Archive | December, 2011

Holiday Gift Favorites

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My hope for you is that you have finished your holiday shopping, but just in case you are in the same panic as my dear friend who called last night, I thought a last minute list of some of my favorite gifts might be helpful.

For the cook in your life, this was a great year for cookbooks.  Two of my favorites are from Southern ladies who have as much gumption as they do skill in the kitchen.  Basic to Brilliant, Y’all from Virginia Willis includes 150 Southern recipes that she has refined and added a twist to so that you can make a “brilliant” version on those days you want to show off or have company.  Virginia has a patient instructor’s approach so that even the novice cook can easily follow and create an amazing dish with her guidance.


Lisa Fain, also known in the blog world as The Homesick Texan, has created a cookbook of her favorite Texas recipes.  When Lisa moved to New York years ago, she couldn’t find the foods she missed from home and she started making the dishes herself.  This cookbook is the perfect gift for the Texan in your life who is far from home or any Texan who wants to learn to cook the traditional dishes of our heritage.

This year was one of learning for me and Kate Payne’s Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking and Kari Underly’s The Art of Beef Cutting have been invaluable in that journey.  The Hip Girl’s Guide has become my go to manual for all of those homemaking techniques that I didn’t learn growing up.  With Kate’s help, I’m becoming a little more DIY and so far I’ve used the guide to salvage a stained bed spread, use and make my own non-toxic cleaning products and cut more of the plastic out of my life.  I can’t wait to tackle canning.
I had the pleasure of seeing Kari Underly butcher at the Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival this Spring and became fascinated with the idea of being able to cut my own meat.  Kari’s book shows you how you can move beyond the traditional cuts we always see in the grocery store or restaurants and how to cook them.  It is the perfect gift for anyone who is meat obsessed.

This year I gifted magazines to many of my friends and family.  A subscription to Edible Austin, and yes I’m biased since I write for them, is a great way to share Austin with your friends who have moved away.  My aunt says it is one of the prettiest magazines she’s ever seen and I agree with her.

One of my friends gave me a subscription to Garden + Gun last year, a magazine that celebrates Southern culture,  and it has quickly become my reason to stalk the mailman.  I devour the issues and can’t wait for the next to arrive.  I was happy to share the magazine this year with some of my friends with deep Southern roots.

Johnson’s Backyard Garden has made it easy to give the gift of local food by offering Farmers Market Bucks that can be used to buy produce at their farm stands and CSA(Community Supported Agriculture) Gift Subscriptions with which the recipient can order 4 or more CSA boxes.  Both gifts are a wonderful way to introduce local food to friends or family who aren’t sure where to start.

You still have one more round of farmers markets on Saturday to find last minute stocking stuffers or gift baskets, although I expect all of the markets will be a little smaller with some vendors and farmers taking off early for the holidays. The Downtown and Sunset Valley markets from the Sustainable Food Center are consolidating and will be at Sunset Valley only (by the Berger Center), and the Barton Creek and Cedar Park Farmers Markets will be in full swing.  I did hear a rumor that Santa might be stopping by the Barton Creek Farmers Market.

I recently stopped by Antonelli’s Cheese to put together a quick basket of local goodies for my family from Wichita Falls.  What better way to share the Christmas spirit than with jars of Confituras preserves, Blue Heron Cajeta and CKC Farms feta.

I’m a big fan of the Blue Avocado shopping and storage bags as a stylish way to avoid the plastic bags at the store.  I love my bags – they are pretty, light weight and clean up easily.

If your friends and family are more diners than cooks, gift cards to a local restaurant are an easy way to help them enjoy the holidays.  Check out my SXSW restaurant guide from earlier this year or the Edible Austin website for ideas on locally sourcing restaurants.

And, of course, don’t forget the charitable gifts.  You can invest in our local food system by donating to one of these fine Texas non-profits who are working to end food insecurity and increase the capacity of local farms, food artisans and chefs: Sustainable Food CenterUrban Roots, Capital Area Food BankUrban Harvest and San Antonio Food Bank.   You can’t go wrong by supporting one of these groups.

Go finish your shopping so you can enjoy your holiday!

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Local Food Lovefest: 2011 Eat Drink Local Week Round Up

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It’s no secret that I was very excited about Edible Austin’s Eat Drink Local Week festivities this year, and Chevy offering me a car for the week only made it better.  The fuel efficient Volt (I got 33 mpg without the use of the electric charge) was a great alternative to my beloved Equinox (averages 21 mpg) for a week of dashing between events in style. Thanks Chevy!

Off road at the farm in the Volt
Chevy Volt at Tecolote Farm

My friend Carla (Austin Urban Gardens) and I kicked off the week with the farm tour.  We skipped the bikes so we could test out the Volt and started at the far end of the tour at Tecolote Farm, one of Austin’s older farms and host to Texas’ first CSA (community supported agriculture) program.  Thank goodness for the GPS on the Volt or we might still be looking for Tecolote which is tucked back behind Decker Lake in Northeast Austin.

Carla and the Tecolote tractor
Carla and her favorite tractor at Tecolote

From Tecolote we headed to Urban Roots, a farm run by a non-profit youth development program, where we got a tour from some of the program’s kids, visited with our friend Kathryn Hutchison from Greenling and found the Chipotle taco truck which was serving up carnitas tacos made with Richardson Farms pork.  The tacos were terrific and I was delighted that a big company like Chipotle is working with local farms.

Urban Roots on the bike tour
Richardson Farms carnitas taco
Chipotle carnitas tacos with Richardson Farms pork
Greenling at Urban Roots 
Our last stop was Haus Bar Farms which supplies eggs, chickens and produce to local restaurants.  We snacked on hearty bison chili from the Thunder Heart Bison: Ranch to Trailer and toured the farm. While the chickens are always fun to visit, it was the donkeys and the goat that really caught our attention that day. 
Carla and the donkeys at Haus Bar Farm
Carla the donkey whisperer
Goat in the hen house
Goat in the hen house
After the farm tour, there was just enough time to freshen up before the pig roast at lovely Springdale Farm. 
Springdale Farm 
The chefs from Whole Foods dug a very impressive pit and had the roasting well under way when we arrived.  The pork was delicious as were the array of side salads from Wheatsville Co-op and the selection of pies and cupcakes.  It was a true feast.
Pig on the pit 
Sunday’s festivities included the coffee and chocolate festival at Texas Coffee Traders.  I enjoyed trying some new blends from local coffee roasters and found a new favorite cold weather beverage with Sip chocolate.  The dark chocolate with sea salt is fantastic and I’m just waiting for the next cold snap to make a cup at home. (I just can’t enjoy hot chocolate when it’s 70 degrees outside.)
Sunday evening I felt very environmentally savvy as I drove the Volt to the State Theater to hear Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson discuss how we can better protect our land and our community.  I was intrigued by Mr. Berry’s discussion about boomers and stickers.  He explained that people typically fall in one of two categories: boomers who take what they want then move on to the next place or stickers who work to preserve what they have, cultivate it and expand it.  I’m embarrassed to say that there was a time in my life where I was clearly a boomer and that I am proud to be resolutely in the sticker category now.  
I was also heartened by Mr. Berry’s response to an audience member’s question about the best policies to implement in our community.  He answered, “It’s not about what the best thing is to do. It’s about what you can do and what you want to do.”  I often find it frustrating that we fight about what’s best and we let that get in the way of making any change.  I appreciated Mr. Berry’s more practical approach and intend to use it as a measure for my own efforts in the year ahead.

Tuesday night, with no events on tap, we treated ourselves to an evening at Barley Swine, one of the participating restaurants featuring locally sourced dishes on their menu.  Again, the GPS on the Volt was invaluable as the sign at Barley Swine is a bit challenging to see. 

Barley Swine’s menu features small plates and they recommend ordering 3 per person.  We decided to skip dessert and order each of the savory dishes to share – 11 dishes in all.  Each dish was innovative, combining familiar ingredients in an unusual way.  The scrambled eggs with broccoli and feta had all the flavors of one of my favorite frittatas, but with the lightness of a salad.  The Eat Drink Local Week special of corn battered pig face with deviled eggs was a playful comforting dish  – like a gourmet corn dog picnic.

Scrambled egg, broccoli, goat feta, pine nutsCorn battered pig face at Barley Swine

Our favorite dish of the night was the scallops with the sweet potato curry.  I really enjoyed how the light spice in the curry brought out the sweetness in the tender scallops.  This was one of those dishes that challenges the idea of shared small plates because I think we all wanted to the entire plate to ourselves.  We managed to mind our manners and share.

Scallops, pork cheek and sweet potato curry at Barley Swine

I rounded out the week buying some gifts at the Better Bites Holiday Fair, enjoying Texas spirits and craft cocktails at Drink Local Night and coordinating Local Brew Fest at Black Star Co-op.  I also enjoyed wonderful local dishes at Asti and Fabi + Rosi
Local Brew Fest was particularly fun for me as I helped in the planning and it was great to see so many of the brewers I had visited with for the Edible Austin article.  I was busy working the event, but I did have a chance to experiment with a new concoction from Austin Eastciders and Circle Brewing.

One of my favorite beer drinks is a Snake Bite, a mix of a stout (usually Guinness) or black lager and cider.  When I tried Austin Eastciders the first time, I began pondering what local beer would be a good match for an Austin Snake Bite.  As it turns out, Circle Brewing is making an Irish Stout and the combination is perfect.  I can’t wait to try it again.

As always, I learned an incredible amount during this Eat Drink Local Week.  Our local food community is growing so fast that there is always something new to celebrate and enjoy.  It’s awfully nice of Edible Austin to plan a week each year to help us explore while also adding to the coffers of the Sustainable Food Center and Urban Roots, two non-profits who are worth the investment.
Thanks to Chevy and Edible Austin for a terrific week!  I have to go take a nap now.

View the entire 2011 Eat Drink Local Week photo set.

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Year of Beer Ends with Local Brew Fest

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I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but at some point this year I started paying significantly more attention to beer.  Maybe it’s because my brother-in-law opened a brewery, Twisted X, or that our entire family planned a trip to Denver for the Great American Beer Festival to see the brewery’s debut on the national stage.

Twisted X Lager

Quite possibly it was during the Oskar Blues field trip to their hops farm outside of Denver.  With the Rocky Mountains in the background and a fantastic farm-to-table brunch spread out in front of us, it was hard to not fall in love with their beer and Dale’s mother who is affectionately called “Ya Ya.”Or, it could have been when I was interviewing local craft brewers for my article in the Winter edition of Edible Austin.  They charmed my socks off with their stories of how they work together to brew better beer.

Oskar Blues Farm in Colorado

However the transformation started, I have found myself paying attention to the taps when I go out and ordering a pint more often.  What better way to celebrate my new found love of the suds than to help coordinate Edible Austin’s Eat Drink Local Week Local Brew Fest this Saturday, December 10th at Black Star Co-op from 1:00-5:00 pm.

2010 Edible Austin Eat Drink Local Week Brew FestPhoto by Dustin Meyer,


Seventeen Texas breweries will be offering two ounce samples of their beer, sake, cider and kombucha while Wheatsville Co-op and selected food vendors serve up nibbles including local cheeses and Red Rabbit donuts.  This morning I heard a rumor of crock pot goat curry from Windy Hill Farms. Yum!  Proceeds from the $20 tickets benefit the Sustainable Food Center and Urban Roots.

I’m so excited about this event that I’m giving away two tickets.  To enter, comment on this post with the name of your favorite Texas craft brew before Friday, December 9th at noon.  I’ll pick a random winner from the comments.

See you at Local Brew Fest!

P.S.   This event drew a big crowd last year.  Buy your tickets online by Friday night to avoid the line at check in.  Also, parking is somewhat limited at the venue so please car pool if you can.

And the winner is: Deathwish Dena!  Edible Austin is adding you and a guest to the Will Call list.  I’ll e-mail you with the details and to get your full name.


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Dining Out Sustainably: Trace

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Trace, the restaurant at the W Austin, is literally named for the importance of knowing the source of your food. Chef Paul Hargrove works with a full-time forager, Valerie Broussard, to find the best products that are raised or made in a humane, responsible way directly from farms, ranches, fishermen and food artisans.

The menu is riddled with farm names from around the country and closer to home like Full Quiver, Dai Due and Springdale Farm. Chef Hargrove changes the menu frequently to showcase the best of these ingredients at the peak of the season.

I’m particularly fond of Trace at lunch time when the space feels open and bright with sunlight pouring in from the large plate windows. The seasonal soups are always spot on and the sandwiches are terrific, especially when paired with the garlic fries.

If you see the Rabbit Club on the menu (not currently in the rotation, but hopefully returning), order it. It’s one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever eaten with a rich rabbit pate paired with crispy bacon. Delicious!

The W has also added a Lunch on the Fly option giving you the choice of a soup or salad and one of three sandwiches so that you can dine well while still accommodating your busy schedule. You can even add on warm doughnuts to go for $4 more.

I highly recommend splurging on dessert while you’re there. (I know, shocking coming from me.) The ice creams and sorbets are divine and worth every calorie.

At Trace, you can relax and enjoy your meal because they are doing the heavy lifting for you, putting together the a fine meal made with the best ingredients they can trace to the source.

During Edible Austin’s Eat Drink Local Week (December 3-10, 2011), Trace will be featuring a Texas redfish dish and a grapefruit tart with a portion of the proceeds benefitting the Sustainable Food Center and Urban Roots. Sounds like a good excuse to visit Trace and do some good.

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