Thursday, February 25, 2021

The Deep Freeze: Frigid Temps, Frozen Foods, Felines and Friends

Kind of like the entire state of Texas, it's time to thaw out this blog a bit! Almost two months since my last post and four days since our last sub-freezing temperatures. (And like true Texas weather, as I write this post, it's 82 degrees out!)

Icicle on my gutter, about 18 inches long
In case you missed it or are reading this weeks after the fact, an unprecedented Arctic cold front dropped all the way down to Texas, sending our temperatures WAY below freezing, plus about 6" inches of snow in Austin followed by freezing rain/sleet/grapple to make it even more icy. This lead to power outages and burst pipes.  According to the local meteorologists, Austin was below freezing for 144 hours, which broke a 38 year old record. They've called this storm historic, once-in-a-generation, and life-threatening. Yeah, not something I wish to repeat again.

I was without power for about 46 straight hours, but fortunately I never lost running water, though hot water was not real prevalent. But grateful my 1930s bungalow home has survived. The external temperature Monday night/Tuesday morning was 8 degrees. I don't know what the temp inside the house was but I am guessing it was in the 40s. Had covered the exterior water spigots, put a bit of pipe insulation on the interior kitchen + bathroom pipes, and let the taps drip in preparation. It hadn't really occurred to me that the power would go out, and we'll save the power supply issue and complete lack of response by local + state officials for another time, like once we've all had a margarita in Cancun.... 

Frozen nandina bush + berries
Was able to find a few granola/protein bars in the house, but I didn't eat a whole lot on Monday. During the daylight, I mostly sat huddled in bed with the cats and re-read Ruth Reichl's Tender at the Bone (she's one of my food and literary heroes). Fortunately I found my lipstick phone charger and was able to fully charge my cell phone. When darkness hit, I took a pre-bedtime nap, feeling like a mummy under the weight of layers of bedding and clothes I was then wearing.
Molly, me (under the blankets) and Charlie
I slept fairly reasonably, and by Tuesday late morning I had to face the outside world, and go check on my neighbor's cat. But it also gave me a little time to charge my phone in the car and clear the front walkway a bit with a push broom. The movement + activity kept me warmish, and the heater in the car was definitely welcome.  I also put the contents of my freezers (one regular side-by-side fridge/freezer and a small 3.0 cubic foot freezer) in bags on my back porch, as it was decidedly colder outside than in the powerless house. Back inside, ate another granola bar, more reading. Worried about my older cat Charlie, who at 17.5 years isn't the pinnacle of health he used to be, and didn't want to be covered by blankets for very long. Molly on the other hand, loved to snuggle under the layers and served as my personal heating device.
I found a much bigger limb in the back yard. My poor trees, but it could have been worse.
My next door neighbor came over and had her brother check my water heater and kitchen pipes; I think the hot water pipe had frozen a little since nothing was coming out when the handle was set to the hot side, but it has healed on its own. Late Tuesday afternoon, my other neighbors who were able to get their gas stove working, brought me a huge Thermos of delicious homemade soup! That totally nourished and sustained me through the evening, as tears from earlier in the day from cold and isolation turned into those of gratitude. Bundling back up and adding more layers of blankets to the bed, I hunkered back down in my nest. With facemask on (yes, one of the cloth ones I normally wear for Covid!), ear warmers, hoodie over my head, and eye pillow for warmth I went to sleep, probably around 9:30 pm. I woke up at 12:25 and through all the layers, it took a moment to register a familiar noise. The furnace was running and the power was on!!
Hot soup! The photo does not do it justice at all. This bowl of deliciousness had hearty
amounts of sausage, carrots, and kale which definitely warmed me up.
The blinking clocks around the house let me know power had been on for about 25 minutes, so it came on right around midnight. I plugged in my phone and Kindle to charge and stayed up until around 1:30 am before going back to bed. I was then hit with what I guess was a rolling blackout from about 8 am - noon on Wednesday morning. But once the power came back on Wednesday midday, knock on wood or icicles, I've been good ever since. 

Meanwhile friends and family from near and far continued to check in on me, and likewise I kept in contact with some a few local friends who were more or less on their own as well. I had been in regular contact with friends who live on the other side of South Lamar, no too far from my house in Bouldin. Their power was out too, but on Wednesday morning their pipe burst; they were freezing and have a 10 month old baby. I told them to come on over, and yes, bring the cat too! We decided to forgo facemasks as we've all been extremely cautious thus far with Covid.  Libby the cat stayed in the front bedroom; Charlie didn't mind her, Molly was a little less thrilled, but they all did just fine thank goodness.

Peter + MJ also brought the contents of their freezer, so between us, we had a decent amount of food. I think the first night we did Korean pancakes and dumplings they had along with sugar snap peas from my fridge. For lunch on Thursday, we threw together tater crowns (rounds, as opposed to tots, new to me and I liked them a lot; plus they get good and crispy in the air fryer) they brought with brisket chili (mine) topped with shredded cheese and sour cream. Dinner was strip steak from their haul, along with French fries. I have some survivor's guilt that we were able to eat so well, when so many others have been struggling to get food.

Chili cheese tater rounds was quite delicious!
Frozen Detroit-style pizza from HEB was quite good (sorry Via 313!), and I felt like a kid again eating spaghetti and meatballs! We added squash, and Easy Tiger cranberry walnut bread from our local Buy Nothing group which MJ relentlessly stalks😄. Temps warmed back up and with power on, freezers could be filled again. Streets thawed and the sun came out. Given the proximity to their place, Peter could easily get to their house from mine to check on power and meet with a plumber. At 10 months, Esme is appropriately active and almost walking on her own; she's a very good, happy baby with minimal crying. We had a happy little commune for four days.  Peter's a tech guy and was able to get my printer back online and streamline a couple of my television remotes. He also showed me a solar charger he just got from Amazon, and it was my first post-apocalypse purchase.
Spaghetti, meatballs, squash + bread
After the frigid desolation of Monday and Tuesday, it was comforting to have company. People to talk to, eat with, laugh with, boil water with. (Oh yeah, we were on a boil water notice for several days.) Grateful to also know I can count on my neighbors (and vice versa). The common greeting with other friends and co-workers has been "Hi, how are you? Power? Water?" Things are pretty much back to normal now, and I think we are all stronger for the experience of the past week, though not at all eager to have to be without power like that again. My head has been a bit discombobulated, but I think I am mostly on track now. I know it's been a very long haul for some, especially with so many water heaters breaking. I know I was fortunate. If you need to come shower, let me know.
Much cuteness

This list is mostly for my own entertainment purposes as a bit of recorded history of my layers.

  • two pairs socks, plus thick hiking boot socks
  • long johns, with two pairs of leggings on top
  • thermal long sleeve shirt, 2 more long sleeve shirts, hoodie sweatshirt, medium weight oversized hoodie, lightweight wool scarf (long johns and thermal shirt I believe are from my teen years growing up in Washington, DC.... over 30 years old, I am guessing)
  • fleece headband to cover ears, facemask, lightweight gloves with occasionally white cotton gloves on top 
On the bed: 
  • regular bed linens: sheets, light weight cotton blanket, light weight feather comforter inside duvet cover
  • added: lap quilt, acrylic blanket at times doubled, quilt, another cotton blanket also doubled

Blogger Widgets

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

The Best Things I Ate In 2020

While I think we're all ready to kick the year 2020 to the curb, there fortunately have been some outstanding food highlights for me.  More details also on my Instagram. The first three were in-person dining experiences, and everything else has been carry out. Presenting in chronological order of when I ate them.

Old Thousand's brisket fried rice

Bone marrow at Comedor.

My one trip of the year was to the San Francisco area the end of February; the massaman curry lamb shank from Nari was stellar.

I made a coconut cream tart for a friend's birthday, recipe from Dorie Greenspan.

La Patisserie's gluten free chocolate hazelnut cake. *swoon*

Le Bleu's grilled pork banh mi, eaten social-distance style with a friend, each of us in our cars.

Beef enchiladas and colorful sides from El Dorado.

I have fallen in love with all things Vivian's Boulangerie! Here the chocolate croissant. I've ordered a few times from this online bakery; they deliver or you can pick up from their kitchen. The caramelized shallot and brie tiger paws are also a complete downfall for me.

El Naranjo's costillas de res (boneless beef short rib with goat cheese mashed potatoes) and huitlacoche empanandas. 

French dip, Vietnamese style from 20Pho7, a food truck at South First and Live Oak. Incredible flavors!

Little Ola's sausage + egg biscuit for comfort food indulgence.

Thai Fresh has long had my favorite pad thai in town, but I only recently discovered their fried chicken skins! A side of sauteed veggies makes it all healthy, right?

The new Mumtaz Market and their amazing lamb burger.

So there you have my top dishes of the year!  All this delicious food, and proud to say I've lost 30 pounds through intermittent fasting, and eating what I want. 😀

What are your favorite meals of 2020? Stay safe, y'all and let's make 2021 an outstanding year!

Monday, November 16, 2020

An Austin Food Lover's Holiday Gift Guide 2020

2020 has been a challenge to say the least! Many...Most regular events as we know it have unfortunately been canceled outright or pivoted to online, and dining at a restaurant looks a whole lot different than it used to. I have certainly taken advantage of several restaurants that now offer take out options, and hope that will continue to be offered when life as we know it returns to "normal." 

If you're looking for holiday gifts/experiences or a place to hold a private gathering, here are some suggestions. And if you're feeling generous and have some cash to spare, remember that a few of these are non-profit organizations who could definitely use some support!

Time sensitive, online auctions!

One of my past Austin Empty Bowl purchases.

1) The Austin Empty Bowl Project is near and dear to my heart, as I have volunteered for them the past several years. Normally held the Sunday before Thanksgiving at the Central Texas Food Bank, you purchase one (or more!) locally made (some by students, others by professional ceramists) for $25, get to eat a bowl of soup prepared by an area restaurant, and then bowls are rinsed and you get to take it home. This year, their silent auction of various ceramic pieces is of course online, bidding now through November 22nd (monetary donations welcome beyond that!). Last year they raised over $100,000 which benefited CTFB and Meals on Wheels.

2) Texas Food + Wine Alliance Holiday Auction has many experiences, classes, and products available for bidding though November 22nd as well. 

3) Local restaurant Tso Chinese has formed #TsoGiving, which has already raised $100,000 in a few short months to help with meal assistance to those facing hunger in Austin due to the pandemic.  Donations are accepted via Venmo or Go Fund Me, and this holiday season they are working with area social service agencies such as Asian Family Support Services, People's Community Clinic and SAFE.

Foodie gifts

Foodie Passport from JettSet Local

1) Perhaps your favorite Austin-area food-obsessed person would like the gift of a 2021 Foodie Passport from JettSet Local? You get $10 off a $25 purchase at 25 different eateries around the Austin area. Use it three times, and it pays for itself!  And pssst! I'll soon be doing an Instagram giveaway for a passport in the next couple weeks, so keep an eye on my page! {Don't have Insta, but are interested in entering? Leave a note in the comments below, and I'll enter you in.}

2) I recently stumbled across the site Goldbelly, which has actually been around since like 2013, but they're new to me! You can order food from some of your favorite places nationwide! Arthur Bryant BBQ in Kansas City? Sweets from the Cake Boss? Heck, I was just excited to see the neighborhood deli that I grew up with in Washington, DC on there. Definitely something for everyone.

3) Last year, Eater Austin published their holiday gift guide. Here's the 2019 version, and when the 2020 comes out, I'll post it here.  Update: here's the 2020 version.

4) Online classes. I can vouch for ones from Antonelli's Cheese, and have heard that Air B + B has some which are also fun. Learn something new in your stretchy pants at home!

5) Update: Local (to Austin!) food subscription boxes + more suggestions from Austin American-Statesman food writer Addie Broyles.

6) Food + Wine Magazine's best mail-order food gifts from each state

Comfort foods

1) Liquids. Central Texas has tons of wine, beer + spirit makers. But  there's also Fond Bone Broth, which is healthy and delicious! 

Photo courtesy Cocoa Puro's Instagram page

2) Chocolate. Delysia and Cocoa Puro are two local specialists. Delysia has truffles with very unique flavor combos, and I've known the excellent folks at Cocoa Puro for a long time, and they make a unique thing called kakawa beans. It's a cacao nib enrobed in white, milk, and dark chocolate then dusted with cocoa powder. Trust me, they're addictive and incredible!

Chocolate croissant from Vivian's

3) Carbs.  Check out Blue Door Sweets for locally made cinnamon buns, Confituras for biscuits, Vivian's Boulangerie for French-style pastries, and Pasta  + Company for fresh made pasta.

Location, location, location...

The McGuire Moorman Hospitality Group sent an email reminder that many of their restaurants have private dining spaces for your holiday gatherings. Contact your favorite restaurant of theirs for details, including: Lambert's, Elizabeth Street Cafe, Josephine, Jeffrey's, Joann's, Lou's, Neighborhood Sushi. Catering is also available through several of these, as well as Clark's and Sweetish Hill. Book now!

Have additional holiday gift ideas? Drop a note below! Let's kick 2020 to the curb on a high note!

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Mini Coffee Cakes with Spicy Streusel

Mini Coffee Cakes with Spicy Streusel

Last month, I bought a box of Wackym's Spicy Pecan Cookies from Central Market. I have always loved Wackym's varieties, as they are a Texan company, the cookies are made with real butter, and they have great flavors. Salted caramel? Margarita? Even savory Cheese Nibbles. Check their website for all their flavors; I do believe Spicy Pecan is a seasonal one.

Wackym's Spicy Pecan Cookies

A conversation with a friend about them gave me the inspiration to make a coffee cake with lots of yummy spiced streusel topping (because, hello, the streusel is the best part!), which lead to making these mini coffee cakes. The perfect bite-sized snack or treat! I found a recipe online for mini coffee cakes, but given that I changed a variety of things about it, I just decided to go ahead a write a new recipe. Hope you enjoy!

Mini Coffee Cakes with Spicy Streusel

Sorry (not sorry!), no fancy recipe plug in!

Mini Coffee Cakes with Spicy Streusel

Yield: 12 mini muffin-sized cakes

Coffee Cake

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, melted, cooled and divided

1 cup AP flour

1/3 cup sugar

1 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt (I use Redmond Real Salt)

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 egg

1/3 cup milk (I added an extra splash)

1 tsp. vanilla extract

Streusel Topping

3 Wackym's Spicy Pecan Cookies, pulverized into crumbs, about 1/4 cup total

1/3 cup brown sugar

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

2 Tbsp. melted butter from above

-- Start with melting the butter; set aside 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) for the cakes, and 2 tablespoons for the topping. Meanwhile preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

-- Prepare your mini muffin tins; this recipe yielded 12 minis for me. Brush tin (yes, even if your pan is "non-stick" with a thin layer of melted butter.

-- In a medium bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt + cinnamon and whisk to combine. 

-- Add in egg, milk, vanilla and the 4 tablespoons of melted butter. Stir just enough to combine everything; too much stirring can make your batter tough.

-- Portion into muffin tins; I used a tablespoon scoop for fairly even distribution

-- In a smaller bowl make the streusel by combining the cookie crumbs, sugar, and cinnamon.

-- Once mixed, add the 2 tablespoons of butter and toss with a fork until evenly moistened. 

-- Using a teaspoon, top the coffee cakes with streusel.

-- Bake for 14-16 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

-- Let cool in pan for 10-15 minutes before removing to a wire rack. Coffee cakes should pop right out of your muffin pan!

-- Vanilla ice cream, homemade whipped cream or mascarpone cream would be an added luxury!

Mini Coffee Cakes with Spicy Streusel

I also think these would make a fabulous pie or tart crust! Something sweet with a bit of a spicy kick, especially now that the weather has gotten cooler. What should my next baking project be? Leave me a suggestion!

Sunday, September 13, 2020

What I've Been Eating, Part Three

AMAZING chocolate croissant from Vivian's Boulangerie!

Welcome to another edition of what South Austin Foodie has been eating recently! I continue to get carryout a couple times a week, and I try to get things where I can at least get two meals out of my order. Some home cooking, but overall it's been too hot! Here are the main highlights, please keep tabs on my Instagram, especially Stories for a more comprehensive run down of my meals!

Hey Say is a homestyle Vietnamese spot on East Oltorf; I think they're serving a few more general Asian dishes than before, but definitely look for their house specials! These are twice fried wings with a fish sauce that were really good and very different from other wings (in a good way!).

Thai Taste's spicy larb!

Molly inspects some of my first Vivian's Boulangerie croissant order.

From my second Vivian's order, beet and goat cheese kolache, brie and caramelized shallot tiger paw, cardamom snickerdoodle and salted chocolate chip cookies, and almond croissant. They've now expanded their order pickups/deliveries to FOUR days a week! (Very dangerous.) Seriously, some of the best stuff I've had. 

Steamies frozen pork char siu, pork dumplings, and beef bao. Storefront at Airport and Lamar, I will definitely be back!

Here are the Steamies dumplings, which were very good. I think the bulgogi beef bao was my favorite as it had a TON of flavor and the beef was moist. And very pleasantly surprised with the puff pastry texture and filling of the char siu triangle. 

Winebelly's chicken liver mousse is always a favorite.

My friend Curd Culture lives in Houston, but worked with local cheese shop Antonelli's and taught a cheese class via Zoom. A friend and I had the chicken liver mousse and then split this cheese board, a bottle of bubbly,  and sat socially distanced for the class. Great way to spend and evening!

Stunning chirashi bot bowl a friend got from Lucky Robot

We also split these pork belly buns  from Lucky Robot, which were crammed with stuff including pickled cauliflower which gave them a nice crunch. 

Also up there for Best Thing I Have Eaten Recently, this Vietnamese French dip sandwich from the 20Pho7 food truck at Live Oak and South First. The bread was perfect, the pho broth flavorful, the beef super tender and rare! Filled with bean sprouts, scallions, and a spicy mayo. I cannot wait to go back!

Support your local businesses and let's make sure they stay in business! What fantastic things have you been eating?