Category Archives: Travel

7 places I wish I could have taken you during IACP

This past week Austin hosted the 2011 conference of the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP), a gathering of some of the most important food communicators in America. There were chefs, cookbook authors, journalists, bloggers and corporate food folks in attendance, each more famous and friendly than the last.

Non-food blogging Austinites might have noticed that the conference was happening because of the deluge of #IACP tags in the Austin Twitterverse, and because there were special IACP meals, tours and tastings at many of Austin’s restaurants. Many of these food events were once in a lifetime opportunities for the city’s best chefs to cook in the national spotlight on their own turf, and it was pretty awesome to see the likes of Jacques Pepin and Dorie Greenspan excited about Texas cuisine. A high point for me was when Elise Bauer tweeted, “Austin is food heaven,” from a taco truck last night.

Every moment of the IACP conference made me proud to be a Texan. However, some of my favorite Austin food experiences weren’t represented at the conference. Here’s a list of seven culinary adventures that keep Austin weird– and delicious– for me.

1. Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon

Three words: Chicken. Shit. Bingo.

Photo © Gary J. Wood

2. Creamy Jalapeno and Chips at Chuy’s

Tex Mex restaurants in Austin are a dime a dozen, but Chuy’s chips are the thinnest and crispiest in town. Locals know to ask for “creamy jalapeno,” the house-made jalapeño ranch dressing that made Chuy’s famous. It’s a spicy cool and creamy accompaniment to chips in the Texas heat. During happy hour at Chuy’s Mexican martinis are just $6 and you can get free, self-serve chips and creamy jalapeño out of a vintage car trunk near the bar. Seriously, it’s around the corner from the restaurant’s Elvis shrine.

3. Black Star Co-op

One of the major themes at IACP was the growing awareness of community  in consumer-food relationships. I heard over and over in sessions that “consumers want to know where their food comes from,” and “it’s all about the relationship.” As the first co-operatively owned brewpub in the United States, Black Star Co-op personifies these trends. The bar is literally owned by its neighbors (membership shares are $150), and its operations are governed by a member-elected board of directors.  Chef Johnny Livesay used to be the produce manager at Wheatsville, Austin’s farm-to-market grocery co-op, and he uses his connections with local farmers to source the best local produce for Black Star’s kitchen.

Photo © Ed Menard

4. Swad

The atmosphere at Swad is about as far from culinary hype as you can get, which is nice when you need a break from trying to impress people at a food conference. It’s tucked in a strip mall in a working-class area of north Austin, between a dance club called Desperado’s and an Indian market. Swad serves south Indian and Pakistani street food, all vegetarian, all spicy, all awesome. The enormous menu is printed mostly without English translations, and it includes lots of exotic dishes along with some familiar Indian selections like Naan and mango lassi. Standout items include samosa chat, potato-stuffed samosas in a terrifically spicy chickpea curry, and any of the dosas (stuffed lentil crepes). It pays to order adventurously at Swad; I try not to get the same thing twice, and I’ve never encountered a disappointing dish.

5. Casa de Luz

There are many hippies in Austin, especially south Austin, and I’m not sure that came across in the local programming at IACP. Lunch at Casa de Luz is one of the best ways to experience life as a south Austinite, and its vegan, macrobiotic menu would have been the perfect antidote to all the sausage and brisket served at the conference. A three-course meal includes a set menu with soup, salad and delectable entrees like blanched greens w/almond cilantro sauce and corn on the cob with umeboshi paste. The dining room’s community-style seating and bus your own table policy contribute to Casa de Luz’s hippie atmosphere.

6. Alamo Drafthouse

Movie theaters with full menu service are a rising trend in the food industry, and Alamo Drafthouse is a great example of How To Do It Right. They remove people who talk or text during the show*, they bring you Shiner Bock by the bucketful, and instead of lame pre-show advertising, the Alamo creates custom preshows for each movie (think clips of Dan Akroyd as Julia Child before Julie and Julia). Besides the usual theater offerings, Alamo Drafthouse contributes to Austin’s food scene with special culinary events. When Food Inc. opened, the theater produced a menu of local, organic offerings. And each year for the annual showing of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Chef John Bullington prepares an epic twelve hour long feast, with themed dishes like New Zealand lamb, lembas bread, elevensies and coney stew.

*Edited 6/6/11 to add: Alamo just released a new preview that’s going to start airing before its R-rated shows here in Austin. (Caution, NSFW: language.)

7. Mrs. Johnson’s Donuts

This Austin institution would have been the perfect way to celebrate National Donut Day during IACP. Hot, fresh donuts and some of the best people watching in Austin starting at 9 PM on Airport Boulevard every day. If you’re looking to make a night of it, dive bar Barfly’s down the road will even let you bring in a box of donuts.

Photo © Jeremy Sternberg

Melrose, Iowa

I spent this past weekend with my dad in  Iowa.  We visited my grandparents at their new retirement village, stopped by a little diner in Des Moines, and spent a morning gossiping with my grandma and aunt over hot apple cider. We also puttered around in the woods in Melrose near my folks’ farm.  I saw this ladybug there when she landed on my leg.

God willing, that’s the only picture of my thigh that will ever appear on the internet.

Back to the kitchen tomorrow.  Tonight is devoted to unpacking and restoring order to my laundry basket.

Macro/Micro

I went to Iowa with my dad this weekend.  We spent time visiting with family, watching football, and hiking around some land my parents own in Melrose.

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I just love being on the farm this time of year. The fields are dappled with green but the leaves in the timber are crispy and you can see about 100 shades of autumn when they flutter in the breeze.  All the cows are starting to grow a fuzzy coat and their breath puffs away from them like clouds in the morning when the frost is on the ground.

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There are lots of beautiful views on the farm.

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It’s easy to let your eyes wander and think deep thoughts there.  I think that’s what my dad likes about the farm.  No matter what else is going on in the world, at the farm, you can relax your eyes and look out into space. Usually all you see is the horizon, and maybe some feed tires for the cows.

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I like the spacious views, too.  But when we’re hiking I let my dad focus on the big picture while I zoom in on the millions of things that are happening at my feet.  I love the scale, texture, and colors of the farm when I see them close-up.

The plants in the timber get a little freaky.

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When I see a fungus this gnarly hanging out on a tree trunk, I have to think, “Wouldn’t that itch??”  My dad was telling me that the Des Moines Register ran an article a few weeks ago about how native Iowa mushrooms are coming back into vogue as gourmet edibles. (They first became popular with locals during the depression.)

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There’s no way I’d put one of these in my mouth.

On the prairie, there’s a whole soap opera going on in thistle.  The enticing fuschia bud, the thorny stem, the rugged leaves.  I love the drama of it all.

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Not all the plants are so complicated, though.  Lots of the flowers are perfectly friendly, like this amicable white and yellow fellow.

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On this hike, one of my favorite close-up shots took me by surprise.  Dad was fiddling with a gate or something, and I was killing time while I waited to cross the fence.

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I don’t know why, but I had never noticed how lovely a barbed-wire fence can be in the autumn sunlight.

I’m quite sure there’s some kind of metaphor or life lesson hiding in all these images; I know it has to do with patience and perspective and perhaps with my father.  But in all our hiking conversations we never really talk about all that– there’s no need.  Instead we focus on the beauty around us and thank each other for the time we have.

Free for all

In case you haven’t heard, I’m moving into my own place next week.  I am super psyched about having an apartment, but the increase in rent means I will have about $200 less disposable income each month. Luckily I live in Austin, where there are lots of free things to do. These are some of my favorite free things to do in Austin!!

1. Watching the sun set over Ladybird Lake. Thanks to the Austin Trail Foundation, there is a well maintained walking trail around the perimeter of Ladybird Lake.  I love walking a two mile loop in the evening and watching the sun set over the lake.  The trail is dog friendly, so there is always great dog and people watching around the lake, and lots of benches where you can chill.   Bonus: Run Tex provides free water at the Lake Austin entrance to the trail (near their south Austin store) and free trail maps at their website.

Thanks to sprallig on Flikr for the image

Thanks to sprallig on Flikr for the image

2. Eating free samples at Sun Harvest, Central Market, and Whole Foods. Not to sound chintzy, but sometimes I stretch out my weekend grocery shopping to include all three of these awesome stores just so I can maximize my sample-tasting opportunities.  This allows me to purchase everything on special, too!  The Central Market in central Austin (40th & Lamar) always has awesome produce and meat samples between 11 AM and 2 PM on Saturdays, and occasionally they have special events like the Hatch Chile Festival where the samples are even better than usual!  Sun Harvest usually has samples of their prepared foods (chips, cookies, crackers) available on weekends, as does Whole Foods.

3. Looking at art at the Blanton. This is free for UT staff/students/faculty every day, and free for the general public every Thursday.  Every Third Thursday of the month, they have special classes, Yoga, and meet-the-artist sessions which are free to the public. The Blanton is pretty much amazing, especially their collection of modern art and special exhibits.  Here is my favorite painting at the Blanton. Look for it when you visit!

Rock Bottom

4. People watching at First Thursday on South Congress. It’s hard to go to South Congress without shopping at all the cute boutiques, but it is possible! Every first Thursday of the month all the stores on South Congress Avenue stay open until 10 PM; some have free live music and other activities.  There’s inevitably a weird drum circle at the south end of SoCo and a really great vibe on the street.  Lots of hippies, too.  I usually tuck a snack and a bottle of water in my purse to help me fight the urge to buy food along the street.  And whatever you do, DO NOT TAKE CASH to First Thursday.  There are lots of cash-only street vendors who sell adorable jewelry and other handmade goods along SoCo.  Having cash in your pocket makes it nearly impossible to keep this event free-of-charge.

5. Listening to concerts at the Butler School of Music. Almost all concerts at UT’s Butler School of Music are free for BSOM faculty/staff/students, but an enormous number of the school’s events are free for everyone.  There is an event calendar on the school’s website where you can browse upcoming concerts and see which ones have free admission.  Best bets include any doctoral recitals, which are always free to attend and feature professional-level players in most cases.  Other awesome free groups include the UT Trombone Choir, Saxophone Choir, Concert Chorale, Bach Cantata Project, longHORN choir (a French horn ensemble), and the percussion ensemble.

Da Boys, part 3

Our seats for the game were in the top section of the stadium.  Eight rows from the top of the stadium, to be exact.  Even from the cheap seats, the view of the field is unobstructed.  It’s easy to watch the game on the ginormo-tron (bigass television suspended from the ceiling).

Hook 'em Cowboys!This is me during pre-game. I am hooking ’em in support of all the Longhorns playing in the game. For the Cowboys, wide receiver Roy Williams and guard Leonard David.  For the Titans, safety Michael Griffin, fullback Ahmard Hall, super pimp tight end Bo Scaife, and QB Vince Young.

Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders crotch lineWe saw the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders perform their world famous crotch line kick line before the show.

National AnthemThe American Airlines Dallas Cowboys National Anthem (seriously, Jerry Jones sold the naming rights to the national anthem) was sung trumpeted by athem singer trumpeter Adam Rapa. Just for the record, they spelled this guy’s name wrong and called him a singer.  Way to go, Jerry Jones.  I blame you personally.

bored but cute

By the third quarter of the game Katie and I were bored so we started taking pictures of each other.  (It was a preseason game so most of the starters were off the field by then.)  Notice that I was able to wear a sweater in the comfy air-conditioning of the Cowboys Stadium.  Notice also that I did not wear an oversized Cowboys jersey and skanky cut-off shorts to the game.  No cowboy boots, either.  I chose a team-neutral sundress I found on sale for $7 at Ross.

This eyeball brought to you courtesy Jerry JonesBefore the game, Katie and I spent about an hour playing make-up inside a Merle Norman near the stadium.  We were able to park for free at that strip mall if we spent $40 there, so I splurged on some tinted moisturizer, eyeliner, and mascara.  I don’t know if you can tell from this picture, but the lady at Merle Norman did my eye makeup in fuschia and seafoam to match my $7 Ross sundress.  The whole effect was unbelievably tasteful, considering.  I have not been able to replicate it at home.

$15 hotdog and beerDuring the fourth quarter I went to get a hot dog and beer.  It felt good knowing that my hotdog cost $8, and a percentage of the taxes actually went towards paying for the stadium.  The beer was in a plastic bottle and cost $8 too.

Happy family!We had a great time at the game and a nice man took our picture before we left. The Cowboys won, too. All in all a good night.

The End.

Da Boys, part 2

As I mentioned in my earlier post, Cowboys Stadium is gorgeous.

Angles and shadows

The game started at 7:00 PM, so the light played off the building beautifully as we were walking into the stadium.  I’m sure Jerry Jones signed some kind of contract with Jesus to make sure the sky wasn’t overcast that night.

JerryvatorsThis is the inside of entrance “G.”  Jerry Jones hired an artist to paint  large, colorful murals inside the open areas of the stadium.  I was shocked that these murals did not feature any product placement– they seem to serve aesthetic purposes only.  Note the three-story double escalators that take plebians up to the top levels of the stadium.

JerryworldOnce you take the escalator up to your level, you walk through a large concession stand area to get to your seat.  Look at how shiny the floors are! Also note the signage along the back wall of the concession area.  Every one of those are flat screen LCD televisions. Even the advertising on the interior of the stadium is on televisions.

UT Arlington in Cowboys stadiumWho is the wealthy alumni who paid for these UT Arlington advertisements, I wonder?

Pictures of Katie and me plus the playing field coming soon. It’s time for dinner and college football now.

Da Boys, part 1

Yesterday I was reading the internet and I saw that the Dallas Cowboys are worth $1.65 billion, more than any other U.S. sports team.  This shouldn’t surprise anyone who has ever been to a Cowboys game and it certainly didn’t surprise me.

Last month I went with my friend Katie and her parents to the first Cowboys game in the new stadium. The stadium cost $1.15 billion to build and was financed with an increase in sales and hospitality taxes in Arlington, Texas, and over $933 billion in bonds from the city.

Cowboys StadiumAt least it’s pretty.  It is the largest domed stadium in the world, nicknamed Jerryland, (for Jerry Jones, the owner of the Cowboys), and pimped out in every way possible.  Do you see the large, semi-full parking lot behind me? Spots there are only open to season ticket holders and start at $65 per game.

Jerry martThis new Super Wal-mart is directly across the street from the stadium. I think it cost $65 to park in their lot, too.

JerryjohnNot sure how much is cost to use this licensed, Cowboys port-a-potty.  I didn’t ask.

More crazy commercialism and some pictures inside the stadium coming soon… I have to go get ready for work.