A recent trip back brought an onslaught of eating all my favorite things once again. Some have already been mentioned so no need to wax on about the perfection of a prickly pear margarita, but this trip had other cacti treats and more in store...
I arrived home in Austin on Easter Sunday, just in time for dessert. Had the planes been on time, I would have eaten my first Easter lunch with the family since I left about 10 years ago. But dessert is the best part of the meal anyway so who cares? Turkey, green beans with almonds, salad, rolls with butter and my "famous" fruit tart (made by mom this year since I was late) were eaten in no particular order. A few days later, I would whip up a random lunch of sauteed Brussels sprouts and bell pepper, leftover turkey, and an over medium egg with the yolk scrambled a bit, all wrapped up in a fresh wheat tortilla. Not too shabby for leftovers!
So as to no make this blog tooooooo long, let me give you the rundown on what it's like to be a self-proclaimed Mainer on a return trip to Austin:
Verde enchiladas are always on my list of foods necessary for Texan enjoyment. These babies are seasoned chicken, wrapped in flour tortillas and covered with cheese and verde (tomatillo) sauce, served with rice and beans, plus unlimited chips and salsa. Often margaritas are present...Try taking a chip, add a forkful of black beans and then cheese and verde sauce. Perfect mini nacho. Boom.
Prickly pear EVERYTHING was a new one for me. Of course, the prickly pear margaritas are number one but this time, I discovered that Maine Root sodas (started in Maine and now HQ-ed in Austin) has a "Drink Pink Drink" soda that is prickly pear lemonade. Oh man this was delicious! I only got to try it once, at Phil's and I've regretted not finding it again every day since. I even went online to see where I could get some more but it's only in Austin in select places...Next visit!
Speaking of Phil's, this is a great place for adults and kids. We like to bring my nephew here because he can hit the playground while the adults partake in quality hamburgers, fries and the famous Amy's ice cream for dessert. I like to get the 78704 burger which has Monterrey Jack cheese, jalapenos, grilled onions, fresh avocado and chipoltle mayo on a wheat or jalapeno cheese bun. What else do you need from a burger? Then put sweet potato fries, regular fries or perfect onion rings on the side and holy hell do you have a great meal. Their burger with barbecue sauce, onions and cheese is also pretty great as well. When in Rome (or BBQ land)!
I don't often eat breakfast out in Texas as my family makes some pretty stellar pancakes (see second blog post in April 2014 archives), breakfast tacos and cereal but when I do go out, Magnolia is often the place. Daddy and I met here one morning for pancakes. He had the typical buttermilk and I went all out with banana and chocolate chip wheat pancakes. These taste just like heaven on a plate. Did they go straight to my hips? Yes. Do I care? No!
Speaking of getting out, my dad and I attended a foodie event at a coffee shop on the upcoming East Side of Austin. Ten or 20 years ago, this area was not the best place to be, but now a revitalization (read gentrification) has occurred. Curvee Coffee is a nice place with an interesting mural on the wall, a great bar to sit at and beer, cheese, wine and coffee and more available. This evening, we were at a pairing event with many incredible choices. Two cheeses were paired with either a wine, iced coffee, beer or hot coffee. Plus an amuse bouche or two. Some favorites included Comte (cow cheese from France), Quadrello di Bufala (water buffalo cheese from Italy), Evalon (goat cheese from Wisconsin) and Ewephoria (sheep cheese from Holland). Real Ale Kriek, a cherry tinged beer from Texas as pretty great as one of the pairings. See one photo below for full list of cheeses.
My last meal with my dad and sister was once again at Cafe Malta. This place is still stellar! We ordered so much food and left happier than clams. First came the drinks: Dark and Stormy, Something in the Water (Tito's vodka, bitters, Paula's Texas Orange liqueur, lime and "complicated syrup" haha) and red wine!
For an appetizer, Waygu beef with strawberry ginger BBQ sause was the special. "That didn't suck" was the comment from the peanut gallery. My sister and I both swooped in at the same time to get some finger-licking-goodness leftover on the plate.
Next came our entrees: Bistro for my dad (grilled and marinated hangar steak with fresh herb salsa, potato Gorgonzola gratin, balsamic redux and sauteed purple cabbage). The meat was incredibly moist, the herb salsa made it beautiful and even more flavorful and the gratin was "out of this world." Agreed by all! My sister ordered the Champignon (crimini, shiitake and oyster mushrooms, caramelized onion, goat cheese and fresh herbs baked in a flaky pastry crust, served with mornay sauce and sauteed cabbage on the side). Cafe Malta's pastry chef is magical. This crust alone is the reason I would order something with mushrooms in it (not my number one choice of things to eat). My dinner was a repeat from last visit but no less extraordinary: Arista (garlic and herb roasted pork covered with honey and crushed pecans, Cabernet reduction, basil mashed potatoes and sauteed purple cabbage on the side). MMMMMMMMMMMM!
The food down South never ceases to amaze me. Every time I go home, I think "Ok, I will eat well and come back to Maine in better shape than when I left." This never happens. Life goes on.
Ok kids, the truth is, I had a job interview in Austin during this visit. I was playing with the idea of moving home to start a new career path and be closer to my family. The interview was at a cheese shop in the Hyde Park neighborhood as their wholesale representative. I would have rocked this job but the place wasn't for me. Plus, after staying in Austin for nine days (in April) and getting too warm for my comfort three different days (in APRIL!!), I decided that Maine really is the place for me at this point in my life. Bring on the 40 degree weather (in April!). Although last night's Seadog's baseball game was a bit chilly! C'est la vie.
So, I'm afraid the "Raised Heart Rate" section of my blog will have to take a vacation. It seems I've developed plantar fashiitis in not one but both feet. This means no races, no training, pretty much no fun for me. Luckily, I've turned to drinking! Just kidding........? However, I have opened myself to trying more new things. Just before I left for Texas, I experienced a new beer from Allagash Brewery that I will dream about until its next release at Halloween. The beer is Ghoulschip (not a typo) and it's delicious and incredibly rare. Made with real pumpkin, mollassas and scary amounts of love, this beer is my new favorite. Other new drinks I tried were in Texas. These included prickly pear beer from Shiner, Chapeau Pineapple Lambic (sweetened with real pinneapple juice!), Austin EastCiders small batch cider (#2 to be exact) and Leprechaun pomegranate cider from a Houston-based company. This last one was the favorite of the three as I like fruity, bubble, slightly sweet ciders. I did drink the lambic with my moms' and my last meal in Texas (fresh apple/Gouda sausage and veggie stir fry with homemade Texan garlic pasta. Or was it Homeslice Pizza? Both incredible in their own ways).
Enough about food...Some other things that we did that didn't involve butt expansion included visiting a nature center near Ladybird lake and walking around Redbud Island near the dam at the top of previously mentioned lake. First off, this lake has incredible meaning to me as it's one of my favorite places in Texas. I once wrote a "place paper" about its history for my favorite, life-changing class = Environmental History 360 with Bill Cronon in college (University of Wisconsin). I've recently watched some National Park documentaries with Bill Cronon as a guest expert and I may have squealed when I first heard his voice.
But back to Ladybird Lake. Redbud island is a piece of land just below the dam that is heaven for unleashed dogs and their owners. Plus dog-less people who just want to oogle other people's dogs (aka, me!). My dad and I walked to the tip of this island and found a large Cyprus tree with most of its roots exposed. This spiderweb of nutrient uptake systems was incredible as half of the roots plunged straight into the lake. We found some rocks to recline onto and just watched the water, paddlers, birds and dogs go by. I had my dad tell me stories from when I was a kid and this was one of my new favorite memories made as an adult.
The other great field trip mentioned was the Nature Center! Here I saw a bobcat, Harris hawk, Caracara (beautiful birds, look them up) and much more. Mom and I walked all around this place that I hadn't visited since high school.
The time I spend in Texas is always enjoyable with food, family and fun but then I return to Portland, where my heart, and my cat currently reside. Since my return, I've worn short sleeves one day and my puffy winter coat one evening, turned children into butterflies, seen a bat up close and saved a bird recovering from a window-strike, cleaned up a salt marsh and held a dead male bufflehead duck. Now I'm off to an Oxbow Brewery at Novare Res, a favorite local spot. Until next time!
First photo above: originally in color, this mural was painted on a building on Riverside Street between Lamar and 1st. Due to the time of day, the sun made the colors of the painting dull, black and white brought out the beauty in a different way. Mural covered at least 30 feet wide by 15 feet high.