Keeping current in wellness, in and out of the water
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During my visit to Austin I have been on a grand and very festive culinary journey without traveling very much. I discovered in the first couple of days how little I liked driving in this city. Traffic is like Southern California, but there is no ocean view. Knowing that, I investigated all the walkable and easy driving destinations to either buy groceries or enjoy restaurants and food trucks. The only problem I have had is a complete inability to be hungry enough to eat everything I want to try. Honestly, I don’t think they tolerate bad food around here. At least I have not run across any. This is the highest concentration of foodist festivities I have seen in my life. I have been to Napa and the Bay area, and do like all the options in New York City. However, I choose Austin, Texas as my own gourmet destination supreme. I am here at a good time, with plenty of ripe peaches, figs, melons, peppers, okra, and all garden greens. There are farmers markets on every day of the week if you choose to go. Food trucks offer new kinds of fusion cuisine that you could not even imagine. Naturally barbecue is big, but I don’t eat meat, so I stick to all the smoked veggies, cheese,and condiments. They even smoke hummus. It is the creativity and dedication to pure unadulterated products that makes the difference. I even tried beers that are 100% naturally fermented with yeast grown on the farm. I have made some reviews in this blog to guide the gentle readers who might visit, but I would encourage anyone to just follow your nose and the menu that speaks to you. There is an abundance of quality that will surprise you no matter what you like to eat.
During a museum tour I got hungry and walked out to find a bite to eat. I went to the drag (Guadalupe) by the campus and was not favorably impressed. The area has become pretty dumpy with graffiti and garbage. This surprised me because next to campus was always a profitable active place for business. It is now run down, tacky, and did not appeal to me. I managed to find a restaurant right on the mall on campus operated by UT endowment that was lovely and when I was there, very off-peak. This place is the best bargain in town. The Carillon Restaurant serves an all you can eat buffet at lunch for $17.00 that includes a 20% tip!!!! The selection was outstanding, innovative, and prepared with skill and artfulness. Servers were friendly and attentive, and the ambiance elegant. All my selections were delicious. The carrot ginger soup was much creamier ( as in half and half) than my own version which made it almost like a dessert. The grilled romaine was tasty, as were the many grilled veggies on the buffet. I splurged on a tiny raspberry tart and chocolate mousse before heading back to the museum. I think if you only come to town for a day and will only have a chance to try one dining experience The Carillon is the place to go. Bon Appetite, gentle readers. Do you have a favorite food place in Austin? Do tell.
I am a visitor in the neighborhood of East Austin, Texas for a couple of weeks. On the first day of my visit I was walking down my street and met Jewel Thomas Lusk sitting on her front porch. She is the neighborhood watch, the historian, the social director, and godmother to some of the kids around here. If you live here you know her, or at least she knows all about you. I like talking to her about the way the neighborhood developed. She has lived here for more than 58 years, so she is well informed on the subject. I wanted to interview her on video but she would not give her consent. She has a strong accent and told me she does not want anyone making fun of her. She also has a job working at a law office once a week and does not want any kind of publicity to mess up her deal with the lawyers. I do understand, but I still wish she had agreed to talk to the gentle readers.
She is a Baptist who enjoys dressing up sharp and singing on Sundays. This weekend there is some big to do a the Tabernacle that will include all the Baptist churches around here. She is planning to wear a fancy green outfit with a brimmed hat. I do wish I could see her all dressed up because I am sure it is impressive. She also enjoys Coors silver bullets, which she informed me she was responsible for finally getting in this town. We had a little difference of opinion about when Coors actually arrived in Austin, but sometime in the 1960’s is correct. This beer was highly prized and personally imported ( that’s right, imported) from Colorado, which was the only state where you could buy it. Jewel told me she used to buy it in Ft. Worth and bring it down here, but was finally able to convince the mayor of the city to help her bring Coors to Austin. I have no doubt that this story is true. She can literally tell you everything about everyone who has lived around here. I do hope somebody will talk her into recording her stories on video so that they will not be lost.
When I went to college here I was 17 and could not get into bars to hear music…with one exception. The black clubs on 6th Street did not discriminate against the white youth, and let us into their clubs. I got to see BB King and Bobby Blue Bland one night playing about 10 feet in front of us. We were 4 or 5 teen white chicks in an all black club having a wonderful time. No problem. I can’t remember if they served us alcohol or not, because we were not really drinkers, just BB fans. Jewel and I reminisced about those clubs and that music for a while, and I wondered if she and I had ever danced together back then. She still likes to dance, but says for dancing she switches to Crown Royal because beer is not the thing for dancing. She is a remarkable woman, representing a front porch attitude that has faded with time….but not on her corner of the world. I am grateful to be her neighbor for a couple of weeks. She is the essence of cool.
Whole Foods, the behemoth distributers of the natural lifestyle, started in Austin. A visit to the flagship store is both awesome and creepy. The produce, no matter where you are in the country, comes mostly from California. Right there you have strike one against the concept that by shopping at the store you support happy, healthy, local organic growers. Get real, folks. Whole Foods is responsible to the shareholders of the corporation. Their mission (and their mandate) is to make maximum profit for those shareholders. I think that is all good. I do not begrudge any healthy business a healthy profit. When I enter the door I expect to pay more for what I buy, but I also expect a vast selection and very high quality products. In history, before the rise of the hipster class, hippies managed the distribution of health food and natural products, often by forming cooperatives. I was always involved with a coop in my youth. This meant that you actually had to contribute some kind of labor to the cause. We saved money on our healthy foods, but most importantly, we provided a source that did not exist in the retail market. I am still a member of the Food Conspiracy, which I actively helped found in Tucson, but I am also the poster child for the Whole Foods Market customer. I now have more disposable income and less inclination to organize a group buying effort to obtain what I want. I am still a hippie, but a lazier one.
This is how I look at the whole picture at Whole Foods. I do grow food in my garden, prepare many products at home, and shop extensively at farmers’ markets. I would be pleased if all my food could be obtained locally and make some effort to keep my purchasing power close to home. I visit my Tucson Whole Foods about 10 times a year for the specific purpose of buying certain items I can only find there, as well as to go on a splurge. When I arrived in Austin I went directly to the flagship store to buy supplies because I am on a holiday, which implies I will be splurging in any way I please. I did not travel here to save money. I am here to enjoy the cultural delights of the city. I love to be able to buy interesting things I do not find where I live. The Whole Foods does not disappoint in that regard. They carry everything from clothing to cosmetics, local brews to baked goods…it is all available for a price. Speaking of price, I generally ignore the cost and just realize that it is not a place to buy day to day items, but is the ultimate shopping heaven for natural products and foods. I can’t help but notice that there are three very large skyscrapers being constructed in the vicinity of the store at 12th and Lamar. I believe they will fill with tenants very quickly when they are finished simply because of the proximity to all that highly sought after merchandise. This is what they call the trickle down effect, I think. Money will trickle down from those buildings right into the Whole Foods cash registers. Bon Appetite.
There is only one foreign diplomatic residence in the United States outside of Washington, DC. It was the home of the French government’s embassy to the Republic of Texas. The Republic only existed between 1836 and 1846. The city of Austin was a town of about 800 people, including slaves. The French wanted to trade with the Republic because they built ships and wanted the wood in Texas. They believed the Texans, with a long shoreline, needed ships. They also thought the people on the frontier would buy French wine. They sent a young man in the diplomatic corps from Washington, DC to Galveston to do a study to determine the feasibility of setting up a relationship with Texas. This man was Alphonse DuBois. He came back with glowing report, and landed the job of charge d’affaires to the Republic of Texas for himself. His diplomatic skills, or his ability to adjust to life on the frontier, were lacking. He bought a giant piece of land above the town and built a grand Creole style home for himself. He got into a serious altercation with a local about some pigs who broke into his corn. This became the Pig War, and was the downfall of Mr DuBois. He left for New Orleans, supposedly for his health, but when he returned to Austin Sam Houston was carrying on most of the Republic’s business in Travis County. His career was never the same after that. He was eventually recalled to France.
A visit to the French Legation Museum is well worth the time. The guided tour, which is done very professionally, is only $5, which hardly pays for the air conditioning while you are there. On the second and fourth Sundays of the month real French people show up to play pantenque and have a potluck. The public is invited to participate. The park’s outdoor spaces are open to the public. They have an agreement with a group of sculptors who maintain a high quality display of local artists’ work on the grounds. It is a very special place to visit. The front porch has a protected view of the capital building, which is pretty sweet. Nobody can build anything that blocks the view.
Another day in Austin, another fabulous place to eat!!!! My brunch experience at Tamale House East today was out of this world…. or at least out of my normal world. I cook Mexican food and have made plenty of tamales myself but there is always a regional and personal style to every dish. I have a world wide competition on the best preparation of huevos rancheros (classic), chilaquiles (subject to MUCH interpretation), and nopalitos. The contest got started when some of my friends in Tecate were bragging that they made the best nopalitos. I said, “Well, let’s see.” They would bring me different versions of their specialties, all delicious. I would declare a tie (what kind of fool would declare a winner when the nopalitos were still flowing?). The tie in nopalitos continues, just in case some of my commadres read this.
They are not big on the nopalito thing in Texas, but the other two are to be found in abundance. Taking my landlady’s advice again I went to Tamale House East. This old establishment is popular with the hipsters. When I arrived they were playing Mexican music. When the hipster busboy arrived he switched to obscure rock, and the student clientele started to stream in the door, around 10 am. Lots of places around here do not open until 11 because methinks the collegiates are still sleeping until that time. The plates are large for the breakfast specials, and include some very good beans and a couple of hot flour tortillas. I could have gotten corn tortillas, but did not request it, so I enjoyed what I had. They gave up lard, like most restaurants these days, because most people are no longer into it. They still make one pork tamale with lard, but vegetarians will not be ordering that anyhow. The place is spacious, comfortable and colorful. The staff is friendly and attentive. The real reason to come here, though, is for the food. The tomatillo salsa was just right with my chilaquiles topped with an egg. I tried both of the house salsas on offer because that is how you know if you like the place. Both were outstanding.
I went to the kitchen to give my compliments to the ladies who made my food and was met with a very warm reception. I discussed tamales with the tamalera, who is from Guerrero (the state where Acapulco is). She was very cool and told me she makes green corn tamales at home. This is a Sonoran specialty not often found outside our zone. I would recommend this restaurant to anyone. If you have never tasted tamales, this is a great place to start. If you are like me, very selective about your Mexican food, you will be more than pleased with the authenticity, the ambiance, and most of all the cuisine. Y’all come. You will not be disappointed.
My landlady leaves a book of recommendations in the Airstream for her visitors which I have found to be helpful. There are way too many choices for Mexican food and I only want the best. Her statement about El Chilito is that they have the best breakfast tacos in town. I have been here for 5 days and have not had a single tortilla, so I followed her advice and drove to Manor Rd for some tacos. The menu is extensive, with plenty of options for vegetarians. I had a migas taco and a bean, cheese and egg taco which were both full of flavor and very satisfying. The style is double tortilla (you can order it with flour, but I always prefer corn) soft taco. The only seating is outdoors, but the foil wrapper keeps the food hot for a while if you want to take it with you. They also have a large selection of aguas frescas and other drinks. They even serve mimosas. Funky, original, and perfect…El Chilito is the real deal. If you visit this fine city and are hungry for Mexican food check this place. Prices are low, just like their overhead. I plan to return. I don’t need to try all the other breakfast tacos. I think my landlady is right.
One of the ways I enjoy travel is by trying all kinds of gastronomy. In Austin the food truck craze is very advanced. There are more trucks than I could have imagined, most with permanent locations. I found a barbecue place close to home yesterday and was tempted by the cheese jalapeño grits they serve as a side. When I stopped to try the grits, the Juice Well was open next door. Now I have a problem. I have fallen so deeply in love with the food at the Juice Well that it will be hard to move on and try anything else. This vegetarian juice and smoothie bar goes to great lengths to prepare natural, homemade sandwiches and entrées that compliment the liquid delights. I was thrilled with my Merlin’s Magic juice blend that was spiked with garlic and lemon juice. The sandwich I ordered, the Kraftwork, may honestly be the best sandwich I have ever tasted. I am hooked. They make their own sauerkraut with red cabbage which is to die for. Pickled green onions and other veggies are all made in house. The result on the sandwich is fantastic, beating the hell out of the dill pickle relish we normally find between bread. I do want to try other trucks but I need to go back to the Juice Well to taste more of the dazzling creative specialties they are making right around the corner. To complicate matters I found a Colombian restaurant near here that had a super long waiting list for lunch. The Colombians serve arepas, and even if they are not exactly Venezuelan style, I love me some arepas. I have to find a time when Casa Colombia is not overflowing with customers. I was really thinking TexMex, but there is more exciting food to eat around here that we don’t have in Tucson. I have my work cut out for me as gourmet taster.
Time may be finite, but I notice that it can expand and contract based on circumstances. When I am home I always have some day to day chores waiting for me. Being busy is not my style, but I do cross items off the to do list in a regular fashion. Planning is big for me, but it often leads to changing plans. I drive very little by choice, so on line shopping is a big friend of mine when I am not supporting local businesses. My routine includes time with friends, my dog, and my neighbors as well as tending the garden and running the house. I find excitement in studying my ancestors, history, culture and the arts. I rarely need to go anywhere to stimulate my imagination and creativity. I had a long career as a travel agent, so I am very able to make choices and plans that suit my fancy in terms of a destination. I like to spend my holiday time involved in activities I either can’t do at home, or just don’t do at home. Some of my favorite vacation features are:
My budget for both time and money is set free during holiday times. I look for new ways to spend both that I have never done. I do a lot of research before i visit a place. I usually have a long list of possible places I want to go, and then let the weather be the deciding factor. I need some rainy day plans as well as some perfect day plans. My main goal in traveling is to flow into a new schedule, a new culture, and a new rhythm based on what I discover. I usually do some reconnaissance on foot to see what the neighborhood has to offer before I set out in a car. I study maps and read reviews to help me decide what to investigate. It is a perfect combination of very well informed and not obligated to anything. I am looking forward to doing this for the next to weeks in Austin, Texas, live music capitol of the US. I hope my gentle readers will enjoy the trip as you come along for the ride.