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.