Category Archives: food

Farewell, Austin

IMG_1685(written from the Embassy Suites on Congress Avenue in Austin, TX on August 20, 2015)

Hi, I need to order four pies.
Beat.
Yes, pizza pies. 2 pepperoni and 2 regular.
Beat.
Yes, 2 with pepperoni and 2 with just cheese.

My husband called our local pizzeria to buy lunch for our moving guys. His clarifications reminded me that yep, I’m actually not a Texan. I’m not from Austin. I order “pies” at a pizza place. Why do I need to explain further? I’m not calling a bakery. I also stand “on line,” not “in line”–but that regional language irregularity justifiably needs correcting. You’re reading this online. Or if you’re on Long Island and standing in a queue, maybe you’re reading this post “online while on line.”

Okay, get to the point. It’s 7 am and I’m in a hotel room with my littles before we drive to Dallas to meet C.K. So I’m groggy. The point is—these jarring moments remind me that I’m not actually from Austin. And it’s unsettling because most of the time I walk around considering Austin my home. In fact, it’s where I’ve felt the most “at home” as an adult. Apologies to New York where my heart still beats a little quicker. And no apologies to Los Angeles because it’s the hellmouth.

Why Austin has such a strong hold on me? Why do I (and so many others) feel so comfortable in the city’s embrace? The answer is summed up in two phrases. The first is from a volunteer coordinator at my church. While presenting on Mobile Loaves and Fishes, a charity that rehabs roach coaches and stocks them with food daily to drive around and feed the poor, Bob remarked of the charity’s founder, “Bring anything to him. Any stupid idea. And he’ll hear you out and try your idea.” That may seem a little condescending but I assure you it wasn’t meant IMG_1648that way. There’s an openness to MLF’s structure that can been seen in many organizations around town, both charitable and for-profit. Austin is a place where you’ll be heard, your ideas won’t get shot down, your thoughts are valued. Any. stupid. idea.

I heard the second phrase before we moved to Austin in 2013. A friend from New York, Sarah, told me repeatedly that I’d really like Austin, that I’d be happy there. I thought it odd—we hadn’t been friends for too long when she told me that. Maybe she was just well-wishing since she knew moving to a brand new place with a 3.5yo would be traumatic no matter what. “Austin is a very come as you are city. You’ll really like it,” she smiled sweetly as we watched our sons play at the local community center. And she was right. And the phrase “come as you are” is the best way I can think to describe this amazing place. Granted, sometimes come as you are means not shaving your legs or armpits at the hippy-dippy Bouldin Creek Cafe. Granted, sometimes come as you are means arriving to a posh club on a segue in a nerdy T-shirt. Or looking like you just failed a urine test with your patrol officer but you’re really a tech shot caller.

But it’s true. Austin accepts you as you are. There is no uniformity to how people look in the city. And that come as you are attitude permeates everything. I believe it’s why my husband has flourished at Chaotic Moon, a company that doesn’t just pay lip service to innovation–they innovate again and again. I think it’s why I was immediately asked to serve on the board at Jackson’s school. (Imagine that happening in Westchester County? Never. Unless, Mama gets out the checkbook early on.) I think it’s why Women’s Storybook Project trusted me to pitch to the New York Times. Austin makes the fact that you’re creative a good thing. It’s something to explore, not ignore.

IMG_3622So I love this place. My children love this place. My husband loves it here. My sister moved here. She loves this place. My New Yorker parents who are the poster children for townies, love this place. That’s because it’s easy to love. But they better expand Mopac soon because word is really getting around. #understatement

So good bye, bats under the Congress Ave bridge.
Good bye, Zilker Park.
Good bye, food trucks.
Good bye, hipsters and vegans and other types I can’t stand.

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Christmas Reflection

Dec. 27th…

This may turn into a 2014 reflection. In which case, I apologize in advance for the long-windedness and waxing sentimentality. This post will also be rambling and slightly incoherent. It’s 6:02 here in Austin. I’ve been up since 4:09 when my 4yo Jackson busted in our room in tears because he had a bad dream. Zombies again, I think. At 4:34, my 11-month-old dragon baby stood yelling at the corner of her crib and pointing at the red lights on the dropcam. On the monitor itself, Darcy looked like she was pointing at me, eyes glowing fluorescently with camera’s night vision. So I can’t promise anything too profound in this barely caffeinated state. Perhaps “reflection” was a bit of a reach.

So…reflecting on Christmas. This was something I tried in vain to do on December 25th but with all the cooking, cleaning, unwrapping, playing, talking, drinking…well, you know how it goes.

For the second year now, I hosted Christmas. This was something I’ve always wanted to do, even before kids, even before marriage. I alway envisioned my fully decorated home filled with good people, good smells of food cooking, and lots of laughter. That tableau is the Norman Rockwell version.

The saner among us (perhaps those who have hosted Christmas before) know that hosting Christmas is not all its cracked up to be. It is an endless “to do” of menial tasks and endless stress about budgets and whether or not your food will suck. To Do Before 12/25: cookies, cards, decorations, gifts, more cookies because you ate the first batches, menu planning, food shopping, cooking, freezing, defrosting, cooking. And somewhere in there, everyone gets sick and you are somehow supposed to make it to church. I totally failed on that last one. Christmas was most definitely an “Xmas” for us this year save a few reminders to Jackson that “IT’S JESUS’s BIRTHDAY!”

Last year’s Christmas was a blur. I was 36 weeks pregnant with Darcy. Unable to bend too much or stand very long, I can remember sitting on a step stool in my kitchen mired in recipe cards and dirty dishes and suffocating from the heat of the oven. I was just waiting for it to be over.

This year was much different in that regard. I made the conscious effort to accept any offers of help, to split up tasks and accomplish them throughout the month, to plan a menu that was simple, and to take lots of deep breaths. The result was one of the most enjoyable Christmases I’ve ever experienced and yet we had more food, more guests, and more wrapping than ever before.

They say many hands make light work. And mom, dad, my mother-in-law Karen, and C.K. did not disappoint. My mother-in-law, in addition to bringing several side dishes and desserts, helped everyday in the kitchen doing too many tasks to enumerate. By Monday we had basically a full Thanksgiving dinner to serve as our lunches and dinners leading up to Christmas. On Christmas day, she stood there washing and trimming mushrooms for about forty five minutes while I pulled together the other dishes and tried to hide my terror. She did so much in the kitchen that I looked at the dishes last night and thought “Oh, I have to do those?” She left early yesterday morning. Yes, Kristin. You have to do your own friggin’ dishes again.

And it was so nice to have her with us this year. This was the first Christmas we combined both sides of our family and I can’t even begin to express how lovely it was to see my children showered with attention from their grandparents.

My parents got here on Christmas Eve…just in time to take everyone out to a delicious dinner at Truluck’s. Last year, I made the traditional seven fishes dinner. And no, I don’t miss it. Dinner out on Christmas Eve for the win! On Christmas day, my parents arrived with three bags of gifts for us and then spent the day juggling an overtired sick baby girl, drifting in and out of the kitchen to clean and help with any extra tasks. Things just get done when my parents are around. A child is bathed. Clothes are folded and put away. A high chair is wiped down.

My husband, like my parents and mother-in-law, does too much to list here. I just give two examples of how generous a heart he possesses. First, he spent 2.5 hours putting together this Marvel Lego battle station thing at the end of Christmas day. When Jackson finished his bath, he strutted out in his Christmas pjs and promptly started taking it apart. C.K. didn’t complain at all. We did take a picture of him with the finished product for posterity though. And second, my husband, in addition to all his support of my “Christmasing” (especially the parts where I go over budget,) he got me basically everything on my Amazon wishlist.

Today we will celebrate Christmas with my little sister Maggie who spent her holiday working in the ER. She will never say it aloud but she is a fantastic physician whose medical knowledge is only outweighed by her compassion. I can’t wait to see her today, exchange gifts…and do more eating and drinking!

So Christmas was great. It was Darcy’s first. She killed it in her red velvet dress and despite being sick, she handled all the hoopla like a champ. And Jackson seems to enjoy it more every year. He is the best “gift-getter” I’ve ever met. Really, if any of you ladies out there don’t want to open all your bridal shower gifts in front of your party guests, Jackson will stand in. Upon opening his yoga mat, Jackson exclaimed, “A yoga mat! Finally! I’ve wanted one for so long. Thank you so much.” Every gift, toy or otherwise, was met with the same enthusiasm and gratitude. When I asked Jackson at dinner what his favorite gift was, he responded matter-of-factly, “my new jeans.”

Aren’t you lucky I didn’t go through the entire year? It’s late now but I hope you all had a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, a Happy Kwanzaa, and/or a Merry Feastivus/long weekend. And may your 2015 be filled with joy.

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Proseco Cocktail

I made this cocktail for a dinner party C.K. and I threw this past Saturday. We had a great bottle of Proseco to start as it was a celebratory dinner. Our close friends Tara and Jay are getting married next September. I’m a bridesmaid and Jay asked C.K. to be the best man. It’s a decision I’m sure he’s already rethinking. Directly after C.K. accepted the honor, he began goading Tara about how he would dye Jay blue for the wedding. Jay wouldn’t look bad as a smurf though.

We also enjoyed this lovely proseco cocktail from Martha Stewart Living. It tastes like a variation of White Sangria. Here’s how to make it.

1 peach, diced

1/2 lb. strawberries, diced

3 tablespoons sugar

3/4 cup of vodka

bunch of basil, chopped up

1 bottle of Proseco, Italian sparkling wine

In the bottom of a pitcher add all the ingredients except the Proseco. With a wooden spoon, mash up the fruit well and leave it in the fridge to marinate. When you’re ready to serve it, add the bottle of Proseco and mix well.

Also on the menu…

Shrimp Cocktail

Salad with carrots, dried cherries, bleu cheese, balsamic vinagrette (Tara made it. I think it had nuts too.)

Filet Mignon with Bernaise sauce

Brussel Sprouts with Pine Nuts

Baked Potatoes

Cupcakes from Lulu in Scarsdale. (Very nice!)

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Watermelon Basil Margaritas

I didn’t take a picture of these although I should have. They were delicious though. The basil is an interesting twist, I think. Here’s a roundabout approximation sort of kind of recipe. I don’t do real measurements.

2 parts tequila

1 part triple sec

2 parts watermelon juice*

1 punch of basil, chopped up

watermelon “ice cubes”**

lime juice

sugar

In the bottom of each glass (I used double old-fashioned glasses), put some basil and add some sugar. Use the back of a spoon to bruise the herbs and mix in the sugar (like you would if you were making a mojito). Add some watermelon ice cubes to the glasses. In a shaker, combine tequila, watermelon juice, triple sec, and a splash of lime with ice. Shake it up and pour into the glasses. Then stir the drinks so that the basil on the bottom of the glass gets mixed into the whole drink. You can garnish with a sprig of basil or a lime wedge.

*I bought four separate quarters of watermelon to make these drinks. That makes a lot of margaritas. But it was for a party, so I would rather have too much than too little. I suppose you can also buy one very large watermelon. To make the juice, I cut the watermelon into manageable pieces then pureed those pieces in a food processor. Then I took the puree and put it through a collider lined with a cheese cloth. I ended up squeezing out the cheese cloth to get the extra juice. This part of the drink is pretty labor-intensive. But they’re worth it. I swear!

** To make the watermelon ice cubes, take one quarter of the watermelon and use a melon baller to make small watermelon balls. Place the watermelon balls on a baking sheet and freeze. After about an hour in the freezer, cover the baking sheet with plastic wrap. Once the watermelon balls are frozen, you can transfer them to a ziplock bag. These watermelon balls serve as the ice cubes in the drinks. They soak up the tequila and taste great when you’re finish drinking your margarita.

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Turkey Lasagna

*adapted from Barefoot Contessa on Food Network. Ina Garten is a genius. I watch her show all the time. Her recipes are simple, classic, and delicious. The photography on the show is exquisite as well. Very bright (great for food). Very clear. Lots of extreme close-ups. I highly recommend her show to any Food Network fan.

What follows is my adaptation of the recipe but the spirit is all Barefoot Contessa. I think you’ll see why I would never be good at writing cookbooks. You can see her recipe here at Food Network dot com.

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I

My friend Caroline and I went this restaurant Joe’s on Abbot Kinney today for lunch. Three course lunch for $18 and house picks for wine (a Spanish white that tasted like Sauvignon Blanc and a Merlot) for $7 a glass. I love prix fixe. My eyes are bigger than my stomach so I love know that I always have more food coming.

Here’s what I had:

Ahi Tuna Tartare placed in a neat little ball over a piece of lox and garnished with cucumbers and diced tomatoes and lemon. It came with a few toasts to eat the tuna although I could eat tuna tartare straight.

Chicken Breast with sugar snap pea puree, white corn, and haricot verts. And it had these great mushrooms–they looked like oyster mushrooms but they were darker.

A peach doughnut (a piece of fried dough with a yummy peach inside) with a scoop of ice cream.

And later… A nap.

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