Tag Archives: Texas

Christmas Cheer at Winter’s Eve A Christmas Festival in Wimberley, Texas

Christmas Tree at Winter's Eve A Christmas Festival in Wimberley, TexasBecause I’ve married a persistent man, we attended Winter’s Eve A Christmas Festival in Wimberley, Texas, on Saturday, December 10, 2016.  Honestly, Mr. Carter wasn’t going to let me get away with not driving to Wimberley on this particular night, and I’m so glad that he persuaded me to go.

The night air was heavy with drizzly rain and, in the outlying areas around Wimberley, light fog obscured our view as we drove down the winding roads. Neither the rain nor the cool weather could stop the festivities, however. Townsfolk and visitors lined the streets as people walked from shop to shop, sipping wine and hot cocoa.

Winter’s Eve A Christmas Festival is an annual event hosted by the Wimberley Merchants Association. The festival’s been in existence since 2007. The cool thing about the festival, and the premise from which the festival springs, is that you can shop until 10:00 p.m. that night.Metal Reindeer at Winter's Eve A Christmas Festvial in Wimberley, Texas

The only shopping we did was window shopping, I’m sad to say, as there were so many lovely wares to be found. However, my husband, Dave, and I had a blast looking at the various wares in the shops that were open.

It truly was a winter wonderland with the misty rain and surprises in every shop we stopped to browse in. Our first stop was for coffee at Sip! on the Square. Dave and I ordered spiced Mexican mocha lattes that were absolutely delish! The lattes warmed our insides while we walked the streets and took in all the sights and sounds. (We’ve visited this coffee shop in the past while on the road for business, and it’s such a delightful place. Please give this merchant your business as they will surprise and delight you with all kinds of yummy drinks!)

Laura Townshend Carter and Dave Carter at Winter's Eve A Christmas Festival in Wimberley, Texas
Laura Townshend Carter and Dave Carter

Every corner had a band or solo artist performing. There was also so much food and drink to experience; it was far too much for Mr. Carter and I to swallow in one night.

We’re total goobers, I know. It’s easy to see from the photo that my husband and I don’t let a little rain stop our plans. Wet hair? No problem! Just keep on with the fun and smile, smile, smile!

The truth is, fire pits were strategically placed around the square so Winter's Eve A Christmas Festival in Wimberley, Texas.it was quite easy to warm up. If you stood still for more than a couple of minutes, someone associated with the festival would offer you $2 in Wimberley bucks (play money that was equal to real money at participating area merchants) to purchase or put towards pretty much anything your heart desired. We also participated in a raffle which was a nice way to donate a little money. Congrats to the person who won!

Because Winter’s Eve A Christmas Festival has had almost a decade to improve and refine the event, everything ran smoothly. The festival even had…wait for it…drum roll…belly dancers! The two women who danced were spectacular and I thoroughly enjoyed photographing the ladies. See for yourself!

Belly Dancers at Winter's Eve A Christmas Festival in Wimberley, Texas
Belly Dancers that ROCK!
Green Belly Dancer at Winter's Eve A Christmas Festival in Wimberley, Texas
Green Belly Dancer
Red Belly Dancer at Winter's Eve A Christmas Festival in Wimberley, Texas
Red Belly Dancer

 

Aren’t the ladies beautiful? Each one had colored light to dance within, which made for a surreal effect. Swaying to the music, I was captivated by the dancers’ charm. In the crowd, many of us photographed and videoed the experience.

Do you remember making cartoons on the edge of your second-grade writing pad, then flipping the pages quickly to watch a horse canter or a fish swim? I have so many photos that I can run quickly through them on my iPhone and make the ladies dance. (Yes, I’m  a bit of a creative nerd.)

But I digress. Walking on through the night, Mr. Carter and I stumbled upon the following merchants on the square. Here is the story of our experiences.

Aunt Jenny's Attic at Winter's Eve A Christmas Festival in Wimberley, Texas
Aunt Jenny’s Attic

Aunt Jenny’s Attic sells creative gifts and European collectibles. We didn’t go into this marvelous shop, but it looked quite enticing. From what I understand, lovers of unique, one-of-a-kind pieces easily fall in love with Aunt Jenny’s Attic. Looking at the outside of this boutique, I must admit that I love Christmas soldiers and royalty, so Aunt Jenny’s Attic got top marks from me for the decorations. The red and green outfit for the King, combined with a sweet, bearded face deserves a photo (even if he is just a seasonal decoration). The garlands and large wreath were also photo-worthy.

Kiss The Cook at Winter's Eve A Christmas Festival in Wimberley, Texas.
Kiss the Cook

Kiss the Cook features bakeware, cookware, tools and gadgets. They also do wedding registries and recipes This is another shop we didn’t enter, but it sounds like quite a bit of fun. As an avid foodie and wannabe chef (not really, but I dig cooking and experimenting with new recipes), Kiss the Cook sounds like it could be tons of fun to peruse.

Upon seeing the sign, my first impression was that Kiss the Cook was a restaurant. (What a darling name, right?) I did my research, however, and found exactly what the shop does. Had to say I was a little disappointed, but only because I’d love to kiss the cook who feeds me exceptional meals!

Cottage on the Square at Christmas Eve A Winter Festival in Wimberley, Texas.
Cottage on the Square

Cottage on the Square is a quaint bed and breakfast that lies within the Wimberley town square. I’m sure the building holds many old secrets and history we may never know. Not only does the downstairs serve as a vintage shop, but this B&B consistently receives high ratings from its guests.

The structure of the old home engaged me and I wanted to follow the stone path inside and never come out. Dave and I will revisit this little bed and breakfast, neatly tucked into the middle of Wimberley, when we come this way again for business. Who wants to stay in a hotel when you can have a B&B?

Life Inspired at Winter's Eve A Christmas Eve Festival in Wimberley, Texas.
Life Inspired

And our last stop as we walked the Square was Life Inspired. At this store, you’re seeking a gift for a special person. To quote Life Inspired, “This is inspired gift giving.”

Truthfully, I can’t tell you much more than that, because we were making our way back to where we started at this point, and we did not enter this shop, either. However, looking at the careful way the entrance and sitting area is decorated, I think anyone would be more than happy with the wares Life Inspired offers. Check it out, and come back here or to the Big Grey Horse Media Facebook page to talk about it.

The Bazaar at Winter's Eve A Christmas Festival in Wimberley, Texas.
The Bazaar

Course, if you know me, I’ve always got one more surprise up my sleeve. As we walked back to the car, I noticed The Bazaar. What could be more fun than dressing up as a sexy Santa and Mrs. Claus?

The Bazaar is conveniently located in both Wimberley and Austin. I’ve visited the Austin location, and it’s a fun journey through various costumes, lingerie, and more. It’s something everyone should do at least once in their lives. Even better if you’re shopping for that unique costume to take you through the Texas Renaissance Festival, Halloween, or a very sexy Christmas.

We had a blast at Winter’s Eve A Christmas Festival! It was tons of fun and we encourage you to participate next year. If you go with an open pocketbook, all the more fun, I’m certain. We thank the Wimberley Merchants Association for hosting the event and putting on such a good time. Quite a bit of thought went into the festival and we really appreciate all the hard work that went on behind the scenes. What Dave Carter and I experienced was seamless.

You can’t ask for much more than that.

All of us at Big Grey Horse Media wish you and your loved ones a Merry Christmas From Big Grey Horse MediaMerry Christmas and  Happy Holiday Season.

May your days be merry and bright –

And may all your Christmases be right here in Texas!

 

Takeaway

Visit the Wimberley Merchants Association to keep up with next year’s Winter’s Eve A Christmas Festival.

Wimberley, Texas, is a mecca within Central Texas. If you’ve not been there before, check it out. Should it ever happen that Dave and I are not able to live where we do, Wimberley would be the next stop for us.

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Veritas Cookbook: Cooking With Chef Tai

Disclosure Statement: Big Grey Horse Media was provided The Veritas Cookbook: Cooking With Chef Tai for reviewing purposes. While this product was sent to us without charge, our opinions are honest. We thank Savory Publishing for sending us this lovely cookbook to review.

There are so many wonderful things to be said about The Veritas Cookbook: Cooking With Chef Tai. Chef Tai Lee has some truly appetizing recipes packed in this book. I can guarantee anyone could find something to like in this book. Everything just seems so decedent and over the top. The beautiful presentation of the food within the pictures only enhances the delectable recipes. This is definitely a fine dining cookbook that you would break out to make a great impression for a dinner guest. Chef Lee also includes suggested wine pairings for those who are ignorant or unsure.

Something that really touched me about this book was the background of Chef Lee. Since I love cooking, my first question is always the inspiration behind a chef. I think it was a lovely idea for Chef Lee to include this for not only his devoted fans of Veritas Wine and Bistro, but the new fans who will discover this high class cookbook. Chef Lee included a thank you page to commemorate his staff. I love seeing staff celebrated because a restaurant, especially one as high end as Veritas Wine and Bistro, cannot operate effectively without a great staff to back up the chef.

Since this is a fine dining cookbook, I would not recommend this to a beginner. There is a certain level of technique one needs to acquire before getting a handle on these recipes, especially some of the specialty ingredients. However, the writing of the preparation, or method as Chef Lee calls it, is easily understandable for a novice and above level of experience.

The biggest problem with this cook book is the lack of navigation. Part of the problem is the cookbook’s lack of index and table of contents to easily guide a cook through the book without having to flip through every page. There is also no division of sections nor any page numbers. The book is just an entire run on of recipes with no break into what category of recipes you may be entering next. The stars next to some of the ingredients have no footnote of where to find them, whether within the book or outside. I also have yet to find the recipe for the Shiitake Mushroom Demi. These are big problems because it doesn’t allow the cook to complete parts of a dish.

My overall take of this cookbook is that it’s more of a draft than a final product. With some basic editing tweaks this cookbook layout could become just as great as the recipes themselves.

Texas Pepper Jelly Foodie Review

Texas Pepper Jelly Star Sampler Pack
Texas Pepper Jelly Star Sampler Pack

Texas Pepper Jelly’s been close to my heart for a long time. Somewhere along the way, I sampled some of Craig Sherry’s hotter that hot jelly and fell in love. I’ve watched the Texas Pepper Jelly site and read the blog. I even subscribed to the newsletter for a few years.

This month, I decided it was time to give Texas Pepper Jelly a proper review. The disappointing part of this review was how non-responsive the company was regarding my review and order. I emailed Texas Pepper Jelly, introducing myself and Big Grey Horse Media. I explained my objectives and that I would appreciate any additional company information, press kit, etc. that could be included with my order since this was a review.

I never heard back. Not a peep.

After placing my order online, it was a bit strange that I never received a confirmation email. I say this because every other company I do business with either sends a confirmation email or sends me to a confirmation page at the end of the transaction. I was a bit nervous and wondered if the order went through. What assuaged my concerns was seeing that the payment had been processed for my credit card.

Now to the good stuff. I ordered the Star Sampler Pack. It showed up via Federal Express within a few days of placing my order.

Cranberry Habanero Texas Pepper Jelly
Cranberry Habanero Texas Pepper Jelly

The promptness of the delivery was great! I often wait over a week for items because I rarely pay for expedited shipping.

The jelly was packed well. The wooden star that the sample jelly jars were packed in was attractive. For this order, you pick six jelly flavors to fill the sampler. I chose strawberry, cranberry, apple, apricot, pineapple, and raspberry. When the order arrived, a handwritten note inside explained that the cranberry habanero jelly only comes in a 5 oz. jar, so Texas passion habanero was substituted in its place. I also received the cranberry habanero jelly, gratis, in its 5 oz jar. Now that’s good customer service!

I am the first to admit that I dig spicy. I’m a chili head from way back. I’ve sampled Texas Pepper Jelly in the past and really liked it. Hold onto your hats, however, because the jellies that showed up were s-p-i-c-y. All of them are habanero based, so I expected a punch and a kick. But I’m here to tell you, these jellies are fierce!

I sampled each, over a period of a few days, first by dipping a spoon into the jelly and trying it straight. The berry jellies are definitely the most authentic in flavor. While each of the jellies I tried were good, the pineapple probably loses my vote as least flavorful. I didn’t find anything pineapple about the taste; it’s just a sweet jelly with lots of spice.

Sampling Texas Pepper Jelly
Sampling Texas Pepper Jelly on crackers with cream cheese.

The Texas passion habanero jelly was interesting, because it’s a mix of fruits laden with habanero. I honestly couldn’t pick out any of the fruits listed, but overall, the jelly has a sweet, pleasant taste. I guess I was looking for a distinct fruit taste, and I couldn’t find it, which was a bit of a let-down.

The cranberry was okay, as were the apple and apricot. These are flavors you can recognize. The true winners, in my book, were the strawberry and raspberry jellies. I distinctly found the berry flavors and there was nothing artificial about the taste.

I ended up doing the rest of my sampling with HEB water crackers, a thin layer of cream cheese, and Texas Pepper Jelly on top. This is the ideal way to eat these jellies. While the jellies remained overly spicy (too much pepper blasting out the good fruit), the combination of the bland cracker crunch and smooth cheese made eating the jellies a fun treat.

If you don’t like spicy foods, leave Texas Pepper Jelly to the folks who do. You won’t like these – they are strong! In some ways, a bit too strong for me. When the fruit taste came through, as in the strawberry and raspberry jellies, the strong pepper vibe made sense. It didn’t make as much sense with the jellies where the taste was little more than sugar with peppers thrown in.

In spite of my disappointment, I want to say that I love what Craig’s done with his company. And those who love habanero peppers mixed with jelly should dig what Texas Pepper Jelly has to offer. I am game to try more products and give the company a fair shake. I will say that what I sampled in the past was spicy, but I seem to recall the fruit flavors being clearer. I’d also like to incorporate the jellies into recipes.

While Texas Pepper Jelly’s online ordering may be a bit strange to me (no email confirmation or confirmation page), this order arrived quickly, was attractively packaged, and contained a nice note, an additional sample, and swag (a Texas Pepper Jelly refrigerator magnet that’s a 2014 calendar and a blue, rubber Texas Pepper Jelly coaster). Everything was a very nice touch and it helped to make up for my confusion about the order.

This story will continue. Thanks, Craig!

 

Takeaway

Texas Pepper Jelly is an online store. The phone number is 713-702-3489. You can also email sales@texaspepperjelly.com.

 

Do you need help branding your company? We work with businesses that struggle with marketing, content marketing, and social media. Let us take care of your marketing campaigns while you run your business. Contact me to get your project started!

Media Preview Party at the Grand Opening of Smashburger in Waco, Texas

Smashburger on Foodio54

Smashburger on Urbanspoon

Danny Gallagher is Big Grey Horse Media’s newest contributing writer. His first assignment was to attend the media preview party for Smashburger in Waco, Texas. Being the agreeable guy that he is, Danny attended and sampled the food for us. Reading through this piece, I am very curious to try Smashburger during the upcoming horse shows in Waco and in Katy.

Hamburgers are a classic part of the American diet because they seem so simple and almost ordinary in their preparation, and yet we have 147 different ways to present them to the hungry masses. Sure, they are just a flat slab of ground beef with a thick piece of bread on either side, but mankind has somehow found a way to improve upon an already perfect marriage of protein and carbohydrates.

Staff at the new Smashburger in Waco, Texas.
The staff of Waco’s first Smashburger gets ready to open its door to the public.

Global fast food chains, for instance, have their own spin on the burger, whether it’s the triple decker, special sauce tower known as McDonald’s Big Mac, or the pork-infused, sandwich eating challenge we call Wendy’s Baconator. Some offer small, bite-sized burger snacks like the famed White Castle Slider or the massive, behemoths of meat, cheese, and bread such as the Hardee’s Monster Thickburger. Both, however, are usually eaten when the person is either drunk or hungover, and this rarely leads to a positive emotional and physical outcome.

Today’s eater on-the-go has more health conscious thoughts on his carb-riddled mind, even as he craves something naughty-yet-nourishing as the noble burger. Some chains have tried to cater to this new consumer by offering a more carefully prepared form of comfort food with fresher ingredients and lower calorie offerings. It’s still an unapologetic form of the classic American burger, but these menus offer an interesting mix of artery clogging goodness and some healthier alternatives for people with the nerve to actually stick to a diet plan for longer than five minutes without saying, “I’m starting right after this last french fry. OK, this one. No, wait, this one. I really mean it after this one. Well, I can’t let the rest of these go to waste…”

Smashburger is a strange, unique mix of the two. The establishment encourages patrons to stop, sit, and eat their food rather than have it thrown to them through a car window. However, Smashburger’s menu isn’t full of health food, either, just because it doesn’t come in a wrapper that can be cleverly twisted to serve as a portable holder for the person who doesn’t have time to actually stop and look at what he’s putting into his mouth. You’d be surprised how many people end up getting a big bite of their wallet or cell phone, since both usually have the same nutritional value, except wallets don’t have the same amount of trans fats.

KWTX's Taina Maya at Smashburger in Waco, Texas.
KWTX’s Taina Maya samples Smashburger’s Classic Chicken Sandwich during the media preview party.

Smashburger’s Waco branch mostly follows the same model as the rest of the 300-plus locations across the country and parts of Canada. It sits in a quaint little shopping area. Parking was plentiful for the media preview party, but it looked a little small for a place that’s about to get a huge influx of customers. Remember, too, there’s no drive-thru lane. It might be best to visit during its non-peak hours or when you’re not pressed for time.

Nick Canizales eats at Smashburger in Waco, Texas.
Nick Canizales takes a bite of the BBQ, Bacon and Cheddar Burger.

The decor of the restaurant also matches the core of its locations. The Smashburger brand revels in mild art-deco decor with rounded, red lamps dangling from the ceiling and large, monochrome portraits of families enjoying a good ol’ American meal. Since this is a new location, it is practically pristine, and the staff seems eager to keep it that way as long as it can stay open and attract a steady stream of hungry customers. Of course, if you’re in a place like Smashburger, you’re more likely to care about the food anyway.

Thomas McConkey at Smashburger in Waco, Texas.
Shift leader, Thomas McConkey, loads a batch of menus in preparation for Smashburger’s hungry customers on its opening day.

The menu goes slightly beyond the usual selections of burgers, fries, and large, addictive cylinders of caffeinated colas. If that’s what you’re in the mood for, you won’t be disappointed. If you’re trying to watch what you eat or are just sick of the usual finger food, Smashburger does offer some interesting alternatives with mixed results. Of course, if you’re in the mood for a regular pile of fries, you’re in luck. Smashburger offers a thinly stripped french fry that feels very close to the old shoestring potatoes your grandmother would put on the green bean casserole at Thanksgiving. These french fries are easy to get addicted to because they taste so light and crispy. Just make sure you get a batch that’s been freshly fried since the fries turn stale and soggy real quick as they cool off.

Customers can also order a number of different finger foods. My favorite was the fried jalapenos, something most restaurants get wrong because they just fry the whole thing and stuff it with processed cheese. Smashburger slices their jalapenos almost paper-thin and lets them float in the frying oil for just a few seconds, creating a tasty, almost delicate layer of crispy fried goodness. The spice level is good, but minimal.

Smashburger also sells a tasty side of fried pickles and a side of lightly grilled vegetables as healthier finger foods. The onion strings, however, became my least favorite of the bunch. They tasted like a handful of fried something that may or may not have had a speck of stringy onions in it.

Sides at Smashburger in Waco, Texas.
A collection of Smashburger’s sides including fried pickles, onion strings, and fried jalapenos.

The main courses offer a fairly wide variety of burgers and sandwiches that cater to different tastes and offer an interesting range of healthy alternatives. The difference between Smashburger’s burgers and the rest is literally in the title. Each patty is smashed with a special press that sears in the natural flavor of the meat and gives each beef disc an interesting, seared, crispy edge that becomes less well done as you work your way to the middle. Smashburger also serves their burgers on egg buns.

District manager Brad Brown smashing a burger at Smashburger in Waco, Texas.
District manager, Brad Brown, shows where Smashburger gets its name from by preparing a smashed burger on the grill.

 

 

The Regular Burger

The Classic Smash at Smashburger in Waco, Texas.
Classic Smash Burger

Just about every burger joint has to get their most basic hamburger right. It’s the foundation for the rest of the menu because if they can’t accomplish something tasty with the most basic burger ingredients, then there’s no way they can do the same with more complicated ingredients. Thankfully, Smashburger gets its most basic burger right. The meat is lean and comes loaded with vegetables, a must for any good burger, since any schmuck can slap a piece of meat between two pieces of bread. This burger also has a tangy, special sauce if you’re sick of the usual ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise mix.

 

The BBQ, Bacon, and Cheddar Burger

BBQ, Bacon and Cheddar Burger at Smashburger in Waco, Texas.
BBQ, Bacon, and Cheddar Burger

The BBQ, bacon, and cheddar burger was easily the best of the comfort food bunch. It’s got a nice, rich, tangy barbecue sauce smothered with those fried onions that don’t work so well on their own, but do a nice job of complementing the mix of tastes this sandwich offers. Most of the burgers aren’t very greasy on their own, but a BBQ burger needs a little grill runoff to complete its smoky texture and flavor. I’m not suggesting that Smashburger serve this burger with a grease dip or anything (which I immediately regret writing because somebody is probably trying to patent that idea as we speak).

 

The Truffle Mushroom Swiss Burger

Truffle Mushroom Swiss Burger at Smashburger in Waco, Texas.
Truffle Mushroom Swiss Burger

The truffle mushroom Swiss burger was easily the least appetizing of the bunch. Mushroom burgers aren’t my first choice, but they can be good if you’re looking for something hearty that’s light on veggies and just above eating a plain, ordinary burger. This burger, however, didn’t taste right. The bar was set pretty high, but the truffle mayonnaise was just too rich and overpowering. The mushroom felt soggy as it soaked up what little grease was already in the cheese and beef patty. Adding an egg bun to the mix didn’t calm my stomach.

 

The Texas Burger

Texas Burger at Smashburger in Waco, Texas.
Texas Burger

Each Smashburger location offers a special, local burger to the menu and in this case, the Texas burger was kind of a disappointment. It was tasty, but it didn’t seem to stray very far from the norm. In fact, there is only one difference between this burger and Smashburger’s regular creation: mustard. Granted, Smashburger already has a BBQ burger, but it doesn’t seem necessary to put a burger on the menu with an ingredient that you can put on yourself, depending on how lazy you feel and how much energy you’re willing to expel with the muscles in your hand and arm.

 

The Spicy Veggie Black Bean Burger

Spicy Veggie Black Bean Sandwich at Smashburger in Waco, Texas.
Spicy Veggie Black Bean Burger

If you’re trying to watch your weight, Smashburger offers some creative burger alternatives. This black bean patty is meat free. That might be considered a sacrilege for some parts of a state that prides itself on its ability to consume cows per capita. However, it’s actually a pretty tasty treat that won’t fill you with regret as it fills you up. The spicy veggie black bean burger is loaded with fresh veggies. The patty is made entirely out of black beans, which does have a weird texture for a burger, but is quite hearty and flavorful. The spices give this hippie option a real kick, like putting a flame-shooting engine on a Toyota Prius. It’s not necessary, but it helps it stand out from its meatier brothers.

 

The Chicken Classic and Avocado Club Chicken Sandwiches

Classic Chicken Sandwich at Smashburger in Waco, Texas.
Classic Chicken Sandwich

Smashburger also offers two chicken alternatives including a basic grilled chicken sandwich with vegetables, and an original twist on the chicken club with avocado and a ranch-mayo dressing on the whole grain bun. The chicken could have been a little plumper and almost felt lost in the mix of toppings and sauces, but the avocado club had such a wonderful, flavorful mix that it was easier to overlook.

Avocado Club Chicken Sandwich at Smashburger in Waco, Texas.
Avocado Club Chicken Sandwich

 

Takeaway

Smashburger is located at 1230 N. Valley Mills Drive in Waco, Texas 76710. The phone number is 254-400-2749. Visit Smashburger online for menus, online ordering, and more.

 

Images courtesy of Danny Gallagher.

 

Fresh, Delicious, Juicy: Smashburger Comes to Waco, Texas

Smashburger logo
Image courtesy of Smashburger.

Disclosure: Big Grey Horse Media received an invitation to Smashburger’s Media Preview Party. However, it was my decision to write this piece and the invitation did nothing to sway my views of Smashburger except to raise my awareness of the brand. Big Grey Horse Media endorses and supports companies that use fresh ingredients and you know, we love gourmet fast food! Danny Gallagher, one of Big Grey Horse Media’s contributing writers, will be attending the Media Preview Party. We eagerly await his post and yummy photos!

Fast food becomes gourmet when Smashburger comes to Waco, Texas. The company began as Rich Schaden’s dream in 2007. Consumer Capital Partners funded the venture, which has grown into 39 restaurants in Texas, and over 200 restaurants worldwide.

Smashburger interior
Photo courtesy of Smashburger.

What sets Smashburger apart is the food. We’re not talking about regular fast food, folks. This isn’t McDonald’s. We’re talking about fresh Angus beef that’s never been frozen. The name Smashburger comes from the technique used on a 400 degree, flat grill, where the Angus beef burgers are smashed.

How many fast food burger joints can lay claim to that?

Smashburger is also unique because each restaurant offers a bit of diversion. Regional tastes are kept in mind when the menu is prepared.

Classic Onion Burger with Shake at Smashburger
Photo courtesy of Smashburger.

Milkshakes crafted from Haagen-Dazs ice cream, fresh toppings and condiments, salads, chicken burgers…gotta say that writing this post has me feeling worked up and hungry. I’m not a big beef burger fan, but when I do crave a juicy, delicious burger, it must be fresh and high quality. And yes, Afriel and I plan on eating at Smashburger when we’re out and about. Why not?

BBQ Bacon Cheese with Fries at Smashburger
Photo courtesy of Smashburger.
Avocado Chicken Club at Smashburger
Photo courtesy of Smashburger.

The choices are great folks, from what I can see. A company that’s focused on quality gets my vote every time. Fast food’s become an important commodity in today’s landscape of busy families and big business in America. However, fast food can quickly get away from value when poor menu choices are offered. Value does not equal cheap prices and crappy food. Making people sick because they are poor or crunched for time isn’t helping folks live the American dream (if that even exists!).

I dig what Smashburger (and companies like it) are doing.

Responsible choices, ya’ll.

 

Takeaway

Smashburger is located at 1230 N. Valley Mills Drive in Waco, Texas 76710. The phone number is 254-400-2749. Visit Smashburger online for menus, online ordering, and more.

 

If your company would like Big Grey Horse Media to attend your events, please contact me. We’re hear to spread the word about brands we love.

 

Get Ready, Austin – Dover Saddlery Opens Soon!

Newspaper Taxi - Jenny Paisley Riding ClinicDover Saddlery is coming to Austin! The grand opening weekend is November 8-10, 2013. This is an exciting time for Austin equestrians.

Since I began riding again in 2005, Dover Saddlery’s been a favorite tack shop stop. I’ve not had the privilege of going to an actual Dover store because they are too far away. The internet, once again, levels the playing field. I love shopping at Dover’s online store. (Afriel and I have a wish list two miles long!)

What keeps Dover rockin’ with the equestrian scene is the tack store’s ability to warehouse and supply so damned many items. Everything from medication to supplements, saddles to barn equipment, and a plethora of equestrian attire. And more! Dover really has cornered the market with 1) inventory and 2) price.

I’ve heard a few people complain about Dover on Chronicle of the Horse forums, but I’ve Double Jeopardy - Blue Ribbon Summer Festival IInever had a problem. Twice, in all the years I’ve ordered from Dover, items went missing en route to my home. Not a problem, however. Dover’s excellent customer service team apologized and reshipped immediately. Now that’s how you handle customers you value.

Now Dover Saddlery has made its way to Central Texas. It’s great for us because I’d love to visit the storefront and meet the team running it. We also have very little competition with the few tiny tack stores, so this is good for business. I hope to see Dover trailers at the horse shows in Zone 7, too.

Dover, is that going to happen?

I’ve received my special invitation to the store’s private VIP reception. I’ve also received other literature compiling some grand opening specials. This Dover store will cater to the following disciplines: hunter/jumper, eventing, and dressage (no surprise). Check out the goodies! When you come for the grand opening weekend, you may win a $500 shopping spree. Every equestrian knows $500 won’t go too far – ha! – but this is a mighty generous prize from a great brand.

There will also be door prizes, samples, giveaways, and the opportunity to meet Dover Saddlery product advisors.

Thanks for a fantastic year of riding, Dover! You were a BIG part of the success I found with Newspaper Taxi and Double Jeopardy.

Double Jeopardy - Blue Ribbon Summer Festival II    Newspaper Taxi - Jenny Paisley Riding Clinic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Takeaway

Dover Saddlery is located at 8820 Burnet Road in Austin, Texas 78758. The phone number is 512-452-8100. Store hours are Monday thru Thursday, 9 a.m. until 6 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. until 8 p.m., and Sunday 11 a.m. until 6 p.m.

 

Clean Up With the Finish Line in West Lake Hills, Texas

Dirty car? No problem! Clean up with the Finish Line in West Lake Hills, Texas.In spite of a mediocre rating on Yelp (and many complaints), we visited the Finish Line car wash. My daughter’s little car was dirty inside and out. Trips to the barn, trips to school, and traveling out of town plus normal wear and tear had the Dodge a complete mess.

One filthy car. A team of workers. Massive equipment with soap, water, and brushes. Could the Finish Line rise to the challenge of making our car look brand new?

Finish Line in West Lake Hills, Texas

There’s an array of services to choose from, which can give a cause to pause when you’re in a hurry. I hadn’t been to the Finish Line in over 10 years. To say that I was overwhelmed is an understatement.

Various services at the Finish Line in West Lake Hills, Texas

We picked a package, drove up, and were immediately swarmed by the first team of workers. We got our stuff out of the car and walked inside.

Inside the Finish Line in West Lake Hills, Texas

What I remember (from prior visits) was the service and friendly atmosphere the Finish Line offered. While the service and friendliness remained, there’s now gratis massage, shoe shining, and refreshments. What more could two girls want?

We skipped having massages and cleaning our shoes (we were wearing sandals – too bad!), but we did linger and watch our car go through the indoor washing cycle. I’m a sucker for car washes. And yes, you can deduce that I’m easily amused.

Satisfied that the car had been washed, I went to the front desk to pay the bill. The young woman at the desk greeted me with a big smile. I got warm fuzzies because this, folks, is customer service at its finest. I chatted with her a bit, paid the bill, and began looking at all the goodies we could partake in.

Refreshments at the Finish Line in West Lake Hills, Texas

The Finish Line certainly treats its customers well. We didn’t partake in any of the refreshments, but other people lounged while sipping coffee and eating ice cream cones. What’s really cool is you can leave a donation for the Finish Line’s charity of the month when you choose your refreshment. When we visited, Habitat for Humanity was the chosen charity.

Gotta add that the Finish Line is CLEAN. Something else I look for when I frequent a business.

Service with a smile, gratis food and drink, soothing massages, and clean shoes. Oh, and a sparkling clean car, too.

Yep. The Finish Line did a spectacular job of cleaning the car, inside and out. If I had to be grouchy and complain, it would be that the place was so darn busy, it took some time to get the car finished. I’m not going to gripe about that, however. The crews were working as quickly and efficiently as they could.

My thoughts? The impression I’m left with is how nice everyone was. Even the guys who shooed us out of our car, when we drove up, were smiling. The front desk representative was personable, gracious, and friendly. The guy who gave us back our sparkling clean car was a gentleman. That’s professionalism, folks, pure and simple. Professionalism means smiling and doing the best job that you can. Professionalism means treating your customers right. The Finish Line gets several gold stars for fostering a great environment that’s conducive to good business.

Takeaway

The Finish Line is located at 2900 Bee Cave Road in Austin, Texas 78746. The phone number is (512) 328-9274. Hours of operation are Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. until 6 p.m., and Sunday, 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.

Winter hours are posted on the company’s website. During this season, the Finish Line closes at 5:30 p.m.

Eating Nice at Ginger & Spice in Marble Falls, Texas

Ginger and Spice in Marble Falls, TexasGinger and Spice on Foodio54

Ginger & Spice on Urbanspoon

It’s a goofy headline, but it’s true. You will eat nice at Ginger & Spice in Marble Falls, Texas. If you dig Thai and sushi, Ginger & Spice fits the bill. As you know, Thai and sushi are two of my favorite cuisines.

The first time we scouted Ginger & Spice for a potential foodie review, we did take out. The food was fantastic. I told Afriel that we had to go back when we could eat in. (Of course, my motivation was to try the sushi.) Afriel agreed, and recently we were able to eat lunch at Ginger & Spice.

Gotta say, like many places in Marble Falls, the parking sucks. It’s a shame, because the little dining establishments are trying to make a living and yet customers face terrible parking situations. We asked what people do during busy times. We were told that folks can park across the street. There is a small lot situated across the street from Ginger & Spice, but it fills quickly. We had to park down the street in front of an insurance office. I must say that Ginger & Spice’s staff were extremely apologetic about the parking situation. I only asked because it’s of interest to me. I like seeing how businesses overcome weaknesses, and how businesses respond to situations that are challenges. Ginger & Spice gets a gold star for rising to the occasion and acknowledging the problem and apologizing. Doesn’t make the problem go away, and who knows how parking will be handled as Marble Falls grows, but at least the folks running the business are aware that parking is an issue.

Once we were seated, we told our waitress that we were bloggers who would write about our experiences. She was extremely gracious, and remained that way throughout our meal. We don’t always mention that we’re writers when we eat out, and in most cases, when we do, it’s as we are paying the bill. In this case, I have to say Ginger & Spice was phenomenal. All the staff were as courteous and congenial as when we ordered take out during our prior visit. I am a big appreciator of consistency in customer service.

The salad bar was open, and that intrigued me. For an additional but nominal cost, I could frequent the salad bar for salad, sushi rolls, soup, fruit, and various appetizers. It was amusing to see that the menu specified “In order to keep our costs down, we ask that customers do not eat only the appetizer bar with the intention of taking you [sic] entree home!!! (only small box can be given)”. Course, I was raised in a very strict world of manners and culture: You don’t take more than you can eat, you don’t feed others your food, etc. I have to wonder what happens, in Marble Falls, when people have access to the salad bar at Ginger & Spice. Do people not mind their manners? It’s pretty darn sad when Ginger & Spice has to spell out how the salad bar works.

I asked Afriel to come to the salad bar so she could snap a few photos and check out what was offered. The salad bar was less than I expected, but probably more than some people would care for. It was nothing fancy, but the salad bar contained the staples you would expect. More so, there were a few items I definitely want to check out during our next visit to Ginger & Spice.

Salad bar sampling at Ginger & Spice in Marble Falls, Texas.
Salad bar sampling. From left to right: spring roll, vegetable tempura, and sushi rolls. At the top, rice pudding with fruit.

The tom jerd with tofu soup was ah-mazing! It’s an Asian version of chicken soup, and one of those ultimate comfort foods the hedonist within me loves to indulge in. I told Afriel that I definitely would want tom jerd with tofu if I were sick with a chest cold. The broth was simple yet savory with a deep, nourishing touch. There’s nothing that stood out about the soup yet it was so damn comforting! Total yummy goodness.

Tom Jerd with Tofu soup at Ginger & Spice in Marble Falls, Texas
Tom Jerd with Tofu soup

Big kudos to Ginger and Spice’s chef for the soup. It was excellent!

Afriel ordered from the lunch menu. She had the Saigon noodles, which she jealousy guarded from my wandering chopsticks. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a bite of this luscious bowl of noodles, but judging from Afriel’s expressions while she ate, the meal was absolutely delicious. In case you’ve never had an Asian dish like this, you pour the little bowl of sauce over the noodles. Utterly good, ya’ll.

Saigon noodles at Ginger & Spice in Marble Falls, Texas
Saigon noodles

I read a review that the sushi at Ginger & Spice wasn’t as fresh as it could be. Well, coming from the experience of eating sushi fresh off the boat, why in the hell would you expect a Marble Falls eatery to have sushi as fresh as what you’d get in Seattle? Comparing the sushi I’ve eaten when I’ve traveled to Seattle to what I can eat in Marble Falls isn’t fair. Comparing the sushi I ate at Ginger & Spice to what I pick up at HEB is a fair comparison. It may even be fair to compare Ginger & Spice to my fav Austin sushi bar, Uchi.

I ordered the spicy tuna roll and the chef’s choice 7-piece sushi platter. My sushi platter actually came with an additional nigiri, which I was delighted to find. A girl can never have too much sushi! If you aren’t sure which sushi is what, this site has a great guide. And no, I didn’t eat the nigiri with my fingers (this visit), although sometimes I do!

Spicy tuna roll at Ginger & Spice in Marble Falls, Texas
Spicy tuna roll

I can honestly say, the spicy tuna roll and chef’s choice sushi was wonderful. The roll was freshly made, everything smelled delish, and the texture and cut of the nigiri was spot on. I could see the food was prepared with care and love. Would I get it again? Heck yeah, and I plan on it for the Big Grey Horse Media Christmas Party. It’s an annual tradition, ya’ll!

Chef's choice sushi at Ginger & Spice in Marble Falls, Texas
Chef’s choice sushi with salad

I admit that I’m tough to please. Thai and sushi are my two favorite cuisines, and I am fortunate to have eaten both cuisines at some of the best eateries in America. I’m picky as hell and at this point, I inwardly cringe, just a little, when it’s time to try a new restaurant. I gotta relay the note I wrote in my iPhone after I’d finished my lunch at Ginger & Spice.

The note simply said, “This was one of the best lunches I’ve had in a long, long time.”

Kudos, Ginger & Spice. You hit the nail on the head with this one!

Click here for our pictorial review of Ginger & Spice.

 

Takeaway

Ginger & Spice is located at 909 Second Street in Marble Falls, Texas, 78645. The phone number is 830/693-7171. The hours of operation for lunch are Monday thru Friday, 11:00 a.m. until 2:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 12:00 p.m. until 3:00 p.m. The hours of operation for dinner are Monday thru Thursday, 5:00 p.m. until 9:30 p.m.; Friday thru Saturday, 5:00 p.m. until 10:00 p.m.; Sunday 5:00 p.m. until 9:00 p.m.

How to Prepare for Halloween in Texas

Are you mystified by the process of preparing for Halloween in Texas? Your questions can range from: “Where should I get my costume?” to “Where can I find decorations?” and, of course,  “Which place will scare me so badly that I’ll soil myself?”

These are hard questions to answer if you didn’t plan this fright fest holiday in advance.

Halloween bat decoration

If you’re a costume lover like me, then that’s the first step you need to take. Figure out what you want to be. This is a super-fun process. You can go solo with an extreme costume, couple it with a boyfriend/girlfriend, or do group themed costumes, like being a group of rockin’ bod Spartans screaming, “This is SPARTA!” all across town. Fun, right?

Since we’ve got that down, you have to decide how you’re going to decorate. Look at our Halloween in Texas Pinterest board for inspiration. Or take a drive around the neighborhood and see what others are spooking their homes with. This can inspire you to do a similar theme or add something the neighbors don’t have. Don’t have neighbors? Great! This means you can be the star ghoul of Halloween! Your competition is zip, zilch, nada, zero. Kudos.

skull surrounded by orange frames

Net step? Where to get your costume and decorations. Top Dog has both a web and store presence.  Their store fronts are located in Tomball, Spring, and Houston. Frankel’s Costume is also located in Houston. Their stores sell costumes and decorations, as well as puppets and magic tricks. Currently, the inventory is discounted up to 90%, so get busy shopping!

Now it’s time to soil your pants. Texas is littered with all kinds of haunted houses. I am an absolute scaredy-cat who needs a group of friends to accompany me to a haunted house. Yes, I’m the girl clutching, with a death grip, onto whoever is closest. And trying to not hide my face in their arm because it’s all too scary, even though I know none of it’s real. What scares me the most, though, is the chainsaw. A chainsaw by itself isn’t scary. I’m afraid that whoever is holding that chainsaw will lose their grip. The chainsaw then comes flying towards me, mangling my body. And no, I have never soiled myself.

A great website that I found is Texas Haunted Houses. They have over 50 haunted houses listed. This can help you decide which creepy, haunted houses are hot in your area, and which are the scariest, based on the reviews.

Have a BOO-TASTIC time preparing for Halloween in Texas!

Images provided courtesy of creepyhalloweenimages.com.

Lunch at the Noon Spoon Cafe in Marble Falls, Texas

Jen Cayce of the Noon Spoon Cafe in Marble Falls, Texas.
Jen Cayce of the Noon Spoon Cafe in Marble Falls, Texas.

Noon Spoon Cafe on Foodio54

Noon Spoon Cafe on Urbanspoon

There’s a one in a million chance you’ll meet someone who’s bright, successful, adorably pretty, and full of energy. Jen Cayce possesses all of these qualities. We recently met her when we had lunch at the Noon Spoon Cafe in Marble Falls, Texas.

When we arrived at the Noon Spoon Cafe, the parking lot was full. We had an appointment with Jen at 1:15 p.m., a little past lunchtime. I was impressed that the cafe was still rockin’ after lunch.

Inside, the restaurant was about 80% full. Everyone seemed happy and the place was filled with lively conversations. I saw a representation of every age eating there, but the predominance was senior citizens. Noon Spoon Cafe in Marble Falls, Texas

Jen wasn’t there when we arrived, so we had plenty of time to take in the Noon Spoon Cafe. The walls are decorated with beautiful colors – Jen definitely took her time choosing from different color palettes. The artwork is done by Austin artist, Terri McGee.

When Jen arrived, the entire room lit up. She’s a tiny, petite woman who is full of positive energy. She had big smiles and thanks for the interview. We sat at a large, wooden table in a corner and began chatting.

Jen started cooking when she was a little girl. She was inspired by both her mother and grandmother (her “Mimi”). Jen was obsessed with cooking. At least that’s what her family told her! She carefully watched the women in the kitchen and learned as much as she could. This obsession led Jen down a golden path.

Jen opened the Noon Spoon as a food delivery business after she graduated from college. She ran the business with four employees, for several years, before taking a commercial property management job in Austin. Seven years later, Jen was back in Marble Falls with the reincarnated Noon Spoon Cafe.

What began as a vision beautifully merged into a restaurant that grew from 28 to 68 seats and nine employees over a span of five years. The Noon Spoon Cafe has a big following in the Highland Lakes area. Jen’s customers eat at the Noon Spoon Cafe one to four times weekly.

The favorite menu items are the chicken avocado quesadillas, the daily specials (they always sell out by 1:30), the soups, and the strawberry spinach salad. (I hope you’re taking notes so you know what to choose when you visit!)

How has the Noon Spoon Cafe achieved this success in a so-called rotten economy where everyone’s afraid to spend money? Word-of-mouth marketing is the most powerful advertising tool Jen has.

And the food? It’s fresh! Jen believes in organic, fresh food. Her suppliers make multiple deliveries weekly. As you’ve already guessed, Jen’s a hands-on owner. She oversees all aspects of the kitchen and calls herself a “yes” girl. If a customer asks for it, you can bet they are gonna get it.

After all this talk, we were hungry. Jen invited us back to the kitchen after whipping up two treats.

Stuffed Tomato & Avocado at the Noon Spoon Cafe in Marble Falls, Texas

Simply delicious, good food. The stuffed tomato and avocado.

Complete with crispy-fresh greens and organic sunflower sprouts.

And this.

Triple Chocolate Cake at the Noon Spoon Cafe in Marble Falls, Texas.

I think you need to see the Triple Chocolate Cake one. more. time.

Triple Chocolate Cake at the Noon Spoon Cafe in Marble Falls, Texas.

The sauce on the Triple Chocolate Cake is a carefully guarded secret. You’re not gonna pry this recipe away from Jen’s hands. I will let you in on a little secret: The flavor of the sauce changes depending on which food you’re eating – the ice cream, chocolate cake, or strawberries.

I’ll wrap up this most pleasurable blog post by saying: Anyone who can laugh at the small parking lot they’ve got in front of their restaurant is good people.

Noon Spoon Cafe t-shirt

Her parking lot does stink. I admit it. We had to park next door at the nursery. Course, if everyone in town wasn’t eating lunch at the Noon Spoon Cafe, there would be ample parking. Ha!

Keep your eyes on this dynamo cutie from Marble Falls, Texas. We’ve got some great gems in the Highland Lakes area, but few are human. Jen is a rare blend of beauty, brains, guts, and determination.

 

See Jen Cayce at Edible Austin’s Edible Escape 2013 event to be held September 29, 2013, from 4:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. at the Lakeside Pavilion in Marble Falls. You’ll get some tasty treats and have the opportunity to visit with Jen – all for $35 if you purchase your tickets early. Tickets are $45 at the door. This event includes wine and food tastings from local restaurants and vineyards, a chef demonstration, an artisan demonstration, and the Texas Winemakers Panel. Live music, too, ya’ll, provided by the Marshall Ford Swing Band.

 

Takeaway:

The Noon Spoon Cafe is located at 610 Broadway Street in Marble Falls, Texas 78654. The phone number is 830-798-2347. Hours of operation are Monday through Friday, 11:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. You can dine in or take out. The Noon Spoon Cafe offers vegetarian dishes and you can request gluten-free options. Breakfast is served all day.

And seriously, folks, eat the Triple Chocolate Cake!