on a vacation with another couple, what do you do, go on two in one year. Following up our vacation to Mexico with the Castille's in July, Kristen and I went with The Graesser's to Napa for a long weekend. Now it can be hard for two families with four children between them to find a chance to get away, so while on vacation we learned it is most important to live every moment to the fullest.

We arrived in San Francisco on Thursday morning and after getting the rental car made our way to northern Sonoma county by way of the Golden Gate Bridge. I don't think I could ever get tired of this piece of Americana. Only my second time to cross, but I was even more excited than my first. Kristen, Ann and Andrew made fun of my excitement as we passed over the bay and out of San Francisco. Of course I got into the California spirit calling out directions, "take the 101 to Golden Gate..." The trip had officially begun.

When you go on a trip to the wine country, and you leave Frisco, what do you do? Go check in at the hotel? No. Wander around a small northern California town? No. Drive an hour and a half to your first winery, barely stopping to grab lunch? Yes. Only making a pit stop to grab a sandwich at the Oakville Grocery, we made our first stop in Headelsburg at Ferrari-Carano. Ann's aunt had given the recommendation and the place did not disappoint. Walking a few steps toward the production facility, Kristen made a very astute observation. "It smells like wine out here!" Until that moment we had all been clueless as to our motive for coming so far. Thank you Honey! Reassured, we continued our walk towards the tasting room with a "trip term" in tow.

Ferrari-Carano is built to resemble a Tuscan winery. Tall Italian Cypress trees line the walkways, breathtaking views of the rolling hills greet you in every direction and each building built as villas, all helping you forget you are in...Napa...Wait, sounds like something we should have in Houston. I want to feel like I'm in Napa when I'm in Napa. I want to think I'm in Tuscany when I'm in Houston. As if one the second most beautiful place on Earth was not good enough, the owners did their best to make you feel as if you were in the most beautiful place on Earth. Good thinking...amazing place.

You know the trip is going to be a success when you have a great time with your first tasting host. Phillipe, originally of Paris, France, kept it light and shared his knowledge of wine with the four of us as we sampled some of the best Ferrari-Carano had to offer. They had very large wine glasses for tasting at the bar. When we acknowledged their size, Phillipe asked how much wine we thought would fit into one glass. We called out everything from a quarter to a half a bottle, so he decided to show us. Finishing off a bottle of Cab, he filled the entire bottle with water and poured the entire thing in one glass. Even more remarkable, there was still room left in the glass. He was eager to point out that if you get pulled over, regardless of how much wine we had tasted, we could always say that we only had one glass.We thanked him for his time, took in the beautiful basement bar and bought some beverages for home consumption. One down, so many more to go.

After making the drive back to Napa and checking in at out hotel (btw...1801 First is great place to stay and Tony/Linda are great hosts), we set out for what was the first of three amazing meals. For those of you that have not been to Napa before, it is home to some of the greatest restaurants in the world owned and operated by some of the most successful chefs on the planet. For graduation, Kristen had given me a gift that I had been looking forward to for some time, the tasting menu at Bottega. Of course, upon arrival we felt special. Not only did we get our own menu, but it was a whirlwind of amazing food and wine pairings (not found on the regular menu)at the best table in the restaurant, the Queen's Table, as Chef Michael Chiarello was quick to point out. He, after all, came by our table to greet us as we sampled the black truffle risotto that was laid before us. I was starstruck, he said he was honored to have us as guests, and Andrew was quick to point out that he thought Chef had just called me a queen. "Trip term" #2 had been born...

The day of travel mixed with the food and wine left us tired and ready for bed. We awoke the next morning to a grand breakfast at 1801 First. We enjoyed French Toast with Blackberry Compote and Creme Freche beforesetting off to a favorite of mine and Kristen's from our first trip to Napa, Schramsberg. If you have not been to Napa, or if you have been before but not been to Schramsberg, it is one of the best. The morning fog had not lifted, so we drove up the hillside through the fog to the winery perched on top. We learned about the painstaking and long process of crafting a premium sparkling wine while roaming the caves of Schramsberg. Unlike many of the wineries you visit in Napa, the fermentation process for the sparkling wine at Schramsberg happens inside each bottle as they are hand riddled in the caves. There are stacks and stacks of bottles in the caves at times 50 bottles high and 50 bottles deep. Its a feat of balance and perfect placement.

After the tour, we sampled at a table full of people that we should not have been sitting with. Sometime in the middle, our host (who unfortunately, while full of information and doing his best to give us very interesting information, had his fly completely open during the entire thing) caught wind that the couple at the end of the table owned a restaurant in Florida that served their product. It was a game changer. He was instantly focused on them and them only. Its as if owning a restaurant was an intense pheromone. He was in love. I almost spit out my bubbly when the man who owned a restaurany turned my way and asked if I too was a restaurateur. I, of course said no, but Andrew had other ideas. When we made it out of the winery, there was a new plan in place. I also apparently owned a restaurant. We called it a social experience. The trip would never be the same.

We left Schramsberg and visited Graeser and Sterling. At Graeser, Andrew dropped the "Daddy" word on the Owner as we sampled with a host that we felt wanted a little too badly to take over the operation when the current Owner finally passed. Of course, only missing one "S" in his name, Andrew and Ann thought they had a better chance to inherit the place hence the long lost father title dropping. I said he wouldn't do it and lost the bet. Now he has a replica Graeser winery glass for his collection.

Of course the day wouldn't be complete without putting the new plan into action. Andrew had been threatening to lay it on thick at any moment, and when it came, I wasn't ready. As we toured and tasted at Cakebread, with a host that felt along with wine, it was his duty to provide a comedy routine, Andrew let it fly.

"Boss, do we carry these wines at the restaurant?" Hearing this, the host replied, "Do you own a restaurant?" "Sure do..." I said. "A Tex-Mex place in Houston." As this passed through my lips I began to frantically think of an answer to what would inevitably think would be the next question. What is the name of your restaurant? But it never came. Instead, the host focused all of his attention on us, ignoring the other couple that was in the tour (barely acknowledging their presence). At one point, he asked..."What type of bean do you enjoy working with the most?" Now how do I answer this? I'm not a chef, I'm an Owner, and the only thing I can think of due to my long history eating tex-mex is pinto bean. "Doesn't everytone enjoy the pinto bean?" I ask. Hearing this he takes me on a long, strange trip about organic beans and where they can be found in some market in the middle of downtown Napa. I listened intently, but was working my way to the exit. Only then he asked where we would be dining that evening. I said Bouchon, one of Keller's restaurants. He objected saying that some of Keller's lackeys ran the place, and that we would be better served at Bistro Jeanty. He INSISTED that we make it to Jeanty. "They have tomato soup that will make you happy God put hair on your head," he said. He even made us a second reservation at Jeanty. I thanked him for his help and laughed when he suggested that he knew Keller on a first name basis and hung out with him and his girlfriend. In fact, according to him, we didn't want to know Thomas Keller's nickname or how he got it...hilarious...all from "I own a restaurant." Andrew insisted that as soon as it was known, anyone and everyone in ear shot of that statement "wanted to make out with me". Trip term #3 had arrived...

But done with wineries for the day, we weren't. Luckily for Andrew and I, the last tasting happened at our bed and breakfast. The owner/operator of Tres Sabores, a fully organic winery in the valley, had a sampling of her wines available for us to try. She was great. You could see the passion she had for the work she was doing, sharing her premium wines and her love for the planet. But that didn't stop Drew. As she poured her second and most tasty beverage, Por Que No?, Andrew asked me if we carried her wines, and it was on. The rest of the night was a blur as Kristen got asked to a charity event in Houston, Andrew and I shared laughs and a personal bottle of wine provided by another couple staying at the bed and breakfast and our B&B host, Tony, joined in the fun. You could tell he was becoming comfortable with us and shared his opinions on everything Napa. He is a very reliable source of information. After the night cap, we loaded in the car for another fabulous meal at Bistro Jeanty. Upon arrival, we were greeted by the host with congratulations on our anniversary and Ann's birthday (how did he know?) and were led to the best table in the restaurant. The tomato soup was amazing! The rest spectacular! We were getting a little too used to being treated so special, and we knew at some point it would be back to reality...

...but that would not be on Saturday, the last in Napa. Andrew and I did our best to keep it a surprise and we caught the girls off guard in the morning as a limo pulled into the street in front of our bed and breakfast. If we were trying to drop the "I own a restaurant" tag and be normal for a day, this was not going to be that day. The limo took us to Spring Mountain, owned by an eccentric swiss banker, Jackie, who lays out the details for each and every part of his winery. Apparently this man has one of the five largest personal wine cellars in the world, a true sign that he really cares for the product. Rule #1 at Spring Mountain, all wines must be made from wines only grown on the property. That being said, the estate is over 800 acres, ridiculous as far as wineries are concerned. But Spring Mountain is concerned tremendously with quality. So despite the size, they make very limited quantities of amazing wine. I have added Spring Mountain to my list of places I will return to on my next napa visit. That list is now two deep. Schramsberg and Spring Mountain. If any of you have ever seen Falcon Crest, the mansion that the swiss banker stays in on the property is shown at the beginning of that television show. We were lucky enough to be early and alone so we not only got a glimpse of the caves where they store the wine, but also the inside of the Falcon Crest mansion. Jackie has an affinity for interesting pieces of furniture, so her periodically sends the property something new that he finds for inclusion in his pad. Fun life, huh...

We left Spring Mountain and found ourselves at a tiny winery atop an out of the way hill with a 30-something host/owner that made us feel at home in his pod. The place had been suggested by our driver and Manny was gracious for the traffic. I think he was relieved that we were younger and so he jammed to the tunes he had playing and spoke of the wines he shared and the vision he had for his winery. It was funny and refreshing. Not pretentious. Just good wine. We laughed after Manny shaking his head from an apparent night before of partying, stated that this would be the last time that he smoked before coming to a tasting. The winery is still in its infancy as far as accomodations are concerned (see the outhouse and Manny's instructions that I could pee anywhere since we were outside), but the product is there. Totally recommended.

After seeing two polar opposites out of the gate, we finished with a tasting at Frog's Leap, another organic winery. Great scene, but due to our time limit, resticted in what we could do. On the way back to the bed and breakfast we decided that the girls needed a little extra pampering, so we called Linda and scheduled them mani pedi's at a local spa. After a quick lunch at the Oxbow Market in downtown Napa where I got to see my organic beans, we dropped off the girls and headed out for a guy's only tasting at Regusci. Drew and I laughed as we shared the final wines of the trip without the ladies, even getting hit on by two girls from Chico. Party girls as our Australian host suggested. Kristen of course was "amused" with our story, but we were quick to point out that they probably just thought we were together...really together...and just wanted some wine tasting friends...We topped off the rock and roll day with a wonderful dinner at Mustard's. Our waiter was quick to point out that the pork chop was "spiritual" so Andrew and I both jumped at the chance to see if a higher power could be seen in food. I mean, the tomato soup from the night before made me happy I had hair on my head. This had to be just as good if not better.

The next day we travelled back to San Fran and took in Pier 39/Fisherman's Wharf, Chinatown, Lombard Street and some other special features of the city. We even made time to stop at another random Chinatown restaurant for Dim Sum. Quite the experience. We are zero for two when it comes to Chinese food in Chinatown in San Francisco. Overall, it was a great trip. We had many great moments that will be part of our memories forever. We loved celebrating so many special occasions with Ann and Andrew and we hope to go back sometime in the future.