One Week In (reflections on Whole 30 and stuff)


I don’t believe in detoxing from sugar. While I think that it’s possible to consume too much of it with deleterious effects on your body, I think that “detoxing” suggests dependency and addiction. There’s also a mystical component to it that classifies food in the same category as a toxin, and I just don’t subscribe to that line of thinking.

I also don’t believe in “cleanses.” We have livers and kidneys and small intestines for a reason. Their primary function is to cleanse our system of the things it doesn’t need. To quote my doctor, “anything that makes you poop is a cleanse.” And, again, the valence of the word “cleanse” within the context of eating suggests that if you’re not eating these things, you’re eating dirty, impure, or unpleasant things. I don’t subscribe to this school of thought, either.

I do believe in balance and mindfulness.

Eating (mostly) Whole 30 for the past week has made me more mindful of what I’m putting in my mouth. I lost about 5 pounds this week (I was up a little on Monday morning due to weekend indulgences). I ate lots of lean protein, a crapton of veggies and fruit, and more cashews than I thought would be possible. I took in very little sugar and dairy (basically enough to make my coffee palatable), swapped out diet sodas for hot tea and sparkling water, and ate wheat (a tortilla) once. As of this writing, it’s been a week since I had a Coke Zero or a Fresca (both of which I would consume once daily) and I haven’t missed them at all.

I’ve been reflecting a lot on how much bread I ate before adopting a Whole 30-forward diet: grazing on Goldfish, pretzels, cheez-its, ritz crackers (usually upon arriving home with the kids in the evening and shoveling something in while getting dinner ready), pasta nights with soft French bread and butter on the side. Cereal or toast for breakfast. Snack bars in the afternoons. Ice cream bars at night. My processed carbohydrate consumption was out. of. control.

Other pros of Whole 30: the leftovers get used, mostly by me. I repurposed last week’s turkey taco meat into taco salad, and made breakfast out of the chicken verde. It feels good to be wasting less food.

Cons: It’s so much meat, and it’s so much cooking. Now, I do a lot of cooking during the week, but holy cow, is this a lot of cooking and prep. How would someone with an inflexible schedule (say, an 8-5 job, kids with extracurriculars, etc.) manage this? But mostly? It’s too much meat. I know that the preferred meats in this plan are grass-fed, organic lean meats, and I reckon I could go source that at the farmers market, but the price goes up exponentially. And I can’t, in good conscience, eat (and feed my family) feedlot meat 5-6 nights a week. It’s bad for our bodies, it’s bad for the environment, and it’s cruel to the animals. (We drove past a feedlot outside El Paso back in December and OMG, not only did it go on for MILES — there were stacks on stacks of cows crammed in these pens, and the ones that were sitting were doing so in muddy sludge — it REEKED. I was gagging at the fetid ammonia smell, something I don’t want to associate with a steak or a burger.)

So, in short, I’ve decided that strict adherence to Whole30 isn’t for me (but I kinda knew that going in). But I can feel that my body likes this healthier regimen of heaps and heaps of fruit and veg, fewer processed carbs (no more than one serving per day), NO DIET SODAS (it’s been 10 DAYS!!!!), and drastically fewer sweets (one serving per week, and not a slice of cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory, but like, a cookie). This is a way of eating that feels right for me, from a food-consumption standpoint, a quality of life standpoint, and an ethical consumption standpoint.

So, without any further super-privileged navel-gazing about my food choices (just last night I told the BK, who was kvetching about dinner, to think about the kids at his school who wouldn’t have a yummy dinner, so it’s rather ironic that I spend so much time fussing over and analyzing what I eat), here’s our menu plan for the week.

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Sunday: Baked chicken with spinach and artichokes (This was not very good, I thought. The chicken, while tender and juicy, wanted more seasoning, and the three tablespoons of fat made for greasy, greasy vegetables. Not an ideal combination.)

Monday: Steak, broccoli, roasted potatoes (This didn’t happen, as the husband was sick and working late and I didn’t want the meat, so I had a salad, while the kids had mac and cheese.)

Tuesday: Arugula with roasted salmon and potatoes  Just gonna keep the salmon in the freezer and have the steak tonight instead.

Wednesday: Veggie frittata with spinach and peppers (blessed, blessed meatless dinner!)

Thursday: TBD (it’s the night of our school spelling bee, and I’m the coordinator/emcee/pronouncer/judge)

Friday: Tacos (with shells for the family, taco salad for me)

Saturday: Historically our dining-out night. So, we’ll see!

Lunches will consist of salads topped with lean protein, mostly. I’ve got a cache of boiled eggs prepped for the week.

Breakfast will alternate between egg-centric whatevers, Rip’s Big Bowl with unsweetened almond milk, and chicken sausage with fruit on the side.

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Call for Submissions: Tansy, a foodlore zine


 

Tansy, or golden buttons.

Tansy, or golden buttons.

I’ve started a new passion project, Tansy, a foodlore zine. Please consider contributing! I’ve already gotten some great submissions (and ideas for submissions). The more voices we have, the richer the story will be!

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS: Tansy, a new zine focused on representing people’s personal experiences with food, seeks submissions for its inaugural issue. Each quarterly issue will center on a specific food; we’re kicking things off with STRAWBERRY. Submit your memoirs, essays, fiction, poems, recipes, original line art/comics, photos (high resolution, please) to tansymag@gmail.com, along with a brief bio. Submission deadline is May 31, 2014. Please limit submissions to no more than 1500 words.

Meal plan: 5/4/14-5/10/14


The semester is over and, beyond fielding queries from students with questions about their final grades, I’m done teaching for now. (For the foreseeable future, really.) I’m now concentrating on writing and my postdoc, working on lots of exciting new projects and hoping to make something happen with my food-writing career.

I’ve been cooking a lot; partly because I’m reviewing some cookbooks, but also because I haven’t had much opportunity to spread my wings in the kitchen over the past several weeks. I have so many unfinished projects hanging over my head, I’m really relishing the short window of time I’ve got right now to get caught up on things domestic before summer madness starts.

To that end, I’ve been putting my cast iron skillet through its paces of late, as well as working through my aversion to cooking things in oil. Being raised by a lifelong Weight Watcher makes one skittish about frying things, but I’ve been trying to relax in that regard a bit. Everything in moderation, right?

I’ve got lots of things to say here in the coming weeks and months. But for now, here’s a meal plan.

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crispy chicken thighs

Sunday: wiener schnitzel (technically, schweineschnitzel because I don’t eat veal), mac and cheese, steamed broccoli, because nothing says “bathing suit season” like breaded, fried pork cutlets and rich, creamy, fat-drenched pasta.

Monday: chicken spaghetti, salad

Tuesday: I went to the Women Behind the Wheels class at Antonelli’s; the kids had mac and cheese and hot dogs and Matt had leftovers.

Wednesday: crispy chicken thighs, salad, crusty bread and Mt. Tam

Thursday: catfish tacos

Friday: roasted cauliflower tacos

Saturday: I’m hoping we’ll go grab some pizza from Sauced and help them stay open.

What are y’all eating this week?

Foodie Field Trips: Treebeard’s (Houston)


Back in the late ’90s/early ’00s, I worked as the Music, Arts, and Movies editor for Houston Citysearch. In many ways, it was the perfect job for me, back before the site was a Yelp-like, user-curated city guide. I got to create all sorts of content, previewing and reviewing movies, records and concerts, and exhibits at places like the MFAH. My work days were filled not only with writing these pieces, but also planning an editorial calendar, attending movie previews and private gallery tours complete with catered lunches. My nights were spent in various clubs and music venues, or at the theatre or the opera. Yes, I was working 50-60 hours a week and only making $27,000/year, and it was super corporate, but dang, it was fun. Our office was on Main Street in downtown (not too far from Minute Maid Park; I could have walked to Astros games after work. In fact, I’m not sure why I didn’t.), very close to lots of cool restaurants. (I was a big fan of Mission Burrito, which had a location about a block away from the office.)

One of my most favorite places to go for lunch was Treebeard’s, which was just around the corner at Market Square (and two doors down from Warren’s, one of my all-time favorite bars). Now then, given that I wasn’t making more than $500/week and had student loans, credit cards, and a car payment, Treebeard’s was a total splurge, as the daily lunch plus cornbread and a drink was about $12. I hadn’t really had much exposure to Creole food before living in Houston (at least that I can recall), and I remember being completely blown away by the red beans and rice (my absolute favorite dish there; it’s their signature dish for a reason). It’s a cafeteria-style setup, with a rotating menu of three mains (stuffed pork chops, chicken fried chicken, pot roast, blackened catfish, and the like) and assorted sides (black eyed peas, grits, mac and cheese, etc.).

Baked catfish on dirty rice, topped with étouffée.

Baked catfish on dirty rice, topped with étouffée.

Work-related travel found me in Houston last week and as I was considering my lunch options — there’s a lot of interesting stuff going on in Houston, culinary-wise — I seized on Treebeard’s and didn’t look back. I left Citysearch and moved away from Houston in August 2000, so a good decade-plus had passed since I’d last eaten there. I was so pleased to walk in and see that nothing had changed. I grabbed my tray, my glass for iced tea, a fruit cup, and went full-bore with my order of baked catfish atop dirty rice, with a side of jalapeño cornbread. The picture here doesn’t do it justice — this was an enormous portion (I must have stretched my expensive lunches into two servings back in the day), and I couldn’t finish it despite my best efforts. Everything tasted just as I remembered it, flooded as it was with memories of a very different time in my life.

In all honesty, my return to Treebeard’s  — among other things — has made me somewhat circumspect. Dang, I loved all the writing I got to do then, and all those perks sure were nice. And I left Citysearch to go to graduate school, ostensibly so that I could become a better writer (also, working at Citysearch could sometimes be … a bit of a you-know-what-show, especially once Ticketmaster bought the company, or Barry Diller bought Ticketmaster or whatever). I don’t think a job like that will ever come up again, but when I boil that experience down to its essence — writing about things I was (and am) passionate about, I get a little thrill. Who knows what else is out there? Who knows what’s possible these days? All I know is that I want to get back to that m.o. of Always Be Writing, even when it’s hard.

Oh, another thing about Treebeard’s: they have a pretty sinful assortment of desserts, and I was eyeballing the saran-wrapped squares of butter cake for the drive home. But since I’ve been making some progress on the Weight Watchers front, I opted to stick with my fruit. Of course, later, my Houston-based friend recommended that I get some butter cake to take home, d’oh! So on Friday, I made this. It were tasty.

butter cake

 

Do you have any restaurants that define a certain time in your life? If so, are you still able to visit them?

Meal Plan: Week of 4/6/14 – 4/12/14


veggies

This past Friday, we received our first delivery from Farmhouse Delivery. After my experience at Foodways Texas, I’ve been looking for ways we can both reduce our carbon footprint and support local producers from within the kitchen. I signed us up for East Side Compost Pedallers and did some shopping around for CSAs, ultimately deciding on Farmhouse because I liked the ability to add on things like milk and cheese curds from Mill King, bread from Easy Tiger, and eggs from Pelham Lane Farms. I was hoping to get some Rockstar Bagels in our first drop off, but every time I added them to my cart, some weird $14 “cardamom bars of joy” showed up in my shopping cart instead. THAT’S FINE I DIDN’T WANT ANY BAGELS ANYWAY.

Anyhoo, I opted for the large weekly bushel and on Friday, I opened the box to find rainbow chard, spinach, strawberries, a small bunch of rainbow carrots, a huge bunch of parsley, a couple of sweet potatoes, a couple of artichokes, a gorgeous head of red leaf lettuce, and a big bunch of scallions. So, I’m faced with planning our meals around these veggies, many of which I rarely use. The chard, in particular, made my knees quake a little.

You see, when I was expecting the Little Kid, I had some, uh, food aversion issues. Meaning that I would eat food and then my body would decide it was averse to it. One day in particular, I made Eggs in a Nest for my lunch. I wanted to like it, really. But my body did not get the memo and I’ve avoided chard like the plague ever since. But now she’s five and I reckon it’s time to get over myself.

The farm box didn’t contain enough to keep me from having to go to the grocery store, but it has ensured that I’m incorporating veggies into every single meal. Plus, this gives me the opportunity to try some things I’ve not tried before, like branching out into sauces and whatnot. I already used the lettuce for dinner on Friday night (we’re not paleo, but I’ve found some really yummy recipes out there in that world, and I’m very glad there was enough of this taco salad left over for me to take some for lunch later this week).

Sunday: I ran the Cap 10K this morning and am celebrating with friends and margaritas at Maudie’s

Monday: Beef empanadas with chimichurri sauce. I might also use the sweet potatoes from the farm box to make these, but we’ll see.

Tuesday: Rainbow frittata muffins (recipe below), roasted artichokes

Wednesday: Chicken tikka masala, rice, naan

Thursday: Steak and brussels sprouts

Friday: Baked chicken wings, carrot and celery sticks, salad

Saturday: TBD. We usually dine out on Saturdays, so we’ll probably do pizza or tacos or something.

rainbowfrittatas

 

It’s been a while since I’ve shared a recipe here, so I thought I’d do so today. Here’s a ridiculously nutritious vegetarian main that’s super easy for a weeknight. Serve with crusty bread (and a salad if you want to be super wholesome; add a chunk of cheese if you’re feeling like indulging).

Rainbow Frittata Muffins
makes 12 mini frittatas
adapted slightly from Veggiestaples.com

12 eggs
1 cup chopped rainbow chard
1 cup chopped spinach
1 cup diced red bell pepper
3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray cups of muffin tin with cooking spray.
Crack eggs into mixing bowl and whisk together.
Add in vegetables and cheese, add salt and pepper to taste.
Pour the mixture into the muffin tins.
Bake for 20 minutes.

 

 

 

 

Foodie Field Trips, Denver Edition: Lucile’s Creole Cafe


Hello, and welcome to another edition of Foodie Field Trips! Today’s post is the first in a series of FFT posts dedicated to our summer trip to Denver, where we ate a lot of really good food guilt-free because when we weren’t eating, we were hiking our butts off!

While it’s no Houston or Chicago or New York or Los Angeles, Denver has a pretty interesting food scene. Its position in the landlocked Rockies in the middle of the West means that while there aren’t a ton of fresh seafood restaurants, there is a lovely cultural patchwork quilt of foodways. There are Native American restaurants, truly legit Mexican restaurants, Vietnamese places, and fantastic breweries and coffeeshops and bakeries (my friend Kelli swears by the Spring Fling cake at The Market). That said, the presence of major professional athletic teams means that there is also a preponderance of dude-bro sports bars trafficking in overpriced burgers and fries (in general, my rule of thumb is to avoid restaurants situated near Coors Field).

Today I want to talk about Lucile’s Creole Cafe, one of my longtime Denver/Boulder brunch favorites. (Full disclosure: I have never dined at Lucile’s for lunch. It’s only ever been a breakfast/brunch place for me.)

I was first introduced to Lucile’s when I was in graduate school on Boulder, when my friend Aaron took me there for breakfast one day. I was completely wowed by the delicious chicory coffee and the towering buttermilk biscuits that could, quite frankly, constitute an utterly satisfying breakfast, especially when slathered with butter and the housemade strawberry-rhubarb jam served in all-you-can-squirt squeeze bottles on the table.

2012-08-18 09.05.55

Helloooooo, gorgeous.

Now then, prices at Lucile’s are rather dear, but everything is a bit pricier in Denver than in Austin, where we live. There’s always a bit of sticker shock when we go up there and see that they’ve got no problem with asking $10 for Eggs Benedict. Then again, you get one of those massive biscuits with your meal, so there are some value-adds. I usually opt for Eggs Eisenhower, a very simple breakfast of eggs and homefries ($6.25; add bacon for another three bucks) which, if eaten around 10 or 11 in the morning, provides sufficient fuel for a few hours of hiking in Chautauqua or Flagstaff Mountain.

2012-08-18 09.03.09

Lucile’s is rather busy, especially of a weekend morning, so expect a wait when you go (this applies to the Boulder, Longmont, and Denver locations, and I assume the Ft. Collins location experiences similar traffic). While the Zydeco and jazz music and Mardis Gras beads hanging from every spare corner lend the restaurant a festive feel, the hectic pace means that you might not get as many coffee/tea/water refills you might hope for or expect from a calmer environment. Even though there are some frustrating elements to the Lucile’s experience, I can’t go to Colorado and NOT eat there. It’s just too ingrained in my experience of the place.

Next time: Pinche Tacos. The best margaritas in Denver or the best margaritas EVER?

Smitten Saturdays: Grapefruit Olive Oil Pound Cake


I have always loved grapefruit, although I’ve never cooked with it. For me, grapefruit is relegated to breakfast, halved and sectioned and sprinkled with a scant half-teaspoon of sugar. This is a practice cultivated in me by my paternal grandmother, Margaret, who would serve me grapefruit in this way during my visits to her home in Florida. In many ways, most of my memories of Meme are mediated through food: grapefruit, her delicious Christmastime almond tarts, egg salad with real mayo (which I did not care for as a child, but have since seen the error of my ways). Running through these food memories also unlocks scenes of hours of swimming in the pool in her subdivision, marveling at the magnificent (and kind of terrifying) thunderstorms that would rattle her carport, and developing my own sardonic sense of humor at her knee.

grapefruit

Even though I mostly visited Meme (and ate grapefruit for breakfast) in the summer, as I’ve grown into adulthood and seasonal eating, I associate grapefruit with wintertime. A Ruby Red goes nicely halved and served with a warm bowl of oatmeal, or cut into supremes and tossed with spinach, balsamic vinaigrette, pomegranate seeds, and pecans for a nutritious salad. But when we realized we were going to be homebound for the holidays, our travel plans to Arizona kiboshed by flu, we formulated a Plan B: the BK and I would spend Christmas Eve down the road at my folks’ place, while the ill LK would stay at home with my husband. I decided to make this pound cake to take with me to Christmas Eve dinner at my dad’s house as a gesture to Meme and how important spending time together — parents, grandparents, and children — is during the holiday season.

This cake (p. 241) was incredibly easy to make and is, to my mind, the most gorgeous of any of the Smitten Kitchen recipes I’ve made, ever.

grapefruit olive oil cake

You’ll notice that I let some pulp sneak into the glaze; I thought it added a kind of visceral authenticity to the cake, but such a choice might not be for everyone. I liked how the juice from the Ruby Red grapefruit gave the glaze a pinkish tinge, and the syrup gave the crumb a nice sweet-tart kick (I suppose if you wanted to go crazy, you could add a little rum to the syrup and turn this into a grapefruit olive oil rum cake). The cake itself isn’t terribly sweet, but the glaze should help satisfy even the most aggressive sweet tooth.

Next time: Slow Cooker Black Bean Ragout (p. 137) with a bonus that will surely have my children howling for my head on a platter, Spaghetti Squash and Black Bean Tacos with queso fresco (p. 143).

Smitten Saturdays: Rosemary Gruyere Sea Salt crisps


You guys, these crackers are RIDIC. And by “ridic,” I mean, “STOP ME BEFORE I CRAM ANOTHER 50 OF THESE IN MY MOUTH ALREADY!”

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One of the things I really love about this cookbook are the little easter eggs of wit scattered throughout. In this recipe, a note in the sidebar says “Dough can be made a day in advance. It will keep longer in the freezer. Baked crisps keep for up to 2 days at room temperature in an airtight container, and up to a month in the freezer. They will not last 5 minutes at a party.” This is some serious truth. I popped two of these puppies in my mouth without thinking before they’d even had time to cool on the baking sheet. The crackers are light and airy and super-flavorful and waaaay too easy to eat like popcorn.

This is, hands down, my favorite recipe from the cookbook so far. I chose them for this week’s entry because I thought they’d be perfect to serve at a party  or take to a potluck, but it also occurred to me while making them that they would also make a nice foodie gift. This recipe is super-simple (unless you do what I do and use a tiny star-shaped cookie cutter instead of just slicing up the dough; tiny cookie cutters, in my experience, generally add an unnecessary layer of complication to any foodstuff), and in the right packaging, these crackers would serve as a very sophisticated alternative to traditional Christmas cheese straws. (I have grand plans to convert some frozen berries into gift jams, make gift loaves of cranberry tea bread, and already have several dozen cookies stashed in the freezer to pop into tins next week and give as teacher gifts, so why not add these to the list?)

One tiny note on the recipe: the instructions say to combine all the ingredients in a food processor and “pulse until the mixture resembles coarse, craggy crumbs.” Perelman does not specify which blade to use in the food processor; I used my dough blade because I’ve found that the big, supersharp standard one turns any sort of dough into sawdust. Also, I pulsed past the “coarse, craggy crumbs” stage because I thought it looked too dry and pushed on through to the Dippin’ Dots stage because it seemed like the mixture would hold together much better when it came time to roll it out.

I only baked off about a third of the dough this morning because we had a long to-do list, and I am very glad that I still have enough dough left for about another 60 crackers, which would make one generous holiday gift and one generous snack!

Smitten Saturdays: Mom’s Apple Cake


I get so frustrated when my students don’t follow instructions. They get failing grades on their essays and assignments because they didn’t read the assignment description all the way through, or were confused and didn’t ask for help or clarification. I know it’s part of learning how to be a grownup, falling on your face and learning from your mistakes, but I want them to succeed just as much as they do, so it bums me out when that first, most important step is overlooked.

And really, so much in life depends on following instructions. Assembling an IKEA dresser. Inserting a central line in the ER. Filing a brief in federal court. Preventing pregnancy.

Read the directions. That information is on the syllabus. The key to success often starts with following instructions.

So it really chaps my royal hiney when I don’t follow (or in this case, misread and misinterpret) instructions, as I did for this first installment of Smitten Saturdays. I ran headlong into making Mom’s Apple Cake (p. 239 in the cookbook) without contemplating the difference between a tube pan and a bundt pan. (You know where this is going, right?)

You see, when you use a tube pan as the recipe indicates, the cook time as written will probably work for you. And when it comes time to remove the cake from the pan, you get something gorgeous. When you use a bundt pan, the cook time is a lot longer, your cake cooks unevenly, and it looks like this after you try to wrestle it from the pan:

Beautiful, no? No. But it’s tasty and my house smelled incroyable while it was baking, like crunching leaves and crisp fall wind and apple cider (never mind that it was nearly 90 degrees here yesterday). I’ve already had a generous hunk of it for breakfast, and every time my husband walks past the wreckage of the cake, he pinches off a bite and makes yummy noises.

How did your first Smitten Saturday go?

Foodie Field Trips: Houston!


It seems ridiculous to write a Foodie Field Trip post about Houston, given that it’s one of the nation’s best cities for dining out. But I thought I’d share our experiences dining out as a family with two picky eaters on our recent trip to Houston.

When I lived in the Bayou City about 10 years ago, I had my favorite haunts, from Cafe Adobe to the Hobbit Cafe to Barnaby’s and The Grotto. And Mai’s and Mo Mong and Niko Niko’s and, and, and … the list goes on. This time around, I wanted to check out some restaurants that had popped up since I left Houston since we don’t make it down there very often.

We arrived around lunchtime on a Saturday and, after a few false starts, wound up at Shiva, which was a favorite place of mine back in the day. I won’t say much here other than I reckon that absence makes the heart grow fonder. I wish we’d gone to one of the more legit/less dubious places on Richmond/Hillcroft. Moving on.

After our trip to the Natural Science museum, we met some good friends for dinner at El Real, which is co-owned by Robb Walsh. Walsh is the food critic for the Houston Press (where I got my start in this crazy, mixed-up alt-weekly world) and is an expert on all things Tex-Mex. In fact, a friend of ours got us his Tex-Mex cookbook as an engagement present.

Despite the fact that it is probably a touristy-kind of location (it’s right on Montrose in the space right next to Mo Mong; it used to be a Hollywood Video store and there was a gay bookstore right next to it), I found El Real to be pretty awesome. I got the puffy tacos with black beans and guacamole (being off beef, white flour, and dairy sort of limits one’s options, but corn masa is your friend) and really, really liked them. The Big Kid had his first-ever Frito Pie, although he eschewed the traditional Frito Pie consumption methodology of just dumping everything into the bag of chips (please forgive the low quality of this photo; I took it with my phone and the lighting was craptacular):

 

Our friends got some very sexy-looking enchilada plates, including the Roosevelt, which features a fried egg on top. Decadent! I decided to go out on a limb and order a “behaving myself” margarita called La Flaca, with tequila, lime juice, and agave nectar and it didn’t taste any different than a regular margarita (I will resist the temptation to suspect that this means I didn’t actually get a skinny margariata). My one suggestion is that you avoid filling up on chips because 1.) they are pretty average and 2.) there will be less room in your belly for your delicious puffy tacos or enchiladas. Why waste valuable stomach real estate on mediocre chips?

The next morning, we went to the Avalon Diner in River Oaks. Despite the fact that it’s in a pretty chichi ‘hood, the Avalon was very comfortable and VERY kid-friendly. It was also VERY busy; we were lucky enough to arrive ahead of the Sunday-morning rush and were seated immediately, but there was what looked to be a very long wait by the time we left. It has a pretty retro feel from the booths down to the milkshake machine behind the lunch counter. The portions were generous and quite delicious, and the price point, while reflecting the neighborhood, was pretty fair considering the linebacker-pleasing amounts of food piled onto our plates.

My “behaving-myself” breakfast of dry whole wheat English muffin, scrambled eggs, hash browns, and bacon (much of which was poached by the Little Kid).

The Little Kid’s silver-dollar pancake plate.

Finally, before heading out to the Woodlands for an obligatory visit to Trader Joe’s, we stopped by Pondicheri, just around the corner from the Avalon in the Upper Kirby district, for some pastries to take home. We had wanted to eat there for lunch the day before, but after checking out the menu, we decided that our kids wouldn’t really go for anything there and we’d end up not enjoying ourselves. Stopping for pastries on the way out of town was our compromise. I was disappointed to not get to try a frankie, but there’s always next time.

The space at Pondicheri is sleek and elegant, and the air smells like chai spices. There is a large chalkboard at the entrance listing all of the local farmers from which they source their ingredients, which is an ethos close to my heart. The two adorable guys behind the counter were effusive in their recommendations (and really, really, really wanted me to take home a piece of chai pie, but I feared it would be dead by the time we got back to Austin).

I ended up with a couple of brioche, a dote cookie (oatmeal and dates and DELICIOUS), and some luscious pistachio cookies redolent of cardamom. Oh, and a blueberry scone for Mr. Rubberbandball, which made his Monday breakfast very special indeed. Pondicheri, we will definitely be back.

So, since we only had 24 hours in Houston, we weren’t able to sample much of the city’s culinary wares. But it’s comforting to know that some really top-notch food is right down the road in a city that’s busting with cool things to do (and eat).