Thursday, April 30, 2009

There Goes the Neighborhood

Our neighborhood knows how to do things up right. Every year for the last 18 years, the folks in our little community have gathered in the cul-de-sac to catch up on missed news, admire new babies and exclaim at how much the old babies have grown, and generally enjoy one another's company.

Photo by David Stence

Each family that attends throws in a few bucks for supplies and brings a side dish or dessert to share; in exchange, there are fresh-grilled hamburgers with fixings aplenty, a keg of Fireman's 4, two kinds of excellent homebrew, a professional DJ spinning tunes, crafts for the kids (and the adults), and the best company in town. It just doesn't get any better.

Geoff and Ed throwing down the burgers

DJ Jah Karma keeps the party groovin'

Over 130 people, quite a few canines, and even a brave feline attended this year's shindig. A great time was had by all.

It ain't fun if you ain't dancin'

Jackie and Luke cutting the rug (photo by Amy Wood)

There's a little something to keep everyone entertained at this party.

Owen and the bravest kitten in town

Crafts for the kids...

...and the adults!

Organizers and yard hosts Jackie and David laying it on thick (photo by Amy Wood)

LOTS more photos of the party available here.

Special thanks to organizers Jackie and David, Becky and Steve, Amy and Todd and Geoff and Monica for working so hard to make this wonderful event happen!


Sunday, April 26, 2009

Monsters vs. Mudbugs

For the last several years, we've been lucky enough to garner an invitation to a crawfish boil hosted by friends Cindy and Andy. This year was their 15th Annual rematch between the humans and the crustaceans known in the South as crawfish.

I don't think I'd ever eaten crawfish until I moved to Texas. My first recollection of eating them is maybe 13 years ago, when I was served a pile of rich, buttery crawfish tail goodness over rice made by my good friend Sarah, who grew up in New Orleans and knows a thing or two about preparing crawfish. I'd never learned the fine art of eating the whole critters until I started attending Cindy & Andy's annual boils. It is an activity not for the squeamish; you pull the tails off with your fingers, de-shell the tail and eat the bite of meat, your hands invariably becoming covered in crawfish drippings. If you're a real Southerner, you also suck the juice out of the heads. Mmmm, spicy crawfish brains.

Cindy, showing us how it's done.

This year's Bug Battle was attended by some 200 people. The mudbugs didn't stand a chance.

The pre-boil holding tank.

The kids were far more interested in playing with the live crawdads than eating the cooked ones.

Meanwhile, the adults drank beer, nibbled on side dishes, and mentally prepared for Mudbug Battle.

The newest member of Cindy and Andy's family, Jude, presided over the festivities.

The Mudbugs arrive!

Chef Andy, doling out the goods.

I didn't get any photos of the battle itself, as I was too busy sucking heads.

Humans 15, Mudbugs 0

Looks like the humans took yet another round. Till next year, Bottom Dwellers!


Friday, April 24, 2009

TacoDeli Redux

I know for most of you Austinites, TacoDeli is a place that's been on your radar screen for quite a while. Probably a latecomer to the game myself, I originally reviewed them on Yelp a couple of years ago. Their breakfast tacos have become fairly ubiquitous, of late, and can be found at Emerald City Press, Teo, and Dominican Joe's, among other places. But lest you think that breakfast tacos are all TacoDeli has to offer, think again.

I was inspired to eat at TacoDeli recently upon discovering that a friend we'll call John (because that's his name) had never eaten there. Here is how our e-mail conversation went:

Me: Where shall we go for lunch?

John: Somewhere where the beer flows like wine and the women instinctively flock like Salmon of Capastrano. (blogger's note: I like strange people)

Me: I have no idea where the women flock like Salmon of Capastrano, but how about X, Y, Z, or TacoDeli?

John: I've never been to Y or TacoDeli - how about one of those?


Needless to say, we arrived at TacoDeli just a few short hours later. I had raved to John about the Cowboy Taco, which was rated the 52nd best taco in Texas by Texas Monthly in a December, 2006 article delightfully entitled "The 63 Tacos You Must Eat Before You Die." We each ordered one of those; John also tried a Pork Mole taco and I had one of their specials of the day, a Shrimp Taco.

The Cowboy Tacos were perfect, as always. The Cowboy is a stunning combination of succulent, grilled beef tenderloin with caramelized onions, nuggets of grilled corn, and roasted peppers, topped with guacamole & queso fresco. I also usually add a layer of TacoDeli's addictive Dona sauce, which I somehow neglected to photograph - shocking, considering the fact that I dream about bathing in the stuff. It's that good.

Looking down the barrel of a Cowboy Taco

The shrimp taco I had was also fantastic - very garlicky and loaded with shrimp. Unfortunately, I was halfway through it before I realized I should have photographed it.

We also tried the Grasshopper cake balls from Holy Cacao, which are now sold at TacoDeli as well. In all honesty, I wasn't really a fan of these. The chocolate reminds me of Lindt milk chocolate, which I've never loved; it always seems too mild and weirdly mushy to me. The texture of the cake balls is similarly strange - not cake-y at all - more a cross between a Lindt truffle and a really heavy piece of fudge. Meh.

Holy Caca?

Oh, and did I mention that these little balls are $2.25 apiece? I don't think Holy Cacao is going to see any more of my business (although I think they're $1.50 when purchased directly from Holy Cacao).

To my delight, the mediocre cake ball failed to interfere with the luscious taco memory that lingered on my tongue. If the Cowboy is only the 52nd best taco in Texas, I have a whoooooole lot of eating to do.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Sorry, Charlie (but not really)

Despite having grown up with a mother who is a fabulous cook, and despite the fact that eating has long been one of my favorite activities (my mother claims that my first word was "cookie"), I've never really learned my way around the kitchen. Sure, I can follow a recipe (mostly), and I have a small repertoire of dishes that I can execute reasonably well by virtue of practice, but I'm not one of those chefs who can effortlessly throw together something amazing by pulling a bunch of random stuff out of the fridge and the pantry and dancing about tossing things gallantly into a pan. I'm clunky at best, painfully slow, and it just doesn't come instinctively to me - as my college roommates, who once witnessed me burning Jello - burning Jello - can attest.

But lately, I've suddenly had this desire to learn. I can't do anything too time-consuming, because my life is just too hectic to be making pasta from scratch. But I want to be able to turn out a decent, quick meal to share with friends or feed myself without whipping myself up into such a tizzy that I stop enjoying myself.

That's how I found myself at Central Market at 8:30 p.m. tonight after a trip to the dog park with Mindy.

I picked up a single albacore tuna steak and headed home, without the slightest clue what I was going to do with it.

After a little web research and a quick inventory of the spice rack, I ended up dredging the tuna in a mixture of fresh cracked pepper, sesame seeds, and lemon pepper. Then I seared it in sesame oil for a minute or so on each side. When it was done, I sliced the steak up, added just a splash of soy sauce, and laid it atop a bed of rice along with some dried kale I'd made earlier in the week.

And oh. my. god. It was good.

See for yourself.

Maybe there's hope for this Jello-burner yet.


Monday, April 20, 2009

Photographic Review - Banzai Sushi and Grill

A couple of years ago, I wrote a Yelp review of one of my favorite lunch spots, Banzai Sushi and Grill. This review can be found here.

After all this time, Banzai is still one of my favorites. A few things have changed; the shrimp tempura lunch special is now $6.99, and happily enough, it is now a special at dinnertime, as well, although I don't often go for dinner so I can't recall what the price is.

I was there for lunch on Saturday and snapped a couple of photos of my food ('cause that's the kind of girl I am). They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so here, my friends, is a couple thousand words' worth about Banzai's shrimp tempura lunch special.

Miso soup - comes with the special

Shrimp Tempura Bowl

Now doesn't that just look good enough to eat?


Saturday, April 18, 2009

What I'm Eating Now - Kale Storm

I like vegetables just fine, but am bad about making them a regular (ha ha) part of my diet. So when I was perusing foodgawker recently and came across this recipe for Tuscan Kale Chips, I hoped that having a batch of these on hand would encourage me to eat more greens.

I started out with a couple bunches of organic dino kale (also known as Lacinato) I found at WFM:

Don't you think this kale is aptly named? When bunched together like this, the leaves look very much like some sort of prehistoric reptile claw. Plus, kale is high in vitamins A, K and C and is supposed to help prevent cancer. What better incentive do you need?

I more or less followed the recipe to a tee, except that I tore the leaves down into more bite-sized pieces. The result was not as dramatic looking as the original recipe, but much easier to manage when eating.

Despite tearing the kale into small pieces, it seemed as if it took an inordinately long time for the kale to crisp up and some of the pieces never really got crispy the way I expected. The texture of most of the batch was more akin to nori than a chip - which I ended up rather liking given the way I chose to eat it. But if you're going for a crispy, crumbly texture, you might try setting your oven at 350-400 degrees, instead. (later edit: I made a second batch with red kale baked at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes and they were MUCH more chip-like - like eating olive-oil-y, lightly salted kale air. I have a convection setting on my oven, so you'll probably need more like 15 mn in a regular oven.)

This stuff is addictive, and so light that I can very nearly eat an entire batch myself in a single sitting. When added to rice with a little butter and a fried egg on top, it becomes a delicious and incredibly easy anytime meal. Two bunches of raw kale lasted me probably 7-8 such meals; since it was more or less dehydrated, I was able to simply store the kale in a Tupperware on the counter so it was ready to go at a moment's notice. Stunningly simple, and so agreeable to my Asian-food-loving tastebuds that I can't imagine tiring of it (which is pretty amazing considering how fickle my food desires can be).

All hail the mighty kale!


Monday, April 13, 2009

Puppy Love

Spring has sprung in Texas, and this year, it's lasted an unusually long time. The weather has been absolutely delicious (albeit a bit dry), so my pup Mindy and I have been spending as much time as possible at the unofficial dog park near our house. I've seen many a spectacular sunset there in the last few weeks, like this one:

and this one

Despite the lack of rain, a few wildflowers have braved the trampling of enthusiastic dogs to grace the dog park, as well. Most of the bluebonnets this year have been rather sad and scrawny, but a little rain this weekend seems to have plumped these guys up a bit:

I've also watched a little love affair blossom between Mindy and a shepherd mix named Frankie. Frankie generously overlooks Mindy's overblown sense of enthusiasm and enjoys showing Mindy all his favorite spots in the park. Here's a shot I took of them today, sniffing something particularly interesting together. I had to resist the urge to Photoshop their little tails into a heart shape above them. OK, not really, but aren't they cute together?


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