Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Texas Bucket List - Austin, TX

About three years ago Texas Monthly ran an article called The Texas Bucket List. It was chock full of all the things a Real Texan should do before they die. Being a 4th Generation Texan myself, I was immediately sold and that summer Abe and I kicked off our Texas Bucket List adventures with a week long trip across the Lone Star State.

Since that trip I have added my own things to see and do, creating a personal Texas Bucket List. I love travel, and there isn't a state on the map more diverse than Texas.

During that first Bucket List Trip, way back in 2011, our first stop was Austin. We visited the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, and returned there in March of 2012. It is small, as far as botanical gardens go, but the major appeal is it's native plantings. Both times I've been I've taken lots of notes in hopes of adding some natives to my landscaping.

This is agave, the tequila plant. 

I really loved this trellis and want one somewhere on the property. Maybe right off the walking path as a rest area?

The ponds were Abe's favorite part, I think if he ever has a lot of extra money and time to spare half our property will be ponds.

He was extremely disappointed this tiny door led into a normal sized room.

We then headed to Zilker Park to appreciate the huge oak trees (all a bit dried out from that year's drought)

And dipped our toes into the free side of Barton Springs. 

We didn't even go over to the paid side, but I thought I saw swings and slides over there. For a quick cooling dip the free side was just fine (but it smelled a little.... Doggy... Hey, four legged friends want to keep cool too I guess.)

After Barton Springs we headed to Ginny's Little Longhorn Saloon for some Chicken Shit Bingo. Ginny's is a typical dive bar, but they showcase some of Texas' best musical talent... For FREE. While it's tiny inside they have a speaker system outside, so you can hang with the kids and enjoy the music without the usual smoke and spilled-beer-sticky-floor atmosphere of these types of establishments.

Chicken Shit Bingo is pretty self explanatory. The bottom of the cage has boxes with numbers... You buy a ticket with a number on it and they add a chicken to the cage. Feeding commences and the chicken "selects" a winner. Also... Cheap beer. Though I had just learned I was pregnant with the JuJu Bee and didn't drink. If I lived in Austin, I would do this again, it was a fun Sunday afternoon.

Unfortunately, we were too late to see Stephen F. Austin's grave. The State Cemetary had closed for the day. Ah, well. That just meant we needed to visit Austin again.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Blackberry Wine

Whoa! School starts in one week! The last couple of weeks before school starts I try to clean out all the closets/cabinets/drawers in the house and get things straight and organized. 

Needless to say, I've been super crazy busy! Plus, I've been working at getting the kids enrolled in a new online school for the coming school year, and the enrollment process was several days work! I really hope this school is worth it in the end. 

As part of my fall clean up I defrosted the big freezer and decided it was high time we made blackberry wine. For one reason or another we hadn't made wine in three years, we've just been picking berries in the spring and tossing them in the freezer. Three years worth of berries takes up a LOT of freezer space.

I spent a whole afternoon and evening thawing and juicing this glorious sink full of berries. my sink is NOT actually black... that's staining from berry juice! Juicing blackberries makes your kitchen look like something out of CSI, and as much as I hate chemicals, bleach is my best friend on juicing day. Here is my 15 year old having a turn squeezing processed berries in cheesecloth.

In the end we had about 15 gallons of juice for wine. (Not pure juice, you add a bit of spring water to the mix) 15 gallons of wine! For free!

Once we had our juice/water mixture in buckets we dumped 10 lbs of sugar in each bucket, and got it all stirred up and dissolved. 

Then we crushed up a camden tablet for each gallon of juice, mixed it in, put lids on the buckets and let them rest for 24 hours.

The next day I woke up my wine yeast with some warmed spring water, and stirred it into the juice. Yes, I warmed the water on the stove. We got rid of our microwave about a year ago.

Once the yeast was added to the mix the lids went back on, with an airlock added.

Once a day I crack the lids and punch down the yeast. (Stir it all around). And we wait. Eventually we will move the wine from these buckets into glass carboys.

Making wine sounds intimidating, and the juicing is hard work, but the rest of the process almost seems like magic. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Texas Bucket List - Wimberley, TX

I found a Groupon for a B&B in a little Texas Hill Country river town called Wimberley. I didn't have a lot of plans (other than sleeping til noon) maybe tubing? Maybe a play? I noticed on the tourism site that they had Shakespeare Under the Stars being performed on both nights we would be in town. Normally, when I take a trip I plan it out and try to squeeze in as much as possible.  This wasn't supposed to be that kind of trip. Sleep. That was the main objective... Oh, and since the Groupon included a "self guided wine tour" I figured I'd throw a few bottles of wine in there somewhere, too.

We headed out on a Tuesday morning and hit South Austin around lunch time. Abe had traveled to the area for work and told me dozens of times about a burger joint who's specialty is wild game. He suggested the place for lunch, and of course I agreed. I'm always down for adventure, especially of the culinary persuasion.

Wild Bubba's was a hole in the wall burger joint (the best kind!) with a menu featuring kangaroo, yak, buffalo and wild boar, among other game meats. I wasn't sure I could do kangaroo on my first visit, so we agreed to order wild boar and yak and split both burgers down the middle, along with an order of fries and some really tasty beer battered onion rings.

They had recently (less than the four years since Abe had been there) built a race track practically next door, and the entire shop is covered in posters. Abe couldn't remember what the decor had been before. They are super proud of the new speedway, y'all. The owner of Wild Bubba's even let me borrow the events calendar so I could see all the cool shows performed there.

The card says yak is mild, sweet, and never gamey and I agree with all of the above. It was moist and sweeter than beef with an excellent flavor. The wild boar was more a pork sandwich than a burger, and in my opinion would have been better as a breakfast sandwich with a fried egg on top. I ate every crumb of the yak burger and was too full too finish the wild boar half. Especially after eating my fair share of those onion rings! They were perfect, with just enough beer flavor in the batter.

So, now, I'm as big a fan of Wild Bubba's as Abe is, and I discovered a new food. I love yak and I'm proud!

We got into Wimberley around 1:30 and check in wasn't until 3:00, so we dropped by the Visitor Information center and grabbed some brochures (in case I got tired of sleeping) and talked to the volunteer behind the counter. She let us know that the river was way down because they are in their fourth year of drought, and suggested a couple of activities while we were in town. After that we headed downtown, which was a cute little square packed full of all manner of boutiques.

I didn't look at the price tags on these wooden/metal animal sculptures, but they were so creative!

After our little shopping trip it was time for check-in, so we headed over to Serenity Farmhouse. The original Groupon was for a cottage, but all the cottages were booked the week we wanted to stay, so I upgraded to one of their largest rooms for a little more per night. Our "room" had a bathroom with stand-up shower, a mini kitchenette with a fridge/freezer, microwave and coffee maker, a bedroom with T.V. A breakfast nook with table and chairs, and a super cute cubby with an additional day bed. We even had our own private yard that was privacy fenced!

Abe and I love B&Bs! In fact, we hope one day to own one. So, while we aren't super picky, we do pay close attention to what is done right and what we would change. Serenity pays attention to detail, like the beautiful tray of bath salts, artisan soap and soap rose petals. I had packed a no cook picnic lunch for Tuesday, which we didn't eat because of our visit to Wild Bubba's, so we ate it in bed Tuesday night with a chilled bottle of Chardonnay that was waiting for us in our room. Experience made complete with several episodes of Doctor Who. This place even had Netflix on the T.V.! 

Wimberley is fortunate enough to hold a Farmer's Market ever single week, and we gave it a visit on Wednesday morning. There were offerings of produce, grass fed beef, yard eggs, goat cheese, soap and different sauces, jams and salsas. I ended up selecting a couple pounds of French figs and buying a jar of garlic mayonnaise and a jar of Cilantro Pecan Pesto from EIEIO Farm.

I have eaten both since getting home with them (the pesto on pasta and the mayo on sandwiches) and both are delicious!

The lady at the Visitor's Center had suggested climbing "Old Baldy" and even though the temp was over 100 we visited the hill to check it out. It didn't look too difficult (there are around 300 steps cut I to the side of the hill) so we left the car running (we took Mom's Mini Cooper for the trip, so we had the option without worrying about the car being stolen) and made a quick trip to the top.

We were rewarded with a nice view for minimal effort and then were back in the cold car in under half an hour. I would say it was a climb even for those not in the best shape, but I pulled a hamstring coming down... So, if you visit, maybe take your time with it instead of climbing and and down again in less than thirty minutes.

Lunch on Wednesday was Kate's Place, which is rated second eatery in Wimberley on Trip Advisor. We actually only chose Kate's because the B&B gave a coupon for a free appetizer, but this place was so good! Abe ordered lamb sliders and I had a burger with goat cheese and dried tomato pesto. Kate's would be a stand out even in Dallas, and THAT, my friends, is saying something. The food was fantastic, the menu offered tasty local brews, and it was all super affordable. (My goat cheese burger was under $8!) 

Wimberley is pretty close to Austin, who is known for keepin' it weird... And you could definitely see the artistic influence, from the eclectic antique shops to the glassworks, bonsai museum, art "museum" and co-op shop, and of course, outdoor theatre.

We stopped by the bonsai museum on Wednesday and saw about 100 trees "on display" (for sale). They were actually pretty neat, and if we visit Wimberley again we just might have to take one home.

Wednesday evening we drove over to the EmilyAnn Theatre with the intention of watching Shakespeare Under the Stars (this summer they were performing Julius Caesar). 

The gardens at EmilyAnn are gorgeous and we really enjoyed them, but in the end we opted out of the play. It was just too hot to be outside, so we ran by the Brookshire Brother's ( the local grocery store) and headed back to Serenity for another picnic in bed. The Serenity sign was all lit up at dusk, super cute!

If you are into star gazing, the hill country is one of the best places in TX to so do. This is where the line "The stars at night are big and bright (clap,clap,clap clap) deep in the heart of Texas!" came from. After dark we headed down to the pool and looked at the stars on lounge chairs. I saw several shooting stars. Abe missed them because he was too busy jacking with the constellation app on his phone. Sometimes technology just isn't what it's cracked up to be.

This was a last-minute, on a budget, get away, so I didn't do a lot of shopping. We happened to see a flyer for a vintage warehouse called Rescued Relics that looked interesting and gave it a look. I ended up buying this set of smoke colored wine glasses, 6 for $3! If you visit Wimberley and love thrift/antiques you should really give this place a look. They had a lot of great stuff for just above garage sale prices.

I also bought this mermaid towel hook that caught my eye for my Mediterranean island themed bathroom. This was pretty much the extent of my shopping, unless you count lots of food and wine!

We didn't actually go to the river on this trip, but I did stop and get a few pics. Because of the drought some parts of the river are completely dried up, but it's pretty hard to beat the rugged beauty of the rivers running through the hill country. Having traveled all over Texas, I can say that it is the most gorgeous region of Texas, and the one I'd most like to own property in.

Thursday morning before going home we headed out to Bella Vista. A winery and the first olive orchard in Texas. Luckily all the locals put up sign posts, because the winding country roads can get pretty confusing.

Bella Vista was primarily an olive orchard and unfortunately because of small production, they were out of their own olive oil blend, though I did purchase a blood orange infused oil they offered in the tasting room. I have already used it in a dressing for a citrus, strawberry salad with candied pecans and it was out of this world! The guy who runs the tasting room is really friendly and super knowledgable, and even though they only officially give tours on Saturday's, he took us out for a peek at the trees, which were completely loaded down with olives. They will be ready for harvest at the end of September and we will definitely be ordering some of their very first 100% Texas olive oil blend when it comes available right after Thanksgiving. So exciting to see Texas coming into it's own in the area of wine and olive oil production! I don't know that it will ever match Tuscany, but it sure is closer to home.

  Before we left I snapped a couple shots of the vineyard.

So THAT is what grapes should look like! We finally got a few clusters of grapes on our vines this year, and the deer at them to nubs. Down with Bambie! Hopefully someday we will have our own wine grapes. Until then we will have to live with our blackberry wine and continue to buy excellent Texas wines (like the amazing Viognier I tasted from Red Caboose winery at Hill Country Wine Shoppe)

All in all it was a relaxing little get away. If you want rugged scenery, artistic influence and some fantastic food and wine I really recommend a quick trip to Wimberley. And hey, if you want to go tubing and visit the largest outlet mall in the state, you can visit nearby San Marcos and do those things too.