Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Cold Spring Tavern

As I'm sure you've noticed through my posts, one of my favorite things about traveling is hunting down the best food. Luckily Justin is equally as enthusiastic about culinary tourism (or at least does a great job at pretending to be), so our travels usually contain really good eats. Even a day trip can turn into a foodie experience if you've done your research. A day trip is actually what brought us to Cold Spring Tavern, a hidden gem in Santa Barbara, for a unique and fun meal in the mountains recently.

I had heard about this spot on Best Thing I Ever Ate, where Cat Cora swore by their tri-tip sandwich.  Since we happened to be in Santa Barbara a few weeks ago, we made a pit stop for a very late lunch after looking at venues all day. Guess who booked a venue for the wedding?! More on that later but right now it's all about the food.

We trusted the iPhone to provide directions to the restaurant, which is tucked away off windy Stagecoach Road next to Highway 154. You know you're there when you see the rows of motorcycles parked out front. It was late for lunch when we finally arrived, 3 p.m. to be exact, and we were staaaaarving. We stepped inside and I immediately asked a server if they were still serving lunch.

Me: Please tell me you're still serving lunch.
Server: Lunch ended at 3 p.m.
Me: Nooooooooooooo. It's like 3:05 p.m.
Server: If you know what you'd like you can place a to-go order and eat at the tables outside.
Me: Yes! I love you! Will you be my maid of honor?

The last part may not have happened but I was really excited that we weren't turned away hungry. While we didn't eat inside the restaurant, we did place our order there so I got a good look around. The atmosphere was cozy and warm and a little weathered, which added to the character of this step-back-in-time experience. We both ordered the BBQ beef sandwich, mine with potato salad and his with french fries.

Yea, we pretty much demolished those sandwiches. Unfortunately the side dishes left a lot to be desired, but the sandwich itself was phenom. The bread was soft and fluffy and the beef was smothered in a sweet and smoky sauce that drips down your fingers while you eat. Definitely not a first date meal.

As if Cold Spring Tavern needed any more charm, they even had live music outside with a small crowd of people gathered to listen and drink beer at the outdoor picnic tables. I'm really glad we found this unique little joint, since we can now confirm that we will be getting married in Santa Ynez at the end of  Summer 2012. I will definitely be recommending this place as a pit stop for my friends traveling from Los Angeles to the wine country for the wedding.

No one is more surprised than myself that I've decided on a venue after only looking at three in person (after countless hours of internet research to narrow down the choices, of course). I'm the person that needs to look at fifteen apartments before I decide which one to rent. But as soon as I saw the ceremony site at the venue we chose, I immediately envisioned us getting married there under the tall oak tree surrounded by grape vines. I look forward to sharing more about our venue selection process and other wedding planning details as they become available. It's really happening folks! 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sick Day Soup

I'm not gonna lie, this week wasn't the best. Stress over disagreements from the family regarding wedding dates/venues combined with the changing weather just ran me into the ground and I ended up feeling lousy by mid-week. I couldn't sleep a wink Tuesday night, and by 6 a.m. the next morning I was still unable to breathe through my nostrils and a pounding congestion headache had set in. I knew it was time to take a sick day.

After Justin left for work I was able to lay back down and get about three hours of rest until the headache woke me up again. I spent the day watching Rio (really cute, btw) and Say Yes to the Dress and browsing the internet for soup recipes. I liked the idea of making something in the Crockpot (more time resting, less time at the stove) so I decided on a recipe for tomato soup with the addition of smoked paprika, lentils and chickpeas by Kalyn's Kitchen.

I have to admit that I haven't fallen in love with smoked paprika on my vegetables as much as other food bloggers have, but adding it to soup was a whole new experience. Justin commented that the soup tasted like there was bacon in it. Always a good thing.

The only "work" I had to do was browning the onions and opening cans of ingredients to throw in the Crockpot, so it was perfect for a day when I wasn't feeling so hot.

I followed Kalyn's recipe exactly except for the cooking times. I found that my soup benefited from a full three hours of cooking before adding the tomatoes and another two and a half to three hours after. Oh, and I will definitely be registering for an immersion blender as a wedding gift since the process of transferring half the soup to the food processor and back was a wee bit messy. Well worth it for a hearty sick day soup, beefed up with legumes and smoky paprika. 

While the soup didn't cure my congestion, it warmed my belly and comforted me on a day when I really needed it. Luckily I regained full breathing ability through my nose a few days later. Nobody likes a mouthbreather, after all.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Rest of Santa Barbara

So the proposal at sunset in Santa Barbara totally stole the spotlight away from the rest of that trip, but Justin and I actually did some really fun stuff before and after the engagement. To kill time before Justin's "plan" on Saturday, we had a really yummy breakfast at Jeannines Restaurant in Downtown Santa Barbara. When we were seated, the couple next to us immediately recognized my shirt and introduced themselves as fellow Horned Frogs. For the record my shirt says "frogs" not "rogs" like it appears here.

Even though they were probably 30 years older than us, we had a great conversation with them over a breakfast of banana french toast and coffee.

Later that afternoon, while I constantly checked the TCU score via iPhone, we did a little wine tasting, directly followed by beer tasting. That's just how we roll folks.

Carr Vineyard's whites were lovely and refreshing on that warm day. We ended up purchasing a bottle of a sparkling wine that I can't recall the name of.  We decided to also try a flight of reds, which I found to be pretty disappointing. Luckily, local brewery Telegraph was right next door so I could remedy the bad taste in my mouth with a refreshing White Ale.

The Telegraph tasting room consists of one tiny bar with maybe four seats, yet there were at least six other beer lovers crowded around tasting with us. We loved the laid back atmosphere and were envious when locals would stop by to get growlers of beer filled fresh from the tap to take home. We enjoyed ourselves so much at Telegraph that I've already thought about a way to incorporate their beer into our wedding reception.

Before we headed back to our hotel to get ready for our evening plans, we stopped at SB sandwich shop, Panino. Their menu is massive and their ingredients are fresh and creative. I actually discovered this spot by accident on a trip with my bestie Shannon, before she moved to LA.

Awww, that was the last thing I ate before I got engaged. As you know, after that meal Justin proposed to me on the beach. We celebrated that night at an adorable restaurant called Jane, where I had the best chicken picatta of my life (unfortunately I didn't bring the camera). We were both so excited after calling our family and friends with the news that neither of us could sleep that night. We ended up getting up at 6 a.m. the next day and watched the sunrise on the beach. It was the perfect ending to my amazing surprise weekend trip. 

Between you and me, I imagine we'll be back to Santa Barbara and the surrounding wine region quite a bit in the future, as we're thinking about getting married there. I can't wait to have concrete wedding info to share, but I assure you that I have nothing to tell at this point. You'll just have to stay tuned...

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Beef-less Beef Picadillo

Have you ever had Picadillo? It's an amazingly simple Latin dish that usually consists of ground beef and tomatoes served over rice. Growing up, I remember eating variations of this A LOT. It was good enough, but not something I'd necessarily order at a restaurant. Even still, a few years ago I found that I actually really missed this dish. Maybe I'd been away from home for too long, craving something nostalgic, but I got the urge to make my own picadillo. The aromas of cooking onions, red peppers, garlic, beef and tomatoes filled my apartment so beautifully that when my roommates came home they B lined for the stove to see what was cooking.

Since then I've made picadillo many times. It's super quick to whip up and uses minimal ingredients, most of which are always on hand with the exception of ground meat. We eat meat in this house, but not enough to even buy it every week. I find that buying the quality of meat we'd want to eat and feel good about gets costly rather quickly, so this week I set out to see if I could substitute Trader Joe's Beef-less Ground Beef and achieve the same yummy and filling results.

These crumbles are made of wheat and soy protein and spices and I gotta tell you, they look just like ground beef once stirred, don't you think?

To my satisfaction, the end result had almost exactly the same taste as the picadillo I usually make with ground beef. The major difference was textural, and we'll definitely be using the beef-less ground beef again for other recipes. I'm dedicating this recipe to my sister Jennifer, who is a vegetarian. If you're reading, I recommend that you give this a shot. It will take you back to your childhood and the best part is that no animals will be harmed on the trip down memory lane.

Beef-less Beef Picadillo
(makes about four servings)

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 white or yellow onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
8-10 green olives, chopped
12 oz. beef-less ground beef
4 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 cup frozen peas
salt and pepper

In a skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, bell pepper, garlic and olives and cook until soft, about five minutes. Crumble the beef-less ground beef into the mixture and stir until even distributed. Cook for 3-5 minutes until hot. Stir in the tomato paste (can stir in a few tablespoons of water here if you'd like to thin the sauce). Stir in the peas and turn heat to low. Cover and let peas cook for about four additional minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Serve over rice.

Optional garnish: Lime and/or chopped cilantro.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Black Bean Soup

While I've always loved cooking for Justin, something about being his future wife has me even more eager to please his palate. I even bought him a twelve pack of Coca Cola last week when I usually refuse since he plows through them in a few days flat. Seriously, it's insane and something I can't condone. So while this engagement glow lasts, I decided to make him something he's been wanting me to make for a while now - Black Bean Soup.

I know what you're thinking. What's so special about black bean soup? I wasn't entirely sold either until I tasted the finished product. I was amazed by the heartiness of this soup, without the use of any cream or fat. And the best part is you get to roast some vegetables! You can make fun of me all you want, but roasted vegetables make me happy. Really happy. 

I used this recipe (minus the mango salad) and added an additional can of beans after I pureed the roasted vegetable and bean mixture. The whole beans really add a lovely texture and thickness to the soup. This would be a great recipe to whip up after a visit to the farmers market where you score some gorgeous tomatoes on the cheap.

Use vegetable broth and top your soup with avocado to keep the whole meal vegetarian. Go ahead and add a dollop of sour cream or Greek yogurt too because you know you want to. Enjoy!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Rehab Rundown

As promised, today we'll get back to the Vincent Chronicles. I already told you why we decided to hire a dog rehabilitator, and now I'll tell you what this professional taught us about Vincent and about ourselves as dog owners.

Brandon Fouche was recommended to us by a coworker of mine who had adopted two aggressive dogs that were considered "lost causes" at the dog shelter. Nobody else was willing to take them home because they showed major signs of aggression towards other dogs and people. While the dogs were never aggressive towards her, she knew they couldn't be trusted if she had visitors to her house or if they caught sight of another dog while out on their walk. She turned to Brandon for his help and testified that her dogs were changed forever after working with him.

While Vincent isn't aggressive, we also turned to Brandon because of his knowledge of the dog's mind. In my coworker's case, Brandon knew the dogs still had a pack mentality and were assuming the roles of dominators to survive. The problem was once they were placed in a loving home with a loving owner, they still thought they were the leaders. Brandon went so far as to strap on pads and protective gear to wrestle her dogs into submission in her backyard. However bizarre and extreme it may sound, it worked.

As I mentioned in my previous post about Vincent, our most recent issue with him was that he started barking whenever we'd leave him home alone. It didn't matter if we left him to go to work for the day or we just left him for an hour while we ran an errand on the weekend, he was barking whenever we weren't there. The only reason we found out about it was because neighbors called our building manager to complain. How embarrassing, right? No one wants to be "those neighbors" and there we were, with the building manager calling us while we were at work. Luckily, he's been pretty nice about it and hasn't threatened to kick us out or anything. But since we're not in a position to live anywhere other than an apartment building, where neighbors can and do hear when your dog is barking, we knew we needed to take measures to stop this behavior and the anxiety it was causing both Vincent and us.

Per Brandon's suggestion, we left Vincent with him overnight so he could evaluate him and determine how he could help. When we picked him up the next day, Brandon armed us with really valuable information about why Vincent has been acting out. Believe it or not, he said, Vincent is a good dog. However, he has lacked discipline from his owner, and has learned behavior that will get him want he wants. We spent a good hour to two hours talking to Brandon without Vincent in the room. It was very much like a therapy session, where he really enlightened us and made us understand why a good dog would act out in bad ways because he's confused and encouraged (unbeknownst to us). While it may sound like psychology mumbo jumbo, Brandon worded this in a way that really made sense to us. Justin adopted Vincent at a time in his life when he needed a companion. He was living in a new city, by himself and was lonely. Unknowingly, he projected these emotions onto the dog and because Vincent loved him so much in return, he didn't understand why he was being left alone when it was so clear that they needed each others company. When Vincent would act out, Justin felt like it was his fault for working too many hours, not spending enough time with him, etc. so he didn't focus on being a leader and disciplinarian to Vincent, he focused on consoling him.  Brandon thinks this actually encouraged the dog's mind to feel anxious when he was left alone, knowing he would be babied and showered with love as soon as Justin got home.

Brandon's philosophy is based on studying the behaviors of dogs in the wild, where there is always a leader in the pack. Whoever is not the leader is the follower. It may be a controversial approach to dog ownership, because today dogs are as loved and as much a part of the family as children, but the point he really drove home is that dogs in the wild don't learn by positive reinforcement, and neither will ours. Wolves learn who is more dominant by biting each other and seeing who backs down first. Vincent's behavior has been testing us, and in the past we would back down and let him go to work with Justin so he wasn't alone or rush to his crate as soon as we got home to apologize for leaving him.

So in actuality, the dog rehabilitator really rehabilitated us more than he did Vincent. He taught us ways to gain back our dominance over him and in return, Vincent will want to please us instead of test us. That's the idea anyway. It's only been a few weeks since we met with Brandon, but we're already utilizing information he taught us to ensure that Vincent is on his way to seeing us as the leaders of this household. Although its been really hard to completely change the way we interact with our dogs, we're doing our best to heed the professional's advice not to pay attention to the dogs before we leave or when we come home. We were also told to throw out all dog toys that had squeakers in them, since they give dogs a false sense of dominance when they play with them (they sometimes look like animals and make noises like an animal would if the dog were attacking it). I know most of this sounds crazy to the average reader, but we're at a point with Vincent where we're willing to try anything. Even this....

Yes, those are essentially duct tape booties. The reason for the booties is this - Vincent is a very crafty fellow. We can muzzle him so he doesn't chew our furniture but he'll use his claws to paw it off his face so he can chew again. Brandon showed us how to wrap his claws in gauze and then tape over them so the muzzle stays put. The tape is only sticking to gauze, not his fur, so it doesn't hurt him and despite his craftiness we come home to a muzzled pup asleep on his bed.

So there you have it. Justin and I have been rehabilitated and Vincent has new shoes. Please don't call PETA and please don't tell me that all Vincent needs is more love. Justin loves the crap out of this dog and Vincent has made his way into my heart as well. For that reason, we invested a lot of money into seeking the best professional advice we could and we're going to stick with it. I hope to be back in another month with more progress to share. Since I have agreed to marry Justin, this little guy is going to be in my life for the long haul as well.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Sunset in Santa Barbara

Ok friends, I had fully intended on posting a follow-up about Vincent and our experience with the dog rehabilitator, but something big came up. Big! I pinky promise I will get back to it soon. But first can I tell you what happened?

I got engaged!

Here I thought my weekend was going to consist of going to the movies and watching college football, but instead I was whisked off to Santa Barbara and proposed to. Not a bad alternative if I do say so myself. If you want THE story, then read on. If you aren't interested in the mushy gushy details, go ahead and skip this post all together. Don't say I didn't warn you.

The story begins on Friday, which was like any other Friday until I spoke with my older brother Chris around 10 a.m. I keep in touch with my siblings but it's really rare that we speak over the phone, especially during the week. The odds that we would speak on any given day are extremely low, but here we were on this fateful day when he ended the conversation with, "So I heard the good news, congratulations!"

Me: Ummmm, what good news?
Chris: Aren't you coming to Austin this weekend?
Me: No. What are you talking about?
Chris: Uh, I better go.

I hung up the phone more than a little confused and then it hit me a few seconds later. Oh em gee, did he just ruin a really big surprise? THE surprise?! My heart was racing and a million thoughts were running through my mind. I knew I couldn't ask anyone because if my brother knew then my whole family knew and I didn't want Justin to find out his proposal had been ruined. But it also didn't make any sense to me that I'd be going to Austin for the weekend so I spent the next few hours convincing myself that I was wrong. And I was wrong. Partly.

Driving home from work I reassured myself that nothing was going on, but when I pulled in to my garage Justin's car was there. His schedule never allows him to be home before me so cue the freaking out now. I was like a cartoon character, blinking over and over and rubbing my eyes because I couldn't believe what I was seeing. I was instantly nervous, excited, happy, emotional and anxious all at the same time. I carried that bundle of nerves inside where I found Justin, who was packing a bag. He told me to do the same because we were going away for the weekend. Whoa! When he said we weren't flying, I knew we couldn't be going to Austin. So where were we going and what was this all about? Either way, I knew this trip was going to be one I wouldn't soon forget.

Justin had already arranged for the dogs to stay with friends so we started driving North on the 101 to Santa Barbara. During the drive he told me he had something special planned for Saturday evening. Ok, can I just tell you how hard it was getting through Friday night and Saturday afternoon knowing that Saturday evening could be life-changing? I was a patient, patient girl until Saturday at 5 p.m., when I was finally rewarded with the chance to do something I've always wanted to. Since Justin knows I love horseback riding and have ridden all over but never directly on the beach, he arranged for just the two of us and our guide to ride horses down the beautiful beaches of Santa Barbara at sunset. (This is where you might gag or roll your eyes, but I'll pretend I didn't see it and forge on.)

As we rode with the sun setting over the ocean, I knew what was coming. Surprisingly, I was able to relax in that moment more than I have in awhile, before I knew what the future held. I took everything in while the guide talked our ears off about how hard it is being a cowboy. I wish I were joking about his stories of how he stays with his parents when times are tough. It was really romantic stuff. When we reached the half-way point of our ride, he suggested we dismount the horses to "take photos".

We wandered away from the guide and took a few photos when Justin said he had to ask me a question.

Justin: Hey, can I ask you a question?
Me: Yes....
Justin: I don't think I have any cash, can I borrow a $20 to tip the guide when we get back to the car?
Me: Oh... of course.

But directly after that exchange, Justin asked me to hold the camera. That's when things become a blur. My adrenaline was pumping as soon as he reached a hand in his pocket and everything happened so quickly after that. I know Justin told me I was his best friend and that he wanted to be with me forever. I know that he got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. I'm pretty sure I spoke the word "yes" but I don't actually remember it. I knelt with him on the rocks so we could be face to face and hug and kiss and all that mushy stuff. We hugged for a good minute before I got to see the ring and put it on. I think I might have gasped because it was so beautiful and even more sparkly than I could have imagined. It was all so surreal and fast that I didn't have time to shed any tears or get emotional. (Note: I did cry later when Justin described my reaction to the proposal in his words. I'm weird.)

We took this poor attempt at self portraits before we found the guide again. He knew the plan all along so he congratulated us and took a few photos (awkwardly in front of the horses). He suggested that we go horseback riding on the beach every October 1st to remember our engagement. While we may not live near the ocean forever, I do think October 1st will be a date neither of us will ever forget. TCU lost to SMU that day, but I got a future husband.

I am so excited for what comes next - our families meeting, wedding cake tasting (Yay!), a wedding and happy marriage. Justin is the kind of guy that's really hard to find and there is no one else I would rather do all of it with. He's kind, generous, creative, genuine, unique, and he's my best friend.

Fun Facts:

Approximate time of proposal- 6:30 p.m.
Horses names- Irish (mine) and Solo (his)
Hiding spot for ring- Right under my nose in our bedside table
Why my brother thought I was going to Austin- No one knows!