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My love-hate relationship with my computer

April 12, 2005

Just a post to say…I hate computers! I just wrote up a whole blog with several links and a photo and everything, but somehow it’s gone, not saved, nowhere to be found. So you all have to wait to read another exciting post until I have the patience to try it again.

Ugh. Computers. I think I’ll surf the web now.

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Saveur Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival

April 11, 2005

Two whole days of gluttony on the shores of Town Lake…what more could you ask for? Justin, Leti and I rode our bikes to the festival on Saturday, and spent the first part of the day getting oriented. There was so much to see, hear, and eat!

The music stage boasted bands such as Fastball, South Austin Jug Band, Kelly Willis, and The Gourds, and next to it, the Central Market Cooking Stage hosted chefs from Central Market doing cooking demos. The biggest stage was the Saveur stage, on which Wolfgang Puck, Tyler Florence, and Todd English showed their stuff. The Flavors of Texas tent offered cooking demos from local chefs as well as wine tastings from local wineries. There was a book-signing tent where the celebrities could hang out and meet fans, and booths from Starbucks, Central Market, and Stubbs offering snacks or meals (although Starbucks was the coolest, because they gave away free cups of Frappuccinos and lemonades). The Gathering of Wagons area was hosted by the Texas Beef Council, and offered dishes from local chefs featuring…you guessed it…beef. And finally, The Big Taste was a huge row of tents housing vendors, restaurants, and wineries that gave out samples of their wares.

Saturday afternoon we watched a short demo from the chef/owner of La Traviata (the Italian restaurant we took my niece Kourtney to on her 14th birthday). She showed how to make her Bolognese sauce, which she uses in her lasagna at the restaurant. We got to sample some, and it was sooooo good! It takes 8 hours to cook, and includes veal, pork, beef, and bacon, so I doubt we’ll be cooking it any time soon, but we’ll definitely be visiting La Traviata again. We also sampled a wine from Grape Creek Vineyard, and though I can’t remember which one it was, it was pretty good (meaning I didn’t wrinkle my nose too much).

We checked out the beef section, and tasted chili, sausage, barbecue, and short ribs. We made our way to the Big Taste, and sampled chocolate silk pie and key lime pie from Dave and Busters, kettle corn, pheasant terrine (yuck), chocolate dipped strawberries, focaccia, a Columbian soup from Dona Emilia’s (we are sooo going there soon), smoked salmon, onion jam, Thai noodles, iced coffee, hibiscus lemonade, numerous wines, and lots of other things I can’t remember. Afterward, we were stuffed, so we sat down to listen to Kelly Willis for a bit before riding back home.

Sunday was a little more relaxing. We got to the festival a little earlier and staked out great seats in the Saveur tent. First was Wolfgang Puck, cooking up his Mongolian Lamb from his restaurant, Chinois. He was very entertaining, told a lot of jokes, and seemed like a nice guy. The lamb (pictured above) was sooo good. Yes I ate lamb. Yes I ate Leti’s, too.

Next up was a showdown between two celebrity chef/local hero teams. On one side was Tyler Florence and Mayor Will Wynn. On the other was David Bull (chef at the Driskill) and Ray Benson. The two chefs got a basket of goodies they had to use to come up with a couple of dishes in about 30 minutes. There was a lot of cheating, a lot of trash-talking, and a whole lot of fun going on. Although Tyler Florence definitely was a crowd-pleaser, it was David Bull’s team that won the showdown.

We stayed to watch Claudine Pepin and her husband, Roland Wesin (chef at Rivers Restaurant in Portland, Oregon) create potato blini with apple compote and cured salmon. They were fun to watch, but the sample was just so-so.

After this, we headed back to the Big Taste for more chocolate silk pie, plus bacon-wrapped shrimp from the Oasis, scrumptious dark chocolate-chambord fondue with pound cake, brownies, and strawberries from the Melting Pot (another place we want to visit), more kettle corn, sticky toffee pudding, and a few other things that again, I can’t remember. We stopped at the beef spot again to taste sausage, then sat down to watch the Gourds belt out some tunes.

All in all, the festival was a lot of fun, and I’ll know next time to stick to the Saveur tent for well-planned, entertaining demos. I’ll also wear sunscreen.

Most of the food was great, some of it was not so great, and I’m guessing a lot of the wines were good (but since I’m not a wine-drinker, I can’t say for sure). I ate so many animals this weekend, but I did say little prayers for them and tried not to waste a bit of them. Which probably explains my stomach ache on Sunday night…

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A day in the life of a happy person

April 8, 2005

Yesterday I rode my bike to the bed and breakfast, to see whether it would be do-able for me. I was there in 15 minutes. How cool is that? It was a great ride, too…it’s still not excruciatingly hot outside, so it was nice and cool, and the breeze was perfect. On the way back, I stopped to snap this picture.

So what goes on during a normal workday for a bed and breakfast cook? Well, let me tell you. You get up early. Very early. You drive (or bike) to work, alone on the roads, excited about cooking and chopping and serving and creating. You walk through the gate of a gorgeous property, punch in the access code on the door of a beautiful home, and step onto the hardwood floors. At this point, you look around you, grateful for the series of strange events that brought you here. You walk into the kitchen, flip the switch, put away your things, and slip on an apron.

Breakfast is served at 7:30, so you have a little over an hour to get things done. You preheat the oven, set out the newspaper, turn on the hot plate and the water for tea, check the coffee pot, and get to cooking. First comes the bacon…thick, perfectly marbled slabs of meat, laying side by side on a professional baking sheet. Then the hot foods…maybe a raspberry-stuffed French toast or a quiche that was prepared the day before and just needs to be popped in the oven. You set out yogurt, butter, cream cheese, milk, juice, water, bagels, English muffins, cream for the coffee, and jellies. You slice up fruit and arrange a fruit plate, and set it on the buffet. You check on the bacon and oven foods, and maybe start preparing banana-pecan pancakes or almond crepes. You heat up the syrup, check everything again, and set out the hot items.

As the guests walk in to the dining room, quiet and thoughtful with morning dreaminess, you greet them and point them toward the buffet. You go back to the kitchen to clean up and start preparations for the next day. Maybe you saute vegetables for a quiche, or maybe you slice French bread for a baked French toast. You might make a few batches of cookie dough, or bake a few to set out on the mantle for afternoon snacks. Throughout all of this, you check on the guests, clear away plates, and replenish anything that has been gobbled up. At the end of the breakfast service, you clear away everything, put the food away, sneak in snack of the remnants of quiche, French toast, or crepes, and clean, clean, clean. By noon, you’re done, breakfast for tomorrow is probably already prepped, and freshly baked cookies (maybe chocolate chip, maybe peanut-chocolate, maybe toffee-oatmeal) are on the mantle.

You walk out the door into the sunshine, smile, and hop back in your car (or on your bike) for a quick ride home to a nice hot shower. By this time, it’s time for lunch, and you have the rest of the day to research recipes, read a book, clean the house, or maybe write up a blog.

It’s funny to me that some of you may read this and know that you would never want to wake up early, cook and clean, and come home smelling like bacon. But I’ve dreamed of this forever, and now that I’m here, it’s as perfect as spring flowers.

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More about camping

April 5, 2005

I’ve had a few questions about our camping trip, so I thought I’d treat you all to a play-by-play of the weekend.

(follow along via Ofoto pictures)

We drove out to Colorado Bend State Park, near Lampasas on Saturday around noon, and arrived at the park around 2:00 p.m. Lindsay had snagged a tent and two sleeping bags for us from UT, and they ended up being of really great quality.

We all pitched our tents and set out our fold-out chairs and decided what to do with ourselves. The day was gorgeous, not too hot, not to cool, and not a cloud in the sky. We set out for a 4.5-mile hike around the park. It was the best hiking trail I have been on…it ranged from grassy fields to rocky hills you had to climb carefully, to shaded desert-like areas, and we had to cross streams several times (all of us trying very hard not to get our feet wet). At the end of the trail (well, it was actually beginning, but we hiked it backwards), a beautiful oasis of small waterfalls, natural springs, and a clear pond awaited us. The boys and I jumped in, being the only crazy ones in the group, I guess, because it was COLD!

By this time we were all tired and hungry, so we headed back to camp for some of my four-bean chili cooked over our tiny two-burner stove. Unfortunately, I left the house in such a hurry that day that I forgot the beans and the tomatoes, which are of course very important ingredients in a four-bean chili. We ended up having sauteed vegetables and tortillas and cheese and Chex Mix and cornbread, and the guys grilled up some sausages and made hot dogs with sauerkraut. It was all cooked over the fire because we couldn’t get our stove to work. It all turned out fine, though. Then we toasted marshmallows and chatted a bit, and headed off to bed.

I might add that by this time, it was COLD out there. Thank goodness we had super-duper-warm sleeping bags. They were a little claustrophobic, kind of mummy-shaped, but man, they were warm.

The next morning we got up (some of us earlier than others, and yes, I slept in) and the boys made breakfast over the fire…breakfast tacos (with egg beaters and veggie sausage) and apple dumplings (Chad’s very own specialty). It was so yummy and perfectly campy. We packed up our tents and trekked back to the springs to hang out (the boys jumped in again), then had a picnic on the grass with hummus sandwiches (with avocado, sliced tomato, lettuce, and cheese) and chips. Then it was on the road again to come back home.

The weather was so perfect all weekend, and we had such a good time. Amazingly enough, we all got along really well, and no one wanted to kill anyone else by the end of the trip (as far as I know)…

So based on our experiences, I would recommend the following things:

  • Go to Colorado Bend State Park! And take the hiking trail backwards.
  • Buy Marmot sleeping bags for cold camping nights.
  • Never rent a two-burner stove from UT.
  • Don’t forget the beans.
  • Toast marshmallows as often as you can.
  • Play hackeysack–it’s fun!
  • Live life before it’s over.

Four-Bean Chili

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 small zucchini, sliced
  • 4 carrots, sliced
  • 2 cans (14.5 ounces each) diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 can black-eyed peas, drained
  • 1 can kidney beans, drained
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Salt to taste

Saute onion, garlic, bell pepper, and celery in hot oil in a large pot over medium heat until onion is translucent. Add remaining ingredients and simmer, covered, over low heat for 45 – 60 minutes or until vegetables are tender and flavors have combined.

Makes a lot! Maybe 6 big servings?

Source: me

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My new adventure

April 4, 2005

Sorry for the blue not-so-great photo above, but I just had to post something before I exploded, and it’s the only picture I had. What you see before you is my new place of employment…or one of them anyway. I am now cooking and serving breakfast at two bed and breakfasts just a few minutes from our home! They are owned by one couple, Sylvia and Chris, who are extremely nice and fun to be around.

Today was my first day, and I helped make the almond crepes and migas, and set out the other breakfast items (fruit, yogurt, cereal, juice, etc.). After breakfast, I baked chocolate chip cookies and prepared vegetable quiches for tomorrow morning, and organized the kitchen a bit. (You know me, always organizing.) I have to say that the only thing disappointing about today was that my scrumptious chocolate chip cookies didn’t turn out so scrumptious…I’ll just have to get used to a new oven and new ingredients and tools.

Today I worked at the Star of Texas Inn, and tomorrow I’ll be cooking at the Austin Folk House. I’m so thrilled to have found this job, doing what I love doing, in a great kitchen with a great environment. It’s dreamy.

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