Monday, November 16, 2015

Paella for all of us

Sam and I are part of a wine club/dinner club that meets monthly called Grape Escape. We alternate hosting and the host picks the theme. Generally, the focus is more on the food, but we do enjoy choosing wines from different regions to match all the different courses. I don't know if it's improved my knowledge of wine any, but I have discovered I don't hate all ports as previously thought (although by the dessert course, it's fair to say my palette is compromised, so who can say for sure).

At any rate, this month was Sam and I's month to host and we picked Spain for our dinner/wine theme. This led to some excellent tapas and churros being brought. It also led me to take on the challenge of making paella for the first time. After doing some research online on different types of paella, I decided to go with the seafood version, since hunting down rabbit and snails, seemed like a tall order even at Central Market. I also didn't have a paella pan, so I ended up making it in two batches (which worked out well since we had a seafood allergic person partaking).

I went shopping Saturday morning at Central Market and about a million dollars later had all the ingredient. This included $10 (!) for an ounce of saffron threads, but I figured: go big or go home. I'm not planning to make paella that often, so I wasn't going to waste time on imitation saffron, if such a thing exists. As a side note, we also managed to spend $7 on fancy tonic water for the signature cocktail (Grape Escape makes some allowances for non-wine drinkers). At first I was aghast that they could sell tonic water for $7 right above the reasonably priced $.57 tonic water. Especially because tonic water is disgusting. Turns out though, $7 tonic water does actually taste better, and even more so when you put gin in it.

Above are the ingredients for paella for 10. Protein-wise there's: mussels, chicken thighs (cut into one inch pieces), chorizo, and shrimp. For those wanting to follow along at home, here's the recipe I used and surprisingly deviated from very little.

 The finished product! I never quite got the rice crunchy on the bottom as it was supposed to be. I think part of that was because I was worried about overcooking it. I also realized paella is a terrible thing to serve at a dinner party because most of the work has to be done right at the end. I ended up making it right when people were supposed to arrive and then letting it rest in the warm oven during the  first course. I might have lost a little of the texture there, but the taste was on point. For that, I can only attribute the saffron threads splurge.

And finally, here's a picture of all the Grape Escapers (minus Sam, unless you count his reflection in the window) enjoying their paella. It was important to take this one for posterity because I may not be making paella again. It actually was a lot easier than I thought, so my aversion to putting it into the dinner rotation is more a financial one. Still, it was a fun experiment to try. I'm already looking forward to next month's dinner club theme: holiday favorites.

Monday, November 2, 2015

A busy end to a busy month

I realize I only had one post that month, but it's only November 2 and I'm already posting so who knows how things will fare this month? I'm not sure what to post about because I think I saw pretty much all of my known readers in the last week. It seems silly to recap in too much detail what many of you lived in real time. Nevertheless, I do have a handful of pictures for posterity. (Not too many, of course. I know some who rant about the over photographing of things).

We had a whirlwind and very rainy trip to Arlington this weekend. The primary reason (aside for visiting folks, of course) was to see my very talented aunt perform in Arsenic and Old Lace at the Artisan Center Theater. It was a wonderful performance and a fun time was had by all. I'd give a longer review except that I know most of my readers who have not seen it, have their tickets already purchased.

The crew with Abby Brewster. Well, minus Sam. We actually did get one of the other members of the cast to take a group shot, but I managed to blink in every one of them. 
Totally out of order and from earlier in the Austin visit, but there's Sam!
The next couple of pictures are more Halloween themed. This was our first year having a house for Halloween, so we were excited to get trick or treaters. We had five good sized groups and were able to run through much of our purchased candy. (We've since consumed the rest.) It was interesting to see that costume trends in kids are nearly as changeable as with adults. Princesses were still very popular. There was also a very cute little James Bond.

We carved those pumpkins in a matter of minutes, but they turned out quite nice. 
This photo is from a few days before Halloween, but it seemed to fit with the theme. We went to see Nosferatu at the Alamo Drafthouse as accompanied by a live band. Carolyn and Aileen posed in the lobby on their installation homage to the The Shining.
You can't see it in the picture but they also put the carpet on the ground in front of the backdrop. 
Our costumes were somewhat of a last minute (or last few days anyway) concept. We were four out of the five feelings from Inside Out. We actually put some effort into our hair and makeup, but the colors really don't show up in this lighting. Alas it was the only picture we took and was done on an iphone with a timer. We'd figured when we got to the party that we could ask someone to take a better photo of us, but it turns out the party was outside, so our costumes showed up even worse. Also, after talking to people there, I discovered not everyone has seen Inside Out. Something they should definitely fix, as it's pretty wonderful.

Anger, fear, disgust, sadness. We were only missing our Joy.
The rest of the week was a lot of fun. Full of eating copious amounts of BBQ, kolaches, and Tex Mex (though especially BBQ). Come back and see us any time!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Back..sort of

So...I haven't written in a while. I have a bunch of cool reasons (excuses?) for that, but the long and the short of it is just that I've been busy. And alas, not busy with fun blog-worthy stuff that I'm now going to regale you with. Just regular work deadlines and volunteer commitments busy. And now that the weather's finally gotten cooler, Sam and I have also been doing more outdoor house/yard work. Unfortunately, while the fact that the garage no longer has a hole in the ceiling or the dirt patch part of the lawn now has sod on it is very exciting to us personally, it doesn't really warrant a "how I spent my weekend" post.

That said, I respect the loyalty of my readers, and I dug up some photos on my phone that I think I can cobble together a post with. That and I'm writing on a weekend, no less. These are the sacrifices I make for you.

I met a friend for happy hour at fancy food restaurant Barley Swine a few weeks ago. She was a bit late, but it was cool because the bar overlooks the kitchen and you can watch everything being artfully plated. Pipettes were used in abundance. One of these days I'll have to go back for the $85 tasting menu because it looks awesome, but it was fun to go for happy hour and try this appetizer. It's zucchini and a whole mess of other things. Delicious.

Sam and I met some friends for the annual Lit Crawl (the bar crawl portion of the Texas Book Festival). There were some good readings and it was a perfect night for it weather-wise. Last year, the runner up of the Literary Death Match (sort of a comic competition take on literary readings) went on to win the Booker Prize this year. Still haven't gotten around to reading his book. I'm sure he values both of those accolades equally. We'll see how the runner up this year does. 

This is another photo from a few weeks ago. My friend's friend was puppy sitting so naturally she brought him out for everyone to fawn over. He insisted on being up on the table at all times and since none of us were his primary caregiver or ever hoping to train him, we saw no reason not be oblige. 

My friend Kim who I know from New York, and who even after not living in Austin for a decade still manages to know more people here than I do, came down to visit her old stomping grounds. It was inexplicably 95 degrees in the middle of October, which was lucky for her because it meant a trip to Barton Springs. 

Okay, so ends my phone photo dump. I hope to be out of this haze of busy-ness soon and over this lack of blog writing funk. In the meantime, looking forward to seeing many of my readers at the end of the month!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Running and strolling

Sunday began remarkably early, especially by Sam's standards. He signed up for a marathon relay through his work because it supported a nonprofit that his office shares a business with and they got guilted into it. This led to us being downtown a little before sunrise. 

Sam wondering why he is up this early. 
 Sam's team decide to go renegade. Instead of each running their four miles and change separately and passing the baton, they all ran together. Or actually most of them walked, but Sam ran the whole way. I was impressed considering he just signed up a few weeks ago and hadn't really trained at all.

While waiting for the runners to finish, I drank coffee and took photos of the empty park. 
Sam nearing victory.
 Since we were up anyway, after the race we decided to take a little day trip to Wemberly. It's a cute little town. We'd driven through to get gas after going to Jacob's Well and wanted to check it out more thoroughly. Unfortunately, it's one of those places where you just stroll around and look at stores and galleries. We hadn't yet considered that walking around aimlessly would not be ideal day for someone who had just run several miles. We ended up bagging the gallery walking pretty soon and just getting some lunch. Still, I feel like we got the gist of it.

Sam in front of some cute store we didn't go in. 
There were a bunch of painted boots around Wemberly. I saw a brochure at one point saying "Wemberly is Bootiful" that probably would have explained their significance. 
A pretty view on the walk to lunch
As a final note, specifically for my readers who are also artists: I talked to a couple gallery owners during our Wemberly walk-a-about. The two I talked to both kept a very local selection, but there were a bunch more that we didn't go in, so there are still many potential places to exhibit.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

House and home

Apologies for the long delay in blog posting. I've been putting all my writing energy into doing paid freelance work over the last few weeks. I love all of my blog readers, but until you pay me by the word, that will sadly take precedence. I also realized I'm not really sure what this post will be about. I feel like our adventures lately have been less exciting/interesting/photo-worthy and more domestic/learning things about homeownership-y. 

For example, we recently learned that we were supposed to be watering our trees all summer. The tree guy who came by (which also: why is tree trimming to expensive?) explained that our six ash are not long for the world due to age and also that they're dying of thirst. This is one of many many seemingly obvious truths to homeownership, or in this case tree ownership, that I feel like I was already supposed to know. How could the trees survive the last 15 years without being drought resistant? At any rate, we've learned you pay a price for that shade.

In addition to spending money on our trees last month, we had another homeowner milestone: buying a grill. We had a bunch of people over for a Labor Day BBQ. It does seem nice that the weather is finally getting lovely out so that we can enjoy our backyard again. I'm looking forward to more gardening now that I'm not worried everything will instantly die. 

A photo of Sam grilling like a pro. I took this through the window with the rest of our guests. It was still really hot. 
 Another big purchase (I feel like all we really did last month is spend money) was to finally outfit our kitchen nook. For those unfamiliar with the floor plan of our house, it has a galley kitchen that ends in a little windowed room at the front of the house, presumably intended for a breakfast area. Frankly, I think the whole kitchen layout should be changed and that space better incorporated. Since we're not going to do that, we needed a new plan, as for the last 6 months that room has been used only for the cat food and litter box. Enter the Crate and Barrel kitchen island. It will provide more prep space outside of the small kitchen while also doubling as a place to have coffee in the morning.

This photo was totally staged. There's nothing in Sam's coffee mug. But this is theoretically where we would drink real coffee in the mornings. 
This photo has nothing to do with home projects, but I made slow cooker coq au vin for a dinner party the other day and this pic was on my phone. Might not look like much, but it was delicious! 
This next project was actually done a while ago, but is still something I'm proud of and (I don't think) ever actually posted about. I wanted a new coffee table but didn't want to pay for the one I liked at World Market, so I made one. Of course, by the time I got all the materials, the price of the one at World Market had dropped, and I only ended up saving about $50. BUT, mine also turned out looking nicer, so I'm happy. I keep waffling about also trying to make a dining room table, but I know that's a much bigger project, so I'm trying to keep my ambition in check, at least until I actually learn how to use a jig saw. Or figure out what a jig saw is. 
Coffee table. Here was the inspiration for it (which I'm happy to see is no longer on sale). 

I think that's about all of the random home projects we've done lately. Hopefully will have more interesting (and god willing, less expensive) adventures to post of soon. Until then, I'm just glad to be done with freelance projects for the year. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

A pair of visitors

We're always excited to have takers on our offer of guest room and this weekend in particular we had a couple of excellent guests: my parents. They were in town just for a visit but they also took us out for some excellent meals, entertained me on my last summer Friday, and graciously put in several hours of assembly work for a rather large Bard's Cards order. Thanks for that!

While they were here, we visited the Blanton and the Ransom Center. Our year long membership is nearly up at the Blanton, and I can't say we've ever really taken advantage of it. It's not a huge museum, and they don't have anything well known in their collection, but it's still worth popping in from time to time. Also on Friday, after dinner, we stopped by to see the bats come out. The last time I'd tried, the bats came out too late and it was too dark to really see them. This time we were right in the high season. They really are quite a sight. 

People, and some bats, as taken from Sam's iphone. I would be interested to see more of the pics/videos my dad took on his fancy camera

Us waiting fairly patiently for the bats to make their appearance. Unfortunately, you can't set your clock by bats. 
On Saturday, we had two excellent meals. In between, to work up an appetite for the next eating occasion, we went to UT to see the tower. I'd never been up in it, and really is a pretty nice view of the city. The tour didn't go into some of the darker parts of the tower's history, but the amount of security you go through to get up there covers that well enough.
View from the top! Not that you can really see the view behind us. 
Thanks again for coming to visit, parents! We'll try to return the favor and make it out to Houston sometime soon.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

A watery weekend

Last weekend (that is the one prior to this one) we were lucky enough to visit my grandmother and aunt in Arlington. I foolishly didn't take any photos of our trip which is why I didn't post of it. Other than the outrageously high temperatures while we were there, it was a lovely visit. It's a definite advantage of living close by now. Seeing my grandmother in the summer, reminded me of her wonderful peach ice cream. I tried making some of my own last week. It turned out pretty well, but I did determine my ice cream maker may be on its last legs.

 Last week, it was also incredibly hot, but I'd been wanting to go to Blues on the Green all summer and it was the last one. Blues on the Green is a free concert series in Zilker Park. Tons of people go and parking can be an issue. We ended up parking about 20 minutes away and walking through the park. It was fun to see parts of the park I'd never seen before, but it was also 100 degrees which  made the walk seem longer than it needed to be. I enjoyed hanging out and listening to music, but I also ended up desperately spending $5 on a snow cone (well, plus a $4 ATM really: $9 on a snow cone).  

Austinites ready to listen to Shakey Graves
Anyway, after three weeks or so of highs in the low 100s, the fever that had settled on central Texas finally broke this weekend. This weekend and the whole week has been highs in the upper 90s, and I never thought I would appreciate them as much as I do. We went out to Jacob's Well near Wimberly on Saturday. It's a spring fed swimming hole, so it's always cold water. When I say "swimming hole," it actually is just a really deep underwater cave. A number of people have gone cave diving down there and apparently many have died. There were signs entering the park warning that scuba diving was illegal. This article has some interesting background about their attempts to keep inexperienced people from potentially killing themselves. Experienced cave divers have mapped it though and the passageways extend for many thousands of feet.

Sam with scones on the walk about to Jacob's Well. Can't so swimming without scones!
 There's a great jumping rock right about the well. It's nice to know you can jump in and have no fear of hitting the bottom. The problem is when you're up on the rock, you get nervous about hitting the cliff on the way down. You only have to jump out a tiny bit to clear it, but it's enough to get in your head. The first time I jumped, I spent a good 5 minutes standing up there contemplating.

A girl making the running leap.
 Sam jumped from a lower rock, unfortunately at the exact same moment as another girl (a miscommunication on her part). I captured the near calamity below. Luckily both were fine.

I also captured a nice bit of my finger. 
 On Sunday the weather continued to be lovely, so we took to the water again. Some friends own a boat and took us out to Lake Austin for some floating and general merriment. There's definitely a culture to boat ownership. We had a lot of fun. Sam tried wakeboarding, although I didn't. He didn't stay up too long, but if the water was less choppy (i.e. when there are fewer other boats), he has the makings of a natural wakeboarder. I declined to wakeboard, but I did do some rope swings that were hanging from the shore. Jumping off stuff into water is definitely more my speed.

Sam, the wakeboarder. 
So far this week is continuing to be mild. Fingers crossed the waning days of summer will continue to be kind to us.