Wednesday, April 16th

The Spa Buzz

The Spa Buzz is a company focused on the professional growth and networking of spa professionals and they throw events all around the country. While I’m not a spa professional, I was thrilled to be invited to their recent Austin event, where I’d learn about the newest, cutting edge products and maybe even get to sample a few myself.

The day started with mingling over breakfast while we each built a personal schedule of mini appointments with the vendors. Now, I’ve had my share of massages and facials, but I’m no expert. So I scanned the list and picked a few things that were completely foreign to me.

NuFace

The most foreign was NuFace, who makes a handheld device that delivers a microcurrent to lift and tighten the face. They slathered my face with gel and spent about five minutes working on the half of my face. It didn’t hurt at all, but I was aware of an electrical sensation and my face reddened and felt warm. When I compared the two sides of my face, indeed, the treated side looked revitalized and lifted. They went ahead and did the other side of my face so I wasn’t uneven, and I learned that they suggest you do five times a week for 90 days, and then occasionally as needed. At $350, it’ll be a little while before I pick one up, but…yes. I want this.

Spa Ritual

I was also really impressed with Spa Ritual, whose philosophy of “slow beauty” is about feeling good in your skin at any age. The vegan line has some of the most fun nail polish colors I’ve ever seen and I was lucky enough to get to take a few home. The coolest one is Lighthouse Top Effect, which turns any manicure glow in the dark. It charges all day and glows all night. It is incredibly bright! I also took home some Chinese Jasmine lotion and bath salts.

Lira Clinical

I got a full facial and light peel with Lira Clinical products. Ah, it was so relaxing and I walked away glowing. The extensive brand has lines for all global skin types and complete customization. Whatever the problem is, they have a fix. I love retinols, vitamin C, and good protection. I took home a plant stem cell physical sunscreen that I’m pretty psyched to try, as well as a body scrub and silk soufflé.

I picked up a trend forecast from Spafinder and was excited to see natural brands taking advantage of apps/social media and hot springs making a comeback. Spas are looking to branch out into the transition markets to help people going through divorce, job loss, even death. I’m on board with the idea of some pampering to get through life’s rough times.

Some other brands I learned about:

MedSkin Solutions. The scientific brand makes high quality eye masks that provide immediate, visible results. I wore one for about 20 minutes and I looked refreshed and brighter. I’d love a stash of these for when I’m tired.

Cosmedix. Another science-backed line, I tried some serums and reparative eye creams. They have a deep background in corrective products and sell convenient kits indicated for a variety of concerns.

B. Kamins. The Canadian brand uses a Bio-Maple compound derived, in part, from actual maple trees. The high quality products are gentle and packaged more for the consumer eye, ie, less clinical than other lines.

PINO. I took home an Orange Lemongrass massage candle and the smell is bold and invigorating. The full line of spa products have the best scents and are natural and luxurious.

I’ll be counting down the days till my next spa encounter. And now that I’m better informed, I can try new things and stay on trend with the latest and best services.

Monday, April 14th

Mad Men: Time Zones

Peggy Olson Mad Men

The seventh season of Mad Men premiered last night. What did you guys think? I thought it was excellent. Let’s talk about it.

Only two months have passed since last season. This episode belonged to Peggy, Don, and Joan, with most of the other characters appearing in their orbits. Peggy’s wearing a kicky beanie, and that’s the most lighthearted thing happening in her life. Her new boss, Lou Avery, is a creative director of a different mindset than Don was. When Peggy presents a brilliant concept for Accutron watches that (now freelancer) Freddy Rumsen feeds her in a dramatic, camera-facing monologue, she is thrilled by the idea. Lou doesn’t give a shit and shuts her down when she fights for the idea. She doesn’t give up and tries again the next week, but ole’ Lou is immune to her charms and tells her as much.

Peggy Olsen Mad Men

Peggy realizes that she’s working with a bunch of hacks and no one cares about doing the best work. She’s the only one willing to maintain the level of creativity that Don established and she takes it very personally. I feel you, Peggy. When Ted drops by for a visit from California, she can barely stand the site of him. It is NOT civil. To add insult to injury, she still owns that horrible building and is constantly being bothered by her tenants to fix a toilet. At least her new secretary seems great. I hope we get to know you better, Shirley.

Shirley and Peggy, Mad Men

In the most beautiful scene of the episode, Megan picks up Don from the airport and everything is all sunny California glam. I want to move into this world. And apparently, Megan is already living in this world. Don is just visiting and taking time to “work” in the west coast office. Oh, so Megan doesn’t know that Don hasn’t been working for the last two months. Their marriage seems strained at best. Megan is thriving in LA with a promising career while Don is floundering. Their power structure is off.

Don Draper Mad Men

In his most raw moment, Don bonds with a beautiful stranger (Nev Campbell!) on the flight back to NYC. They each bare some painful thoughts and she falls asleep on his shoulder. Later we see Don and Freddy having lunch and realize Don is the one coming up with the creative concepts for Freddy. Ahhh, now it all makes sense. Mr. Pee Pants never struck me as that brilliant a copywriter. 

Ken has never been more stressed and desperately needs help. (He’s still wearing the eyepatch and Mr. Betty suspects it’s permanent.) When he sends Joan to a meeting in his place with the Butler Footwear head of marketing, she rises to the challenge. The meeting does not go well and Butler wants to start managing their advertising on their own, effectively firing the agency. But Joan saves the day and convinces them to stay, using some research from a professor she visits on the sly. She’s a smart cookie, that Joan. I believe she’d make the perfect account executive if they’d give her the chance.

Roger seems to have fallen off the deep end. I die when he wakes up in a trashed room with a dozen naked people all around him. What the hell? He meets his daughter for brunch and she tells him she forgives him for well, for being him. And for smelling like incense. He’s unphased by her kindness but he seems miserable and lonely, like both Peggy and Don. I’d say loneliness was the theme of the episode.

Roger Sterling Mad Men

A real moment of levity was seeing Pete Campbell, who’s taken to California like a fish to water. I gasped at the first site of his tan and pastel clothing. He had such a sad, dark season last year, so it’s good to see him looking so happy. “The city is flat and ugly. And the air is brown. But I love the vibrations!”

And that’s about it. I’m hoping we get some time with Betty next week.

Did you watch? What did you think?

Friday, April 11th

Catch up on Mad Men Season Six

I realize my life is flashing before my eyes when I see how quickly time goes by between seasons of Mad Men. It’s with a heavy heart that I anticipate this final season. I don’t want it to end! Clearly AMC doesn’t want the ad revenue and award nominations to end either, since they are splitting the final fourteen episodes over two years. That’s right. We’re only getting a trifling seven episodes in 2014. We’d better savor every moment.

Mad Men Megan and Don

Last season we saw that Don and Megan’s honeymoon phase was officially over. Her acting career took off and Don was all kinds of cranky about it. Personally, I was cranky over Don’s season-long affair with his neighbor Sylvia. Also, Megan had a miscarriage.

Linda Cardellini as Sylvia in Mad Men

Peggy had an affair of her own with Ted, her married boss. She thrived at work, showing her true talents as a copy chief, although as a boss she was cutting and cruel. I guess she learned from the best. (I learned it from watching you! Sob.) We saw the two agencies go head to head over a Heinz Sauces and Beans. There was a lot of talk about beans and ketchup last season, actually. Secret meetings, under-the-radar creative, and ZERO hotdogs eaten. Seems like a missed opportunity.

Peggy and Ted on Mad Men

Don and Peggy were reunited when the two agencies merged. Don and Ted were constantly at odds and it causes lots of office rage. The creative personalities clashed and everyone was in a bad mood. Roger longed for Joan, but she was happily dating Bob Benson. And Bob Benson was very much in love with a Greek coffee cup, as there was one in his hand for almost the entire season. Oh, and Bob Benson is gay. Oh, and Bob Benson is not who he says he is. Kind of another Dick Whitman/Don Draper dealio, with a secret identity that only Pete Campbell figured out. So we’ll probably learn more about Bob in the new season.

Joan, Roger, and Bob Benson on Mad Men

In the theme of bad moods, Betty occupied in that bitchy state of mind she loves so much, while her hair color and weight fluctuated. But like Jessica Simpson, she stuck to her Weight Watchers until she returned to her former skinny blonde glory. All the sparkle and shine from her new relationship with was Henry is gone and they settled into the same old drudgery of everyday life, just like her first marriage. She allowed herself a one night stand with Don while visiting Bobby at camp.

Anyway, Peggy’s gross boyfriend (Abe) convinced her to buy an apartment in a bad neighborhood instead of the Upper East Side and staunchly defended it against her complaints. He didn’t even take it to heart when he was stabbed by a stranger on the subway. But when he was stabbed a second time by Peggy, that was it for their relationship. (The same annoying person stabbed twice in one episode? I mean…I just love this show so much.)

Pete Campbell Mad Men

Pete Campbell carried on one affair too many and Trudy finally kicked him to the curb. His mama drama sunk his spirits even lower when his mother who had dementia wreaked chaos, starting a fire in his apartment, and marring a shady gold digger who later dumped her off the side of a cruise ship.

The Civil Rights movement of the 60s played an important role in season six. We experienced the tension, the push for change, and the devastation of losing Martin Luther King through not only the main characters, but also the black community. Don’s secretary Dawn was particularly relatable.

Dawn from Mad Men

The Draper children became more complex. Bobby showed himself to be a sad little boy, even when acting out. Sally’s relationship with Megan was fun to watch, as they are closer in age and Megan was much nicer to her than Betty ever was. But when poor Sally walked in on her father and Sylvia going at it, she shut down emotionally. Kids are resilient though, and Sally flourished at bad girl behavior during a trial night in boarding school. Later, she seemed to forgive Don when he started opening up about his sad childhood. Unfortunately, he opened up a bit too much during a client pitch and the other partners fired him.

Mad Men partners

I’m looking forward to finding out what happened to Don and Megan when she found out that he lost his job. She quit her soap opera job in anticipation of Don’s job relocating them to California. My guess is that she, if not both of them, moved anyway.

Need more dirty details from season six? Check out my recaps of each episode:

The Doorway and Collaborators

To Have and To Hold

The Flood

For Immediate Release

Man with a Plan

The Crash

The Better Half

A Tale of Two Cities

Favors

The Quality of Mercy

In Care Of

Tuesday, April 8th

Aberlour and Odd Duck

Aberlour Old Fashioned

Got scotch?

Recently I was invited to taste the line of decadent Aberlour single malts at an intimate dinner at Odd Duck. The menu has changed almost completely since I’ve last written about Odd Duck and I was just as pleased with the new dishes as I was with the opening menu. But first, the scotch.

Aberlour single malt scotch

Aberlour single malt scotch

We smelled, sipped, and discussed a range of scotches aged 12 to 18 years, finishing up with the powerful A’Bunadh. They were all smooth with characteristics of sherry and fruity notes, but were distinctly different and we all had our favorites. I found the 16 year old to be the most drinkable, while Mr. Betty preferred the intense punch of the cask strength A’Bunadh.

All that scotch helped us work up an appetite and we tucked in to Odd Duck’s bread program. The pig head stuffed Parker house rolls are as good as they say!

Spent Grain Bread at Odd Duck, Austin Texas

Parker House Rolls at Odd Duck, Austin Texas

As we worked our way through a significant portion of the menu, I particularly enjoyed the mustard theme, finding seeds in the aforementioned rolls, the tater tots with pimento cheese, and the pinto beans with lamb sausage.

Tater Tots at Odd Duck, Austin Texas

Pinto beans at Odd Duck, Austin Texas

Colorful salads with beets, greens, charred broccoli, and pea hummus had us tasting the rainbow.

Beets with Cultured Cream at Odd Duck, Austin Texas

Charred Broccoli at Odd Duck, Austin Texas

From the ocean, we enjoyed an exquisite crab French toast (!) and perfectly cooked redfish. My previous favorite, the pickled shrimp and grits with chicharones remains one of the very best executions of the dish that I’ve experienced.

Crab French Toast at Odd Duck, Austin Texas

Redfish at Odd Duck, Austin Texas

Shrimp and Grits at Odd Duck, Austin Texas

We were already nearing full when the most substantial dishes arrived. The black olive pasta with braised goat was pure pleasure and Mr. Betty raved about it for a couple days. The stuffed roasted chicken was beautifully presented and we dragged each bite through the savory gravy, picking up brussels sprouts along the way.

Goat Pasta at Odd Duck, Austin Texas

Roasted Chicken at Odd Duck, Austin Texas

To cap off a spectacular night, we tried two desserts. The bread pudding had toasted marshmallow, beer caramel and malted ice cream. The buttermilk pie was elevated by celery micro-greens and dollops of sweet tea gel. Both were sophisticated and interesting, just like the scotch.

Bread Pudding at Odd Duck, Austin Texas

Buttermilk Pie at Odd Duck, Austin Texas

It was a night to remember and the symphony of flavors had us warm and giddy. Or maybe it was the scotch…

Wednesday, April 2nd

Food, Apps, and My Journal

I’ve been really busy lately with work stuff, blog stuff, and social stuff. It seems like my schedule starts to get crazy around SX and doesn’t let up for a few months. Here’s an update on what I’ve been doing.

I went to a media event at the much-anticipated La V, and as promised, it was chic and delicious. The light fixtures alone are reason enough to visit. AFBA had their monthly happy hour at the new brick and mortar G’raj Mahal and the bloggers enjoyed bites and sips in the cute outdoor space out back.

I also went to the soft opening of new American Chinese restaurant in South Austin, A-OK Chinese. The staff was nice and I wish them the best of luck, but I’ll continue driving to North Austin for my Chinese needs. Just wasn’t for me.

A-OK Chinese Dumplings

 A-OK Chinese

Keeping with the American Chinese food theme, the people from P. F. Chang’s sent me a gift card to try out their new menu items. But when we ordered, only one item from that menu was available at the location we visited. It was the Shanghai Waldorf Salad and the dressing was incredibly spicy. It was a nice twist on Waldorf Salad, which is one of my favorites. We also had egg rolls, dumplings, Kung Pao Shrimp and Scallops, and Beef a la Sichuan.

P. F. Chang's Shangai Waldorf Salad and Egg Rolls

P. F. Chang's Dumplings

P. F. Chang's Kung Pao Shrimp and Scallops

P. F. Chang's Beef a la Sichuan

In an effort to organize how I…well, organize, I’m trying out the Bullet Journal method. I normally have three to five notebooks lying around with notes and lists pertaining to different projects. It’s been great for me to do something new and have a little guidance into capturing it all in the same spot. I like the idea of using this journaling technique to keep a record of what I’ve accomplished on certain dates and get an accurate picture of how much I can really accomplish on any given day.

Bullet Journal

I’ve also been using a couple great apps on my iPhone lately. Headspace is a guided meditation app that I just started. I’m also using Duolingo to learn French. Maybe I’ll be able to communicate better the next time I go to Paris. So far I’m finding the French easier than the meditation. I’m also digging the Animal Face app because tiger heads on human bodies are hilarious. I’m really breaking the rules by putting animal heads on other animal heads.

Animal Face

Another thing I’m trying to learn is accounting and it is way outside my comfort zone. I took an accounting class in college and hated it. Now that I’m trying to do it for real, with real money, MY money…I still hate it. Anyone have any accounting books to recommend?

My latest kitchen adventures are taking the form of veggie bowls. Quinoa topped with a number of good and healthy things like beans, cheese, pepitas and hemp seeds, raw and cooked veggies, sweet potatoes. Pretty much whatever I have on hand.

Veggie Bowl

Ulysses Press sent me a review copy of the 1990′s Coloring Book and I love it. It would make a great gift for those 25 to 35 year olds in your life. You can win one of your own by following Ulysses Press on Facebook or Twitter. Just leave me a comment to let me know you did it and then I’ll draw the winners name on April 15th.

1990s Coloring Book

What’s the cool stuff you’ve been into lately?

Monday, March 31st

Mineral Fusion: Product Review

Recently I was invited by Whole Foods to check out one of the lines in their Whole Body department. Fellow blogger and friend Melissa Lombard joined me and we made a day of it, enjoying a sushi lunch and chatting under a shaded picnic table outside. Then we walked around the store to see all the latest renovations to the Gateway store. Is it just me or do the Whole Foods stores in Austin keep getting better and better?

Next, we learned all about Mineral Fusion. I’m a product junkie and loooove trying new things. But I’m a little afraid of the hippy-dippy stuff. After all, I’m a modern girl and can’t walk around smelling like patchouli. Let me assure you that this line is modern, high quality, and smells good. It’s all vegetarian (most products are vegan, actually) cruelty-free, gluten-free, and contains no artificial colors or synthetic fragrances.

So after using the products for more than a week, here’s the takeaway.

Mineral Fusion Purifying Gel Facial Cleanser

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Purifying Gel Facial Cleanser

Kristin’s take: It leaves skin so squeaky clean that I think it might be a tad harsh for me to use everyday right now. Once the hottest months are upon us, this will be my first choice for removing sweat, dirt, and sunscreen. Bonus, it lathers up nicely and is ideal to use with my Clarisonic.

Melissa’s take: Two thumbs way up from me. Works great and smells fab!

Mineral Fusion Pressed Powder Foundation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pressed Powder Foundation

Kristin’s take: I gave up liquid foundation years ago and have been a loyal BareMinerals user ever since. I was skeptical of using a pressed rather than loose powder, but I couldn’t resist buying a compact to try out when I sampled a shade that was a perfect match. The triple-milled powder is so light and buildable and best of all, doesn’t seem to settle in to lines or pores. I am officially a convert. It’s priced better than BareMinerals, too. I am thrilled. I’ve found that the Hydration Mist sets it really well and helps it last all day.

Melissa’s take: Just brushed some on over the BB cream one day to make sure the color was good. I find powders to be drying, so it will be best in the humid summer.

Mineral Fusion Beauty Balm BB Cream

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BB Cream

Kristin’s take: I tried the Perfecting Beauty Balm which provides a sheer, satiny finish. I’ll use this all the time for quick looks when I don’t want to apply full makeup. I’m grateful for the SPF, although I wish it was higher than 9 since I burn easily. I love how moisturizing it is.

Melissa’s take: The Illuminating BB cream is pretty much awesome. Super moisturizing and just the right amount of coverage. Like a BB cream promises to be. Not sure about you, but I’ve been disappointed before. Mineral Fusion makes good on their promise.

Mineral Fusion Nail Polish

Mineral Fusion Nail Polish Remover

Nail Polish and Remover

Kristin’s take: I couldn’t find my colors on the website to show you, but I tried two shades, Slate (a sophisticated gray) and a Lagoon (a bright blue green) and liked them both. The polish is high quality and therefore a bit on the pricey side for smallish bottles. The formaldehyde-free formula is as long-lasting as good polishes normally are. (I’m kind of a fast manicure wrecker with all the typing, cooking, dishwashing, etc, in my life.) The remover is dynamite. Smells amazing and feels less destructive than regular remover.

Melissa’s take: I put the little pink polish on my toes and I really like it. But I did one nail of the Slate color, just to try it and feel like you’d need at least two coats. But it looked nice. I have never looked forward to removing my polish. I either bust out the “good stuff” and get ‘er done or I grab 27 cotton balls and the “gentle stuff” and spent the next 17 minutes working on that one coat of pale pink that just won’t go away. When I heard about Mineral Fusion’s remover, I was skeptical. It’s either great OR it smells like fruit. No way can it be both. Wrong! I was wrong! This stuff is ridiculously amazing. It smells great, it’s nourishing, it doesn’t leave my nails brittle and it works better than the toxic crap. Yeah, I said it. Better!

Mineral Fusion Beauty Balms for Hair

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shampoo, Conditioner and Beauty Balms for Hair

Kristin’s take: My curly hair tends to be dry and tangles very easily. The Hair Repair Shampoo and Conditioner was up to the task and left my hair feeling clean and soft. There’s little scent to the products but I’m okay with that. The Curl Care Beauty Balm is a lightweight leave-in that define curls and reduces frizz. It’s softer and more subtle than the salon products I normally use and I like it. I won’t abandon my current products, but I will happily add these to the roster.

Melissa’s take: I am the gal who thinks that shampoos and conditioners are pretty much all the same. Do I want a product that is gentle, not tested on animals, and safe for the environment? Sure. Do I want it to leave my hair clean, shiny, full of body, touchable soft and so damn silky people come up to me on the street asking to touch it or photograph it? Damn straight. (I might be asking too much.) I’ve been using Mineral Fusion shampoo and conditioner, along with the beauty balm for hair, all in “Vibrant Shine” and I have to say, I’m a total convert. This stuff meets all the above criteria and it’s super affordable!  To be fair, no one has photographed it yet, but I think they want to. And I can’t stop touching it, so there you go.

Have you tried any Mineral Fusion products? If you are in Austin and want to check them out, you have till May 18th to take advantage of the Whole Foods roadshow discount of 30%.

  • March 21- April 6th at Whole Foods Market Gateway, 9607 Research Blvd
  • April 11th-27th at Whole Foods Market Domain, 11920 Domain Drive
  • May 2nd-18th at Whole Foods Market Downtown, 525 North Lamar Blvd

Disclaimer: I received several products free of charge but was not compensated for this post. Opinions are my own.

Tuesday, March 25th

Get in My Winebelly

Winebelly Austin Texas

This post is long overdue as Winebelly is hardly the newest spot in Austin. The night I shared this candlelit meal with Mr. Betty and took these dark photos, well, it was at least a couple months ago. But the memories are vivid and I maintain that Winebelly is one of the best restaurants in Austin, in food, wine selection, and ambiance. It has, without question, stolen my heart.

Winebelly Austin Texas

The simple wooden tables and chairs, dark lighting, and instant coziness remind me of my favorite eateries on the East Coast. Old gastropubs, quaint bars, fabulous hideaways for relaxed nights. Hard to believe this little spot is on Oltorf, not in Philadelphia’s Old City.

Shishito peppers at Winebelly, Austin Texas

Chicken Liver Mousse at Winebelly, Austin Texas

We started with Shishito Peppers topped with ricotta salata, a pressed, dried, salty version of ricotta. I pretty much order shishitos whenever they are available. One thing I don’t typically order is liver of any type, but I’d heard good things about the Chicken Liver Mousse. I’m glad I gave it a try; it ended up being my favorite dish of the night. Accompanied by pickled shallots, baguette slices, and stone ground mustard, this was a plate made just for my tastes. Everything I love!

Cured White Anchovies at Winebelly, Austin Texas

Brussels sprout and parsnip soup at Winebelly, Austin Texas

Emboldened by our success with the mousse, we ordered Cured White Anchovies, another dish out of our comfort zone. They were fishy and strong in the very best way. The Brussels Sprout and Parsnip Soup was velvety and decadent. It tasted so fresh and green. The sweetness of the parsnips was cut with bacon, chili oil and fragrant lemon zest. Damn, this was a brilliant soup.

Panzanella Salad at Winebelly, Austin Texas

The Panzanella Salad was dressed with a tart vinaigrette and Idiazabal cheese, a pressed Spanish cheese made from unpasteurized sheep’s milk.

Pappardelle Duck Confit at Winebelly, Austin Texas

Braised Short Rib at Winebelly, Austin Texas

Our final, heaviest plates were to-die-for delicious. Duck Confit Pappardelle was sheer perfection. Not too heavy or rich. The succulent Braised Short Rib was glazed and beautiful, plated with celery root puree. We were too full to order dessert, but hopefully next time we can partake. Winebelly is a great addition to South Austin and we are thrilled to have it close by.

What are you favorite dishes (or wines!) at Winebelly?

Wednesday, March 19th

Exhaustion and Mixed Emotions at SXSW

No matter how much I try to prepare in the weeks leading up to SXSW, it’s always a scramble. Part of it is the nature of the conference and surrounding events; there’s little notice as to what’s really going on. I earnestly RSVP to everything I can in the hopes that I’ll make it into the must-do events, all the while knowing that I’ll never keep up with my overly ambitious schedule. The invites come later and later, so being flexible, yet prepared, is crucial. The day I had planned to really wander around and check out the free events surrounding Interactive, it was cold, rainy, and miserable. Craft Taste and I went to a fun party hosted by Pinterest at La Barbecue. Food and drinks were free and we checked out the Pinnebago and listened to a female punk band. We missed Grumpy Cat, the Game of Thrones exhibit, and countless other things. We walked around, saw some stuff, and went home soaking wet. The day I brought my DSLR to take the really good pictures? A total wash.

Pinnebago

We made it into the first Kimmel taping and saw Seth Rogen and Snoop Dogg. Although we were seated way up high in the balcony, it was a fun experience and I was glad we went. I especially enjoyed Jimmy’s house band Cleto and the Cletones. Even more than the musical guest White Denim.

Jimmy Kimmel in Austin

Later, I won tickets for the opening night of the iTunes Festival. Winning didn’t mean we got to skip the very long line, but once inside the Moody Theater we were afforded a spot close to the stage amongst a crowd equally excited to be there. But no one was as excited to be there as Imagine Dragons, whose energy and and enthusiasm were through the roof.

Imagine Dragons in the Moody Theater for iTunes Festival at SXSW

Imagine Dragons in the Moody Theater for iTunes Festival at SXSW

Imagine Dragons in the Moody Theater for iTunes Festival at SXSW

Coldplay was grown up and polished, putting on a flawless performance under a dazzling light show. No bullshit on stage or in the crowd. It was ideal.

Coldplay in the Moody Theater for iTunes Festival at SXSW

Coldplay in the Moody Theater for iTunes Festival at SXSW

Coldplay in the Moody Theater for iTunes Festival at SXSW

I took advantage of my official SXSW Guest Pass and checked out the marketplace one day. It was clearly the tail end for the vendors, but it’s one of my favorite conference expos and I lingered at the booths with live music and good swag. I’m always amazed at how grand some of the booths are. I especially love checking out the other countries’ offerings.

SXSW Marketplace

Perhaps the coolest event we went to was the Heartbreakers Ball. (It didn’t hurt that we were chauffeured in a stretch limo and given VIP badges.) It was our first time visiting Willie Nelson’s ranch at Luck Texas. The ranch is more of a set for an Old Western with a chapel, a jail, a saloon, and other buildings. I loved that much of the property is used to foster horses. We watched people line up for free tattoos and drinks made with Midnight Moonshine in between the rocking sets. Willie and friends took the stage at the end of the night and despite the late hour and the cold, Willie was fantastic. I don’t know if all that pot-smoking has served as a preservative, but his voice was strong and smooth, unaffected by his many years. It was quite a show.

Willie Nelson's Luck, Texas

Willie Nelson and Friends at SXSW Heartbreakers Banquet

The aftermath of the tragic drunk driving accident that killed three people left a dark cloud over Austin. The city reeled from the news and shed tears for the lives lost and the news gained international attention. There’s no denying that SX is forever changed. We will remember and reflect on this every year. Criticisms arose and people questioned whether the excess of free flowing booze is hurting the intention of the festival. It seemed that the louder criticisms were directed towards the overblown commercialism of the conference and surrounding events. It seems that the sponsors are running the show now and no one is happy about it. In the days following SX, Austin is usually enjoying a tired but happy afterglow. This year we are collectively wincing at all the bad press and trying to figure out how the hell this happened. I predict big changes for next year.

I’m proud to live in Austin. I love that for two weeks every year we become the center of the universe and celebrate artistry and intelligence. South by Southwest celebrates the future and creates history. I hope we are able to strike a better balance in the years to come, retaining the indie spirit on which the festival was built, while letting sponsors be a part of the action in a more authentic way.

What are your thoughts on SXSW 2014?

Friday, March 7th

What to Eat in Austin

Are you visiting Austin and want a little guidance from the locals? This post is for you. These recommendations and round-ups come from food bloggers, skilled writers, tasters, and photographers. Creative, hungry people you can trust!

Without further ado, here’s your list of expert guides to the Austin food scene.

Mexican Breakfast. Not just where to eat, but what to order and how to eat it.

Mexican breakfast

Photo by Mary Makes Dinner

Barbecue East of Austin. Take a trip outside the city limits for the kind of rustic, smokey meats your only dreamed about or seen in the movies. It’s real, y’all.

South Austin Trailers. Ideal for lunch, late night, or just plain ole’ great outdoor eating, South Austin’s got the best trucks in the city!

Vegan Eats for SXSW. You’re hungry, you’re scared, you’re a vegan out of your natural habitat. Vegan Lazy Smurf to the rescue!

Vegetarian. Austin is incredibly vegetarian friendly and out-of-towners are often proclaiming how lucky we are. Even if you aren’t a vegetarian, you’ll still want to hit some places on these lists, separated by region.

South Austin Vegetarian

Downtown Vegetarian

East Austin Vegetarian

In.gredients

Photo by Aneelee

Cajun and Creole. A Louisiana native breaks down the best choices for you, cher.

Indian. Our Indian offerings grow every year. Take a walk down Austin’t spice route and get your curry on. 

Ramen. The Japanese noodle crazy continues, redefining the food landscape of our fair city.

Ramen

Photo by Mad Betty

South Austin Restaurants. Suggestions from the South Austin Foodie herself for Austin’s hottest zip code.

Craft Beer. Undoubtedly Austin’s fast growing market, check out the local brews that make the city proud.

Beergaritas. Mary Makes Dinner drank a lot of beers upended in frozen margaritas to put together this magnificent list. Don’t let her work be in vain.

Pizza. New York style pizza, or Austin’s best approximation. A list curated by a real expert.

Home Slice Pizza

Photo by Craft Taste

Upscale. As well as Austin does casual dining, there is no shortage of fancy, well-executed opulent eats.

Ice Cream. Save room for ice cream! This list features the most interesting varieties.

Desserts. Sweets for you and your sweet. The finest offerings from our finest pastry chefs.

Wednesday, March 5th

The HotList #SXSW Edition

I love a good trend. Especially in Austin during SXSW, when techies show off their newest gear and music lovers prance around like hipster peacocks. The conference is a nod towards what’s new, what’s artistic, and what’s going to happen over the next year.

Podcasts. Everybody cool has got one. The Austin-American Statesman recently started one. The recurring fad of digital media has true loyalists. People who listen to podcasts are passionate and those that create them are confident. Because it’s not easy to listen to your own voice.

Mr. Betty and I joined podcasters When in Austin for their first recording session of 2014 to talk about SXSW. Take a listen here and enjoy our tips, our fumbles, and our South Jersey accents.

podcast

Photo by When in Austin

Style. From sunglasses to sneakers, Keep Austin Stylish guides you to the right gear to wear. Achieve the right balance to looking cool while sprinting around town from event to event. If you pull it off well enough, you might even end up in one of her famous street style posts.

Libations. The parties never stop and the drinks are flowing during SX. Free drinks range from high-end martinis to all the cheap, tasteless beer you can drink. Those traveling from out of town might want to try the new, limited-edition Absolut Texas. They sent me a bottle of the cucumber and serrano flavored vodka and I was surprised at how good it was. The Absolut website provides recipes and my friends and I really enjoyed mixing the vodka with pineapple juice, cilantro, and jalapeño slices.

Absolut Texas

White Teeth. A bright smile is always on trend, actually, so when Influenster sent me the new Colgate Optic White Pen, I was pleased. An easy way to get whiter teeth in just a few days. Have you tried it?

Burgers. Shake Shake will be feeding thousands of hungry SXSWers with a complimentary pop-up. Late night burgers sponsored by Late Night with Seth Meyers? Oh, yes. We want that. Check it out on 6th & Red River (March 8-10) or E. 6th and Brushy (March 11-14.)

Ranch. Willie Nelson’s ranch isn’t normally open to the public, so when there’s an opportunity to get inside the gates, people jump at the chance. For the third year in a row, the Heartbreaker Banquet will take over the ranch with lots of live music and a full day of fun and partying. It’s invite only and therefore exclusive, but there are ways to win tickets.