Processing (Chocolate Cobbler in the Crock Pot)


I’ve been quiet. I haven’t really had much to say, really. I put up my most recent entry two months ago and since then, I have survived another incredibly busy SXSW, started a temp proofreading/copyediting job, applied for jobs and fellowships, traveled to Boston for a conference, finished out the semester (probably my last at this Large Southern University), written a ton of freelance stuff, started a bunch of really cool projects, and done a bit of walking the black dog, if you will.

The completed PhD candidate with no academic job prospects is a curious creature, especially when that dearth of prospects is a bit self-created (say, you’ve got a husband with a really good non-portable job and retirement and kids in school and aging parents nearby and deep community ties; in that situation, you’re not really in the position to go chasing far-flung one-year postdocs or visiting jobs or other contingent employment with shit pay). Some people are supportive, some people think they’re being supportive but are actually twisting the knife with their words, and some won’t make eye contact when they pass you in the halls or at parties.

So, I’ve been doing a lot of processing. I hit a rather low point a week or so ago; the last day of classes, actually. It had been a pretty melancholy week. My husband’s elderly grandmother had passed away and he was about to leave for four days to go pay his respects. MCA died, a loss that truly felt like a bit of goodness had just left the world. And, it was the last day of classes. That was it, done, goodbye, no more teaching (maybe). I went to a party at the house of one of my committee members and I just … broke. The combination of wine and pity and avoidance just did me in.

And then my husband left for the weekend and the kids and I had a (mostly) perfectly lovely time together and something shifted. I was happy and content. I realized that have everything I ever wanted: a loving husband, two adorable (and maddening) children, a nice house, a pretty solid writing career, and I’ve achieved the one major goal I’ve ever set for myself, which was to get the PhD. I have a lot of friends and a supportive family.

I have a bright future. I just have to choose to see it that way.

I hope I’m not coming across as complaining or having a pity party. That is not the intent. I’m just trying to communicate my mental and emotional process over the past couple of months.

Sometimes the process isn’t pretty.

But things start to come together.

And then you have dessert.

I first saw this chocolate cobbler recipe on Tasty Kitchen (sorry, no link; it’s my policy not to send any traffic to Ree Drummond) a couple of years ago and thought, “Oh, that could do nicely.” And then I forgot about it. Then I found this crockpot-friendly adaptation while idly perusing Pinterest, and since I am home sick(ish) with a sick(ish) kiddo and it’s been raining, I decided to give it a whack.

Once upon a time, the Alamo Drafthouse had a molten chocolate cake that I ordered pretty much every time I went to see a movie there (pause for reflection on the closet full of pants that don’t fit…). They’ve since done away with it and have something called “brownie cookies” in its stead. They’re close, but no cigar. This chocolate cobbler comes close. Dangerously close. 

I won’t replicate the recipe here because I followed it as written. I will note, however, that the cook time as written might be a bit long, based on your slow cooker. My Crock Pot runs hot and the cobbler was sizzling after 2.5 hours. Served warm, it is a spongy cake interspersed with a chocolate sauce evocative of warm pudding. Top it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and you’ve got a perfectly satisfying dessert, the result of a long and sometimes-ugly process.

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Austin City Guide: The 5 Best Patios


This post is the second in a series of entries dedicated to the Austin Food Blogger Alliance City Guide 2012, aimed at helping visitors and newcomers sort out the city’s most notable food establishments. Over the course of the next week, I’ll be covering a broad array of topics dedicated to the best places to eat and drink and socialize in Austin.

Spring is nearly upon us, which means you have about a 15-minute window to enjoy your mimosas and eggs Benedict or margaritas and queso outdoors without being mosquito-bit and drenched in sweat. Here are the top five patios to enjoy Austin’s fleeting moments of nice weather.

5. Red’s Porch

Photo courtesy of Michelle Cheng of Foodie is the New Forty, http://foodieisthenewforty.com/

“Half Cajun, Half Tex Mex, Half Southern.” 100% South Austin.

4. Paggi House

Photo courtesy of Michelle Cheng of Foodie is the New Forty.

Slightly upscale, with lovely cocktails that you can enjoy nestled in the trees. One of the few places where you might run into your snooty Aunt Dora and your twenty-something babysitter on the same night.

3. Perla’s

Photo via Perlas.com

Play some shuffleboard or just kick back and relax while you enjoy your oysters and cold beer in slackadaisical South Congress style. (Word on the street is that this is primo real estate for Robert Plant and Patty Griffin sightings!)

2. Vivo

Margaritas taste better outside. As do puffy tacos, tortilla soup, and enchiladas!!! The water wall and aggressive plant-scaping almost obscure the fact that you’re butted up against the bustle of Manor Road traffic.

1. Contigo

I love this place, and not just because it’s in my neighborhood (East side represent!). Pretty much the entire restaurant is outside, and the feel is homey and welcoming. This picture doesn’t really do it justice, because I took it before they were open on a gray and blustery morning. Just think of settling in together on large picnic tables under twinkling lights (or near a warming fire bowl if it’s chilly), sharing plates of crispy green beans and housemade pigs in blankets. Or tucking into half a roast chicken while your tablemates savor their rabbit and dumplings, everyone trading bites (hygienically, we hope) and sipping cocktails and laughing and maybe challenging one another to a game of washers. It’s happy, neighborly chaos at Contigo, like a backyard block party.

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.

Local


It’s another hell week of deadlines over here, so no blogging for me right now. But I do want y’all to watch Local, the latest documentary in my friend Christian’s 12 Films project. I hope he’s proud of this really beautiful and important piece of work.

Prosciutto and Salted Caramel Pear Pizza


Yes, it has been more than a week. I pretty much blew it on the NaBloPlopPlopFizzFizz, didn’t I? Well, there was this little matter of a dissertation defense, and then I had, like, 8,000 papers to grade, and freelance projects to do, and life and stuff. Yes, excuses, excuses, but whatever. Life is good, even though I lasted all of like, six days, on this “blog every day in November” thing.

So, yeah. I defended. And I passed. And now I look to the future. There is one job I plan to apply for, but that pretty much means I’ve got to burn the midnight oil on job materials between now and the postmark date of November 30. Plus freelance work. Plus teaching. But that’s okay! Because soon the semester will be over! And I won’t have any more deadlines! Until I do!

Despite the fact that I’ve been ridiculously busy, I have still found time to hang out with my friends. In addition to the super-fun post-defense party at Contigo (omg, the tempura green beans and the pigs in blanket OM NOM NOM), a few days later I had my dear and lovely friends Crystal and Molly over to watch a few episodes of Why Quilts Matter and gossip and eat lunch. I decided to make a pizza that is an amalgam of a pizza I really like at Mandola’s and a recipe we saw on she-who-shall-not-be-named’s train wreck of a tv show.

First, I made the dough. I used 3 cups AP white flour, and 1 cup whole wheat flour. It helps to have active yeast that is actually alive. The last batch I had was dead, dead, dead.

After it rose, I pulled off half of the ball, drizzled some olive oil on a cookie sheet, then plopped the dough on the sheet and spread it out with my fingers. Then I spread the pear butter on the dough. Instead of fig spread, I used confituras salted caramel pear butter, as I thought the sweetness would contrast nicely with the salty, nutty bite of the fontina, as well as with the prosciutto.

Next time I might add a bit more fontina.

I baked the pizza for about 10 minutes at 500 degrees. I probably would have baked it a bit longer for a crispier crust.

Then I topped it generously with slices of prosciutto and a few handfuls of baby arugula and shaved parmigiano reggiano. Delish!

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.

Jack Allen’s Kitchen


I don’t usually do restaurant reviews here, but I’m making an exception for my newest obsession, Jack Allen’s Kitchen.

(Don’t worry, Olivia, Contigo, and La Condesa. I still love you, too.)

When my dissertation chair, the elitistacademic, invited me to lunch at JAK, she pitched it as “serious farm-to-table fare.” I usually don’t take much convincing to check out a new-to-me restaurant, but then I looked at the menu. HOLY PIMENTO CHEESE, HOW SOON CAN WE GET THERE?!

(Side note: When I was in high school, I went to a tiny Southern Baptist church in Crockett, Texas. Once a month the youth group would have a Sunday-night volleyball game in the annex, and the church ladies would make us sandwiches and provide chips and drinks and stuff. Every time they served pimento cheese, I would act like a five-year-old and make yuck faces and just generally be a brat about the vile orange glop. One night, one of the ladies pulled me aside and schooled me, rather fiercely, about my rude and childish behavior. I now have an enormous appreciation for pimento cheese, as well as for how annoying children who make yuck faces at the food you’ve made for them. So, sorry church ladies. But that stuff in the tubs from the Safeway was pretty darn gross.)

Anyhoo, I met up with the EA around noon-thirty today and after perusing the menu (I was curious about the Navajo chicken taco, but because spinach isn’t in season here yet, it’s not currently being served. I LOVE THAT.) we made our selections.

We started out with the pimento cheese appetizer (you get a wee sampling taste as a sort of equivalent to the basket of bread you’d get at another restaurant). I really, really had to restrain/pace myself. The housemade flatbread crackers were thin and crunchy and nicely seasoned, and the pimento cheese itself was creamy and mild.

Despite the wealth of truly fattening and enticing items, I opted for a salad, something called the Chicken Club Fancy Salad or something. It has achiote grilled chicken, sliced apples, figs, and blue cheese in it, and is tossed in a champagne vinaigrette. The chicken bore a surprising bit of sneaky heat, but nothing too overpowering.

The EA boldly ordered the chicken-fried pork chop. Look at this beast!

Underneath that monster is mashed potatoes and a vegetable medley that had zucchini and pattypan squash, as well as some others. EA sliced me off a piece and let me tell you: you have not had chicken fried ANYTHING that tasted as good as this pork chop. “You can tell this is local,” said EA, “because you can actually taste the pork and not just the [perfectly seasoned and crisp] breading.”

Because we were going whole hog, we asked to hear the dessert selection. There was apple-pecan cobbler. Banana toffee cream cake. And wah wah wah wah and also wah wah wah wah. We stopped listening after “banana” and “toffee.”

Friends, I have no words. “It reminds me of my Big Mama’s banana pudding,” I said. “It reminds me of the pies we ate when I was a kid,” said EA. It was pudding-y and cream pie-y and … well. I had to force myself to stop eating it because I was stuffed beyond comprehension. In fact, I skipped dinner tonight, I ate so much at lunch.

But I also got a souvenir!

Oh yeah, baby.

The space itself is lovely: open and airy with a lot of natural light and clean lines. Each table or booth is afforded its own generous footprint; there’s none of that elbow-to-elbow nonsense here. Our server, while scruffily goateed and ponytailed, wasn’t the burnout of my first impression. He was informative and polite and efficient and didn’t hover. Well played, sir.

So, all told: solid, solid dining experience. I called my husband on the way back into town and told him we had to go there together immediately. I think the words “homemade pimento cheese” and “chicken fried pork chop” sealed the deal.

(P.S. Sorry the pictures are sort of blurry. I think I need to clean my phone’s camera lens.)

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.