Saturday, February 8, 2014

Guest Post: Australia's Best Wine Regions

To end the week of guest posts, we have an entry that incorporates three of my favorite things: Australia, wine, and my friends. Two of my closest friends spent a few years traveling the world and documented everything on their blog, LivingIF. You can also follow their adventures and sage advice by liking them on Facebook, here. If you are planning to travel or you want to get lost at your desk for a moment, enjoy!

Personal vineyard tours, tastes of prized vintages and tastings poured by the winery owner are what we all wish for when exploring a new wine region.  In the Adelaide Hills and Coonawara wine regions of Australia personal service is expected.  While McLaren Vale and Hunter Valley among others get all the attention these two lesser known areas are worth your time.

In each of the places we stopped in Coonawara and Adelaide Hills we were given individualized attention and provided with stellar service. We explored the small towns of Hahndorf near Adelaide Hills and Naracoorte near Coonawara.  Each region with the side trips is a full day and will require a car, but you won’t regret it.  Below are the highlights of our wine tours in each region.


The delightful little town of Hahndorf is the perfect place for lunch between tastings, to pick up picnic items or to feed that chocolate craving.  The main road makes it easy to avoid getting lost and will take you past both Udder Delights and N5 Chocolate Shop.  Even if you have no plans to purchase anything you have to stop into Udder Delights for their fantastic samples.  The chocolate shop on the other hand is where you want to spend your money with truffles starting at an affordable $2 and plenty of other indulgent treats that are easy on your wallet and divine on your tongue.  The Honey Pot truffle, a Belgian milk chocolate “hive” filled with honey and ganache is a must-try.

The Lane Vineyard
With over 20 wines to choose from on their tasting list you’re bound to find something that strikes your palette.  If you don’t know where to start just let The Lane Vineyard’s excellent and informed staff guide you.  The all glass tasting room surrounded by vineyards creates a beautiful backdrop for their wonderful array of wines.  The Lois Blance de Blances white sparkling was particular favorite with a crisp, clean finish.

 Our experience at Ekhinda is what you dream of when visiting a winery.  The wines were sensational with robust, fruity reds, refreshing whites and even their own craft beer on tap.  But what made our visit so special was a hands on lesson from the owner and vintner along with a private tour of the vineyard.  We couldn’t help but linger, in part due to the generous pours from the fun, knowledgable and charismatic tasting staff and part because we couldn’t get enough of the “she viper.”  This full bodied Grenache, Shiraz blend is to die for, maybe that’s why it’s call the she viper


This UNESCO World Heritage site is just 28 kilometers from the Coonawara Wine Region and is home to Naracoorte Caves National Park.  The bat cave is one of just two caves in Australia that Southern bent-winged bats use to raise their young.  During the summer months, over 30,000 bats emerge from the cave at dusk to feed on flying insects. While this may be a turn-off for some, these guys are helping you out by getting rid of those pesky mosquitoes.  The park staff lead a guided tour of the bat cave, but if you are just interested in the mass bat exodus each evening you can show up at dusk to see for yourself.  They light the cave entrance allowing you a fleeting glimpse of bats flying out of the cave in every direction.

The welcoming woman working the tasting counter at Rymill immediately drew us in and had it not been our first stop we would have stayed much longer.  From her detailed wine descriptions to her explanation of cork vs. rubber wine stoppers we thoroughly enjoyed our tasting.  My personal favorite was quite aptly named “The Bees Knees” and was a delicious blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

The laid back tasting at Wynns was made all the more entertaining by the two tasting staff that played off each other superbly.  It would be hard to pick a favorite at this red-heavy winery, but the 2009 (54th vintage) Cabernet Sauvignon was amazing.
While all the guidebooks will steer you towards McLaren Vale, opt for a more personal experience in the smaller regions of Adelaide Hills and Connawara.  Not only will you enjoy the small town charm of Naracoorte and Hahndorf, but you’ll meet some of the best tasting room staff Down Under.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Guest Post: Travelling With Intent

Today's post comes from my friend Sam. You may remember that yesterday was her 30th birthday or that I have written about trips to her hometown in North Dakota not once, but twice! When we met, it clicked faster than any other friendship post-college. My life in Minnesota would not be half as fun, if not for her. She can also sing, act, play guitar and piano, and never fails to make me laugh..  

Sam and I hanging out in North Dakota.
When I was a kid, I thought I was super lame because I had only been to two states (Minnesota and North Dakota). Unless you counted the ten minutes I had spent with my parents driving through a corner of South Dakota. Then it was three. Three whole states in my ten years of life. I was a failure.

When my friends would speak of their travels to far-off places like Wisconsin or Iowa where they’d traveled, I couldn’t fathom the distances they had gone; the exotic places they had seen; the well-rounded 6th graders they had become. I was so boring and grounded. My parents never went anywhere, and I was a less interesting person because of it. 

Well, as the years passed and I matured into a carefree college student, I discovered that the key to travelling lay within one simple concept: Adult Autonomy.

The first time I ever traveled outside of the United States to something more interesting than Canada was during my junior year of college back in 2005 for a study abroad program that entailed going to the continent of Europe for a majority of the spring semester. The trip was adequately named “Eurospring” and I signed up for it because I was in charge of my life now, and God be damned if I wasn’t going to become cool by going somewhere far away.

I also might have signed up because everyone else was doing it and I hadn’t “found” myself yet and maybe, just maybe,  “I” was hiding somewhere in Europe.

 Of course I had never really dreamt of going to Europe, in particular. The boring English sitcoms that my parents watched on PBS hadn’t really rubbed off on me and as a result I had no desire to experience funny accents or driving on the left side of the road. But this was a trip that would look amazing on my travel resume. I’d surely emerge from this experience a better and more brilliant person. Seven countries in two months, visiting famous landmarks, frolicking in the London fog; it sounded like the perfect concoction for worldliness.  My excitement began to grow as our takeoff date grew near. The preliminary travel sessions we attended for the program were filled with helpful information for Americans visiting Europe for the first time: Europeans don’t wear jeans, so don’t bring any unless you want to stand out. Europeans don’t switch their fork to their right hand when eating, so learn to eat continentally. Europeans hate Americans so say you’re from Canada when approached by one. Unless you’re in France. Then you’re screwed

Eurospring with Sam on the far left.
.Armed with this sage advice, I and all of my friends hopped on a plane en route to Heathrow and proceeded to do everything that you could possibly do in Europe over the course of two months. I saw castles and dungeons and Stonehenge and the Vatican and the Eiffel Tower. I visited London 9 separate times and rode a bicycle through Paris. I ferried across the English Channel and swam in the Adriatic Sea. I spent pounds and euros and crowns and I drank beer and wine and absinthe. 

So much absinthe. 

After two months of apparent European bliss, I returned to the US as, what I envisioned, a savvy globetrotter who had tons of worldly experience.  As my boyfriend’s mom drove us home from the airport I was surprised by how big everything in America was. Buildings, cars and even the roads they drove on seemed unnecessarily large because I had grown so used to Europe’s smaller scale. Home was almost foreign to me and I felt like I had conquered being a well-travelled citizen.

 But by the time we got home, the only thing that seemed to be still affecting me from my European adventure was the jet lag that was conveniently allowing me to wake up at 6am. In regards to my worldly transformation, I felt like I had always felt: like myself. 

Since that trip, I’ve visited Europe six separate times on my own. Each one of those trips lasted just a fraction of the time that I spent there during my study abroad, but each of those little jaunts across the pond had more of an effect on me than the two months I spent there during my junior year of college. 

Sam on the far left, hanging out in the Azores.
Why? Because, I learned to travel with intent. After I graduated, I somehow became lucky enough to have friends and family who lived abroad and I decided to make the most of my long distance relationships. I took advantage of their hospitality and got to see a more intimate portrayal of the same far off lands I had visited in college. I took my time and nurtured the relationships I had with my friends and family rather than worry about seeing and doing everything. As a result, I relaxed into my temporary surroundings and became acquainted with some of the locals, so much so, that I had an international love affair for the better part of 2011 and played music in a Portuguese bar just last year. In finding a reason to travel that was more than “I should do it, everyone else is”, I found more satisfaction in what I experienced and actually did learn something about myself: I am who I am, and I can embrace that and be happy.

All of that advice in our travel sessions before Eurospring seemed to be geared towards hiding the fact that we were Americans, which I’ve learned since, is impossible to do if you are indeed an American in Europe. (It’s even more difficult to do when you’re an American college student with 30 other American college students riding around in a vehicle labeled “Eurobus” for two months.)  Throughout my independent travels, I’ve come to accept that my nationality is something I can’t change and is a significant part of who I am, just like so many other facets of myself. Travelling with intent taught me that it’s ok to be you and you shouldn’t have to worry about what anyone else thinks about it.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Guest Post: I Refuse to Fear Thirty

I was going to try to say that today's post was happening so late because our guest blogger is in the Azores but they are actually five hours ahead, not behind. Shoot. Well today was busy and I am new at this posting every day thing. Anyway, today's post comes from a phenomenally talented artist. Check out her website to see how she is able to deconstruct her work. It's fascinating. She is the college best friend of my friend Sam. Carly wrote a very insightful post about turning thirty and today happens to be Sam's 30th birthday! 

Carly, her husband, and their two adorable pups.
  I told myself years ago, I refused to fear turning thirty.  When I was twenty-seven (much to the slight annoyance of my husband over the ongoing three years), I began mentally rounding my age up to thirty.  Once I was twenty-eight, would round to thirty when asked about my age, unless my specific age was relevant.  I figured this would make the closure of my twentieth decade less unsettling.
It isn’t that I am particularly excited about the impending 3-0.  It is that I have heard repeatedly,  from friends and acquaintances that thirty hits hard (especially for women, since our culture refuses to acknowledge that women can, and should, age).

I had set vague goals for my artistic career when I was twenty-five. At that point, thirty still seemed relatively far away, and thus plenty of time to continue to develop my potential art career. However, for the first two years after setting my rather imprecise objectives, I did little except continue to make art when the mood struck and occasionally submit to art exhibitions. At twenty-seven, I realized thirty was less far off than I thought, and I took my goals more seriously.  I began to add art to my daily life. Every. Single. Day. I did something, usually something small like a daily blog post, working on visual journal pages, reading articles or checking exhibition opportunity listings. This actively kept art and my ambitions in the forefront of my mind. I set a goal of three submissions a month, a goal I usually tried (and succeeded) to exceed.

At twenty-eight, I read The Artist’s Way (Julia Cameron), and re-read Taking the Leap (Cay Lang).  This was also the age I began to trying embrace my own unique style of art, and no longer concern myself with what art was perceived as ideal for sales, popular for a niche market, or what others told me my art should look like.  I simply began to make my art, for me, for the love of art, because of my strange intrinsic need to create and I just kept trying to put it out into the world.  Because of this, over the past few years, I have found a new contentedness with my work, a deep love and appreciation of the artistic process, and my mind feels more at ease with the pressures and rejections of an artistic career.  Losing myself and embracing the style of art I instinctively create has helped me find a form of peace from the inevitable angst of artistic ambitions.

I digress.

I guess, my point is, no, I am not exactly excited about being in my thirties. I’m not. However, I am certainly not upset about it either.
In reality, I really like being an adult. I love it. Yes, I have bills, rent, taxes and I have to do boring things, like fuel my car, buy groceries, do dishes, take out the trash, fold laundry and all those other mundane chores that gradually become introduced throughout our adolescent lives–but then–before you realize it, BAM! You are a moderately self-sustaining human–for the most part.  I love being an adult. I feel like I fit into my life now. At my age, I am comfortable with myself. I like to dance, so I tend to dance a lot–and I am not good. Dancing is fun. Dancing badly is even more fun.  Fact.

As I grow older, I embrace so many more simple things that make me happy. I love my funky plastic framed glasses, and bright colors in my hair. I have tattoos, and I really like them. When I get old, yes, they will not look great, but neither will the rest of me.
I love that I have more confidence in my movements.  I am tall, and no longer shrink away from that.  I hold my shoulders back, and I make eye contact with the strangers who make comments about my stature when they think I am out of earshot.  (Not in a mean way–just that sort of– Yes, I am tall, but seriously, you are four feet away.  Of course, I can hear you talking about me.)  I still have lingering social anxiety, and I’m nervous when faced with unfamiliar situations.  But I have learned to embrace those uncomfortable experiences as learning opportunities.

I love that my parents are still my parents, they are loving and supportive.  Yet, the more I age, the more I find myself laughing with them as friends.  We have more genuine conversations, and exchange ideas.  We can disagree, and it is fine–because we are all reasonable adults.  They love me, and they are proud of the human I have become.
The older I get, the more I realize, I don’t have to let people into my life.  That sounds cold–I don’t mean this in a pessimistic way.  I have grown (from past bad experiences) and I can recognize the warning signs. I am able to maintain civil, kind interactions with people while avoiding the unnecessary drama some people inevitably crave.  I don’t have to be friends with everyone. Human interactions aren’t all or nothing.  If someone isn’t my friend, that doesn’t make him/her an enemy.  We simply exist on different terns.

I take comfort in the knowledge, that while close friends will move in and out of my direct geographical location, they will always be a part of my life–a part of my past, shaping the human I am now, making me better for knowing them.  Miles and miles of ocean, different cities, states and even continents won’t erase their love.   I know now, I will find new humans who are loving, fun, kind and respectful–eventually, wherever my life leads me.

I have found many convictions I intentionally hold close to my heart, defining me as the person I want to be in this world.  In turn, I know this world has so much more I don’t know.  I know I can be (and am) wrong–a lot.  And that is completely okay.

Yes.  I have almost been in existence for thirty years.  Yes, it makes me reflect back on how those years have been spent.  However, I am good.  And when I am not good–I am trying.  I am twenty-nine for two more months.  However, I refuse to fear turning thirty.

Wisdom’s a gift, but you’d trade it for youth.  Age is an honor, it’s still not the truth. -Vampire Weekend


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Guest Post: Making Memories, Making Potato Skins

Today's guest post comes from Krystal Cooks. In addition to being a good friend, Krystal is a busy mom and a great cook! She's the girl who throws together delicious food from scratch and shrugs it off as no big deal. Her blog does all the work of trying popular recipes and rates them on ease, cost, mess, and taste. I am pretty excited that the post she decided to feature is one of my all-time favorite foods!

Raise your hand if you’ve ever read Like Water for Chocolate. If your hand isn’t up in the air, go get yourself a copy. I read this book way back as a sophomore in high school and it still creeps into my mind every once and again. This book speaks a lot about why I like cooking so much. It’s not about finding the most delicious food or the food with the most tradition steeped in its making – it’s more about what that food represents and the memories and parts of ourselves it carries with it. It means enjoying the good times and remembering the better times. I enjoy cooking because it means friends; it means family.

 So, if you haven’t heard, there was a Superbowl. And if you haven’t heard, it was kind of a ridiculous match. But lets not talk about that anymore, mmkay? Instead, lets talk about how nice it is to have another reason to get together with friends and share good food and good company – to try a new recipe and create a new memory. We spent time with some of E’s family – some of my favorite people to spend time with. E’s cousins have a little boy, Caden, who is just a couple weeks younger than Little K. The two boys were so well behaved and absolutely adorable together. It was the first time the two kids actually played together. They chased each other and played hide and seek and even tried their hand at playing Chopsticks on the piano.
 Amongst all the fun, we also had some delicious food to share. E’s Aunt Gail made this amazing pulled pork that I couldn’t stop eating and I brought some potato skins. (They’re shaped like footballs. They remind me of “pigskin.” It seemed like a no brainer for a football party.) I used Pioneer Woman’s recipe from her latest cookbook. You know, she and I are tight. See; check this love letter she wrote me.  

 Ok, actually, my lovely sister Rachel gave me this signed copy of PW’s Cookbook, A Year of Holidays, for Christmas. Ree and her hubby, Marlboro Man, made a book tour stop in the great state of Arkansas where my sister lives, so Rachel gave up an entire Saturday to get me the signed cookbook. I know you’re all mired in grief because you don’t have a sister that amazing. It’s ok; you’ll get through this.

In the meantime, invite some people over and make memories. And, more literally speaking, make potato skins!

 These were easy to make and so customizable! I loved that about them. I went with the classic potato skin and had green onions, cheese, bacon, and sour cream. However, you could’ve made little tex-mex taters or pizza skins or went crazy with the veggies and had olives, peppers, and broccoli in lieu of the bacon. Do what your soul tells you, my friends! Recipe here, from Pioneer Woman.

The clean up was a cinch and although the process took a long time (lots of baking time and waiting for the oven timer to go off!) it was incredibly easy. However, I will say that I had a tough time scraping out enough of the meat of the potato. It’s important that you get most of the innards out – you really want the skins to be the star. However, you don’t want to bust through the skin or for them to lose their form. It’s a tight rope to walk, and I could’ve done a little better. They were still good, but a little starchier than I’d like.

Even so, one of the best things about this recipe is the cast offs. Look at all the delicious potato guts I have to make into mashed potatoes this week. Yayz! 

 (Note: I told E to buy me the smallest yellow potatoes. Apparently our grocery specializes in super-sized potatoes. If you can find them, you should use smaller potatoes though.)

Another thing I was happy with is the ability to travel with these little po-taters. I made them at home – all the way up to the last step of melting the cheese. Then I stacked them (double with a liner of tin foil) and popped them in the oven at the party for just a couple of minutes. It worked out lovely.

I also thought about bringing a few containers of various toppings and making it into a little DIY assembly there, but I kept it simple. I think this would be a super cute idea for a kids party though – you could have a whole table of toppings for kids to customize to their heart’s content. Basically what I’m trying to tell you is that this recipe is versatile, easy, and quickly devoured.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Relaunch: Guest Post

It is my first post of 2014! I'm not even bothered by the fact that it is February. The new year has been exciting and busy and full of possibility. My expectations for this year are high and I want to have this space to share all that I can. One of my resolutions is to recommit to this blog. With that, I am kicking off this year with a week of guest posts!

The first one is from my smart, stubborn, funny, beautiful, little lawyer sister. She knows more about style than anybody I know. She is the only person I am featuring that does not have a blog of her own. She could, but that's not really her thing. The post was emailed to me in response to her finding out that I do not own a pair of black dress boots. If you need to shop for boots (and really, who doesn't??) then you need to read this! Thanks Traca!

Tracey and I all dolled up.
 Here are some options to get you started. They vary in price, but a good pair of boots usually don't come cheap (the cheaper boots typically have fake leather so read descriptions if you're curious). 

Keep in mind that often the calf circumference can be a problem (at least for me because I think I have muscular calves) and I usually think it is kind of hard to find a boot that fits well. Some newer styles now make boots where the back of the calf is fabric/elastic so you don't have to worry about the circumference. 

Also it is a good idea to read reviews and do a Google search to make sure you are getting the best deal.  

All this searching makes me want to buy new boots too!  Based on this analysis of potential boots and what to watch for, I would say I may have done too much boot shopping in the past.