Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Wife Eats Austin, TX

I loved visiting Austin, Texas this week. My sister moved there this summer, and I have been meaning to go for a while. Of course I had to try what Austin had to offer vegetarians so that I could give you the full report! After the really brief plane ride (which was less than 2 hours but seemed longer since the loquacious stranger sitting next to me kept asking me how I liked my book and where I went to college and what I was going to do in Texas -- sheesh), we stopped at Curras, the most popular Mexican restaurant in town. We got enchiladas with molé sauce, and get this: bananas were in the rice. At Curras the molé was super dark and smoky with a little bit of sweetness, and it reminded me that I have to get TCV to make this for us soon. Lord knows he has enough dried peppers and know-how to make this happen. And bananas with the rice? Weird, but somehow it's complementary, so we have to try that, too. How fun is it to see my family and share a great meal, just getting to talk and laugh and misbehave with my sassy little niece at the table! That first day alone just made my whole autumn.That night we had to buy a new air mattress after the last one had permanently deflated, it was rumored, due to some mysterious three-year-old using it as a makeshift trampoline. At the only big box store that was open late, we also found mangoes and limes for the sticky rice dish I wanted to make for everyone.

I was on my own on Thursday when my sister had to work for a few hours. She felt terrible dropping me off on South Congress for a day by myself, but I was fine with it because I love an adventure along with having a big chunk of time to meander alone in a strange new city. I jumped out of the car and started my day on her recommendation at Jo's, a little coffee shack which already had lots of people milling around out front. I ordered a huge latté and a cherry orange muffin and sat at a communal table to text everyone else in my family and to read offhandedly. The book Kelly gave me before the trip was so good that I plowed through 150 pages before I knew it and then decided it was time to explore. The South Congress area is a place my 16-year-old self would have loved, and you know, I am not that different  of a self 15 years later, so it was a blast. There was a bizzare-o candy store Hunter would have loved (I passed up the dark chocolate bacon, but just barely), wacky antique markets, vintage everything, and a really nice restaurant called Enoteca Vespaio. I didn't mind eating by myself; I think it's kind of funny to gauge other people's reactions to it. They sat me at the bar and I just looked around and thought about what I would say about the place. It is kind of like a place that caters to people my age, but it would seem really hip to people my parents' age. I ordered the spinach salad with fire-roasted red peppers, radicchio, creamy gorgonzola, mushrooms, and one dense, square crouton that was exactly like, of all things, a cheese straw. I also had the sugar pie butternut squash gnocchi with sage butter and parmigiano-reggiano cheese, which was doing the backstroke in butter. I actually had to tap it on the side of the plate to assauge my conscience. Since my sister and I discovered via her scale that I have lost 15 pounds since she last saw me in early July (yay, running and moderation!), well, I think about these things now, and I used her trick of just eating half of my entreé since it was just okay. I had to get some 35 cent almond-cornmeal cookies on my way out, though. I make every exception for dessert. I looked across the street and saw Hey, Cupcake, the adorable Airstream trailer with a rotating pink cupcake atop it and knew we would have to rendezvous another day.

On my last full day, we decided to cook like crazy. We went to the 'world headquarters' of Whole Foods Market in downtown Austin for lunch and to shop for dinner. Nothing could prepare me for this. There. Were. Escalators. There were so many options for lunch that I just chose some African stew and fried plantains and agua fresca before we headed up to the vast rooftop deck to eat. My sister only shops there once a week, and I understand why. There are so many specialized sections, and the store is buzzing with so many people on sensory overload that it can be exhausting. For TCV, I found blue cornmeal, roasted chili-lime cashews, and freshly ground chocolate peanut butter. My sis got the ingredients for pizza. That afternoon, she made the dough with half unbleached flour / half whole wheat. Her neighbor offered us some french tarragon from her garden (that's how sweet the neighbors are in Travis Heights - the same woman brought us homemade chili the day before), and Linnie taught me how to make a tarragon-parsley pesto. She put that along with sliced peaches and roasted almonds on one pizza and then made a traditional mozzarella, mushroom, and pepperoni one as well. Really good with the Mark West pinot we chose for the occasion. It was in the cards to drop by Hey, Cupcake later that night, and we had the Standard, the Vanilla Dream, and the Michael Jackson. I must say that after having Verité cupcakes in Seattle this summer and Hey, Cupcake ones this week, our own Muddy Bake Shop cupcakes still win my national cupcake challenge for 2008. If you have not been to Muddy's (in the Sanderlin Center way behind Clark Tower), you are doing a disservice to yourself and to the City of Memphis. I am dead serious. Hey, Cupcake's Airstream-and-Christmas-lights atmosphere is picturesque, and I do give them a few points for an adorable experience.

The last day, my mangoes were finally ripe, and so we had the mango-lime sticky rice for breakfast. At my repeated and feverish requests, TCV developed the recipe for me after we tried this dessert at Jasmine, that great Thai restaurant in Midtown. My niece loved the dish, so I have a feeling that she will be asking for it again, too. I hated to leave my girls back in Austin, but we are already planning to reunite back here in town very, very soon.


Kat at Muddy's Bake Shop said...

Hi y'all!
Thank you so much for your kind words about Muddy's; it really means a lot!
Crazy thing is, I was just on your website about 2 days ago when I googled DeJa Vu Vegan Cafe and your link came up.
I know they're open now, but do you know where they are or how to contact them? No luck in yellow pages... Skirt Magazine profiled me for the upcoming food issue, and I wanted to recommend Tenille at DeJa Vu as a potential profilee as well. We local business owners can use all the help we can get!
Please let me know if you know how to reach them; my email is
Thanks again!

Lindsey said...

Oh, we miss you already! And Meils is asking about you a lot.

I made chicken noodle soup today cause everyone has colds here--so I made a few batches and gave a couple of jars to our neighbors. The food trading in the neighborhood is going well!

Love You guys,
L, M and A