Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Way We Identify Ourselves as Women

I was out in the beautiful Salado hill country this weekend, at a womens' retreat. During our first session, the retreat leaders led a series of ice breaker games starting with a simple one. We were to go around the room stating our name and telling the group one thing about ourselves.

The fact that 99% of the women followed the "My name is" part with how many children and/or grandchildren they had didn't surprise me. It shocked me. It brought to the surface how ingrained in women it is that we are identified by bearing children. It amazed me that almost all of these unique ladies, many of whom were highly accomplished in other areas chose to define themselves by stating that they had created at least one living being. And most of the mothers also added "I'm married to ____".

We are a society very attuned to marriage and producing children. Of the few women present who weren't mothers, we all said something like "My name is Kay and I don't have a husband or kids but I do have _____". As if we were compensating for the shortcoming of being single and childless. Finally, I saw it plainly. I had some validation of my theory that a woman who doesn't further the species expends a lot of energy proving she is still useful.

Let me restate one thing: Every woman, including myself, who weren't mothers mentioned not having kids. Half of us childless ones mentioned mothering cats or dogs. By the time we made it all the way around the room to me, I felt almost embarrassed at having neither a partner nor children as proof of my success. It was as if, without actually voicing it themselves, the wives/mothers were more extraordinary than the three or four of us who weren't wives and mothers.

Is it any wonder that many women my age who haven't yet conceived a child spend so much free time analyzing their emotions, wondering and worrying over whether or not they'll be passing up something incredible if they choose not to become a mother? My friends have all been subjected to endless conversations where I talk, talk, talk about motherhood. Five or ten years down the road, I'll probably be on the listening end of their own gabfest on the pro's and con's of starting a family.

Until then, let me redirect my thinking a bit and revisit the ice breaker. "My name is Kay and I have an amazing group of friends who love me just the way I am."

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Today's Bizarro News

I need a break from the tragic stories coming out of Virginia, Iraq, Iran, Darfur and other countries. My mind is filled with news of the Virginia Tech murders, the deaths of civilians and soldiers, the attempt to wipe out a significant number of the population of Sudan. What do I need today? I need a diversion and what better than the bizarre, the strange and the odd but true news stories found on the wire this morning. Here are my choices:

  1. Wow, that's a big dog chasing my car! Residents of a Minnesota town have had dogs, turkeys, ducks and geese chase their cars but up until now, the timber wolves weren't in on the action.
  2. Okay, this one is about death, too, but it's so strange I had to include it. An American Airlines passenger died in the lavatory but wasn't found until 2 hours later when the cleaning crew discovered his body. Yeah, your flight crew is supposed to ensure all passengers are off the plane and restrooms are empty.
  3. A 14 year old girl finds out her "boyfriend" is a 30 year old woman. Okay, I know I was fairly naive as a 14 year old but what was up with this child's parents? Could they not figure it out? Of course, knowing the couple had allowed their daughter's "boyfriend" to move into their home points out the obvious: poor parenting.
  4. A Wisconsin man may get off (pun intended) scot-free due to a state law prohibiting a city library from turning over to police a video of him wanking off in the stacks. Hmmmm....libraries always make me a bit frisky, too.
  5. Children in England find a three-headed frog. Environmentalists speculate it could be a sign of problems with nature.
  6. Whole Foods could sell more pricey organics if they took the same approach as UK grocery chain Tesco. They're marketing magic mushrooms.
  7. A man-hating cockatoo tries to hatch chocolate Easter eggs.
  8. My teacher-of-the-month award goes to the UC Davis doctoral student who teaches art workshops using maggots instead of paintbrushes.
  9. Just in case breaking up with your ex-lover in person, on the phone or by text is waaaay too personal for you, use this Berlin service.
  10. And from the town that I (mostly) grew up in, the place that helped shape my personality and form my psyche: DWI on a riding lawn mower. And ya'll wonder why I am the way I am.

What Has Happened To Drive Friendly?

Almost every morning and evening as I make my commute to and from work I sit in traffic and wonder "what has happened to the Drive Friendly campaign"?
I try to be polite, let folks in when I know they have a scant chance of a break in traffic. Do they even give a friendly wave? Most of the time, no. And when I'm the one needing to merge into traffic it seems as if each car spots me and then edges up inches away from the bumper in front of them. When did Austin become so aggressively selfish on the roads?
I can recall when everyone in the neighborhood did the "dashboard wave" when driving by, whether you knew them or not. If I did that now my neighbors would probably classify me as the "weirdo who lives six doors down and thinks she knows us".
Come on, people. Make a payment toward good car karma. Lighten up a little and realize that allowing a car into your lane isn't going to make you any later to work than you already are. The other cars on the road aren't the enemy. And for pete's sake, watch out for the cyclists! I know that they piss you off by not obeying all the rules of the road as they should, but don't persecute the conscientious cyclists for the sins of the bad ones.
With the huge number of cars and trucks clogging up Austin's roads there is a definite need to drive friendly. And maybe, just maybe, you can wave when you drive through my neighborhood.

Carnivores in the House

Despite the urgings from my vegetarian friends, I am an unrepentent meat lover. And on those days when I'm struck with a carnivorous craving the only obstacle to happiness is deciding what and where to eat. Writing about the best chicken fried steak or fajitas in town is a dicey business. Everyone has their fiercely defended favorite, so feel free to leave a comment informing me of where I should've eaten instead of where I do. At least I'm sticking with locally owned establishments.

1. What's the first thing that comes to my mind when conjuring up an image of a tender, juicy slab of prime Texas beef? A steak from Austin Land & Cattle. I always order the 10oz ribeye, black and blue, with a side of jalapeño blue cheese sauce, mashed potatoes and the veggies of the day. Ordering a steak "black and blue" ensures that it's charred on the outside but cool bordering on cold in the center. Definitely not for those who eat their beef grilled dead, but it's oh so fork tender and juicy.

ALC offers a choice of hand cut in house ribeye, filet mignon, top sirloin, New York strip, t-bone and porterhouse steaks, cooked to your specification. Prices range, depending on the size and cut of meat. Expect to pay between $20-30 per entree.

2. Did someone mention fajitas? I know this is a hotly contested topic, but I get mine from Enchiladas y Mas, where they come grilled with onions, bell pepper, tomatoes and even serrano peppers, if you order the spicy version. Add the usual sides of rice and beans and sour cream, guacamole and pico de gallo for toppings and you're one bite away from sheer satisfaction. A spicy fajita platter for two is $19.95, a plate is $9.95.

3. Dining in? Order up a Carnivore Special from Mangia Pizza. Available thin or Chicago style stuffed, this pie features "two layers of pepperoni buried beneath beef and sausage". This pizza is not for the faint of heart (or those with high cholesterol). I've never gotten beyond two slices of the stuffed version before heading to the couch to sleep through whatever dvd was chosen for our dinner and a movie night. A 14" large stuffed pizza is $23.55 while the thin version is $17.95.

4. Ask five people who has the best BBQ in Austin and you'll probably get at least 4 different answers. My choice for a mixed plate of smoky meats is the Saltlick, just outside the city limits. My friends and I love the all you can eat 'cue served family style with beans, cole slaw, potato salad, pickles, onion and bread. For $15.95 per adult or $4.95 for kids under 12, you can devour all the pork ribs, beef and sausage you want. Even better, children under 4 eat for free.

The Saltlick doesn't sell alcoholic beverages, but allows you to bring in coolers of beer. There's nothing better with their just greasy enough ribs than an icey cold Lone Star, so come prepared. Be warned, this establishment is cash only.

5. Chicken fried what? My yankee friends don't understand chicken fried steak. But Hoover's Cooking does, and that's all that matters to me. Hoover's serves their CFS with a peppery breading and full flavored cream gravy, your choice of two sides, or "house mates" as the menu calls them, and a basket of hot breads, all for $9.79. I recommend the traditional mashed potatoes as one side item and the jalapeño creamed spinach as another.

Aficionados of CFS know that it's rare to find a fork tender one. Because of the cut of steak and method of cooking, it can often be chewy. Hoover's steak is as close to an optimum CFS as I've found in the Hill Country. I've been eating Hoover Alexander's CFS ever since I discovered the 1/2 price night at the now defunct Good Eats Cafe. There are others in town that run a close second, but this is my standard first choice for a beefy southern comfort meal.

Tell me, is there an entree I've not mentioned that will sate my most ravenous cravings for red meat?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Restaurant Poll 2007

The Chronicle has their annual restaurant poll going on right now. I thought I'd share my votes with you. And yes, Chel, I voted for Giss's, only not as my top three.

One: La Reyna
Two: Wink
Three: Austin Land & Cattle

Appetizers: Sampaio's
Barbecue: Saltlick in Driftwood
Hamburger: Billy's on Burnet
Steak: Austin Land & Cattle
Comfort Food: Giss's Cafe
Chicken-Fried Steak: Hoover's
Chile Pepper Dish: Green Chile Cheeseburger from Shady Grove
French Fries: Billy's on Burnet
Hot Dog: Bad Dog from Shady Grove
Chips and Hot Sauce: Chuy's (the chunkier salsa, not the thin one)
Taco: Juan in a Million's Don Juan
Soup: The Soup Peddler
Salad/Dressing: Baby Greens grilled veggie salad with lowfat lemon vinaigrette
Seafood Dish: Sampaio's Camarão ao Molho de Cachaça
Pub Grub: Mother Egan's
Bagels: Einstein's (yeah, I know they're a chain, but I like 'em)
Sushi: Musashino Sushi Dokoro
Tofu Dish: Chooby Doo International Cafe's Buddha Tofu Sandwich
Dim Sum: no fav
Bowl of Pho: no fav
American Breakfast: Kerby Lane Cafe
Mexican Breakfast: La Reyna
Sandwich: Thistle Cafe's BLT
Dessert: no fav
Bread: Texas French Bread
Ice Cream: Amy's Ice Creams
Gelato: Whole Foods (is there anyone out there who hasn't heard me rave about the avocado gelato?)
Coffee: Austin Java
Pizza: Frank & Angie's
Enchiladas: It's a tie between La Reyan & Enchiladas y Mas
Vegetables: Threadgill's
Chicken Dish: Chicken, mushroom, Gruyere, carmelinzed onions and scallions crepe from Flip Happy Crepes
Wild-Game Dish: I know it doesn't qualify as "wild game" but the sweetbreads at Wink are fantastic.

Dish: Any La Reyna breakfast plate---they're all under $5
Restaurant: Taco Xpress
Veggie Burger: P. Terry's
Vegetarian Dish: Stuffed Poblano from Kerby Lane Cafe

Mexican(non-Tex-Mex): Fonda San Miguel
Tex-Mex: La Reyna
Taqueria: Taco Xpress
Italian: Vespaio
Cajun/Creole: Evangeline Cafe
Middle Eastern: Phoenicia Bakery & Deli
Indian: Sarovar
Chinese: Hao Hao
Korean: Koreana
Thai: Thai Passion
Vietnamese: Sunflower
Other Oriental/Asian: Zen
American: Giss's Cafe
Vegetarian/Natural Food: Eastside Cafe
French: no faav
Other Ethnic
Type: Romanian
Restaurant: Drakula

New Restaurant Opened in 2006-2007: Bess Bistro

Name: Lawrence Kocurek
Restaurant: Roy's

Service/Waitstaff: Daniel Webb at El Chile
Full-Service Bakery: Sweetish Hill
Pastry Shop: Mi Victoria
Grocery Store: Central Market (N. Lamar location)
Ethnic Market: no fav
Patio/Beer Garden: Shady Grove
Decor: Vivo
Romantic Dinner Spot: Wink
Sunday Brunch: Moonshine Bar & Grill ties with Fonda San Miguel
Fast Food: Zen
Takeout: Whole Foods
Delivery: Austin's Pizza ties with China Hill
Wine List: Cork & Co
Smokers Restaurant: Shady Grove
Beer Selection: The Gingerman
Buffet: Moonshine's brunch buffet

Happy Hour/Free or Cheap Deal
Happy Hour Deal: Eddie V's half price appetizers
Restaurant: Hut's Hamburgers
Late Night/All Night: Magnolia Cafe
Restaurant Bathroom: Vivo
Place to Take Kids: Phil's Ice House
Place to Take Parents: Austin Land & Cattle
Restaurant Within 60 Miles of Austin: Bluebonnet Cafe in Burnet
Place We Wish Were Still Open: Paggi House, just for their Sunday brunch
Any Other Restaurant Worth Noting: Taco Shack
Food Event: Tour de Vin