Southern Islands: South Padre Island

14 05 2012

When we think of the Southern islands, I jump right to the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida.

But don’t forget the Gulf Coast has some beautiful islands as well. South Padre Island off the coast of Texas is a resort island that is always filled with good food, good music, and water and sun. What more could you want?

If you’re an outdoorsman (or outdoorslady), there’s plenty of kayaking, horseback riding, and fishing. The island is host to many annual fishing tournaments, so whenever you visit, you’re likely to see a few catches being hauled in.

And check out last year’s Southern islands week featuring Dauphin Island, Jekyll Island, St. Simons Island, and Kiawah Island.


Visitor Friendly Austin Home

12 05 2011

Older homes just have so much character, and of course, southern homes are just precious. I NEVER tire of seeing older homes lovingly cared for and restored.  This little house in the Clarkesville area of Austin, Texas is home to Mary.  She has an excellent eye for decor and the many windows (old, of course) create excellent light, which in itself is art. However, she and another house mate are excellent painters as well.  I am in love with the older table and bench in the kitchen. 

Austin, Texas Farmer’s Market Experience

3 05 2011

One of the highlights of visiting a city like Austin, Texas is the enthusiasm over food. However, we are not just talking about any old meal which might come off the assembly line in other cities, but rather produce, and protein from the farm to the table. All of this enthusiasm develops a demand for organic food, and restaurants unable to supply simply do not survive in Austin.  Even the countless food carts in Austin offer a listing of all of the farms from where their ingredients originate. 

With all of this in mind, just imagine the downtown farmer’s market on a Saturday morning. Folks prepared with grocery lists for the week track down their favorite produce or beef or chicken stand or grab a bite to eat at one of the many tents offering hot food.   It is a madhouse and a rush to ensure you do not miss out on the limited quantities.  After an hour or so of hustle and bustle you will find groups enjoying live music or performances, maybe even a couple of people dancing, children running across the fields, a one man band, and trash bins organized and watched to ensure that your garbage goes to either, trash, compost, or recyclable.

Like my last visit to Austin, I was on a mission to make it to the Dai Due tent at the market.  Knowing the menu ahead of time (because I get their weekly emails), I had nothing on my mind but Nopales, Chorizo and Egg Tacos with Garlic Salsa.  Your mouth is watering, right? Nopales are made from a prickly pear cactus and delicious!!!  Dai Due is an interesting business. It is not quite a restaurant because they are just a tent at the farmer’s market, and they host supper club dinners at various outdoor locations throughout the city. It is not a culinary school either, even though they offer culinary courses throughout the year.   Their diverse business plan just fascinates me. I had a taco, purchased grapefruit worcestershire sauce to take home, and ohh’d and ahhh’d over their country pate, and salt pork available for purchase.

Overall this is a great people watching spot and a good way to grasp the energy of the city.

Dai Due Spring Culinary Courses

14 12 2010

Dai Due, the uber creative and wonderfully skilled culinary team based in Austin, Texas, just released their 2011 schedule.

If you live in the Austin area, or are planning a visit, you will want to book your seat quickly for these courses, or their supper club . They also have a table at the downtown farmer’s market in Austin. Each week I read their emails about all of the lovely items I am too far away to purchase, but on my last visit to Austin you know I was there buying stuff to bring home and to snack on around the market. 

For more information, check out the Dai Due website.

Sunday, January 16, 2011 and Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Whole Hog Class – Learn how to break down a half Richardson Farm hog into chops, ribs, hocks and roasts.  Sausage making (4 types), charcuterie (pates, rillettes, head cheese), stocks, braises, curing and smoking (bacon, ham) will also be covered.  Class includes a recipe book, source lists, suggested reading, a light lunch and beverages, and you take home a really nice selection of the products we make (pickup of these items is the following day).  

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Wild Game Workshop – Venison, wild boar, furred game (wild rabbit) and birds (doves and ducks) will be covered. From after the shot to cooking techniques, this class will focus on the most responsible and effective ways of dealing with the most natural meats out there – wild meats.  Slow cooking, raw preparations, high-heat cooking, roasting, stock-making, frying and stewing will be covered, as well as discussions on compatible flavors, aging and storing.  Class includes recipe book, light lunch and suggested reading lists.

Friday, March 4 – Sunday, March 6, 2011

Hog School – Hog School will focus on four key factors in utilizing this great resource: hunting (guided hunts that teach the habits and habitats of wild pigs, harvesting animals and planning hunts), cleaning of game taken (skinning, evisceration and field care), cooking (a head-to-tail cooking class covering all aspects of hog cookery – learn how to make sausages, prosciutto, roasts, braises, charcuterie, chops and hocks), and dining (the necessary enjoyment of animals taken in the field with a celebratory meal, as well as stocking up for an entire year on delicious, basically organic meat).

Hog School is for beginners, skilled hunters seeking to improve their kitchen skills, and anyone in between.

At the end of the class, all students will take any animals harvested by them and utilize them to their full potential.

Friday, May 13 – Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Freshwater Flyfishing Workshop – At Madrano Ranch as the classroom, we are offering another 3-day workshop focused on the outdoors, and collecting food from it.  We have specifically chosen this weekend to coincide with the first warm-weather full moon, which should drastically increase fish activity (and catching).

Join fly-fishing guide Tink Pinkard and the Dai Due staff at this beautiful ranch for an intensive flyfishing, flytying and cooking weekend.

Austin City Limits, Season 36

28 09 2010

As the longest running music series show, Austin City Limits begins their thirty-sixth season this year.  If thirty-six years was not enough to celebrate, it is an end of an era as they embark to a new sound stage early in 2011.  To commemorate the move, Austin City Limits welcomes back some of their favorite performers, and also new friends this season.  The season premiere is Saturday, October 2, 2010. 

Willie Nelson was the first Austin City Limits performer thirty-six years ago.  Since that epic first performance, Austin City Limits has been an advocate for the unknowns, underdogs and generally misplaced artists.  While some might consider it an island of misfit toys of sorts, we can all be thankful for their continued support of music genres that were rarely popular until exposed to a larger audience.  For example, country music was a constant feature in the 1980’s although it was not so popular across the nation.  The world music genre is another example of their continued support of finding artists beyond the top 40 list of local radio stations.    

Riding the musician’s cargo elevator up to the third floor 6A studio was a treat while visiting Austin last summer.   I asked a ridiculous number of questions of the guide who was subjected to my every thought and truly I could have sat in that room until the next band showed up for a sound check. 

Some of the facts I found interesting about the show, Austin City Limits, is that they receive little funding from the Public Broadcasting Company (PBS) who airs the show, but it also affords the show’s directors and producers complete artistic freedom.  Unlike many television show performances where payment is high, artists are paid wages in accordance with the American Federation of Musicians.  While the studio might not be all that glamorous it made me think of that band you fell in love with at the local venue that is small, intimate and requires the artists to be more engaged with the audience.   

And if you asked the staff of Austin City Limits about their favorite act, musician, band, they would hem and haw around the issue. This is not because they are trying to make everyone happy, but rather that there are so many standout performances, it would be too difficult to list them all. 

p.s. – Band of Horses and The National will appear on the show this season as well. Woohoo!

Uchi Restaurant and My Dining Philosophy

26 08 2010

I love dining.  You could say that dining is my favorite hobby, whether this occurs at home or a restaurant.  I love the greasy spoons, the mom and pop places, the fresh off the boat seafood restaurants where you leave smelling like a fryer and fish. I love the barbeque joints where you need a bib, or the mobile food shacks full of tacos and mango salsa. I love serving a huge southern buffet at home or sitting down to an intimate potluck meal with old friends.  I love dining. 

Dining is more than food however, it is sitting and conversing with the people and food before you.  Perhaps this sounds a bit odd, but every now and then I have a conversation with my meal. Something to the extent of, “oh my goodness, I am the luckiest girl in the world to be eating you right now.  Please be kind to my sensitive stomach, and let my taste buds enjoy every last bite. “

Dining takes practice, as it requires you to relish the moment.  In today’s culture, eating is a process that can take as little or as long as you like, but can you really enjoy something when you swallow your meal in less than five minutes? I would argue no.  Good dining can also be affected by the atmosphere of your location. Putting all traditional notions of fine dining aside, it is possible to have the best experience of your life at a food shack off the interstate. 

Dining also allows us to experience the heartbeat of a new city, and the people who live in it.  A new dining experience is where I get my kicks, so I avoid chain restaurants on vacation and scout out where the locals want to eat. More than likely, the local spot is where you want to find yourself.   I find myself inspired, refreshed and generally happy after dining somewhere new and it is a positive experience.

One such experience occurred recently at Uchi in Austin, Texas.  Uchi is a contemporary Japanese restaurant and sushi bar. With the capacity to seat 100-125 people (my guess), Uchi is the spot for sushi and other specialties in Austin.  Here your wait staff will take the time to walk you through the menu, offer pairing suggestions for wine and beer, and allow you to sit and eat.  You will not be pushed from your table, although the wait for others might be forty-five minutes to an hour.  The décor is subtle, the sushi bar approachable and functional but it is the food that steals the show.  

At the onset of our meal at Uchi we discussed the options of only ordering appetizers with the server, and he confirmed that it would be enough food for both of us and we would not want for anything afterwards. He was correct.  Instead of the appetizers arriving all at once (and no, there were no potato skins), our server knowingly coursed (one item at a time) each order.  Upon the arrival of the food the server explained the ingredients and instructions on proper way to eat (as it is needed for a few of the items on the menu).  One such order is the scallop hot rock.  A hot rock is placed on a bed of rock salt and on a separate plate are the raw scallops and orange oil.  Using chopsticks, you sear the scallop on either side and eat! It was delicious.  Another delicious hot tasting included tempura whitefish, shitake mushrooms, ginger and eggplant frites paired with a delicious broth that you could pour over the items or dip. 

We dined for over two hours on appetizers and dined well.  Not only did we enjoy the delicious food, but I was allowed to catch up with my friend and not feel the pressure to move along for another group of diners. 

We will return to Uchi on our next trip to Austin for the complete dining experience. 

pictures from

Southern Music Week: Todd Lowe of Pilbilly Knights

6 07 2010

If I can’t be Nancy Drew, then my next pick is to be Rory, from Gilmore Girls. I was always jealous of the cute town Rory lived in, Stars Hollow, how well-versed she was in about every book ever written, and… her best friend Lane, the coolest girl around. Lane grew up to marry Zach, who happens to be, in real-life world, Todd Lowe (some of you might know him as Terry in True Blood, but I’m not allowed to watch anything with vampires).

In addition, Todd has played characters in some of the most popular shows on television also including NCIS, Without a Trace, and Walker Texas Ranger (that’s for you, momma).

But what you might not know about Mr. Lowe is that he hails from our own Southern state of Texas! He’s a Hollywood boy now, but he grew up near Houston, in Humble. He got his start acting in high school and has a BFA from UT Austin.

Not only does Zach, er, uh Todd act on screen and on stage, but he’s a musician (as all good Texas boys should be), and plays with a band called the Pilbilly Knights. I just love a good band name, don’t you? They’ve been playing together for six years, including drummer and fellow Texan childhood friend, James Ellis Lane.

Todd plays the guitar each Thursday night in Los Angeles at Territory BBQ. Pick up their CD, released in 2007, California Nigth Club.