Thursday, March 29, 2007

Rockin' at Red Eyed Fly, Red Eyed at Hoek's Pizza

Last night's Humiliator's show at the Red Eyed Fly was a rockin' great time! Although short a member due to a family emergency, the guys pulled off a fantastic show. Interestingly, the combination of 8pm and Wednesday must be magical. The crowd was the largest it's been since Toddfest and Rock For The Ride.

Panties were thrown (see above pic), shots were bought for the band, crazy headbangers stormed the stage during the last song...what a great night. The euphoria lasted through a trip down to see Ashley, the hottest bartender at the Library. The feeling even maintained itself through a visit to see Hunter, Ashley's boyfriend, next door at The Aquarium.

It came to a screeching halt when we walked across to Hoek's, for a slice of death metal pizza. The music was low, too low. The staff was somber. Things were not all right with the world. Sensing impending doom, I ordered pizza and asked the staff why it was so quiet.

DEATH METAL PIZZA IS CLOSING! Because their building, which also houses The Ritz, is being turned into Alamo Drafthouse's downtown location (lease is out on the old spot), they're closing shop. Saturday is their last night, so make the time to go see the only heavy metal rocking pizza guys in town. And buy a slice or two, or a whole pie.

The word on the street is that the owner is looking for a new location. Seriously, the staff came out on the street to talk to us as Chel took pics and posed for snapshots in front of Hoek's. I hate to see a 6th Street landmark leave, especially one as entertaining (not to mention delicious) as Austin's own Death Metal Pizza.

Get your last taste before the the order window is permanently shut.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Five Delicious Dives in Austin

One of the biggest perks of living in Austin is that we have so many restaurants per capita. You can find everything from BBQ to dim sum, upscale fine dining to dives. While I'm not one to pass up a gourmet meal served on fine china, I have to admit that I love dives. Not only are they usually cheap eats, but they're normally quick to serve you a delicious meal. Here are a few of my favorites:

1. Chooby Doo International Cafe located in a strip center on W. William Cannon at Brodie Lane. Chooby Doo serves up bubble teas with tapioca pearls made fresh on site daily. They offer various sandwiches, gyros and soups, including Tom Yum, the spicy hot and sour Thai soup. I recommend the Buddha Tofu sandwich. While I don't always go for vegetarian fare, this grilled tofu sandwich is tasty enough for me to ignore the Chicago Style hot dogs and Chinese BBQ sandwiches on the menu. You[ll be happy with the prices, too. I don't think I found anything over $5 on their menu.

2. Flip Happy Crepes was one of South Austin's best kept secrets until a great review in the Statesmen trumpeted the news that fabulous crepes are easy to find. Flip Happy is an Airstream trailer restaurant at 400 Jessie Street, off Barton Springs and close enough to S. Lamar that you can see the "silver bullet" and awnings from your stuck-in-rush-hour-traffic vantage point. Hands down, my choice of crepes will almost always be a roast chicken, carmelized onion, goat cheese one and a shredded pork, cheddar cheese, Tabasco, pickles and mustard one. Not as inexpensive as Chooby Doo, the crepes range between $6 and $6.50 each. For made from scratch savory crepes, I'm not complaining about cost. Dessert crepes and a kids menu are also available. Cash only, unless they've added a telephone line for a credit card machine when I wasn't paying attention.

3. La Reyna is the closest to a non-dive restaurant on my list. I've heard it described as looking like a "Mexican diner". La Reyna is pure, no frills Tex Mex food, the kind you can find in any home kitchen but that you don't have to trouble yourself to cook. While I do enjoy their enchilada plates ($6.45-$7.25), I am there most often for breakfast. Their priciest breakfast plates top out at under $4 and are always enjoyable. If you're a fan of huevos rancheros or migas, this is the place to satisfy your cravings. Their homemade corn and flour tortillas go perfectly with some of the best refried beans in town. Here's a hint from a regular: ask to try the "morning salsa". The table salsa is fresh, spicy enough and good but the morning salsa, served warm, has more of a kick. Service is fast and friendly although you may find that your waitress only speaks Spanish. Even so, I've never had an order come to the table wrong.

4. Hoek's Pizza is known among my social group as "Death Metal Pizza". This joint is tops among the 6th Street pizza places and blares out hard/metal rock all night long. The pizza is unpretentious New York style thin crust fare, perfect for a midnight snack. Sold by the gigantic slice for just a few bucks, it's well worth it. I'm sure I'll have comments extolling the virtues of Roppolo's, but after eating pizza for 5 meals out of 6 during SXSW it's my pic as the best on 6th.

5. Mike's Pub is where my work friends and I head to when we need a good burger without the lengthy wait at Hut's. Mike's is, I kid you not, in a parking garage. Okay, more like on the side edge of a parking garage. Their website says the are on "north side of E. 7th St. between Congress Ave. and Brazos St. Next door to the Stephen F. Austin Hotel, and directly across the street from the Driskill Hotel Bar." Take the short flight of stairs up to the pub and you'll enter a world of scrumptious greasy burgers and beer. The "salad bar" next to the cash register is your toppings headquarters. In other words, they cook 'em but you build 'em. Any given lunch hour you'll see blue collar workers, business men in suits and all kinds of downtown office staff like me wolfing down a cheeseburger and fries. Some days you may even run into local celebrities like Earl Campbell. When the Lege is in session, you may sit next to a well known politician or two, and the inevitable lobbyist. Check them out for breakfast or lunch, where a double meat/double cheeseburger is under 6 bucks.

There's so many more inexpensive but great eats in Austin that I could blog about, but hey, who has the time? If you think I've missed a fabulous dive, leave a comment and tell me where I need to eat next.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Goodwill Ambassadorship, Here I Come!

Update: In order to protect employment, images have been removed from my blog. If you're a friend of mine and want to see the photographic proof of a particularly excellent SXSW, email me.

I've had a particularly festive time, these last 7 days. Celebrating SXSW and St. Patrick's Day alone would've been a rockin' out few days, but I added goodwill ambassadorship to the mix.

My friend who does not dip her feet into the waters of the internet was my partner in crime one evening last week. Let's call her Roxie. She was feeling restless, texting me from home and asking where I was and what I was doing. I was, of course, ordering up a Lone Star draft and a Fabulous Jack (that's black label) shot on the side.

Roxie decided to join me downtown and see what trouble, err, adventure we could find. Little did I know that we'd spend the night fostering good will between nations, forming alliances and toasting pints of beer toward newfound friends. Yes, it was an Italy, Ireland and USA evening.

We ended up barhopping with two Irish lads, one of whom was giddily jetlagged from his flight over that morning, and one Italian man. I can honestly say that I haven't had that much fun in one night in a long time. Nor have I said "I'm sorry, I didn't understand" more often.

Luckily, Alessandro was fluent in Spanish so when I didn't understand his heavily accented English, he'd switch languages. Donal and his brother (sorry, forgotten his name) had lovely Irish brogues. Their accents made it sound so much better when they pronounced my favorite Texas beer "shyte". The pic at the top of the page is the group is trying to determine if Lone Star is, in fact, real beer. I did retain a sense of humor although they were panning my brew.

The night was young, the beer was flowing freely and the meeting of 3 nations was in full swing. Because the music festival was ongoing, we were blasted by live music everywhere. Some good, some not so good. So we entertained ourselves with the Warehouse District version of prom photos. Due to concerns over job security, those images have been removed from this blog.

The week has flown by in a whirlwind of coffeehouse visits, pub meetups and crazy mad trivia at Mother Egan's. I've had a few language lessons which will be ever so helpful if I have a need to say "Tomorrow is another day" or "fuck you!" in Italian. For the record, it's "Il domani รจ un altro giorno" and "vaffanculo!". We also had an indepth conversation about the use of contractions in American English. I was asked why we didn't use mere seconds to turn the words into proper English. I shrugged, "we're lazy". And smiled.

As we edge closer to the end of the Irish & Italian visit, I know one thing. I love Texas and I adore the U.S., but I really, really need to get a stamp or to or six in my passport. I need to experience more of the world and its many unique cultures. Enjoying the company of foreign visitors made me realize how small I've drawn my borders. The next time I'm sharing a pint with laughing Irishmen, I'd prefer it to be in their mother country. And now each time I taste a good montepulciano d'abruzzo, I'll think of Italy and how much better it would be to savor the deep red richness while sitting in a ristorante in Rome.

Monday, March 19, 2007

SXSW in the ATX

This past five days in Austin have been nothing but music, fun, food, drink and friends. I'm exhausted but had a freakin' blast. SXSW had me flitting from venue to venue all over town in an effort to hear/see/experience all that the music festival had to offer. There was so much squashed into such a short period of time that I can't possibly share all. Here are the highlights in no particular order:

1. Keanu Reeves bumped into me on the street. Literally. It was so crowded that when he was easing through the masses he bumped shoulders with me. Strangely, though he's very cute, he looked ummm, well, more average than I expected. And he was with a chick who appeared to be 12 years old.

2. Thomas Dolby rocked! Yes, Thomas Dolby of "She Blinded Me With Science" fame. He gave a great concert to a disappointingly small crowd. During South By, it's sometimes difficult to pack the house for the earlier shows. Thomas was gracious, funny and handsome. My friend Rockett took a pic with him after the show. I simply stared.

3. Meeting new people! Donald & his brother from Ireland and the charming Alessandro from Italy. And then there was Rob, the triathlete and music industry guy from San Fran. We shared a delightful interlude hiding out from the sheer overwhelming wave of sensory overload that is SXSW.

4. Princess parking. The parking gods blessed me with free and close parking every day. I did not pay $20 to park. This meant I had $20 to spend on pizza and Pearl pomegranate vodka & Seven.

5. New-to-me bands. There were so many that I saw and loved, so many I saw and thought "eh" and so many that I'd love to see again because they were just that different. A few of my top picks include Vaeda and The Panda Band. I also am officially now a fan of Never the Nines whose bass player was kind enough to invite me to their show at Flamingo Cantina.

It was a fabulous festival but I'm relieved it's over. Now I can get some rest. This party girl is tired out. But...last night Austin Homegrown was rockin' the Mean Eyed Cat and Mr. Italian Man hadn't experienced either one so we ended up chillin' out on the patio for a set. I'd never heard Paul's band before and now I'm smitten. Austin Homegrown was slammin' through some serious good music.

I'll sleep tomorrow.

Monday, March 12, 2007

It's All About Me

The inside joke about my blog title is that 90% of the time it isn't All About Me. I'm tireless in my volunteer work as well as my support of friends and family. In fact, I think I tend to overextend often. I've found in the last month or so that at least once I week I'm exhausted and wondering why in the world I found it necessary to schedule so many activities into a small timeframe. But I thrive on being everyone's cheerleader.

My extracurriculars span from my running/walking group, Austin Fit, my cycling team the Cap City Cyclists, various work at race expos and water stops, organizing cheer squads for races and triathlons and more. I just passed my three year anniversary as a Meals on Wheels delivery person. I help promote my favorite bands and burlesque troops, especially The Humiliators, where I'm in charge of Panties To Be Thrown Onstage. I recently joined the planning committee for a 5K walk/run for my Hispanic business womens' networking group, Las Comadres. I'm waiting to hear if a local triathlete group needs help with coordinating volunteers for various events, too.

All of my free time fun stuff is designed to not only bring me pleasure but also to help me become part of a bigger portion of life. I don't want to come home every day and make dinner before sitting on the couch in front of the television for hours. I want to live life, not watch it on cable.

Now the other ten percent of the time, when I want it to be All About Me, is when I have legitimate needs. There are times when I need to feel needed. When I need to feel important to someone and need acknowledgement and support and hell, sometimes just a thank you.

For half my life I came second. I am the younger of twins. My sister emerged into this world a few minutes ahead of me and was large and in charge. Before you think oooh, how hateful commenting on someone's build let me just say that Kim was 5lbs, 15 oz and I was 3lbs, 13oz. So yes, she was large and in charge. For half my life, or even a bit more, Kim was primary and what she said, went. She was born alpha.

Kim spent the rest of our childhood and young adult years being the decision maker. We used to joke that it was Kim's way or the highway. She was older by minutes and so by nature took the lead. Trust me when I say that she still has no problem telling me what I should & should not be doing. It's all out of love, of course.

Growing up the younger twin instilled in me the desire to take care of others first, to be the organizer, the caretaker and the mother. Why? Maybe because I was taken care of for so long. C'mon, I didn't even get my driver's license until I was 18 because Kim drove us everywhere. It also fashioned me into the being the peacemaker. Kim was much more opinionated and strong willed than me. (And I mean that in a nice way, Kim). I was always the one who wanted to soothe ruffled feathers, mediate between hurt parties and above all, bring comfortable and agreeable closure to painful or hurtful events. It's taken me a long time to learn I don't always have to "fix" things.

Oddly enough, Kim became a social worker. I became....well, my career choices have never been a good definition of me. You can find "Kay" in the dictionary and see that the first entry for the noun is one for the "rude, boastful foster brother and steward of King Arthur" and the second entry informs you that it is a female or male given name from a Greek word meaning "rejoice".

Hmmm...I do have an unnatural attraction to Arthurian legend. I found this information about Sir Kay, one of the Three Enchanters of England: "nine nights and nine days his breath lasted under water, nine nights and nine days would he be without sleep. A wound from Cai's sword no physician might heal. When it pleased him, he would be as tall as the tallest tree in the forest. When the rain was heaviest, whatever he held in his hand would be dry for a handbreadth before and behind, because of the greatness of his heat, and, when his companions were coldest, he would be as fuel for them to light a fire".

{Blogger's Note: The part about heat is true. Anyone who has shared a bed with me knows I'm a heatilator. I put out enough BTU's to light up a small town. However, the part about the water is so not me.}

I think a better definition for me would be something like this: loves hard, lives fully, looks ahead to wonderful things yet to come. A woman who fills her life with good friends and family, freely gives of herself to those she cares for, laughs daily and often at herself, is loyal like a good Labrador retriever, and wishes everyone, including herself, every happiness the world has to offer.

Yeah, I don't measure up to my own definition but at least I have goals. And so now you know why it's only sometimes All About Me but it is always All About Those I Love. I give up my weekend mornings with no second thoughts when a friend needs to see a cheering, smiling face at a tough mile marker. I jump in and help out when asked and often volunteer before I'm asked. I give, and in giving I receive. I'm happy and thankful and moving forward in this crazy world of mine.

It's good to be All About Me.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Games & Dames!

My favorite burlesque vixen, Miss Maulie, debuts her Games & Dames show at the perfect time: when the population of ATX will swell as SXSW'ers head into our city. And if you've ever seen Maulie in action, you know it's not just the population that has the potential to swell on Tuesday night.

Maulie is bringing sexy, sassy and sultry back in a way that makes me believe she is the reincarnated love child of Gypsy Rose Lee and Tempest Storm. (Tempest had her "moneymakers" insured by Lloyd's of London in the 50's for the then scandalous sum of one million dollars). If you have never seen Maulie in a giant martini cup you have, short and simple, never lived.

In addition to Maulie, there will be other fabulous fan dancers, blackjack, a Texas Hold 'Em poker tournament and much, much more. We're talking entertainment at it's finest with shakin', shimmying, grinding good times. Comedy, live music, fire spinners and illusionists...what more can you ask for? Oh yes, $1 well drinks and $1 domestic beer. Fantastic!

Doors open at 9pm and the $7 cover gets ya $100 in chips. Show starts at 10pm. This is sure to be a sellout, so plan to be there when I will at ten before the magic hour. I'll be the blogger chica bangin' on the door and pleading with Maulie to let me in early.

Redrum is located behind the Gas Pipe at 401 Sabine Street. That's one block West of IH-35 between 4th & 5th streets near the convention center. Don't miss out on the hottest night of SXSW week!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Dog Chow Takes On A Whole New Meaning...

I'm house and petsitting this week while Freddy & Jed are on vacation. I love their dogs and their dogs love me. Sammy, Roscoe and Logan have been my step furrykids all their lives. Until this week, when two out of three are in grave danger of meeting their maker.

Simply put, Sammy & Roscoe have lost their minds. Logan is the only one not in trouble, causing trouble or being caught getting into trouble. Or possibly he's been troublesome but the other two attract more attention? Who knows.

It started with Roscoe. His bedtime issues that the boys had finally broken him of started back up with a mean red case of vengeance. Sunday night was a tiny bit of whining at bedtime. Monday night he decided to go from zero to 60 and indulge in an hour and a half of whining, barking and baying. I was two minutes away from dosing him with children's Benadryl when he gave up and went to sleep.

Tuesday, Sammy caught the insanity bug. As she is always the most well-behaved, I'm going to attribute her recent incidents to hormones. She has pretended to forget that she knows she isn't allowed on the couch. Especially when the couch is covered with my freshly laundered and folded clothing. Twice, not once, but twice I've caught her up there. The first time she looked at me as if I was the crazy one before hopping off and ambling away to the bedroom.

To make matters worse, I went out for a few hours on Tuesday evening and returned to find the dogs had pushed down the baby gate that keeps them confined to their room and emptied the full trashcan into the kitchen floor. I'm smart enough that there were only paper products and some vegetable peelings in the can since all "worse" trash taken outside immediately. They did rip open a baggie of flour that I'd used to dredge my oxtails in before browning them for osso buco. The floor of the kitchen looked like Tony Montana had sneezed. Logan was probably in on the kitchen caper, but I can't prove which (or if all) were involved. They got stern looks and a firm lecture. All appeared guilty.

Wednesday was Roscoe's turn again. He doesn't want to come inside. Normally not an issue, but the dogs don't stay out in the yard while I'm gone all day at work. I called, whistled, begged for him to come. Nada. I tried using treats to bribe him, which works fantastic with the other two pups. Nope. Finally I had to go out into the yard and circle around until I was behind him, grab his collar and escort him inside.

Thursday they were perfect angels, which is great because I ate leftover Chinese and ended up puking for hours. As I laid across the toilet seat, I realized that that all three dogs were laying in the hall watching me with concerned eyes. How sweet they all were!

Until this morning. I let the crew out when I got up. Since it was a beautiful morning, they stayed outside for about an hour or so. Ready for work and oh so tired from last night's involuntary purging (not to mention 4.5lbs lighter), I opened the door and called for the kiddos. Logan sauntered in, accepted a treat and went to his room like a good giant beast (he's the Great Dane). Roscoe stood six feet away from me at all times and ended up getting the collar-grab routine again. Sammy was...wait, where was Sammy?

No Sammy in the house. No Sammy in the backyard. Gate's closed, doors to garage are closed. WTF? Call for her, whistle, make those "mch, mch, mch" noises with my mouth. Nothin'. I spot a section of fence that has two boards broken off at the bottom. Surely that tiny spot isn't big enough for her to squeeze through? Going for a closer look, I see that the small escape hatch was widened by someone oh maybe could it be Samantha digging under the fence.

I call her name again, with a mix of desperation and irritation. Yup. I see a white and black snout pointing through from the elderly neighbor's yard. GREAT. Sammy comes squirming through and runs into the house, eager for her dog biscuit. Hah. Sammy gets sent to her room without a treat. I then drag a 4' section of extra fencing that Frederick had leaning against the fence over to block the hole. The neighbor had blocked her side with a metal trashcan. I guess Sam's done this before and I hadn't noticed.

I can only imagine what fun things they have in store for me tonight, tomorrow and Saturday. Sunday afternoon my duties are fulfilled and the Daddies & fam come home. I don't know why the furry kids are acting out so much. I'm the regular sitter. They're used to me and are normally much, much more well behaved. I've spent more time with them than any of the past petsitting weeks. Hmmm...maybe that's it. They want more alone time.

I want more than 24 hours to go by without me getting a homocidal urge to turn dogs into chow. I think Roscoe would make a great stew. Sammy is leaner, so I'd have to braise her. Logan would feed us for months.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

It Was an Osso Buco Kind of Night

Osso buco has not always meant a rich and delicious dinner entree to me. When I was younger, I somehow got it into my head that it was a dance much like the paso doble or samba. I have no idea how the connection was made but after last night's meal, I can attest to the fact that osso buco is as flavorful and exciting as any Latin dance.

And since I'm housesitting for Frederick & Jed, making this meal was even more interesting. Do you know how difficult it is to keep a basset hound, dalmation and great dane out from underfoot when you're cooking something that smells as good as osso buco? Let me just say that I cha cha cha'd all around Logan, Roscoe and Sammy until I finally had to baby gate myself into the kitchen. I had started out with the crew in the backyard but Logan kept "knocking" at the back door until I let them in. I had to...seeing his mournful face peering at me through the glass and watching his huge paw scratching down the door was too much for me. I'm a sucker, it's true.

I pored over many recipes for slowly braised veal dish and finally compiled my own, based mostly on one by Giada De Laurentiis. I did decide to make a trip to my favorite grocery store with a bulk spices section since a few of the items called for in the recipe are not part of my normal kitchen staples. I didn't want to buy an entire jar of a spice I don't normally use.
And because I'm on a budget, I opted to substitute the key ingredient. I switched the veal shanks to oxtails. Yes, purists will argue it isn't osso buco without veal. I don't care what you want to call an oxtail version of osso buco, it was fully satisfying.

I also nixed the traditional risotto side dish and went with creamy, cheesey polenta. I bought a chub of polenta, cubed it and heated it with 1/2 cup of chicken stock and 1/2 cup of half and half. Using a potato masher, I smoothed the lumps out and threw in about a 1/4 cup of grated parmesan cheese, a pinch of sea salt, several dashes of pepper and a small bit of butter. The smooth and tasty polenta complemented rather than competed with the deeper flavor of the osso buco.

This recipe calls for a bouquet garni, a little cheesecloth packet of herbs. You can skip buying cheesecloth if you have a loose tea infuser at home. Remove the leaves from the woody stalk on the rosemary and thyme and place loose into the infuser along with the cloves and bay leaf, which you can break into large pieces. The infuser can then sit in the pot much like a cheesecloth wrapped bundle would if going with a more traditional method.

The recipe was incredibly easy. The hardest part is the wait, especially when the fragrant smell from the simmering pot is tickling your taste buds. Because I used oxtails, I had to increase the cooking time by almost another full hour. All I can say is that it's well worth the lengthy braising time.

Osso Buco

2-3lbs. veal shanks
1 small onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 rib celery, diced
1 Tb. lemon zest
3 Tb. flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 dried bay leaf
2 whole cloves
sea salt
fresh ground pepper
all purpose flour
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup dry white wine
2-3 cups chicken stock
1 Tb. tomato paste
kitchen twine

Rinse veal and pat dry before seasoning with salt and pepper. (If you prefer your meat to stay in one piece, use a piece of twine to secure each shank, tying around the cut of meat). Dredge in flour and shake off excess. Place washed bay leaf, cloves, rosemary & thyme into a square of cheesecloth and tie the top, making your bouquet garni.

In a large heavy pot, such as a dutch oven, heat oil until very hot. Brown veal on all sides, remove from pot and keep warm in covered dish. In same pot, saute the onion, carrot and celery, seasoning it with a bit of salt. When vegetables are soft and translucent, add tomato paste and stir well. Return meat to pan, add white wine and cook until the liquid is reduced by half.

Add bouquet garni and 2 cups of chicken stock. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and cover. Simmer for about 1.5 to 2 hours or until meat is ultra tender. Every 15 minutes during cooking time, turn meat and add more chicken stock if the liquid falls below 3/4 up the sides of the shanks.

During last half hour of cooking add the parsley and lemon zest. When meat is tender to the point of falling off the bone, remove bouquet garni and throw away. Cut off kitchen twine if veal has been tied. Serve over risotto or polenta with pan juices poured over shanks.