austin

Austin Gastro Graze 1: Michi Ramen, Moo Bawk Oink, and Krak 2

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I like trying new things. By “things” I mean food.

Living in Austin means I get an ever evolving restaurant scene in which to bask in beautiful tasty goodness.

This past weekend I ventured to the North Austin Trailer Yard, NATY. Some bites were simple meh, but one place was amazing.

This trailer yard is right outside my gym, which is…unfortunate. It makes circuit training much less effective. But that’s mostly due to the good food found within.

On Saturday we ordered a beef Snarky cheese steak from Boo Bawk Oink and a Black and White Donut from Krak 2 which is within the same trailer as Moo Bawk Oink and a bottle of water. The entire tab came to $13, which we considered to be a bit pricey for trailer food. The sandwich was overly bready and the meat what I believe to be pulled brisket, in fact at first I questioned if it was pork, a little dry, but not bad. I prefer the horrible cheesesteak sliced meat, but it was a decent sandwich. The jalapenos are not spicy and the cheese more like white goo sauce. Good enough to try, not sure if I’d go back, especially considering its competition at NATY.

The donut was actually a square piece of fried dough with a whole in the center, drizzled with icing, hershey’s chocolate sauce, and Cocoa Krispies. According to the prices on Boo Bawk Oink’s website our sandwich and bottled water was $8. There weren’t prices for Krak 2 and aren’t any on their website, but based on our tab the donut was $5. While the fried dough “donut” was tasty – what fried dough isn’t? – it wasn’t worth $5. It was essentially a large beignets. Now, if it came with a scoop of ice cream then I’d dig the $5…

We also ordered a bowl of ramen from Michi Ramen. Michi Ramen is, in a word, AMAZING. Flavor, rich, warm, traditional, the comfort food you never knew your craved. Michi only has the room to create 50 bowls of Ramen for lunch and 50 for dinner, so their twitter is merely a count down of the bowls they have left. At noon on a Saturday, however, Chip and I had no problem scoring a bowl. The line was steady, though, and for good reason: As an American who thinks of ramen as those dried 38cent packets you can get at the grocery store. What Michi serves is incredible, flavorful, and even served with a poached egg if so desired. The broth is cooked for almost TWO DAYS with all natural ingredients (this is their claim, but boy does it taste like it!), pork bones, leaking their delicious marrow and flavors into a rich base for a ultra flavorful lunch/dinner. The standard ramen is served with two slices of Cashu on top, gorgeous, fatty, soy marinated braised pork. It was $9, but in this case it was money well spent. I took home our left over broth, let it coagulate and then sauteed spinach in it with the next night’s dinner of grilled steak and mashed cauliflower.

Yeah. It was awesome.

Yes, under the pork and poached egg and mushrooms there are ramen noodles.

The Most Pointless Post Ever: Cupcake Surgery

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I want everything all at once, all the time, instantly. I keep most of these wants to myself, but when I see an outlet for one to be easily obtained, I go for it. Why the hell not?

I rarely have cupcakes. They’re good. Perhaps too good. They also go straight to my ass. Now, Hey Cupcake is…tasty. They’re a staple of Austin primarily because they’re bright and accessible with food trailers dotted around the city. BUT, if you really want an amazing cupcake, go to Sugar Mama’s on South 1st. Incredible AND they deliver. But Hey Cupcake had a new flavor and I wanted to try it.

The new flavor: John Lemon. It doesn’t taste like any John’s I’ve ever known, but the lemon is certainly noticeable, in a good way. Not too sweet, not fresh lemony, but not sugary, either. A Fresh Lemon&Mint cupcake would be great, but that’s really Sugar Mama’s arena.  The quandary is that I also love Hey Cupcake’s Sweet Berry (and their Double Dose and the Michael Jackson, but let’s stick to the point), so ‘why come they don’t’ have an amalgamation of those two flavors? (See that? I mixed a little Southern colloquialism with intelligence speak.)

I had to take things into my own hands.

“Hey, Honey,” I said turning to my buddy. “Are you getting that new John Lemon?”

“Yep.”

“If I got a Sweet Berry would you trade a bite for a bite?” I was going to trade full halves, but he didn’t have to know that right then.

“Sure.” And just like that I become a surgeon.

The plan was that I’d take my yellow and pink beauties home and simply swap the tops. An amazing idea creating a Strawberry Lemonade cupcake, but one that Hey Cupcake! won’t sell on their own…for some sad, sad reason. Chip didn’t mind because he always gets the majority of mine anyway; I get half way through one and I have to go lie down. And it was simple outpatient/cupcake surgery.

So, the rest of this pointless post because a picture book.

The Top Swap: Much tastier than Wife Swap

The amazing final product.

NOW GO EAT SOME CUPCAKES!

Thems Special Cats

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I used to volunteer one day a week in a Veterinary Clinic. I did this for a number of reasons, the primary one being that I really loved who I worked with. The people there are wonderful. Pet owners, however, can be a breed all their own.

It was a very small veterinary clinic. There was one doctor and only two exam rooms. We were basically an ENT for dogs and cats. We would do minor surgery, but no emergencies. We were just your primary care physician for your puppy or feline, appointments only, rigid schedule due to our size, but always happily refereed and recommended doctors for emergencies. We would always squeeze unscheduled people in whenever we could, but it is simply not always possible. As far as clientele goes, we handled anyone in Austin and anyone willing to drive to us…and there are a lot of eccentric people in the surrounding hill country. Very unique and I guess peculiar would be the nice way of putting it. Don’t forget: a lot of horror flicks take place out here.

We all have dealt with odd people in our daily lives, we all have been those “crazies” to someone else at some point. It’s what makes life interesting. And this encounter was interesting.

On this morning, as I organized the charts for the full list of appointments we had that day, a car pulled into our lot. The driver of the car was a woman dressed in a uniform, a state or city worker, with a badge on her chest that shone in the sun when she got out of her new model Nissan. She went over to the passenger side and removed from the car a lumpy and squirming pillow case. She strode in our door, sack in hand, and I greeted her warmly, as I do all our patients and their owners.

Let me just note here that cat carries are always preferable. That being said, it is not uncommon for people to transport their cats in pillow cases. I’m not kidding.

She grunted at my hello and sat down. I began to ask what we could help her with this fine morning and for her name so I could check her off the appointments list. Her answers were…well, it was as though she knew what she wanted, wanted it done, and didn’t want to deal with logic. In fact, it seemed even paying attention to anything was out of the question.

I asked what she needed, she responded with something about crazy drivers. I asked if we could help her pet in the pillow case, and she was upset with the weather and angry at metal. I don’t know if she meant technology or cars or the genre of music.

My outward queries of her needs became inner queries of wonder: just how did she get on this planet? It seemed she was trying to get care for her cat in the most confusing and angry way. She was very animated when she spoke, doing so with sudden, sharp hands gestures, arms swinging with each sentence. This wouldn’t have bothered me normally, accept in one of her hands she grasped the pillow case containing her cat, who was very obviously not enjoying its morning.

Photo credit unknown. Not me, that’s for sure.

I’m no doctor, but after a few minutes with Unknown Lady #1 of the day, I felt confident to make a diagnosis: Bull Goose Looney. Not mentally handicapped mind you, just missing some marbles. Normally, I wouldn’t jump to make that call; you never know what someone is going through. I promise you, I am normally very kind and patient when I’m in the office, as much as I dislike the human race.

This woman, however, was mean. She was nuts, angry, and none too bright. A deadly combination. ‘Deadly’ as in her existence in common society causes others to kill. I very politely let her know there might be a wait for the doctor, but we would try to see her cat, and I attempted to keep her as calm as possible. I offered to put her cat in the exam room so it could stretch it’s legs and calm down before the exam, but she refused. In fact, in order to even get her to acknowledge her own pet, I had to basically pressure her for answers, and those only came after over ten minutes of angry rants and in short bursts of sentences.

I was trying to be nice and helpful, but I was getting more concerned for her cat with each passing moment.

“You have your cat with you it seems. And it doesn’t seem that you have an appointment. Does your cat need vaccinations?” I asked slowly and clearly.

“Nah! Needs shots. I had my cat’s shots done in Austin last year. I need ’em done agin.”

“Sure, we can do that! Did your cat receive those shots here last year? What’s your last name? I can look up his records.” I rose
to look through charts.

“I ain’t never been here before,” she answered.

“Oh, that’s no problem. We’ll just take your information as a new client. Please fill out the new client form on the counter. Where did you have the shots done last time?” I asked.

“Oh, I dunno. Somewheres in Austin. Y’all have ’em in the records.” She ignored my request for the form.

“So, we DO have the records? So your cat HAS seen our doctor before? Or did you have the records sent over from the previous vet? What’s your last name? And, if you’d like, I can help you fill out the new patient form.” I still had no answer on either a name for the woman or her cat.

“I haven’t been here before and I sureishell don’ know yer docteer!”She seemed to be getting annoyed and again ignored the new patient information request.

We looked at each other. I was blank and confused, but at least I was in good company. Let me just point out, that by this time my boss, the veterinarian, his assistant, and the vet tech were standing just out of sight of the client area in the hall listening, a swirl of confusion and entertainment playing on their faces.

I repeated, “Did you have the records sent to us from a previous vet of the vaccinations?”

“I don’t need vassinations, I need shots! I don’t need ‘er records neither, cause I got her shots done ’round in Austin. YOU – GOT – DEM RECORDS!” She was yelling now.

I had no idea what to do. I paused. I was not a cryer. If someone has the audacity to make you cry or come close to tears at the office they are horrible human beings and not worth the energy.

And…Stupid does this. It seeps in, infects the air, hovers heavily, thickly like a smelly fourth grader with awful hygiene and weird food for lunch. It hangs there, staring at you, waiting yet thoughtless, ignorant of it’s own irritating cycle.

You almost want to feel sorry.
Almost.

I forced my self to smile. And I maintained quiet and calm and spoke…very…very…very…slow…ly.
“Ma’am, if you haven’t been here before…

                   …and your cat hasn’t seen our Doctor…

                                              …and you haven’t had records sent over from another vet…

                                                                 …then there is absolutely no way that we have records for your pet.”

The woman was silent for a moment. After a bit her eyes changed, like suddenly she was figuring it all out. For about an eighth of a second I was thankful, I thought we could move forward and communicate. I almost sighed with relief.

Then the woman blinked. Something had clicked. Evil.

Out she spat her next topic, which still had nothing to do with her cat. “You’re a big girl. You gained weight since las’ time I were here.”

That was it.
At that point I had worked at the clinic barely a year and I could hear my coworkers snickering out of sight in the exam room hall. Our waiting area was filling with competent pet owners who actually had appointments. And I wasn’t about to hold them up any longer.

Screw reality. Reality isn’t a necessity. Let’s do crazy, bitch.

“Ma’am,” I sighed calmly, politely. “We can’t treat your cat.”

Suddenly, the prospect of no longer getting attention made her understand English. “But the sign say y’all do cats!”

“Yes, we do ‘do cats’. But those are special cats. We only treat THOSE cats,” I pressed, leaning forward as though I was sharing a secret with her.

“Oh…Thems like those SPECIAL cats?…” she asked.

(via idea-box)

She started to smile. Thems special cats. She was nodding like she was privy to a veterinarian insider tip, like she knew exactly what I meant. I didn’t fucking know what I meant. It seemed, however, to make her feel special that her cat was in a “special cat” vet office, like being there was AS GOOD as getting her cat the actual shots it needed, even though she was being turned down.

“Yeah. I’m sooooooo sorreee about that. Thought your cat had been here, but hasn’t, so can’t. So sorry! But you have a good day!”
I walked over to the door out of politeness in case she needed a hand leaving.

“Tha’s fine, darlin’. I gotta git to work any how. Somebody’s gotta drive that bus.” Magically and totally placated, she was smiling a far off smile, and left nodding without another word, just like that.

I wish I had asked her the bus route she drove just to avoid it. I should have asked her if she was going to drop her cat off at home or if it had to stay in a pillow case in her car all day. And I should have asked if she needed a recommendation for another vet clinic. But, after a frustrating and fruitless 20 minutes in which I couldn’t even get a name, other people waiting and getting annoyed as well, it was too important for my own sanity’s sake to get her out the door.

And to this day I have no idea what ‘thems special cats’ are, but I bet they’re awesome.
Like Thunder Cats.

Butternut Squash Bisque

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I love lobster bisque. After attempting to make it at home I decided I hate the cost of the ingredients. And cooking lobster and shrimp shells down into stock makes my home smell like low tide. Recently at a cafe in Austin I had out-of-this-world Tomato Bisque. It was truly great, much better than I ever thought it would be. If I hadn’t been eating lunch with the CEO of my company I would have totally stuck my head in that bowl and licked it clean. The thing about tomato bisque, however, is that it’s too similar to the tomato based sauces I make and it’s not Autumnish enough for me. I live in the capital of Texas, a place that – thanks to global warming – is now completely void of all seasons. There’s Lesser Summer during November through March, and then Seventh Circle of Hell Summer April through October. Take today for example. It’s November 13th and it’s 87 degrees out. Awesome. Yes, I mean that sarcastically. The leaves that have turned color have only done so because we’re experiencing a multi-year long drought and all plant matter turns brown and shrivels when it dies. There’s no romance about it.

In an attempt to relive the New England fall weather of my wasted youth, I try to make Autumn occur in other ways. I burn Apple Cinnamon candles, I hang my dust covered fall coats in easy to reach areas, I obsess over brown leather boots. And I begin a half-assed love affair with the butternut squash.

Butternut squash is….meh. It’s okay. It’s no fennel. But, you know, it tries and it’s very Fallesque. So, I decided to make Butternut Bisque.

All the recipes I read were all very sweet or too plain: Butternut Squash & Brown Sugar Bisque, Butternut Squash & Cinnamon Bisque, Mother’s Basic Butternut Bisque. I wanted something that emulated the Tomato Bisque flavor, but used Butternut squash as it’s base. So I started with bacon.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I started by roasting the squash and then half way through adding carrots to roast with said squash. One decent sized squash peeled & cubed, which made about 4 cups, and, roughly, 1 cup carrots.

Please excuse my half eaten lunch in the back round of the above picture. Austin, like most major US cities, has quite the “China Town” area and we found a little Vietnamese place that does AMAZING pork buns. So good.

I roasted the squash for 45 minutes at 500. After 25 minutes, I added the carrots. Once the 45 minutes of roasting was up, my house smelled fantastic – like Mega Fall – and my squash/carrot mixture looked like this:

I suppose I could have roasted the squash and carrots while prepping the other parts of the recipe, but I finally found the minikit detector in my Lego Star Wars video game and was just flying through levels. Once the squarrots were out of the oven, it was time to get down to business.

What makes everything better? Bacon. What makes everything even better-er? Cooking everything in bacon fat. I took 2 strips of center cut bacon, threw them in the bottom of a heavy pot and rendered the shit out of them. It looked like this:

Once I felt enough fat had cooked out of the bacon, I removed what was left of the strips. I then added 2 large, finely chopped cloves of garlic, 1 stalk of roughly chopped celery (something I’d leave out in the future, truth be told), and half of a white onion, chopped. I cooked those over medium heat until they were tender. It took about 8 minutes, so I had a cup of tea. It looked like this:

That’s my favorite mug. It was free and had some website name on it. I scraped all the letters off accept for the “O”, which I edited into a “C”, for the first letter of my married name. It’s great.

Anyway, once the other veg was tender, I sprinkled 2 tablespoons of flour over everything to help absorb all those fabulous flavors and to act like a thickening agent, stirring continuously for about three minutes. I then added only 3 cups of chicken stock. What I should have done was mixed in 2 cups chicken stock and 2 to 2 1/2 cups vegetable stock, but hindsight’s 20/20. I added the squash and carrots and let everything just hangout to reach a boil. Upon hearing the boil, I sprinted down the hall from my bedroom video game fest back to the kitchen, and I added 1 bay leaf and about 2 tablespoons of freshly chopped parsley. I turned the heat down to a simmer, and left the bisque there to think about what it had done. About 30 minutes.

Once the half hour of sensational simmering had passed, I removed the pot from the heat to let it cool.

It’s not glamorous, I know. Like in war, these are simply what the realities of making a bisque look like, and it’s not pretty. Once the bisque cooled I blended the ever loving crap out of it with an immersion hand blender. I love that thing. Of course, it splattered most of my kitchen orange, but it worked like a charm. I probably could have kept things cleaner if I wasn’t also watching Troll Hunter on Netflix, a fantastic import from Norway that I highly recommend. Super entertaining. Yes, there’s subtitles; I don’t want to say what I think about people who won’t watch a movie just because there are subtitles. Troll Hunter is great. Watch it.

Once the bisque was at a smooth, bisque-like consistency, I added about 2/3 cup of heavy cream. Sure, this is optional, but when I say “optional” in reference to heavy cream, I don’t really mean it. I also like to swirl in a little more cream, or even just regular milk on top when I sit down to a bowl ‘o’ bisque, so I didn’t go throwing a full pint of heavy cream in all at once, like I had read on many recipes. I then garnished with a sprig of parsley and a piece of the uber cooked bacon.

It was good, it really was. You can tell from the picture it was a bit on the thick side, and when I reheat the rest I may throw in that extra cup or so of veggie stock I’d mentioned, but other than that my husband loved it and I…liked it…You know what? I’m just not a huge fan of butternut squash. Probably because it’s not a lobster.