Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Green Drink

I have this friend, Laurie, who has been carrying around a mason jar with some funky looking liquid in it, drinking it. No, not moonshine. I finally asked her about it and I learned all about juicing and how the enzymes in raw vegetables (preferably green ones) have super anti-oxidant properties, plus a whole lot more. Now don't get me wrong. I was still VERY skeptical, but I am adventurous so I decided that I would let Laurie make me a "green drink".

She kept telling me, "It's really not that bad."

It wasn't bad at all. It was sort of strangely refreshing. Before I went down to Macy's and spent a small fortune on a tremendously FABULOUS Breville Juicer, I thought I had better have Laurie make me a few more green drinks. So I carried all my vegetables down to Laurie’s and she made me my own little mason jars full of green drinks. I started sipping and before I knew it, I was not hungry. I was very satisfied. I had energy. I just felt great! It had to be the green drinks, right?

Well, I went to Macy's and bought a fancy-shmancy juicer and a new high powered blender to boot. You never know when you're going to need to whip up a good frozen margarita. I stocked up on the best organic green vegetables that HEB had to offer and I was in business. I found that the "green lemonade" recipe and my many variations of it make the best concoctions.

Here's my recipe:

1 lemon (no need to peel, just juice the whole little yellow enzyme machine)
1 apple (2 if they are itsy bitsy apples)
2 stalks of celery
2 carrots
1 bunch of cilantro
1 head of Romaine lettuce
1 large cucumber (sometimes 2 if I'm feeling froggy)

Okay, here's the key. You don't want to drink your green drink from a Mason jar. No offense, Laurie, but presentation is extremely important when you're talking about drinking seriously GREEN liquid. So, I highly recommend drinking it from a footed crystal iced beverage glass with a straw, of course! If you ever want to give Green Drinks a go, just pop over around 10 AM and I'll whirl one out for you! Yes, I really drink these!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Hurricane Ike

Hurricane Ike came with a vengeance. During the storm, Charlie stayed up, just in case he needed to alert us to move to safety. The girls slept on an air mattress at the foot of our bed.

All during the storm, the wind blew so hard I thought our bedroom windows would surely break from the force of the debris being blown into the glass.

I would lie in bed, not able to sleep with the wind rushing past. I prayed for my family's safety, over and over again. I would at times creep into the den where Charlie was watching the news coverage. First at 2 AM, then again at 3 AM, then again at 3:45 AM and so on throughout the night. We lost power at 5:45 AM. The storm still raged. The children were up around 8 AM and the winds were still blowing. We watched the storm in the dark until the winds died down and then just rain came.

This is what my street looked like Saturday afternoon. Every home on my street had enormous limbs down. Three homes had large trees down. One tree crashed through the garage, flattening two cars. Another tree tumbled through a fence and onto the garage, leaving behind three or more gaping holes. Another tree was down, crossing the road and blocking our driveway. All in all, we were very blessed. Two streets over there were trees resting in homes and ceilings caving in.

The next few days were filled with yard work. We cut branches, picked up sticks and debris, and raked the remnants of vegetation. The conveniences of the electric blower were sorely missed as we had to do everything the old fashioned way. Charlie couldn't get his chain saw started. Everything took twice as long, but we felt better getting the yard cleaned up. Even the girls pitched in filling trash bags with all the debris. Charlie says I can really push a crew, but I had them all working and accomplishing a lot.

Here's Charlie standing beside his manly pile. It's twice that size now since he took advantage of the debris pick up and cut a jillion branches and bushes. He transplanted aspidistras from the backyard to replace the variegated pittosporums that had not weathered the storm in the front of the house. He is the hortaculture superman!

So we weathered the storm. We were without power through Wednesday, September 17th around 5 PM. For all the grief I've given Charlie all these years about his hurricane survival kit, I am so thankful he had it! Because of Charlie's preparations, we had battery operated lanterns and fans. We had flashlights and candles. We had a Coleman gas camp stove so we could cook decent food for our children. He even made a make shift oven out of foil and baked biscuits on the grill. I do not think I will ever be a candidate for Survivor. I am not interested in being hot or camping out like pioneers. I am grateful for the safety of my family and that my home did not withstand damage. I have learned that generators are a godsend and that electricity is my friend. Do I dare tell you that I know for a fact you can't use your Chi flat iron plugged into a generator? I didn't think so.

Hoping and praying that you are all safe from the storm, cleaning up, rebuilding and now with power.

Bathing Beauties

Some of our favorite moments are poolside. The girls are great swimmers, but usually do more playing that proper strokes. That's okay.

That's why we have the pool.

That Hope is always entertaining us with her antics!

Who doesn't love relaxing on the float?

How can a girl swim without her googles?

The best part of having a pool is having a sister to splash around with !

Yeah! I love to swim!!!

Fishing Princesses

This past July, we took the girls to Lake Fork to visit Charlie's sister and brother-in-law. It was one seriously long drive to get there, but we sure enjoyed ourselves once we arrived. The girls became expert golf cart drivers and Uncle Marshall and Aunt Charlene are VERY brave to ride along side these mavericks! The girls baked and decorated sugar cookies with Aunt Charlene. And we road like speed boat racers across Lake Fork! It was a great little get-away for the whole family.

Hope enjoyed relaxing on the pier, but struggled to keep her place on the hammock.

Uncle Marshall had a blast showing those little prissy girls how to bait their hooks!

Gracen is one FINE fisherwoman!

The proud princess showing her catch of the day!

Well, little Hopie isn't as proud, but her face is priceless!

Monday, September 1, 2008

The Wine Diva Tells All

Charlie and I really enjoy our wine. When we thought about a getaway without
the girls, we immediately thought of Napa, California (right after we realized we didn't have enough airline miles or hotel points for Maui).

The first stop was Viansa Italian Winery and Marketplace. The scenery was breathtaking! We first sampled the wines and then had a wonderful light lunch overlooking the vineyard. What an awesome way to begin the vacation!

Next we traveled into Sonoma where we visited one of my favorite stops, Gloria Ferrer. It's a champagne place and you know how I adore the sparkling wine! We also stopped at Cline and Sebastiani, which although mass-marketed, was a delightful stop.

A favorite stop was at family owned and operated, Gundlach-Bunschu. It was in a cave and had so many interesting historic photographs and wine making paraphernalia to see.

This is where Charlie got on the marathon call from Dallas (do these folks not understand what "I'm on vacation means"?)

We then started the long trek up to Cloverdale where we were staying in a Bed and Breakfast called Shelford House. Picture a VERY OLD home on the corner of a street leading to a quary with a huge street light right outside our window. The bathroom sported a claw-footed tub with a little hand-held shower spout. I felt like Laura Ingalls in Little House on the Prairie. Charlie and I are beginning to think we are not B&B people.

On Friday, August 8th, we set out to discover all sorts of new and interesting wines, while visiting and sampling a few favorites. We thoroughly enjoyed the Benziger Family Winery. The weather was crisp and cool. We boarded a tram and took off to see the vineyard and discover the mysteries of Biodynamic Farming. That turned out to be serious amped up organic farming. It was very interesting. So if you're a real greenie, then you should be drinking Benziger wines.

After visiting Benziger, they sent us to their sister winery, Imagery, where we got two free tastings and you can't beat that! The most interesting thing about this winery is the wine bottles each sport an original art piece on the label. The winery also has it's own gallery. We bellied up to the bar and had a good ole Houstonian serving us up. She was a doll and snapped a picture of us.

Next we journeyed on to Kunde Estate Tasting Room in the heart of Sonoma County's spectacular Valley of the Moon. They had all sorts of samples to try from peppered jelly to hummus. We found coloring books by the author who wrote, The Grapes Grow Sweet, for the girls. We found a pinot noir that we thought would be nice for Thanksgiving, but did not purchase any just yet. We also went to Kenwood Winery. We used to love their 1999 cabernet. We met some great fellows and found the snow globe Gracen had requested (with wine bottles, we're so ashamed!)

Chateau St. Jean was too close to skip, so went ran over and sipped some of their fine vintages. Next was Blackstone Winery. I purchase a chardonnay locally from Blackstone that I really like, but on this visit, we tasted wines that are not mass marketed. Our hostess was delightful and gave generous pours!

After a marathon day of tasting, we were in serious need of nourishment. We went to Zin in Healdsburg. We had the most fabulous Mexican Beer Battered Green Beans with Mango Salsa! This was worth the trip! We ordered a great bottle of wine and enjoyed a great dinner, maybe the best of the entire trip!

On Saturday, August 9th, we left the Shelford House and headed to Silver Oak Winery. There we sampled delicious 2004 and 2003 cabernets. While visiting with our host, he recommended we press on to their sister winery, Twomey. It was breathtaking. The scenery was simply picturesque. The sleek, modern tasting room was an architectural marvel.

We also stopped by Ferarri-Carano which offered beautifully manicured grounds. We enjoyed the 2005 Tre Terre Chardonnay and the 2005 Merlot. Probably one of our most formal tastings was at Jordan Winery. We enjoyed generous pours in Mr. Jordan’s personal library at our private tasting. We were served delectable cheeses and freshest fruit. Jordan only produces chardonnay, cabernet, and estate olive oil.

From there we checked into our hotel and modern civilization. Charlie and I have definitely decided that we are not B&B people. We were able to shower in a tile shower with real shower head, all while standing up. Until you’ve “shampooed” in a claw-footed tub with a short hose of a shower, sitting because there is no shower curtain, you can’t properly understand the sheer luxury of a standard hotel bath/shower.

And then on Sunday, August 10th, we celebrated my birthday! Wahoo! First we went to Stag’s Leap, which was a real treat. Then on to Conn Creek, which is one of my favorite cabernets.

We spent a good part of the morning at Mumm Napa which makes champagne (my most favorite drink!) That's where we met a lovely elderly couple who had driven down the mountain, as they do on most Sundays to enjoy a glass of champagne. They regaled us with stories about the gentleman's service in WWII and the Korean War. I could have spent the day in this wonderful company listening and learning from this real-life war hero and his beautiful wife. What a blessing to meet such wonderful folks! We could not stay any longer as our tasting appointment at Opus One was calling.

From there we discussed the winery where I purchased a t-shirt and children's book for Gracen about 6 years ago. We couldn't agree on the name of the winery, but I drew the inside of the tasting room to prove to Charlie that I knew what I was talking about. As usual, my photographic memory served me well, and it was indeed Markham Winery. We shared a tasting there and was not impressed, but it felt great to be right! Wahoo!

After gloating over being right, we set out to visit Freemark Abbey. Charlie and I shared a bottle of Freemark Abbey cabernet on our wedding anniversary at Flemings, here in the Woodlands, and are real fans. We sampled the 2005 Napa Valley Chardonnay and the 2002 "Bootleg" Cabernet. Our favorite, however, was the 2003 CabernetBosche Cabernet Sauvignon.

And then we were off to finish the night in style at one of my favorite wineries of all time, Domain Chandon. They, of course, produce champagne. What else? We each had a flight in the happening "party tent" as I like to call it, but it's more of an open air tasting room. There is music, many tables, lots of people sipping and laughing and enjoying themselves. We dined at Etoille, the restaurant on premises. We started with a delicious cold avocado soup w/ salmon accoutrement and a glass of champagne. We each had a different 4-course dinner with wine parings and intended to photograph each course, but those wine pairings got us off task and we would forget until we had eaten half our portion, so I'll save you from the pics of half eaten food.

I had an extremely lavish birthday and really enjoyed spending the day and evening with my sweet husband.

But after all the wining and dining, we were pretty "wined out". So on Monday, August 11th, we kept our schedule light and started with a reserved tasting and tour at Cakebread Winery. We had a great time touring the facility. I learned that the French oak barrels that the wine is aged in comes from specific forests in France and that the barrel is imprinted with this information on the bottom. I also learned that with this forest information is also the degree the barrel is toasted. For future reference, I'm a HT girl (heavy toast). Our guide was very informative and I learned the most during our entire trip here at Cakebread.

We also had a scheduled appointment at Honig which is off the beaten path. We had a great time chatting with our hostess who gave generous pours! She even sent us home with a birthday wine bottle to boot!

Our last stop was the Robert Craig Winery and Tasting Room in downtown Napa. Since Craig is my maiden name, this was a manadatory stop on our wine tour. Peter McFarland was our host and the cellar master. He shared wonderful stories about Robert Craig and his passion for wine. Peter used his wine thief to take some wine from a small cask to sample. It's not ready yet, but he had just brought some down from the cellar at another location and it was great fun to taste this young vintage!

When we were finished with the wine tour for the day, we didn't want elegant food coupled with delicate wine pairings. We wanted a big, juicy hamburger and onion rings. We found just that in Napa at Taylor's Automatic Refresher! Wow! Talk about juicy burgers and delicious sweet potato fries! Shortly after returning from our trip, we saw Taylor's Automatic Refresher featured on the Food Network for having one of the country's most outstanding burgers! Charlie and I agree whole-heartedly.

We drove to San Francisco the next morning and still have yet to travel across the Golden Gate Bridge on a clear day. We had no trouble with our flight and touched down in Houston early enough to stop off at Pappasitos to enjoy some good ole Texas table-side guacamole. It was good to sleep in our own bed that night and even better to see our precious girls the next morning. It was a wonderful trip! With all the fancy tastings and reserve vintages we tried, I think my wine motto still holds true: "Drink what you like!" Cheers!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Heading Back to School

I never knew that sending my baby to kindergarten would be so emotional. It's like stepping onto a treadmill and increasing the speed to a sprint. Now the days buzz by in a blurr. Everything involves rushing to the next activities and time begins to pass at a greater rate of speed. This will be our life for the 12+ years. (Oh no, I'll be an empty nester in 13 short years!)

I watched Hope melt into the sea of children, still standing out with that strawberry blonde ponytail and the tell-tale "Tara's child" BOW. That last kiss good-bye, that last look back, that turn and rush into class and our lives were changed forever.

So now the role changes. I am transitioning from the mother of a preschooler to the mother of full-fledged elementary school students. Gracen is transitioning into the little mother who kindly walks her little sister to class. She relays messages to the kindergarten teacher and delivers correspondence rushing then on to her own third grade homeroom. Independence. Isn't that what we've been training them for? Then why does it seem to rob us of our well defined roles? What is it that they say? No one likes change?

So what's a girl to do? Volunteer, that's it! Getting involved will be the the door stop in the iron door of elementary school. So that's pretty much the path to PTO president. That's where I am. Soon I'll be qualified to join the Barnum and Bailey Circus with my incredible juggling skills.

But what I've learned from my time at the school is that there are many children who need me. There are children who need a friendly smile, a loving pat on the back and an adult who shows she cares. So in my quest to fill the empty spot in my mother role, I have found a sea of children who bless me with their sweet smiles and generous hugs. There are blessings to be found in everything!