Sunday, October 28, 2012

It's The Oatmeal!

The thing about Arizona is that you have to go out early in the morning because that is the time that the temperature is most bearable.  Even though the weather has been getting cooler, mornings are still more pleasant than mid day, and K and I have taken to having morning coffee dates now and then before he heads to work.  Friday, we started our weekend with an early coffee date at Seattle Espresso - I guess naming themselves that is supposed to lend some credibility to their coffee.  It has turned out to be one of the better coffee shops in the area, plus it has a nice fountain in the outdoor seating area and is close to K's work.  On our coffee date days, I drop him at work so that we don't waste gas by taking two cars. Then I distracted myself until I could go pick him up so that our weekend could actually start, because we had so much fun stuff planned, starting with...The Oatmeal!

Coffee Date
 If you have never heard of "The Oatmeal", you should go check it out (as soon as you finish reading this.  Because once you start looking at The Oatmeal, you will seriously never leave).  Well, The Oatmeal wrote a book, and he came to Tempe for a book signing!  Yes, he is a guy, and yes, he has a name (Matthew Inman), but I prefer to call him The Oatmeal.  I have been laughing at his work for years, and so was super excited for the chance to see him in person.  When I picked up K from work, we headed to Changing Hands Bookstore to buy our copy, and get our tickets for the signing.  Yep, there were tickets, with letters.  We were "I".  And if you are familiar with the alphabet, "I" is not all that close to the beginning.  The signing was not for a few hours, so we went off to do a little appliance shopping for our new place.
It's The Oatmeal!
 We returned and spent a really, really long time waiting to be called to get our seats, but by the time we were called it was standing room only.  Then we waited some more.  Finally, The Oatmeal came out and did a little talk.  It's funny how people never look how you imagine them to.  Then after his talk, we waited still longer for our letter to be called to get our book signed.  If you have ever met a famous person, you know how awkward it can be.  First, you feel like you should say something witty, because you know they meet people all the time and you want to somehow differentiate yourself from the others.  But then, you also know that they meet idiots all the time, so you don't want to say anything stupid.  And then you either blather on like an idiot or just don't say anything at all like a super boring person.  I chose to go with the latter, and was happy that I didn't feel too stupid after, but I still found myself wishing that I had thought of something witty to say.  Anyway, we now are the proud owners of  "How to tell if your cat is plotting to kill you" personally signed for us.  It has also been very educational.  Based on this book, I am fairly certain that Pepper is plotting to kill one or both of us.  Sebastian, not so much.

Possible Murderer
Probably not
K's friend from work and his wife were at the signing as well, and afterwards we all went to dinner at La Bocca in Tempe.  This was the very first restaurant to which K and I went the night we arrived in town.  It is on Tempe's famous Mill Avenue,  right next to the Arizona State University campus, and known for the many bars and restaurants that line the street.  We had forgotten that it was the weekend before Halloween, and so were amused to find the area crawling with ASU students dressed as Slutty Bar Maids and Captain America.  We also found Waldo.  The nice thing about the cooler weather is that they open up all the windows and doors allowing us easier spying people-watching opportunities.  We enjoyed some bruschetta and pizza, and couldn't resist the flourless chocolate cake. It has been a long time since K and I socialized with anyone other than each other, so it was particularly nice to go out with another couple for an entertaining dinner.  I love weekends that start with a fun Friday night, they always seem longer.  And after an awesome Friday night, we headed home to get ready for the rest of the weekend. 
Pin It!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Good News, Everyone!

We bought a house!  The wait is over, and if you were one of the three people who knew about this, you may now break your silence.  We started looking at houses before we even moved here, but we were mislead by websites like Trulia and Zillow.  It looked like we would have a variety of huge houses to choose from under $100,000.  It turns out that many of the listings on these websites are outdated or inaccurate.  When we first contacted a realtor, we were jolted out of that fantasy the first time she sent us the selection of houses available under $100,000.  There were about five choices, each of them old, run down, tiny, and in less than desirable neighborhoods.

  After getting over the fact that we were not living in a paradise where they were giving away mansions, we increased our budget a little and got realistic.  Our realtor would send us listings daily, and although the selections were better, most of them were still not great.  Because we had increased our budget, we knew that there would not be very much extra money to put into improving the house.  The other frustrating thing is that the fixer-uppers seemed to be selling for basically the same price as newer, move in ready homes.  And if there was a perfect fixer-upper for a good price, an investor would come along and make a cash offer. 

We learned that the Phoenix housing market is improving, but that is partially because it is flooded with investors.  These are people who come in, buy a run down house for cheap, fix it up and then turn around and sell it.  When you don't have $100,000 plus to throw on the table, you can't compete with that  So, our search was not without frustration.  Soon, we found a few places that we wanted to look at.  On a Saturday, we had three houses that we planned on looking at.  I felt like I was on an episode of House Hunters.  One of the homes was having an open house, so we went to that one first.  I already loved it - I had looked at the photos in the online listing and it was the best house I had seen so far.

When we walked in, we were smitten.  The house was bright and pretty.  It was beautifully staged - which means the seller had decorated it specifically to sell it.  We recognized that it was staged, but had to admit that it looked good.  Nice carpet and tile, granite counter tops, fresh paint job.  Two bedroom, two and a half bath, and the cutest patio.  Now get this.  It has fake grass.  I am normally completely against fake plants.  But the thing is that in the desert, having grass is kind of ridiculous.  It just isn't natural - do you know how expensive it is to water it?  I don't, and I don't want to find out.  I'm also not a fan of the desertscapes that are often used in yards here.  Really, more rocks?  Doesn't that just reflect the sun, making you even hotter?  I swear, whenever I stand near grass it is 10 degrees cooler.  So I was very pleased with the fake grass - no maintenance, and it actually looks real.  I wouldn't dream of having something like that in Oregon, but here it just makes sense. 

Despite the fact that we were basically in love with this house immediately, we decided it would be smart to look at a few other places.  The next place we visited was much larger.  It had three bedrooms, was freshly remodeled, and lots of space.  We were intrigued by the fact that it was big and new, but we really didn't like the neighborhood.  Nothing we could really put our finger on, but it just didn't feel right. 

So, off we went to the next house.  This was an older house that had been remodeled.  We loved the huge tree out front - you would not believe how rare large, shade giving trees are in Phoenix.  The kitchen had been remodeled and was very nice.  The backyard was also quite large.  But this was obviously a much older home - about twenty years older than the other two.  The AC unit was old and very loud.  And although this was listed as a two bedroom plus bonus room, we couldn't figure out where the bonus room was.  And the "second bedroom" was really a bonus room, as it had no closet.  Overall, we felt that this home was way overpriced.  It was there, in the kitchen of house #3 that we decided to make an offer on the first house.  After looking for a long time at what was available, we knew that finding a house like this in our price range was rare.

After making our offer we weren't sure if it would be accepted.  We made a strong offer, but because it was such a nice place we expected other people to make good offers as well.  After waiting for what seemed like FOREVER (24 hours), we got the good news that our offer had been accepted!  We were supposed to close in a month, but of course not everything went according to plans.  We ran into a few roadblocks along the way, but we were always able to get around them.  And after almost two months, we have finally finished the process.  The house is ours!  We have our key.  Now that we have gotten through that process we have a whole new set of hurdles to jump.  We have our rental until the end of November, so we have about a month to move into the new house.  We have a few things that need to be purchased for the new house - like blinds, a refrigerator and a washer and dryer.  And of course, the joys of packing and actually moving.  Meanwhile, I'm preoccupied with what color I'm going to paint my new, huge walk in closet. 
Pin It!

Wine Wednesday: Barrymore Pinot Grigio

Welcome to Wine Wednesday:  Celebrity Edition!  Yes, this week we feature a wine from America's favorite bad girl gone good, Drew Barrymore.

Ms. Barrymore
 Since I tend to judge a wine by its label, I was instantly intrigued when I saw the sleek bottle on the top shelf at Target.  Yep.  Drew made a smart move when she priced her wine, at $13.99 - it's not too expensive for most people, but it isn't so cheap that you think "Wow, $6 bucks?  It must taste like crap".  As an added bonus, the label states that proceeds from purchase of the wine will benefit charity. 

In true Hollywood form, the bottle appears taller and thinner than normal wine bottles.  When I compared it to other bottles, it really is taller, although not thinner.  So, this bottle photographs well.  But as we all know, it's what's on the inside that counts, right?

Ready for her closeup
I was surprised when I realized this is actually an Italian wine.  For some reason I expected a California wine.  This is a very dry Pinot Grigio,  pretty acidic and without any sweetness.  Honestly, it wasn't a terrible wine, but it wasn't my favorite.  I think it is priced a little too high for the quality of wine.  If you can find this wine under $10, give it a shot, but for $13.99 I can get my favorite King Estate, so I doubt I will be springing for this one again.

If you want Drew's autograph, buy this bottle

Wine:  Barrymore Pinot Grigio
Year: 2011
Region: Delle Venezie, Italy
Purchased From: Target
 Price: $13.99
Verdict: 3/5
Pin It!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Who knew artisan bread was this easy?

I've never been a huge fan of the store bought loaves of bread.  You know, the kind sold in the massive bread aisle, with a hundred different kinds of sliced, plastic wrapped bread that was baked who knows when.  When I was little, my mom would often bake homemade bread.  I remember the cozy days that we would mix the water, yeast, honey and flour, knead it, let it rise, shape it into loaves, let it rise again, and finally, bake it.  There is nothing like hot bread, straight out of the oven, topped with a little butter and honey.  After I lived on my own, I made my own bread once or twice, but could rarely find the time to devote four or five hours to it.  I would sometimes buy the fresh baked bread from the bakery, but not as an everyday thing.

Fresh Baked Goodness - our first loaf
 For K, good bread is a necessary part of a balanced diet.  So, after we started living together, there was always bakery quality bread in the house.  I'm a convert to delicious, fresh baked, artisinal bread.  But honestly, we were tired of paying three to five dollars per loaf.  K had suggested an experiment in making our own bread, but I was skeptical.  Knowing the time commitment to making your own bread, I didn't think it was realistic for us to do it on a regular basis.  So when I saw a recipe on Pinterest that claimed "Artisan bread in five minutes a day!"  I was curious.

The recipe I used was from the blog Alexandra's Kitchen, and she got it from a book called "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day".  This book came out in 2007, and has been all over the food blogosphere ever since.  It is unbelievable how easy this bread is.  In fact, it is so easy that both K and I were convinced that it was going to be a failure.  We were very pleasantly surprised to find out that we were wrong, and this is some of the best bread we have ever had.  Keep in mind that the "five minutes" is active time.  There is still some resting time for the bread, but your hands-on time is just a few minutes.

Artisan Bread in Five
(Makes 3-4 loaves)

3 cups lukewarm water
1½ T. active dry yeast (About two packets)
1½ T. kosher salt (reduce by half if you are using another kind of salt)
29.25 oz. unsifted, unbleached, all-purpose white flour (6 ½ cups if you don't have a food scale)

Place water, yeast and salt in a large bowl.  Make sure your water isn't too hot so that you don't kill the yeast, it should be just slightly warmer than body temperature.   Add all of the flour, and mix to combine.  Mix just until there are no dry flour spots.  Resist the urge to knead.  I usually end up using my hands to do the mixing because it is just easier.  The dough will be very sticky, this is normal.

Mixed Dough
 Cover with a loose fitting lid or clean kitchen towel  and allow to rise at room temperature for two hours.  After the two hours put it in the fridge for 2 more hours (The two hours in the fridge will make the dough easier to work with, but you can actually bake your loaf before this step if you just can't wait).  Now you are free to bake your bread, or you can leave it in the fridge until you have time to bake a loaf.
Covered with a kitchen towel
 When you are ready to bake, remove about a quarter of the dough (use a serrated knife or just use your hands) and put the rest back in the fridge.  The original recipe says to place on a cornmeal covered pizza peel, but I don't have a pizza peel and I have never used cornmeal.  If you have it, use it, but your bread will be fine without it.  At this point you should decide what you are baking your bread in - or on.  You can use a pizza stone, a cookie sheet, a regular loaf pan, or a pyrex baking dish.  If you are using a pizza stone or cookie sheet, add some flour to the dough and quickly shape it into a ball by stretching the dough and tucking the ends under to form a ball.  This should take less than a minute - remember, you aren't kneading.  Place on the cornmeal or flour covered pizza peel OR a piece of parchment paper.  Allow to rest for 40 minutes.  Preheat your oven to 450 with the pizza stone or cookie sheet inside so that it can preheat as well.

Resting Dough Ball
  ALSO: Place another baking dish in the oven filled with water.  This is your steam tray and it is important.  I would have skipped this step, but luckily K had read about it, and so he made sure we used one.  This is what makes the crust so crusty, don't skip this step.  I just use a metal 8x8 baking dish filled with water, and I put it on the bottom rack of the oven.  As you are baking, make sure the water hasn't evaporated (this is why filling the dish about 3/4 is a good idea)

If you want to, you can use a regular loaf pan or a one quart baking dish.  If I am doing that, I just place the dough directly into the buttered pan and allow it to rest there.  After 40 minutes of rest time, slash the top of your bread with a serrated knife, or make it easier on yourself and use some kitchen scissors to cut three diagonal cuts into the bread.  This is just to let steam escape, and it keeps it looking pretty.

Bake at 450 for 30-35 minutes, depending on your pan and oven.  Just keep an eye on it by looking at it through your oven window.  When it looks nice and brown on top, give it a tap to make sure it is firm.  Remove from oven and place on a cooling rack.  If you used a pan, take it out of the pan right away to avoid sweating (that makes it mushy and not good).  Allow to cool as long as you can stand it.  Technically, you are supposed to let it cool completely, but everyone knows that warm bread fresh from the oven is like heaven in your mouth.  If you do need to eat it right away, try to let it cool at least for 10 minutes.  The one drawback of slicing your bread while it is warm is that the rest of the loaf might suffer in texture due to losing too much steam.  But if you eat the whole loaf in one sitting, that won't be a problem.
Baked in a buttered one quart pyrex dish
The beauty of this method is that you can bake fresh bread every day or every other day.  You should get three to four loaves out of each batch.  Because this is homemade and has no preservatives, the bread is best in the first few days after baking.  But the raw dough lasts for up to 14 days in the fridge (according to the creator of this method.  I have never kept it that long).  One time K and I thought it would be good to bake a huge loaf, so we put half the batch in one loaf pan.  This was fine, but the loaf lasted us a week and at the end of the week the bread, although still fine, was not as delicious as it was at the beginning of the week.  We decided it was better to bake smaller loaves more often so that we could enjoy the major benefit of this method - freshly baked bread.
The mega-loaf
The other benefit of this is cost.  According to Alexandra's Kitchen, this homemade bread costs about .60 cents per loaf, vs four or five dollars to buy a similar loaf at a bakery or market.  And the time it takes to mix up a batch is less than it would take to run to the store to pick up a loaf.  Not only that, but your bread isn't full of preservatives and chemicals.  So - easy, cheap, better for you (as bread goes).  What are you waiting for?

Fresh bread, butter and goat cheese.

Pin It!

Friday, October 19, 2012

DIY: Peanut Butter

I am borderline obsessed with Peanut Butter.  I think it is pretty much one of the greatest foods ever.  It can be used in desserts, it can be used in savory dishes, it can be eaten by the spoonful straight out of the jar.  Breakfast, lunch, dinner or anything else, if there is peanut butter involved, I will probably eat it.  So it is kind of weird that until recently, I had never even considered making my own PB.  My brand loyalties have changed over the years, from Adams to Jif to Maranatha.  I tend to buy the natural peanut butter recently because I don't like having hydrogenated oils, sugar and other crap in my PB.  I am making more and more from scratch recently, and so one day K said "Why don't we ever make our own peanut butter?"  and I said "I don't know."  and so I decided to give it a try.

Creamy goodness
I was amazed at how easy it is!  And not only that, but how delicious the peanut butter turned out.  The awesome thing about making your own is that you are totally in control of what goes into it  You have control over the quality of peanuts, if you want organic, you get organic.  You can make it salted, unsalted, sweetened, unsweetened, and throw in whatever add ins that you can imagine (honey, cinnamon, raisins, coco powder, chocolate chips......).  I decided to go with some straight up peanut butter, because I'm a purist.  But I may try adding in other ingredients sometime.  I can tell you that at this point, I don't see myself ever going back to store bought again.

I bought some peanuts from Trader Joe's, and I decided to go with unsalted so that I could control the amount of salt in my PB.  I also went with oil roasted, not dry roasted.  I have made it with dry roasted, and I wasn't as happy with the texture or flavor of the PB.  The great thing about the oil roasted peanuts is that you don't have to add any additional oil.  The oil on the peanuts is the perfect amount, and the texture of the peanut butter turns out amazing.  I pour it into a mason jar and store it in the fridge.  The oil never separates, but the PB remains creamy and spreadable even in the fridge.  It is way better than any natural peanut butter I have purchased at the grocery store.  So, if you go with dry roasted or raw peanuts, you may have to add some additional oil as you are making your peanut butter.

Perfect Peanut Butter

16 oz Peanuts, roasted and unsalted
salt (if desired)

(Inspired by Averie Cooks)

1.  Even if you bought roasted nuts, as I did, you should still roast them a little longer yourself.  I didn't do this the first time and my peanut butter was a little lacking in flavor.  Just spread them out in a single layer on a cookie sheet and roast them in the oven at 200 degrees for 5-10 minutes.  If they are not already roasted, you probably will need to keep them in a little longer.

This is nuts!
2.  After your peanuts reach their desired roastiness, take them out of the oven and pour them into your food processor.  If you don't have a food processor, you can probably use a powerful blender, although I have not tried that method.  Now flip the switch and process for several minutes.  The peanuts will go from a crumbly texture to a dough like consistency.  At one point you may fear that you are going to break your food processor.  You can turn it off and scrape down the sides if you want.  I usually ride it out, and the dough ball turns into a paste, and then it changes into almost a liquid.  Your food processor will probably be pretty warm at this point, so the peanut butter is a bit more runny than it will be after it cools off.

Whirl away
3. After it starts to get creamy, I usually blend it about a minute longer.  It can get a little creamier. This is when you add the salt.  You should start out with a very small amount and keep adding until you reach your desired flavor.  I would guess that I add about a teaspoon, but I start out by just adding two or three shakes, processing, tasting, and then adding another shake or two until it is the flavor that I want.  It is important to keep tasting it each time you add salt so that you don't cross over into the too salty territory.  I've used both sea salt and kosher, and I think I preferred sea salt just a tad.

4.  After you have blended in the salt, pour your peanut butter into a jar.  A 16 oz mason jar is the perfect size for me.  I pour it into the jar and put it right in the fridge.  It maintains the perfect consistence, and the oil never separates.    I've read that this will keep in the fridge for up to a month, but I wouldn't know.  It never lasts that long around here.

Pin It!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Wine Wednesday: Arizona Stronghold Nachise

Well, I hope you didn't think that I was always going to be writing about cheap wines here on Wine Wednesday.  Although my standbys might be the cheapo inexpensive grocery store fare, I still enjoy the good stuff now and then.  I firmly believe that you can enjoy a wine without spending a fortune, but it is also nice to treat yourself to a really good bottle now and then.

As I wrote about here, K and I had a beautiful dinner at a swanky restaurant for our anniversary.  We decided to order a bottle of wine to go with our dinner, and since we had recently visited the Arizona Stronghold tasting room, I selected the Nachise.  Arizona Stronghold names their wines after prominent Apache leaders, and Nachise was the son of Apache Chief Cochise.

So, Nachise is a blend of four different kind of Rhone grapes - Syrah,  Grenache, Petite Sirah, Mourverdre.  Apparently grapes from the Rhone region of France grow very well in the Northern Arizona climate. This wine was very smooth,  juicy, and full bodied without being heavy.  I really didn't notice any taste of tannins.  It was a lovely bottle of wine.

Also, take note:  This wine is 14.5% alc, so it might knock your socks off.  Jut keep that in mind so you don't accidentally get wasted while trying to enjoy a nice glass of wine (unless you want to, in which case, go for it).  I noticed this because I started to get a little buzz on my first glass, and as a good Irish girl, I can hold my liquor.

Overall, if you want to try some Arizona wine, this is a good one.  I see it in most of the grocery stores here in Arizona, but I'm not sure how easy it is to get in other places.  At the very least, you should be able to order it online.

Wine:  Arizona Stronghold Nachise
Year: 2010
Region: Arizona, Cochise County
Purchased From: A Different Pointe of View Restaurant
Price: $48 (however, I have seen it retail for $23 at grocery stores.  Restaurant upcharge)
Verdict: 4.5/5 
Pin It!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Epic Anniversary Extravaganza

I've always been big on celebrating events for at least an entire week, not just the day.  My birthday is always a "birthday week", partly because my mom and I have birthdays a day apart.  We have always extended the celebrations for as long as we can get away with it.  So, it was fitting that when K and I had something to celebrate, it turned into a week long affair.

People have been surprised to find out that K and I celebrated our one year anniversary last week.  "I thought you guys had been together longer than that!"  is what I heard from many people.  Well, yeah, we did move in together nine months ago, and we did move to a new state together four months ago, so it makes sense that people are a little surprised.  But when you know, you know?

Anyway, to get the celebration started, we decided to go out for a nice dinner.  K did his manly duties by picking the restaurant, and in true form, the one he picked was amazing.  He does know how to make a girl feel special. 
Arizona has some beautiful sunsets
I wasn't sure what to wear, but he let me know that it was pretty fancy - four dollar signs fancy!  Time to pull out my "Opera Dress".  I call it that because in another prince charming moment, K bought me this dress so that I could wear it when he took me TO THE OPERA.  But I have not had an occasion to wear it since then.  I picked him up from work early so that we could go home to get all prettied up.  On the way home, he mentioned that the Black Keys were coming to Phoenix.  I LOVE The Black Keys.  It's also kind of our band - we burned 4 CDs before our road-trip(s) from PDX to PHX and one of them was Magic Potion.  We will probably never be able to listen to that album without thinking of 14 hour drives through the desert.  Despite this, my Dan Auerbach station is usually our Pandora station of choice.  When they came to Portland, the show sold out before I even knew about it.  Knowing that we are supposed to be saving, not spending, I didn't want to get excited, but as soon as I heard they were coming to PHX, I wanted to go.  And I didn't have to wait very long, because K thought it would be the perfect anniversary present for us.
View from the patio
But, before we get ahead of ourselves, let's get back to dinner.  We had to leave early because we had a six o' clock reservation and this place is about as far across town as you can get.  We drove through Phoenix, and I was stunned, as always, at the juxtaposition of low-income neighborhoods next to upscale developments.  After driving through areas where the run down homes have bars on the windows, and an intersection with more than one payday loan "store", we drove another block into a different world.  The restaurant is at a resort style hotel in the hills, complete with a golf course.  We drove up the winding road, until finally reaching the top.  The name of the restaurant is "A different pointe of view" - I might have gone with a different name, but after seeing the view, the name fits.  What makes it a different point of view?  Well, when you build a city on the floor of a valley, you don't have many opportunities to view the city from anywhere except, well, the floor.  K remarked that he was pretty sure it was the first time he had driven up a hill since we moved here.

View from our table!
After the valet took the car, we climbed the stairs, and then took an elevator to the top of the building to the restaurant.  We arrived early so that we could see the sunset - and also because the first 10 parties get the tables at the window.  I didn't want to feel like a rube by pulling out my camera, but K assured me that this is the place to take photos.  He wasn't wrong.  I noticed that as other people arrived, they went out to the patio to take advantage of the photo op.  We soon followed suit.   The enormous city of Phoenix stretched before us, looking gilded in the distance.
K's Filet Mignon

My Hanger Steak

After taking as many photos as our hearts desired, we went back inside to order dinner.  We started with a bottle of wine.  Since we had recently visited the Arizona Stronghold tasting room, I thought it would be nice to order a bottle of their "Nachise"- a highly recommended red.  More on that for Wine Wednesday.  We went with the crispy seared pork bellies as an appetizer, and both decided on steak for the main course (Hanger Steak for me, Filet Mignon for K), and for dessert shared creme brulee garnished with fresh berries and a buttermilk blue cheese cookie (wow!).  As one would expect, the service was top-notch, the food was amazing, but the view is really what makes this place what it is.  After finishing dinner, we headed back out to the patio to soak up the view one last time.

After dark

 Full and happy, we set out on our journey back to our little 'burb, where we stayed safely, until Tuesday.  What happened Tuesday?  The Black Keys happened.  Oh, yeah. 

Tegan and Sara
Once again, we journeyed into the city, this time to downtown and the US Airways Center.  We arrived early, so we decided to stop in at the Hard Rock Cafe across the street.  The only other time I have been to a Hard Rock is when I was in Spain.  We might have selected a different bar, but Downtown Phoenix is surprisingly not rich with selections of bars and restaurants.  Plus this one was just steps from the venue.  After enjoying some adult beverages, we crossed the street and found our seats.  The opening band was Tegan and Sara, a girl band that I've harbored a love for since I was in college.  Thirty-somethings are the original hipsters, only because we went to high school in the '90s.

The Black Keys

Being at this show was exhilarating.  So many plaid shirts and mustaches!  We couldn't help but wonder - where do all these hipsters come from?  I almost felt like I was in Portland again.  And the high that comes from being in a dark arena, with the only light coming from the stage, and music resonating in your core - it's transcendent.

K and I were having a ball, dancing and singing and loving every minute.  Apparently the rest of Phoenix doesn't really know how to attend a rock show.  Granted, we were in assigned seating and not general admission, but I was appalled at how bored the people around me seemed.  The guys on either side of us stood with their arms crossed for most of the show, and the guy sitting in front of me actually sat down during the entire show.  He was clearly there for his girlfriend, but still.  How can you not enjoy a Black Keys show???  How!?!  I think even The Black Keys noticed Phoenix's lameness.  They kept saying things like "OK, Phoenix, are you with me?"  and "Come on Phoenix!"  to which I agreed "Yeah, come on Phoenix, it really isn't that boring!"  I think I was the obnoxious crazy weirdo of our section.  But really, these people...

After the concert ended, we were starving - and apparently Downtown Phoenix closes at 10pm, so our only option was....Hard Rock Cafe.  Well, beggars can't be choosers, and we gladly gobbled up our nachos and hot wings before once again heading back home.  So ends the epic anniversary celebration, and an epic first year together.  Can't wait to see what the next year brings. 
Pin It!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Family Fun Day(s)

Anytime my cousin and I get together, it is super good times.  We grew up together and are as much like sisters as cousins.  We are separated by thousands of miles most of the time, and that distance just got even larger since she recently moved overseas.  It had already been four years since we had seen each other in person, so I was thrilled when she was able to arrange a quick jaunt to the desert while she was home in the US.

 K and I picked her up at the PHX airport on a Thursday evening, and we decided to start out showing her what our area has to offer.  We took her to San Tan Brewery, a local brewery in the "Downtown" area of our 'burb.  Cuz and I opted for Epicenter Amber Ale while K ordered his favorite, Devil's Ale.  Then we walked over to a wine bar called Vintage 95 and were actually able to sit outside comfortably!  I think it was the first time we have been able to do that since we moved here.  The outdoor patio was actually really nice when you aren't at risk of getting heat stroke.  Despite it being a wine bar, we decided to order some cocktails.  K's 1912 cocktail was described as an "Irish Mule" (Offensive!)  and came in a cool copper mug, C's Mai Tai was a winner, and my cocktail was a forgettable citrus thingy. 
The 1912 at Vintage 95

  The next day, we decided to have a little girl time, so we went to get mani/pedis and do some browsing at an outdoor mall.  After meeting up with K for a late lunch, we got ready to head into Downtown PHX because we were going to a Diamondbacks game!  K was able to score some tickets through work.  I was really excited that they were available while my cousin was here.  The D-backs (Seriously.  They call them D-backs.  Like D-bags?) were playing the Cubs.  Our seats were very close to the field, and we were seated in "Uptown" which I guess is a section named after the hot star of the Diamondbacks, Justin Upton.  That section is near where he stands in the outfield.  (I don't know baseball, I had to wikipedia that shit).  Aside from baseball being one of the most boring sports EVAR, we had a good time, and then headed out to Four Peaks Brewery to finish off the night.  Ever tried the Peach Ale from Four Peaks?  It wasn't what I expected, but it's pretty good.  K prefers the Kiltlifter.
Upton from Uptown

  In keeping with the boozing it up theme, the next day we drove up to Cottonwood to do some wine tasting.  Yes, I was just as surprised as you are that there is wine being made in AZ.  I've been wanting to check it out for while, so I was excited to be able to bring C on the adventure.  The tasting room that I was most excited about was our first stop.  Arizona Stronghold has won some awards, and is co-owned by Maynard Keenan, the lead singer of Tool.  I really wanted to bring C here as she is pretty fond of the rock and roll music.  The tasting room has a sort of rock edge to it - it's painted red and everything.  We did the combo flight and ended up with these cool glasses as souvenirs.

Tasting at Arizona Stronghold, Cottonwood, AZ

 Actually all of the tasting rooms gave you glasses, so it must be built into the price.  Honestly, the tasting fees seemed kind of high to me, but I am used to Oregon tasting rooms.  I'm guessing that compared to California, these are probably totally reasonable.

We went to a total of 4 tasting rooms, each of them were a little different and had unique features.  Dionysus was intimate, elaborately decorated, and had a very knowledgeable sommelier who spent almost the entire tasting talking to us.  Pillsbury was casual with questionable live music, but had an AWESOME game called Cards Against Humanity that we had way too much fun playing.  Burning Tree had a great outdoor patio that we enjoyed until we started being eaten alive by mosquitos.  The Sommelier was also very friendly and knowledgeable.  He suggested a great Mexican restaurant, Concho's, where we caught some late dinner before leaving town.  Since K had to do the driving back, he had not participated in the wine tasting (have I mentioned how amazing he is?), but we DID grab him an espresso AND a coffee for the drive back from Crema Cafe.  I wish a place like that existed near us.  It was pretty Portland, with its hipster baristas and its modern industrial interior.  It reminded me of Barista in PDX.  Plus it had a super cute courtyard.

  Finally, we were headed home, but not before stopping for gas where we saw this guy:
Terrifying gas station spider

Holy Crap!  The photo does not do it justice, the thing was huge.

After our jam-packed weekend, we took it easy on Sunday, catching up on the internets and football, and then for dinner I introduced C to the magnificent Yumm bowl.

Homemade Yumm Bowl

 She was a fan.  We ended the night watching my favorite movie of all time, When Harry Met Sally.  Somehow, neither of them had been forced to watch it with me yet, so I dug out my DVD and we all enjoyed the antics of Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal while munching on popcorn.  Pure bliss.

P.S. - Blogging runs in the family.  Check out C's blog, she is hilarious (not that I'm biased).

Pin It!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Wine Wednesday: King Estate Pinot Gris

King Estate Winery, 2009 (photo by my mom)
Welcome to a very Special Wine Wednesday.  This week I'm featuring my favorite wine of all time:  King Estate Pinot Gris.

 King Estate is a fantastic winery outside of Eugene, OR.  It has been my go to special occasion wine for many years, and the winery is absolutely beautiful.   Back in my days working for the evil insurance company, when I had a little disposable income of my own, I belonged to their wine club.  Every wine that they turn out is great, but my all time favorite wine, and the one they are famous for, is the Signature Pinot Gris.  It has the perfect balance of crisp and sweet (but not too sweet).  It's aged in stainless steel barrels, which I love because I am not a fan of oaky wines.  It's awesome served very cold with pretty much any food, but pairing it with herbed goat cheese, white cheddar and cured meats is never a bad idea.  Or Thai food.  Or salmon.  Whatever, serve it with mac and cheese, it will still be amazing.
Steel Barrels at King Estate, 2009 (Photo by my mom)
If you every have a chance to visit King Estate you should do it.  Try to make sure it is during the day so you can really see how beautiful it is.  The one time I was able to take K there was a dark and foggy night in December, and it was more terrifying than it was beautiful due to the drive out there in the fog.
Grape Vines at king Estate, 2009 (photo by my mom)

Vineyard Pavilion at King Estate, 2009 (photo by my mom)
 I have been very happy that I can find my favorite wine here in Arizona.  I have found it at a few grocery stores, and even Costco!  Which is awesome, because they of course sell it at the low end of the price range.  No matter where you live, you can probably find it, or at the very least, order it on their website.  The price varies from about $13 per bottle up to $17, depending where you get it.  If you live in the NW, you will have more options as to where you buy it.  We used to pick up a bottle at Fred Meyer for $12.99 - it seems to be getting easier to find it at that price range.  A few years ago you couldn't get it under $15.  The vineyard itself still sells it for $17, though.  So you actually pay more there, which is kind of weird, I think.  This is one of their least expensive wines, and for once in my life I actually prefer the less expensive thing (it is usually the opposite).  Although, their other wines are also amazing.  The Domaine Pinot Noir is phenomenal, but at $60/bottle I don't keep that one on hand.  The best way to try a variety of their wines is to do a tasting.  So get to it!

Wine:  King Estate Signature Pinot Gris
Year: 2011
Region: Willamette Valley, Oregon
Purchased From: Costco
Price: $13.99
Verdict: 6/5  (Yes, 6 out of 5).
Pin It!
Blogging tips