Friday, April 30, 2010

Dude food

Interviewer: What do you think about the El Nino phenomenon?
Bridget Jones: It's a blip. Latin music's on its way out.

Bridget Jones is one of my favorite single women of the screen. My friend Em is one of my favorite single women on earth -- but not for long!

In a few short hours, I'm headed to the Texas Hill Country with about a dozen girls to celebrate Em's last few months of being single. I take full credit for suggesting the dude-ranch-bachelorette-weekend-getaway thing to Em. She and her sister scoured the hill country for a cabin that can accommodate each of us for $99 per day, including three square meals a day.

I expect a lot of home cookin', which I may or may not work off by horseback riding, two-stepping or swimming. And by swimming, of course, I mean taking a nap by the pool.

Expect my next post on Monday. Likely to include some sort of fruit cobbler and possibly a fried protein swimming in gravy.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Cheap Date


I hate using them, especially in slightly more upscale establishments. They make me feel a little too squirrely, and dare I say a little too Jewish. But I'm getting over that quickly. Restaurants put them out there to be used, right?

Recently, for a mere $21, we procured coupons to 7 restaurants at $25 apiece. That's $175 in restaurant money for the price of $21.

We used one at Buenos Aires Cafe a couple of weeks ago, but the restaurant was too dark for iPhone photos and I was too lazy for a post. We had two dinner entrees and my favorite Argentinian dessert, and our total with a generous tip came to $19. (I'll post in the future on BAC, because I'm sure to return many times. Hint: My review will likely be positive.)

We used a second coupon last night at Cipollina West Austin Bistro. I've always adored this little spot -- because it is completely and utterly, well, adorable -- but the coupons are going to spoil me rotten.

Last night at Cipollina, we shared calamari and two entrees: pizza and duck confit.

The calamari was stand out -- sturdy breading, aioli with a tang, and fresh herbs sprinkled on top.

A little about the duck confit. At $17, it might be a couple of bucks overpriced because though it was billed as a duck confit entree, it's a salad. A tasty, well-seasoned arugula salad with pickled onions and some shredded confit duck on top. The fantastically pan fried gnocchi that came with it were some of the best I've had in Austin - not a stretch given that my demographically-stunted city is short on Italian spots in general - but we wanted a bit more. Come on, Cipollina, if you're going to skimp on the duck, then consider throwing in a few more gnocchi. It's water and flour, for cryin' out loud. Overall, despite my whining, it was a lovely dish. Made more lovely by previously discussed coupon. (Note: we did pick off a few gnochhi before the photo below was taken. One of these days, I'll become accustomed to whipping out the iPhone camera before taking even a bite!)

Now let's talk about the pizza. I've always liked the pizza at Cipollina, and I'm so glad we ordered outside the box with a roasted kale, preserved meyer lemon and goat cheese pizza. It was gooood. I expected the tangy meyer lemon and tangy goat cheese to have some sort of double-negative effect, but the combination was nothing short of genius. This very good pizza would've been great if they hadn't brought it to the table half-burned. Maybe it was only 40% burned; I'm willing to be fair here. You can judge for yourself in the photos below.

Our meal with applied coupon came to $27. One appetizer, two entrees (or a salad and an entree), and one beer for $27. A very good deal. But to paraphrase my thoughtful date, we would've felt gypped if we'd paid an extra $25.

Our coupon spree continued after dinner and a stroll around the Clarksville neighborhood and quick stops to admire Treaty Oak and Things We Can't Afford on our way to Amy's.

I've complained about Amy's in the past, but to be fair, I was complaining mostly about the Burnet location. I think their Mexican vanilla is highly overrated but their Darth Chocolate is the bomb.

We had a few coupons courtesy of Mike's realtor, and I took a road less traveled, combining the dark chocolate ice cream with a creamy cheesecake ice cream and topping the whole thing off with hot fudge.

Viva le Coupon!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


I don't know how long this is going to continue. I mean, things are actually growing in the garden. Plants that came in small square plastic containers were put in the ground mere weeks ago, and they are thriving. They're triple and quadruple in size. We might actually be getting some nourishment from them soon. The cilantro's ready to go, and I find myself wondering if there are recipes out there for cilantro and red chard.

This is insanity. I'm not sure we'll be able to stop this.

I no longer have to choose between sushi and cable

My sister carted me around to a doctor's appointment yesterday and we stopped off for lunch afterwards at a How Do You Roll? sushi bar, several miles north of my office. My lil' sis introduced me to this place a couple of months ago, and this was my third time back. (There was a fourth attempt but long lines landed me at the chicken place next door.)

There are long lines for a reason. This sushi is fresh, affordable and perfectly customized - you pick your own roll ingredients, right down to the seaweed v. soy bean wrap. You even get to pick your own sauces, and you can double up as I like to do. We ate a healthy amount of sushi and she had miso soup for a mere $19 - that's $9.50 per person! For sushi! And plenty of it!

Our lunch would have easily cost $15 but we upgraded one of the rolls by adding scallops on top and trying soy bean paper. (I'm glad we tried it but I prefer traditional seaweed.)

This was so good I'd be going back for more today if I didn't have lunch plans downtown.

Featured below are the two rolls we shared. The first is the soy bean wrap filled with rice, tuna, sprouts, cucumber and cream cheese. We topped it with scallops and spicy mayo sauce. The second is my go-to roll: seaweed wrap with rice, salmon, cream cheese, cucumber and avocado, topped with unagi (eel) sauce and spicy mayo.

Monday, April 26, 2010


Wharton, Texas.

An unexpectedly beautiful place. (Perhaps more so in April than August?)

We spent a sunny afternoon in Wharton this past Saturday, and Hinze's was a must-stop upon arrival. I wasn't feeling too well (tummy issues from the previous night's dinner of spicy green curry cocunut soup), and I don't believe I was able to appreciate Hinze's in all its glory. But I did manage to eat most of my plate and sample some of Mike's.

The pork ribs (my fall-back position at most BBQ places) were well seasoned and meaty, the sausage had exactly the right amount of spice, and I've never had such good green beans. Green beans often look sad and brown; these were plump -- and green. I'm also glad it wasn't all-you-can-eat because I could've had three or four servings of the fresh-from-the-fryer fried okra. Mike clearly knew what he was doing when he ordered a double side of bacon and onion potatoes; I've never used the word 'pillowy' to describe potatoes, but these were just that. They were almost as pillowy as the slice of homemade bread you get with each plate. (If I'd been thinking straight, I would have asked if I could purchase a loaf.) Perhaps the only negative was a slightly dry brisket.

I don't fault Hinze's for dry brisket. I've had moist brisket maybe twice in my life. That's my main beef with most brisket - it's always dry - which is why I never order it at BBQ places. I'll stick to my ribs.

Sunday morning in Houston

Breakfast on the patio at Cathy's, just hours before Hollis' wedding.

Kerbey Lane pancake mix (I'm not a Kerbey fan but these were delish; who knew?)
Magic bacon (bacon roasted with brown sugar + red pepper flakes)

I'm sad we didn't think to take pictures of Cathy's garden and patio because it's one of my Happy Places. (Though I did steal the snapshot of the vine below from her Facebook page.) I'm glad Mike got to see her home and spend some time with her. My dear friend is such a great hostess; I'm lucky I've got a home-away-from-home in Houston.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Royal birthday dinner, part I

We'll be in Australia visiting Mike's family and exploring Melbourne and the Victoria region next month. We're spending one night and having one meal at the Royal Mail Hotel as my birthday conveniently falls at the halfway point of our vacation. Anthony Bourdain has raved about this place and just a few months ago, watching 'No Reservations,' I told Mike I wanted to go there someday.

Someday arrives May 21.

When we called to make our reservations (Bourdain may need no reservations but we called ahead), we were told dinner would take 3.5 hours.

Here's the menu omnivore:

sardine on toast
pork sandwich
heirloom tomato, different basils
pacific oyster, snow pea, grapefruit, marine essence
southern rock lobster, prosciutto, sea lettuce, quinoa
egg yolk, toasted rye, legumes, yeast
pine mushroom and scallop, hints of autumn
menu omnivore
eel, beef tendon, kohl rabi, potato
lamb, eggplant in white miso, pine nut, chlorophyll
rhubarb, licorice, almond, citrus
fresh and dried berries, beetroot, black olive, rose
pistachio, hazelnut, honeycomb, chocolate

This woman is my hero

I was hunting the web for a cookie recipe for my gluten-free neighbor a couple of years ago. It was a thank-you batch for watching my dog. I found the recipe through Gluten-Free Girl. Today's post has cemented my admiration for Shauna. Mostly because I could relate to this more than anything I've read in a long time. Our lives are vastly different, but there are nuggets throughout this piece I could easily claim as my own. A few of my favorites:

My oncologist told me, directly: you must exercise. Every one of us should. "Daily exercise is the other pill you have to take. Studies have shown it has a much bigger effect on diminishing the risk of cancer than any diet. Do it." My other doctor told me that studies have shown that people with higher body mass index who exercise are in much better shape, and at lower risk of developing cancer and heart disease, than those with lower BMIs who don't move. I'm already in good health — my blood pressure is consistently ideal — but I could be healthier.

So I'm moving. I'm doing the Couch Potato to 5k program, walking and running in this gradual process, three times a week. To my utter surprise, I love it. I love leaving the house with the headphones on, walking down our street to see Mt. Rainier, being washed with the smell of lilacs by that one bush, then entering the forest trail to move my body. Our lives are busy. I work from home. I'm the mother of a toddler without any childcare. I don't have much time to myself. Feeling my feet on the dirt is one of the best parts of my day. Breaking a sweat and feeling the muscles in my legs grow strong makes me much happier than that second piece of cake ever could.


I'm out in the garden every afternoon with Lu. That doesn't feel like exercise, but I'm moving my shoulders and bending my back and growing more limber by the day. There's a funny stubborn place when I'm not exercising, a place that makes it seem so impossibly hard to do. And then, when I start, that stubborn place softens, then disappears. I start to love it. And I wonder how I ever went without it.

We're growing some food in our garden. Those are the first pea shoots and fava bean seedlings I thinned yesterday. We've already planted lettuce and arugula, spinach, bush beans, carrots, red cabbage, chard, lacinato kale, tomatoes, summer squash, plus lots of herbs. We have plans for much more in May. Every morning, I go out to the garden to see what has risen. It's all green and growing. We'll be eating our share of vegetables, plus the raspberries from the 20 thriving canes along the fence. It will easier to eat healthier with this.

I've been very inspired by my friend Megan's piece about losing 25 pounds in one year, which she wrote on her blog Not Martha. She articulated how I feel about diets better than I could:

"The bits involving food slowly sorted out into simply eating in moderation. Previously I had tried low carb diets and counting calories or keeping track of what I'd eaten in a day. And you know what? All that being aware of food all day drove me crazy. The result was that I grew resentful and obsessive and felt hungry all the time. And then I would eat a whole bag of Doritos. So instead I decided to try to just not think about all that hard. I ate more carefully, more kale less Annie's Mac and Cheese, and smaller meals with more snacks. I started eating breakfast, something I'm not inclined towards, to keep my metabolism going. Slowly I learned how long it takes for me to get rid of sugar cravings (two weeks), and that bagged baby carrots make me ill, and that I really like farro and kale, and that a little bit of olive oil used to cook a meal makes it far more satisfying than when using one of those olive oil mister things. I cut down on sugar and white flour and beer and eventually started avoiding those things knowing that they would only make me hungry later. Apples and almonds and light Baybell cheeses are surprisingly satisfying snacks, a mug of green tea in the afternoon helps a lot. I ate more carefully during the week and less on the weekends."


When I remember to put my fork down on the plate between bites, I feel a difference.

I'm still going to live in food. This is my passion, my joy, my shared work with Danny. I'm just trying to find a new relationship with food in this, a different way of being with it. I'm very much interested in reading Melissa Clark's book, The Skinny: How to Fit into Your Little Black Dress Forever. I stayed away from it because of the title. (I will never be a size 2. I laughed out loud when a doctor told me a few years ago that I actually do have big bones.) But now that I look at it more closely, I see that she has written a guide for living a life of eating well and often while still being mindful.

It's being mindful that matters.


I commented on her blog for the first time today. I told her that I was glad she felt the need to write what she did, because I needed to read it today. And I thanked her.

smaller meals

Lunch #1 @ noon - Jos on south Congress. Green side salad with jicama, carrots, toasted black sesame seeds and green goddess dressing.
Lunch #2 @ 2:00pm - six piece Philly roll*

*I was so hungry after lunch #1 that I devoured #2 before I could take a picture. But trust me, it was everything you could want in a $5 sushi roll from the basement deli of an office building.

Asian Market Goods

Mike works near Austin's largest Asian market, where you can get a couple dozen plump shitake mushrooms for about two bucks and bok choy is a dollar a pound. He pops in on his lunch break every so often and leaves with about $12 of vegetables, which can last for days.

This was the second attempt at a stirfry boasting a few basic ingredients - noodles, bok choy, mushrooms and onions. We've got the sauce and veggies mastered, but this time around we didn't have the exact kind of noodle we were looking for. These rice stick noodles were good, but I'm longing for the plump, crystal-clear ones we found at the market near my favorite restaurant, Asia Cafe.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Grill + deck + late April weather

How many things can you put on the fire while it's still hot enough to cook food?

Last night, Mike started with chicken thighs marinated in chili oil, yellow onions and bananas. We realized we had a NY strip in the fridge, one bolillo leftover from Sunday's potluck, a large can of black beans and some whole canned tomatoes. This hodgepodge smorgasbord* resulted in a delicious, all-grilled dinner (except for the creamy, decadent, on-the-verge-of-expiration creme fraiche we bought a couple of months ago from Antonelli's).

We used the creme fraiche on both the black bean-tomato reduction 'soup' and the grilled bananas. Our meal was almost better than the Mars gazing we did after dinner.

*Yes, yes, that is a lot of food. But stop judging; we had leftovers.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Lunch at home

I'm on a bit of a food-spending hiatus at the moment. It will be short-lived -- I'm trying not to spend money eating out, few exceptions, until we get to Australia on May 12. If I see the kind of savings I expect to see, I'm going to get into the habit of semi-regular spending hiatuses, especially when it comes to dining out.

So I've got a new rule. If I catch myself thinking about tacos on my way home, or wanting to try a new restaurant for lunch, I simply remind myself that I've got a pantry and fridge full of food at home and I redirect my focus. If I don't have fresh veggies or a protein, I'll stop and pick some up. But I'm mostly focused on clearing out some fridge and pantry items before they end up in the garbage.

Today's lunch was a plate of roasted greens from our CSA share with Jodi and Adam, and a white cheddar quesadilla. Quick, easy, cheap, mostly healthy. I'm good with it.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Hot Pink

This dish isn't pho, but it's from a restaurant called Pho Thaison, just a few blocks from my office.

My former boss introduced me to it, and ever since, it's the only thing I order. I have tried the actual pho at Pho, but only because companions like my sister don't mind sharing.

The Singaporean shrimp consists of three simple ingredients - vermicelli noodles, shrimp and broccoli. The noodles are served plain and warm in a bowl. The shrimp and broccoli come on a separate plate - and they are drowning in spicy red chili oil with bits of scallion floating throughout. I have a very simple method that involves pouring my red hot chili oil shrimp and broccoli into the bowl of warm noodles. I make sure I scrape off every last bit of chili oil and chili bits. (I guess technically all that chili oil qualifies are a fourth ingredient.)

What you end up with is a big plate of hot pink food. (The color is hot pink, and it's spicy hot, too.) It isn't a pretty sight. But it's crunchy and soft and silky and so-very-spicy-yummy. And not all that bad for you if you discount all that oil.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Little Deli and Pizza

So glad Jodi had a low-key birthday last year at Little Deli and Pizza. I might have never found this gem on my own. Mike and I finally went back last weekend, a full 6 months later, and shared the Special White Pizza with ricotta, mozzarella, roasted garlic, olive oil, artichokes and spinach. It was damn near perfect, and definitely one of the best pizzas I've had in Austin.

Ah. Much Better.

I finally popped in to Tasty Healthy Meals, a fairly new addition on south Lamar near the Whole Foods headquarters. The signage is bright and welcoming, and I often drive past them while I'm running errands on my lunch break. I especially like the two signs out front: "Turn Right."
"To Eat Right."

Here's a quick review of my Tasty Healthy Meal:

It sure was Healthy. They've got some work to do on the Tasty.

Then there's the fact that my lunch cost $8.65. (I suppose Tasty Healthy Pricey Meals doesn't have the same ring to it.) And sure, $9 isn't horrific, but I know I could spend that much on the exact same ingredients and get two or three meals of out them.

I understand the niche they're after: people with money who don't like to cook. And that just ain't me. I did appreciate the variety of options they offer, and all of the nutritional content on the label was a very nice touch. I walked out with some great ideas for my next few home-cooked meals. Time to hit the new 100,000+ square-foot H-E-B in my hood.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Light* 'n' Healthy?

"I want to eat light 'n' healthy this time of year." -- Me. Last week.

Oh, fine, I know what I said. But sometimes, a girl needs a donut.

Last night, my sister and roommate joined me and Mike for a 4.25-mile walk around Austin's beautiful Lady Bird Lake. (No disrespect to our former First Lady, but I'll always refer to it as Town Lake.) We had plans to meet friends for dinner at Gourdoughs -- an unfortunate destination for those seeking light 'n' healthy fare.

Gourdough's is one of the newer food trailers in Austin, specializing in donuts -- donuts like you've never had before. Mike and I had been there once before last night, just a few weeks ago. We forgot to capture the "Funky Monkey" at the time. The Funky Monkey is a donut topped with brown sugar, grilled bananas and cream cheese frosting. I was impressed with the quality of the donut (which tastes a lot like a funnel cake), the quality of the frosting and even the amount of caramelization on the banana slices; they aren't fooling around at Gourdough's.

Last night, I had my heart set on another Funky Monkey, but I'm glad I was with someone with a more adventurous palate. Mike and I agreed to split a savory and a sweet, finally settling on the Mother Clucker - a donut topped with fried chicken and honey butter - and the Dirty Berry - a donut topped with chocolate frosting and grilled strawberries. Both were pretty stellar, though I'd swap out the honey butter on the Mother Clucker for some maple syrup. It was a little too much butter flavor, and not enough honey. (Don't get used to me complaining about too much butter flavor; it is so rare that I just looked outside my office window, and a few pigs have taken flight.)

Somehow, my sister managed to get an extra donut on the house, and though it was probably my least favorite of the five I've sampled, The Puddin' didn't disappoint. The Puddin' is cream filled and topped with cream cheese frosting, bananas, and vanilla wafers. (The fifth sample was the Mama's Cake, a donut topped with chocolate fudge icing and then drizzled with yellow cake batter. GENIUS.)

I've heard so many people rave about Gordough's, but they always mention how rich, or dense, or overly sweet the donuts are. Many people say they can only eat half of a donut. "Ooooh, they're really good but just too much." Huh? Not the case with me. It's not a weekly dinner destination, mind you, but it's so different and unique, such a treat. I will make myself eat a light lunch and work out before I go back, but make no mistake about it -- I'm goin' back.

Maybe I'll head back this summer after a long swim at Barton Springs. I've got my eye on the Blackout and the Miss Shortcake - check out some of the Yelp photos.

*They might not be healthy, but donuts could be considered light.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Mixin' It Up*

The mixmix bibimbop at Koriente in downtown Austin is among the most comforting, filling, healthy meals for under $10 you can find in this town. It's actually $6, though I pay a little extra, as I'm wont to do, for the avocado. Free salad, free miso and free lemon water are a great little bonus. So is their cozy interior and back outdoor patio on days like today. Partly cloudy, warm and breezy.

I met my sis and a good friend - both of whom are unemployed** - for a leisurely lunch on this mid-April Friday. This is the time of year when I'm most likely to shed pounds, mainly because dishes like the mixmix bibimbop actually sound good. I want to eat light 'n' healthy this time of year. And if I don't lose some weight between April and August, I have a lot less hope for the rest of the year.

Koriente's mixmix comes with warm rice, fresh red peppers, purple and white cabbage, salad spring mix, shredded carrots and slivers of cucumber. I use a combination of their house salad dressing and a spicy red Sriracha-like sauce that might rival Huebscher's, though I have only dreamt of hers and have done no actual sampling.

Toss it all together into a jumbled, healthy mess of veggies. What's not to love?

I love Koriente for many reasons but the origins of this place have a lot to do with that -- love, that is. Check out the message painted at the back entrance. I couldn't say it better.

*Thanks, Stewie.
**This was also my little sister's first of many celebratory lunches. She got a new job today! She starts May 4, so the little bugger gets three more weeks off.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Franklin Chopped Beef

When I got there at 2:00 PM on Saturday, the most popular centrally located BBQ trailer in town was out of their famed brisket. And sausage. And ribs. And potato salad. And beans.

I was all set to order a chopped beef sandwich and a pulled pork sandwich. But after 15 minutes in line, they were out of the pulled pork, too. Two chopped beef sandwiches to go, I guess.

Of all of the offerings at Franklin Barbecue, the chopped beef sandwich would have been the last on my list. But I was hungry, Mike was waiting, and the proprietor was practically giving them away at $2 apiece with a pint of coleslaw on the house -- er, trailer.

Walking back to my car, I was giddy. I love a good bargain -- even if the chopped beef wasn't my first choice. But after taking my first bite, I realized I'd have happily paid full price for these babies. If these are the dregs, I can't wait to go back and try the stuff they're actually known for.