Monday, March 2nd

SXSW 2015: Fun Without a Badge

So you can’t shell out for a pricey badge, nor will your job pay for you to attend SXSW 2015. Does that mean you have to miss out on the fun? Hell no! Each year the unofficial events get as much, if not more, press than the official programming. There’s no reason why you can’t join in on the fun!

First, if you haven’t participated in South by Southwest before (or just need a refresher) you can check out my survival guide. Whether you are in it for the swag, the free noms and drinks, parties, networking, etc, you’ll want to be prepared for long days, crazy nights, and sensory overload.

Here are my picks for free events and parties at SXSW this year. This is not a comprehensive list, not even close. Don’t forget that you can tap RSVPster to do the legwork for you. Note that RSVPing does not guarantee you’ll get in to anything, so show up early to the events you really care about.

ATX Startup Crawl

Startup Crawl. Austin’s finest pre-conference (March 12) kickoff is a night of startup hopping downtown. It’s free and you can hit as many offices as you like, most of whom have free booze, casual eats, and kickass DJs. Those of us who live in Austin get to do this twice a year, but the excitement of the spring crawl can’t be beat.

BASHH

The BIG BASHH. Another regular local event, the Big Ass Social Happy Hour is how many of us network, blow off steam, and just enjoy Austin’s fun professional scene. The big BASHH, the one that leads into SXSW is the best of the year. It’s buzzing with energy and those who travel in for the conference know that’s the best place to get a real taste of Austin with the locals. (March 12)

Umbelmania. Local tech company Umbel will pack the Moody Theater with interactive attendees (and the general public) with live performance by Spoon and (my personal favorite DJ) DJ Chicken George. RSVP and do your best to get there early as badge-holders will get priority access. (March 13)

Gigya Grill. Those seeking refuge and some satiation can stop by El Sol y La Luna for complimentary breakfast, lunch, or happy hour, 10-6. More than just some free noms, Gigya offers networking opportunities and panels. (March 13-15)

Awesomest Journalism Party. Ever. Sponsored out the wazoo, this annual session is a merging of journalism and tech. 5-8 at the Palm Door. (March 14)

Awesomest Journalism Party Ever

Spotify House. Five days of music and fun, plan on waiting in line to get in. But waiting in line is part of SXSW, so embrace it and make friends with the people around you. (March 15-20)

Do512 Family Picnic. For family-friendly fun, head out of the crazy zone to Midway Park for music, food trucks, face painting, magic shows, and more. It’ll be crowded, so bring the kiddies closer to 2:00 and hope they can stay awake till 8. (March 17)

Hype Hotel. The tenth year of this event promises big names paid for by big sponsors like Mazda, Taco Bell, Miller Lite, and Tito’s Vodka. Crazy crowded, plan to be packed in like a sardine any day or time that you go. (March 17-21)

Music Tech Mashup. The fifth anniversary of this event brings a really good music lineup to Empire Control Room and Garage. RSVP on the Facebook page for a chance to win VIP entry. (March 17)

Waterloo Records. The line-up is always fantastic at our favorite little local music shop. This is always the first place I recommend for those who want free access to the biggest acts. It’s a classic Austin location that we’re all so proud of and they always bring some of the magic of SX to locals who may otherwise feel left out of the festival. (March 18-21)

Pandora Discovery Den. Four days of eclectic bands means there’s something for everyone: Electronic, Hip Hop, Americana, and Rock. Head to The Gatsby 1-6 when shows are open to the public. (March 18-21)

Ray Ban\Boiler Room Official Showcase. As hip hop becomes increasingly popular at SXSW the showcases get more and more impressive. You might have a shot at getting into this one to see Ghostface Killah and plenty more great acts by applying for a ticket on their site. (March 18)

KUTX Live at the Four Seasons. Early birds flock to the Four Seasons where $10 gets you entry to four hours of live music, breakfast tacos, coffee, and granola bars. First come first served, there’s no RSVP list. (March 18-21)

Austin Party Weekend. There’s not much info about the APW party yet, but you can show up at Empire Control Room and Garage for day parties March 18-21 and you’ll be sure to have a good time. Don’t forget to RSVP.

APW 2015

Culture Collide. Rainey Street is normally a perfect spot for more intimate—if packed—shows and surprise artists pop up there from time to time. More than 100 bands will be on three stages. RSVP and scroll through the website to handpick your music schedule. Bonus, SouthBites Trailer Park is close by so you can sample the yummiest trucks when you get hungry.

Party in My Pants. The Live Vibe day party will take place at Little Woodrow’s March 20-21st with new bands each hour. Should you hang out all day you’ll get to taste a nice chunk of the music offerings this year.

If you want to check out even more parties and events, Austin 360 has a handy, easy-to-search database of every side party. You can also see who applied for city permits this year, both official and non-official SXSW events.

Want to tell share another event? Leave a comment with the details.

Friday, February 27th

2015 Guide to Indian in Austin

As part of the Austin Food Blogger Alliance’s City Guide, I give an annual update on all the Indian restaurants in Austin. While some complain about a lack of Indian options to be found in our fair city, I beg to differ. Each year I get to add more restaurants to this list, proving that our options continue to grow and thousands of Austinites get to satisfy their curry cravings. So let’s get to the list! 

Austin Food Blogger Alliance 2015 City Guide

Asiana

801 E. William Cannon Dr, Ste 205, Austin, TX 78745

T-Th 11-2, 5-9:30, F 11-2, 5-10, Sat 12-3, 5-10, Sun 12-3, 5-9:30

Don’t let the rundown strip mall or sparse decor fool you, Asiana makes some great food. Delicious dosas, fluffy naan and some of the spiciest vindaloo in the city. Ask for it spicy and you shall receive.

Naan

Biryani Pot

12407 N. Mopac Expy, Ste 200B, Austin, TX 78758

T-Th 11-2:30, 5:30-10 F 11-2:30, 5:30-10:30, S 11:30-3, 5:30-10:30, Sun 11:30-3, 5:30-10

This chain has high quality food, friendly service, and is a very popular lunch destination. Formerly Taj Mahal Indian Cuisine.

Bombay Bistro

10710 Research Blvd. #126, Austin, TX 78759

4200 South Lamar #300, Austin, TX 78704

M-Th 11-2, 5:30-10, F 11-2, 5:30-10:30, S 11:30-3, 5:30-10:30, Sun 11:30-3, 5:30-10

The elegant, romantic decor of the south location makes for a great date spot.

Bombay Dhaba

1207 S. First St, Austin, TX 78704

M-Sat 11-2, 5-10

This South Austin food truck puts out consistent food at a great value, making it a popular local stop for diners and lunch and dinner. Like all trucks that have good food, they’ll occasionally run out of things so head there early if you’ve got your heart set on a particular item.

Bombay Express

13000 North I35, Bldg 12, Unit 216, Austin, TX 78753

Tues-Sun 11-9

Vegetarian.

Bombay Grill Indian Restaurant

3201 Bee Caves Rd. #148, Austin, TX 78746

Sun-Th 11-2:30, 5:30-9:30, F-Sat 11-2:30, 5:30-10

Cheery service and wide range of options on the buffet.

Chaat Shop

Mobile at lunch, 1104 E. 6th St, Austin, TX 78702 in the evenings

M & W 11:30-1:30, 5-11, Th 11:30-1:30, 5-1, F-Sat 5-1, Sun 5-11

Check the website to see when the food truck will be in your area. With a menu that caters to vegetarians and vegans, but also offers meat options, there’s something for everyone. Food is high quality and a favorite among locals.

Chapli Kabobs n Curries

1200 W. Howard Lane, Austin, TX 78753

Sun, T-Th 11-2:30, 5-9, F-Sat 11-2:30, 5-10

Indian dishes are served alongside Pakistani and Afghani food in a traditional or banquet setting.

Chicken Lollypop

1005 E. Braker Lane, Austin, TX 78753

11-9 daily

The Mumbai-style Indian Chinese menu satisfies vegetarians and meat eaters alike.

Chola

2601 S. I35, Ste. B-400, Round Rock, TX 78664

M-F 11-2, 5-10, Sat-Sun 12-3, 5-10

Leans on Southern cuisine although has some Northern offerings. Known for their lunch buffet.

Clay Pit

1601 Guadalupe St, Austin, TX 78701

M-Th 11-2:30, 5-11, F 11-2:30, 5-11, Sat 12-3, 5-11, Sun 12-3, 5-10

downtown favorite, Clay Pit offers a modern setting and delicious Bombay-inspired cocktails. The curried mussels alone are worth the trip.

Curried Mussels

Curry in a Hurry

2121 W. Parmer Lane #114, Austin, TX 78727

Daily 10-9

This vegetarian spot features a daily curry. Bonus: free wi-fi!

Daawat Indian Cuisine

500 Canyon Ridge Drive, Austin, TX, 78753

M-F 11-2, 5-10, Sat-Sun 11:30-3, 5-10

Formerly Indian Spicy Kitchen, the extensive menu and online ordering system makes takeout a breeze.

G’Raj Mahal

73 Rainey Street, Austin, TX 78701

Once a popular food truck this lovely Rainey Street restaurant has lots of outdoor dining in the front and chic backyard, as well as indoors. It’s a great date night spot or a place to fill up on carbs before or after hitting the bars.

Beautiful outside seating area @grajmahalaustin #afbahh #indian

A photo posted by Kristin Sheppard (@madbettyatx) on

Gandhi Bazar

3421 W. William Cannon Dr, #133, Austin, TX 78745

https://instagram.com/p/mBeO3DTGL8/?modal=true12809 N FM 620, #3, Austin, TX 78750

2121 W. Parmer Lane, #113, Austin, TX 78727

Daily 10-9

Prefer to cook your own Indian food? Stock up on spices and other essentials at one of Gandhi Bazar’s locations.

Hot Breads Bakery and Cafe

7318 McNeil Drive, Ste 102, Austin, TX 78729

Daily 10-10

So much more than a bakery, choices run from traditional Indian dishes to savory spiced puffed pastries. A unique concept in Austin.

Inchins Bamboo Garden

3107 S I35, Ste 760, Round Rock, TX 78664

M-Th 11:30-2, 5-10, F 11:30-2, 5-10:30, Sat 12-3:30, 5:30-10:30, Sun 12-3:30, 5:30-10

This Indo-Chinese chain features street food inspired dishes and a buffet.

Indian Palace

3616 Far West Blvd, Ste 113, Austin, TX 78731

Daily 11-8:45

North Indian cuisine; delivers to surround area.

Kabab Food Corner

9717 N. Lamar Blvd, Ste C2, Austin, TX 78753

M, W, Th 11:15-9:30, F-Su 11:30-9:30

Halal Pakistani and Indian cuisine.

Kababeque

Mobile

Th-Sat 8:30-3:30 am

Check the Facebook page to see where the Indian Mediterranean fusion will be on any given date. Most popular dish is the Chicken Tikka Masala Wrap.

KP Indian Grocery

1212 W. Parmer Lane, Unit F, Austin, TX 78727

Daily 10:30-9:30

Small Indian grocery store stocked with the essentials.

Lamba’s Royal Indian

414 Waller Street, Austin, TX 78702

Spicing up farmer’s markets, Lamba’s sells a wide range of frozen Indian dishes. They can be found at HOPE and other farmer’s markets in and around Austin.

Bollywood

Madras Pavillion

9025 Research Blvd, Ste 100, Austin, TX 78758

M-F 11-3, 5:30-9:30, S-S 11-10

The vegetarian favorite has cuisine from both North and South India.

Man Pasand Grocery

3601 W. William Cannon #750, Austin, TX 78749

Daily 10-9

A great place to stock up on spices, snacks, frozen meals, grains and more. The freshly made hot samosas for $1.00 at the counter are some of the best I’ve ever tasted.

Masala Dhaba

75 Rainey Street, Austin, TX 78701

T-Th 5 pm-12 am, F-Sat 5 pm-3 am, Sun 5 pm-10:30 pm

This food truck is a Rainey Street staple and reviews are extremely positive. Perfect for late night eats while bar-hopping.

Masala Wok

1100 Center Ridge Dr, Ste 300, Austin, TX 78753

10515 N. Mopac, Ste. A-155, Austin, TX 78759

Daily 11-10

This chain has classic Indian and Chinese options.

MTM Indian Foods

9225 W. Parmer Lane, Austin, TX 78717

Sun-Th 11-8:30, F-Sat 11-9

Grocery store with a range of Northern and Southern Indian items.

Naanful Indian Grill

11101 Burnet Rd, Ste A130, Austin, TX 78758

Sun-Th 11-3, 5-9:30, F-Sat 11-3, 5-10

2000 S. I35, Round Rock, TX 78681

Sun-Th 11-9, F-Sat 11-10

Quick, build-to-order dishes. Will deliver, but order early, as their site estimates 60-75 delivery time.

Nasha

1614 E. 7th St, Austin, TX 78702

Sun-Th 11 am-12 am, F-Sat 11 am-2 am

The sister restaurant of New India Cuisine has a full bar, moderate prices, and favorites such as Millionaires Curry and lots of seafood dishes. Their tagline Get High on Indian Food is perfect for its East Austin home.

New India Cuisine

2304 S. Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78704

M-F 11-10, S-S 12-10

The South Austin Marathi-style restaurant offers lots of fish and yeast-free naan. While not my personal favorite, many love this place.

New India

Paradise Biryani Pointe

1779 Wells Branch Pkwy, Ste 102, Austin, TX 78728

M-Th 11:30-2:30, 5:30-10, F-Sun 11:30-3, 5:30-10

They specialize in biryani, but if that’s not your thing, there’s a large menu with lots of diverse options.

Royal India

4894 Hwy 290 West, Austin, TX 78735

M-Th 11-2, 5:30-9, F 11-2, 5:30-10, Sat 11:30-2:30, 5:30-10, Sun 11:30-2:30, 5:30-9:30

1150 Research Blvd, Austin, TX  78759

M-F 11-2:30, 5:30-10, S-S 11:30-3, 5:30-10

Favorites include a dosa bar and the Royal Feast, a $44 multi-course dinner for two people. In my opinion, Royal India has the best buffet in town.

Samosa Spot

12809 FM 620, Austin, TX 78750

Th-Sun 12-9

This truck parks in front of Ghandi Bazar and serves up classic fried Indian eats and chaat.

Sarovar

8440 Burnet Rd, Ste 100, Austin, TX 78757

M-Th 11-2:30, 5-10, F 11-2:30, 5-11, Sat 11-3:30, 5-11, Sun 11:30, 5-10

This old Austin favorite specializes in thali and surly waitstaff.

Ganesh

Shalimar

9310 N. Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78753

Sun-Th 11:15-10:50, F-Sat 11:15-11:50

The biryani is a favorite.

Star of India

2900 W. Anderson Lane, Ste 12D, Austin, TX 78757

Sun-Th 11-2:30, 5:30-9:30, F-Sat 11-2:30, 5:30-10

Standard buffet of classic dishes in a comfortable setting.

Suprabhat

9225 W. Parmer Lane, Ste 108, Austin, TX 78717

M-Th 11-3, 5-10, F 11-3, 5-10:30, Sat 11-3:30, 5-10:30, Sun 11-3:30, 5-10

All vegetarian, specializing in thali options.

Suvai Indian Kitchen

12920 W. Parmer Lane #105, Cedar Park, TX 78613

M-Th 11-2:30, 5-9, F 11-2:30, 5-9:30, Sat 12-3, 5-9:30, Sun 12-3, 5-9

Formerly Kadai Indian Kitchen, Cedar Park residents are delighted by large portions, fresh spicy dishes, and fast service. A must do if you are in the area.

Swad

9515 N. Lamar Blvd #156, Austin, TX 78753

Daily 11:30-9

Vegetarian favorites and fun street food. The big-as-your-head dosas are a must try. You won’t even mind the lack of atmosphere. Prices are low and service is fast and efficient, if not personable. Not a place for a date, but still one of my favorite places in Austin.

Mysore Masala Dosa

Taj Palace Indian Restaurant and Bar

6700 Middle Fiskville Road, Austin, TX 78752

M-Th 11-2, 5:30-10 F 11-2, 5:30-10:30 S 11:30-2:30, 5:30-10:30, Sun 11:30-2:30, 5:30-10

For more than 20 years the extensive buffet has been delighting loyal customers. This was one of Austin’s first Indian restaurants.

Tarka Indian Kitchen

201 University Blvd, Round Rock, TX 78665

2525 W. Anderson Lane, Austin, TX 78757

5207 Brodie Ln, Austin, TX 78745

Sun-Th 11-9, F-Sat 11-10

The little sister of Clay Pit offers many of the same classic curries and fantastic pakoras. The fast, casual counter service has proven to be so popular that they keep expanding, with three locations in the area and one in San Antonio.

Mirch Masala

Pakora

Taste From India

519 E. 7th Street, Austin, TX 78758

Th-Sat 7 pm-4 am

Indian kabobs for the late-night bar crowd.

Teji’s Foods

2100B Guadalupe St, Austin, TX 78705

Sun-W 11 am-10 pm, Th-Sat 11 am-3 am

1205 Round Rock Ave #115, Round Rock, TX 78681

Sun-Th 10:30-9, F-Sat 10:30-10

Part grocery, part restaurant, the widely-respected Teji’s has the fluffiest naan.

Whip In

1950 I35 South, Austin, TX 78704

Daily 10 am-midnight

A funky South Austin staple, Whip In is a convenience store with indoor and outdoor live music, a massive selection of craft on draft, and a large menu of fusion Indian eats. Namaste, y’all.

Thursday, January 29th

Super Bowl XLIX: Ad Preview

Another year, another Super Bowl. Famous for my not-caring-at-all about football, I do care very much about the commercials. It seems like the last few years have been disappointing. Will this year be a repeat? Here’s a preview of some ads you’ll be seeing on and leading up to game night.

 

Tuesday, January 27th

First Look: Wu Chow Dim Sum

The highly anticipated Wu Chow is slated to open sometime this spring, but they’ve been hard at work for months perfecting the modern yet traditional Chinese menu. They’ve leaked a few previews in the form of a soup dumpling giveaway downtown and more recently, a dim sum pop-up in Swift’s Attic. I was lucky enough to get an invite to the sold out event and now I’m sharing my findings with you.

Sesame Fritters at Dim Sum, Wu Chow, Austin, Texas

First, a quick and dirty explanation of dim sum for those who may not be familiar: Cantonese small portions that are served in steam baskets at brunch with lots of dumplings and other delectable, hard-to-make dishes. A better explanation, along with dim sum etiquette, can be found on Serious Eats.

In addition to a full menu with things like Salt & Pepper Squid, Mapo Tofu, and Yu Xiang Eggplant, Wu Chow will serve dim sum on the weekends. Having tasted the preview, I can say with confidence that this will be Austin’s next huge restaurant sensation. (In case you didn’t know, my secret talent is predicting sensations and restaurant closings.) Dim sum will be packed every weekend and you’ll be lucky to get a seat. Heed my advice and go as soon as they open.

Pictured above are the Sesame Fritters, glutinous rice balls filled with sweet red bean paste. These are chewy, slightly sweet, and technically a dessert, but I won’t tell if you want to eat them first. The quality of these puffy treats is unlike any other I’ve ever had. While the glutinous texture can be off-putting to some, I think Wu Chow’s version will be a universal crowd pleaser.

Radish Cakes at dim sum at Wu Chow, Austin Texas

What Wu Chow calls Radish Cakes are usually called Turnip Cakes…but they are always made with radish. Daikon, to be exact. +1 for calling a spade a spade. The savory pressed dish was crispy on the outside, succulent and tender on the inside. If I have to eat a radish, this is how I want to do it.

Xiao Long Bao, soup dumplings, at dim sum, Wu Chow, Austin Texas

The oft-lusted after—and hard to find in Austin—soup dumplings are an exquisite version of a beloved classic. Gossamer thin wrappers are filled with searing hot broth and seasoned pork. While it’s tempting to dig right in to the Xiao Long Bao, it’s beneficial to wait a moment and let them cool slightly. The quicker you bite in the more likely you are to get burned. My inner circle is unlikely to ever get burned as we all take 5 million photos before ever taking a bite…of anything. Anyway, these are so worthy of praise and I can’t wait to have them again.

Scallion Cake at dim sum at Wu Chow, Austin, Texas

Scallion Cakes (or scallion pancakes) are not specific to early dining; you can usually get them day or night. The flaky pastry is layered with lots of scallions and are the perfect snack to dip in a dumpling or vinegar-based sauce.

Chicken and Taro Eggrolls at dim sum at Wu Chow, Austin Texas

Okay, have you ever seen egg rolls this long and thin? I haven’t and let me say, it’s a crying shame that this doesn’t happen more often. Filled with chicken and taro root, the extra length meant for more crunch in every bite and the ability to wag it like a cigar while chatting. This egg roll was a contender for best dish of the day and best egg roll of my life.

Gailan for dim sum at Wu Chow, Austin Texas

Another contender for best dish was the Gailan, or steamed Chinese broccoli. Always a nice foil for heavier dumplings and fried bites, don’t assume that it’s a bland plate of wilted greens. Sauteed to perfection and lying on a drizzle of oyster sauce, this broccoli was one of the most flavorful parts of the meal and my favorite greens I’ve ever eaten. No exaggeration. My only regret is that I didn’t fill my purse and ration the leaves until Wu Chow opens in a few months.

Shrimp Fritters at dim sum at Wu Chow, Austin Texas

Because I’m crazy about anything from the ocean, I have a real love for these shrimp fritters. My photo doesn’t offer anything for scale, so you can’t see just how large these are. And they are loaded with shrimp. Big succulent pieces of shrimp and crispy julienned potatoes. Simply excellent.

Char Siu Bao at dim sum at Wu Chow, Austin Texas

Char Siu Bao are soft steamed buns filled with Chinese barbecue pork, which is savory and sweet. They are like yeasty, fluffy pillows, filling and satisfying.

Shao Mai at dim sum at Wu Chow, Austin Texas

I must confess that Shao Mai (or shumai) is never my favorite dish as I’ve had many with less-than-quality fillings. Nothing is worse than biting into a cute little open-faced dumpling and hitting something hard and weird. That’s not going to be a concern at Wu Chow, as the ingredients are of the highest caliber, often local and farm fresh. Notice the dollop of smelt roe on top, which adds an extra burst of flavor and texture, and perfectly compliments the fragrant filling of pork, mushrooms, and garlic. These are real winners.

Ha Gow at dim sum at Wu Chow, Austin Texas

Ha Gow (or har gow, ha gao, and a million other spelling variations) are shrimp dumplings. Again, Wu Chow is not skimping on the shrimp here. Dumpling lovers will rejoice in the plumply stuffed delicate wrappers. At this point I should mention the dipping sauces, which I didn’t photograph, but were divine. Savory and brown, there were a couple to mix and match as well as a fiery hot sauce that came with a warning. I could eat these dumplings for days.

Egg Tart at dim sum, at Wu Chow, Austin Texas

Egg tarts are another dessert item, that are, again, not overly sweet. The custard tarts are usually pretty eggy and Wu Chow’s were just a bit mellower, which is a plus in my book. The crust was flaky and airy, with many little layers of pastry. These were shockingly good.

Shockingly good is an accurate description for the whole meal, actually. It’s no surprise that C. K. Chin, owner of Swift’s Attic, has another fantastic venture in the works. No, the surprise, or thrill, is that dim sum could be this good. The quality and care put into each morsel was astounding. My fellow diners and I joked that Wu Chow is going to ruin us for all other dim sum, but the sentiment rings true. This is what dim sum was meant to be. Wu Chow is my early pick for hottest restaurant of 2015.

Wu Chow, 500 West 5th Street, Austin, TX (IBC Bank Building)

Tuesday, January 20th

On Being Overly Sensitive

Jill Greenberg End Times Series

Photo by Jill Greenberg; End Times series

Beauty of whatever kind, in its supreme development, invariably excited the sensitive soul to tears. -Edgar Allen Poe

I’m sure my overly sensitive brothers and sisters out there can relate to Poe’s quote. My emotions are right on the surface and I’m quick to cry at a sad storyline, be it in real life or written. Beautiful things make me cry, too, like the swell of an orchestra or once, an entire opera in Florence from opening to closing notes. I literally cried through the whole thing and for about 30 minutes after. Tears spring to my eyes when enthusiasm is high like a sustained applause or someone else’s eyes welling up.

Because that’s the thing with sensitivity, it’s easy to catch. I grew up in a house of overly sensitive people. It was not uncommon to blow something small out of proportion, express feelings about it, and move on. We all took things personally and were unapologetic for our emotions. The good thing about living that way is that you don’t bottle up many things. To this day, if I can express a concern or feeling, I’m able to let it go. I don’t believe in holding grudges and the few grudges I do have are because I’m unable to be honest with the other person.

The bad thing about living that way is how exhausting it can be to take everything so personally. And often the emotional turmoil isn’t warranted or worth it. Sometimes I think it would be so nice to just…not care so much.

As a writer, I’ve had to learn to detach my emotions from my work. I’m not exactly writing heart wrenching novels or anything, but pouring your effort and concentration into any piece of work can make it tough to take criticism. I don’t take issue with edits or people adjusting my copy anymore because, truly, it’s rarely personal. I see the struggle new writers go through and the resentment they feel over simple suggestions and I’m glad that’s not me anymore.

That makes me wonder, are there other areas in which I should try to desensitize a bit? I do believe that cooler heads prevail and the truly successful usually are able to compartmentalize their emotions. Even in creative fields, I believe this must be beneficial to some extent. Is it possible to harness our emotional power and wield it at times when we need it—like those creative times—and hold back when it’s less appropriate to reveal our inner human side? Or is it simply a way to dimming our passions in the hopes of gliding through life a little easier? It smart to reign in that which makes us human or is it a denial or self?

I don’t know the answers. It’s just something I’ve been pondering lately.

What do you think?

Tuesday, January 6th

Easy Greek

Easy Greek meal

Greek food is all about good ingredients and flavors that work well together. One of my favorite dinners involves more shopping than cooking, as I grab fresh produce, good olives, and the very best feta I can find. (I prefer French sheep’s milk feta for its smooth creaminess and mild flavor.)

I pile those onto a platter with hummus, FAGE yogurt, a simple salad with red wine vinaigrette, and toasted blanched almonds.

Thomas Keller's Roasted Chicken

This arrangement works well with any protein. A lean steak, grilled halibut, shrimp, spiced meatballs…they’d all be delicious. But the easiest (and most wallet friendly) might be a roasted chicken. I like Thomas Keller’s famous recipe that just calls for salt, pepper, drying, and trussing. If you haven’t tried roasting a chicken this way, you simply must.

Easy Greek cooking

I like to serve with fresh pita from the bakery and butter lettuce to make yummy roll ups. Skip the pita if you’re off carbs. Mr. Betty and I like to cozy up and share a plate, so this type of dinner where we graze is perfect for us. But you can serve on separate dishes if you’re fancy like the pope.

Easy Greek cooking

The benefits of a Mediterranean diet have long been celebrated, so in addition to the simple preparation, eating this way may lower your risk of cardiovascular conditions and certain cancers. Plus, it’s just damn delicious.

What’s an easy, throw-together meal that you like to make?

Wednesday, December 31st

So Long 2014

New Year's Eve lights

Wow. Here we are. The end of another year. I’m always a little shocked at how quickly the years seem to go by and 2014 felt like the shortest year of my life. I guess that’s what happens when you’re constantly busy. Time just seems to slip away. I guess Beck summed it up best:

Time is a piece of wax fallin’ on a termite who’s choking on the splinters.

Okay, sure.

*****

Rather than recap my year, which is what I’d normally do, I’d rather talk about 2015. If you want a reminder of what I did in 2014, just scroll down and read back on the blog. Or look through my Instagram. 2014 was a good year and I know 2015 will be good, too.

I have a couple good things on the horizon. Kind of a delayed Christmas, I’ll be heading back to NJ in January to visit both my family and in-laws. And most exciting, I’ll get to meet my new little family member, my niece Julia Rose. Isn’t she cute?

cute baby girl

Hopefully Mr. Betty and I will be able to take another little vacation of some sort in 2015, as it’s been a long time for us. But nothing on the books just yet.

Other things to look forward to:

  • Speaking at SXSW (and finally having legit badge access to Interactive and Film)
  • Watching Mr. Betty’s SXSW panel. I’m thrilled that we get to experience this together!
  • Next Bloggy School sessions. More info to come soon. Follow on Twitter for details.
  • I’ll be upping my volunteerism next year by taking over as the president of the Austin Food Blogger Alliance. Those who know me know how important this group is to me and I’m honored to be a part of the positive impact they make on Austin.
  • I’ll keep pushing myself to make Giant Squid Media a success and have plans to expand my services and work with more companies on content, social media, and brand consulting. I love what I do and feel lucky that I live in a city where opportunity is everywhere.

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I’m also planning on evolving the content here on the blog. Because Mad Betty isn’t a true niche blog, I can really make it about anything I want. Over the years I’ve defaulted to a lot of restaurant posts because, frankly, that’s what people have responded to the most. And with restaurants opening at breakneck speed in Austin, it’s a never-ending well to draw from. But it was never my intention to write so much about food.

Blogging is a weird thing. There’s nothing to drive the work beyond our own desire to do it. So when you need a break, such as I did for the past couple weeks, you take that break. But the loss of momentum (for me, at least) proves to make it that much harder to resume writing. And the truth is, I’ve felt uninspired lately.

So it’s time for a change. I’m not sure what that’s going to look like yet—and no, I’m not abandoning food writing altogether—but I’m going to try some new things and see how it feels. I’d like to expand my lifestyle content as well as get a little more personal. My favorite blogs are the ones that are relatable and give glimpses into real lives.

What do you have planned for next year? Any major changes? Are you happy to say goodbye to 2014?

Monday, December 15th

Ann Webb Clinicals

Ann Webb Skin Clinic might be Austin’s best kept beauty secret. Those in the know have been visiting the huge spa in North Austin for the best prices on treatments from facials and massages, to injectables and lasers.

I’ve been a client for a while, so when I was invited to come in and check out Ann’s new clinical line of products, I jumped at the chance. My good friend and girly partner in crime, Melissa Lombard, accompanied me for complimentary facials and a tour of the new product line. (You may remember Melissa and I reviewed some Mineral Fusion products in the past, too.)

First, the facials were phenomenal. Ann Webb Skin Clinic uses a gentler technique. No hot steam blowing at your face, rather hot towels are places as compresses throughout. Many of the products used come from nature, so aromas of mint, pumpkin, citrus, and lots of other good stuff punctuate the relaxing sessions. Melissa and I each left with a four-step routine to try out at home. I took a morning routine, Melissa, evening.

Ann Webb Skin Clinicals
Kristin’s Morning Routine | Cleansing Milk ($14) | The Mist ($16) | Day Moisture ($26) | Eye Bright ($30) | The Balm ($12)

I love a good cleanser and appreciate the classics. Cetaphil and Origins Checks & Balances have long been staples in my arsenal, and now Ann Webb’s Cleansing Milk joins their ranks, the light, pleasant scent and thick creamy texture brings me right back to the spa. It’s incredibly luxurious and moisturizing and a huge value at the price. For my skin, this is a little rich for daily use, so I’m reserving it for times when I need a little extra moisture.

The Mist is exactly like it sounds, a refreshing mist that offers a cooling burst of orange-scenting moisture. I love it for setting my makeup and also a quick spritz before bed. This would be good all day, actually.

If I had to pick one superstar of the lineup, Day Moisture is it. It’s light, absorbs quickly, and lasts all day. Notes of orange and mint are pleasant and fade quickly. It feels like there’s nothing on the skin, but that you’re in perfect balance, the way nature intended.

The Eye Bright serves as not only a protectant, but a luminizing brightener. A little zinc and titanium boost your natural glow and are a nice addition to the cheekbones, forehead, and anywhere you want a little brightness. The Balm, which is a nice fat stick of moisture can serve double-duty under the eyes, on the lips, the elbows, or any dry spot. It gives thick, lasting coverage and is a nice smell and texture.

Ann Webb Clinicals

Melissa’s Evening Routine | Cleansing Scrub ($18) | The Toner ($16) | Enzyme Peel ($28) | Night Moisture ($38)

True confession. My nightly beauty routine occasionally, often, almost always involves a warm washcloth and some face soap procured from Target. The selection criteria? What’s on sale? Okay, if I’m being totally honest, if I find myself drifting off on the couch after The Blacklist, I have been known to skip the washcloth and soap and head straight for the pillow.

Clearly, I am not the ideal candidate for a multistep beauty regimen. But after the facial and product demonstration at Ann Webb Skin Clinic I left the spa with a commitment to an evening routine and to take better care of my skin.

Gotta say, I am a total convert! I’m not going to lie and say it doesn’t take time. But it’s just been a matter of creating a routine. Here’s mine: Apply the Cleansing Scrub and then chill out or 20 minutes or so. Did you know you were supposed to leave cleanser on for a while before rinsing it off? I had no clue. Next, I apply The Toner with a cotton pad. I haven’t used toner since the Sea Breeze days of my early 20’s when I assumed the burning meant it was working. Apparently, astringents aren’t so great for your face. Oops! Next up, I do the Enzyme Peel (usually an every other night thing). I let that sit on my face for at least 20 minutes, though longer is even better. Next up is my favorite product, Night Moisture. This product is fabulous! Extremely moisturizing, but not at all sticky or heavy feeling. I finish up with The Balm—generally on my lips and around my eyes—for a little extra moisture. This little stick is very versatile and I’ve used it on rough elbows and to soften my cuticles.

As someone who appreciates value, I was pleasantly surprised to learn just how affordable the Ann Webb products are. And a little goes a long way, meaning your products are going to last much longer. All in all, I’m enjoying the products and the routine and look forward to checking out some of the other goodies from the new clinical collection.

Wednesday, December 10th

Sichuan River

Dan Dan Noodles at Sichuan River, Austin Texas

You might have heard some buzz about Sichuan River, which took over the old Tien Jin spot at Westgate several months ago. If you haven’t been yet, go now. Previously, the best Szechuan I’ve had in Austin was at Szechuan House, and I’m happy to say they finally have a rival. And in South Austin to boot! No more hopping on the highway for decent Chinese.

Dumplings at Sichuan House, Austin Texas

I’ve been several times now, including an evening of a very successful Asian Supper Club. When they’re on the menu, we always begin our club nights with dumplings. Here, they come fried or steamed and are your basic dumplings. Yummy, but not particularly standout in any way, other than the dipping sauce which is above average.

Ma-Po Tofu at Sichuan House, Austin Texas

Ma-Po Tofu is one of my favorite dishes, and Sichuan River’s is fragrant, rich, and fluffy. It’s not as atomic-spicy as Szechuan House’s version, but it still packs a good punch.

Sizzling Lamb at Sichuan House, Austin Texas

But if atomic-hot is what you’re craving, let me direct you to the Sizzling Lamb. Covered with chili paste, whole chiles, jalapeño slices, and lots of cumin, this dish is for serious spice-lovers. I have a little bit of an aversion to cumin, but I like this dish anyway and highly recommend it.

Dry Fried Green Beans at Sichuan River, Austin Texas

My friend Foodie is the New Forty is a connoisseur of Dry Fried Green Beans and declared these exceptional. The shallow-fry just blisters the outside of the beans, so they retain a healthy snap. They are salty, seasoned, and downright addictive.

Eggplant with Curry Sauce at Sichuan House, Austin Texas

For those who like something on the sweeter side, a good option is the Eggplant with Garlic Sauce. I’d say this is an acquired taste. While not my cup of tea, my friend South Austin Foodie really likes this dish. So give it a whirl if you like a sweet curry.

Egg Foo Young at Sichuan House, Austin Texas

Egg Foo Young is a Chinese omelette, loaded with veggies and whatever meat you choose. It’s fried and served with a savory brown gravy and…it’s just incredible. I had to be talked into this dish but now I’m a convert. I highly encourage you to try it if you haven’t before.

Dan Dan Noodles at Sichuan House, Austin Texas

The last dish I’ll share with you is the Dan Dan Noodles. The springy noodles are covered with pork and pickled and fresh vegetables, and are immersed in a spicy, soupy chili-oil sauce. I think this is best shared with friends because, like many Szechuan dishes, it can be a little heavy on the oil.

Sichuan River is a good place to pop in for lunch, a casual dinner, or to grab takeout. The service is fast and friendly; prices are reasonable. Have you been? What are your favorite dishes?

Sichuan River, 4534 Westgate Blvd, Ste 105, Austin TX

Wednesday, December 3rd

This Bar Saves Lives

Disclosure: I received a box of This Bar Saves Lives in exchange for a blog post to help spread the awareness of this important work they are doing to help end malnutrition in children around the world. 

This Bar Saves Lives

Do you eat granola bars? They are a staple in my house. We rely on bars for days when we’re on the go and need to eat in the car, or when we wake up too late to make breakfast, or when the fridge is a little bare and we need something more than an apple for lunch. So, pretty much all the time.

I like the trend of granola bars getting healthier and being made with high quality ingredients. This Bar Saves Lives is a relatively new company that makes seriously delicious bars. Made with organic, non-GMO ingredients, they are gluten-free, all natural, and kosher. The three flavors are Wild Blueberry Pistachio, Dark Chocolate Cherry & Sea Salt, and Madagascar Vanilla Almond & Honey. Yum!

This Bar Saves Lives

So what’s the name all about? Well, this is the best part. Each time you buy a bar, a nutritious packet of life-saving food is given to a child in need. It’s a buy-one give-one model (like TOMS) where you get to help end malnourishment. Check out the website for more information about the cause. Be warned that it’s pretty powerful. I hope that it moves you to buy some bars.

I, for one, am committed to including these bars as part of my regular Whole Foods shopping. You can also get them online along with some cool wearable stuff. I like the idea that my buying power can help nourish those who really need it, along with sustaining my grab-and-go lifestyle.

If you’d like to try This Bar Saves Lives, use code THISBAR for 20% off. Code is good for one week.