Three days of food!

For the holiday weekend, my parents decided to come visit.  So it was another long weekend of celebratory food.  Here is some of what we’ve enjoyed here in sunny, beautiful Austin.

Happy hour!  Started the weekend early at 4:00pm at Freddie’s.

Crème brûlée at the Driskill ($6 – and a ridiculous $3 during happy hour).

Breakfast tacos from Arturo’s (now open again for Saturday breakfast, 9:00am – 1:00pm!).

Milanos dipped in coffee!

My new favorite allergy medicine: the Tartufo cocktail at Sagra (regular $10, $8 during happy hour).  Waterloo Gin (from Treaty Oak Distilling Co.), honey, and lemon.

Gin and tonic, expertly mixed by one of my favorite bartenders in Austin, Dred at Clay Pit.

One of the specialties of the house at Clay Pit: Khuroos-E-Tursh.  Khuroos-E-Tursh ($15.00).  Medallions of chicken-breast stuffed with seasoned spinach, mushrooms, onions & cheese, simmered in a rich cashew-almond cream sauce.  Possibly one of my all-time favorite dishes.

Goan Yellow Curry with Shrimp ($15).

Perfect basmati rice.

Aloo Ghobi: braised cauliflower and potato curry  ($10).

Threadgill’s special: Shiner-braised pot roast served over mashed potatoes, with a side of black-eyed peas and macaroni and cheese ($12.95).

Chag Pesach Sameach, Happy Easter, and Happy Spring!

Skillet Paella at Joe’s Crab Shack on Town Lake: clams, shrimp, mussels, scallops, and sausage simmered in a tomato basil sauce served over rice and topped with crispy calamari.

Salmon Orleans, topped with a creamy Cajun sauce and crawfish, shrimp, and andouille sausage. Served on a bed of dirty rice. This was awesome.

Ragin’ Cajun Steam Pot: Dungeness crab, Queen crab, shrimp, andouille sausage, and corn on the cob.


Book Review: The Mindful Carnivore

Peregrine falcons, well on their way to recovery, had begun nesting in New York City. But living there wasn’t going to suit me for long. In my small apartment, I felt separate from nature. It was all around me—in the trees that lined the streets, in the gray and black squirrels that loped through Washington Square Park, in the grass that sprouted in the cracks and seams of the pavement—but it felt too fragmented. I wasn’t touching soil. I wasn’t hearing the sounds of water, of wind in the trees. Unlike the farmers whose trucks I visited in Union Square, I had no contact with the earth from which our food sprang.

Along the sidewalks of Brooklyn and Manhattan, I picked up pigeon feathers. I read and reread the Wendell Berry poem pinned to the wall of my apartment, “The Peace of Wild Things”:

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

One evening, leaving class and stepping out onto Eleventh Street near the corner of Sixth Avenue, I noticed an unusually bright streetlamp out of the corner of my eye. Looking up, I saw the full moon and realized I hadn’t seen stars in months.

So says Tovar Cerulli in the first chapter of his new book, The Mindful Carnivore: A Vegetarian’s Hunt for SustenanceI just finished reading this deeply thoughtful, challenging, and beautifully written book, so I wanted to share it with you.

Tovar Cerulli was a vegetarian for many years, and a vegan for over a decade.  His love of nature and genuine desire to find a sustainable and compassionate diet led him first to gardening, then to abandoning veganism, and, ultimately, to hunting.

In many ways, Tovar’s journey mirrored my own; his childhood was spent fishing and gathering berries in a woodland idyll (Vermont and New Hampshire), but as he began considering food ethics and his affinity for animals, he veered into vegetarianism.  He became a stereotypical college vegan, sporting long hair and lecturing friends and family on the evils of meat eating.  But his experience trying to grow food, in which he encountered hungry, determined, and destructive animals (from slugs to woodchucks), brought him face to face with the fundamental reality of food: we must kill to live.

As I also realized after many years trying vegetarian diets and following ethical systems designed to reduce the suffering of all sentient creatures, Tovar determined that even vegan diets are indirectly responsible for animal suffering and death.  His perspective shifted, and he began to explore sustainability as the fundamental marker of compassionate eating.  And this, eventually, led him to hunting deer in the forest surrounding his Vermont home.

He writes with profound understanding of both the ethical imperative that drives the choices of vegetarians and vegans and the wonder and intimacy experienced by the ethical hunter.  These two seemingly opposed groups have more in common than most realize, and The Mindful Carnivore has provided what I hope will be only the first of many attempts at reconciliation and convergence between compassion-minded vegans and sustainability-seeking omnivores.  In this wonderful book, part memoir and part philosophy, Tovar also touches on the role of food in human memory and community; religion and ethics; environmentalism; and the magic of the wild.  As Tovar says on his web site:

At twenty, moved by the compassionate words of Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh and concerned about the ecological impacts of meat, I became a vegetarian. Soon I went vegan.

Almost a decade later, having moved back to a rural community from New York City, I realized that all food has its costs. From habitat destruction to grain combines that inadvertently mince rabbits to the shooting of deer in soybean and lettuce fields, crop production is far from harmless. Even in our own organic garden, my wife and I were battling ravenous insects and fence-defying woodchucks. I began to see that the question wasn’t what we ate but how that food came to our plates.

A few years later, my wife—who was studying holistic health and nutrition— suggested that we shift our diet. My health improved when we started eating dairy and eggs. It improved still more when we started eating chicken and fish.

Searching for ethical, ecologically responsible ways to come to terms with my food, I began to contemplate the unthinkable: hunting. Two years later, I took up a deer rifle.

Tovar has also written on hunting, forestry, wildlife, and conservation for many magazines.  You can read some of his essays here, and the first chapter of The Mindful Carnivore is available for free on his web site.  In 2011, Tovar completed his M.A. thesis, “Meat and Meanings: Adult-Onset Hunters’ Cultural Discourses of the Hunt.”  He is currently working on his Ph.D. at the University of Massachusetts, focusing his research on food, hunting, and human relationships with the natural world.

I can’t wait to read his next book!  Meanwhile, be sure to check this one out.  If you’re remotely interested in these issues, you will definitely enjoy it.  Tovar has created a work which is equal parts challenging and sublime.

Four days of food!

As you may’ve noticed, I haven’t been posting much lately.  Fact is, I haven’t been cooking much.  Between my day job, my studies, and my geriatric laptop, the blog has suffered.

And I haven’t cooked dinner in more than a week!

We were very excited to welcome my out-laws to Austin for a long weekend of relaxation, sunny walks, and button-popping eats.  It was their first trip to Texas, and we hit all the highlights, except for (gasp) having barbecue!  So, Franklin BBQ: you’re still on my list!

However, in four days, we managed to take the parents to a backyard hot dog grillin’, eat Arturo’s breakfast tacos, tour campus, have a Shiner at the Cactus Cafe, engage in some serious cat whispering, enjoy homebrew and shoot shitting on our patio, go to Sagra’s pizza happy hour, watch UNC (family favorite) beat Ohio over free pints of Newcastle at Dog and Duck, cross the 360 bridge, nibble on fried green tomatoes and chicken fried steak sandwiches with prickly pear tea at the Silver K Cafe in Johnson City, tour the LBJ Ranch, ooh and aah at bluebonnets, explore South Congress, buy a pair of Lucchese Boots, cool off on the patio at the new Hickory Street, sample Convict Hill Oatmeal Stout, try fried catfish and jalapeno slaw tacos, scoff at 6th Street, have coffees at the Driskill Bar while watching more basketball AND hearing a band play Buddy Holly and Buck Owens tunes, meet some dressed up cowboys in starched shirts and fancy hats, walk across the Congress Bridge twice, listen to Twine Time, watch Meet the Press, have chicken mole enchiladas at Janitzio, go on an accidental moon tower tour, walk from the Bob Bullock Museum to the Co-op to Tyler’s to The Tavern to watch yet more basketball and drink yet more beer, and enjoy a violet sunset from the bridge overlooking House Park.

Here’s a sampling of what we ate:

The Sage Paloma cocktail at Sagra: Espolon Tequila Reposado, Luxardo Triplum,
grapefruit, lime, sage, and agave syrup.  Six dollars during happy hour, this one’s an Italian margarita!  So refreshing.

The Pizza Sagra (foreground, $7.50 during happy hour).  Our favorite of Sagra’s specialty pizzas, this crunchy pie is topped with tomato sauce, grana padano, spinach, mozzarella cheese, and truffle oil; but the very part is the egg cracked right in the center.  So rich!

We also really enjoyed the Calabrese Vesuvio pizza, which we hadn’t tried before.  At only $6.00 during happy hour, this one’s a steal: spicy salami, mozzarella, capers, green and black olives, peperoncini, and tomato sauce, folded and baked in Sagra’s brick pizza oven.

Fried green tomatoes at the Circle K Cafe.  We stopped into this adorable little restaurant on our last trip to the LBJ Ranch, last April, and decided to take the parents there.  It was a big hit.  Between us, we had these tomatoes with Ranch dipping sauce; a huge, fresh Caesar salad; a warm, homemade bowl of chicken and vegetable soup; a filling and flavorful grilled vegetable and Provolone sandwich; and the pièce de résistance, a chicken fried steak sandwich (you can guess who ordered it):

This was even better than I expected.  Crispy, peppery batter and tender, flavorful beef tucked between leaves of Romaine inside a honey yeast roll.  The prickly pear tea was also amazing.  I might have to drive back to Johnson City just to have this meal again.

The weather was so nice on Saturday, we decided to find a spot to eat outside on Congress.  We ended up at the newly revamped Hickory Street, which has been transformed from a tired but wallet-friendly buffet and happy hour spot to a more sophisticated foodie patio restaurant.  Whether this makes the place more or less Austiny, I’ll leave up to you.  The menu has certainly been updated to reflect current Austin trends.  Pictured above is the Charred Sweet Corn Guacamole with homemade potato chips ($8.00, serves 2-4), which was a big hit with our visitors.  Incorporating corn, feta,  and lots of cilantro to the more usual base of avocado, lime juice, red onions, jalapeños, this guacamole is one I might even try to replicate at home.

The Chickpea Chili ($7.00) was good, but probably not a dish we’d order again.

These Texas Fried Catfish Tacos ($9.00) featured two jalapeño tortillas with cornmeal battered, fried Palacios catfish and cilantro-lime apple slaw.  Creative and flavorful, the tacos were good but not great.

And, once again, you know me—I couldn’t resist the Bison Burger!  It was actually a little small considering it was $9.00, but Hickory Street is trying to go upscale, and bison ain’t cheap.  It was so rich that the single burger (sans fries or chips) proved more than adequate, especially after sharing the guacamole appetizer.  Bison is usually a little dry compared to beef, and that was the case here, but the flavor was great, and the caramelized bourbon onions and smoky sharp cheddar were delicious.  The challah roll bun was a great twist—another thing I’ll probably try at home.

At Janitzio, on MLK, conveniently located a mere block and a half from our house, we had enchiladas and fajitas.  The Enchiladas Mole with chicken ($8.99 for two huge ones, not pictured) are wonderful, though the nutty sauce could use a little kick; and the Enchiladas Suizas ($8.99 for three) are one of my favorite dishes here.  The sauce is sour-cream based, mixed with a little salsa verde.  I always substitute black beans with this combination, too!

Have you noticed a pattern here?  That all this food (especially the items I ordered) are kind of… absurd?  And by “absurd,” I of course mean “delicious” as well as “haute junk food.”  Well, this one takes the cake.

Behold the Tavern Dog, a quarter pound Angus beef frank wrapped in bacon and deep fried, topped with cheese and onions (and, supposedly, chili—although mine didn’t come with any!), wrapped in a cheddar cheese blanket (which is essentially a huge circle of crispy, fried cheese), on a bun.  With fries.  This monster is $8.99, and was, perhaps surprisingly, wonderful.  The Angus beef dog was just delicious, and I’m a sucker for a good slab of fried cheese.  When I was little, my mother used to make it on a cookie sheet as a snack—true story.  The Tavern should think about entering this dish into that fried foods contest at the State Fair.  Also, it reminds me of this.

Of course I ate all of it.

Check back soon for new recipes!