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All ‘choked up





The title is borrowed from the July/August issue of Texas Gardener magazine. Clicking on the magazine link will take you to the cover photograph.

The similar photo shown here was taken a month ago. Even though the camera is a toy-like Concord 1500, the image is true to life, and the reality is so surreal as to seem unbelievable. These were growing at the Austin Sunshine Community Gardens. I had never seen such a sight.

The magazine reports that A&M has been working in Uvalde on growing artichokes in Texas. I’ve seen with my own eyes that it’s possible right here in Austin.

Salt and seeds and sauce

seeds for Korean cuisineThe quest was for bamboo salt. Since our customary source has vanished, at least for the time being, we set off in search of a new one. The plan was to start north and head back to town, checking along the way. We found it at the very first place, New Oriental Market (6929 Airport). And we also could not resist these beautiful packets of seeds for growing ingredients of Korean cuisine. These are only three, but there were more varieties in the rack by the register. This store has an active bulletin board: are there any sushi chefs out there who’d like to work at H-E-B? In an adjoining room, we could see groups of happy people dining. This was tempting, but there were too many errands on the list and the time was too short before we were due to appear for a mid-afternoon meal elsewhere.

A second quest was for Cafe Josie Equatorial Eclipse grill sauce, and we had another eureka moment, at the Whole Foods north. The ingredients of this superlative and one-of-a-kind item may seem exotic: shoyu tamari, sun-dried raisins, cider vinegar, canola oil, toasted sesame oil, chiles japones, ginger, and tamarind. They’re just plain delicious. Someone had just bought all the remaining Cafe Josie blue-label jerk sauce, but there were just a few bottles of the eclipse, and we swept all of them into our basket.

At Discount Electronics, the friendly staff found a battery for that notebook ancient of days from Dell. The last stop was the main branch of the library, soon to be closed for a few weeks, where the shelves were picked over and the lines were long, but we did find some of those old-fashioned portable entertainment devices known as books. Now, we’re ready for the week to come.

Still fearless, and much fatter

The second edition of The Fearless Critic Austin Restaurant Guide is now on all the best local bookshelves, and no Austin home library should be without it, if only to provide endless material for argument. The original edition has been in constant use, especially when guests are to be entertained.

This compilation of reviews has gone from 390 to 480, and the cast of contributors is different. The scoring system leads to some odd results. These can be seen most often when comparing the scores of two or more restaurants side by side. This edition is inclusive of all price ranges. I’ve read the first edition from cover to cover and will in time read the entire new version. It’s tantalizing and like a dictionary or encyclopedia: a quick look into it on some specific matter leads in all sorts of directions, and it’s very difficult to put down.

Two aspects that I love are the lively prose descriptions and also the slicing and dicing of data up front, sorting dining establishments into various categories: price, locale, type of food (including vegetarian), hours of service, family-friendliness, Wi-Fi availability, and many more. The Fearless Critic Web site promises, and has so far delivered, new reviews, and it welcomes comments.

Will Congress Avenue Survive?

On my way to try out the new Conjunctured co-working space (which is a whole other story) today on my bike, I stopped to get a few breakfast tacos at the doomed Las Manitas Cafe.  Across the street, the abomination known as The Austonian (please don’t start calling Austin residents “Austonians” – we are Austinites!) is going up. In addition to losing Las Manitas as a business, a letter posted on the counter at Las Manitas made it sound like Congress Avenue could lose that block of buildings, completely, to the new Marriott property.  The letter on the counter indicated there will be a hearing of the Historical Commission this coming Monday, yet I could not find out any information on the City’s Web site today.

That little section of Congress, which is supposedly a National Historic District, is really a huge part of what I think of as Austin.  My grandparents ran a store on Congress when I was a kid, and I remember when Las Manitas was Avenue Cafe, Woolworth’s supplied all our pharmaceutical needs as well as tasty shakes and burgers, the elegant Scarbrough’s department store gave us a taste of big-city living a la Macy’s or Bergdorf’s, and the Picadilly Cafeteria was upscale dining.  How much of that essence, the feeling, of that past remain? I’m worried.  Maybe I’m overly sentimental, but we have historic districts for good reason in this country, and I hope there is some teeth in this one. 

Eddie Izzard at the Paramount this weekend

The wife and I caught Eddie Izzard’s first show at The Paramount last night and it was everything we hoped it would be and more. One of the best shows I’ve ever been to. I only wish I had went ahead and sprung for the more expensive seats because Eddie is worth it. He has two more shows tonight and tomorrow although it wouldn’t surprise me if they were sold out. Brilliant, genius and spleen-bursting funny. We’re both quite star struck. We totally want to hang out with Eddie Izzard. We want him to come over for a meal and play some Rock Band.

And to top it off, he had at least a 10 minute bit about one of my wife’s absolute favorite things in the world: giraffes. Come back again Eddie! If I had the money I’d go back for a second show!

The Waste of Haste

Austin is still booming. Although the boom has slowed a bit, the haste of many projects continues.

The house next to us is being thoroughly renovated and the other half of the lot is being prepared for a new home.  When I mentioned that it was bulk trash day for the neighborhood to the builder, he proceeded to put out on the curb all of the doors and wood trim that had been removed from the house – including some great solid wood doors with nice old doorknobs. Although the city says that a percentage of the bulk items it picks up are recycled, why couldn’t this guy have taken the time and expense to make sure that happened, by taking the items to Habitat for Humanity’s Re-store or putting an ad up on Craigslist? I rescued a couple of the doors myself, and then the city didn’t take the construction materials as part of policy.  Yet now those potentially reusable items are being rained upon.

This morning, I read on News 8 Austin’s site that some 200-year-old oak trees were “accidentally” cut down in Oak Hill over the weekend.  This is so tragic.  Apparently a subcontractor mistakenly cut down these trees to help in the preparation for a new apartment complex.  How could anyone possibly look at those trees and not think,  “Hey, maybe I should double-check to see if this is right” before cutting down some massive and probably incredibly beautiful trees???  Sheds some more light on what Oak Hill is getting itself into by advocating for more dense development out there (as discussed in my post from May 13th).

Yes, we all get caught up in the demands for fast and easy in our lives, but we all need to slow down and take the time to pay attention to what is going on … and stop the waste of haste.

Cycle month starts Friday

One thing I learned last year is that May is a big month for cycling in and around Austin, this year won’t be any different.

Events start out on Friday with the Civic Bicycle Cruise/Political Pedal. Meet up at Meet at City Hall Plaza, 4.45pm. for the 5pm to 6pm ride, this isn’t just for just dedicated road bikers, anyone with two or even three wheels, fat tire, mountain bike, or a commuter bike should come along. It’s a chance to join your elected officials and community leaders in this convergence of politics and the joy of cycling!

Plan on staying downtown after the ride for the Bicyclists’ Happy Hour – from 6:00pm – 7:30pm at The Rio Grande Restaurant, 301 San Jacinto Blvd. (on the Lance Armstrong Bikeway no less). Snacks, drinks and meeting of minds! I’m told there will be valet bike parking available, something I for one have never seen before and live Austin music by Jim Keaveny and Shand Walton. The Happy hour is put together by the Austin Cycling Association, the Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant and the Rio Grande cycling team along with sponsors Bicycle Sport Shop, the Austin Yellow Bike Project, the Texas Bicycle Coalition, the League of Bicycling Voters and REI.

For some of us, Friday is a warm-up for Saturdays Austin to Shiner GASP ride. The 2008 edition celebrates the Spoetzl Brewery’s 99th anniversary and for those volunteering or riding the 90-miles from Austin to Shiner, there will be a party with BQ dinner with brisket, sausage, vegetarian options, Live Texas Country Music as well as Miles From Nowhere, Eric Middleton, as well other bands. One of the big attractions is the FREE Shiner Beer. Makes cycling sound fun doesn’t it ;-)

I’ve no idea what effect Shiner beer is going to have on me after cycling 90-miles, but either way I guess I’ll end up “legless”. Fortunately @cruisergirl has agreed to give me and my trusty aluminum steed a ride back to Austin. If you are riding, do yourself a favor and do packet picket either Thursday or Friday at Jack and Adams on Barton Springs, then Saturday morning you’ll be ready to ride. If you want to ride and raise money for the Lance Armstrong Foundation, registration is still open, you can even register on the morning of the ride. You’ll need to figure out how to get back though.

For other Bike Month activities, the Austin Cycling Association has an excellent online calendar. If you spot someone walking around like John Wayne, that will be me, not that I becoming localized, but 6-hours on a bike saddle… as John Wayne famously said “It’s such an adrenaline rush. It’s America’s most extreme sport.”

Why So Serious, Austin?

The AMAZING uber-geniuses behind the viral marketing campaign for the The Dark Knight, the second Chris Nolan-directed Batman movie out in July, have decided to include Austin in Wednesday’s Halloween scavenger hunt of sorts where we’re looking for letters to spell a message- here’s our clue:

whysoserious.jpg

I apologize for my crappy screenshot skillz but it reads “Start at the market at 6th & Lamar. Find the Amtrak sign by the tracks. Walk west along the tracks to the second light pole and peer through the trees until you see red.”

The market in question is obviously Whole Foods but the rest of it is still pretty cryptic….hrm….

There is also a clue for Austin that says “Near Riverside & Barton Springs is a car wash with a mural. Go there, then find a nearby manhole that says SEWAR, stand on it and scan the skyline. I’d like to buy a vowel.”

That would be the Chevron Station.

And another that says “At Congress & 6th is the Littlefield Building Clock. Go east on 6th, past a compass rose in the sidewalk. You’ll come to a street corner with a set of stairs, and there, above a stained glass door, you’ll find a gold gilt goodie.”

Austin’s the only city in Texas picked for this little adventure and it joins cities like LA, New York, Raleigh, Cleveland, Portland, Minneapolis, Chicago and others. Batman has always been my favorite and it will be SO fun to see the clues come together tomorrow (and see what reward comes our way- could it be a full length trailer?) and you should definitely go check out whatever they’ve got going on! If you see it, let me know!

The Curtain Closing

Big-Intermission-Invitatio.jpg

Now that our last show of this crazy week at the PAC is over it’s time to begin thinking about the end. Bass is closing on the 21st and even though my office looks out over backstage I’ll miss its motions, its hustle and bustle. There’s going to be PAC events and shows still but nothing like what’s been in Bass even in the past week.

My coworker is a wonderful singer and she’s always wanted to sing in Bass. Some of us went downstairs to hear her and she just came out of nowhere with this gorgeous song, and I stood there watching her from stage left it all hit me that it’s ending and just beginning all at the same time. So many people are leaving but so many new people will become a part of our family down the line, and even though Bass will be dark for 18 months she’ll be better than ever when she reopens. I hope I’m still here to see that.

As Natalie’s voice cut through the stale air of an empty stage I thought about how that giant hall had seen so much; so many people have played here and so much beauty has come to Austin through the PAC, that its closing deserves to be this event that makes me sad and happy all at the same time. Bass is so much more than just a building now that I’ve seen all its sides; as a freshman in the second balcony with my student ticket and my opera buddy, as a seasoned student going to musicals with my friends, as an employee shepherding photographers at rock shows and as just me, off the clock, cutting through a silent, dark hall on my way to the bus, those lights above the seats shining through the black like tiny stars. I’ve mentioned them before but I still think it’s so beautiful.

We as a whole will be saying goodbye to Bass early Monday morning if you’d like to come- it’s called The Big Intermission and everyone’s invited! There will be a live broadcast from KGSR, free breakfast tacos and a free gift to the first 150 people there. I know what the gift is! I want one really bad. Email Mindy Graves to RSVP.

I hope to see you there to help me say goodbye to our Bass Concert Hall. You might have to give me a hug.

A gold star

I love this picture! It’s of a star on the capitol fence. So pretty.

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