Monday, August 19, 2013

Travelog: Mudgee! Mudgee!

 A lot of our Australian friends didn't seem too impressed with our spontaneous weekend road trip destination…or maybe they were just confused as to why we picked the sleepy wine town of Mudgee over other popular destinations.  We can thank the article that ranked this place as one of the top weekend getaways from Sydney for making our choice.  Only a three hour drive, we hopped in the car with our good friends early Saturday morning wanting to make the most of our 24 hours away.  This was a test of "are we good travelers together?" before our trip of a lifetime early next year.  To keep the record straight, we all passed with flying colors.
By the time we checked into our hotel and arrived at the first vineyard, lets just say we were all a little cranky and impatient due to a lack of glucose and carbs.  Good thing Lowe Winery knew just the cure…an amazing antipasto platter with fresh bread, local meats and cheeses, and produce picked from a few feet away.  
I couldn't get over how fresh everything was!  It was the perfect compliment to wine tasting on their deck overlooking the valley and vineyard.  
We ended our day at Moothi Estate, a family owned operation, for the best views in the valley.  Not only did we make great friends with the winemaker, but the boys really hit it off with their dog while us girls enjoyed a tasting. 
 If you didn't know, its like a rite of passage that any cool winery must have a dog mascot running through the vines and greeting customers.  So much so that I have a book called "Wine Dogs" Australia edition hanging on my shelf to prove it (and I can't wait to collect the others).  Ya, it's definitely a thing.  I asked the owner if his pup was lucky enough to grace the pages…surprisingly he knew the book I was talking about and apparently he has been trying for years, but no luck.
After a good chat with the Canadian owner, he offered us one of his last 2002 reserve bottles to taste.  Since he was so friendly and accommodating, J & B bought the bottle and we toasted to a perfect evening and beautiful sunset with great friends.  
Life doesn't get much better.  It's spontaneous moments like these that keep me going.
Once the sun went down, we headed to the Mudgee Observatory for some star gazing.  To our surprise, it was run by a man who built the telescope domes himself, which were situated behind his house.  The more shocking thing was the dark skies without city lights interfering with visibility of the Milky Way and constellations.  The highlight was seeing Saturn, rings and all, through one of the telescopes.  Along the dirt road home, we spotted plenty of kangaroo.  After dinner at a wine bar and live music at a pub, we called it a night in our matching Texas gear.  
Instagram hits from Mudgee and our road trip.  One of our best weekends away yet!
Instagram at home.  
We've been sitting on our front lawn a lot this week now that spring is starting to show it's colors!
A sweet Texas cowgirl package arrived from one of my best friends who is off to Alabama today to start her PhD in Child Psychology at Auburn!
A celebratory occasion over high tea…my friends last week of pregnancy before her baby girl arrives! As we speak, she is in labor so I am sending hugs and thoughts her way.  Steph couldn't believe that I have never experienced a proper high tea experience.   I was surprised to find that Australians definitely take their afternoon tea seriously like the English (I guess I shouldn't be too shocked knowing their British origins).  One trend I'm ok with bringing back to the U.S.
It wouldn't be the weekend without a meet up at The Grounds.  Kait and I's "go to" and this time we brought the boys along.  Always great coffee, pastries, and pretty things to look at…but never short of a crowd!
A refreshing afternoon in Manly.  Four Pines Brewery, Hemingway's, and Mex & Co.
Taking care of business.
Note to self or anyone who owns a glass stovetop…beware!!  So, R and I frequently joke about my "bad luck" with little things.  Most recently, dropping a glass spice jar on the cooktop was added to my resume.  Not only is that bad enough, but apparently our easy bake oven is over twenty years old and nowhere (I mean nowhere) still carries the replacement glass in stock.  What do y'all think?  Is it fair to make us pay for a brand new oven and cooktop as renters even though it's not quite our fault that the owner hasn't replaced the appliance in twenty years and therefore the glass just can't be replaced?!  Or do you think the owner should fork over investing in a new stove and we contribute towards the purchase with the approximate amount of what the glass replacement would have cost?  I hope you said the latter, because thanks to my persistent and bargaining hubby, we went back and forth with our agent to make the deal.  So, looks like I will be cooking in this century by the end of the week. 
Another big change around here…I finally got my haircut.  Not much, but just enough to give me a little pep in my step.  I had a great experience at the most charming salon, Barney Martin.
Last week, we celebrated the Breaking Bad (last) season premiere at J & B's.  Good stuff!  If the first episode is any indication of how quickly the season moves, then we better buckle up.  They picked up fried chicken from Los Pollos Hermanos (aka KFC ha) and I brought the "blue stuff" (aka
It is no secret that I have an emotional attachment to Sarabeth's, and when my in-laws gifted me the cookbook, I cried.  Not only because I love the food, but more importantly, it was a special place to my mom.  So any chance I can try one of her creations, I put lots of love into her time consuming recipes!  
Before our oven shattered, R and I continued the "No Technology Thursday" tradition by cooking dinner together.  This time, R learned proper knife skills (goggles required for the onions) and the art of making dough.  We used the Pioneer Woman's Pizza Dough recipe (I substituted for whole wheat flour) from this cookbook, and as much as I want to keep this A++ delicious and easy recipe to myself, that wouldn't be fair.  Do yourself a favor…try it.  
We went with pizza toppings of pepperoni, mushroom, onion, red bell pepper, and fresh mozzarella.  Seriously better than delivery (and no, its not DiGiorno either).  Making your own crust will never seem hard again.  
Other kitchen staples lately:
Whole Wheat Spaghetti Bolognese

Tomorrow we will embark on our journey to China!  Prayers for safe travels, patience with crowds, and open minds please!  

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Behind July

Not too much has been going on around these parts.  We just got back from the best two day spontaneous road trip with friends, but more on that later.  I have been slacking on the blog lately so there is lots to catch up on in the past month…I've been spending some quality time with girlfriends and cooking like crazy in the kitchen.  Our weekend winter routines have been shaping up to walking across the harbor bridge with Teddy and experiencing the festivals that the city has to offer.  This is definitely the calm before the storm.  In one month, our travels and visitors are really going to pick up!  
It's a small world after all.  I was lucky to be introduced to this sweet Texas gal (who lives in Sydney) when her twin sister/ R's coworker came over for a month of work.  We hit it off ever since and always have the best time chatting and laughing with each other over wine and cheese.  She is one of those people that I feel like I have known forever and it's nice to have that connection. 
"No technology Thursday" is something R and I recently came up with to get away from our phones, television, and internet completely for an evening a week.  I think it's so important to disconnect every once in a while.  We have been playing cards, taking long walks, and getting back to the basics.
Kait is another American girl that I instantly had a connection with within minutes of walking into my interview at the Red Cross.  She and I have developed a great friendship and lucky for me she and her hubby will be moving back to the U.S. around the same time.  To make the most of Kait's day off, we enjoyed a leisurely brunch at Burnt Orange.  This place really knows how to do quality food with a view and it doesn't hurt that they have the cutest retail shop below.  
After lunch, we went bushwalking and explored a new area.  
Another Friday movie and dinner date night with these two!  It's a thing for us now.  
Our weekend walk was taken over by Chinese tourists all dressed in bright yellow jackets.  From far away, we thought they were a group of protestors because they were waving flags and chanting something.  Instead, they were harmless tourists busy snapping photos of Teddy and each other as we walked by.  
On Bastille Day, we checked out the French festival in the city.  I just had to get a picture with this adorable older woman who was obsessed with Teddy.  She was on her way to a show at the opera house and stopped to chat with us for a long time.  It's amazing how many interesting people we have met through our dog.  
The next weekend we took part in The Rocks Aroma Festival.  We had no idea how popular this winter festival would be…so much so that we left empty handed without a cup of coffee that we originally went for.  We were too impatient to wait in line, so we made our way through the crowds and people watched instead.  
My sports man has really gotten into AFL, rugby, and soccer since he doesn't have his beloved Cowboys and Mavs close by.  I'm really glad that he has learned to appreciate the local sport by being a member to the Sydney Swans, which is part of the Australian Football League.  
A work perk.  R was able to entertain clients at the final State Of Origin rugby game where NSW and Queensland battle it out every year for the top spot.  The best-of-three series is known as Australian sport's greatest rivalry but unfortunately Queensland has taken the trophy for the past eight years.  
Last week our trip to Beijing and Shanghai was made official with a visit to the Chinese Consulate.  And per my application that R filled out for me, my occupation is officially a "housewife" over here.  Umm weird?
To honor my mother on the anniversary of her death, I spent a peaceful day watching the waves roll in at Coogee Beach.  While I really felt like hiding in the house all day, R encouraged me to keep my commitment by volunteering that morning and then enjoying a day outside.
The night ended perfectly with soup in bed, red velvet cake, and a full moon.  She was definitely shining down on us that night.  
Made with love in honor of my mother's favorite.  
I used Magnolia Bakery's Red Velvet Cake with Buttercream Frosting recipe to create my first three layer cake from scratch.  
Crazy in the kitchen!
Here, Blake is teaching me how to make pasta for our Friday thought for food at R's office. I was so amused and thrilled to learn how simple it is with a little extra time and the right equipment! I also made a mess with my baking and have been whipping up big batches of soup every week to get us through the cold weather.
Grilled Chicken with Zucchini, Cauliflower, and Kale
Toasted Sesame Ginger Salmon with Mashed Potatoes & Brussels Sprouts
Grilled Vegetable and Hummus Pita Wraps
 Our sweet Abby girl.
She lived a happy 17 years... putting up with Kenz and I dressing her in our doll clothes as a pup and riding her like a horse when she grew taller than us to spending her last few years getting extra love and attention from her favorite human, Grandad. She also has Karen to thank for filling in as her second mommy. We knew she was special from the beginning…an impulse buy with lots of persuasion to our parents when we saw "lab puppies for sale" posted on the side of the road.  We just HAD to have her.  A month later, that wiry hair and big paws suggested anything but a yellow lab.  Our guess to this day is that she was an Irish Wolfound/Lab mix.  The gentlest, most easy going dog we could have asked for.  One of my mother's last wishes was that our Abby go home to Abilene with Mema and Grandad so that she could have the love and attention she deserved.  Grandad would always joke that he would curse my mom anytime he had to pay for expensive medication, dog food, or vet bills and look up and say, "Kathy, this is for you!".  I know my mom was at peace knowing that they would take care of Abby.

Until next time!  (and hopefully that won't be a month from now).