Sunday, June 21, 2009

Away We Went

Ok, it's been a really long time since I've had a serious, air-gulping, body-wracking, puffy-eyed, sleeve-soaking cry. But then we went to see "Away We Go" at the Alamo tonight.

I should have known this particular movie would leave my soft parts open to brutal attack, considering it stars the awkwardly adorable John Krasinski and was written by the heartbreaking duo of staggering genius, Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida.

But you guys, I really didn't expect to dissolve into a puddle of snot and eyeball juice right there in public. Because here's the deal. Even though the movie had some really outlandish characters, and even though some of the dialogue was mildly overwrought, that shit felt so real to me I pretty much fell apart. I know there are lots of differences between my life and these fake movie characters, but damned if it didn't feel like they were me and Mike, except I'm not pregnant and Mike can't grow a beard.

If you don't know anything about this movie, the basic point of it is that this couple in their early thirties accidentally gets pregnant and goes on a quest to find the perfect place to live and raise a baby. They run into all different types of people on their journey, trying to figure out what type of parents they want to be and what city is the best fit for them. And you know what? Even though Mike and I are a few years off from having kids, in the back of our minds one of the major reasons we wanted to get out of LA and find somewhere that really feels like home to us is because one day we're going to be adding another person to our family, too. And we want to bring that new person to a place where we are truly able to be ourselves, and where they can easily figure out who they are.

I know this quest has been around since Bible-times, when people wandered entire, sandy continents for decades trying to find a better life. But something about "Away We Go" felt so fresh and relatable, it hit me just right. It felt good to be reminded that this experience of forming a bond with another person and then making a completely new path together is not unique. It's part of the human condition. And there's something scary and wonderful and satisfying about not knowing what's right, or else deciding to ignore what everyone else tells you is right, and then just making it up for yourself. Maybe that makes me sound like a douche, but sitting in the dark watching these two people find the place where they belonged made me so grateful not only for the amazing partner I've found, but also that we both had the courage to start down a new path together. It's not exactly easy, but it's so, so worth it.

So, go see "Away We Go." Because it's awesome. And it's totally not the chick flick I've made it out to be. In addition to many, many other very original and creative scenes of hilarity, John Krasinski yells "CUNT-SUCKER!" really loud in front of lots of people. You will laugh, you will cry, you will laugh and cry some more. You will sit in the bathroom stall sobbing for a few minutes afterward while the automatic toilet flushes three times. And you will love it.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Happy(?) Juneteenth

Periodically I will learn some charming fact about Texas history that kind of makes me go, "...REALLY?" Case in point: Juneteenth.

So, I found out that my client at work had the day off for a state holiday. This happens frequently, these random days off for mysterious "Texas holidays," such as Armadillo Day or BBQ Ribs Day. I didn't think much of it because of the constant holidayness, but then people at my office were wishing each other "happy Juneteenth" and discussing the Juneteenth meals they were planning to cook. So finally I got curious and asked one of my co-workers, "What the hell is Juneteenth?"

Co-worker: "Were you born in Texas?"

Me: "Nope."

Co-worker: "Ok, basically Texas is an asshole. When Abe Lincoln emancipated the slaves, Texas just decided not to tell them. For TWO AND A HALF YEARS. Finally, a couple years later on June 19th, Texas said, 'Oh yeah, this thing happened where you are kind of free.'"

Me: ... !

Co-worker: "I know, shitty, right?"

So now Texas celebrates(?) Juneteenth as Emancipation Day. From what I've been able to gather, Juneteenth celebration(?) consists of black people being like, "Eff you, effing white people" and white people throwing parties where they serve fried chicken and watermelon. Does that sound super racist? Yeah, I thought so, too. But I am for reals not making it up. Every now and then something like this reminds me that, yes, indeed I live in Texas.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Running Nose

So, I know I said I would talk about SXSW, but I ran a 10K this morning and I feel like I should bang out a post about that while I'm still all buzzy with runner's high.

I'd been hearing all week about the Statesman Capitol 10,000, a 10K race sponsored by one of the big newspapers here in Austin. I didn't really think too much about it, until I discovered yesterday that the starting line is just a few blocks from our house and also that this particular 10K involves costumes. Costumes? And running? Two of my great loves combined into one inexplicably weird and self-punishing hour of sweat and chafing? Helllllll yeah!

I did a little more research and learned that the Cap 10K is the largest 10K in Texas, and that last year more than 18,000 people ran it. It's one of the official markers to the beginning of spring in Austin. I was planning on running 6 or so miles today anyway, so at 6:32pm yesterday I said, "Let's do this thing!" And then I ate some ravioli, because I figured carbs were appropriate in this instance.

I decided I didn't have enough time to prepare a proper costume, so this morning I just put on some regular old running clothes, made myself a smoothie and biked over to the starting line. There was a giant Sea of People at the starting line, just south of the Congress Ave. bridge over Town Lake. Lots of people were wearing capes, a few were dressed as Easter bunnies, and some just had funny t-shirts, like a girl I saw whose shirt said, "Race official - do not pass."

Something weird always happens to me when I'm lined up for the start of a huge race like that. Something about the combined energy and excitement and nervousness of those many thousands of people overwhelms me, and I feel the need to burst into tears and sob like it's an episode of "Extreme Home Makeover" and I've got PMS. Isn't that weird? Like, I'm so amped up to be part of a huge group of people doing something good for their bodies, all in really great moods, all yelling encouragement to each other, and I get really emotional. Do I sound like a huge freaking hippie or WHAT.

Anyway, the starting gun went off and the Sea of People began to ripple forward. From then on for as far as I could see it was just a solid mass of bouncing heads and t-shirts. It is such a gorgeous day and there were so many fun costumes and bands playing along the way, I ran with a huge, goofy grin for the entire 6.2 miles. There were some really stellar costumes, but I had two favorites. One guy was dressed in a cardboard box he'd painted to look like an electronic road sign that said "Caution! Zombies ahead!" and his friend was dressed as a zombie. (This is now an inside joke amongst the entire city of Austin. I've posted on it before but refer you to Austinist if you haven't seen the photos.)

But by far my favorite costume was a woman who was wearing a giant nose, like in those gross Sudafed commercials where the people are just huge, talking noses with legs. It covered her entire body from her head to about her knees, and on the back it said "Running Nose." A pun-related costume at a running event. .......!


I finished the race really strong, even though all that smiling slowed me down a little bit. Afterwards I treated myself to two breakfast tacos and a latte, which I enjoyed out on the front porch because it's such a beautiful day. And now I'm going to shower and get right back outside to enjoy the 75 degree weather and blue skies.

As Mike said to me the other day, "I don't think the weather's going to be nice for too much longer. I think that Austin heat we've been hearing about is on its way." I said, "I know, it feels like Sunday." He looked at me kind of confused-like, and I said, "You know, it feels really awesome and perfect right now, but in the back of your mind you know something bad is coming soon."

But for now I'm in love with spring and running and costumes and puns and AUSTIN! Yay!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

All Hail Free Beer

This was at the Aussie BBQ last Friday during South by Southwest (or SXSW. Or South by, in local lingo.) More to come soon, but for now I am still recovering from fun overload brought on by SXSW, St. Patty's Day and March Madness all happening at once. One thing I learned last week: I am certifiably old.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Happy St. Pickles Day!

Mr. Pickles sometimes gets his holidays confused. He'll probably be drinking Guinness on Cinco de Mayo.

Mas cerveza, por favor!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

My Texas Passport Might Be Revoked

I've been delinquent! I know. In my first week as a full-time employee at the marketing agency I ate three square meals a day at my desk, plus second dinner around 1 or 2am before finally going home. Funny that they waited until I was no longer on hourly pay before asking me to keep speed-tweaker-lawyer's hours. The following week I didn't have energy for anything but re-runs of "My Super Sweet Sixteen," and that was just because I didn't have the mental wherewithal to press "guide" and see what else was on.

THEN, last weekend we went to upstate New York for my future-step-sister-in-law's baby shower, which was lovely, if not overly hyphenated. We just happened to have booked our return flight to coincide with the worst storm of the year, resulting in one canceled flight and several other delayed ones before we finally were back in Austin and drooling on our pillows. That's my way of making excuses for abandoning the blog for a little while.

Sadly, while we were up in yankee territory, I seriously set myself back in terms of Texas enculturation. I missed Texas Independence Day.

Ha! Texas Independence Day, that can't possible be a big deal, right? I mean, is it even a real thing, or is it made up, like Arbor Day? If you don't know anything else about Texas, you should know that Texas is very excited about... Texas. And Texas is very into the fact that for nearly a decade it was its own independent republic. So, in fact, March 2 -- the day Texas declared independence from Mexico -- is like a high holy day here. State employees have the day off. People throw parties and play hold 'em. There are chili cook-offs and period costumes. For. Reals.

Texans' pride in the unique culture and lore of their state is endlessly fascinating to me; I don't think the same type of allegiance exists in any other state.

In my research before moving here, I read "Kinky Friedman's Guide to Texas Etiquette - or - How to Get to Heaven or Hell Without Going Through Dallas-Fort Worth." Kinky is a country musician/politician/writer/cowboy and, most importantly, a Texan. He is kind of like a modern-day Mark Twain, if Mark Twain were Jewish and BFFs with Willie Nelson. Anyway, his book was full of useful information such as "things you would never hear a real Texan say" -- for example, "Duct tape won't fix that" or "You can't feed that to the dog." (Mike pointed out that real Texans also probably wouldn't say, "I just read this book on Texas etiquette..." Meh.)

I learned a lot of valuable information from this book, including the meaning of the "Yellow Rose of Texas." The final battle of the Texas Revolution against Mexico was the Battle of San Jacinto -- a last stand between the Mexican army led by Santa Anna and the Texican army led by Sam Houston. It seems Santa Anna had a penchant for lovely mulatto ladies (bow chicka bow bow!). Sam Houston supposedly sent a hottie virgin slave named Emily Morgan to distract Santa Anna with her feminine wiles while the Texican Army psyched themselves up to attack. The battle forced the Mexicans to retreat and gave Texas its freedom. Since Ms. Morgan traded her flower for Texas' independence, she's forever known as "The Yellow Rose of Texas." Turns out the best way to defeat your enemy is sometimes with his own... bayonette.

Of course I'm not in favor of pimping out ladies for any reason, but I do think it's an interesting story. Way racier than gardening, which is what I thought the phrase referred to. Anyway, happy belated Texas Independence Day, y'all!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Bird Watching

On Thursday night, Mike and I had a date to go see one of our favorite musicians, Andrew Bird. We bought the tickets months ago, while we were still living in LA, so it was the ultimate in delayed gratification when the night finally came. He was playing at the Paramount Theatre here in Austin, a kind of local landmark that was built in the early 1900s and is absolutely beeeautiful. Walking up, we knew we were in the right place because of all the awkward people in complicated outfits standing outside -- Andrew Bird is one of those musicians that attracts the hipster types.

I frequently discover a new favorite band by going to see someone I like and falling in love with the opening act. In fact, this is how we found Mr. Bird -- he opened for The Decembrists at the Hollywood Bowl last summer. Continuing the good music domino effect, I found the Bird's opener, Lonely Dear, to be thoroughly delightful.

Mike and I spent a good while debating whether or not the lead singer had an accent; it was so very nearly American that we thought maybe we were imagining it. When he admitted to being from Sweden, we sort of smacked our foreheads and said, "Of course!" I rarely pay attention to what a Swedish person is saying because I'm too focused on trying to decide what/if their accent is.

Anyway, they were lovely. I especially enjoyed one song where they had the entire theater sing back-up "da da da da da". It reminded me of my Bible camp days, sitting around the campfire and tacking my little voice onto the big, floating chorus. Except this crowd was really more "drunk and high" than "Deep and Wide."

Andrew Bird himself was straight out of a Tim Burton movie, all long and lanky and Jack the Skeleton King-ish. He was surrounded by freakishly large grammophone-looking dealybobs and whirlygigs. He played the entire show completely solo, but he sounded like an orchestra. He'd record himself playing one instrument, loop it, and then layer other stuff over it. He was constantly tapping pedals with his feet and swapping instruments and whistling and generally one-man-banding like a pro. It must take a superhuman amount of coordination -- I can't even change the radio station while I'm driving without veering into the next lane.

AND Y'ALL! What did he bring out at the beginning of the show for good luck? Guess! Can you guess? It was....

....a GIANT SOCK MONKEY! Some woman in Toronto made a giant sock monkey in his likeness, complete with skinny tie and violin case. He said, "I know it's silly, but you bring it to a couple of shows, they end up being good, and then you can't go on without it." !!!

In fact, there was a lot of sock talk. Early on, he kicked off his shoes for greater ease of pedal-tapping. He looked down and said, "Oh, my new horse socks. You see, there are little horses all over them. It's playful, you know. Like when your ninth grade math teacher would wear crazy ties. It's like that, for socks." Hipsters eat this kind of banter up. (Actually, so do I.)

I can say with no hesitation that Andrew Bird is the first person on planet Earth to make the violin cool. You will be hard pressed to name someone else who plays the violin and is not an overachieving nerd. (Sorry nerds.) He has total command of that instrument and could probably be first chair of any of the world's great orchestras if he weren't so twitchy. But instead he's a super cool, sock-monkey lovin' one-man orchestra, sometimes flipping that violin around and going ukelele style all over it.

I loved every minute of that show, even though I was occasionally preoccupied by his freakish coordination. For those of you in LA who want to do some Bird watching this week, he'll be at The Orpheum this Wednesday the 18th. Start trolling Craig's List, I think it may be sold out.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Beef Hearts

Happy Valentine's! As the saying goes, They're not farts now, but they'll beef hearts later. Nothin' says romance like a fart pun!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Thursday, February 5, 2009

In Queso Emergency

There are many obsession-worthy foods here in Austin, but my greatest weakness by far is queso. I didn't know this before I came here, but "queso" in Texan means "delicious cheese dip you want to eat at every meal." Generally speaking, queso dips are kind of Velveeta-esque except way more awesome and way less glompy. They can be really thin, or they can be creamier, they can have lots of delicious spices and peppers, they can have ground beef, they can have avocados. I imagine it is just what melted sunshine tastes like -- a little hot and spicy and a lot happy.

I have sampled probably a dozen quesos around town so far, and my favorite at this point is from Torchy's Tacos (pictured above). It's a medium consistency full of peppery goodness, and about five minutes after I took that picture I was sticking my face into the empty bowl to inhale any remaining queso molecules hiding in the pores of the styrofoam. (Just kidding.) (Sort of.) (Also, what's with using styrofoam? Didn't that go out with aerosol hairspray?)

Anyway, I was totally happy eating queso approximately 4.7 meals a week, but I've encountered a queso crisis.

One of the excellent perks of the marketing agency that I'm working for is their fitness program. I started it last week, and the nutritionist came and gave me a "body assessment" so they could measure my improvement after six weeks. I think "body assessment" sounds like something out of a Lifetime Original Movie, where mean sorority girls strip me down to my underwear and then circle my problem areas with a Sharpie, calling me names like "rhino thighs." Actually, she just took my measurements and calculated my body fat percentage, which is higher than the average. (Damn you, queso!)

So to make us all less squishy, a trainer comes four days a week and makes us do painful things with medicine balls. We also have to keep a "food log," which has been kind of embarrassing for me. Let me share with you a direct quote from the nutrionist after evaluating my food log from last week. Ahem. "What I like to do with food logs is give out stars. The way you earn a star for the day is that you get vegetables and good fruits and lean proteins. I can honestly say you got no stars. Do you have any questions on how to eat?" Wait, an intravenous drip of cheese is not how to eat? Whoops. I feel like if she could give me negative stars she would. "I'm sorry to tell you, Becky, but you have earned a black hole for the day."

So, it is with a heavy heart that I say to queso, "Goodbye for now, friend. Please believe me when I tell you I will think of you every minute of every day." (Tear!)

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Deaf Jam?

We live right next to the Texas School for the Deaf, and walking past it this morning on the way to work I noticed this sign. First of all, this is just further proof that you can't get away from live music in Austin. It is everywhere, even at a pancake breakfast at the deaf school. Second of all, and I really am not trying to be a jackass here -- I legitimately am curious about this. Will the music be performed by the deaf students? I'm embarrassed to say my knowledge of deafness is limited to the movie "Mr. Holland's Opus," so I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around the logistics of this proposition.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Monkey Sew, Monkey Do

While every other blue-blooded American was watching football yesterday, I was learning how to fashion a monkey from socks. This is part of my personal resolve to become craftier. It began several months ago when I bought a sewing machine on eBay, determined to learn some life skills. The sewing machine arrived, I hopped up and down and clapped my hands together, I opened the box and took out the machine and went, "Whoa." Then I hid it in a corner until a time when all Tivo'd shows had been watched and I had nothing to do but read a 400-page sewing machine manual and watch an instructional DVD.

That time hasn't come yet, but I am making small advances toward the lonely Singer languishing in the closet. For instance, monkies!

I was browsing the class listings at a local craft store called Craft-O-Rama when I came across the description for their Sock Monkey Class. First of all, who doesn't need a sock monkey in their life? Second of all, the class description ended with the encouraging line "Kiddos welcome." I thought, well, if a kiddo could do it, maybe a twenty-something sewing machine-phobe could, too.

Seeing as how everyone else in Austin either already has a sock monkey or else has friends to watch the Super Bowl with, I was the only person in the class. It turns out I am very good at tangling thread and not very good at sewing in a straight line, but after three hours and a lot of personal attention from the teacher, by golly I had a sock monkey of my very own making! Allow me to introduce him:

"Why don't you come sit right here, hmmm?"

"Keep it down, I'm trying to take a little cat, er, monkey nap."

The only thing he lacks is a name. Any good suggestions?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Zombie Neighbor Helmet

Three things:

1. Zombies. Apparently Austin is under threat of zombie attack, as reported by my favorite local blog, Austinist. Mike and I have been really into scary movies over the past year, so these zombie warnings are extra amusing to me. Braaaaains!

2. Neighbors. Tonight I picked up supplies for dinner from a place about a block from us, Cissi's Market. It's part gourmet grocery store, part wine bar, part restaurant, and it's really delicious. Tonight I grabbed some lavender asparagus, YUM. I got to talking to the girl who rang me up, and she said that they give a "neighbor discount" for people who live nearby. Apparently most of the shops and restaurants on South Congress (the super hip and happenin' main drag near our house) offer similar types of discounts. This is just one of the many ways Austin really builds a sense of community. I always have the feeling here that people are looking out for each other, and that atmosphere makes it much easier to be new in town.

3. Helmets. When we got here, we would kind of rub our eyes and do a double take every time we saw a dude flying down the freeway on his motorcycle without a helmet. Apparently in Texas you are not required to wear a helmet if you have either taken a motorcycle safety course or have $10,000 medical coverage. Because understanding how to safely operate a motorcycle is going to save you when some bonehead pulls a left turn without paying attention and makes hamburger meat out of your head. This is like saying, "Oh, you took a health class in high school where you watched a 1970s projector video on safe sex. You are now cleared to participate in daily orgies." Except genital warts are less likely to make you dead.

But according to this article I read today, bikers' rights groups feel that the government should have even less say over the safety of their heads. What on earth is the argument against wearing a helmet? Most bikers I've seen are either bald or have mastered the art of the multi-hairband ponytail, so it can't be fear of helmet hair that's the issue, right? SIGH.

Sunday, January 25, 2009


By now it's probably beginning to sound like all we do is eat, and sometimes it does feel that way. We really are trying to be better about eating at home more often, but last night we decided to defy Suze Orman and head out for a bite. It was nearly 8pm and frigid oustide and we hadn't come up with any ideas for dinner yet, so a classic American burger sounded like just the ticket -- quick, warm, cheap, tasty. For the last two years before moving to Texas, I managed to avoid eating beef 99.9% of the time. Maybe it's part of my assimilation into Texan culture, but I think I've had more beef in the six weeks since we've moved than in those last two years put together. Whoops.

We'd been wanting to try Fran's Hamburgers, a classic joint just a few blocks from our house. It was pretty sad and dingy looking inside, but sometimes those type of places have the best food, and this was no exception. We ordered jalapeno cheeseburgers, fries and chocolate milkshakes for a grand total of $13.62. For all of that!

Reading my future sister-in-law's blog The Garden of Eating, I came across a term I hadn't heard before, "a hamburger economy." I guess in times of economic hardship, the cheap fast-food restaurants actually do well because even when people can't afford anything else, they can usually afford a hamburger. Before Fran, it was really more of a "mac 'n' cheese economy" in our house, but maybe that will change...

It was all really frantastic (heh), but my favorite part was the chocolate shake. It was the real deal -- you could see the swirls of chocolate sauce in the thick ice cream, not like some restaurants that use a pre-made mix. And we marveled that the shakes stayed thick even after we'd finished eating (which, as I've mentioned before, can take a year or two). A lot of times if you wait to have your shake until you're done eating, all you're left with is some very unsatifsying, overly thick chocolate milk. But not when Fran's in charge!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

MixMix Master

We are having a lot of fun collecting favorite restaurants around Austin. Since we still have less than .3 friends here, we're relying a lot on Yelp and the excellent Eat.Shop Austin guide for recommendations. One local establishment that received high praise from both is Koriente, a Korean restaurant located in the heart of downtown Austin.

We ate there last night and were waited on by a delightful young lady with lots of pep and sass. She was like a lot of people we've encountered in Austin -- very friendly, super relaxed and seemingly very happy. We overheard her in conversation with the table next to us:

Guy: Excuse me, would you consider this to be a "mom and pop" establishment?

Waitress: Well, yes. Because it was started by a mom and a pop. Not my mom and pop, though... I'm just a random Korean who works here.

It really does have a family feel about it. That picture at the top of the post was painted by one of the founders' kids near the back door at Koriente. It explains how their mom hated to cook but felt really bad always feeding her kids crappy, unhealthy take-out food. So eventually she decided to start a restaurant that served healthy, delicious food so people like her could have their take-out and eat it guilt free.

Last night Mike and I had the most fun-sounding food on the menu, mixmix bibimbap. Go ahead, I will wait while you let that roll off your tongue a few times. Chant it loud, set it to song! Mix! Mix! Bi-bim-BAP!! Has any dinner in history ever sounded more like an '80s dance craze?

My mixmix bibimbap consisted of steamed rice, marinated chicken, thinly shredded red cabbage, delicate julienne carrots, cucumber and red pepper with a wasabi soy sauce. Anyone who has ever eaten with me knows to bring a pillow along, since it usually takes me four hours longer to finish a meal than the average person. I freely admit it -- I'm slow. Ice ages come and go. Supreme Court judges retire. People enter and exit the DMV. But I am still eating.

Not, however, at Koriente. I ate my mixmix bibimbap with a jet-powered fork. It was like I couldn't even take breaths between bites, I was too panicked that someone might take my bowl before I'd eaten every wasabi-soy-soaked grain of rice. And THEN? The random Korean waitress brought us each a scoop of smooth green tea ice cream on a bed of crushed pistachios, with honey drizzled on top. If you want to avoid the urge to rub Asian food all over your naked body and then take a green tea bath, don't go to Koriente. I'm just sayin'.

And, you know what ELSE? Most of their entrees are like $6 or $7... American. And their beers are $2.50! Miso happy!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Mike's dad lived in Austin for many years, so he's still got a few connections around town. One such connection is with the founders of a wellness center just outside of town called The Crossings. The Crossings focuses on holistic wellness -- they have a spa, but they also offer yoga, spirituality workshops and meeting space for various groups. It's sort of similar to the beautiful Omega Institute in New York, which Mike's stepmom co-founded.

We drove out to The Crossings on Sunday afternoon and were lucky enough to get a tour of the place from one of the founders. It's up in the hills overlooking the lake, and it's absolutely breathtaking. It's surrounded by trees -- part of a county-owned reserve that will never be developed. Outside of the spa is an infinity-edge pool with fantastic views, plus a hot tub and saunas. It's hard not to feel completely relaxed there.

But my favorite spot at The Crossings was an area they call the Sanctuary -- a smallish building with courtyards on either side. This is the entrance to the Sanctuary:

When you look through the archway on the left into the courtyard, this is what you see:

So far Mike and I have been thinking we'll have our wedding in California, but this gorgeous location got me thinking, "Hmm, maybe an Austin wedding could be quite lovely!" It definitely doesn't get much more beautiful than this!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Vegetarians, Avert Your Eyes

Mike's dad is visiting us this week, so we've been on the go a bit. We spent Thursday and Friday on a little road trip back out to the ranch in Snyder to visit Mike's grandma. Maybe the best part of any road trip is trying new restaurants, and I would have to say that was the highlight of this trip.

About an hour outside Austin is a little town called Llano, which is situated right on a river and has lots of very charming antique shops. They also have Cooper's BBQ, which is widely recognized as some of the best BBQ in the free world. I'd seen it featured on the Food Network many years ago and never thought I'd find myself sharing a picnic table there with camouflage-clad deer hunters deep in the heart of Texas, but life's full of surprises, isn't it?

All the meat is cooked outside in these big "pits" -- you can get beef ribs, pork ribs, sirloin, pork roast, chicken, goat ribs and two different kinds of sausages. They all are cooked in this really amazing rub that is kind of salty and peppery and spiced just right. Once you order, the dude will ask if you want BBQ sauce on it, and if you say yes he will dunk it in a big vat of thin, red, vinegar-based sauce and sling it onto an orange cafeteria tray. If you are like me, you may think having your lunch thrown around by a burly man in an apron is slightly off-putting, but you will feel totally fine about it once you sit down and take your first bite.

Standard on every table is a loaf of white bread, which I guess is how some people eat their BBQ, but I chose not to sully my pork ribs with a lesser food. The picnic tables are also equipped with pickled peppers, Louisiana-style hot sauce and a huge roll of paper towels. I also got some corn on the cob that was boiled to a tenderness just shy of mushy, and for dessert some peach cobbler. I don't really have a sweet tooth, so the cobbler was a bit much for me -- the top was so sugary, the grains actually crunched between my teeth.

But oh, sweet Jeebus, the BBQed pork ribs? I have never had anything so tender and delicious. It's rare for me to finish every bite of a meal, but when I was done at Cooper's there was nothing left but a few sad, dry bones, and I thought about eating those, too.

(That last picture was the entire order for the three of us -- I'm not capable of THAT much meat.)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Hooked UP

We got to come watch the Lakers play the Spurs in San Antonio tonight. I am so close to these dudes right now I can actually smell them! One thing that was very different here than in LA -- when the national anthem was being sung, everyone in the entire arena froze. Beer purchases were put on pause, everyone stopped mid-step and put their right hand over their heart. I've never seen that at a major sporting event, and I dug it. Now, I'm not for blind patriotism, but I do think it's important to show respect.

UPDATE: Though it was an extremely exciting game, the Lakers sort of blew it at the end and lost by one point. (ARGH!) But there were some amazing shots by both sides, and it was so fun to be there. I was shocked by how many people in the crowd were Laker fans, too. Though there was one Laker fan in particular we could have done without -- this guy sitting two rows behind us was more heckler than fan. He seemed to be supportive in theory, yelling stuff like, "Let's get 'em fired up, Kobe! Come on Phil, we need this!" But he spent much of the game screaming total nonsense like, "It's mamba time, Kobe! Time for the black mamba! Let's mamba!" in a mocking-sounding tone. It was befuddling and incredibly annoying, and I'm surprised he didn't leave with a giant foam finger shoved up his heiny.

"I will bite your torso and give you a disease"

One of my very, very most favorite things about Austin is the Alamo Drafthouse. This place is the mothership of movie theatres -- they serve food and beers to you while you watch your movie! They have a ton of beers on tap including lots of really awesome local brews, like my favorite, Fireman's 4. And the food is amazing, though I personally have had only one thing -- the green chile macaroni and cheese. Yummy, gooey, tasty cheesiness with a little bit of crunch on top, plus explosions of green chile throughout. It is like crack to me, and even though I'd really like to try something else, my addiction won't let me.

I don't know if I'll ever be able to go back to a regular movie theatre, not only because of the booze and the grub, but also because they don't show lame student-film Coca Cola commercials. They don't show any commercials, except their own promotions for awesome stuff happening at The Alamo. I mean, wouldn't you rather watch an ad for Super Happy Fun Monkey Bash 2009, a compilation of "mind-boggling insanity from Japanese television," than to have some shaggy-haired actor trying to sell you the latest artifical-cheese-product and freeze-dried beefarito from Taco Bell?

A lot of times they'll put up stuff before the movie that you wouldn't see anywhere else. Before Slumdog Millionaire, we were treated to truly awesome scenes from Bollywood movies and music videos that had everyone in the audience laughing and going "whaaat!" because of their absurdness. Before The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, they showed some super old-school Betty Boop cartoons, plus an old audition clip from Brad Pitt's early acting days. He appeared to be in someone's living room, and he looked like he was about 18. It was kind of painful to watch, and apparently the casting agent thought so, too, because he didn't land whatever part it was.

But perhaps even better than all of that is the "please be courteous" intro they show before movies. It made me laugh in an ab-workout-pain kind of way. I didn't know this until I tried to find it online, but apparently it was the intro to the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie. The Alamo version is edited down some to cut out the truly upsetting parts, and in my opinion it's funnier.

Aqua Teen Hunger Force Movie Intro - Watch more Free Videos

"I will bite your torso and give you a disease" is by far my favorite line.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Oh, why hello there!

Hello there, blog. Fancy meeting you here...

No, I hadn't forgotten about you. I'd been meaning to write, really. It's just been kind of... busy?

In truth, I've been feeling too overwhelmed with new experiences to actually sit down and write about them, but at the same time there hasn't been a whole lot of importance going on (if that makes any sense at all). Actually, I think it really boils down to me just being lame. So, it's not you... it's me. Let's be friends?

I guess I will start with the holidays, which I know are still relevant because there are still holiday-themed commercials on TV, featuring cell-phone-having snowmen. I thought snowmen didn't even have ears, but whatever.

This was the first year I've ever spent Christmas away from my family, so it was pretty different. In the past, I had been pretty smug about the fact that I'd never had to catch a plane or take off work at the holidays... I never lived more than an hour or so from the fam. Since Mike and I got to Austin what feels like 5 minutes ago, we thought it was too soon to travel to our respective families, who are on separate coasts as well as scattered in between. At first, we were just going to eat Chinese take-out on Christmas while watching 24 hours of "A Christmas Story" on TV and clipping our toenails. Luckily another option presented itself, because I think I would have needed a whole stockingful of Zoloft to get over what a sad scene that would have been.

Instead, we drove up to Dallas to spend Christmas day with Mike's mom and her side of the family. This was preceded by lots of sweatiness on my part, because I get really nervous whenever I have to meet someone new. Especially someone who is kinfolk to my future husband and might possibly deem me unworthy of assimilation into their family. Luckily I had already met his mom and knew her to be a lovely person. And even more luckilier, the rest of his family turned out to be very awesome and Texan.

We dined on turkey and pork, but there were also some healthy vegetarian options such as asparagus wrapped in bacon, and broccoli salad with cheddar cheese and bacon. With bacon pudding for dessert. No, no bacon pudding, but Mike's aunt did whip up a homemade chocolate pudding that would make Bill Cosby hang his head in shame.

And everyone was so sweet and generous in their gift-giving. We scored a couple of fluffy blankets for our super cold, super drafty house. They are awesomely soft. Mike compares the one we put on our bed with sleeping under a thousand baby rabbits.

My favorite gift, though, was given to Mike's 6-month-old cousin, Hank The Adorable. If I were shopping for a Christmas present for a 6-month-old, I might go the teddy bear or teething ring route. No. Apparently in Texas it is customary to give a 6-month-old a brand new shotgun to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Is it in the Bible? Frankincense, myrr, shotgun? I don't know, I haven't read it in a while. I guess next year I will need to spring for a stripper and a fifth of bourbon for baby Hank.

All in all it was a really fantastic Christmas full of super fun new family members and delicious food. The only touch-and-go moment involved Mike's cousins' grandma, who is in her 90s. She is all vim and vigor brain-wise, but slouches down into her wheelchair so that her head kind of turns into her shoulder, muffling her voice when she is talking. (Which is most of the time, and mostly sass.) She has a really thick Texan accent and kind of mumbles, making it near impossible to understand her. Imagine if you will the combination of Cartman's and Kenny's voices on "Southpark," if that voice was 90, feisty, and had a strong Texas accent. Luckily, Mike's cousins spend enough time with her that they could understand and interpret everything she said for us.

But disaster struck when everyone else left the room and it was just me, Mike and Mike's sister alone with grandma. None of us had ANY idea what the lady was saying, which was not helped by the fact that she was maybe The Original Chatty Cathy. It was terrifying. She was totally with-it mentally and could understand everything we said. She would go on and on about something unintelligible to the untrained ear, which was ok when we could pretend to be listening by staring intently at the cheese log, but. She would frequently ask questions of us. Or, more accurately, would make noises that sounded like they could be construed as a question and then would be silent, which seemed to indicate that we should respond somehow. I could only think of three viable solutions in this situation: pretend I hadn't heard, laugh, or shrug and shake my head. I have never been so afraid of a 90-year-old.

One small hiccup in an otherwise delightful Christmas really isn't bad.

We've done a lot of other good stuff since we've been in Austin, too, which I promise to write about before 2010.