A Travellerspoint blog

Local Attractions: Steak 101 Class

Update: All new posts can be found at http://thewanderingmind.net.

There are many reasons I love living in McKinney, many of which are probably the same reasons it was recently ranked the #2 place to live in the US by Money Magazine. Out of all of the great things about McKinney, the downtown is probably my favorite. There are great restaurants and shops and there is always some type of event going on, like the Local Yocal Steak 101 class. The Local Yocal is not only a butcher shop, but it also provides a place for local artisans and farmers to sell their products.

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One Saturday when I was home, Clay and I decided to check out the Steak 101 class. Okay, Clay decided to check out the Steak 101 class and I tagged along because they were offering a 2-for-1 special, so we were able to both attend for $40.

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The class was led by Local Yocal owner Matthew Hamilton.

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During the first part of the class, we learned about the various grades of beef and how it is oh-so-effectively marketed in the US. We also learned about the ways in which the product offered by Local Yocal differs from what you can buy at most other places. Careful breeding and humane care of the grass fed cattle lead to beef that is superior in quality to what is generally available in supermarkets or grocery stores.

The next portion of the class, we got to go inside the shop and learn about the various cuts of beef. For the first time, I really understood the difference between a ribeye and a sirloin. This portion of the class was a bit gruesome, but it literally put into context the various parts of a cow that are commonly consumed.

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The final portion of the class was the one that everyone was really there for – we ate steak, lots and lots of steak.

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Cooked according to their mantra “There are three ways to cook a steak: rare, medium rare, and ruined,” we were able to try all cuts of steak, as well as hamburgers and smoked brisket, all while learning the ideal way to prepare and grill steak.

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I was surprised by the varying tastes and textures of the different cuts, as well as the noticeable difference in taste between Wagyu beef and Angus beef.

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We just about ate our weight in steak, or at least Clay did. I hit what Clay called a “meat wall” about half way through. I not only could not think about eating a single bite more of beef, I also insisted we immediately find some vegetables to eat. I think Clay was moderately horrified by this, but he did not seem to mind eating my steak in addition to his own...

If you would like to attend the class, you can sign up online or in the store. The class schedule varies, but typically seems to be offered 1 -2 times per month. The class is even BYOB. At our class some really nice person walked to the nearby McKinney Wine Merchant and purchased a few bottles to share. I told you I love McKinney!!

Posted by cgplatt 20:44 Archived in USA Tagged texas local_attractions Comments (0)

Local Attractions: Washington County

Update: All new posts can be found at http://thewanderingmind.net.

Needing something to do on a Saturday other than be responsible by completing the formatting of my dissertation, I came up with a seemingly perfect day combining pretty much everything that I love to do – learning about history, spending time outdoors, eating good food, drinking wine, and shopping. Not wanting to stray too far from Houston, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Washington County, Texas offered all of these things. I spent the entire week leading up to my perfect Saturday eagerly planning and looking forward to "my day". The danger, of course, was that the reality would not quite live up to my admittedly high expectations...

I began the day with a bit of Texas history at Washington-On-The-Brazos State Park.

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A park pass for all of the onsite attractions cost $9, or I could have purchased individual passes for $5 apiece if I had been planning to visit just one spot. The park offers frequent guided tours of the original Old Washington town site and Independence Hall. This of course includes information about the signing of the Texas Declaration of Independence, which established the Republic of Texas as independent from Mexico.

large_IMG_2229.jpgThe original building where the Texas Declaration of Independence was signed burned down sometime after the town was abandoned, but this is an exact replica built on the foundation of the building.

The original building where the Texas Declaration of Independence was signed burned down sometime after the town was abandoned, but this is an exact replica built on the foundation of the building.

This cistern is the only remaining original structure of the town of Washington.

This cistern is the only remaining original structure of the town of Washington.

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As a non-native Texan, I am not too familiar with Texas history, so I enjoyed learning more about the state I will indefinitely call home. Washington-On-The-Brazos even offers an app that provides more information about the Republic of Texas and the history of the Washington town site. After the tour, I took advantage of the sunny, but cool day to walk the onsite trails. There were even a few brave bluebonnets beginning to bloom. I was there in mid-February, but I imagine that a few weeks later the fields were covered in them.

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I had obviously planned a full day, so I chose to skip the Star of the Republic Museum. I have difficulty lightly perusing a museum, so it would probably have taken me a couple of hours (at least) to do the exhibits justice.

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Although I didn't have time for the museum, there was a re-enactment group camping on the grounds over that particular weekend, so it was fun (and encouraged) to walk around their tents and get a glimpse of history.

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I did that on my way to the Barrington Living History Farm, which includes the home of Anson Jones. He was both a physician and the last president of the Republic of Texas.

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Although walking between sites is possible (and what I chose to do), there are also parking lots at each site if you are just visiting one or if it’s 110 degrees in the middle of summer and walking seems like a bad idea. I must confess, I am a sucker for living history museums, which I realize I probably should have outgrown sometime, oh, around the mid-90’s. But I didn't, so I had a great time touring the onsite buildings and talking to the various historical interpreters about life in the early days of Texas.

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There was also a special exhibit on heroic medicine, the aggressive and often ineffective medicine practiced until the mid-nineteenth century, such as would have been practiced by Anson Jones himself. I got to learn about all of the things I could have died from had I lived at the time, as well as the treatments that were often used. Yes, this means I saw leeches. And did you know that the treatment for a toothache was putting fire ants in your mouth? Gross and painful!!

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Special programs like this are offered on a frequent basis, so there is always something new to learn even if you've been to Washington-On-The-Brazos before.

After a thoroughly enjoyable morning, I had worked up an appetite. My lunch spot of choice was the Southern Flyer Diner at the Brenham Municipal Airport.

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If I were cooler/richer/had access to a private airplane, I could have just flown in for my lunch. As it was, I took the less exciting route and simply drove there and parked.

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It was fun to people watch while I ate lunch at the 50’s style diner. Not only was the atmosphere fantastic, but the food was also really good. Definitely worth the effort to get there, whether by plane or by car.

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Next up, I wanted to visit one of the many wineries in the area for a wine tasting. The only unfortunate part of being by myself was that I was also driving, so I limited my venture to only one tasting at one winery. My choice was the Windy Winery.

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One of the owners was originally from Arkansas, so we got to chat about our mutual home state while I tried several delicious Texas wines. The tasting was $10 and included 6 wines. The pours were generous and my tasting may have included more than six wines.

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They also offer a cheese plate and a couple of other food options to accompany the wines, but I was still quite full from lunch. My favorite, which of course I purchased, was the muscadine wine. The bubbly version of this was quite good, as well.

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My last stop, after a bit of a drive in the country (in other words, I got lost and yes, I had a GPS; obviously it was defective), was downtown Brenham. I was actually surprised that it was not busier on a pleasant Saturday afternoon. I window shopped the many boutiques and antique stores and enjoyed the downtown architecture.

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There was also a pocket park that included a brief history of the town. The park was on the site of one of the original cisterns that provided water to the town. It was an interesting and quick peek into some of the highlights of Brenham’s past.

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So, was my day as wonderful as I expected? Most definitely! Washington County has a lot to offer as a daytrip or a weekend getaway. Although anytime of the year would be fun, to see the bluebonnets, plan a trip sometime in March or April (although the bluebonnet season varies a bit from year to year). There is literally something for everyone, whether you are looking for history, outdoor fun, romance, or are more interested in family-friendly activities. I can’t wait to go back!

Posted by cgplatt 10:07 Archived in USA Tagged texas Comments (0)

Fonda San Miguel

Update: All new posts can be found at http://thewanderingmind.net.

It's no secret that Clay and I love Mexican food. Like really love Mexican food. Like we-could-eat-it-every-day love Mexican food. We had already celebrated our 7th anniversary with an incredible trip to Aruba (covered here, here, and here), but when Clay realized we would be in Austin the weekend before our anniversary, he immediately made reservations at Fonda San Miguel. Open since 1975, it is not only an iconic Austin restaurant, they also have some of the best interior Mexican food in the US.

Fonda San Miguel is as known for their decor as for their food. Colorful without being tacky, the restaurant welcomes you with a spacious yet cozy bar.

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As we waited for our table, I got up the nerve to try a pisco sour for the first time. I was a bit nervous given that one of the ingredients is egg white - hardly something that I want to drink. Fortunately, it was so delicous that I demanded that we plan a trip to Peru immediatley. For some reason, Clay didn't think that was a good idea - something about having just gotten back from Aruba and something else about saving for my upcoming graduation trip. I thought he was being a little ridiculous. He wondered why I didn't just order another one.

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After a brief wait in the bar, we were escorted to our table.

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We began our meal with the chile con queso. Fonda San Miguel has one of the best known chile con quesos in the state of Texas. This is no small feat given the number of Mexican food restaurants in Texas. The queso was melty, but thick and loaded with pepper, tomato, onion, and cilantro. The best way to eat it is to scoop some into the warm, homemade tortillas that accompany the queso. Of course, eating it straight out of the bowl with a spoon didn't seem like a bad idea either.

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After devouring the chile con queso, we had to somehow decide what we were ordering for our main courses. I eventually narrowed it down to a relleno, but that was only somewhat helpful becuase there were several types from which to choose. Being quite indecisive, when the waiter recommended the seasonal relleno, I did not hesitate to order it. I can't remember exactly what was in it, but it was perhaps the best chile relleno I have ever eaten. It was the perfect mix of sweet, savory, and spicy. The unexpected addition of the pomegranate sauce was not only visually appealing against the dark green roasted chile, it was a surprisingly tasty balance to the relleno's more hearty filling.

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It was so good that I did not even want to think about dessert, which is sort of like saying that I didn't want to breathe. It was that good!

I am sure that Clay's carne asada a la tamiquena was equally delicious. I didn't hear any complaints, but I was too caught up in eating my chile relleno to really notice. I guess the fact that his plate was practically empty by the end of the meal would suggest that he might have liked it. Many of the restaurant's vegetables and herbs are provided by Fonda San Miguel's own garden. Most other ingredients are sourced locally.

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Our bill with tip was around $125, so it certainly is not the type of place we would visit on just any night. But Fonda San Miguel was the perfect place to celebrate our anniversary. We got to eat our favorite type of food in a romantic and unhurried atmosphere. Who knows, maybe for year number 8 we can actually be together on our anniversary.

Posted by cgplatt 12:01 Archived in USA Tagged texas favorite_food Comments (0)

Local Attractions: Pecan Lodge

Update: All new posts can be found at http://thewanderingmind.net.

I am hardly an expert in barbecue, but according to those who are, Pecan Lodge is one of the best, if not the best, barbecue places in the Dallas area. Which of course means that Clay had been wanting to eat there for months. The problem was that they are located in the Dallas Farmers Market, which is a bit of a drive for us, they are only open for lunch, and they sell out quickly. So, when Clay saw they were selling burnt ends on a Sunday, he used my brother being in town as an excuse for all of us to load up in the car, drive to the market, and wait in line for an hour.

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We were just about the first people in line when we arrived the hour before they opened, but the line was getting quite long by the time they began taking orders at 11.

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Good news, they had not sold out of burnt ends by the time we, the second people in line, ordered. The barbecue was amazing, but so were the sides. I couldn’t decide between macaroni and cheese and okra, so I ordered the macaroni and ate as much of Clay’s okra as I could sneak when he was too occupied eating barbecue to notice, which was pretty much the entire meal. Obviously he likes meat more than I do, so I deserved that okra for driving almost two hours round trip and waiting in line for an hour just for some barbecue. I must admit, it was probably worth it. Heck, the mac n' cheese alone would have been worth it!

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Although Clay and Ethan raved about the burnt ends, they were a bit fatty for my preference, but the ribs I ordered were fantastic – fall-off-the-bone tender and perfectly smoky. The bites of brisket and sausage I had were equally delicious. Pecan Lodge is open 11 am – 3 pm (or until they sell out, which usually happens well before 3) Thursday – Sunday. The menu is pretty straightforward with only a handful of options (although they seem to typically have some type of special, such as the burnt ends), but what they do, they do incredibly well. Pecan Lodge is most definitely worth the trip, from wherever you are in the DFW area.

Posted by cgplatt 20:05 Archived in USA Tagged favorite_food Comments (0)

Mi Stima Aruba: Where We Ate

Update: All new posts can be found at http://thewanderingmind.net.

Many vacations to a tropical locale include the decision of whether or not to stay at all-inclusive resort. Although an all-inclusive resort can certainly be a good decision in many places, Aruba has increasingly become known for its food and one would be remiss to miss out on the many delicious restaurants Aruba has to offer. The short version: We ate a lot of really good food! If you are interested in the anything-but-short version, continue reading.

  • Taste of Belgium – Wanting to get our vacation started off right, we stopped by the concierge for suggestions. She recommended we take a short walk along the beach to reach Palm Beach Plaza. After a perfectly wonderful sunset stroll and a somewhat uncertain shortcut through a parking lot, we arrived at the plaza. It had everything from local shops to the high end shopping often found in the Caribbean. We were hungry enough to forget shopping and were more interested in the several restaurants from which we could choose. Ultimately our choice was Taste of Belgium and what a yummy choice it was!

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As the name implies, the menu is primarily focused on Belgian food, but with an Aruban twist. For instance, my choice was the Filet de Cabillaud Frit Sauce Remoulade. The fried fish was grouper - a popular fish in Aruba - and was accompanied by the classic Belgian side dish – frites.

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The whole meal was delicious, but the best part was the dessert.

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It was at this meal we established what would be a pattern for the rest of our trip: we ordered three desserts. That way, we did not feel like total gluttons for each having our own desserts, we did not have to work too hard to narrow down our choices, and Clay did not have to eat chocolate. The moment Emily said, “Let’s get the Belgian waffle (I mean we couldn’t pass that one up), the profiteroles, and the chocolate lava cake,” I knew there were many more trips together in our future.

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The delicious meal was followed by another walk on the beach, this time moonlit, and dipping our feet in the warm Aruban ocean for the first time.

  • Marriott lobby/beach/pool options – Although we wanted to try a variety of restaurants during our time in Aruba, there were also times when staying at the Marriott for a meal made the most sense. Most mornings, we grabbed a quick bite at the lobby café before heading off to our adventures (or extended laziness, depending on the day). The café was convenient and affordable with consistently good food. They offered a variety of breakfast and lunch options, including pastries, sandwiches, and ice cream. Similarly, our lunches consisted of something from the beach/pool bar. My choices were an egg salad sandwich, fish tacos (large enough to share with Clay), and a post-spa Caesar salad with blackened grouper. All delicious!

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  • El Gaucho – Clay had researched several options for places to eat and El Gaucho was a name that was mentioned again and again. And for good reason. This Argentinean steakhouse in Oranjestad was incredible.

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According to Clay, it was perhaps the best steak he had ever eaten.

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And of course, we ordered three desserts. The unanimous favorite was the fried cheesecake.

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In fact, I am drooling and planning a return trip as I write this. As an aside, one really wonderful thing about Aruba is the standard taxi fares. Charged per car, there is a set fare for each part of the island. The taxi ride for the four of us from our resort to Oranjestad was something like $9 each way.

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  • Ketsu Sushi Bar – Friday evening we were pretty wiped out from our morning adventure and obviously taxing afternoon by the pool, so we made the decision to stay put for dinner. Our pick for casual and convenient was the Ketsu Sushi Bar next to the lobby café. It.was.so.good. We just kept ordering sushi. They had all of the typical selections as well as some specialty options. I can’t even remember everything we tried (but it was probably just about one of everything on the menu), but man it hit the spot.

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  • Simply Fish – to cap off an already food-filled vacation, we made reservations at the Marriott’s (somewhat expensive) gourmet restaurant on the beach. As the name implies, the restaurant’s main focus is fresh seafood, but their real specialty is the unsurpassed sunset view.

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Because sunset began a bit before the restaurant opened, the host arranged for us to have sunset drinks at the edge of the water while we waited on our table. Other than a couple of rogue waves, it was perfect!

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After leisurely drinks by the waters edge, we were escorted to our table, which had an equally lovely view. Oh, I forgot to mention, shoes are left at the edge of the outdoor restaurant, so the meal was enjoyed barefoot in the sand. The meal was an entire sensory experience – the feel of the sand between our toes and the ocean breeze against our slightly sunburned skin, the breathtaking view of the gorgeous setting sun, the mouthwatering smell of freshly cooked fish mixed with the salty ocean air, the sound of crashing waves layered with the soft cling of fancy dishes mixed with live music, and most of all, the taste of the incredible seafood dishes. My choice was a sampler of grouper, lobster tail, and one other type of fish. Clay enjoyed the macadamia nut encrusted grouper.

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The service was impeccable and we were never rushed. We were too full to even think about dessert (which could have meant the world was ending, but no fear, we ended up at the onsite Ruth’s Chris a few hours later to remedy this strange occurrence). Simply Fish is the ideal choice for a romantic meal and for us it was the perfect ending to an amazing trip. Well, maybe Clay surprising me with a David Yurman ring later that evening was the perfect ending!

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We have an amazing, awesome, Cora's-finally-a-(sort of)-doctor trip to Europe planned for the summer (!!!!), but I have plenty of local attraction posts in the works while Clay and I stick close to our respective homes in Dallas and Houston for the next few months and try to save money for Europe.

Posted by cgplatt 17:55 Archived in Aruba Tagged food aruba Comments (0)

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