This weekend was Family Weekend at colleges around the nation, and I couldn’t wait to spend the weekend with my daughter.  We’d both been looking forward to this weekend ever since we dropped her off in August.

The highlights of the weekend were dining and shopping.  Shocking, I know.  Saturday morning we headed to the outlet malls in San Marcos.  It’s been decades since I’ve been to an outlet mall, and I was skeptical, but we were hopeful that we’d find some great buys.

San Marcos, population approximately 54,000, was founded in 1851 along the San Marcos River, and is among the oldest continuously inhabited areas in the U.S.  It’s home to Texas State University, which I was surprised to learn is the fifth-largest university in Texas, and has an enrollment of more than 34,000 students.  And here’s an interesting fact if you run out of things to talk about at your next cocktail party — President Lyndon B. Johnson graduated from Texas State University in 1930, making it the only university in Texas to have a President of the United States as an alumnus.  San Marcos is presently one of the fastest-growing cities in the U.S.

But hey, don’t they say to avoid shopping on an empty stomach? Oh wait, that’s grocery shopping.  Still, I don’t see why that advice shouldn’t apply to clothes shopping as well.  And who are “they” anyway?  We passed every chain restaurant you can think of along the highway, but we were in the mood for something more interesting.  And that is exactly what we found at The Root Cellar Café.

The Root Cellar Cafe is located in San Marcos’s Downtown Square, at 215 N. LBJ Dr.



The restaurant is decorated in thrift store chic, with mismatched tables and chairs that added to the college-town charm of the cafe:

IMG_5197Since it was just me and my daughter, we only got to sample two dishes, but they were both delicious and satisfying.  My daughter had the ciabatta cheesesteak — grilled roast beef,  bell peppers, onions, and provolone cheese on toasted ciabatta bread — accompanied by a pile of garlic scallion mashed potatoes:

IMG_5195 IMG_5196

This was a hearty, two-fisted sandwich, and the seasoned roast beef and melted provolone made for a delicious meal.  The mashed potatoes were loaded with garlic and green onions, and were entirely worth risking garlic breath for.

I had the Hearty Frittata, which on this day was loaded with chunks of turkey, provolone cheese, and zucchini.  The generous slice was fluffy and cheesy and really tasty.  It was accompanied by sautéed grape tomatoes, a toasted English muffin, and spiced wild blueberry jam.  We splurged for a side of bacon, which was thick-cut and salty and perfectly crisp.  This was an outstanding brunch dish.

IMG_5194Not only was the food great, but the service was quick and attentive.  We loved this restaurant.

Before we left San Marcos we strolled around the Hays County Courthouse, a beautiful historic Texas courthouse built in 1908.  Depending on who you ask, the style is described as “eclectic,” “classic Revival,” and “Beaux-Arts.”  I have no idea what style the building is, but the courthouse, restored in 1972, is quite impressive:


There was a small farmers market next to the courthouse that was just about wrapping up, where we ran across this content little fella (you gotta figure this guy is pretty secure in his manhood to be carrying around a Chihuahua in a baby sling):


No longer hungry, we figured it was safe to venture off to the outlet mall.  We were happily surprised at the selection of stores, and came home with lots of great stuff.  It was a fun day together, and we can’t wait to go back to San Marcos for lunch and shopping!


Root Cellar Cafe on Urbanspoon


We spent the better part of the past two weeks on vacation in California, and I thought I’d share a few highlights of the trip.

We flew into San Francisco, and had a little time to kill there while we waited for all of our luggage to join us (thank you very much, TSA).  We stopped for a bite at Mocca, a European-style café, which included a mixed shellfish salad with shrimp, scallops, and green mussels, marinated in olive oil and herbs, and a delicious little apple tart:

We also made a quick stop at the Ferry Building, where I was fascinated by the offerings at Far West Fungi, and picked up some dried mushrooms and a wonderful truffle mushroom spread:


Once we were reunited with our luggage, we headed towards Mendocino.  Knowing that dining options would diminish the farther we traveled and the later it got, we stopped for dinner at the “World Famous” Hamburger Ranch & BBQ in Cloverdale:



I finally got to try a Dutch crunch, and it made for a tasty, if sloppy burger;

IMG_4609The rest of the family chowed down on a patty melt, an Italian fungi burger, and a chili cheeseburger:




I really got a kick out of this place.  “Joey” from Friends likes it too:


We arrived in Mendocino and settled in at Stanford Inn by the Sea, with its lush gardens and view of the coast:




IMG_4621This “eco resort” is a little different than most (all) of the places we’ve stayed at over the years.  For starters, its Ravens’ restaurant is vegan.  The complimentary breakfasts were interesting (translated — my son wouldn’t eat them).  Among the vegan dishes we tried were a chickpea crepe filled with vegetables from the gardens and drizzled with a cashew cheese sauce, and enchiladas filled with quinoa and spinach:



Although not everyone was crazy about the vegan breakfasts, we fought over the vegan chocolate chip cookies that were waiting for us in our room each day.  The inn graciously shared the recipe, which I’ll share as soon as I try it out at home.


The Mendocino coast is breathtakingly beautiful:




The Albion River Inn, where we ate one night, was worth visiting just for the spectacular view from the dining room:



We noticed that in Mendocino they take tree-hugging to a new level:


At the health food store in town I bought some organic GMO-free granola made with love (you get the picture):


I guess Love is neither organic nor GMO-free

If you’re up that way, be sure to stop by the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens.  This is one of the most gorgeous, colorful botanical gardens around, and the dahlia garden is a match for any rose garden:




We left Mendocino to drop our son off with friends in Stanford, and headed on to Carmel, where we enjoyed more stunning coastline:





Carmel has a beautiful town center, with upscale shopping and lots of dining options.  At the Flying Fish Grill, we loved the complimentary wonton crisps with gingery salsa, the steamed artichoke with wasabi mayonnaise and miso vinaigrette, and delectable halibut baked in parchment with fermented chinese black beans, mushroom, ginger & scallions:





We also enjoyed an elegant meal at Grasing’s, where my husband loved his clams with Yukon gold potatoes, leeks, and bacon, and declared his lamb chops to be the best he’s ever had:



Our hands-down favorite restaurant of the whole trip was La Bicyclette, a charming European-style café, recommended to us by my favorite oral surgeon:





The menu changes daily to provide variety and focus on seasonal ingredients.  On this day we enjoyed a wood-fired pizza with local mushrooms, a grilled chicken and pesto Panini, and mussels in a saffron broth.  Even the coffee was excellent!




While in Carmel, we spent a day marveling at the exhibits at the wonderful Monterey Bay Aquarium:

We next headed to the Napa Valley.  We stopped at the historic Oakville Grocery Co., which was established in 1881, and is the oldest continually-operating grocery store in California.  The shelves were loaded with tempting locally-made snacks, marinades, and condiments:

We splurged on accomodations here, and stayed at the beautiful Solage resort in Calistoga:




The highlight of our Napa stay was a leisurely visit with winemaker Tom Eddy:


If you’re looking for a place to go with kids for dinner in Napa, the Farmstead at Longmeadow Ranch has family-pleasing fare in an attractive, casual setting (and you can BYOB).  The starters were our favorites, including the cheddar biscuits with honey butter (which were complimentary for checking in on Yelp), meatballs with caramelized vegetables and tomato marmalade, and a wood-grilled Castroville artichoke:

On our way out of Napa, we stopped at the popular Gott’s Roadside (formerly Taylor’s Refresher), and sampled, among other things, the legendary Ahi Burger and Western Bacon Blue Ring Burger.  The food was good, but after eating out for 10 days or so, at this point it was a little too heavy for us:





We loved all the places we visited, and the cool, dry California weather was a welcome break from our Gulf Coast heat and humidity, but it was nevertheless great to return home to our own beds, and our dogs that we missed like crazy.