Douche Chilllllli!

Fall is here!

With the weather, it’s more like winter.  52 degrees in early October is unheard of in Austin.  It’s absolutely glorious.

Sundays are for yoga, cooking, and football.  Unfortunately, the Cowboys didn’t play today.  And I didn’t go to yoga, either; given my idiotic decision to take grad school classes on Saturdays, I haven’t given Ollie enough attention, so we went on a super long hike at the Greenbelt.

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Glorious

I decided to try some vegetarian chili for the first time.  I can’t know when the next cold snap is coming and I need to take advantage.

I have a few criteria when cooking: it has to have few ingredients, it has to be easy, and it has to be delicious.  Being healthy is an added bonus.  I coopted this recipe from Two Peas and a Pod and tweaked it a bit.  It came out gloriously, and I now have leftovers for the upcoming (shortened, due to Columbus Day and ACL) week.  It’s hearty and filling, and chock full of proteins and veggies.  It also makes good use of quinoa.  It yields a ton of food… my pot ended up being too full, and I had to cook some of the dish in a cooking pan.  Enjoy!

Quick note: This recipe calls for a ton of chopped/diced veggies.  My absolute favorite knife for chopping (and everything else) is the Inupiat Style Ulu and Bowl (pictured below).  It is super sharp, and the bowl is perfect for chopping anything, from carrots to butternut squash (ooo.. maybe I should add some butternut squash next time).  Find it at http://www.ulu.com/.

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Vegetarian Chili

Ingredients

1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed
1 cup water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, diced
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 medium zucchini, chopped
2 (15 ounce) cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1 (15 ounce) can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
3 (15 ounce) cans diced tomatoes
1 (15 ounce) can tomato sauce
2-3 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin

1/2 cup nutritional yeast

Salt and black pepper, to taste

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1. In a medium sauce pan, combine the quinoa and water. Cook over medium heat until water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Set aside.

2. In a large pot, heat the olive oil over high heat. Add the onion and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic, jalapeño, carrot, celery, peppers, and zucchini. Cook until vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes.

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3. Add the black beans, kidney beans, tomatoes, and tomato sauce. Stir in the cooked quinoa. Season with chili powder, cumin, salt, and black pepper. Simmer chili on low for about 30 minutes. Serve warm.

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DIRECTIONS:

1. In a medium sauce pan, combine the quinoa and water. Cook over medium heat until water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Set aside.

2. In a large pot, heat the olive oil over high heat. Add the onion and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic, jalapeño, carrot, celery, peppers, and zucchini. Cook until vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes.

3. Add the black beans, kidney beans, tomatoes, and tomato sauce. Stir in the cooked quinoa. Season with chili powder, cumin, salt, and black pepper. Simmer chili on low for about 30 minutes. Add in nutritional yeast. Serve warm.

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Garnished with Daiya vegan cheddar cheese, scallions, and avocado.

What’s Beethoven’s Favorite Fruit? Ba-na-na-naaaaaaa

I heard that gem of a joke when I was a sophomore in high school and found it a riot.  I went around all day screaming it at people until I realized that I was saying “Shakespeare” instead of “Beethoven” and therefore the joke made absolutely no sense.  I expect my comedy career to take off at any moment with this hilarious comedic sensibility.

As I said in my previous post, today was a day for rest, yoga, and cooking.  I decided to use up my mushy bananers to try my hand at banana bread.

I don’t like using eggs, but I haven’t found an egg substitute that maintains good texture and taste, so I usually just use homegrown eggs in recipes that call for them (last year I had a student bring me eggs from his backyard).  I found the egg substitute in this recipe to be perfect.  I had never heard of using flaxseeds before, but I understood the rationale when I was trying to clean them out of my food processor- they expand and get sticky, and when coupled with a few tablespoons of water they make the perfect egg replacement.  The batter for this bread was so good that Ollie and I both took advantage- he of the bowl, me of the spoon.  The bread came out soft, moist, and supremely tasty- the perfect complement to my risotto.

(Vegan) butter and sugar make everything better

Ingredients

1 cup of sugar
1/2 cup of butter substitute (Earth Balance)
egg substitute for 2 eggs (2 tablespoons of flaxseeds and 6 tablespoons
of water)
2 bananas
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups of flour
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of vanilla

Cooking

Put all of the above ingredients into a bowl and beat together with a mixer until smooth. Pour into a greased loaf pan and bake for roughly 45 minutes at 325 degrees or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Perfect golden brown

That’s it. Ridiculously simple and Ollie-approved.  Go forth and bake, my little lovelies.  Fall is here.

YOFO (You Only Farro Once)

I consider fall to have arrived when the temperature drops below 85 during the day.  I take what I can get.  I walked out of my door this morning to a hearty breeze with just a wisp of a chill.  It made for a lovely bike ride to the gym for yoga.

I think it’s somewhat dangerous for my gym to be so close to the grocery store, because I seem to go there almost always after I’m done working out.  And, to be fair, I eat much more healthily when I do my own cooking.  But my purchases aren’t always sound… champagne and guacamole rather than fruits and veggies.

Today I decided would be a good day to cook.  I had nothing to do except go to yoga and pick up some Party Holsters for friends.  My friend Kevin started a company that makes Party Holsters- holsters that hold your drink and keep it cold.  They’re beautifully designed and make awesome gifts, especially for punks who have decided to abandon Texas and its legions of conservative anti-intellectuals.  I bought one for Will, whose birthday is today, so he could look as obnoxious as possible at the Sydney bars, and one for Serena, who I’m going to visit in San Fran in a few weeks.  I met Kevin to pick them up amid the madness of the Pecan Street Festival, and felt vaguely as though I was participating in some shady business, especially when he knocked on my window.  But they came out beautifully and are great gifts.  Visit partyholster.com to get some.

Makes for one badass beer drinker

After a few days of drooling over Punchfork and FoodGawker, I decided to steal this pumpkin risotto recipe from Girl Makes Food.  I love recipes that are super easy and super healthy, and this was both.  It utilizes farro, a little-known Italian grain that’s slowly gaining ground in foodie circles.  After cooking with it for the first time today, it definitely will make its way into my normal wheats/grains rotation.  It is sort of like risotto or brown rice, but it maintains a lovely, strong, chewy texture when its cooked.  Farro is rich in fiber, magnesium and vitamins A, B, C and E, and, because it is so low-gluten, it can be consumed by glutenphobes and glutenphiles alike.  It’s also easy to cook.

This risotto is both delicious and healthy- it utilizes only a little bit of olive oil and veggies.  The pumpkin adds a yummy creamy taste and texture, and the dish is extremely rich.  This recipe will yield enough for lunch leftovers for a few days (which I’m looking forward to).

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons EV Olive Oil
3 ribs Celery (diced)
Onion (diced) (I would use a big onion if you can to add more flavor)
1 ½ cups Farro
3 cups Water
1 1/4 cup Pumpkin
1/2 cup Nutritional Yeast
Salt and Pepper (to taste): I am a salt junkie and I didn’t add any to this dish, which is saying something.  It’s fantastic on its own.

Instructions:

  • In a medium/large pot add the oil, onions, and celery

Celery, onion, and EVOO. I used a food proceessor for half the onion and the celery, but it came out too pulpy… next time I’ll use a knife and some elbow grease

  • Cook until the veggies soften, about 3 mins
  • Add the farro and water and crank the heat up to high

I love the farro because you can just stick it in the pan. Over time it will soak up the water and become firm, but chewy (sorry for the bad picture quality… I need to invest in a good camera)

  • Bring to a boil then turn to low and add a lid
  • Cook the farro until tender but chewy, about 40 minutes
  • Stir in the pumpkin, and nutritional yeast

The pumpkin adds nutrients and wonderful taste; the nutritional yeast adds a bit of nutty, cheesy flavor.

I served up a bowl, made myself a drink, and settled down to watch some football.  The risotto, with the banana bread for dessert (see upcoming post) made for a glorious introduction to fall.  I’ll end with what my lovely yoga instructor bid us goodbye with today: “Be strong, be good, and go change the world.”

Falling

I love fall.  Mainly because of football, despite the fact that the Cowboys can’t seem to snap the damn ball without having a false start and the Longhorns have similarly broken my heart.  Although I love the sunshine and 100+ degree days, there comes a time when I absolutely relish that crisp fireplace aroma that seems to pervade the entire neighborhood.  It’s lovely on Sundays to spend all day watching football with the dog, especially since I’m taking a grad school class on Saturdays because apparently I am a moron.

What I also like about fall is the lovely seasonal veggies that yield delicious recipes.  I love cooking.  I don’t do it enough, mainly because my kitchen is absurdly small and I live alone, so often my treats go unappreciated by anyone but me and Ollie.  However, when stressed, and too lazy to go for a run, cooking is the next best thing.

This is the best recipe for pumpkin muffins I’ve found.  Two notes before sharing: a) they are way more delicious when you use a huge-sized muffin tin, as there is much more of that soft, delectable center.  I love making these for coworkers, but I mainly end up eating most of them myself.  B) As the recipe calls for eggs, I always make sure I have local, humane-raised eggs- preferably from someone’s backyard.

I was super excited to bake this this evening, but apparently September brings out the pumpkinphiles, as Central Market’s pumpkin supply was completely exhausted.  Alas, another time.

Enjoy.

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Not the best picture. But they are the best muffins.

Preheat oven to 350F degrees.

Ingredients
3 1/3 c. flour
2 tsp. baking soda
3 c. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg

Mix dry ingredients and add:
1 c. oil
4 eggs
2/3 c. water
2 c. pumpkin

Prepare muffin tins by greasing with vegetable oil or butter (I use Pam).

Fill muffin tins three-quarters full and bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Indian Redux

It’s been awhile.

I know it has, and it’s not that I think that the few friends and family have been wringing their hands, wondering when I’ll post again, but I’ve missed writing.

I started working again, and going back to a full-time job after a summer resplendent with liquor and sunshine was a bit of an adjustment.  I am at a new school this year and, all though I adore it, my coworkers are incredible, and the kids are (for the most part) sweethearts, it is always difficult learning the ropes at a new place.  Couple that with my brilliant fucking plan to take two grad school courses this semester (one from 8:30-4:30 on Saturdays), and when I get home there is little left for me to do but pick up whatever detritus Ollie has spewed all over my carpet and watch Simpsons reruns.

I am slightly stressed, although there are nothing but good things going on in my life.  However, I have lately been feeling that intoxicating blend of angry and depressed.  And since lists are easy to read, here’s why:

1) Work.  Not because of the coworkers, and not really because of my kids.  More… what my kids have gone through, where they’ve come from, and the total fucking lack of support that most of them have.  If you’re going to have a kid, get your shit together.  Special ed kids’ problems are heinously exacerbated by the fact that for many of them (seemingly to a higher degree than in the general population), their parents are totally absent/don’t give a fuck/add to the problem.  Of course, some of my kids have lovely, supportive, encouraging parents who are invested in their kids’ education.  But it’s not many.  And it pisses me the fuck off, because the kids I teach need that support more than anyone else.

2) I realize that following #1 with the fact that my skin has gone completely haywire comes off as extremely narcissistic and superficial, but I don’t fucking care.  Maybe stress, maybe just bad luck, but my formerly spot-free, radiant skin has been besieged with dry spots, red, angry welts on my face that oh-so-charmingly resemble spider bites.  What. The. Fuck.

3) Friends being dicks.  My friends have all moved away.  This is not an exaggeration and I honestly didn’t think it would affect me as much as it has.  Two have defected to San Francisco, that bastion of bush men and Ghiradelli chocolates.  One to Florida, although I don’t know how, because Florida is even more chock full of crazy, inbred assholes than Texas.  Two schlepped away to Houston, at least within a short car trip, but still far enough to miss.  And then, best of all, my sister decided to abandon her neurotic yet lovable baby sibling and jet off to France, where she posts pictures all day of picturesque bridges and rivers and tulips and says shit like, “I just had a picnic on the banks of the Loire!” without any trace of sarcasm.  So she’s probably the biggest dick of all.

Ugh. Whatever.

4) Politics.  Too much to get into.  There’s still a month and a half to go until the election and every day some new bit of information comes out to thoroughly depress me.  If it’s not low-minded barbs or awe-inspiring gaffes, it’s middle east riots and starving children.  It makes me want to watch Sandra Bullock rom-coms until my brain turns to mush and I am no longer angry.  But, as some wise old bird once said and then plastered on millions of bumper stickers, if you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.

Transport me to a world of quick quips and handsome admirers, Sandy.

So basically, the state of the world is getting me down a bit more often these days.  And I realize that this is a food post and the reason I bring all of this up is the fact that there are probably three things in my life right now that never fail to cheer me up: 1) My patient, calm, mother who occasionally visits and drinks cocktails with me, 2) My lovely rabid canine, who, despite his penchant for destroying anything and everything he can get his mangy little paws on, is incapable of bringing me anything but joy, and 3) a good, solid, tasty meal.  If for one moment I can escape the world of vitriolic politics and ignore my skin and ever-increasing weight and mental stressors, it’s sitting down in front of a full, steaming, succulent plate of heavenly goodness.  This is what I did today instead of my first plan, which involved copious amounts of alcohol.  And since Indian food was what sated my hunger and calmed my nerves tonight, Indian food is what I shall, at long last, discuss.

There are 3 Indian food restaurants of any merit that are in Austin proper.  Clay Pit is probably the most popular, and it’s a chain restaurant, which should tell you everything you need to know.  Even though it’s a small chain, the only franchised restaurant I will ever sit down to eat at within Austin city limits is P. Terry’s, because it’s Austin-owned and so damned delicious.  Clay Pit is very standard, run-of-the-mill Indian food- the kind you take your grandma to eat.  I’ve been there once, and once was enough.

It doesn’t make sense to go to Clay Pit when there are two other solid options for Indian food in the city.

Garaj Mahal is the restaurant run out of a trailer on Rainey Street.   The ambience makes the place worth it; there’s nothing else like it.  It has the casual comfort of a trailer eatery with the added bonus of waiters, tables, a crazy long installation of bicycle art, and BYOB.  There are lights strung everywhere and since it’s in the heart of Rainey, it’s easy to follow up food with some cocktails or corn hole.  Since it’s open til midnight, it’s also a great place to go after you’ve been to the mezcal bar next door and have an acute case of the drunchies.

It’s dog-friendly, too

That being said, the food is nothing special.  The samosas are good: thick, fried, fluffy, artery-clogging goodness, and the pakore is decent as well.  However, the main dishes lack the seasoning and flavor that is a staple (and to me, the best part) of Indian cuisine.  That being said, it’s the perfect date spot, or a perfect place to take a visitor.  You can’t beat the atmosphere.

If you’re looking for the best Indian food in Austin, look no farther than Taj Palace. Located on Middle Fiskville near Airport and 2222, it’s on the north central side of town in a run-down strip mall.  Don’t let the surroundings fool you.  Once you walk in, you are greeted with white tablecloths, Indian music, and a great view of the big Tandoori oven.  It’s very traditional Indian, in both the atmosphere and the food.

Dicey location. Delicious food.

And the food is amazing.  The naan is thick, buttery, and fluffy, and the dishes are made with that lovely, intoxicating blend of spices that clears your nasal passages.  They’ll tone down the spice if you want, and the flavors are still perfectly melded together to create a wonderful mouthgasm of magnificence.

If you find yourself way, way up north, there’s one more good bet, and it’s another strip-mall staple, unassuming and slightly ghetto: Teji’s, across from Round Rock High School.  Teji’s is actually half grocery store, half restaurant.  The restaurant used to be nothing but paper plates and rickety tables, but they’ve since remodeled it to be bigger and slightly more visually appealing.  The food is incredible and the prices fantastic.  To be warned- last time I was there I couldn’t shake the aroma of a vet clinic.  I have no idea what that was about, but honestly, it didn’t throw me off one bit.  And if you’re curious, you can always window-shop lentils and saris while waiting for your food.

Paper tableware FTW!

Garaj Mahal

Hours: T/W/Th/Su: 5pm-midnight

Friday and Saturday: 5pm-2am

Call ahead during extreme weather

512-480-2255

91 Red River, Austin, TX

Taj Palace Indian Restaurant
6700 Middle Fiskville Road
Austin, Texas-78752 USA
Tel: (512) 452-9959

Teji’s

1205 Round Rock Ave #115

Round Rock, Texas 78681

http://www.tejifoods.com

Sagra: Indulging Your Inner Fatty

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I think one of the things that takes a restaurant beyond good is the willingness of the staff to accommodate.  Obviously, for chain restaurants where things are frozen in boxes, this is difficult.  Luckily, Austin is replete with independently owned businesses that make a name for themselves by catering to all palates.

Sagra is an unassuming little trattoria just down San Antonio St from the glut of fast-food restaurants abutting the University of Texas campus, but it is miles away in class.  Like Taverna, Sagra has $1 mimosas and bellinis during weekend brunch.  Unlike Taverna, there’s not a two-hour wait each weekend behind hungover frat dudes and well-dressed alternative lifestylers.

The atmosphere is cheerful and welcoming, and they have plenty of outdoor seating if you want to bring your furry friend.  Last time I was there, we were immediately greeted by the owner of the restaurant.  We mentioned that we were vegan, and he brought us their vegan menu.  There were a few mistakes on it (some of the entrees were still listed with meat on them), but he assured us that everything would come out vegan and the menus needed to be fixed.

Sagra’s front patio, with a partial view of the UT campus

We ordered two cocktails from the extensive drink menu and were not disappointed.  The drinks were strong, sweet, and delicious.  We were also brought a sort of bean pate to tide us over until our bruschetta arrived.  It was incredible, especially with some balsamic added.

The bruschetta (listed above) was adapted to be vegan, and made with fresh vegetables from Sagra’s garden (anything locally sourced is an A+ in my book).  It was heavenly: the perfect mix of fresh, bold, summer flavors like red onion, fresh tomato, and basil.

After another round of cocktails, we received our entree.  We decided to share a vegan pizza.

Vegan pizza is always a toss-up.  It can be really difficult to find a good one.  Making it with Daiya cheese or other dairy alternatives can be dicey, because the faux-cheese can overwhelm the rest of the flavors.  Sagra’s pizza is made with pistachio cheese, dropped in small globs over the pizza.  It was the perfect amount- the little globs made for a great explosion of flavor when you tasted them that didn’t overwhelm the rest of the dish.

We left Sagra that day sated and plump (probably slightly tipsy as well.)  My mom declared it the best restaurant she’s ever eaten at in Austin- high praise coming from her, as we’ve eaten at some great places together.  All in all, Sagra is a great choice for a date night or Sunday brunch when you don’t want the crowds.  The service is impeccable and the food superb.

Sagra

1610 San Antonio Street  Austin, TX 78701
(512) 535-5988

sagraaustin.net

Mmmm… sno cone…

 

In the unassuming north airport district, tucked in between a low-end convenience store and ramshackle apartments, sits a hidden jewel in the Austin sno-cone scene.

Normally anytime the sno-cone is brought up to an Austinite, they will immediately regale you with tales of Sno Beach, the burgeoning franchise with favorable locations on Barton Springs Road and North Campus.  The servers are cute girls, it’s cheap, it’s good.

No complaints there, although I think it’s overrated, particularly when compared to the heavenly manna that is Casey’s Famous New Orleans Snowball.  In the little wooden house, behind the wooden sign advertising to angry drivers on Airport Blvd, deliciousness is served in about a hundred different flavors… and then there’s the cream.

There’s a reason on hot summer days the line for Casey’s stretches around the side to the dirt parking lot.  And it may have something to do with their cream flavors.

The ambitious (and delicious) menu

I sadly had to give up the cream flavors when I gave up dairy.  And many sno-cone places have cream as a topping.  But these flavors are different; they do have cream you can add on top of any flavor, but the cream flavors (like chocolate, dreamsicle, egg nog, and boston cream pie, among others) are smooth, creamy, and a delicious mouthgasm for those who don’t mind the extra calories.

Heaven in a styrofoam cup

Casey’s has juice balls, made with fresh juice, sugar-free flavors, and regular flavors in addition to the cream flavors.  They hollow out two paths in the ice going to the bottom of the cup, and they are extremely generous with the syrup.  The workers are extremely friendly, the cones are cheap, the location is great, and there’s no better way (gastronomically speaking) to beat the heat.

Jen enjoys her first Casey’s Snowball

Casey’s New Orleans Snowballs

Summer hours: 7 days a week/12-9pm

808 East 51st Street  Austin, TX 78751
(512) 345-2999