Archive for December, 2006

Where the tables have names

Matt's El RanchoSometimes the chairs have had names, too. The staff recognizes familiar faces and remembers familiar names. We used a gift certificate yesterday at Matt’s. The parking lot looked very busy, but the place is much bigger than it appears to be, and there’s always room for yet another diner or for yet another table of a dozen and half, if necessary. We were seated at “Cactus Pryor” in the midst of a lot of four-generation parties. As new people walked in, they often spied friends and asked to have a table pulled up to join the existing group. One of the reasons I love Matt’s El Rancho, which has been a favorite since the days when it was downtown, is that, even if a favorite item disappears from the printed menu, it’s still available if you ask for it, usually still in the computerized order-placement system, even. At Matt’s, a request for a margarita straight up with no salt does not bring a “Mexican martini” complete with olives on a little plastic sword. It brings a classic margarita in a glass without a salted rim. There’s a breakast menu these days, which remains available until fairly late in the day. The plastic dishes have been gone for a long time, making way for Fiestaware, but Matt’s still feels like a home away from home, where it’s rare not to see a friend or acquaintance or face from the newspapers.

Gardens gardens

Gardens This image depicts cyclamens, red and white, and narcissi outdoors at Gardens. We should have gone there earlier in the season, but today was not too late. This is a wonderful place to find those holiday presents not yet bought. Handsome calendars, for instance, with pages worth framing, are now discounted. We did not add to our Grand Primo and Avalanche bulbs, but first-quality ones are still there for the taking. We did stock up on ranunculus and some of the fancy lettuces that are so tasty and so beautiful just for ornament, because a neighbor’s cat has consumed all ours. Find books on art and architecture, fine stationery, tabletop items, and much, much more not to be seen elsewhere in town. Just walking through Gartdens will make anybody smell good for the rest of the day.. It’s really hard to believe that Gardens has been here now for a quarter of a century.

Chez Nous leisure-lunch

Chez Nous matchbookChez Nous at lunch today was full of the hum and buzz of conversation and, in a quiet way, decorated beautifully for the season. Between downpours, we scampered from a convenient parking-space just around the corner from Neches, on Fifth. Anywhere would have been convenient today, because it seems that so many are burning vacation days to go out of town. We’re using free time to stay in town, obviously. Half the people downtown must have found their way to Chez Nous; the other half seemed to be at the Iron Works. We did it all, from soup to salad to main course to dessert to coffee, and were all the better off for it. I hit the jackpot today in the soup department. It was wonderful, savory carrot-ginger, a real star. The tablemate who ordered the seafood crepes hit the jackpot there, too, with salmon, scallops, shrimp, and trout plumping out the crepes on the plate. Fresh, beautifully prepared fish, brought to the table piping hot from the pan, makes people very, very happy. We heard someone at a neighboring table telling one of the owners that, even though they live in Austin, they’d never before dined at Chez Nous. Their recommendation to do so came from a French customs officer who, learning that they’re from Austin, asked what they thought of Chez Nous. He was surprised that they had never dined there; today they were taking his advice that they should. As always, the food and service were just as they should be. Going there for lunch was a very happy inspiration.

2006: The Year Jack Ingram Blew Up

I’m not a big fan of country music, especially contemporary country music, but too many things have popped up about Jack Ingram in the last 6 months or so to avoid mentioning him. According to Andy Langer’s piece on Ingram from the Austin Chronicle in November of last year, Ingram moved to Austin from Dallas in the summer of 2005.

News8Austin has a wrap up about Ingram’s #1 singles and his 5th consecutive appearance at the ACL Festival this year. As an aside, Wikipedia doesn’t seem to have him listed for 2002, but Langer picked him as a Sunday Sleeper that year. Wikipedia wrong? Shocker.

As if all that weren’t enough, iTunes is featuring his version of “Auld Lang Syne” as a free download this week, so put that new iPod to use and ring in another year of Jack Ingram country dominance while I run screaming in the other direction.

Second Water Main Break in a Week

I just saw word of the second water main break downtown in the past week. It was Bowie between 5th and 6th by Whole Foods on Tuesday and now it’s not too many blocks east and north at MLK and Nueces. Apparently, water will be off from 21st to 6th on Nueces for the next 6 hours. Good thing school’s still out, a lot of people are on vacation and the work day’s over for most.

It’s the cold weather, I guess? Or wide fluctuations in temperature throughout the day? Doesn’t seem that bad.

Cold eye cast on once-hot biodiesel play

A year ago there was lots of positive promotional coverage of Bio Willie “farm fresh biodiesel” fuel. In the newest issue of Forbes Magazine (“Stardust: the troubled history behind the company that signed Willie Nelson“; January 8, 2007; page 42; byline Daniel Fisher), Earth Biofuels and the “colorful background” of one of the chief figures associated with that company undergo scrutiny. This author analyzes the financials and ventures some opinions about the future. Nothing is said about how any ordinances banning trans-fats used in restaurant and fast-food cooking might affect the raw materials of biofuels. Will our city council follow NYC’s lead? What will be the effect on the exhaust-pipe aroma of those vehicles using biofuels? Stay tuned.

Did they all receive a secret message to assemble there?

Even late this morning heading for the noon hour, it was still peaceful enough for the church bells to be heard. Those not at work (unless they’re at the shopping malls, where I’m almost always not) are all on South Congress; or at least they’re not downtown, although there were a few at the Fresh Plus on West Lynn and a few fewer at the Randalls on Lake Austin Boulevard. At Jo’s everybody seemed local. At Guero’s, those visible seemed to be a mix. All the boutique, antique, and junquetique stores were very, very busy. The greatest aggregations spotted that weren’t on Congress were packed into one of two Maudie’s establishments, West Seventh and South Lamar. Today appears to be the day when people must get out of the house. I forgot my camera or I would have captured some of this.

Deep Fried Turkey

fried turkeyDoes anything say “Merry Christmas from South Austin” like a deep fried turkey? I’ve lived here most of my adult life and so sometimes I require the insights of the newly-immigrated to open my eyes to the delights of our customs and cuisine. Deep-frying turkey is popular all over these southern states but I would never have considered doing it myself. I have specific Christmas traditions which I can trace back five generations. They no longer include my great grandmother’s blood pudding and they certainly do not involve frying a turkey.

AJ, however, is eager to embrace the quaint customs of his adopted land. Besides it requires buying new equipment and playing with fire. How could I say no? And the taste? Crispy on the outside and moist on the inside. Bonus. Now we have the equipment to make fish ‘n chips.

Austin wired

Wired magazine has passed its wired, tired, and expired date, but I read it anyhow, out of long habit. Austin appears in the form of preliminary SxSW Interactive promotion and in editorial copy as well. In a multipage “green home” segment, an entire page is devoted to a five-bedroom residence as an exemplar of eco-freako housing (January issue; page 116). This seems like a dubious proposition given the apparent size of the structure, but I do like the fact that the air-conditioning is supposedly quiet, since most is so noisy. The number of square feet in this paragon of energy-efficiency is not mentioned. Austin is reported (pages 154-55) to be one of the USA’s ten “best geek cities,” earning points on several scales (available free Wi-Fi, for instance), some of them odd (dorkbot attendees). Austin, unlike any of the other cities named, is gratuitously dissed. The fault found with our fair city is that it’s “surrounded by Texas.” Why did “they” pick on Austin? There are so many more “downsides” to Raleigh-Durham, Pittsburgh, and Orlando, just to name three. This issue isn’t on line yet. Remember; it was just a month ago that our live-music status was unilaterally taken down a peg or two. We should all toughen up to be ready for the next time those big mean bullies kick sand in our faces. Yeah!

Grumble, Grumble, Blue Laws, Grumble

The Wife was up early this morning to beat the crowds at the grocery store. As she left, she asked if I had any requests. Not thinking, I asked for more beer since we’re low and we’ll be entertaining both tonight and tomorrow night. It being a Sunday before noon and this being Texas, of course, she was denied.

Blue Laws have been around for a long time in the US and Texas seems to have a particular fondness for them. Debunking the popular etymology, Wikipedia sez:

Contrary to popular belief, there is no evidence to support the assertion that the blue laws were originally printed on blue paper. Rather, the word blue was commonly used in the 18th century as a disparaging reference to rigid moral codes and those who observed them (e.g., “bluenoses”). Another version is that the laws were first bound in books with blue covers.

It’s not like I’m not aware of them. I was born and raised in Texas. It’s just that you forget sometimes in the course of your normal activities that it’s Sunday and that it’s before noon. You’re out getting groceries and think, “I should get some beer.” You’re not going to drink it right then…maybe not even that day, but you can’t fucking buy it because of the stupid fucking law. There I said it.

Can we please get beyond this silliness? I can’t buy beer and I still don’t go to church. I don’t go to church because I don’t believe in God, not because I’m out getting loaded, although stuff like this makes me want to go out and get loaded. Damn.

You may now resume your holiday merriment, though not until after noon.

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