Monday, December 22, 2014

A star is born

A few weeks ago a wonderful friend (B--do you still read this?) posted a photo of a baking project she'd just completed: a bread with layers of Nutella shaped like a star. I've done a fair amount of holiday baking already this season, but nothing especially showy. I had a birthday brunch to go to this weekend though, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to try something a little fun. Plus, I know my blog readers enjoy reading about food projects they would not themselves attempt (although I promise you, this one is a lot easier than it looks).

To start, you need to make the dough. It's a bit like regular bread dough but with a few additions. This is the recipe:

2 1/2 - 3 c flour
3/4 c milk
1 1/2 tsp yeast
2 eggs
2 T melted butter
1/3 c sugar
pinch of salt

Pretty basic dough construction. Warm the milk and add the yeast and a tablespoon of the sugar to proof it. Then add the flour, sugar, melted butter, salt, and egg yolks (keep the whites for later). Knead and let rise for 40 minutes. Then the fun part starts.

First divide the dough into four roughly equal parts.

This is what dough looks like when divided into four roughly equal parts, as seen by my phone.
Roll out one of the parts until about 1/8" thick. Use a cake pan as a guide to cut around the edges to make an even circle.
The bottom of a springform pan would also work great for this, but mine happened to have a cheesecake in it. 
 Next, spread Nutella all over your nice round dough circle. Pro tip: Never microwave Nutella. To get it  warm enough to spread easily, put the whole jar in warm/hot water.

Pro Tip #2: Just use your hands. You can pretty much see my finger patterns in this one, but it's so much easier than using a knife. 
 Next, repeat the last two steps with the other dough pieces, laying each circle on top of the last until you have a nice stack. After you lay the fourth dough circle on top, don't spread Nutella on it.

I think this was only three layers, and I forgot to photograph the fourth, but you can use your imagination.
Once you have a nice stack, use a drinking glass to mark a circle in the middle. Then divide the dough into 16 parts by cutting through the dough from the edge all the way to the center circle.

Like so!
 Now comes the part where I was pretty sure I would screw up, but that actually turned out to be fairly easy. Take each pair of cut sections and twist them inward, connecting them at the base. It should look like this:

I finessed it a little more after this photo, but this is the general idea.
 Finally, take your egg whites from earlier and brush them on top of this bad boy. Cook in a preheated oven at 350 for 15-20 minutes.

The end result!
I had to take mine to a brunch, so I didn't get to try it while it was warm. That said, it was pretty tasty cold, so I have a feeling this thing would be pretty amazing right out of the oven. Surprisingly, given the Nutella, it's not too sweet. Of course now I have half a jar of Nutella left in my cabinet. Let the holiday gluttony continue!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Austin alit

As a continuation of last week's holiday celebrations, last night Sam and I went to check out Austin's "Trail of Lights." This is basically a large display of Christmas lights set up in Zilker Park along Town Lake. You can see them from across the river driving through downtown, so we were intrigued. There was a shuttle stop for the event near our apartment and the event itself is free, so it seemed worth checking it out.

Trail of Lights somewhat reminded me of walking down 5th Ave or visiting the tree at Rockefeller Center. You're surrounded by holiday cheer, but also walking in a slow moving crowd elbowing for space. The only real difference is that Austin's crowd has a great deal more strollers than New York's, which makes for somewhat more difficult crowd maneuvering. For those not in the Austin area, I'm including some photos so that you too can experience the Trail of Lights, right from the comfort of your own home.
From inside the giant Christmas tree

A Trail of Lights panorama 

The entrance. This one was partially included because it showcases the crowds. This tunnel of lights extended for about 100 feet, and took several minutes to walk through due to bottle necking. 

Most of the Trail of Lights is full of different displays and often movie or book characters. My favorite was this one from Where the Wild Things Are

This was my favorite of the actual lighting displays. The lighting would flash and then was followed by rain and after the rain stopped, a Sun would come out followed by a giant light up rainbow. 

This terrible picture of Sam (I swear he's in there; albeit shrouded by darkness) was mostly to photograph him and "Elf Pacino" one of many punny elfs present at Trail of Lights. Given Sam's Pacino fandom, it seemed appropriate. 
I guess that's about all there is to say about Trail of Lights. As displays of Christmas lights go, it was definitely something to see, although I can't promise I'll go back every year. If I do return though, I will make sure to bring cash to partake in all the fried food. It's a shame more places don't offer funnel cake in winter. Who's to say it can't be a Christmas food?

Monday, December 8, 2014

Getting in the holiday spirit

It's funny because it really doesn't feel like December to me. Perhaps because snow and cold have been replaced by 70 degree days. Also, there aren't nearly as many Christmas lights here and no hoards of tourists looking at window displays. They do however have a "Trail of Lights" in Zilker Park that I'm hoping to check out next week. Sam and I are also hoping to plan something special and holiday-like for Christmas Eve. It will be our first year spending Christmas Eve without family, so perhaps we can come up with a tradition of our own. We haven't exactly narrowed it down yet, but my guess is that it will center around food. 

In the meantime, to get in the holiday spirit, I went to a craft making party at the aptly named Craft. Normally the place functions as a crafter's paradise. They have tons of supplies that you can use, and you just pay by the hour to use stuff and thus avoid shellacking your own house in glitter. Given the sheer amount of crafting materials, I think I would find going and trying to figure out what to make to be totally overwhelming; however, for the holiday event (in addition to free drinks and cookies) they had makers come and lead workshops, so you could just pay for each gift item you made. They had screen printing tote bags, making bath salts and scrubs, wood burning magenta, and several other activities. Theoretically you were supposed to be making Christmas gifts, but I just made things for myself (unless…does anyone want some cedar magnets with plants and balloons burned into them?). 

An action shot of wood burning. We used stamps as patterns and then just follow the lines with the word burning tool. 
I also made a Christmas wreath to spruce up the front door. It was something on impulse. I saw some other girls doing it, and their wreathes turned out so pretty. It seemed easy enough, but I think they were wreath-making ringers because mine turned out a little more special. I think I didn't anchor some of the spruce down enough, but I decided it has character and I like it. 

The fruits of my labor
On Saturday night, a friend hosted what is apparently her fourth annual Home Alone party. She and her  roommates show the Christmas classics Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. To complement the cinema, they serve cheese pizzas (everyone theoretically could have eaten their own), hot cocoa, and ice cream sundaes. Your basic makings for a food coma. Now I'll admit, I'm not personally a huge fan of Home Alone or slapstick comedy in general, but watching it this time I could appreciate some of the occasionally subtle points in the screenplay as well as the very humorous John Candy cameo. However, it certainly doesn't unseat Die Hard as my preferred needlessly violent Christmas movie. 

I appreciated that they bought a bunch of tiny pizzas instead of a few large ones for authenticity. 
There's still a few more weeks til Christmas, but I wanted to share one more photo. Sam and I went to a holiday party for an organization I've been volunteering with. For some reason because he and another guy were standing in front of the tree at the party, one of the people who works for the organization decided to take their picture and tweet it out as a summary of the party. I thought it was funny because Sam has never worked with them and came along as my plus one, but I also just think it's a cute picture.

We didn't get a tree this year, so this will have to do!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014: The one with the cute puppy

Thanksgiving was over a week ago. It was a wonderful time with family, and particularly nice this year because Aileen could join us, we didn't have to fly (although we were stuck in traffic for six hours, so I haven't figured out if that's better or not), and there was an adorable King Charles Spaniel puppy in our midst. That said, it's been a somber week, and I feel weird about posting happy pictures right away. Still, if I don't leave a record of them, then they're just lost of my phone/computer never to be seen or categorized again. So here are just a couple of photos, and back with a real post next week!

Sam is really good about taking candid group photos. Or sometimes bad, I guess, if you're in them. 

I can now say I've been to a hockey game.


The cutest puppy. He lived to be chased.

There were more serious tamale making photos, but I think this best captures  the spirit of the event. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

I'm still here!

I'm the worst at updating lately, and not for any particular reason. I guess I just haven't been in a blog writing mood. And while I do like to have a record of things for my own sake and do want to share events with my loved ones and blog readers, I hate writing when I feel like I'm just updating for the sake of doing it. Then it feels less like something I'm doing for fun, and more like a work assignment. And worse, one I'm not even getting paid for. Anyway, I hope to be out of this blog funk soon, but in the meantime, I can at least post some photos from our Austin life in the last few weeks.

I've been taking yoga classes at this place called Sanctuary Yoga. It really is a lovely little respite, and they have the coolest oak trees.

Sam won tickets to Austin Opera, so we went and saw A Masked Ball a couple weeks back. They had this cool light up mask in front of the Long Center, but it was really cold, so we didn't walk out to photograph it from the front. 

We walked up to Mount Bonnell (the highest point in Austin, apparently) on a lovely fall day.

Another one from Mount Bonnell, looking down on all the mansions. 

The Pennybacker Bridge

This is from a while ago, but I thought it was a cool photo (Sam took it). It's from adult night at the children's museum, The Thinkery. 

And finally, Dinah! Who looks good in all cities and seasons. 

Sorry about the photo dump, but looking forward to seeing many of my readers in a couple of days for Thanksgiving eats!

Monday, November 10, 2014

A (poorly-document) wonderful weekend

This weekend I went up to Arlington to visit some of my favorite people and blog readers. My aunt was in a play (specifically Annie Warbucks--the previously unknown to me sequel to Annie.) That was the official reason for the trip, but we also enjoyed visiting with my grandparents while there.

Me with one of the stars of Annie Warbucks!
The play was a lot of fun. It was the first play put on by the Firehouse Theater in their actual theater (recently renovated from a decommissioned firehouse, naturally). While I wasn't aware that Annie had a sequel until my aunt was cast in it (or that it apparently was the second attempt at a sequel when Annie 2: Miss Hannigan's Revenge bombed), it's a very fun show. Some of the songs seem a bit like riffs from the original show and it maintains the same zany tone. The cast had some talented members, and the actress playing Commissioner Doyle was particularly wonderful. The production also featured what is possibly the most mellow dog I have ever seen.  Unfortunately, this will be a very short post because I know a good portion of my readership will be attending this show later in its run and I don't want to spoil any of the key plot points.

Play aside, I realized I didn't take any pictures this weekend. It's so easy to get caught up in visiting and forget. But as always, it was lovely to see everyone. And especially nice when saying goodbye to know we will see everyone again very soon. One of the definite perks of our Texas relocation is being easy driving distance to so many good folks.
To make up for the lack of photos, here's one of Dinah being her usual adorable self. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Finally Fall

Now that it's November, it's finally starting to feel like autumn just a smidge. This weekend we had a nice low key Halloween. Sam and I peaked a couple of years ago with our swapping places couples costume, and last year did comparatively little. This year our somewhat lame, last-minute costume was to be Woody Harrelson and Mathew McConaughey in True Detective (specifically the present day scenes). Those who haven't seen the show will perhaps not appreciate our homage, but I was validated that at least one person recognized us.

For reference, this is what we were going for. 
This costume was completed for only $.27 (for the felt to make the mustache) and the cost of a can of Lone Star. 
This was Sam making his Woody Harrelson face (not that I've ever seen Woody Harrelson make that face). In the end we never found a police badge, so the whole of his costume was just wearing a suit and being bald. Luckily, he looks good in a suit, so it works out. 
Once costumed, we met some friends on Rainey Street, a block on Austin that is pedestrian friendly and on which are a number of cute bars and restaurants adapted from old bungalows. It's a really cute area. There's even a bar that's owned by the same people who own one of my favorite cocktail places back in Queens. They have the exact same flooring and everything. Since it was still pretty warm, we set out on the front patio of a bar and enjoyed watching the costumes go by. Best one I saw was a girl who attached a bunch of streamer type things to a clear umbrella and went as a jellyfish.

Cool shot Sam got at one of the restaurants on Rainey Street. 
On Saturday, we continued the fall fun and went out to a fall festival in Bastrop. We were meeting some friends with kids, but I didn't realize just how kid-required going to this was until we got there and they arrived a bit late. There were tons of activities from pony rides to deconstructed bouncy castles, but very little to do without young folk in tow. Still it was a lovely day, so we got some kettle corn and hung out on a swing until they arrived.

Sam driving the old jalopy. This would probably be a better shot if I hadn't left my water bottle right next to him. 
Naturally, there was a corn maze. 
 On Saturday night a friend had gotten tickets to see Beautiful Girls at the Alamo Drafthouse with a Q&A afterward with Timothy Hutton. She'd gotten the tickets for her and her boyfriend, but I was a last minute stand in when he couldn't make it. I'd never seen the movie before, but enjoyed it. It was a little odd to go to the Q&A though because everyone else there asking questions was clearly part of this movie's apparent cult following. Nevertheless, Timothy Hutton seemed very nice. There's a scene in the movie where he leads everyone in a bar in singing "Sweet Caroline." The moderator of the Q&A suggested we all go next door to the karaoke/cocktail bar affiliated with the Alamo Drafthouse so that Timothy Hutton could lead the crowd in song. It was clearly a spur of the moment decision, as evident by the people in the bar scrambling to accommodate it, but it was a really cute little addition to the night. I do feel bad for the people sitting in the bar who hadn't just been to the screening and were just trying to enjoy their cocktails on a Saturday night and not have to watch a crowd of 50 people belting out Neil Diamond.

I did not go on stage, but I did get a few pictures of a blurry Timothy Hutton. 
Even though we had an extra hour this weekend, it seems like it was over all too quickly. Already looking forward to the next one! Until then I have an exciting week ahead of me, including voting for the first time in the state of Texas. Sure the people I'm voting for don't have a chance of getting elected, but it's always fun to be a part of the democratic process.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Art and literature

I've finally gotten around to tinkering with my blog a bit. The color changes are not final and neither is the title. The URL will definitely be staying the same though. Even though it no longer reflects the content of the blog (that is to say, if it ever did), I like having all my posts in one place, so I just can't see changing it any time soon.

Faraway from Astoria, it was a really lovely weekend here in Austin. On Friday, Sam and I went to the Blanton Museum of Art. Once a month, they have an after hours party in the museum called B Scene. It reminded me of an event they have at the Brooklyn Museum, that was always fun, so it seemed worth checking out. As hundreds of gallery openings the world over have proven, there's something about drinking and art that just go well together. Better still, this month's theme for the party was somewhat Halloween related: Exquisite Corpse. The name comes from a French parlor game where different people complete a sentence or picture through connected lines on a folded piece of paper. I remember doing something similar as a child, creating new chimeras through random animal heads, bodies, and legs on a trifold.

In addition to the drawing activity, there were also some great bands, theme cocktails, and free lavender macarons and the galleries were all open to walk around (although naturally you had to put your drink down first). I had never been to the Blanton before, but it had some great exhibits and the permanent collection seemed to have some nice stuff too. I'm also quite a fan of the building itself, which goes a long way in my book. The only reason I ever kept going back to P.S. 1 (other than because it was free and in my neighborhood) was because of the building, as the art itself was never my cup of tea.

One of the bands playing at the museum. You can't really tell, but they were all dressed like zombies. They were called the Dead Capital Band...and I'm not sure if they dressed up to fit the theme or if they were chosen because they just always look like that. 
Another one of the bands. I don't remember their name, but they had a cool sound. 

I forgot what this art piece was supposed to represent, but it was 600 cattle bones hanging over 60,000 pennies. 
Sam attempting an Exquisite Corpse drawing and having trouble with the ink pot. If you were the last person to finish one, you were allowed to keep it.

They had a free photo booth, so we were finally able to get a non-selfie together!
We had a really good time at the museum, so we decided to become members. This means we can get into these monthly parties for free (and really if we just go to two more, it will pay for itself). As part of the membership, they also gave us a very bland mug, so there's that.

Another excitement of the weekend was that the Texas Book Festival was in town. It's a free event that brings together a bunch of authors and publishers and shuts down a number of streets around the Capitol. We didn't go to the festival itself on Saturday, but we did go to the "Lit Crawl" that evening--a literary themed bar crawl on East 6th St organized for the festival. There were a number of really cool events happening at different bars in the area, but in the end we could only go to three. For Phase 1, we chose to go to a cocktail lounge for Sexist Bingo. Authors would read sexist quotes from famous writers throughout history from Plato to Jonathan Franzen and people would shout out the answers for prizes, while also recording them on their bingo cards. I was only Laura Ingalls Wilder away from bingo-ing and getting a free tote bag, but I like her, so I'm also glad to not hear what sexist things she had to say.

For Phase 2, we went to a reading series hosted by Austin Bat Cave, the nonprofit that organizes writing workshops for kids that I've been volunteering at since we moved here. There were some great stories, my favorite was from Bret Johnson, the writer of Corpus Christie Stories, describing trying to convince Joyce Carol Oates that he'd actually written his most well-known book while she was staunchly convinced it was written by someone else.

For Phase 3, we went to another bar for a Literary Death Match--a sort of read-off from new authors that culminated in a round of bar-wide literary charades. It was also a lot of fun, and I found a few new authors whose books I'd like to look up. Leaving that bar, we ran into someone I went to high school with, which when deciding to move to Austin was one of my fears. Luckily, it was one of the people I was happy to see again, so a happy and relatively not-awkward end to a lovely evening.

On Sunday, we went to the festival itself. We only stayed for one reading (by the author of this book), but we walked around for a while checking out all the exhibitors. Sam even ended up wining opera tickets to the Austin Opera. (Not sure how good they are since until Sunday I didn't know Austin has an opera...but hey, it's free!).
Sam at the festival. You can't really tell, but he's wearing the shirt he won at Sexist Bingo. It has Walt Whitman lounging in a bath on it. 
A group called the Typewriter Rodeo was there. They improv type up poems on vintage typewriters based on whatever word or phrase you want. We now have a lovely little poem called "Austin Re-Transplants"
That about wraps up this weekend. Will keep working on the blog to tone down the garish pink in the sidebar. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Zen and the art of the tailgate

Things are pretty busy at work this week, so this will have to be a short post. This weekend Sam and I joined in on a little Austin culture: the tailgate. A friend in town from New York invited us to one organized by her friend's family (one of whom I think works for the city which accounted for us having a good spot) While not a fan of football especially, I have always been a fan of eating and drinking outside, so it seemed like something I would enjoy. On Saturday it was also a perfectly lovely day, if a little on the warm side. There were beers, chips, and dips aplenty (we arrived sadly too late for the bulk of the BBQ). All in all, lovely way to spend a Saturday.

I don't have too much else to say about it. We only stayed for half the game, and honestly I didn't care enough to even look it up to see if UT won or lost, but I did take a few pictures:

Our assigned tailgate area was actually behind a church. Less traditional perhaps than in a parking lot, but still a nice shady place to have some beers. 
A view of the festivities from the parking garage where they must make a killing on game days. 
Clark. Our faithful tailgate mascot. 
I think Sam took this on our drive home. 
Will hopefully have more time for a proper update next week!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Shakespeare on the farm

On Saturday, Sam and I went to check out Shakespeare on the Farm's production of The Tempest. Shakespeare on the Farm is the work of a nonprofit theater company (The Present Company) that puts on donation-based shows on a small farm in Austin. Since it combines three of my favorite things: outdoor theater, Shakespeare, and free (well okay, I donated, but it was potentially free)...I couldn't resist checking it out.

We took a few pictures of the farm ambience. This looks like something out of the new season of American Horror Story.
 As expected, it was a lovely setting. The set designs were particularly fun, although I think this play lends itself to that. We got there an hour or so early to picnic and enjoy some of the theme cocktails (I think I had Prospero's punch?). They had cranked up some opera tunes out of an air stream trailer and you could watch the chickens run around. You know, you're basic Saturday night farm/theater experience. We were also really lucky weather wise, as it's finally getting some fall crispness in the air.

The sets were quite possibly the coolest part. They built castles out of wood pallets!
The play itself made good use of children running around as fairies (another reason this play lends itself well to community theater); however, overall I think my expectations were a little too high for the acting. I may have gotten a bit spoiled by the million dollar productions over in Central Park and come to expect that all free outdoor theater should have huge Shakespearean talents in it. It also doesn't help that the last time I saw The Tempest performed was one of the single coolest productions I've ever seen. Now that was a phenomenal use of community talent.  This is not to say that the Shakespeare on the Farm production was bad, just that there were neither professional actors in it nor a troop of hip hop artists and taiko drummers, which again, is probably asking too much.

This was part of a huge display maybe out of 20-30 bicycle wheels. 
 Still, it's always fun to spend a night under the stars (and that's one way that outdoor theater on an Austin farm has Central Park really beat) and see a little Shakespeare. I'm actually taking a Shakespeare class (for free as part of FutureLearn) right now to brush up a bit and feel like less of an impostor when interacting with Shakespeare bloggers. Seeing a production after spending the morning reading a different play really reminded me of how preferable the former is. The language is just so much easier to follow when read allowed and with its proper scansion and intonation.

The cast and crew.
Anyway, thanks to the lurkers for your comments and emails last week :). I do appreciate knowing you're out there. Gives me more of a reason to remember to take photos of things and (crucially) to actually download them from my phone.