Category Archives: Travel Tales

My favorite hobby. I would travel all the time if I could afford it. My goal is to visit all 50 US states and most continents (if not countries) in my lifetime. I’m ambitious like that.

A Week at My Mom’s

That's my niece, capturing the excitement of our road trip to Mom's.

That’s my niece, capturing the excitement of our road trip to Mom’s.

Hello, everybody… I’m back! My week-long visit to Mom’s was most excellent. I picked up Big Sis and her daughter in Dallas and we beat cheeks north to avoid the thunderstorms that chased me from Houston all the way to Mom’s. From my door to Mom’s is about 9 to 10 hours, which made for a long drive, but it allowed us to get an early jump on Saturday morning. To add to our excitement, Sister #4 drove up from Dallas late Friday night to join us for our first weekend because in our family, the more = the merrier.

Saturday morning started with a trip to the farmers market in Fort Smith, which totally blew my mind. The variety and quality we found was shocking and wonderful, and this from someone who visits farmers markets in Houston and Austin. I’m telling you, these folks weren’t messing around. We hit that market like we were preparing for the apocalypse and ate like kings off our bounty for an entire week. We had bags upon bags of field peas, carrots, kale, squash, heirloom tomatoes, okra, Asian eggplants, honey, homemade bread and more. In fact, Big Sis and I ended up bringing some goodies home. She ended up with kale, carrots and assorted other veg. I brought back peaches, blackberries, blueberries and Thai bird chilies. Win/win all the way.

We also hit a vintage flea market at the fairgrounds and picked up a few great pieces for great prices. I bought vintage kitchen utensils and pans for blog props (of course), including an antique cake comb for my friend and fellow blogger Anne of From My Sweet Heart. She should be getting that box any day now. Then it was on to Van Buren for lunch and more antiquing. So fun!

Overall, our week consisted of way too much really good food, including that Blackberry Cake I made for Berry Week. It died a noble death. We also whipped up a few cocktails, got in a few rounds of croquet when the oppressive Oklahoma heat wasn’t trying to kill us, played more than a few board games chased with a few rounds of Mexican Train dominoes, and tackled some crafting. (I tried to crochet but failed miserably.) There were also visits from our Baby Sister and her son as well as a day spent with our oldest niece. Mostly, our week can be summed up as: we spent our week running Mom ragged by dragging her to every antique and quilt shop within a 100 mile radius. And it was glorious.

Here are a few snaps of our week in the country.

Typical sunset over Mom's place in the country.

Typical sunset over Mom’s place in rural eastern Oklahoma.

One of the many cottontail bunnies that live in Mom's yard and terrorize her attempts at gardening.

One of the many cottontail bunnies that live in Mom’s yard and terrorize her attempts at gardening. It’s a good thing they’re cute.

Mom's yard is covered in these bushes - nicknamed Rose of Sharon.

Mom’s yard is covered in althea bushes – nicknamed Rose of Sharon.

Mockingbird eggs - there were four in that nest by the time we left.

Mockingbird eggs – there were four in that nest by the time we left.

A day trip to White Rock Mountain for a picnic lunch.

A day trip to White Rock Mountain for a picnic lunch.

Mom at the overlook gate at White Rock Mountain.  I'm comin', Ma!

Mom at the overlook gate at White Rock Mountain. I’m comin’, Ma!

Mom, Big Sis & my niece checking out the cliffs at White Rock Mountain.

Mom, Big Sis & my niece checking out the cliffs at White Rock Mountain.

34 miles to Fort Smith, Arkansas where I spent my formative years.

34 miles to Fort Smith, Arkansas where we spent our formative years.

Big Sis & my niece check out the treacherous drop at the overlook.

Big Sis & my niece check out the treacherous drop at the overlook.

A perfect peck of peaches from Poteau, Oklahoma. Gorgeous!

A peck of perfect peaches from Poteau, Oklahoma. Gorgeous!

What to do with a peck of perfect peaches - preserve!

What to do with a peck of perfect peaches? Preserve!

There was much, much more to our week – most of which I did not photograph because I was too busy enjoying it. We took a day trip to Eureka Springs, which was lovely and included a stop at an old favorite – Bubba’s Barbeque.

Photo of Bubba's taken by my Big Sister

Nothing says pulled pork like the pink pig at Bubba’s. Photo taken by Big Sis & used with her permission.

In the end, we had a lovely week and were thoroughly exhausted by the time we all got home; I can only imagine how tired Mom must have been. We totally wreaked havoc on her quiet country life for an entire week, but we had such fun doing it. We did it all – from feeding fruit to the cows to playing croquet with the bunnies. Our hearts and stomachs were full, even if our wallets were significantly lighter after all that shopping. Still, it was so worth it.

Since my niece kicked off this story, I’ll let her finish it. Even though she’ll most likely be horrified. Sorry, K. When you pose around a blogger, things happen.

The End.

The End.

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BlogHer Food Conference 2013

If total sensory overload is the purpose of any good blogging conference, then BlogHer Food last weekend in Austin can be declared a raging success. In fact, I think it will probably take the next few weeks for me to totally absorb it all. My synopsis right now is that there was just SO MUCH to take in.

For now, I’ll just say that I met some truly fabulous people (both bloggers and sponsors), picked up great tips on food writing & photography, and basically had the time of my life. Hopefully, you will start to see some of that information reflected in future posts, but for now I’m going to focus on some of the events I attended. Here is but a fraction of last weekend’s activities.

Bites & Bloggers ATX Event at Whole Foods Market
sponsored by the Austin Food Bloggers Alliance & Whole Foods

Clockwise: Party on the rooftop terrace, Becker Vineyards wine tasting, Foreign & Domestic food sampling & Katie the Hill Country Cook

Clockwise: Party on the Whole Foods rooftop terrace, Becker Vineyards wine tasting, Foreign & Domestic food sampling & Katie the Hill Country Cook

The party on the roof at Whole Food’s flagship store was fun, blazing hot and super windy but the food provided by local chefs was fabulous and the people were warm & friendly. One stand-out was Becker Vineyards (including Richard Shelton, Assistant Winemaker & Enologist) who took the time to really speak to us about the wines and the science behind them. Do I remember all the chemistry mentioned? No, I do not. But I can tell you that Richard loves what he does and it shows in the wine. We sampled a Claret, Viognier, and rosy Provencal – all of which were spectacular.

For me, the best bite of the night went to the ladies from Foreign & Domestic (including chef & co-owner Jodi Elliott), who put together a creamy custard parfait topped with peaches, honey, thyme & a graham cracker crumble. So simple, yet rich and bursting with peach flavor. It was amazing.

Foreign & Domestic's Peach Parfait - I could have eaten the entire tray!

Foreign & Domestic’s Peach Parfait – I could have eaten the entire tray!

To see more great photos from this event, click here.

Between sessions on food writing, photography and social issues, I was fortunate enough to be invited to some truly special off-property events. The first of these was the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Dinner held at Springdale Farm in east Austin. Aside from being surprised to find such a large farm inside the city, I was stunned at the oasis they had created.

U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance Dinner at Springdale Farm
sponsored by USFRA, held at Springdale Farm, emceed by Chef Danny Boome

Springdale Farms in Austin, Texas - farm, produce stand & Eden East restaurant

Springdale Farms in Austin, Texas – farm tour provided by Glenn Foore, owner

As part of the event, we were treated to a tour of Springdale Farm as well as a dinner with local farmers and ranchers where we were given the opportunity to discuss issues around food sourcing, organic vs non-organic foods, and the importance of supporting local farms and ranches. Our group was fortunate to be paired with Jason Peeler, a cattle rancher from Floresville, Texas who attended with his lovely wife, Marianna. He raises cattle, she raises free-range chickens, and together they raise their children with a focus on quality over quantity. While our conversation became fairly spirited debating corn-fed vs grain-fed beef, Jason was open and honest and made the evening as informative as it was fun. Speaking of fun, our host chef Danny Boome was charming, despite struggling to pull off a Texas drawl with his British accent. A heartfelt thanks to our hosts and owners of Springdale Farm, Glenn & Paula Foore and the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance. It was a magical evening.

Clockwise - rustic place settings, rancher Jason Peeler & guest, host Danny Boome of the Food Network, and our lovely outdoor dining tables

Clockwise – rustic place settings, rancher Jason Peeler & guest, host Danny Boome of the Food Network, and our lovely outdoor dining tables

Private Dole Luncheon
sponsored by Dole Foods & hosted by Susan of Doughmesstic.com

Saturday afternoon, I had the pleasure of attending a luncheon with Dole Foods hosted by Susan of Doughmesstic.com. A bus picked us up from the Hilton and whisked us away to a modern mansion in the hills overlooking Austin. The house and views were amazing, but the focus was on Dole’s line of fabulously fresh foods, which were served for lunch. The meal was anchored by last year’s Taste of Dole California Cook-Off contest winner – Island Pork Sliders (so moist & juicy). We were also treated to a cooking demo by Chef Ben Ford, who has again partnered with Dole for this year’s cook-off competition.

Lunch with Dole Foods, including a blind food challenge, food demonstration with Chef Ben Ford, and a fabulously fresh lunch from the Taste of Dole California Cook-Off

Lunch with Dole Foods, including a blind food challenge, food demonstration with Chef Ben Ford, and a fabulously fresh lunch from the Taste of Dole California Cook-Off

In a surprising twist, we were treated to a blind tasting of a date-topped appetizer and challenged to name as many ingredients as possible. The blogger who came closest to identifying all of the ingredients would be flown to California in late June to sit on the judges panel for this year’s Dole California Cook-Off. And the winner was…. Liz from The Lemon Bowl. Congratulations, Liz!

BlogHer Food 2013 Closing Party at Stubbs Bar-B-Q
hosted by The Pioneer Woman, Steamy Kitchen & Simply Recipes

Lastly, the conference was capped with a closing party at Stubb’s Bar-B-Q in downtown Austin, hosted by Ree Drummond (The Pioneer Woman), Jaden Hair (Steamy Kitchen) and Elise Bauer (Simply Recipes). There was barbecue, live music, cold beer and dancing and despite the oppressive heat, a good time was had by all. It was a perfect end to an exhausting but exhilarating weekend.

The sun sets on the BlogHerFood'13 Closing party at Stubb's Bar-B-Q

The sun sets on the BlogHer Food’13 Closing party at Stubb’s Bar-B-Q

One last peek at the week’s excess: the swag. I’ve heard tales of bloggers coming home from conferences with bags full of freebies from vendors and sponsors, but I really had no idea. No baseline, so to speak. Now that I’ve seen it in action, I am stunned. Here is just a portion of what I received over the weekend.

Swag Aftermath – this is only two-thirds of what I received at BlogHerFood.

Swag Aftermath – this is only two-thirds of what I received at BlogHerFood.

And that’s part of what was left after I gave some away. The most surprising thing is it’s REALLY NICE STUFF! Kitchen utensils, glasses, cookbooks, you name it. There was so much food, I actually gave the valet guys at the hotel a bag of snacks when I checked out. I was one of the lucky ones who drove home. I cannot even begin to imagine trying to get all of this on an airplane. But I guess I’ll have to figure it out because I’ve got the bug now and really hope to attend BlogHerFood again next year, wherever it may be. I figure I’ve got one year to plan, scheme, save & beg… but I think I can do it. Who’s with me?!? One thing is for certain – I can always count on my homegirls!

Megan (Country Cleaver), Katie (Hill Country Cook) & Lauren (Grier Mountain) at the closing party

Megan (Country Cleaver), Katie (Hill Country Cook) & Lauren (Grier Mountain) at the BlogHer Food 2013 closing party

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The Cathedral of Junk – Austin, TX

We recently spent a weekend in Austin with our grandkids and during that weekend The Complete Package took us out for street food and a sight-seeing adventure at the Cathedral of Junk. Never heard of it? Neither had I, and neither had My Baby who lives in Austin and attended college there {hook ’em}. How TCP knew is beyond us, but he did and we’re glad he did. The Cathedral of Junk is hard to describe, wonderous to behold, and one of a kind. Here’s a peek.

Cathedral of Junk - Front of House

From the street, it’s a bright and eclectic house with lots of color and character.

Cathedral of Junk - Front Porch Collage

But the main attraction is the back yard. It’s a tower of…. well, uh…. junk! Lots and lots and oodles of junk. Junk of all makes & models, shapes & sizes.

Cathedral of Junk - Front View of Tower

There’s metal junk.

Cathedral of Junk - Back Side

And nostalgic junk.

Cathedral of Junk - My Baby & the Trolls

And yellow rubbery junk.

Cathedral of Junk - Rubber Duckies

There is junk with a purpose, like this drum with the story of the Cathedral.

Cathedral of Junk - Story on Drum

And junk that inspires.

Cathedral of Junk - Coldplay Quote

I love me some Coldplay. I also love things that make me laugh.

Cathedral of Junk - Billy Bass & Train

Yes, that is a Billy Bass. He was mounted just high enough to prevent us from pressing the button to see if he would sing. There’s just plain ol’ junky junk.

Cathedral of Junk - Sample Junk

And Austin-themed junk.

Cathedral of Junk - Austin Mirror

The main attraction for some is the Throne of Junk.

Cathedral of Junk - Empty Throne

So kitschy and fabulous, some couples come here to have their engagement photos taken. Click here for a sample. We didn’t see any engaged couples posing when we were there, but we did meet a family who was taking graduation photos of their daughter at fun & funky landmarks all over Austin. What a great idea! This cute little group was willing to pose for a few snaps.

Cathedral of Junk - My Baby, Jonah & Lilly

Yep – that’s My Baby with Jonah Bear and Lilly Bug. My little munchkins.

Cathedral of Junk - Lilly & Jonah

These two cutie-patooties make everything more fun & fabulous. And surprisingly, that’s what the Cathedral of Junk is – fun & fabulous.

Cathedral of Junk - A Peek Inside

At first glance, it may inspire some to update their tetanus booster, but don’t let that stop you. The Cathedral of Junk is a monument to inspiration and creativity. It inspires others to visit daily, donate items or create masterpieces of their own. Jonah left dreaming of his next creation.

If you decide to visit, I hope you’ll stop to drop a donation in the box near the gate. It takes a lot of wire, mortar and cement to hold this cathedral together. If you’re curious about what it takes to maintain, Vince (the artist & homeowner) is always standing by to answer questions. He’s a really, really nice guy and proof that one man’s trash truly is another’s treasure.

Cathedral of Junk - Donation Box

If you want to know more about Vince Hannemann and his Cathedral of Junk, this article in The Daily Texan is a great place to start. Keep Austin Weird, y’all!

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Postcards from Small Town Texas

The Complete Package and I have been enjoying scenic drives to small towns throughout Texas. This is the fourth in a series of photos documenting our lazy day adventures and highlighting these small town Texas treasures.

Fourth Stop: Gonzales, Texas
Gonzales - Come & Take It 2

No single statement sums up Gonzales, Texas more than “Come and take it!” Why? Because that single defiant phrased uttered about a tiny but powerful cannon is believed to have launched the Texas Revolution in 1835. Rarely has such a small piece of hardware launched such a contentious battle.

Gonzales - Masonic Building

In a nutshell, it was borrowed from the Mexican military by the citizens of Gonzales for protection from native Indians. When the Mexican commander asked for it to be returned a few years later, the citizens of Gonzales declined his invitation. In fact, their response was “Come and take it” which, judging by the ensuing battle, was not well received. To learn more about this tiny cannon and its impact on Texas history, you can click here. As if to prove that Texans are tenacious by nature, the cannon still resides to this day in the Old Jail Museum. There you’ll also find the Gonzales Visitor Center.

Gonzales - Visitor Center & Jail Museum Bldg

Gonzales - Visitor Center & Jail Museum

But there’s more to Gonzales than one cannon. A town rich in history, this little gem is what leisurely drives to small towns are all about. Besides friendly people and a laid back atmosphere, Gonzales is beautiful. Just take a look at their Grand Dame of buildings – the historic Gonzales County Courthouse.

Gonzales - Gonzales County Courthouse

Gonzales - Courthouse Clock Close-Up

The Old Jail Museum, county courthouse and historic Gonzales fire department can all be found on the city’s main square. It’s a lovely picnic spot.

Gonzales - Town Square

Gonzales - Town Square Marker

Established in 1884 when the city first authorized the purchase of 200 feet of fire hose, Gonzales takes great pride in their fire house history. The original firehouse bell hangs in the town square as a tribute to the firefighters who’ve protected the citizens of Gonzales throughout the years.

Gonzales - Fire Station Bell

This great old vintage fire truck totally charmed my socks off.

Gonzales - Antique Fire Truck

We parked next to it while we walked around downtown. When we returned, we found this cute little stowaway on our truck tire. If only he knew how much I love squirrels. I took it as a lucky sign this would be a lovely day.

Gonzales - Tiny Stowaway

Just across the from the fire station, you’ll find a lovingly restored movie theater. I just love it when a small town takes the care to restore these great old landmarks. Too many of them are gone, replaced by giant mega-theaters. It’s a shame, really. The small, quaint & historic theaters are so much more fun.

Gonzales - Classic Old Movie Theater
Speaking of nostalgia, who remembers these great old gas stations from the road trips of our childhoods? This one is still in remarkably great shape. Makes me want to open a donut/coffee shop in it. Cool, huh?

Gonzales - Vintage Gas Station

And that’s convenient, because the perfect house is for sale across the street. What do you think? Too big for just the two of us?

Gonzales - Gorgeous Old Home

Yeah… you’re right. It’s too big. Maybe this one. It’s smaller.

Gonzales - House Built in 1895

Nah… probably not. Still too big. But this one? I think this one is just right.

Gonzales - Beautiful Home Fabulous Porch

I’m such a sucker for a big wrap-around porch, and I’m in L-O-V-E with this one. It’s easy to fall in love with Gonzales. It’s charming. It’s friendly. It’s proud of its heritage and comfortable with its place in Texas history.

Gonzales - Hero Square Monument

It’s a great place to spend a day, and a great excuse to take a day trip. And that’s my advice to you. Take advantage of the next pretty day, get in your car, and…

Gonzales - Come & Take It

Gonzales - Header with Courthouse

To learn more about Gonzales, Texas visit the Texas Escapes website.
To see the other small towns featured in my Postcards series, click on:

Postcards from Small Town Texas: Halletsville
Postcards from Small Town Texas: Yoakum
Postcards from Small Town Texas: Shiner

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Deep in the Heart of Texas

Sometimes you just need to get away from it all. No phones. No internet. No distractions. Just peace & quiet. The Complete Package found such a place – a respite from the big city – deep in the heart of Texas. It’s called St. Clare’s Cabin and it was perfection. Here’s a photo journal of our week in the country.

LeakeyTX - St Clare's Cabin

Nestled in a valley near the Sabinal River, St. Clare’s Cabin is between the towns of Leakey and Vanderpool, Texas and only 8 miles or so from Lost Maples State Park. Everything about the cabin’s location is scenic.

LeakeyTX - Cabin Entry

LeakeyTX - Welcome to St Clares

What a wonderful surprise to walk into such a warm, cozy and beautifully decorated home. I think I want to live here. Permanently.

LeakeyTX - Cabin from Bedroom Doors

LeakeyTX - Cabin View from Front Door

I love the dining nook table. It is handcrafted with an inlaid state of Texas in the middle and a star marking the cabin’s location. It’s all about the details.

LeakeyTX - Dining Nook

Here’s a close-up of that equestrian collage hanging over the dining table.

LeakeyTX - Equestrian Collage

This is what it means when someone says “the decorator paid such great attention to detail.” Every touch at St. Clare’s Cabin was thoughtfully placed.

LeakeyTX - Front Porch Love

LeakeyTX - Retro Picnic Decor

LeakeyTX - Cozy Kitchen

LeakeyTX - Gorgeous Dishes

LeakeyTX - Cute Country Bath

LeakeyTX - Bathroom Touches

I’m not ashamed to say I squealed like a little girl when I saw that the cabin was decorated in retro Christmas. I absolutely loved it!

LeakeyTX - Holiday Fireplace

LeakeyTX - Christmas Mantle

LeakeyTX - Pinnochio Tree Topper

Speaking of Christmas, as soon as we got there, Dobie (our Christmas Shelf Elf) found a fun new buddy to hang out with. Literally.

LeakeyTX - Wild Boar & Elf

When he got bored with the boar (ha-ha), he stayed busy pranking the kids. He was found swinging from the shower rod, soaking in a mini-marshmallow bath, and climbing a decorative shutter in the kitchen. I think he was motivated by that little Hershey bar. He’s definitely my kind of elf.

LeakeyTX - Elf Climbing for Candy

After snacking on chocolate, we found him napping in the tissue box. I think it was the only time he sat still all week. He’s an active, mischievous little elf.

LeakeyTX - Elf Treats & Nap

Speaking of sleeping, St. Clare’s Cabin has two lovely bedrooms, each with a queen bed (one firm, one soft). The first was decorated in a cowboy theme.

LeakeyTX - The Cowboy Bedroom

The second paid tribute to a long-lost relative and his military service. Both bedrooms had limestone floor, quilts made by the owner, and hand-embroidered pillow shams. Again with the details. Love, love, love it. Very sweet.

LeakeyTX - Second Bedroom

Also sweet? The cabin’s large front porch. I love a screened porch – a love directly traced back to my maternal grandmother who lived on the Red River outside of Denison, Texas. I have many, many fond memories of playing on her porch. I’m not sure there’s anything better than a cabin with a big screened porch, unless it’s a porch with a swing. Ever slept on a screened porch on a beautiful summer night? It’s a little piece of heaven.

LeakeyTX - St Clares Cabin & Kids

LeakeyTX - Porch View of Front Yard

The fenced yard is huge, and I loved this cute tin-topped table & chairs.

LeakeyTX - Porch Table at Cabin

We invited our daughter, son-in-law and two grandkids to join us for a weekend. I think they enjoyed the cabin as much as we did, but Jonah Bear & Lilly Bug reeeeealy loved it. They took full advantage of the great outdoors.

They fell in love with the creek that lines one side of the property.

LeakeyTX - Creek at the Cabin

Or maybe it was the plethora of limestone rocks they could toss into the creek.

LeakeyTX - Kids at the Creek

Over and over and over again – for two straight days.

LeakeyTX - Jonah Tossing Rocks

And then there was the hammock. Those kids loved that hammock.

LeakeyTX - Jonah & Lilly Hammock

LeakeyTX - Lilly in Hammock

We also loved exploring this part of the Texas Hill Country. The Complete Package and I took a different scenic drive every day we were there. I had no idea this part of the state was so lovely.

LeakeyTX - Sabinal River Cypress

LeakeyTX - Scenic Drive - Bluffs

LeakeyTX - Preparing to Cross

LeakeyTX - River Crossing near Concan

LeakeyTX - View of Bluff at Sunset

LeakeyTX - Longhorns

LeakeyTX - Gang of Wild Turkeys

Those are wild turkeys, folks. We saw gangs of them – running amok, causing trouble and tagging cars late at night. It left me wondering how good one of these would be baked up for Christmas Dinner. And then I found myself craving a whiskey & Coke and a turkey sandwich. {heehee}

Each night, I found myself looking forward to sitting by the fire pit with a roaring campfire, or swinging in the hammock as the sun set over the valley, or gazing at a pitch black sky late at night with the brightest stars you’ve ever seen, or curling up in my favorite spot by the window gazing at the mountains.

LeakeyTX - My Baby in the Window

That’s My Baby. She’s keeping my spot warm. Thanks, honey! She’s a good girl.

And now that we’re home, I’m already thinking about our next visit to St. Clare’s Cabin. It’s so lovely in the fall, I want to see it in the spring when the creek is flush and the wildflowers are blooming. And I want to go back in the summer when the rivers are running at capacity and everyone descends on the Frio and Guadalupe Rivers to float in inner tubes and getting a little too sunburned. I want to soak up the fresh air, enjoy the peace & quiet, and watch those gorgeous Hill Country sunsets. And I want to do it as often as possible.

LeakeyTX - Sunset at St Clares Cabin

Want more information on vacation rentals? I highly recommend our two favorite “By Owner” websites – Vacation Rentals By Owner (VRBO) and HomeAway. As with any ‘by owner’ site, the key is to do your homework, read descriptions thoroughly, stick to rentals that include plenty of pictures so you see what you’re getting, and rely on the reviews written by others who’ve stayed there. We’ve rented on these two websites at least 8-10 times, and we have never, ever been disappointed. If you’d like to visit the St. Clare’s Cabin Retreat website, click here.

So… where do you go when YOU want to get away?

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It’s Beer Week! Wait… what?!?

You heard me… Beer Week. And I’m not a beer drinker. There, I said it. It feels good to put it out there from the very beginning. My name is NanaBread and I am not a beer drinker. I never really have been, except for this one time in Fayetteville, Arkansas in the very early 80’s when I drank half-frozen slushy beer loaded with green olives. And it was delicious. If you’re not a drinker, stay with me. There’s a cake later in this post. I promise.

When Beer Week was proposed by my blogging friends and I was intimidated. But then I made beer bread and saw a few chocolate stout cakes on Pinterest, so after some research I embraced our Beer Week with open arms. In fact, I embraced it so well I ordered and drank two beer samplers on vacation in Vancouver. Here’s what I tried (for the team, of course):

The Sampler at Granville Island Brewing Co., Vancouver

Yeah. Doesn’t look like something a non-beer drinker would order, does it? For this one, The Complete Package helped out. It was a good plan – he enjoyed the boring flavors (pale ale, lager) and I enjoyed sampling the more exotic flavors (raspberry, honey, maple cream). Check this out:

The laminated Tasting Map was the best coaster ever & so informative!

What I liked best about this Granville Island Brewing sampler was that their flavored beers were gently flavored. Raspberry beer can be obnoxious, but this one was gently kissed with raspberry flavor. And it was lovely. My favorite was the maple cream ale. Second favorite was the one placed in the “Limited Release” section of the tasting mat – Ginger. Mmmm… ginger. And third place goes to the honey lager. Hard to describe, but so very easy to drink.

Next up (and several days later, I promise) was the Irish sampler from Mahony & Sons at Canada Place in Vancouver. The Complete Package abandoned me and ordered his own beer, so I was on my own for this sampler. I did what any team player would do – I cracked my knuckles and rolled my head to loosen up my shoulders and dug in. “We can do this!” It’s our family motto. TCP’s beer:

He wanted something light to go with salmon. Tsk.

Compared to his, mine looks like a Party on a Plank. This one included four Irish classics – 6 ounces each of Smithwick’s, Harp, Kilkenny and Guinness.

Slainte! (SLAHN-chə) – that’s Old Irish for ‘good health’ or something like that

I started with the pale lager and worked my way up to the Guinness.

Light & refreshing, but still a lager. Meh.

Then the Kilkenny Irish Red Cream Ale.

Oooo… I liked this one a lot; so I set it aside so I could savor it later.

Third – the Smithwick’s.

Smithwick’s Irish Ale – it was just okay; sorry, Smithwick.

And lastly, the Guinness. It’s so dark it looks like iced coffee.

Gorgeous, if a beer can be called that; who can resist that foam?

And that leads us to Beer Week. I chose the Guinness and I paired it with dark chocolate, then smothered it in a Caramel & Kahlua Whipped Cream. Sounds pretty good, don’t you think? Want a sneak peek? Here ya’ go.

Dark Chocolate Stout Cake with Caramel & Kahlua Whipped Cream

Here’s how I made the dark chocolate stout cake:
(adapted from The Realistic Nutritionist‘s bundt cake)

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
3 tablespoons butter, softened
4 ounces applesauce
2 whole eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup Guinness stout
1/3 cup dark chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a jellyroll pan with parchment or a silpat mat, then spray with Pam for Baking or grease & flour liberally; set aside.

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugars, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt; whisk to combine. Add the softened butter, applesauce, eggs, vanilla extract and Guinness and beat with an electric mixer until thoroughly combined. Stop the mixer and fold in the chocolate chips. Pour into the jellyroll pan and spread evenly to all edges and corners. Tap gently on the counter, then pop it into the oven. Bake approximately 20 minutes, or until a toothpick just comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow the cake to cool completely.

For the Caramel & Kahlua Whipped Cream:
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon espresso powder
1/2 cup thick dulce de leche caramel
4 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon Kahlua (or espresso, cooled)

In a saucepan, combine the whipping cream, espresso powder and caramel; arm over low heat, whisking until the caramel is melted and thoroughly combined. Remove from the heat and allow it to cool; refrigerate for at least 2 hours (I put mine in my KitchenAid mixer bowl and placed the whole thing in the fridge so the bowl & cream were both cold). Once properly chilled, place the bowl onto the mixer and whip until soft peaks start to form. Add the sugar and Kahlua and continue to beat until it begins to thicken. In my case, stiff peaks did not form and that’s okay. It’s all going to be layered with cake in a minute.

To assemble:

1. Start with the cake (this is where parchment/silpat mats come in handy).

Baking it in a jelly roll pan makes the cake layers about 1/2″ thick.

2. Use a round metal biscuit cutter to cut the cake into circles. How big should your circles be? That depends on what you’re building your layers in. Measure your jar or glass to determine which size cutter or can to use, then cut the cake into circles. One jellyroll pan yielded 30 cake circles for me.

A metal biscuit cutter makes quick work of cutting the layers.

3. To pipe the whipped cream, I like to spoon mine into a ziploc-style plastic bag. It helps to put that bag into a glass and fold the top edge of the bag over the glass. Once the bag is full, pull it out of the glass, press out the excess air and zip it shut.

My favorite piping tool – a plastic bag; makes for easy clean up, too.

4. Using a pair of scissors, snip the corner off the bag just before you start piping whipped cream. I like to keep a small but deep mixing bowl nearby so I can set the bag down without it falling over and spilling out.

Snip the corner and start piping; when you’re done, throw it away.

5. Start by placing a cake round in the bottom of your jar or glass; top with a 1/2″ layer of whipped cream, then continue to rotate cake and cream layers.

Start with cake & work your way up to within 3/4″ of the top.

6. Finish with a nice swirl of the whipped cream.

A layer of the whipped cream goes on top.

Then a nice spoonful of caramel goes on top of the cream.

Then sprinkle with cake crumbs. Nothing goes to waste.

6. If you’re using serving glasses, cover them with plastic wrap and keep them refrigerated until just before serving. If you’re using canning jars, place a lid and ring on the top and tighten gently. Then feel free to decorate any way you see fit. I went with burlap and ribbon, and I was happy with the way they turned out.

That’s burlap held with a rubber band; rustic yet decorative.

Finish with a pretty brown satin ribbon & suddenly it’s fancy.

And that is my version of Dark Chocolate Stout Cake with Caramel & Kahlua Whipped Cream. My favorite thing about this dessert is… everything. I love how they look layered in jars. I love that the jars make them portable. I love that these were even better the next day, which means you can make them in advance and have more free time to entertain. It also means the leftovers (if any) will keep getting better and better until they’re gone.

Oh, yeah…there’s the money shot. Someone pass me a spoon.

Trust me, these go fast and they go down smooth – even if you’re not a beer drinker. If you are, then these are just the thing, lassie. Cures what ales ya’.

Now who’s ready for another round?
Visit these Beer Week bloggers throughout the week to see what they’re up to:

Monday:
Kirsten at Comfortably Domestic – introduces us to a local Michigan home brewer turning passion into a business in her “Welcome to Beer Week” intro

Tuesday:
Madeline at Munching in the Mitten – shares her thoughts on Beer Week as well as a recipe for Pumpkin Beer Bread – just in time for fall
and
Kat at Tenaciously Yours – shares an overview of Gasthof’s Oktoberfest where young & old come together to celebrate what else but BEER!

Wednesday:
Anne at From My Sweet Heart – turns beer into Pumpkin Ale Pretzel Caramels; what sweet magic is this?
and
Lauren at Climbing Grier Mountain – tries to steal The Complete Package from me with her Pale Ale Shrimp Po’Boy; it’s one of his all-time favorites

Thursday:
Megan at Country Cleaver – celebrates her heritage and Octoberfest in style with one of my favorites – Schnitzel & Dumplings
and
Beka at Kvetchin’ Kitchen – joins in the fun with her review of the Outlander Brewery.

Friday:
Mads at La Petite Pancake – creates a fiesta for your mouth with her luscious Beer Battered Shrimp Tacos
and
Allison at Decadent Philistines – takes Four Peaks Brewery Kilt Lifter Scottish Ale to new levels with a spicy German mustard, ale-soaked sweet potato oven fries and Maple-Ale Ice Cream; some people are just overachievers.

Saturday:
Katie The Hill Country Cook – visits the Double Horn Brewery outside Marble Falls, Texas to take in $2 pints & Happy Hour Apps
and
Kirsten of Comfortably Domestic – is back with Black & Tan Brownies
and
Carrie at Bakeaholic Mama – thinks outside the box with hard cider and a fabulous Woodchuck Sweet Potato Bisque; this is why I love fall.

I’ll be your mouth is watering now, isn’t it? I’ll be updating the links above throughout the week, so stay tuned. Beer Week may just prove to be our greatest endeavor to date. Cheers!

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Filed under Blogger Collaborations, Food & Recipes, Travel Tales

Where have I been? Vancouver!

Vancouver, British Columbia – it’s on Canada’s western coast. Ever been? It has been on our bucket list for years. So when The Complete Package & I decided to take a trip to celebrate our 30th anniversary, we picked Vancouver. Why? For the mountains and the ocean and the food and the culture and the whales, of course! And it was every bit as beautiful as I thought it would be.


I don’t usually photograph airports, but Vancouver’s is lovely. This gorgeous sculpture greeted us as we stepped off our plane. As far as airports go, Vancouver gets a solid A+ (in case you’re rating airports).

For lodging, we decided to rent an apartment in the Yaletown area of downtown Vancouver. Apartments are plentiful in Vancouver, and this one really stood out. The location was perfect, the apartment was beautiful, the private rooftop terrace was a total bonus, and the views were stunning. I’m pretty sure my jaw hit the floor when we walked in. Here are the snaps we took once we recovered.

I’ve mentioned HomeAway.com and VRBO.com before, and we used it again for this trip. I can’t say enough about our experiences except that each place we’ve rented has been completely different and each has been spectacular. This rooftop “Skybox” apartment in hip Yaletown was no exception. Everything about it was fabulous. Did I mention the views? Because I just can’t say enough about the views of Vancouver from this apartment.

It wasn’t easy, but we did actually leave the apartment long enough to see some of Vancouver. Here are a few of the places we visited:

The Capilano Suspension Bridge & Treetop Walks

Chinatown & The Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Chinese Garden

Historic Gastown

Granville Island & Public Market

The Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia

Whale Watching along the San Juan Islands

The Vancouver Aquarium

Miscellaneous Sights Around Vancouver

And in case you’re a foodie, there was food. Lots of food.

Recognize that last one? That’s poutine – it’s a Canadian thing. French fries topped with cheese curds, then smothered in gravy. It was on my “must try” list, along with Nanaimo Bars and local wild salmon. If you make it to Vancouver some day, give it a try. Poutine. Remember that name (if you love gravy).

Vancouver was glorious. The friendliest people on earth live there, and I’d be friendly too if I were lucky enough to live in such a wonderful place. They have a temperate climate. They have ocean views and mountains galore. They plant flowers on every corner and hang them from every street light. Vancouver is beautiful; plain & simple. And if it’s not on your bucket list yet, it should be.

Note from NanaBread: this blog post was long on photos but short on text, so if you have any questions please leave me a comment. I’m happy to answer anything I can about our Vancouver trip.

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Filed under Travel Tales