Wine Tasting at the Agua Dulce Winery in Santa Clarita, CA

Hello everybody! I hope you had a wonderful Labor Day weekend. While I enjoyed three long days off, I was bummed that my first weekend without any freelance projects ended up being spent in bed… sick. I felt the token scratchy throat on Wednesday but refused to believe I was getting sick… until Thursday night when the feverish flush and general “Oh Nooooooo” type exhaustion started setting in. I did get to do a couple fun things despite being all germy this weekend, and one of them was touring the beautiful Agua Dulce Winery in Santa Clarita, CA.

Sipping zinfandel in front of $3,000 barrels!

Sipping zinfandel in front of $3,000 barrels!

My husband and I had a LivingSocial deal and even though I felt crummy, I was determined to use it before it expired. We drove the 35 minutes north of Los Angeles into a quaint little desert town called Agua Dulce, or “Sweetwater”. We began our tour by learning about the types of barrels used for winemaking. Did you know that oak wine barrels can cost between $3,000 – $5,000 EACH?! The flavor, grain and texture all drastically affect the taste. Our awesome tour guide Steve explained how Agua Dulce’s barrels came from Hungary, France and some other place I can’t remember. Wild, right? Most wines chill out in the barrels for three to five years.

Inside this immaculate and chilly warehouse were racks and racks of fermenting wine and gigantic, steel machinery. These machines are used for blending the wines and mixing all of the spirits together. All of the gigantic tubs had ladders running up to them and I couldn’t help but think that this place was like the grown-up version of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.

Wine made here!

Wine made here!

We headed outside to see the grape presses, but I was more enchanted with the gigantic bins of waste leftover from pressed grapes. They had a yummy winey smell to them, and it was pretty interesting to see how small wine grapes are in comparison to table grapes.

These grapes have seen better days

These grapes have seen better days

One of my favorite wines we sampled was actually a port, which is a red wine mixed with brandy. We got to try the port with some dark chocolate chips, so despite only being able to taste about 50% of it thanks to my cold, it was enough to know it was sweet and GOOD! If I had a glass of that, maybe I would have been feeling better… but lo, and behold, I was the DD and had to stick with my Dayquil buzz instead of wine, so I got sips to taste only.

Enjoying some port and chocolate. Note the tissue in my hand. Blech!

One of the coolest parts of the tour was getting to taste wine straight from the barrel. Our guide used a glass tool called a “thief” to suck out some of the wine. I didn’t catch all of the nuances in the taste, but it had a really fiery, intense “oaky” flavor. It was really neat to imagine how as time progressed the flavors would mellow and blend together to become more of the smooth tastes we’re accustomed to today.

Matt gets to taste wine right from the barrel with the "thief"

Matt gets to taste wine right from the barrel with the “thief”

After the tour, we had yummy sandwiches, homemade chocolate chip cookies and cucumber salad provided from the winery out under their gazebo. It was a hot Santa Clarita day, but it felt really good to get out of my bed and get some sunshine on my face. I’m pretty sure I needed it as I’ve been quite a zombie this weekend, logging an astonishing 13 hours of sleep last night. WHEW!

Enjoying the sunshine!

Enjoying the sunshine!

This trip made me even more excited for the upcoming Fitcation, a three day women’s blogging retreated hosted by the fabulous online community, Mamavation. I’ll get to hang with people like Kenlie from All The Weigh and try numerous wines from Sip the Good Life in Paso Robles, along with sporting some fancy new shoes thanks to Earth. I can’t wait! There’s nothing like having fun and blogging about it :)

If you’re ever in the Santa Clarita area, definitely stop by Agua Dulce! The people were really friendly and in addition to delicious wines, they had a cute little store filled with country clutter and wine gear. My friend Feeling Vine would love it!  Despite my husband’s reluctance, I bought some really cute mason jar lid coasters with pigs on them and a Christmas gift for April. Ah, retail therapy!

So now you know some of what I did this weekend, tell me what you did, too!

 

 

 

 

 

 

My evening at Poggio

The view from my hotel room. I could get used to this....

Hello, Double Chinners! I’m writing to you on my last night in Northern California before heading back to my hot, sunny city to begin working from home. I’ve had a great time up here training for my new job, but one thing I’m ready to get back to is being in my own kitchen preparing my own meals. We get lunch every day at work from local restaurants, but sometimes you just want home cooked meals. Tonight’s meal, however, broke that stride, and I’m now wishing the chef of Poggio could come live in my kitchen.

My brother, his lovely girlfriend Allison and I decided to send off my trip in style with a memorable last meal at Poggio in Sausalito, the restaurant right below the Casa Madrona where I’m spending my last night. Initially I was skeptical because the menu had very courageous sounding italian dishes like “pumpkin walnut ravioli,” but we decided to be adventurous and give it a go. First, they came out with salted rosemary rolls fresh from the oven with pressed sweet cream butter. They were insaaaaaaane. We ordered bocconocini, a hand pulled mozzerella with heirloom tomatoes and castalvetrano olives. It was incredible and we found out that there is an organic garden behind the restaurant where almost all of the vegetables are grown. The bocconocini was served with freshly cracked black pepper and a grassy, tart olive oil.

For my main course I ordered gnudi, spinach ricotta pillows with beef ragu and parmigiano. The gnudi were like savory marshmallows – super soft with a slight spinach taste, the perfect backdrop for the salty but so tender beef ragu.They were basically cheese dumplings with meat – the perfect dinner for this Midwestern, corn-fed girl.

For dessert, I had a vanilla creme brulee with fresh cherries. I believe when I took the first bite, swirled it around on my tongue and allowed myself to really soak it all in, I said “the angels sang.”

We all enjoyed our meal with a bottle of Verdiccio Del Castelli Di Jesi, a slightly sweet wine with an aromatic of peach. It had a lovely perfume and as we took turns drinking and telling stories, it was the perfect drink to lull us through a rich and decadent meal. Tonight was definitely a meal that will set me back on my weight loss goals, but on some strange level, I’m always ok with that if it was enjoyable and worth it. It was wonderful to eat amazing, authentic Italian food with my brother and Allison and to have an awesome last night in the city.

What are your thoughts on decadent, splurge meals when you’re trying to lose weight? I have a lot to celebrate right now with my awesome new job, but I also know part of being serious about losing weight is learning to celebrate in other ways. Thoughts?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My adventures in Seattle

This weekend, I took an adventure up the Pacific Northwest to the lovely wet city of Seattle. My friend Monique is getting her MSW (Social Work – isn’t that awesome?!) at the University of Washington, and I’ve been wanting to visit for a long time! Matt was supposed to be going with me, but his company just had to go and win a technical achievement Academy Award, so he was schmoozing with stars while I ate freshly fried mini doughnuts and posed with trolls. I flew in Saturday morning with my long underwear ready to go (I had been egged on by other Southern Californians about how cold I would be.)

Yummy things at Pike Place Market

Monique and I dropped my stuff off at her place and headed downtown via bus to the world famous Pike Place market. This place is a foodie’s dream, with stalls heaping with colorful fruit and glossy-eyed fish draped on ice. We shopped around, sampling the various goods and stopping for lunch at a Japanese stall. I got the vegetarian yakisoba and it was delicious – hot and sweet with fresh, crunchy cabbage and thin peels of carrot. We had dessert of mini-doughnuts – powdered sugar, sprinkled and cinnamon sugar.

Miss Monique samples a dougnnut

I also had to buy some dark chocolate pasta, just because the idea was so novel to me. I’ll be making chocolate pasta for dessert the next few weeks – I’m thinking chocolate linguine with fresh strawberries and whipped cream. I’ll blog it! I posed for a picture next to the famous Pike pig, and then we headed back to the bus so we could check out one of my favorite novelty stores, Archie McPhee. If you haven’t heard of Archie McPhee, I highly recommend you visit their online store. It’s a great place to buy all kinds of things you don’t need, like pickle finger puppets and potato guns.

Bronze pig appreciates bag of freshly fried doughnuts in hand!

After Archie McPhee, we walked a mile to the Fremont Troll. The troll is a piece of community art commissioned by a Fremont resident. The troll was a popular attraction and we had to get our picture taken a few times to make it troll-gawker free.

TROLLLL!

After the troll, we headed back towards the Northgate area and then had dinner at Taste of India. This place was awesome because they gave us free chai and pakoras while we waited for our table. I had the butter paneer masala and it was amaaaaazing – so creamy, tangy and rich over the basmati rice. We sopped up the sauces with piping hot garlic naan. When our bellies were full, we headed over to the local $3 movie theatre and watched Midnight in Paris. The plot of the movie was charming but I thought the ending was poo-poolicious. After the movie I passed out on Monique’s lovely futon. We woke up Sunday morning and picked up a sandwich at Jimmy John’s, where I was delighted to order a giant dill pickle. Sadly, my pickle had a hair on it of mysterious origins (discovered after my first bite), so I lost my pep for pickles, but my sandwich was still deee-lish.

Moments before I discovered the hairy pickle.

We drove 30 minutes to Snoqualmie Falls, where the air was frigid, wet and cold. The view of these giant manmade waterfalls was breathtaking – the water crashed angrily onto the river below, and rocks broke the surface among the crystal blue water. We explored the park area around Snoqualmie falls for a bit, shopped in the gift shop, (I scored a cast iron bumble bee – yeah!), and then went back towards Monique’s house for some more local adventuring of my favorite kind – shopping!!!

Breathtaking Snoqualimie Falls

We shopped till we dropped and then swung by Cupcake Royale, where I picked up a “Dance Party” cupcake, with vanilla frosting. It was pretty amazing with a glass of wine! We also got ingredients to make homemade tacos! Here’s a sneak peek – but tune in next time to learn how to make flour tortillas that are a million times better than the packaged ones.

Yummy homemade tacos

On Monday, I ventured to the university district to see my Uncle Daniel, who works downtown. We had a good time eating lunch and bantering back and forth about why California was the superior state. Okay, fine, we never agreed on that, but I have decided that although Washington is lovely, California wins with its sunshine and perpetual blue skies. It was fun to see him on the west coast, as I usually only see him in Minnesota on short family vacations when we’re visiting my grandmother.

My Uncle Daniel and I

This weekend was exactly what I needed – a long weekend to decompress, enjoy some girl time, and do fun things instead of laundry, thesis writing and errand-running. I definitely did not track my meals which will probably get me into trouble this week at the scale, but I’m taking full responsibility for my actions and can say with very little regret…damn, I ate well and enjoyed it! Cest la vie.

Tune in soon to see us get our tortilla on! I hope you had an amazing weekend and are having an even better week!

Grad students DO smile! See?

Taking it slow in SLO

Love Birds

Hey everyone! I have just returned from a lovely mini-vacation with my husband at the awesome Madonna Inn, a themed hotel off the 101 freeway in San Luis Obispo. Matt got me a night in the Love Birds room for our first wedding anniversary in August, along with a signature massage at the Madonna Inn Spa. As a christmas present for him, I got him a massage – so we ended up getting a couples massage to end our awesome mini vacation. Ahhhh.

Avila Beach

On our way to the Madonna Inn, we stopped at the lovely Avila Beach to walk the pier and explore. It was about 65 degrees and kids were splashing in the waves while the ocean breeze cleared our minds as we strolled along the pier. After our walk, we stopped into a little candy shop and bought one of my personal favorites, salt water taffy!

Salt water Taffy

After Avila we checked into the delightfully gaudy and tacky, yet somehow charmingly cute Madonna Inn. The Love Birds room had awesome parrot wallpaper, a fainting couch and floral and bird nest vine light fixtures.

Love Birds at Madonna Inn

My personal favorite part of the room was the bathroom – decked out with a heated toilet and bidet and rock shower! Let me tell you – a heated toilet seat has made its way to the list of “things I want in my dream house when I’m rich”. Nothing like toasty buns!

Heated Potty!

In true Matt and Alyssa fashion, we decided to blow off plans for a fancy dinner in favor of an American nostalgic classic – DRIVE IN MOVIES!!!!!! We drove past it on the way to our hotel and I freaked out, because I haven’t been to the drive ins in years, and Matt had never been! We stopped by Trader Joe’s and loaded up on our picnic dinner of sourdough baguette, cheese, salami, olive tapenade, chocolate berries, orangina, popcorn, wine and cupcakes. It was quite a spread and gave me quite a tummy ache, but that’s a story for Wednesday’s blog re: over indulgence. Can you believe it was a total of $17.50 for two people to see two movies with a bag of large popcorn? UNREAL! Movies here are $11.75 a piece!

Goodies

The first movie was Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, and I know why they’re called Mission Impossible – because watching them all the way through is impossible. I made it about half way before the cheesy action scenes did me in and I caught up on Words with Friends. Best part about a drive in movie? You can text, talk, stretch, snort or harass your movie-mate as much as you want, because you’re in the comfort of your own car! After Ghost Protocol, the awesome vintage snack song came on for a brief intermission and then “We Bought a Zoo” started. We Bought a Zoo isn’t movie of the year or anything, but it was cute and charming and had  a fun storyline.

My lovebird

After the movies we went back to the Madonna, where I climbed into the nest (comfy king bed) and conked out. In the morning, we woke up for our couples massage, had a blissful rub down, and then had an AMAZZZZZZING breakfast the Madonna Inn Copper Cafe. I seriously have not had a biscuit so incredible in… a long time. They were fluffy and sweet, topped with a drizzle of honey butter, and their smoked bacon reminded me of home (Hi Dad!).

Copper Cafe Breakfast

After breakfast, our full bellies and blissed-out bodies piled into the stinky car (smelled like olives, popcorn and salami) and drove back to our smoggy valley home. All in all it was a beautiful, relaxing weekend. It’s so important to shake things up every once in awhile and get a break from things like laundry, grocery shopping, Facebook and Twitter. I feel refreshed and revived and ready for the new week (and ready to start tracking – our first Weight Watchers meeting is FINALLY on Thursday!).

If you’re ever in the area, I highly recommend the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo – it was awesome! Did you have a great weekend, too?

The Last Hurrah

Last night, I celebrated the “last hurrah”. The last hurrah for what, you ask? For my impending membership in…. Weight Watchers! After Alycia’s inspiring guest post and the fact that my work finally got the monthly-pass option, and that they’ve reworked the points plus system, I wanted to give it another try. Not to mention my flex spend account will cover Weight Watchers for 2012 – so I really had no reason not to give it a go. (And if I run into similar issues like I did last time with the meeting/leader, I can now attend meetings other than at work.) Our first meeting is on Thursday.

Sangria Sampler, yum!

Anyways, we had a groupon for Muvico – an awesome movie theatre in Thousand Oaks that has age 21+ movies where you can bring wine and beer into the theatre, and feast on free popcorn! We met up with our friends Shelley and Daniel for a double date! Before the movie, we had a light dinner at the Lazy Dog Coffee. I started my evening with a delicious Sangria sampler consisting of Red Pomegranate, White Peach and Black Currant Rose. The white peach was definitely my favorite – and Shelley’s too! I also had some super tasty lettuce wraps.

Lettuce Wraps

After dinner, we headed in to the movie theatre to see The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. This movie theatre had very plush, reclining seats that also gently rocked back and forth. With my hot, salty popcorn (Fresh from the popper!) I was a happy girl.

POPCORRRRRN!

The movie was really good – very suspenseful and with a strong (albeit a little nutty) female lead. I was enjoying a healthy buzz from my sangria sampler, which regretfully lead to the inhalation of one bag of sourpatch watermelon slices and about a bag and a half of popcorn. I pigged out, and am not proud of it as the bloat from crazy salt manifested itself as an 8 pound gain on the scale this morning :|

However, I know it’s 8 pounds full of salt and water and little pieces of candy floating around, so I’m not that worried. I’m back on track after my last hurrah, and even spent 35 minutes sweating my butt off on an incline 6 on the treadmill at the gym today. I’m ready to get started… and have even started tracking again! Here’s to hoping this time around I can make Weight Watchers work for me, by consistently tracking, being honest and keeping up the exercise. In this case, my last hurrah was exactly what I needed to get mentally prepared for some of the changes I need to make in the coming months.

When you’re getting ready for a diet or “lifestyle change” (I hate both of those terms), do you ever give yourself a “last hurrah”?

 

 

Ugly Sweater Party

Hi Everybody, hope you had a wonderful weekend! I did! Saturday night we had a small party with friends to celebrate the upcoming holiday season. Matt and I had been wanting to celebrate with an “Ugly sweater” party for quite some time, and this event definitely did not disappoint. All of my future parties will be themed. They must be. Themes = awesome.

People started trickling in around 7 and we grabbed a quick group shot…

Quick! Take a picture before everyone's drunk!

Later in the night we had an “Ugliest Sweater Contest”… Here are our winners!

Our Prize Winners! From L to R - Sacha and Monica, third place. Daniel and Shelley, First place. Luis, Second Place.

The amount of details in these sweaters was amazing! Shelley hand sewed lights into hers, Luis’ said “Pimpin’ Aint Easy…”

Can you see that? "Pimpin' Aint Easy"

Some of our other attendees had awesome sweaters, too.. Check out the details on Emily and Matt’s! Emily also sewed on dangly Santa embellishments and created this charming vest for her husband Matt….

Matt looks thrilled about his outfit!

We had an assortment of yummy treats… like creepy Coraline-esque ranch dip snowmen with veggies….

A snowman made out of ranch dip!

And also some delicious “Jolly Jingle Juice”…. (This stuff went FAST! People love boozy punch!)

Please ignore my focused "MUST SERVE MORE ALCOHOL" face...

And if the jingle juice wasn’t enough to warm up frozen buns and hands, we had a fire bowl going outside to add some warmth to the chilly 50 degree So Cal night (go ahead and smack me, Midwesterners and East Coasters… but 50 is freezing for the sunshine city).

Roasty Toasty by the fire

The grad school gals cut loose and relaxed for a few hours, thankful for a break from looming deadlines and mass media jargon….

Smile and say "Hegemony!"

And the happy hostess enjoyed wonderful gifts from her generous guests, like this adorable drunken reindeer wine holder from Virginia…. (I named him BUZZED BLITZEN)

Buzzed Blitzen

It was a wonderful evening having fun with friends before the insanity of finals and the usual holiday stress kicks in – but this night was a great reminder of what life’s about… the good times spent laughing with your friends. Have you ever been to an Ugly Sweater party? No?! If not… We’ll have a giant one when we have a bigger house! How many holiday parties have you been to or are you invited to this season?

Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good night!