Gifts I Received In Austin, An Incomplete List

These are the things my Austin friends gave me when I went back this week:

Never boring.

— Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller-branded bandanas (red and pink)
— 12 oz of green chile queso, HOT
— Two Longhorn candies
— Campaign button: “Consent to sex is not consent to pregnancy”

“I thought this was perfect for you,” said Friend Blake.

— One Topo Chico
— One P. Terry’s Veggie Burger and fries
— Two zines: “The Teeth of The Great British Bake-off,” featuring illustrations of every participant’s teeth, and “Sexy Patents,” a compilation of actual patents for crotchless underwear and such

Part of a zine by Chris Chang

Went back to ATX at the invitation of UT’s Moody School of Communications and the Annette Strauss Institute, which hosted press critic Jay Rosen and me for its annual Denius Symposium on News Integrity. Jay’s really good on the historical context of the industry and talking things out helped me sort through some of the thornier questions about the role of the press in these challenging times.

Austin. You were so gridlocked but still so … Austin. Toddy got a cocktail at an old firehouse-turned-bar-and-hostel, which releases 12 bees for every drink you order. I think that’s what the deal was?

Jimmy made us all eat endlessly at a new upscale Shanghai-style Chinese place on West Sixth. Melissa and I perused a badass new consignment boutique on South Lamar called Rags. I put down nearly a pound of brisket, the moist kind, and sausage, plus a bunch of Friend AmZam’s hearty sides when she showed up to dress a baked potato with … more brisket. The thought of running Town Lake’s hike and bike trail, like the good ol’ days, crossed my mind but I did not.

As usual, the first stop after leaving the airport

I ate P. Terry’s two days in a row. The second time it was on the house, thanks to Friend Todd (different from the aforementioned Todd) who has somehow gotten to lead the trifecta of iconic Texas fast food brands — Whataburger, Taco Cabana and now is CEO of P Terry’s. (What!? Crazy, right?!) I introduced him to my goddaughter Marion Cass, who picked up from school as a surprise, and Todd  introduced me to the actual Patrick Terry, who started my fave Austin burger chain in 2005.

Stopped by my NPR member station, KUT-Austin.

A great trip. I’m so grateful.

 

All My Favorite Foods Live In Texas

We spent the last day of 2018 on the lake. There’s my eldest, Eva, and the three Strama girls.

Oh man, I got so stir crazy after vowing not to go anywhere in December that I made an impromptu trip to Austin mainly so I could separate my family. No school meant we were nearly murdering one another.* Eva came with me, Isa and Luna stayed in Cali.

Things that brought me joy during this trip:

— Breakfast tacos
— Lunch tacos
— Dinner tacos
— Central Market flour tortillas
— Torchy’s green chile queso with the magic avocado middle
— Friend Virginia’s gumbo (she’s a Louisianan) and fried chicken at the welcome home party she hosted at her house, featuring old pals sitting around, snarking.

— Lawrence left NPR playing on his sound system when I walked in to stay at his empty house. <grin>

— Morning coffee run by boat, on Lake Austin. (My good pals the Stramas live on the lake.) This way my eight-year-old goddaughter, Marion Cass, could show me her deft wakeboarding skills. She is the coolest. She’s now replying to things by saying, “Yeah, girl” in a “yeah girl get it” type of encouraging way and I love it so hard.

— My eldest daughter immediately becoming tight with the Strama’s second-born, Kate. They got so close, so fast that they both had their first ever sleepover on New Year’s Eve, which meant I had free babysitting!

— Friend Jimmy’s tapas and killer paella. Jimmy and Skyler hosted New Year’s Eve at their new compound in Westlake and he did the cooking, which meant a Spanish feast. Jimmy trained in the kitchens of somewhere-in-Spain and in Charleston, SC and he loves cooking for me because I love to eat so much. There’s plenty of evidence of our shared gluttony from over the years.

No animals were harmed in the making of this post, but I did get smacked in the wrist by one of those horns and it left a mark.

— Going “full country” in rural Texas. BFF Justin‘s Aunt and Uncle bought much of the town of Fayetteville, including a big farm, where they raise cattle (and so many cute new calves), a pair of donkeys named Ben and Jerry and rent out adorable cabins. We rode around in John Deere’s like we knew what we were doing.

— A late night P Terry’s run because P Terry’s has the best veggie burger, hands-down, and I’d spent the earlier part of the day hanging out with majestic longhorns, so I wasn’t about to eat a Whataburger.

— Sausage, jalapeno and cheese kolaches! Aforementioned farm is conveniently located behind Hruska’s, which anyone who’s spent any time driving between Houston and Austin knows well because its kolaches are on the level of Little Czech Stop’s in West, Texas, which anyone who drives between Waco and Dallas knows well.

Yeah…. so, I’ve spent most of this post rambling about food. #sorrynotsorry

“You come to Austin and people give you their houses and electric cars, cook delicious food for you and deliver beer on demand — it’s not a bad racket,” Justin said, after showing up with said beer.

*Speaking of near murder, I got back to Austin after living abroad for a few years, and half the couples we used to go on holidays with had split up, which was news to me. “This is a clear sign we’re in middle age,” Friend Mark said. “Also, I don’t go to second weddings.”

First Time To Trump’s America

Friend Reeve meets baby Thomas, one of many babies born since I’ve been gone.

My experiences during short bursts of time in the states are reliably memorable because they are so abbreviated, and therefore I have to really make the most of every moment. In my downtime I a.) kept going to the Au Bon Pain next to my DC hotel to get giant iced teas and breakfast sandwiches and b.) watched some domestic cable news, which let’s face it, is pretty terrifying these days. The programming is interrupted by catheter and other medical device commercials, which are clues I should not be watching.

Highlights that I can piece together through the jet lag:

The Washington Half

Finally visited the Blacksonian — the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture — on the day I landed in DC. Eyes still bloodshot from the flight and jet lag setting in, Matt Thompson, his partner Bryan and I powered through and saw crazy amazing stuff like the Parliament Funkadelic MOTHERSHIP. Yes, yes we did.

Friend Claire came down from New York for a hang. We lingered over a three and a half hour dinner at a mezcal place, not because of the meal but because we had some epic catching up to do.

With one of the greats, Don Gonyea, at NPR HQ.

Don Gonyea gave me advice about work and life, which is always much appreciated.

Hanson, you know, of mmmmbop fame from 20 years ago, played a Tiny Desk Concert on the first day I went back to work in DC. They actually played two, because they recorded their very special Christmas Tiny Desk, too. Taylor (the middle one) and I joked around a bit about how the dinosaur on his Christmas sweater was wearing the same sweater, creating some sort of ugly Christmas sweater matrix.

One of my ex-work spouses, Javaun, took a train up from Lynchburg (where he now lives) to spend Tuesday evening hanging out and eating barbecue and drinking beers together. I can’t even remember all the ground we covered because, beer.

Finally ate at the State Department cafeteria in Foggy Bottom — a bucket list item.

Because I am support the notion of spending money to save time, I hired April Yvonne, friend of my always glam friend Angie Goff, to shop for me. She picked out racks of clothes in a few Georgetown shops in advance, so all I had to do was try things on and make decisions. The whole excursion only took two hours in total and I was hella wardrobed for the weekend and work by the end. Endorse.

The Austin Half

Met the following babies who have joined us since I’d last been in Austin: Baby Adaline. Baby Thomas. Baby Marcella. Baby EJ. Baby Franklin. Toddler Hattie. Toddler Emma. Missed Baby Sam, who is fattening up in a NICU right now, but boy was I overjoyed to see his parents.

Sam’s dad Jimmy is my ultimate favorite eating partner. He also cooks delicious food and personally catered my engagement party with Spanish tapas since he trained to be a chef in the kitchens of Spain and Charleston, SC. Because of serendipity, the weekend I was in Austin was also the Far East Food Festival, in which some sixty Austin restaurants served up healthy portions of various Asian creations and Jimmy was judging the food. He added me as a judge so we CHOWED DOWN until the heat and the food consumption did us in. I had to quit early because I just couldn’t eat anymore. Embarrassing, but true.

Fried kimchi rice balls at Far East Food Fest

Due to the abbreviated time, there were extra meals sandwiched in. On Friday I had a cheeseburger appetizer at P Terry’s while en route to Cooper’s barbecue where we disappeared pounds of brisket, sausage and ribs plus jalapeno mac-and-cheese, potato salad and the standard vat of pickles plus white bread. (Also Cooper’s offers free beans!) This was my favorite meal because of the strong appetizer IN THE CAR ON THE WAY to BBQ and my reliable eating buddies, Blake and Justin, joined to work up some serious meat sweats. I probably could have recovered for third lunch after this but we had do disperse.

Reunited with the dim sum club on Saturday morning to eat our faces off.

Did not see my oracle, Harry Whittington (the guy Dick Cheney accidentally shot in the face) but did see Bachelor Brad, who we seem to run into in Austin pretty much all the time. Is he everywhere? Is it because he’s a twin?

Surprised my goddaughter Marion Cass at her school, which led to second graders drawing me a bunch of butterflies and teaching me how to play a game called Sleeping Queen (need to get this for my daughters). Marion Cass also had me over to her house Sunday afternoon where she showed me how she can do things like SPLITS IN THE AIR because, gymnastics and being seven.

The purpose of this Austin return was to attend Friend Todd’s wedding. Did it, and so glad, because I love weddings! I also get to take partial credit for this union in the butterfly-flaps-its-wings kind of way, because I brought Todd to the Texas Tribune in 2009 as we were starting it. Here’s what happened: He was a weirdo who was teaching me Final Cut Pro as a part of a class I took at Austin Film School. I decided he was adorable even though I’m pretty sure he didn’t wash his hair at the time and was always railing about the dangers of aspartame and fluoride. Started calling him Hot Toddy behind his back (he later confronted me about this and yep, guilty) and convinced our boss Evan to give him a job at the Tribune because we were in wild wild west days of throwing jobs around. It was through this job that he met Carsi, his bride.

Reeve and I ran the hike and bike trail and joked around the whole time, just like the good ol’ days.

Sent up a flare in DC, and again in Austin, for big group happy hours. Both led to the happiest reunions, predictably. In Austin, April, my BFF from those halcyon days of my partying/Texas lege-covering twenties in Austin, HAPPENED to also be back after moving away to Toronto a few years ago. We got to see each other for about twenty minutes. I’ll take it.

The last time I was in America, I was two people. This time it was just me and my pump, which had to be used every few hours for the duration of the nine-day trip, the bottles and bags of expressed milk piling up in my respective hotel freezers until I had so much that I paid $400 in heavy baggage fees to bring all that liquid gold home. In order to keep it frozen while flying, I snuck in a trip to Ace Hardware in DC and got a giant padded cooler bag, which ended up being perfect. Thanks, Ace Hardware.

 

That Time We Consumed 4,000 Calories In Under 30 Minutes

Empanadas to celebrate Baby Dillon, coming July 2014.
Empanadas to celebrate Baby Dillon, coming July 2014.

Pretty amazing. I made a game time decision to get to Austin last Saturday to attend the baby shower for Friend Hannah (of Hannah and Jed). It’s her first baby and I co-hosted along with the Austin gal pals, so I thought I should definitely be there. But after being in New York for the week, it was going to be a tough turnaround, and indeed it was. Now I have a cold.

But damn I love a deadline. Knowing I only had about five hours in town, total, I made sure Justin picked me up and we went straight to P Terry’s (best fast burger in Austin) and dashed through the drive-thru for cheeseburgers. Scarfed ’em down on the way to El Azteca ($6.95 enchilada plate with rice/beans plus tea and a sherbert) and killed that combo meal along with my beloved flour tortillas. Had a barbecue place been across the street, we would have made the trifecta of gluttony happen, but we overdid it on chips. Still pretty proud of ourselves nonetheless.

And this should probably go without saying but, the Hannah shower was lovely — Nurse Sara hosted it at she and Andy Brown’s home, in their backyard garden. The ladies put together an event worthy of a thousand Pinterest pins.