Austin to Boston Food Blogger Swap

Back in December, I had the enormous privilege to participate in the Austin to Boston (ATXBOS) Food Swap. I was matched with Jo at Hungry Crafter, which was a brilliant match, given our shared interests in food, cooking, and crafting.

After a few hastily exchanged emails (we were matched right before my defense) and following each other on Pinterest for a number of weeks, I felt ready to curate a package for Jo that spoke to both our overlapping tastes (hello, salted caramel!) and represented Austin’s local food culture.

In the package that went to Boston, I included the latest issue of Edible Austin, a copy of the Austin Chronicle (the one with my review of Bacon in it), a Bearded Brothers energy bar, some homemade matzoh crack, a small jar of salted caramel pear butter, some peanut brittle popcorn from Cornucopia, small pouches of vanilla bean sugar and Native Texan bbq rub from Savory Spice Shop, a bottle of Goodflow honey, some peppermint marshmallows from Coco Paloma (a last-minute addition that ended up making me miss the December 15 deadline, which was not a huge deal), a salted caramel brownie from Mary Louise Butter, and a couple of dishcloths I knitted. I am pretty proud of this goodie box!

I mailed the box out on December 16 (or 17, can’t recall) and held my breath. Jo was running late on her box, too. As it turns out, our packages probably crossed in the mail, as hers arrived here on Monday the 19th (the day before we were leaving for Phoenix for a week!), the same day that mine arrived in Boston! We really are truly kindred — and tardy — spirits.

Here are goods of Boston provenance that arrived that day: a bag of Effie’s oatcakes, of which I gobbled down two before reading the nutritional information; marshmallow Fluff (BK and LK had their first-ever Fluffernutters yesterday as a result); a bag of Fastachi nut mix; a bottle of maple syrup; some local dried cranberries, which are so delicious that I am rationing them for Very Special Salads and the occasional small fistful for snacking; a couple of pellets of Taza chocolate; and a couple of snack bags Jo made after observing my craft-related pins on Pinterest. She also included a lovely card with an image done by a local artist and tons of recipes and articles about the included products.

I am so pleased with this swap and to have made a new “penpal”! In fact, I may be presenting a paper (on food in The Hunger Games) at a conference in Boston in April and I hope to meet Jo in person (as well as get my hands on more of those cranberries!). Thanks to the organizers for making such a fun exchange happen!

Reading roundup

I am slowly but surely scraping deadlines off my plate, which makes me so, so happy. I hope to resume proper blogging soon, but in the meantime, I would like to point you to some other writing I’ve been doing:

A guest entry on elitistacademic about Breaking Dawn, part 1.

Recaps of Top Chef for the Austin Chronicle.

A blog entry about Christian’s new film, Local.

Tomorrow, I will have a review of Bacon in the Chronicle, and then a super fun feature in next week’s paper. And I hope to participate in next week’s Baked Sunday Mornings, too.

Okay! Off to do some chores and some reading and some shopping! It’s nice to not be buried under a pile of work for the first time in a very, very, VERY long time.

Nil Zip Zilch Nada

Y’all, I just don’t have a meaningful, proper blog post in me tonight, what with the grading and the dissertation defense prep. But I did watch a few DVR’ed episodes of The Pioneer Woman’s (awful terrible horrible) show on Food Network with my friend Crystal this afternoon (it was research!) and “live” tweeted it. My hope is that I will be able to corral those thoughts into something substantive within the next few days.

A milkshake for lunch

Today I had a milkshake for lunch. Partly because I’d worked myself up into such a froth of anxiety about my imminent Big Day that I couldn’t conceive of eating solid food and partly because I had seen these folks the first night of Fun Fun Fun Fest and was intrigued.

Handshakes is a new trailer in east Austin. They just opened up about a month ago, but the owner tells me that they are having their grand opening on November 12 and hope to soon serve “upscale grilled cheese.” The milkshake pictured here is called the Good Morning, and it contains oatmeal, vanilla ice cream, milk, and cinnamon. I paid a bit extra to have strawberries mixed in (the whole thing cost $6.50; not sure what the price was before the mix-in).

Handshakes’ signature milkshake is the Panshake; it’s got a pancake in it! Weird! Their other flavors include Banana Pudding, Corn, and the Grave Digger (cookies & cream). It’s got me thinking about all the different weirdo milkshake combinations out there. Peanut butter & Jelly (with bread!)!! Bacon and eggs! Donuts! Bagels and lox!

The possibilities, they are endless.

Top Chef premiere!

Today’s blog post can be found here. Spoiler alert: It’s a recap of last night’s Top Chef: Texas premiere and watch party at Uchiko.

Baked Sunday Mornings: Grasshopper Bars (and a Slow Food Quiz Bowl wrapup)

I don’t think I’ve ever had a grasshopper bar before, nor have I had the drink. I think I might have had a bite or a slice of grasshopper pie at one point in the distant past, but not in any recent memory I can access in my mind grapes. That’s probably because all things grasshopper are so very dated by this point that it’s just not a thing anymore. Besides, I like to get my chocolate-mint combo in Thin Mint form anymore.

That said, I really like these bars. They are quite tasty (and when they were freshly made last night, they even tasted a bit boozy, although that aspect of their flavor profile has mellowed a bit since then) and pretty darn easy to make. Of course, I’ve made some variant of the Baked brownie about a million times now, so that step is pretty much second nature by now. I was pretty nervous about the buttercream, certain that I would jack it up one way or another, but it turned out beautifully. Seriously, I have nothing but good things to say about these bars. I would totally make them again, and probably will, since I have 90% of a bottle of Creme de Menthe left over. (Which reminds me: I was a bit paralyzed by indecision at the liquor store when faced with the option of the white or green creme de menthe. I went for green, obviously, for verisimilitude.)

I took a few of the bars with me to the quiz bowl today to share with my teammates:

I think it took Kathryn, like, three hours to eat this thing.

The quiz bowl was pretty fun. It was great to hang out with my food bloggy friends, hang out and crack wise with my new friend Christian and his wife Julie, and meet and talk with local restaurateurs while eating yummy food. While our team did not fare so well (things I’m proud of: my pulling the answer for “raclette” out of thin air at the very last second, knowing what “farmstead cheese” means; Jodi and Kathryn pouncing on the ingredient list for the Moscow Mule; Megan knowing that “sushi” is called that because of the rice that’s used. Things I’m not proud of: costing our team 5 points for answering that authentic mozzarella is made from cow’s milk, not buffalo, EVEN THOUGH MY STUPID BRAIN KNEW IT WAS BUFFALO), it was nice to know that we were part of a much bigger project, which was helping raise money for Slow Food Austin and a local charity. The team that beat us, Barley Swine, went on to take the whole prize; they will donate the $1200 prize pool to Urban Roots, a worthy organization indeed.

After the event, the husband and I went home to relieve my folks of babysitting duties, and we cooked dinner. I made a huge salad, a big bowl of fruit, and Matt grilled some chicken, steak, and ribs. We turned off all of the various screens and just enjoyed each other’s company and conversation (topping off the meal, of course, with grasshopper bars!). Everything about today — from making the bars from scratch to sharing them with my friends, to enjoying the fruits of this community’s commitment to local foodways, to preparing and enjoying a leisurely meal with my family — was the very epitome of Slow Food. Everything is connected, no?

Slow Food Quiz Bowl!!

image snagged from the Slow Food Austin website

Well, it’s official. On Sunday, August 14, I will be representing — along with Jodi, Megan, and Kathryn — the Austin Food Blogger Alliance at Slow Food Austin’s annual fundraiser. What is it, you ask? Why, a Quiz Bowl, of course!

I am a fan of the Slow Food movement because it is committed to preserving local food traditions and emphasizing the virtues and pleasures of conviviality and commensality. (Look for a related blog post soon!) There are so many practitioners of Slow Food in Austin — Bryce Gilmore, the folks at Dai Due, the Kocureks, to name just a few — heck, if you go to the farmers market to stock up on your week’s groceries, harvest veggies from your backyard for dinner, make it a point to go to a restaurant that sources its ingredients locally, or simply take the time to cook the family meal from scratch, making sure that everyone is fully present (rather than bolting down food with eyes glued to the TV), you’re a practitioner of Slow Food.

It is my opinion that now, more than ever (ugh, such a cliche! But apt.), we need to work hard to preserve our local food traditions and place a bold underscore under the importance of eating together. What better way to stand up to the Monsantoization of our food supply and the McDonaldsization of our food culture than to eat unsullied, lovingly prepared food in the presence of our loved ones?

If you’re interested in attending the Quiz Bowl, you can buy tickets on the Slow Food Austin site. There will also be a raffle of cool stuff, as well as a live auction of cuts of meat broken down right before your eyes.

If you’re interested in contributing to our team entry fee of $150, which will ultimately go to the charity of our choosing (because we are going to ROCK THIS OUT!!!!), you can donate here.

Please do come out and support this very worthy cause. At the very least, it’s a good excuse to drink cocktails on a Sunday afternoon.

Shameless self-promotion

While I continue to plot a post on our mega-strawberry-picking excursion, please allow me to take a moment to point you to a guest post I did at Celebrity Gossip, Academic Style. It’s a little sneak peek at Chapter 1 of my dissertation, and it involves my Internet bête noire, the Pioneer Woman.

Nutella scones

Hello, and welcome to my inaugural entry into the Baked Sunday Mornings bake-and-blog-along! When I saw that someone had set this up, I was beyond thrilled because a.) I am a huge fan of Baked and 2.) I had just bought Baked Explorations and had already gone through and marked the recipes I wanted to try, some of which overlap with this project. Hooray!

So, the first entry in this saga is Nutella scones, which I had singled out as the first thing I wanted to try. I don’t normally keep Nutella in the house due to the fact that I like to eat it straight from the jar at any given opportunity. Fortunately, I had a tub of it hidden in the pantry as part of my BlogHer Food swag, so I didn’t have to make a special purchase.

The verdict on these scones is that they are pretty rich, with a deep chocolate flavor that comes from the quarter-cup of unsweetened dark cocoa powder (or, if you’re me, an accidental one-third cup! ZOINKS!). There is not much sugar in them, so what sweetness they have comes from the Nutella that is folded into the dough near the end and the glaze on top. I actually found them to taste better and less UNSWEETENED DARK COCOA WOAH after they’d sat overnight (the cookbook says that they have a shelf life of 24 hours, but I made them on Friday afternoon, just had a tiny piece of one now on Sunday morning and they are still yummy). Ironically enough, they taste like “natural” chocolate hazelnut butter, a la Justin’s.

I did find the dough to be a bit … dusty? Broken? It didn’t hold together very well, and when I tried to roll it out on the counter, it was a big mess, so I turned it back into my mixing bowl and added another tablespoonful of heavy cream, which helped pull the dough together. That said, the scones still had some structural integrity issues after baking (note the broken scone on the rack in the picture above; it fell apart as I removed it from the baking sheet).

Oh! I forgot to mention that I pressed the dough into a cake pan a la Smitten Kitchen’s recommendation for ease in cutting.

(You can find the recipe for the scones on the main project page, linked above.)

I don’t know if I’d make these again. If I did, I’d probably use less cocoa (obv) and maybe a touch more sugar. For a creative, nontraditional twist on scones, though, these are pretty ace.

BlogHer Food ’10, Day Two

So, Saturday dawned fresh and new and I woke up before 5:30. Even though my body was in the Pacific time zone, my body’s clock was still in CST. Fortunately, I was able to fall back asleep until my alarm went off at 7. Scooted over to the InterContinental for breakfast, where I met the manly Hank Shaw over the coffee urns. Seriously, that man can do everything! We got to chatting a bit and I told him about my research, which inspired him to introduce me to Elise Bauer, whom I revere simply for her banana bread recipe, which I have made approximately seven thousand times.

After the isolating and kind of depressing experience of the previous evening’s party, I decided to make friends at breakfast. So I joined a table of other lone-wolf types and struck up a conversation. One lady was from Pork. I can’t remember her name, but she was really nice. The other lady was Trish, an academic librarian at Stanford who also write the blog Cheeky Attitude. Trish and I would meet up again at the closing keynote panel, where I gave over my greedily obtained second sample portion of the bacon macaroni and cheese. That’s just the way I am, people. I’m a giver.

Morning panel: Urban Farming, including the aforementioned Hank Shaw. Other panelists included Joshua Stark, Margo True, and Novella Carpenter. They are all undertaking the admirable task of raising chicken, ducks, goats, etc. I’ll be happy if I a) manage to get a winter garden in the ground within the next couple of weeks and b) make a successful, botulism-free first attempt at pickling.

After that, I dithered about making my own field trip to Trader Joe’s, but opted to hang out and catch an early bus for the Ferry Building excursion. Lucky for me, because I met two lovely ladies on the ride over! Laura and I stuck together for our time at the farmer’s market (we were doing a scavenger hunt in hopes of winning a $500 gift card to, I think it was, which meant that we got to visit a lot of farm stands!). Liz and I met up again at the closing party.

I have to say that the farmer’s market excursion was probably my favorite part of the whole weekend. THAT, friends, is my bread and butter, exploring locally grown food and talking to producers of artisanal cheeses and so on. And making a really nice connection with another human being with whom you can gossip over Cowgirl Creamy grilled cheese sandwiches.

After that was the final breakout panel, on the importance of community in food blogging. I don’t have much to say about that, partly because I want to protect my dissertation ideas to some degree but also because it’s sort of at the root of some of my icky feelings about the conference. So that’s all I say about that.

Closing keynote with Ruhlman, Gluten-Free Girl, and Orangette Molly. It was a very raw, emotional, and moving panel. Probably more useful to me, dissertation-wise, than the community panel. The liveblog archives on BlogHer are useless, otherwise I’d direct you to the transcript.

Erm, then there was the closing party which had a bunch of mediocre food (apart from the life-changing pistachio-cherry brittle) and was sort of a time warp into high school when all the popular foodbloggers cheerleaders stuck together, cackling and tossing their hair while everyone else only wished they were that cool.

It was seriously cliquey is what I’m saying.

But I learned to make bacon!

And then I went back to my hotel. And then I went home. The end.

I guess I could sum up the conference thusly: It was a weird blend of ick (all the swag, which I did not photograph, but that you can get a sense of by looking here and here; the restaurateur who was giving out free $30 cookbooks to BLOGGERS ONLY; the feeling of being the ostracized loner in high school) and awesome (I came out of it feeling really inspired about my research and also in my passion for food-based social justice causes). Will I do it again? I don’t know. We’ll see where the year takes me.