Tag Archives: Austin

Sun Gold Tomatoes

Sun Gold Tomatoes

At first I thought I’d make a pasta salad with these sun gold tomatoes from Tecolote Farm. Then I ate one. And another one. And other one. And soon they were all gone.

CAFB Hunger Awareness Challenge: A Follow Up

A few weeks ago I shared some snack recipes as part of the Austin Food Blogger Alliance Hunger Awareness Blog Project benefiting the Capital Area Food Bank (CAFB). I promised a three-part series in that first post, and I didn’t deliver. This is just post number two, and I’m way past the deadline. Sorry about that. I’ve stewed about this for weeks now, and I wasn’t ready to share this piece until today.

Before I embarked on the AFBA Hunger Challenge, I assumed that poor people shopped at grocery stores because they didn’t know about farmer’s markets. And that they didn’t cook from scratch because they were lazy. (I am crying as I write this because it is mortifying to admit how judgmental and naïve I was.) Lucky for me, the staff at CAFB used this challenge to teach the facts about the real face of hunger. For example, over 80% of CAFB beneficiaries are not homeless, and many are children. I also learned that nearly 50% of Americans will be on food assistance at some point in their lives, many because of circumstances beyond their control.

Through my research of the SNAP (food stamp) application process I discovered that my husband and I are just a few thousand dollars above the annual income threshold for food stamps. And if we chose to have children now, we would definitely need government assistance to help feed our family.

I’m ashamed to admit that I never used to think that someone on food stamps could be just like me, but now I know better. People in poverty aren’t stupid and they don’t need my advice. They do need support from their communities–including access to clean, healthy food– to succeed against the odds which are often stacked against them.

I originally intended to write for this challenge about how SNAP clients could use food stamps to buy safe, healthy foods from local farmers via community supported agriculture (CSAs). In the CSA model, local farmers deliver baskets of affordable, healthy food directly to consumers. There’s no middle man, so prices for CSA produce are often lower than those for equivalent products at grocery stores. The neighborhood delivery part of CSAs helps end food deserts, and CSAs benefit local economies by keeping food dollars close to home.

CSAs seem like a no-brainer solution in the fight against hunger, and according to the USDA, “many SNAP licensed firms have incorporated CSAs into their business portfolios.” However, not a single CSA program I contacted in the CAFB service area accepts food stamps as payment. (I reached out to thirteen farms and local organic delivery services and counting.) When I asked Greenling Organic Delivery, the CSA-type business that sponsors my blog, whether they plan to expand their payment options to include SNAP benefits, they said “not at this time.” I was tearful and angry after that phone call, and it has taken me over a month to work up the courage to talk about it publicly.* Hopefully I won’t lose them as a sponsor if they read this post.

When I called to talk with farmers about their CSAs and food stamps, I simply asked whether or not they would accept SNAP benefits as payment. Now I’d like to ask “why not?” As it stands, this is a glaring inequity in our local food supply. I am lucky to have the means to eat well. Much of the focus of my blog– eating good food made with local ingredients– is born out of my privilege. As I become aware of this, my thinking about food and hunger changes.

The poor do have a personal responsibility in eliminating hunger, but so does the community. As part of Austin’s food community, we food bloggers must acknowledge barriers that stand between healthy, local foods and families in poverty. We need to demand fair policy from our politicians and fair treatment from our food producers so that everyone in Central Texas can eat as well as we do.

*Edited 6/8/11 to add: Since I first published this post, Mason Arnold, the founder and owner of Greenling, left a comment to explain that no vendors can accept SNAP payments online. That restriction knocks out Greenling and most of the other large CSA and CSA-type businesses in Austin, who accept payments (either monthly or weekly) via credit card over the internet. 

Lisa Goddard, a staff person at CAFB, sent me a lengthy email with lots of information about the barriers that exist for non-grocery stores to accept SNAP payments. They are numerous, and much more complex than my initial research lead me to believe.

I  hope to write additional posts that explore the relationship between poverty and access to local food. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission has not yet returned my calls requesting information about this issue, so I really appreciate Mason and Lisa’s input as I continue my research. Thank you, Mason and Lisa! 

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

Picnic at Northwest District Park

Picnic Food

Rami and I stayed close to home for this weekend’s picnic, at Northwest District Park in the Shoal Creek neighborhood of Austin. This park is one of my favorites in the city, and it’s the perfect place for families to hang out on Memorial Day Weekend.

Northwest District Park Sign

Northwest District Park has lots of picnic tables, a pool, a pond, basketball courts, and a large playground. It’s a huge park, with two entrances: one on the east side of the park at 7000 Ardath Street, and another on the west side of the park at Shoal Creek Blvd. between Dover and Pinecrest Blvd. The park has many grassy lawns and paved walking areas shaded by tall trees.

One of the best things about picnicking at Northwest District Park is its abundance of picnic areas. Like many of Austin’s parks, Northwest has three large, reservable picnic areas with many tables. However, it also has several more secluded picnic tables tucked around the park.

 

We chose this one to set up our picnic since it was situated in the shade of a pecan tree and overlooked the playground.

Our menu for this picnic was our favorite yet.

  • Mint sun-tea from Zhi Tea: fill a large mason jar with water and add two teaspoons of tea for each six ounces of water. (I used a large tea filter like this to hold the loose tea.)
  • Peanutty Carrot Tea Sandwiches: these are a wonderful alternative to plain PB&J. We skipped the raisins and used Confituras marmalade in the recipe. Yum!
  • Corn Radish Salad with Jalapeno Dressing An awesome spicy salad that uses radishes! I’m going to play with this recipe again for next week’s picnic since we enjoyed it so much.
  • Strawberries and Blackberries: sadly, local strawberries are gone for the season, but the blackberries from Wheeler Farm were super sweet!
  • Summer squash bread with beet-pecan sandwich spread.
I loved the corn radish salad and the blackberries. Rami’s favorite thing was the peanutty-carrot sandwich spread and the iced tea. And see the mint leaves garnishing the berries?? I grew those in a flower-pot outside my house! 😀

One thing that’s not coming across in these pictures is the ridiculous number of bugs swarming around us and our food. I got 13 mosquito bites while I was plating the food and taking this picture!

Because of all the bugs, Rami and I ate in record time and hightailed it outta the park. We spotted an egret at the pond as we left, just before the sun set.

Picnic at Montopolis Youth Sports Complex

The second weekend in our picnic adventure took Rami, Barclay and me to far east Austin. We stumbled upon the Montopolis Youth Sports Complex when we were looking for Roy G. Guerrero Colorado River Park on Saturday night.

After a jaunt east on Airport Boulevard from I-35 and a winding drive through the Montopolis neighborhood, Rami and I found ourselves at 400 Grove Boulevard, the address registered with Google Maps for Guerrero Park.There is a parking lot and some trailheads that lead into Guerrero Park at that address, but the more obvious landmark there is this lovely sports area. Montopolis Youth Sports Complex has a few baseball fields with concession stands and bleachers, a batting cage and a small playground. We counted six picnic tables at the park, situated near trash cans at the edges of each playing field.

There are lots of tall trees at the park, and most of the recreation areas around the baseball fields are in full or partial shade. It’s obvious from the manicured lawns and clean trails that the Montopolis Sports Complex is well cared for, and it’s probably very busy during baseball, softball and tee-ball seasons. However, Rami and Barclay and I were the only souls there at dinner time on Saturday night. The solitude at the park was great! We enjoyed our whole meal uninterrupted and Barclay was able to run around on his long lead and explore the park.

The menu for this week’s picnic featured tons of local veggies in various salad preparations. We were gluten free except for some pita bread and vegan, since I forgot my bacon-laden potato salad at home:

These salads were a really easy picnic menu since I was able to make most of them ahead of time during the week. I don’t know what I was thinking packing pickled beets on a picnic. They taste awesome, but the magenta beet juice threatened to stain our orange picnic blanket with every bite! Rami did a smart thing and packed a few paper napkins so that we could wipe down our dirty plates before we packed up to head home.

The wax beans and green beans from Acadian and Tecolote Farms were the standout ingredients in this week’s picnic. I used these fresh treasures in place of canned green beans in my favorite four bean salad recipe.

Four Bean Salad (serves 6)
One bunch fresh green beans
One bunch fresh wax (yellow) beans
15 oz. can garbanzo beans
15 oz. can kidney beans
Two green bell peppers, seeded and ribbed
Red or purple onion
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup red wine or cider vinegar
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/2 white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper

Preparation: trim ends off of green and yellow beans, then snap beans into bite-sized pieces.Bring a scant inch of salted water to a boil in a large saute pan. Add fresh beans, cover and cook for about five minutes, until beans are tender. Drain the beans and set aside to cool. Meanwhile, open and drain canned beans. Chop the bell peppers and onion into small pieces.  In a small bowl, whisk together oils, vinegars, sugar, salt and pepper. Put all the beans, onion and pepper into a large salad bowl and pour dressing over the top. Cover and refrigerate overnight before serving.

This post is sponsored by Greenling Organic Delivery and appears on their blog “Eating Out of the Local Box.”

#12: Antonelli’s Cheese Shop

If you live in Austin, you owe it to yourself to stop by Antonelli’s to try some of the fantastic cheeses that they offer. This particular cheese-cupcake is made of Havarti from Brazos Valley Cheese in Waco, Texas. Antonelli’s is a big supporter of the Central Texas food economy, and besides cheese, they carry various olives and charcuterie and lots of other goodies. They are located near Quack’s Bakery and Asti in the heart of Hyde Park and recently celebrated the first anniversary of their business. Happy (belated) First Birthday, Antonelli’s Cheese Shop!!

On a side note, Liz Love and I actually took this outfit picture much earlier in the challenge, but I haven’t been well enough to edit the image and post it until today. I’m feeling tip top now and posting should resume as usual this week. Sorry for my absence!

#10: Mueller Park

Photo Credit: Liz Love