Hello February, Life Lessons & Resolution #37 Get Published on YCN

I can’t believe it’s already a few days into February.  I’m even more dumbfounded that I’m staring down the barrel of the age of 24, just a week away. (Happy Birthday to me!)

The shiny newness of 2013 hasn’t even started wearing off yet and it’s already proving to be so much better than its totally lame predecessor, 2012. Just in the last couple of weeks I’ve gotten a few leads on writing gigs, including a couple of guests posts for a new e-mag being started by the lovely Danasia over at Born at Twenty-Five called The Urban Realist.  It’s going to be fabulous, I can’t wait for it to launch.

Resolution #37: Get Published on YCN

Speaking of legit writing gigs, I actually got a piece published on Yahoo! Voices last week!  Me! A Yahoo writer! Please excuse the tooting of my own horn. But, if you’re interested in checking it out, I wrote about 5 Free/Inexpensive ways to keep that ‘Get Fit’ resolution.  It’s local, here in Austin, of course, but even if you don’t live in Austin, every time someone goes to read the article I get a few pennies from the big men over at Yahoo! Corporate.  So please go check out the article: 5 Free or Inexpensive Ways to Keep Your Get Fit Resolution in Austin

6882880373_5eda9dff5b_bI’ve also managed to get through an entire month of the paleo diet, with the exception of a few cheat days thanks to a birthday party featuring s’mores and a cookie cake, and an outing to a restaurant called “Bacon” where I didn’t even put up a fight against the powers of Chicken and Waffles.

IMG_5460What caveman could say no to that, huh?

Other life lessons learned this past month?

1. Lock Your Car

Everyone knows this is a good idea. And you may think that I say this because I got my car stolen, or something stolen out of it.  Luckily, and I mean really luckily, this is not the case. But, I did come back from a night out to discover an unconscious stranger in my backseat. Turns out this classy gent got a little too drunk downtown with him brother and stumbled back to what he thought was his car to sleep it off in the back seat. He was harmless. Not a thief, or a serial killer, but just to avoid that terrifying moment when you’re friend opens the back-seat and exclaims “…who is that?!”  Just lock your damn car.

2. Your inner child isn’t dead, let it out of its cage.

This past weekend I spent Saturday afternoon at the zoo. I can’t even claim the idea as my own, I would have never thought to go to the zoo on a Saturday, but Dru did and it took exactly 4 minutes before I was back to 10-years-old saying things like “Oh my god they have a tiger!!”  “I want to feed the deer!”  “Can I PET it?!” I had more fun feeding petting zoo food to baby goats and making conversation with parrots than I’ve had doing any ‘adult’ things lately (What would that be?  Drinking I guess?  Rated R movies?).

141891

Then on Sunday I skipped the Super Bowl and went and saw the Lion King (stage version) with my sister.  I’d originally bought tickets for she and her son for Christmas, but her son was still a little too young for live theatre, so she took me with her instead. We already have a special mutual connection to the show, but it was also great getting to giggle at Timon and Pumba’s antics and bouncing along to the Disney sing-a-longs.

3. Just say yes.

2035781407_23e1c60febThere were a few times this month where I found myself in a situation where I was presented with an opportunity and thought “Er…well, shoot…I don’t know if that’s a good idea.” or worse, “I’m scared.” I said yes anyway. Many times it involved a little nudging, or a violent shove from my friends, but I pushed past my own fears and limitations and just…did it anyway.  And guess what? Most often they were the most fun, most exciting, or most rewarding things I’ve done in a while.  Sometimes–they were not. Sometimes they were terrible ideas that I immediately regretted, but even then they turn into good stories or lessons learned. Either way it’s better than having to answer the question “What’ve been up to lately?” with “Oh you know, same ‘ol same ‘ol.”  Just say yes.

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Paleo Living: Hunting and Gathering in the Land of Convenience

grocery

Whoever said that there is no ‘hunting and gathering’ in the modern world has obviously never tried to grocery shop on a ‘hunter-gatherer’ diet.

For those that aren’t yet familiar with this paleo/primal/caveman diet thing that seems to become such a big deal in the health and fitness world, it’s pretty simple and yet highly restrictive. Basically, you eat like our paleolithic ancestors might. Anything that could be hunted or gathered is what you are allowed to eat. This includes grass-fed/cage free meats, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Simple. That, in turn, eliminates grains, legumes, dairy, refined/added sugars, soy and any artificial flavors, ingredients and preservatives of any kind. The idea is that it goes back to what we are meant to eat on an evolutionary level, the argument being that things like grains, dairy etc. are the products of modern technology and agriculture and we are not really ‘programmed’ to have them as dietary staples.

“Sure okay, no problem.” you say?  Okay, maybe you don’t say, but that’s what I said…and then I went grocery shopping.

A friend of mine keeps joking with me when he watches me eat, “You didn’t hunt down that cow, you can’t eat that.” But, oh did I ever have to hunt it down. Just like I had to hunt down tomato sauce that didn’t have sugar added, almond milk without preservatives, trail mix that didn’t have peanuts, and chicken stock made with sea salt. It’s never more brutally apparent how unnatural our society is until you’re trying to live all natural. Even with things like organic and  even gluten-free foods becoming more mainstream, the grocery trip for a paleo eater is still most definitely a hunt.

But it’s not impossible.

Here are a few things that have made paleo living just a little easier for me since I started:

The Paleo Central App for iPhone

paleocentappThis little gem was developed by the fine fellow over at nerdfitness.com, who has a hilarious and awesome blog that you should probably check out and read. I’m a firm believer in the fact that there’s an app for everything, and sure ’nuff there’s one for this too.  I can’t tell you how full my google history was with “Is _____ paleo?” (the answer is usually no, by the way) before I found this thing. It’s basically a big, long, ridiculous, I-don’t-even-know-how-he-curated-this-thing list of foods, paleo and non-paleo that you can search or browse to find out if a particular food is allowed on this diet or not. It’s a life-saver when I’m combing grocery isles for anything I can eat.

Home-Delivery Groceries

So I can’t exactly get a pizza delivered anymore, but it surprised me to find all the companies that exist solely to bring healthy, organic groceries to your door. It’s not really an inexpensive option, which is why I don’t do it often, but if it’s a really busy week it’s nice to have as a back-up.  My sister bought me a voucher for the Paleo Perfect Tasting Menu over at Beetnik Foods which I can’t wait to receive. Grass-fed steaks and burgers, perfectly portioned snacks of fruit and nuts, veggie sides. All boxed up and brought to me. There are also options like Greenling and Farmhouse Delivery, who carry local and organic produce and groceries.  I’ve used Greenling off and on for a couple of years now, even when I wasn’t on any special diet. It’s like bringing the farmer’s market to your door. Or, if you’re up for some regular super-local deliveries, local farms like Johnson’s Backyard Garden offer Community Support Agriculture (CSA) memberships that get you a big box of farm-fresh food delivered weekly or bi-weekly.

Chipotle

chipotle The paleo diet almost immediately eliminates a lot of eating-out options, which is pretty debilitating for people with a busy-bee on-the-go lifestyle. Sure, it would be ideal to cook every single meal at home, but really–who does that? I’ve found a lot of restaurants that will cater to dietary restrictions. Hell, even my favorite sushi restaurant agreed to make me rolls sans rice so I could still eat there, but Chipotle is great because they have options straight off the menu that are paleo friendly. There’s no feeling like a pest for making special requests here.  Their meat is all grass-fed/cage free, they have tons of veggie options and of course…guacamole. My favorite paleo friendly friend. My go-to is a salad with double meat, peppers, onions, pico, salsa and a hearty helping of guac.

Paleo Bloggers

Paleo bloggers are like your own hard-working, totally kitchen savvy support system. Not only are they always there to answer your paleo questions, but they are also there to tell you that it’s okay to slip up, show you that you CAN make donuts and pancakes paleo, and collect all the ways and reasons that bacon is your friend. Blogs like PaleOMG and Everyday Paleo are the reason that I get through some days. Especially the days when I’m like, “ALL I WANT IS A COOKIE!”  …yep, they can show you how to do that too.

Overall, I’m 10 days in to this whole paleo thing and while it’s wildly inconvenient sometimes I am really loving it.  I feel really good, have a lot more energy and surprisingly I don’t even really feel that restricted even though I’ve eliminated about half of the things I usually ate. Heck, I almost feel like the most difficult change I had to make was to start drinking black coffee at Starbucks since I can’t drink soymilk anymore.  I’m aiming to make it at LEAST a month doing this thing, I love all sorts of food far too much to stay this restricted forever, but who knows, maybe I’ll like it so much that I’ll stick with it for longer.

 

[Resolution] #95 Ask the waiter “What do you recommend?” And take his advice.

So many food posts lately.  I guess its obvious where my priorities on this list are.  🙂

Though, there’s something to be said about the joy of rekindling an old friendship.  Well, I’d say it was more like kindling one for the first time, even though the person I’m talking about and I have been smooshed together in the same schools since the 1st grade.  It’s strange how things work. That we’d seen or at least known who the other was for literally our entire lives, but just now, on this day at this time, we decided to start an actual friendship.  Or he did.  I have to give credit where credit is due.

Dane (he has a name) invited me out for a Sunday of food and merriment this weekend, and I gladly took him up on it.  After all, who doesn’t love food and merriment?

This day happened to begin with brunch at Blue Dahlia Bistro, a very cute, VERY European bistro on the East Side.  Side note about the East Side by the way, not nearly as scary as I remember.  There are a lot of great things over here.  I’m willing to give it another chance, but that’s for another day.

He was already there, sitting at a table with menus when I arrived.  We said our hello’s and sat down and, instinctively, I opened my menu to check out the offerings.

Dane did not.

“Do you already know what you’re getting?”  I asked, feeling a little self-conscious.

“Nope.”

He didn’t open his menu.

His plan was simply to allow the waiter to choose what he would be eating.  He didn’t even want to know what it was before it came out.  Suddenly, it dawned on me.  Resolution time!

With options like Belgian Waffles and Blueberry Blintzes it took me a while to actually surrender the fate of my hungry stomach to a stranger, but I begrudgingly closed my menu and awaited the waiter’s return.

When he came, Dane explained as he evidently had done to quite a few waiters in his lifetime.  “Here’s what we want you to do.  Choose your top two recommendations on the menu, DON’T TELL US WHAT THEY ARE, just choose and bring them to us, whatever they are.  We trust you completely.”

After clarifying that we’d like to try one breakfast and one lunch item, since it was brunch time after all, he went back inside to whisper with the other waiters about what the best selections might be.  He came back, grinning and quite pleased with himself, confident that we would enjoy what was coming to us.

Moments later, this is what arrived:

Top: Tartine (open-faced sandwich) with brie, apricot preserves and walnuts.

Bottom: Sausage frittata.

My face?  If I were punctuation I would have looked like this: 😀  I didn’t get my Belgian waffles but after a couple of bites of a warm, melty, cheesy frittata, it didn’t matter.  And, honestly, I don’t think I would have even looked at the Tartine section of the menu since I’ve never been a big sandwich person, but holy mother these were good.  Brie and apricot is so perfect and sweet and creamy and delicious.  For a lunch item it’s suspiciously similar to a breakfast item.  Not only was each one good, they went together well too.

He’ll likely never see it, but thank you Dave the waiter for the best brunch I would have never put together myself.

I think it actually ended up being a little bit fun for the wait staff too.  I’m no expert but I don’t figure that it’s all to often they get to select what the customer eats rather than just fulfilling orders.  He seemed to enjoy the change of pace despite the potential intimidation factor of our possible dissatisfaction.

Of course, by this point we were so excited about the amazing brunch that we decided that we’d try our luck with dessert too.

Success. Dave’s selection?  Their specialty peach cobbler with vanilla ice cream.  Hea-ven-ly.

I’m usually not extroverted enough to push anyone (or myself, for that matter) out of their comfort zone enough to do this EVERY time I eat, but I will definitely be trying this again.  Especially at the local joints like Blue Dahlia.  Austin has a lot of amazing features, but the local grub is definitely in the top 3.

And of course…what better to finish off a day of great local food than a trip to Cool Haus for–get this–more dessert.  (We’d walked a lot by this point and felt we were justified, somehow.)  We didn’t truly take any recommendation here, but stuck with our brunch theme and walked away with an ice cream sandwich of Hot Cake Cookies (maple cookie with maple sugar bits) and ice cream filling riddled with lucky charms cereal and flavored with Jameson whiskey. This has nothing to do with the resolution but it was too great not to share.

Question of the Day: Have you ever asked for a waiter’s recommendation?  Was it good, or terrible?

 

 

 

Back from the dead, and hungry! [Resolutions #8 and #78 with Recipes]

I now see what bloggers mean when they write those inevitable posts after a long hiatus apologizing for their short disappearance. When I wrote my resolution list, it was assuming that I would have noooothing better to do for the rest of the year.  No unexpected occurrences, no troubles, no distractions.  And that just doesn’t happen.  So, my apologies for the break!  But, I’m back, with food!

I can easily call food one of my greatest loves in life.  It’s good for enjoyment, for comfort, for showing affection, and bringing people together.  For a lot of people, including me, life kind of revolves around food.  That might explain why food shows up so many times in my list of resolutions.  Including #78: Make a Traditional Dutch Recipe and #8 Cook a Julia Child Recipe.

#78 Cook a Traditional Dutch Recipe

I complain a lot that since my parents divorced, and then after my father passed away, a lot of my Dutch heritage was lost for me.  I was no longer in an environment where the traditions, food and culture permeated my everyday life. I felt a little cheated.  I’m always proud to tell people that I’m half Dutch, but what good does that do me if there’s nothing Dutch about me but my genes?

So, since the language is notoriously difficult to learn (though I hope to learn it someday), I figured I could at least get really good at cooking the food.  I started small with this one, a recipe I remember from my childhood as one of the most hearty and comforting foods that came out of my mom’s kitchen.  Hutspot.  It’s a mash of potatoes, carrots and onions that is usually served along some sort of meat like sausage or beef.

This traditional dutch recipe was ever present at holiday meals, when company came over, and most of all on sick days where all we craved was something simple, warm and comforting.  Dutch food is good for that.  But as soon as I moved away from home, hutspot disappeared off the menu, because I never bothered to learn to make it.

So, I figured the first recipe I should learn is that one that I would most want to be able to make for my own family–if/when I actually have one of my own.

There are a hundred and one recipes out there for hutspot.  Including a Flemish version that isn’t mashed at all, but for the sake of tradition I went with this recipe from Food.com and it turned out great.  We served it up with some simple beef tips and gravy, which I highly recommend.

Ingredients:

  • 6 onions
  • 6 large carrots
  • 8 russet potatoes
  • 1/2c evaporated milk
  • 1/4c butter
  • Salt & Pepper

Directions:

Dice the onions and carrots and boil for 20 mins, then drain and set aside.  Peel and quarter the potatoes and boil 20-25 minutes until tender; drain and dry thoroughly.  Add onions, carrots and potatoes back to the pot and mash well until combined. Add butter, milk and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well and serve hot.

#8 Cook a Julia Child Recipe

It’s thanks to Julie and Julia that I actually know who Julia Child is, and I’m so glad I do, because while I thought I was pretty good in the kitchen, her collection of brilliant and complicated French recipes makes me feel like a rookie. You mean there are instances in which a cake requires more than one bowl??  The best brownies don’t come from a box?

…Kidding about that last one.

Anyway, I’ve always wanted to try my hand at one of her famously decadent recipes, and after scouring the internet for sweet and savory, I landed on her Reine De Saba (Queen of Sheba) cake.  A nearly flourless chocolate almond cake that is supposed to put all other chocolate cakes to shame.

For a simple chocolate cake, it’s a pretty labor intensive endeavor, involving perfect timing and the ability to multi-task, but it was pretty worth it.  Isn’t there a quote about the more work it takes, the sweeter the outcome?  I think they were talking about this cake. My only complaint is that I think I cooked mine a little too long which I think detracted from how fudgey it should have been, but it still tasted delicious!  It’s not a very sweet cake, which surprised me.  Not even the icing called for added sugar. It’s very much a chocoholic’s cake where the chocolate is the star, not the sugar.  It’s dense, heavy, and just about 80% butter.  In short, my dream cake.

Here is the original post where I found this recipe.

Ingredients:  

For the cake:

  • 4 ounces or squares semi-sweet chocolate melted with 2 tbsp rum or coffee
  • 1/4 pound or 1 stick softened butter
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 3 egg whites
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup pulverized almonds
  • 1/4 tspn almond extract
  • 1/2 cup cake flour (scooped and leveled) turned into a sifter

For the icing:

  • 2 ounces or squares semi-sweet baking chocolate
  • 2 tbsp rum or coffee
  • 5 to 6 tbsp unsalted butter

Preparation: 
For the cake:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Butter and flour the cake pan.
  3. Set the chocolate and rum or coffee in a small pan, cover, and place (off heat) in a larger pan of almost simmering water; let melt while you proceed with the recipe.  Measure out the rest of the ingredients.
  4. Cream the butter and sugar together for several minutes until they form a pale yellow, fluffy mixture.
  5. Beat in the egg yolks until well blended.
  6. Beat the egg whites and salt in a separate bowl until soft peaks are formed; sprinkle on the sugar and beat until stiff peaks are formed.
  7. With a rubber spatula, blend the melted chocolate into the butter and sugar mixture, then stir in the almonds, and almond extract.
  8. Immediately stir in one fourth of the beaten egg whites to lighten the batter.
  9. Delicately fold in a third of the remaining whites and when partially blended, sift on one third of the flour and continue folding.  Alternate rapidly with more egg whites and more flour until all egg whites and flour are incorporated.
  10. Turn the batter into the cake pan, pushing the batter up to its rim with a rubber spatula.
  11. Bake in middle level of preheated oven for about 25 minutes.  Cake is done when it has puffed, and 2 1/2 to 3 inches around the circumference are set so that a needle plunged into that area comes out clean; the center should move slightly if the pan is shaken, and a needle comes out oily.
  12. Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes.  Run a knife around the edge of the pan, and reverse cake on the rack.
  13. Allow it to cool for an hour or two; it must be thoroughly cold if it is to be iced.

For the icing:

  1. Place the chocolate and rum or coffee in a small pan, cover, and set in a larger pan of almost simmering water.
  2. Remove pans from heat and let chocolate melt for 5 minutes or so, until perfectly smooth.  Lift chocolate pan out of the hot water, and beat in the butter a tablespoon at a time.
  3. Then beat over a bowl with a tray of ice cubes and water until chocolate mixture has cooled to spreading consistency.  At once spread it over your cake with spatula or knife.

To serve, use the butter icing and press a design of almonds over the icing.

Question of the Day:  What is the recipe that brings back the fondest memories for you?

[Resolution(s)] 3, 55 & 100: Tourism, original art, and one BIG burrito. Part Two.

You’ve all heard about my friend Jake by now.  He is, sincerely, one of the best people that I’ve ever met. This is why it breaks my heart to say that as of last Saturday morning he is now not 5.3 miles away, but 1093 miles away (yep, I google mapped it) in Indianapolis, IN.

As his gift to me before he left, however, he vowed to fulfill one of my resolutions with me.  And, what better way to bid farewell to your fair city than to explore it as a tourist?  The rules were simple, if it came recommended by any local, we would do it, as long as it fit into our budget. And thus began…

Resolution 3: Be a Tourist in (Our) Own City

Even as a seasoned Austinite, I’d never heard of Franklin Barbeque, but evidently it’s kind of a big deal.  And, by “kind of” I mean its a really big deal.  Its gotten publicity all over the city, state, and even the nation and anyone who HAS heard of it will tell you that its well worth getting in line at 9:30 a.m. and waiting the two and a half hours to get in for lunch.  You heard that right.

I couldn’t figure out why we needed to leave at 10 a.m. to get lunch, but when we arrived at 10:30, we were greeted by a line that already looked like this:

But after finally getting inside the door (and narrowly missing a torrential downpour of rain!) the smell of dry rub, cracked pepper and pounds and pounds of smoked meat whisked any question of this place’s worth straight out the door behind us.

At the front of the line, we piled our trays with pulled pork, turkey, brisket, sausage and the very last 3 ribs in existence for the day, since they close when they sell out.  Lucky us.

Let me just say, that the brisket here is legendary.  I mean, I’m no expert, but I’ve had a lot of barbecue in Texas, and this stuff nearly knocked me off my bench.  Especially paired with ESPRESSO BARBECUE SAUCE. Also, I usually preach that a barbecue joint is no place for white meat, but the turkey here ended up being my favorite part. Don’t knock the white meats at this place.

So, with full bellies and warm barbecue smoked hearts, we set off for more tourism.

And where do tourists start but the Austin Visitor’s Center?

We perused the pamphlets and rifled with knick knacks, finally finding ourselves at the counter where a cheerful gentleman recommended a 90 minute sightseeing tour with Austin Overtures.

With clouds that threatened to soak us at any moment and no idea where to start, an enclosed van that promised to show us Austin as we’ve never seen it before sounded like a brilliant starting point. So, we picked up our boarding passes and headed out to the van with our tour guide Chris…5 other inconsequential tourists…and, much to Jake’s delight, 2 model-worthy Australian chicks. Who says sightseeing is for fuddy-duddy tourists only? Certainly not these guys:

Our timing turned out to be perfect, because as soon as we took off the rain started falling, and while you’d think that it would kind of put a damper on things it was actually quite nice.  Driving in the rain is already pleasant, but to have someone else driving in the rain while you see some of the most beautiful sights in Austin is even nicer.

The tour was impressive.  We went all the way out to the hill country, which is arguably one of my favorite parts of Austin.  Rolling hills, giant mansions, and some of the best nature views in the city. Then came back through UT Campus to learn about the school, the stadium, and the sculptures and art around campus. Back around downtown we checked out 6th street and the warehouse district.

I’ve been in Austin almost all my life and learned things about our fair city that I’d have never known. Some history, some sites I’ll have to come back to later (since the van didn’t stop anywhere), and most importantly some amazing little dives that came recommended by our guide. Turns out the east side, which I have vehemently avoided since–well, forever–has some of the best food and margaritas in the city.

Back at the visitors center we had to take a short break for some of Jake’s work business but came right back up to make a visit to the Museum of the Weird, which came recommended by Jake’s mother Holly.

The Museum of the Weird sits right on 6th street inside the Lucky Lizard gift shop, which is a pretty fantastic site on its own, but if you shell out the extra $8 you get access to shrunken heads, real human skeletons, large lizards, mutated animals, mummies, an apartment that used to be inhabited by Johnny Depp (who knew?) and a side show.

The sideshow was worth the $8 just by itself.  This guy…well, he makes any and all of my masochistic friends look like pansies. He got straight down to business by thrusting his entire hand into a raccoon trap, having audience members tug and pull at it to prove it was real.  Then, after a gruesome tale of tongues turning to something resembling hamburger meat, he wasted no time snapping his tongue into a mouse trap. THEN…as if it wasn’t enough that we could see him bleeding onto his shirt, he managed to hammer a large metal spike into his nasal cavity, and finished off the day by hanging a large crab from his eyelids by two fish hooks and having each and every one of us come up for a photo op (seen above).

It was slightly nauseating, but purely incredible, especially to that little creature in me that has a soft spot for the weird and messed up.

Next up, a trip down South Congress to check out the recommendation from our sightseeing tour guide: trying on some cowboy boots at Allen’s.  Because, you know, it’s Texas

Here were mine…

I swear I would have bought them if I’d had any money left at all when we got there.

And what boots wouldn’t be complete without trying on some hats to match?

I truly feel like I won’t be a real Texan until I go back and purchase those boots.  I don’t know how I’ve held out on the cowboy boot thing for so long, but I’ve never even owned a pair..

Post boot-shopping we just had one more stop to make.  The local-famous Big Top Candy Shop where we picked up bulk candy and an egg creme for the ride home.

There are so many fantastic shops on South Congress, but after a long day of tourism, the candy shop was our number one priority and the one where you can really get the Austin flavor.  Ha!  See what I did there…?

There are so many more things to see and do in Austin, but we were touristed out by the time our candy was paid for. It’s really amazing how much of your city you don’t see, even when you live there. People always take for granted the things that have always been there, and the things that always will be, but playing tourist showed me that there’s always something you haven’t seen, and always something you haven’t learned.

So never stop seeking out something new, even when you think you’ve seen it all. Everyone thinks about how big the world is, how much there is to do and experience, but it’s easy to forget that even without going outside of the city limits there’s a whole world to see just within arm’s reach.