All Things to All (High Maintenance) Men

Or, hipster Austin summed up on a wrapper?

 

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Go on, study it. How many expectations can one snack bar possibly cater to?

To be fair, I DID try it. It tasted like dirt, without the interesting history. I wanted to punch this thing in the face. Instead, I mock it.

 

(Also, I do like Thunderbird otherwise, and Austin. Just sayin’)

Tacos and toilets and costumes… oh my…

First things first – this picture was going to be a “Things I See” post.  Or maybe Roscoe says.  But it demands its story be told. 

My property management company, after months of plumbing issues in my rental, decided some fixtures needed replacing.  I came home after their scheduled work day to find this at my front doormail (723)

CLASSY. 

Unfortunately they were removed before I could spray paint them and use them as lawn décor.  Maybe next time.

 

 

It took me a couple of weeks to find my rhythm at my new job.  Now tickets roll off in a sometimes stupefying manner (for a newbie like me) and I handle them one at a time.  I have not had the line awkwardly waiting for me as of yet.  Working garmache  is more challenging than anyone who hasn’t done it can imagine.  Plating salads, beds for proteins and desserts may not be glamorous, but my work often has to be done in order for everyone else’s to go out the door. And when things are busy, trying to prep, restock, work the station and rush literally around everyone crowding my space I find a sort of order in the madness.  A spark inside that drives me to meet and outrun the demands of any moment on the clock.  It isn’t always perfect.  There’s a lot I don’t yet know.  But it is exactly the kind of challenge I’ve always found rewarding and fun.

 

So naturally, yesterday I left plating lovely salads behind and proceeded to Maria’s Taco Express – which I’d never visited but have always driven by, finding both my curiosity and amusement stimulated. 

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It is a funny little cantina of a place with lots to offer.  Indoor and outdoor seating.  Local beer and live music nights.  Restaurant cats on the patio. (Yes, that’s right. Cats.  Real ones). A rusty antique truck open on the upper deck for your children’s playtime enjoyment. I love it, and highly recommend the barbacoa.mail (721)

 

 

 

(Sidenote:  Upon departure, I was treated to a local gym billboard with this inspirational message – “New Glutes!”   Hmm…  the ability to buy this year’s model certainly has some appeal.  Ass stores should totally be a thing).

 

Otherwise, I’ve been trying to decide how to occupy myself for Halloween.  I am hoping to find some Hitchcock showings, at the very least.  I already have an 80s-centric costume lined up.  I may or may not blog on it next week, so no spoilers.  

Whatever you’re doing, don’t just sit there!  Get off your couch, out of your comfort zone, and do something ridiculous.  Halloween is NOT all about the kids.  It’s the one day those who need an excuse to be silly have one.  Tell me, what are you, your kids, neighbors, bffs and pets going to do and be this year?  Seriously, people, tell me!  Better yet, post pictures! 

Take on the weekend.

 

 

Kitchens Are For the Mentally Imbalanced

I’ll save you 2 terribly tolerant readers some trouble by recounting some of the past 2 days – my FIRST 2 days ever in professional kitchens – in bullet points.

I spent yesterday in 8 hours of externship with a local pub/brewery. The staff was wonderful and, well, patient. They make damn good food and even better beer. My time there went something like:

*Prep veggie burgers
*Wash, cut and par-cook 4 cases of potatoes for chips/fries
*Make cornbread
*Do a shit ton of dishes
*Prep onions
*Slice tomatoes
*Sample roasted peppers
*Make crème anglaise
*Do more dishes
*Listen to a lot of shmack among the staff and metal/rap/punk
*Eat a slap-your-mama chicken sandwich and drink a house brew

What a night. I left wishing they were hiring.

Today, I staged at a bar/kitchen for prep and lunch shift. The staff was so helpful and educational, friendly and cool. The work was super busy and showed me where my skills are lacking. And that a nose to the grind work ethic pays. I helped in pantry with:

*Herb prep
*tomato dicing
*charcuterie storage
*greens prep
*making croutons
*sampling above mentioned charcuterie
*camembert slicing
*salad prep and plating
*more salad making
*listening to girls not born in the 80s sing 80s songs
*lots of vacuum sealing
*supreming grapefruits
*station cleaning and restocking
*Some other stuff I can’t remember right now because it was a busy damned day and I have to be on the shuttle to work ACL Fest at 6am

The kitchen is impressive. It is run by a premiere Texas chef. Everyone seems to enjoy their work. And at the end of the day, I was offered a job. Let’s hope I don’t screw it up too much or too often.

Only crazy people sign on for this. For anyone who thinks they may want to do this, my (very green) advice – be sure you have the stamina and move-your-assitude. Know how to get the hell outta the way. Ask questions but keep your attitude to yourself. And always do whatever needs doing. Also, crass language and thick skin are prerequisite. Luckily, I walked in with both.

So, woohoo! First kitchen job! I’ll drink to that. You can too! Let the next adventure begin.

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(Me, a stage survivor. Tired as hell and happy about it.)

The Best of Hells

Today concludes week 1 of my culinary externship.

Damn, what a week.

With class work completed, I must now log 300 hours – with a maximum of 30 per week credited-of externship in order to graduate.  That can occur via a number of scenarios.

My classmates have a marginally sane approach to this process.  Find a kitchen job, have a supervisor sign off for paid working hours.  No problem.

I, alternately, said “I WANNA GO TO THE FARMS, AND A RESTAURANT, AND HELP PREP FOR A SUICIDE MISSION OF AN EVENT! THIS WILL BE GREAT!!”   (Without the yelling, my little-kid-enthusiasm just won’t come through – )

To translate: I opted to be part of a group helping a premiere Texas chef prepare for and operate a food booth at Austin City Limits Music Festival, as well as work on a local farm and in their kitchen, and log hours in a restaurant. 

I am officially a crazy person.

Friday, Saturday and Sunday I logged a total of 27 hours helping unload, prep, cook, process, package and reload for storage nearly 2700 pounds of chicken and 3000 pounds of pork. 

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Other students also helped make sauces and dressings.  We seasoned, roasted, sliced, chopped, vacuum sealed, and cleaned in 8 to 12 hour shifts.  It was insanity personified.  But we were so badass further prep was unnecessary and so cancelled.  The next 2 weekends I will work the festival booth in 8 hour shifts. 

 

Monday and Tuesday I returned to Bernhardt’s Fruit and Veggie farm. There, I helped make kim chi, sauerkraut and kale chips,mail (689) then picked, sorted, washed and packaged produce of all kinds to ready them for today’s farmer’s markets.  Next week, we make jellies.   Again I say, consider the long hours of hard physical labor that go into every piece of produce you buy at a local market, into every dish on every quality menu you see.  I assure you, your dollars are well spent.

 

Though not yet assless, I have worked enough to be well on my way.   I am bruised, cut, blistered, and moving like an octogenarian in the mornings.  Week 1 is behind me.  And you know what?  THIS IS GREAT!

Argus Cidery

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Over the past 3 months or so, I have been fortunate enough to peer into the evolving world of apple cider.

A chef instructor of mine, upon learning my love of and knowledge-fed desire for all things beer and spirits related, clued me in to the fascinating endeavors of Argus Cidery.    As does any consumer of merit, I poured over the web site, I researched product reviews and company history, sought out distributors, and scheduled a visit.

mail (503)The cidery owners/operators, Wes Mickel and Jules Peterson, have food industry backgrounds, lots of curiosity and drive, and the coolest of attitudes.  Their story, to sum up, stems  from the thought, “Hey, wouldn’t it be fun to figure out how to make apple cider?” And they did.  But don’t let that fool you.  They are smart, hard working, dedicated, do more than their share of homework, and are some of the nicest guys I’ve ever met.  Their diligence birthed the first hard cidery in Texas.  From there, they have blossomed.

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My first exposure was as a visitor for one of the weekend tastings and picnics hosted on the cidery grounds.  I introduced myself,  got a tour of the tiny single press operation, asked a bajillion questions and commenced tasting.  I have never been the biggest of cider fans, but this is no sugary college 6 pack product.  It is more than worthy of its simple, elegant bottles. mail (670) The experience is akin to biting into a fresh apple – minus the physicality, plus the alcohol content.  But it is not for everyone.  We Americans have markedly sweet palettes, and some will find the tartness off putting at first taste.  Come back, I say – let it lure you for a second, a third.  You won’t be sorry.

I have since made subsequent visits, lending a hand with kitchen preparations and such, picking their constantly turning brains.  Basking in the coolness of it all.  mail (501)I excitedly anticipate their upcoming (MAJOR) expansions, new product lines and continued success. 

They currently distribute to Texas, Arkansas, South Carolina and through specsonline.com.  If you’re interested, be sure to visit arguscidery.com to learn more about them.

 

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My Farm to Table Education – Part 2

Dear 2 readers,

Well, BALLS.

I am officially a horrible, neglectful blogger.

This was supposed to be done 4 days after my last post.  Sigh…

I make no excuses. It is what it is.

 

Week 2 of off-campus Farm to Table took me back to Elgin, first stop – RRR Farm.

RRR is adjacent to the expanded Green Gate Farm land, but brought a very different experience.

Not only do they grow and sell seasonal produce and have pigs and goats, but also cows, more farm dogs, and kittens. (Oh my goodness, the kittens… be impressed, friends.  Though tempted, I did not bring a single furry friend home. A classmate, however, did). While there, we spent plenty of play time with the domesticated lot, helped load a stubborn pig for processing, dug holes, erected fence posts, and planted fruit trees.  In 5 years, we’ll be able to return to see them bearing as a result of our labor.

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Bernhardt’s Fruit and Veggie Farm was our 3rd/5th day of the week exposure.  It is a well oiled machine, having been established over 30 years ago and kept in the family.  Their organization is impressive, as is their on site commercial kitchen, in which they concoct a myriad of wonders to sell at farmer’s markets, including sauerkraut, kim chi and melon sorbets.  Those of us who spent time with the Bernhardts were lucky enough to get the best of both worlds.  We harvested, weeded and planted on the farm, and then helped prepare for market in the kitchen.  It was a joy both days. 

Worth mentioning – it was here I saw my first live scorpion, clear and tiny, lurking in holes I’d already dug and seeded bare-handed.  I am not generally squeamish about much, but can I just say EEK!

I have since arranged to spend some of my externship on this farm as well.

  

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I rounded out the week at Yegua Creek Pecan Orchard.  The scenery was breath taking and heart breaking in turns, as they recently lost 1500 trees and have planted 200 new ones.   This was the most diversified business of the bunch.  They not only harvest and sell pecans, but also market pecan oil, pecan coffee, wood and wood work items (cutting boards, wall hangings, etc), and a host of pecan food stuffs.  A minimal amount of limb clearing occurred, but most of my time there was concentrated in their kitchen, making champagne pecans, pecan cookies and experimental recipes.  I learned to sort pecan halves, which is easier than it sounds, but done by hand for quality control.  Think about that next time you price local pecans…

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After we returned to campus, we hosted a Round Table luncheon, the menu for which we composed and prepared from an assortment of food generously supplied by the farmers.  Over lunch, we talked about our experiences, the pros, the cons.  We got feedback from those farmers who were able to attend, and gave it to the people at school who coordinate the block.

For me, it was an overwhelmingly positive experience, on which I plan to build over the years.   The relationships between farmers and cooks directly impacts the quality of the food at some of your local restaurants.  I encourage all of you to contribute a little forethought and research to your next food outing.  Consider trying somewhere that uses locally grown ingredients.  Compare their wares to the usual, convenient chains.  Maybe you’ll be able to tell the difference – especially at peak season, in which we are sadly NOT currently.  Maybe you won’t.   Either way,  the purposefulness matters, if only to know you tried.  And report back!  Comment!  Let me know!

 

For now, tell me, where and what are you eating lately?