In a city full of entrepreneurs and freelancers, everyone’s always discussing which coffee places are the best places to get some work done. And Austin’s got no shortage of good coffee and wifi spots. But my little secret work spot is PhoNatic, where I’ve had numerous meetings over steaming bowls of pho, strong Vietnamese coffee, and those famous banh mi sliders, pictured above.
As far as pho, there are many options like the traditional beef broth, veggie, and my favorite, the chicken broth, which is bright and clear and allows the aromatic spices to come through. Pho is always a bargain, starting at $7.95 and topping out at $11.95 for a bowl with tender braised oxtail.
Refreshing spring rolls are a nice balance with hot soup and PhoNatic’s are crunchy, fresh, and a no-brainer. Again, this is pretty traditional and hits all the right spots. More often than not, if I’m working I opt for a vermicelli bowl. (I try not to tempt the fates with broth near my laptop.)
What makes PhoNatic such a good place to work? Lots of things. There’s not a lot of interaction (or interruption) from staff. You order and pay at the counter, get a number, and take a seat. They quickly deliver your food and you fetch everything you need. Drinks, extra limes and garnishes, hot sauce, chopsticks and spoons, to-go boxes, etc. The tables are comfortable and the spaces are open and bright. There’s parking, the food is good, and the wifi always works. What else could you want?
Where are some of your favorite places with dine with your laptop when you want something a little more substantial than coffee?
And what are your favorite dishes at PhoNatic? Leave me a comment and we’ll talk about it.
This post is part of my ongoing relationship with Netflix as a Stream Team partner.
It’s back to school season and kids everywhere are crying or excited. Growing up by the beach, I lived for summer and was filled with dread at the impending start of each school year. Even thought I liked school, I never wanted summer to end. Living in Texas though, means that the end of summer break means an eventual respite from the heat, so I look forward to autumn. Of course, I’m not in school. But guess who is starting school soon?
That’s right! Violet has her first day of preschool this week in a Spanish immersion program where she’ll also receive Mandarin lessons. Plus she’ll make friends, learn new songs, and wear a cute little uniform. I’m nervous and excited for her. This is uncharted territory for both of us and already the supply list was more difficult to tackle than I anticipated. I mean, a nap mat vs. a “regular” mat? I needed to buy both and didn’t know what either was. Turns out a nap mat is this cute little sleeping roll thing and Violet took to hers immediately.
Also, she turned one year old this month! We celebrated with friends and pizza and toys and presents. She was a happy girl and my friend Foodie is the New Forty captured this adorable shot at Pinthouse Pizza.
Obviously I’m starting this list with Stranger Things. If your friends aren’t all talking about it then you need new friends. Just kidding. They’re probably just talking about it behind your back. Anyway, believe the hype. This series is a creepy 80s miracle that is so well done. Goonies meets X-Files meets Winona Ryder comeback. While shows like Modern Family might have you thinking otherwise, Stranger Things is proof that fantastic child actors exist.
I was so excited to see that Netflix added the Academy Award winning Best Picture and it did not disappoint. It’s the brilliantly told story of the remarkable journalism that led to cracking the heinous within the Catholic church. You know what I’m talking about. A serious cast and serious writing did justice to the sensitive subject matter. I love a good journalism movie. Time to rewatch another of my old favorites, Shattered Glass.
I watched Internet Famous twice, because I thought it was good enough to watch again with Chris. A mockumentary about a handful of YouTube stars, anyone who’s familiar with at least one crazy online famous personality will get a kick out of this. Very funny.
Ugh. I love David Cross and I agree with his politics, but this was a piece of crap. I never thought his stand up was that good and I prefer to watch him in things that others write, but as I had a press pass for this show (filmed in Austin) and didn’t make it, I wanted to see what I missed. And it turned out that I missed nothing but an insufferable night of ranting about politics. Which might be excusable if it was funny, but it was NOT.
In my ongoing quest for delicious, cheap eats in Austin, Tam Deli has remained a constant favorite. It’s nowhere near where I live, it closes earlier than I’d like, and it’s nothing special inside. Yet it’s clean, friendly, has plenty of parking, and I can’t live without it. When the longtime owners sold it recently, many of us panicked.
Tam Deli's been sold. Everything is going black and it's hard to breathe.
Like me, countless Austinites had a special bond with the aging family who ran the place. Once when I was eating lunch alone I witnessed Nick refilling water glasses to a chatty table of college kids next to me. He quietly said, “say when” as he tipped the pitcher and he let the water overflow onto the table when no one stopped talking to say “when.” Everyone laughed as he mopped up the water and I can recount plenty of my own personal stories of Nick’s teasing. Thousands of little moments like that are what made Tam Deli feel like home. But also, the food. The Vietnamese staples done well and priced so reasonably.
When I heard that the same kitchen staff would remain in place under the new ownership, my fears at losing a beloved favorite subsided. A group of us stopped by to order our usual dishes and make sure all was right with the world.
The bánh mì is what usually gets me to Tam Deli as they make my favorite version in Austin. (I’ve previously documented a bánh mì showdown of Austin’s most notorious sandwiches, so check it out if you missed it.) It’s a short little guy who’s stuffed to the gills, and I always opt to add a fried egg.
Pictured up top is the vermicelli with grilled pork and egg roll, with springy noodles and loaded with fresh sprouts and vegetables. Like most the dishes we ordered that day, it tasted like it always did and we all felt relieved and happy.
The Banh Xeo is another regular favorite. On this day it was a little burnt, but normally the crisp crepe filled with shrimp, pork, and bean sprouts is delicate perfection. Another dish that was a little different on this visit was the Banh Tom, crispy fritters made from yams and shrimp. They were tasty as ever, but the yams were cut differently. They were more like fries than the shapeless lumps I’d had in the past.
The service under the new owners was fast and friendly, if a little shy. Over time we’ll make new memories with them and have our own little private jokes, or at least exchange nods of recognition as we drink Vietnamese coffees and order the same dishes time and again.
What are your favorite dishes at Tam Deli? Leave me a comment and tell me what else I need to order.
This post is part of my ongoing relationship with Netflix as a Stream Team partner.
July was a good month. Violet celebrated her last official month of infancy by eating (and rejecting) many new foods, growing two and a half teeth, skinny dipping, playing peek-a-boo, and giving lots of wet kisses and snuggles. She grabs my iPhone and holds it up to her ear like she’s talking and can be bribed back to sanity with peanut butter during fussy times. Every single day is wonderful. Look at those chubby arms!
At first I thought the campy comedy might be too silly for me, but by the second episode I was completely hooked on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and am now a Rachel Bloom fan for life. The musical numbers are brilliant and elevate the simple story to something special. The cast is an off-beat, charismatic gang of weirdos, other than Josh, the main love interest. Josh is boring, but the show is anything but.
Fun fact: Rachel Bloom and Broad City’s Ilana Glazer were once roommates.
I’ll let you in on a little secret: I’m a huge Degrassi nerd. Excepting the original run in the 80s, I’m well versed on all things Degrassi and can speak with authority on all characters and storylines from about 15 seasons of the show. The show stays current, and this new class is all about social media and fluid sexuality. Boldly tackling serious topics, this season gets into racism, cultural appropriation, and mental health. The current cast has few standout actors, most are quite terrible, but some cameos from former students make it worth the watch. (Sorry, no Drake!)
An NYC indie starring Chris Rock and is half in French? I loved this 2012 movie and am so glad I randomly stumbled upon it. I thought about it for a few days after seeing it. Man. Chris Rock is so great. I might need to watch Top Five again. I need to go back and watch the first one, 2 Days in Paris, which starred Adam Goldberg alongside Julie Delpy.
I haven’t finished the third season of BoJack Horseman yet because I like to take my time and savor it. This is one of my favorite shows of all time. I’m a sucker for the easter eggs and bottomless pool of actors they get to voice the human and animal characters. It kind of reminds me of The Simpsons (way back when it was good) and how each episode pushed the envelope little further. The animated series is hilarious, but also so sad and dark. It might be Will Arnett’s best work and is a nod to his own demons.
What have you been watching? What do I need to add to my list?
This post is part of my ongoing relationship with Netflix as a Stream Team partner
Are we really at the end of June? Each day feels long as Violet is into everything and my time seems to be spent chasing her around and cleaning up messes. And yet, it’s all moving too quickly and I’m cherishing each moment. We’re racing towards the end of her first year and I’m not ready to leave each adorable phase.
But Chris and I are loving every moment. Chasing her, watching tiny little teeth emerge, and seeing the world through innocent eyes makes everything feel exciting.
The no-brainer, of course, is Orange is the New Black. In preparation for the fourth season I re-watched the third, which was not my favorite, but was more enjoyable the second time around. And the show picks up right where it left off. My thoughts on season four are this: OITNB is one of finest shows I’ve ever watched. The writing, the acting (with a few exceptions) and the emotional draw are so strong that I’m in awe. The newest season might be the best one so far. It’ll break your heart over and over. I am very attached to so many of these characters. Even Piper.
I don’t know how Kristen Wiig has had the time to do so many little movies, but I feel like I’m always watching them. The most recent one I’ve seen is Hateship Loveship. I didn’t particularly love it, to be honest, but it’s interesting and short enough to watch, particularly if you are a Wiig fan. She can play a pathetic weirdo like no other.
A friend told me she was watching Murder, She Wrote and got me curious. So I’m slowly working my way through them. It’s outdated, but that’s part of the appeal. Angela Lansbury has so much charm and the seaside Maine town where her character, Jessica Fletcher, lives and solves mysteries is equally as charming. This series is a who’s who of recognizable actors looking much, much younger. I suggest you youngins make a drinking game out of it.
What are you watching lately? What do I need to add to my list?
I’m still figuring out how people balance babies and housework. And, uh, regular work. Oh, and a blog.
Cooking has been particularly challenging. I’ve finally realized that at least one night a week our dinners need to be really easy. Like, frozen meal easy. I’m not proud and no, it’s not exactly delicious. But by Wednesday or Thursday when I’m just burned out and don’t have the energy to get dinner on the table I’m grateful to open the freezer and pull out a pizza or something.
Breakfast, however, is too crucial a meal to phone in. I can’t send Chris to work without some sustenance to get through the day. And I need something easy in the morning, too. I’m dabbling with the DASH Diet off and on, which is why I started making this casserole. It’s packed with protein and filling veggies and because I use lots of egg whites, it’s light and fluffy.
I don’t follow much of a recipe, but I use what’s on hand. Typically I’ll sauté:
Half a pound of sausage, turkey, or bacon
One red bell pepper, diced
One medium onion, diced
15 cherry or grape tomatoes
Something green, either asparagus, spinach, or kale
While the meat and vegetables are cooking, beat ten eggs and 3/4 cup egg whites. Or just use more eggs and skip the whites if you prefer. When your sauté is complete, pour evenly into lightly oiled baking dish. Top with the cheese of your choice. I grate up a big handful of cheddar, Jarlsberg, or anything else I might have. Make it as cheesy as you want. I don’t go overboard with the cheese, but don’t hold back on my account. I’m not the cheese police.
Then pour in egg mixture, evenly covering the filling. Top with lots of hot sauce and bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes at 350°, until no longer jiggly. Skip the hot sauce if you want, but make sure to season adequately.
Allow to complete cool before cutting into slices and packaging up for the week. What I love about this dish is how versatile it is. It’s a great way to use up leftovers and the flavor combinations are limitless. One of my favorite versions was when I threw in basmati rice at the last minute and it crisped up on the top.
What are some of your default meals when your schedule is busier than usual?
If you were in downtown Austin recently and happened upon lots of recognizable TV stars, you weren’t the only one. Despite this being the fifth year of the ATX Television Festival, it still feels somewhat under the radar for an Austin event. People always seem surprised when they see people like Mae Whitman or Scott Wolf wandering around, yet those of us who hit the festival every year know that it’s customary to run into many famous faces.
The thing I love the most about the festival is that it isn’t oversold. It feels intimate and accessible. It’s a small conference for TV insiders and passionate fans, and everyone feels lucky to be there, from the badge-holders to the volunteers, to the TV stars. After all, Austin knows how to show guests a good time and people are more than happy to visit. Industry people and fans alike seem equally happy to geek out over the love of TV.
I spent the weekend conducting interviews, watching panels, screenings, and soaking it all in. I was especially happy to attend a panel for Royal Pains, which is a guilty pleasure of mine. The final season is about to air and we were treated to an early screening of their musical episode, which was hilarious and campy. The cast and creators were pretty open, discussing everything from the medical terminology in the dialogue to the evolution of their characters. If fans of the show are wondering whether they will ever see Hank settle down with a woman, this final season may not wrap everything up in a neat bow. They revealed that all previous attempts to match up Hank had been rejected by the audience. No one is good enough for our Hank!
It’s an unwritten rule of the festival that everyone needs to be cool and not swarm the stars. I don’t ask for autographs or photos with celebs and unless it’s an official interview I tend to shy away from attempting conversation. If I’m honest, there have been a few people that I’ve wanted to gush over that I’ve run into at the festival or other events. H. Jon Benjamin comes to mind, along with Megan Mullally, Adam Scott, and Uzo Aduba. This year my big fan crush goes to Ben Feldman.
Ben’s been a number of shows I love: Drop Dead Diva, Mad Men, Silicon Valley, and NBC’s Superstore, which was just renewed for a second season. The cast of Superstore was in Austin to talk about the show and I was one of the lucky few who got to interview them.
If you haven’t seen the show, it’s a smart workplace sitcom with a lot of heart. Producer and writer Justin Spitzer is known for another little workplace comedy that you may have heard of called The Office. So I have high hopes for this show and really enjoyed the first season. In addition to Ben Feldman, America Ferrera, and Kids in the Hall’s Mark McKinney, the cast is filled with talented actors who make up a motley crew of blue collar workers in a Walmart-type store called Cloud 9.
America and Ben made the observation that blue collar comedies have fallen out of favor in recent years, replaced by shows that focus on fantasy, rather than reality. The entire cast spoke about working in on a set that looks exactly like a store and how they were forbidden from taking any of the real-life products. The pilot was actually shot in a real Kmart, with the cast and crew filming through the night. The experience inspired the episode All-Nighter, where they are locked in the store overnight.
If you want to watch (or re-watch) the first season it’s available on the NBC website.
Another show that was getting a lot of buzz at the festival is Pitch, which premieres on FOX on September 22nd. It’s the (fictional, obviously) story of the first woman to play MLB. Kylie Bunbury plays Ginny, the talented pitcher who joins the San Diego Padres. Mark-Paul Gosselaar plays catcher Mike Wilson and he and Kylie spoke candidly about their physical training for their roles. Hers was more physically intense, while Gosselaar joked that his training mostly consisted of growing a beard that his wife hates.
Despite my lack of interest in sports, I do think baseball is the most tolerable and I’ve never seen a baseball movie I didn’t like. So I’m definitely going to be watching this series in the fall. Check out the trailer for yourself. This show is great.
Did you miss the ATX Television Festival this year? Badges are already on sale for 2017. See you next year!
This post is part of my ongoing relationship with Netflix as a Stream Team partner.
We’re at the end of May and in the midst of a long-awaited holiday weekend. Last year Chris’ had to go into the office on Memorial Day. We were still unpacking and doing major renovation in the new house, plus I was in my third trimester. It was a real bummer.
So having that extra day off right now feels positively glorious! We still have some work to accomplish, but our projects are of the small variety: yard work, laundry, cleaning. But we can balance that with some fun, along with grateful reflection on the many who gave their lives for our country. It’s good to have a day to feel patriotic during a gross election year. Is there anything worse than a presidential campaign? Ugh.
Violet is really on the move these days! She’s unbelievably fast at crawling, gleefully using our shiny concrete floors to her benefit. We’re having so much fun with the walker, too, and I think she’ll be walking unassisted before we know it.
Now let’s talk Netflix! As most network TV shows are done for the season, I expect many of you will be increasing your steaming. I’d love to hear your recommendations on what to watch. Here’s what we’ve been watching lately:
Maria Bamford is one of those likable yet polarizing comedians. She’s intelligent, funny, weird…but it’s her voice that many people can’t get past. Lady Dynamite acknowledges this by incorporating it into a storyline, along with her many other hangups like insecurity, bad decision-making, and severe Bipolar II disorder. I’ve watched the ranking of this show fall steady, but I give it a solid four stars. It almost crosses the line into being completely ridiculous, but doesn’t annoy me in the least. And it’s worth checking out for the cameos alone.
Speaking of annoying, I’m slogging through the second season of Grace and Frankie at a snail’s pace. It’s a gorgeous show to watch and full of actors I love, but somehow…I just don’t like it. Am I alone here?
Although it’s from 2012, Gus Van Sant’s Promised Land was new to me. It’s a fairly uncomplicated and well-told story of a small town divided on the subject of fracking. Matt Damon carries the movie, supported by the wonderful Frances McDormand, John Krasinski, and Rosemarie DeWitt.
Chelsea Handler seems to be able to do whatever she wants. I was not much of a fan of hers until I read a few of her books, which showcases her deadpan snark and intelligent humor maybe more so than her TV persona does. Her documentary series Chelsea Does was somewhat enjoyable and Chelsea the talk show feels like an extension of that in bite-size pieces. Netflix releases three new episodes a week, which is a new approach to their streaming TV shows.
I don’t normally use my blog as therapy or get too personal here. But something happened in my life that is so intensely painful that I’m having trouble moving on. I’m hoping that the practical process of writing and organizing my thoughts will serve as a means of catharsis.
A close friend of mine died last month. It came as a surprise. She was young in years and even younger in spirit. We hadn’t spoken in several months, which was not unusual for us. Our friendship didn’t require constant maintenance or checking in. She shunned social media so our catch-ups happened over email or even better, in person. I would save up stories and photos our mutual friends shared on Facebook and deliver the news, savoring each piece of juicy gossip. She always had news for me, too, and even after marathon sessions of chatting, we never ran out of things to talk about.
If I had known the last time I saw her that it would be the very last time, I would have made every moment count. I would have hugged her tight and said the important things that friends should say to each other: You taught me so much about being kind and selfless, just by being that way yourself. You are worthy and talented and smart. You are supposed to be on this planet a long, long time because you make it a better world.
I didn’t get to say those things and apparently she didn’t know those things. It took several weeks of digging and finding out information in small terrible pieces, each one deepening my grief, lessening my understanding. Eventually it was through the police that I found out my sweet friend took her own life in a horrifically violent, punishing way.
When I was trying to find out answers, suicide was not something I considered. Because she was healthy and happy. She could (and did) run marathons without even training for them. She regularly did yoga and got massages because she believed in treating herself well. She didn’t struggle for money, nor did she care about material things. She volunteered constantly because she enjoyed giving back and didn’t even view it as a sacrifice. She played the violin and never missed a performance of the Austin Symphony, buying season passes and bringing a different friend to each show. She had no enemies, only legions of friends who loved her. Her family was doting and supportive. She loved good food and didn’t smoke or do drugs, and could barely handle a glass of wine. No, she lived life unaltered and wasn’t looking for an escape.
Except that she was.
There was no depression or mental illness, but something was very, very wrong and I missed it. We all missed it.
And now it’s too late. There are no more answers to be had, only questions upon questions. Still, I google her name in vain. I check her obituary online several times a day, hoping that someone new leaves a comment that will provide some answers. Anything. I compulsively look at the one social media account she had—LinkedIn—which I made her get when she was job searching years ago. But there are no answers.
Eventually I’ll have to let this go and learn to live with the questions. I’ll have to stop obsessing over the terrible way she died and try to remember the gentle way she lived. But this loss has left a hole in my heart. I look at Violet and see all the promise and happiness the future holds and it devastates me how much my friend lost. I think of her parents and my body shudders with sobs. It’s a tragedy unlike any other I’ve ever experienced and my sorrow feels bottomless.
So much of Austin reminds me of her. Our regular dinners at Whole Foods downtown where we’d linger at the seafood counter. Of Eeyore’s Picnic. Of a North Austin spa we went to and a restaurant around corner where we sipped wine and ate oysters in a treat yo’self day. The Driskill Hotel, where we met at a Halloween ball and were wearing the same costumes. So many memories.
Death is a dreaded topic on its own, but suicide is so much more complicated. Because mixed in with the grief are confusion, regret, and anger. I feel all of those things. I’m angry that she robbed herself of a future. And that she robbed us of her. And I’m filled with regret that I waited too long to reach out and plan our next dinner. And I’m confused as to why she didn’t think her life was worth living. But through those feelings, it’s the grief that has the tightest grip.
We’re at the precipice of a new season, where it goes from hot to hotter in Austin. It’s my least favorite time of year and I start dreading summer as soon as March rolls around. However, summer does bring about some tasty nostalgia. When I think of summer, my memories are filled with hotdogs and burgers on the grill, thick slices of juicy watermelon, and piles of corn on the cob. Kerbey Lane puts their own spin on summer and they just rolled out their newest seasonal menu. Best of all, you don’t have to wait till it’s 105° since it’s available right now. I attended a blogger preview last week and sampled the menu.
You might recognize some of the featured items from last season, like the Crab Mac and Cheese Bites. These are yummy and I’m glad they are keeping them around a while longer. You can also get the crab mac as an entree. My preference is the small bites for the ideal crab-to-pasta ratio.
Kerbey Lane likes to get playful with their Eggs Benedict and their version over steak enchiladas toes the line between breakfast and lunch. Perfect for those who can never decide what to get at brunch.
If you’re like me, you have to get a pancake at Kerbey. Right now the seasonal flavor is Lemon Poppyseed which is my favorite. But if you want something more adventurous, the twist on chicken and waffles is as bold as it gets. Cinnamon beignet pancakes are topped with crispy fried chicken and a maple buffalo sauce. Total showstopper!
For the more diet conscious eater the Chicken Caprese Salad doesn’t skimp on the treats. Avocado, chicken, bacon, mozzarella, grilled chicken, and tomatoes hit all the savory, creamy notes. Slivered almonds provide a balancing crunch.
Other menu highlights are the Greek Lamb Skewers, with tabbouleh, hummus, Kalamata olives, and grilled pita, kicky little Fried Green Tomato Sliders, and Summer Chicken on a bed of seasonal vegetables like tomatoes and red bell peppers, accompanied by bacon-cheddar mashed potatoes.
For dessert, a formidable key lime pie from The Cake Plate is a delicious rendition of the classic.
What are your favorites when dining at Kerbey Lane Cafe?