Texas Bluebonnets

Spring comes early in the south. We've spotted our first Bluebonnets:


Where to find Classic, Old-School Austinites

Waterloo was founded in 1839 as the seventh, but final, capital of Texas. Shortly thereafter, Waterloo was renamed to Austin, as Stephen F. Austin is to Texas what George Washington is to the United States.

For a while, Austin was a quiet capital, better known as a college town with the University of Texas founded in 1883 and St. Edward's University in 1885. The city was founded with around 500 residents, half of whom fled the city when the government recessed or school was not in session. But once the capital boomed, it boomed! The secret was out - Austin was cool.

In the early 1900s the city's population was around 22,000 residents versus a 656,000 population as of 2000. Nowadays, statistics state that over 100 people move to Austin each and every day. And that trend does not seem to be slowing down or changing any time soon.

But what about those that were here before the boom? The oldies-but-goodies. The "founders" if you will. Well, I’m lucky enough to have married into an “old” Austin family. Most, if not all, of my husband’s family and friends went to the same elementary school together, rooted for one of the only high schools in the city (go Maroons!), and matriculated to the University of Texas, or "UT".  For years they’d go to the same Austin stalwarts, not just to eat, but also to gather, see other friends and family, and dine on what was (and for some joints still is) quintessential classic Austin grub.

When you refer to "the old Austin" many places and nostalgic thoughts can pop into one's mind.  Over the years whenever we've visited a classic Austin restaurant I’ve always listened, knowing that someone at the table had a unique personal memory or story to be told. Below are some of the stories, quotes and places where you're likely to stumble upon old, classic Austin and Austinites:


“For years people have come in on Sundays and stayed for several hours eating and drinking.  You’d see big families that essentially made the restaurant into their own personal dining room, just like home. Matt would greet you upon entering, as he did at the original location on Caesar Chavez. It’s perfect.” - a nostalgic 65-year-old Austinite

"You kids would run around and play while we would sit and eat. It was a mess, but it was like home, we knew everyone at every table so someone was always watching out for one another's kids." - a mom speaking to her 35-year-old son

"To order it right, you always say 'gimme a large bob'" - on the famous Bob Armstrong dip

2613 South Lamar Blvd
Sunday-Thursday* 11am - 10pm
Friday and Saturday 11am - 11pm
*Closed on Tuesdays


Where to eat Queso in Austin

Texas is known mostly for two types of food: Bar-b-que and Tex-Mex. With BBQ you get your ribs, sausage, and brisket. With Tex-Mex you get your tacos, fajitas, enchiladas, and chips with salsa, or more popularly, chips and queso!

But queso isn't just queso anymore. Especially in Austin, where many places have taken what used to be a cheese dip and turned it into a bowl of many wonders, adding peppers, meat, and most notably guacamole. Austin has become well known for it's queso and here are some of the best places to get your queso fix:


2613 South Lamar, Austin, TX

You don't get more classic Austin than Matt's Famous El Rancho, and you don't get more classic queso than the Bob Armstrong Dip. Authentic Tex-Mex 101, the Bob dip starts with a cheese base, followed by a scoop of seasoned ground beef, and a dollop of guacamole. As the bumper sticker says, "Gimme a Large Bob!"


Best accompanied by: 
a Margarita, of course! Frozen or on the rocks, either one does the trick.

Homemade Gumbo, NOLA style

A father is set to meet his daughter's boyfriend for the first time. She is from Texas, he is from Louisiana, New Orleans no less. As so many courtships are these days, a neighboring state is the closest you can get to the boy next door. But I digress...

The father knows exactly what he wants to ask the native New Orleanian. He wants to hear how the boy makes a dark roux (pronounced "rue"). The father knows there are different theories, old and new with the newer ones involving - gosh forbid - microwaves, but he is looking for the secret that has stood the test of time, having been passed onto him by his own southern nomadic ancestors. The trick is to burn it.

He could have tested him even more by asking him to name the Trinity (Onion, Celery, Bell Pepper, all together but in no specific order).

What you'll need...
2 Andouille sausage
1 Rotisserie Chicken
1/2 lb shrimp, de-shelled, de-veined, but tails on!
2 qts chicken stock
1/2 cup of flour
1/2 cup of vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
1 stock of celery, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 cup of frozen okra, thawed
3 Bay Leaves
1 Tablespoon of Cajun seasoning
1 teaspoon of Salt
White rice
Scallions

What to do...

Old-fashioned Cream Soda

A cold drink that can be so warming. 

Sometimes a good old-fashioned cream soda just hits the spot.


It's Superbowl Sunday!

We'll be enjoying these this weekend, how about you?!


Pigs in a Blanket

1 Package Cresent Rolls
1 Package Little Smokies

Preheat oven to 350.
Wrap the little smokies in the crescent rolls, like a pig in a blanket.
Place on a greased cookie sheet or pizza stone, and cook until golden brown.

Fortnum & Mason, London

William Fortnum was a footman, Hugh Mason was his landlord. In 1707 the two collaborated to set up shop together and the rest is history. Quintessentially English, Quintessentially British, Fortnum & Mason is exquisite both inside and out.

With it's many foods, fruits, spices, and teas, Fortnum's is most famously a proper food hall. The store started due to William Fortnum's hobbying interest in being a grocer. Later, his grandson Charles would introduce more specialty items and luxury ready-made foods. Fortnum's is after all the inventor of the Scotch egg, a savory egg dish dating back almost 300 years! Obviously Fortnum's is where one might go to get their Christmas pudding.  And it's all about quality here, folks. Food lovers rejoice.

Six flights high, each floor seems to have its own personality to add to the story:

Basement - wine, cheese, chocolate, and charcuterie
Ground floor - tea, coffee, and confectionery
First floor - home goods, hampers*, china, glassware, ice in the Parlor, and the Candle room**
Second floor - dedicated to the ladies with jewelry, handbags, perfumes, hat making, and pampering rooms
Third floor - personal items and personalized items, including leather goods and accessories for the gents
Fourth floor - the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Tea salon

Not bad for a grocery market turned department store.

Though was Fortnum a mere footman, he held this position in the royal house of Queen Anne, no less. Shortly thereafter Fortnum's grandson, Charles, also served Royalty, Queen Charlotte. Needless to say, Fortnum's is entrenched in British Royal history. A royal family favorite.

Not only are the products themselves fancy smancy, but the store itself is a site to see. Decorated in marble and crystal and all things lovely, it's easy to feel a look-but-don't-touch mentality. Even from the outside just the window dressings themselves can gawk attention.


So, while in London, touring the sights, popping in and out of pubs, don't forget to soak it all in with a stop by this oldie but goodie. Located a stone's throw away from its humble beginnings in St. James's Market, the flagship store on Picadilly Street is a must see.

* Mind you, when we say hampers here, it means a picnic basket, not a basket where one might toss dirty garments.

** The Candle Room is iconic considering capital for the enterprise came when Fortnum the footman was selling the Royal family's discarded candles for re-use. Talk about any early renewables initiative! One we are all quite thankful for.


Dinner at Wiltons in London


Do you ever rustle your hands into your pockets and happen to come across something you didn't know was in there? It's one of my favorite things.

Well the other day my husband went to put on his winter Barbour and felt something in his pocket. Instinctively he pulled it out and we both took a look. We looked up at one another and just smiled. It was an old receipt from Wiltons in London. A momentary reminiscence.

Dinner at Wiltons is not something someone would quickly forget. The Oysters were so fresh that you could taste the Ocean. They were the perfect accompaniment to our bubbly champagne. Then there was the Crab appetizer and Lobster Bisque, followed by my delicious Sea Bass and my husband's classic Roasted Pheasant. We finished with some Port, Chocolate Molten Cake, and a Fruit tart. Yum, yum, and yum! Worth every pound...

Wiltons
55 Jermyn Street
London
just down the street from the Ritz

Shiner Birthday Beer

To celebrate its 106th birthday, Shiner has come out with a remarkable treat. They call it a chocolate stout, but really they should call it liquid birthday cake, because that's how it tastes. And smells. It's truly unbelievable. 


** Available only for a limited time **

Where to eat Indian Food in London

Located down a quiet, enduring side street off the busily buzzing corner of Picadilly and Regent Street, the restaurant seems to have been swallowed up by time (how fitting, considering the entrance is on Swallow Street). It's Harry Potter's Diagon Alley. So, don't expect door to door taxi service. To get inside, one must approach via a pedestrian only alley. Talk about old school. It's cool.

Veeraswamy was opened in 1926 by Edward Palmer, the great-grandson of an English soldier and an Indian princess, and is the oldest surviving Indian restaurant in the United Kingdom.

The menu changes with seasonality, which is obvious from the the freshness of the dishes. That said, there is still an abundance of offerings, ranging from your usual Indian offerings to specialties of the house. But in short, the food is just delicious. Highly recommended.

Veeraswamy
99 Regent Street
Picadilly Circus, London

Christmas at the Ritz

Above photograph courtesy of The Ritz London

A few years ago we delighted in celebrating Christmas at The Ritz. It was everything and anything it was supposed to be. We were greeted by the bellhops that somehow already knew us by name and continued to remind us of such for our entire stay. Service with a smile. Talk about feeling at home.


Inside, the tree surely was a sight to see, and became better and better as we ascended to our room, lights flowing down the middle of the staircase providing a transparent curtain of intrigue.

Above photograph courtesy of The Ritz London

Spending the holidays in London is a treasure in itself, but staying at The Ritz put the cherry on top. Each night I would marvel as we strolled our way back across town to the hotel. One night I even had the cab drop us off a few blocks away so we could merry in the wonder of the site of it all.



Buckeyes, a nut and a cookie

It may be 'tis the season, or it may be pure nostalgia, but I love making Christmas cookies.

I distinctly remember one specific year growing up when my mother and I spent the day baking Christmas cookies. It was extra special because my mom allowed me to play hooky from school that day so we could bake the Christmas cookies together. I was the third child so it was a rare opportunity to be able to have time with my mom all to myself. It's a day and a memory I will always treasure.

But back to the cookies, especially a favorite to us Michiganders and Midwesterners alike - the Buckeye! Not the nut, but the cookie. Super simple, super easy, and super delicious.

Yields about 2 dozen, depending upon size.

Ingredients

PART 1:
1 cup of peanut butter
3 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) of butter, softened

PART 2:
1 12-oz package of semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 Tablespoons butter