I write these posts by starting somewhere in the middle with the stories I most want to tell you, and then jumping around randomly and filling in the gaps as I muster up the brainpower to think of something to say about each meal and day. This means that there is no flow to my writing, no order, jokes, or plot lines that carry through from start to finish. You have likely already noticed this. This week, my first stories were about the night I got my bedroom back, for a few brief and shining hours, while Henry and George tried to sleep in his room together. About Henry’s sudden and intense interest in cooking again, and about me getting into a bidding war on a stranger’s behalf over an acoustic guitar signed by Willie Nelson. By the time the rest of this week’s paragraphs were filled in, I was sitting at 3500 words and still had to come back up to the top to write this godforsaken part. So I did and here it is. Here’s what we ate this week.
The Outlaw Burger and Billie’s Cheese Fries from Billie Jean’s Burger Pub: A half pound burger topped with chopped brisket, caramelized onions, cheddar cheese, dill pickles, and barbecue sauce. The fries are topped with smoked brisket chili and a fried egg.
Billie Jean’s has been on my radar for a while now, ever since South Austin Foodie wrote about it last September. It’s completely adorable. The building is new and modern and spacious. I don’t know why, but I pictured this place in a sort of grease-stained hole-in-the-wall. Actually, I do know why. I think it’s because of the clip art at the top of their website. But the place isn’t clip art-y at all. It’s pretty and shiny and the food was outrageous. We loved everything. They’ve got fun cocktails and there’s a Geeks Who Drink event there every Tuesday night, so I really want to go back.
Monday was a good day all around. Andy had his first day at his new job and loved it (huzzah!) and my sister and I went to the Wildflower Center with our parents and the kids. It was a cool grey day and no one was there, which makes my anti-social heart soar. And we got to eat at the cafe, since my parents were there and willing to pay for stuff, which we never had before, always lugging around coolers full of hummus and pirate’s booty instead. There’s nothing flashy about the food there- it sort of feels like the cafeteria at an old folks’ home- but with decent food. I had a cup of baked potato soup and a half a turkey sandwich that suited me just fine. We hung out in the Little House, where there’s a wonderful library of nature-based children’s books, and my dad read to the kids for a long time. It was really sweet.
The Chuychanga with Deluxe Tomatillo Sauce from Chuy’s. On Sunday night, my mom and dad went out to dinner with some old friends to La Condesa and had a wonderful time with them. They were split on their evaluation of the restaurant though. My mom thought everything was incredible, and my dad just wasn’t into it. The plates are tiny and expensive and you have to share everything. He loves chile rellanos but what you get at La Condesa isn’t the archetypal battered one stuffed with picadillo- it’s an unbattered red chile filled with some masa-y substance. My mom said it was delicious, but my dad said it made him pine for an oval-plate Tex Mex joint where you have a pool of beans on one side and a little salad that’s gone limp from sitting too long in the other corner of the super-hot plate. I knew just where we should go to scratch this itch: Chuy’s. It’s a chain now, no longer the funky independent joint on Barton Springs, but honestly the food tastes exactly the same, which is to say completely delicious, as it did twenty years ago. It’s hard to finish the chuychanga- a deep fried green chile chicken burrito served in a puddle of sour cream-enriched tomatillo sauce- but I pulled it off. And then we ate sopapillas for dessert, served warm in a puddle of honey, and I threw up on the table. I didn’t actually, but I was really full.
Chorizo, Potato, and Avocado Taco from Casa Alde. And then we woke up the next morning and drove to Buda for more greasy Tex Mex. You can tell that I was starting to feel the effects of eating burgers and chimichangas and cheese fries every day because I showed as much restraint as I could muster and ordered one taco instead of two. And then we went to the pool at my parents hotel and swam for around 4 hours. The damn thing was heated! We were so sad we waited until the day before they left to check it out, because it was amazing and the kids were thrilled to be there. This pool (at the Omni near I35 and Highway 71 if you’re curious) is huge and warm and is both indoor and outdoor- you get to swim under a little rubber flap to go from the inside part to the outside part. And there are fancy locker rooms and lots of fluffy towels. It was so great. I got a bad sunburn, and little red-headed Henry did too, in the patches of skin I’d missed near his hairline and right under his eyes. He had a sweet crazy streaky look from the red splotches on his pale skin for a few days, but it’s better now.
Burgers, Helen’s Potato Salad, Buttery Corn on the Cob, Greek Salad. We were hungry and tired after swimming all day, and the idea was floated to just order a couple of huge pizzas and call it a night, but I had gone three nights without cooking and was going through withdrawals. The kids and I ran to Central Market and bought the stuff for this dinner, and then Helen came over and helped me make it. I boiled the corn and the grilled the burgers; she made the greek and potato salads. We also had a big pile of watermelon and grapes and everyone ate all the things. I’m never hungrier than I am after swimming. The food tastes better too. Oh, and Helen’s got a nifty trick for potato salad- she adds little cubes of soft cheese- in this case monterrey jack- which is as delicious as it sounds.
Apple Crisp, Berry Crisp. I also made a couple of fruit crisps, both of which came together in no time and used up berries and apples left over from Henry’s birthday party. I had leftover salted caramel from Henry’s birthday cake too, so we spooned that over the apple crisp. It was a good scene.
The Food Lab’s Extra Cheese-y Grilled Cheese. We spent my parents’ last day in town swimming in that pool for another 3 hours. We had such a wonderful visit with them, and it was great to get to spend so much time with everyone together. We ate a lot of crazy food and ran all over town doing fun activities and the whole thing was exhausting and fulfilling. On the last night, at dinner, we talked about our favorite parts of the 9-day trip. I picked swimming, but after further reflection I think it was just the times we were all gathered around the same table. Even better if it was my table we were gathered around, eating food that Helen and I had made. I love that. Thanks for coming, mom and dad. I sure do love you.
They left for the airport in the afternoon and the boys and I came home and did nothing. I didn’t have a lot of food in the house, but I did have some shitty white bread leftover from our barbecue dinner last week, so Henry and I made this 18 minute grilled cheese sandwich from the Food Lab. It took forever to finish the thing, partly because I was letting Henry do most of the work, but mostly because you griddle both sides of the bread and then drop the finished sandwich on a bed of finely-grated parmesan and griddle it again, so you get a crusty salty cheese crust on the outside. We made a regular grilled cheese for comparisons sake and Henry said he preferred that one. The soft sandwich bread was so sweet that the finished sandwich tasted like a grilled cheese donut to me, so I’d call myself a fan.
The Food Lab’s Best Egg Salad. Andy and I ate egg salad sandwiches instead of grilled cheese (except I did eat all the crusts of Henry’s sandwiches) because we’re up to our ears in eggs from our chickens. The linked recipe isn’t quite the same as the one in the cookbook, but it’s close. The eggs in the book are hard boiled with a science-packed technique instead of the weirdo steamed version in the link. You bring a precise amount of water to a boil and drop the eggs in to shock them, so they’ll be easy to peel (a trick I learned from my mom who learned it from the Pioneer Woman) but Lopez-Alt adds another layer by only boiling the eggs for 30 seconds before dumping in 12 ice cubes, which lowers the water temperature to mimic the way you’d normally boil eggs, with a cold start, so the whites are creamier and the yolks are cooked through properly. He’s so smart. It worked perfectly. Also, he instructs you to crush the peeled eggs with your hands instead of chopping them for the salad. This makes so much more sense than the dumb way I used to do it- slicing the egg with one of those egg slicer gadgets on three different axes. Other than that though, the egg salad didn’t taste much better than any other version you’ve had. And I felt like it needed more acid, from vinegar or mustard or both, for tang. And now I feel certain that everyone has stopped reading this interminable paragraph about egg salad, so I’d better stop.
At bedtime that night, Henry got it in his head that he wanted to try sleeping with George and George agreed! And then he backed out almost as quickly. But I really wanted them to try it, to see if maybe George would sleep through the night if I didn’t climb into bed with him halfway through the night with my irresistible milk musk. So I lay on the floor next to Henry’s bed and held George’s hand while Henry spoke to George gently about how much fun it would be for them to sleep in the same bed, and not to be scared because he would be right there next to him the whole time, and then said, “I really love you, George.” Which is, as far as I can remember, the first time Henry has ever told his brother he loved him unprompted. I lay there in the dark, on the play-doh-crusted carpet, and beamed that I got to listen in on this conversation. I eventually had to nurse George to sleep, but then I left the room and closed the door on my two sleeping boys. I rejoiced in having my bedroom back for the night- I cleaned out months worth of clutter and leaning stacks of Berenstain Bear books that had been piled next to the bed and I read a book for my own self with the lamp on instead of with my phone’s flashlight face down on the sheets to give me enough illumination to read without being too bright to risk waking George. I woke up at 1:40 in the morning to find George shaking a still-sound-asleep Henry and saying “Mama, why won’t you talk to me?” I scooped him up and brought him back to bed so he could have some milk and we could go back to sleep. It was the most successful a failed experiment could be.
The Forest Feast for Kids. Another something new for Henry (is this part of a 5 year old renaissance?)- he’s interested in cooking again. As a baby and young toddler, Henry did everything with me in the kitchen. Somewhere along the way his all-encompassing fear of the smoke alarm made him leave the kitchen all together. But he’s back! He got a $5 birthday gift card from the Book People birthday club and decided he wanted to spend it on a cookbook for himself. We looked through all the kid cookbooks they had and fell completely in love with this one. It’s so beautiful, and the food all looks delicious. She includes a section on fun drinks (grape fizz, watermelon smoothie), which is something Henry loves to tinker with, and a section in the back for parties the kids can create, like a Color Party with blueberry sparklers, yellow caprese bites, asparagus pastry straws, red salad, and sweet potato pizza. I love it all. Henry wants to cook dinner at least once a week until he’s cooked his way through every recipe in this book, which sounds just perfect to me.
Carrot and Zucchini Ribbon Pasta. This hit all the high points for a kid recipe- Henry got to use the spiralizer on the zucchini and carrot, cut thyme from the garden, and then eat what was essentially a glorified pile of buttered noodles. He ate three huge helpings and said at the end that he felt very proud of himself. Eek! He’s a darling. I liked it too!
Melon Cake. This recipe was love at first sight for Henry. So I bought the three melons, organic, because that’s all they had at Central Market, and with the yogurt and almonds that meant that this dessert cost around $20 to make- yikes. And you guys, the recipe has problems. Or else there is some riddle here that I can’t wrap my head around. Look at the recipe above and follow along with me, if you will. You’re supposed to cut a 4-inch section from the center of each of the three melons, then stack these three center sections on top of each other and cut off the rinds, right? Well that’s completely insane. We tried it (we used a ruler and everything), and ended up with a (obviously) foot-high tower of melon that looked nothing like the picture in the book and which would have been completely impossible to cut and eat slices of. So we cut each of the 4-inch sections into 1-inch sections and made four melon cakes that matched the photo in the book (except we ignored the instructions and put the watermelon on the bottom because it didn’t have a hole in it like the other two did (where the seeds were removed) and doesn’t that make more sense?). So either the recipe is horribly flawed as written, or else I misunderstood what it was telling me to do entirely. It’s easy enough to figure out what you’re supposed to do to turn melons into a stack filled with yogurt, but I’m trying to teach Henry how to use a recipe, so it felt shitty to have to ignore and change the instructions. Everyone loved the finished product, though.
A boy and his chicken. (It’s not actually his chicken but I felt the caption would be diminished in the explanation of this chicken’s provenance.)
George, not at all impressed with a baby goat.
Vietnamese Caramelized Ginger Chicken, Stir Fried Baby Kale, Rice. We spent much of the day at SpringShine, a festival and fundraiser for Whole Life Learning Center, a sweet little hippie school that my niece and my friend Christy’s daughter both attend. In addition to this pretty great petting zoo there were bouncy houses, tons of crafts and games, and shockingly great food. Apparently some of my favorite Austin chefs have kids that attend the school- there was chana masala and samosas from G’Raj Mahal, an African sweet potato and chickpea curry from Cazamance, and lots of other delicious stuff. There was also a silent auction and therein lies the tale. Christy had a million jobs to do and roles to fill at this event- she floated between tables filling in wherever she was needed, often manning two stations at once, and barely had time to sit down or eat. In addition to this, a family she knew had seen and fell for an item in the silent auction- a guitar autographed by Willie Nelson- but they were leaving and wouldn’t be around at the time the auction closed to make sure they had the top bid. They asked Christy to do it for them, to bid until they got the thing with basically no upper limit on what they were willing to spend, and she’s super nice, so she said she would. With 10 minutes left before the auction ended, Christy was heading up the henna booth, so I offered to write down the bid for her. The top bid had been $200 for hours, so I didn’t think this would be a big deal- I put down a bid of $225 for these people (the minimum bid increment) and then realized that the people who had been hanging out in the corner by the guitar were gunning for this thing too. She bid $250, I $275, and back and forth, super awkwardly, with a few asides from the other bidder about it not being cool to bid for someone who wasn’t here, and that she was bidding for her daughter, who was hoping for the guitar, both of which made me feel sweaty and red-faced) until we got to $500 and I figured I should go ask Christy what to do. We called the family I was bidding for, and they said I could go up to $700, so I went back in, with two minutes left in the auction, and did more stressful back-and-forth bidding. When the auction closed, I had just written the last bid of $700 and won the damn thing for this rich family in absentia. I felt like a huge asshole. But it did raise more money for the school, so that’s something, right? Christy texted me later to share that the man who donated the autographed guitar actually had two, so the other family paid their top bid and got one too! So all is right with the world, except for the nervous sweat stains in my tank top.
The chicken is from A Bird in the Hand and it was delicious, but I couldn’t find a recipe for it online. You marinate the chicken overnight in fish sauce and buckets of grated ginger and then cook it with onions in a stock-y caramel lime sauce that’s pretty glorious. And the leftovers are perfect to use in another recipe in the book, Chicken and Pumpkin Laksa, a coconut soup I’ve never heard of. We’re having that later this week.
Mother’s Day Breakfast Tacos from Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ. Andy wins all the prizes for Mother’s Day. He took the kids to Valentina’s and got me these majestic barbecue breakfast tacos (they were handing out sweet baby roses for moms too, so I got some of those), and bought me the Hot Bread Kitchen cookbook too. HBK won the Piglet cookbook competition this year, and this was the first time I got to have a look inside of it- it’s engrossing, and I want to make absolutely everything in it. It’s really cool because there are recipes for meals that go with the breads you bake, so it’s a more well-rounded cookbook than the other bread baking ones I’ve seen. And the breads are from all over the world- there’s pita, tortillas made from your own nixtamal (provided you can get your hands on field corn that’s fit for human consumption and calcium hydroxide), injera, lavash, and so many others. There’s a beautiful focaccia-like bread called nan-e barbari, which is used in a muffuletta recipe a few pages later. And, and! There’s a Passover buttercrunch brittle to make “if you were to find yourself with boxes and boxes” of leftover matzo, which is me, exactly me, after giving up on the unleavened bread ritual 4 days into Passover. After breakfast Andy took the kids to the park and I got to garden and work on this blog post and talk to my mom. Then I ate a bowl of froot loops and a slice of peanut butter toast for lunch because it’s mother’s day and I can do what I want to. (I love, and have since I was a kid, the combination of a fruity cereal like Trix or Froot Loops alongside a slice of peanut butter toast. It just works.)
The Food Lab’s Best Corn Chowder, Avocado Toasts. I’ve written too many words already, but I will say that this really is the best corn chowder. The corn stock is simmered with fennel seeds that permeate the finished soup in a really beautiful way. The Food Lab is 50 goddamned dollars but the recipes are all so successful that I think I might have to own it.
And that’s all the things! I’m so happy I got this post done on Sunday and I’m back on track for being a bonafide blogger again! Except I still have to go back up to the top and think of something to say in that first paragraph. It’s probably not gonna go well. Let’s see! I know that you’ve already seen, because you start at the top and not the bottom, but I don’t, so the whole thing really is a mystery to me. Until next week!
Wonderful post this week! Being in Austin with all of you was the best thing ever!
Your posts always make me laugh out loud even though I care not at all about food. This time it was the melon section.