Tuesday, October 21st

Anyone Can Learn to Write

This post was sponsored by The Loft Literary Center, a nonprofit that advances the artistic development of writers, fosters a thriving literary community, and inspires a passion for literature. 

The Loft Literary Center

I feel like I’m always talking about writing because it’s what I do for a living. And then I do more of it for fun, in the form of this blog. But I don’t often write about writing. Or even think about it. It’s just what I do. When The Loft Literary Center approached me recently and offered an online class I was forced to evaluate my work and be more attuned to the process.

First, a little about The Loft Literary Center. For 40 years they’ve been helping writers write. And turning non-writers into writers. I really dig their core values of inclusiveness, community, and most importantly, that writing can be taught. Many people don’t realize that just because writing may not come easily to them at first, it doesn’t mean there’s not a wealth of talent lying dormant or that it will always be difficult. Like learning to play a musical instrument, it takes time, education, and practice. And the journey should be an enjoyable one. It doesn’t have to be grueling.

Based in Minneapolis, Loft has made their fantastic offerings available to everyone with a great online format. I found my own class to be interesting and informative. Not only did I find the readings and advice from the teacher most useful, but I truly enjoyed the community of the class. Writers from all walks of life and at various stages were working towards a common goal and as different as we all were, everyone was so supportive of each other. It’s been a while since I ventured into a class setting and this was the ideal way to dip my toe in again. The classes are affordable and the personal attention from the teacher increases the value even more. I found the whole thing just a real pleasure. The site was easy to navigate and it was friendly and low-pressure.

Beyond classes, Loft has manuscript critiques, conferences, residency programs, and scholarships to help you get there. They’re welcoming the talented people of Austin with open arms, and you might spot them at the Texas Book Festival this weekend. If you see them, say hello!

And if you’re looking for help with a writing project, need to accomplish some writing for your job, or just want to explore a creative outlet, I wholeheartedly recommend checking out the courses at The Loft Literary Center.

Fountain pen

I was offered a class at Loft free of charge and compensated for this post. All opinions and grammatical errors are my own. 

Monday, October 13th


Epicerie, Austin Texas

I’m jealous of the people who live within walking distance of épicerie Cafe & Grocery because it’s just the nicest little place to have in a neighborhood. From the ivy-covered exterior to the bright modern interior, épicerie is an ideal spot for drinks, dinner, lunch, or a quick cup of coffee. Or in the case of Mr. Betty and I, a leisurely brunch.

Epicerie, Austin Texas

Cheese Counter at Epicerie, Austin Texas

Epicerie, Austin Texas

Part of the casual charm of épicerie is the small grocery where you can browse specialty cheeses, beer, and yummy specialty items while you wait for your food. It really does feel like a tiny French neighborhood spot that you’d stop by on your way home to pick up some delicacies to enjoy with your fancy poodle. Now, I don’t have a fancy poodle but I do have a coffee habit. And the Blue Bottle Coffee made in a Chemex is some of the finest to be found in Austin.

Chemex pour over coffee

Coffee at Epicerie, Austin Texas

Famous for their beignets, we had to try a batch. They were warm and fluffy and sweet. I’d happily go back for just coffee and beignets any day of the week. We also had the Shrimp & Grits and the Croque Madame. Both were filling and decadent. This is a robust brunch that keeps you full till dinner.

Shrimp & Grits at Epicerie, Austin Texas

Croque Madame at Epicerie, Austin Texas

I ogled the brownies and shortbread, which looked positively sinful. Someday soon I’ll be asking one of you to meet me at épicerie under the guise of having a productive meeting, when I really want to gossip over top-drawer coffee and a little something sweet.

Brownies at Epicerie, Austin Texas

Shortbread at Epicerie, Austin Texas

Do you have any neighborhood gems that I should be checking out? Leave a comment and let me know.

Epicerie Cafe & Grocery

2307 Hancock Drive, Austin TX 78756

M-Th 10:30am-9:30pm, F-Sat 10:30am-10:30pm, S 10-3 

Friday, October 3rd

Spend the Day in Lockhart

Lockhart BBQ

Most of my ventures outside the city take place on a plane. Even though it’s been years since I moved to Austin, I haven’t taken much time to explore much of Texas. Lame, right? An exception has been Lockhart, a small town so famous for its barbecue that they estimate a quarter million people travel there annually just to eat meat.

On this particular trip I was with a group of people who were working on a large barbecue write-up. Now I’m not going to write about barbecue or try to compare who had better meat because y’all be crazy when it comes to barbecue and I’m not claiming to be an expert. I know my place as a yankee is to just shut up and try not to cover everything in sauce and rudeness.

Kreuz Barbecue Lockhart Texas

We ventured to Kreutz, Black’s, and Smitty’s, in that order. Kreutz was my favorite. Maybe it was because it was our first stop and that’s where we were hungriest. And I think the atmosphere had something to do with it, as it was my favorite setting of the three, too. Just nice and large with fun stuff to look at while you wait in line. We agreed that the spare rib was nothing short of a miracle.

Barbecue from Lockhart, Texas

Black’s is where I learned I do not like beef ribs. After spending about $35 for a rib that was mostly fat and gristle, I was reminded of a valuable lesson: Bigger doesn’t mean better. Maybe it was the just a bad rib or the wrong day, but I’m hesitant to ever try again. Black’s had the most interesting selection of sides and we sampled our fair share.

Black's Barbecue, Lockhart Texas

Black's Barbecue, Lockhart Texas

Smitty’s Market made me feel like I had stepped back in time when I walked through the door. From the classic market in front, to the burning fires inside the place, it felt historic. Like I was eating in a museum. We loved the brisket here and we finished off the meaty day with ice cream cones.

Smitty's Market, Lockhart Texas

Smitty's Market, Lockhart Texas

Smitty's Market, Lockhart Texas

That’s a lot of barbecue for one day, isn’t it? We took our time and browsed the antique stores in between meats stops. Perhaps my favorite part of the day was sitting in dark bar lined with foil and loaded with hundreds of elephants, all facing the door for good luck. We drank cheap beers and searched the jukebox for something familiar as we talked about what it must be like to live in Small Town, Texas.

Lilly's Lockhart Texas

Lilly's Lockhart Texas

Lilly's Lockhart Texas

Sadly, we didn’t make it to the fourth must-do barbecue spot, Chisholm Trail, but that gives us a reason to go back. I know people feel a strong allegiance to these Lockhart barbecue joints. Do you have a favorite?

Tuesday, September 23rd

Byte of Texas

Byte of Texas logo

The Byte of Texas conference is this weekend and there’s still time to buy tickets. What’s it all about? Writing, photography, food culture. What else? Networking, creativity, great eats. Local authors will be on hand to sign books and we’ll just soak up the love and hard work that goes into writing about food.

Among the more distinguished speakers, they’re also letting yours truly speak about writing. When I’m not yakking about style, discipline and writer’s block, I’ll be checking out Jeanine Donofrio discuss her incredible photography, watch panels on social media ethics, SEO, and lots of other fun stuff. Check out the full schedule here.

Easy Tiger bread will be served at Byte of Texas conference for breakfast on Saturday.

Fresh baked goodness from Easy Tiger. Photo courtesy of Stay Hoppy Austin.

So what about those great eats? Saturday’s breakfast will be from Easy Tiger and Sunday we’ll be chowing down on breakfast tacos sponsored by the Texas Beef Council. Lunch from Whole Foods, treats from Skull & Cakebones, and even a cheese and beer pairing. The big event will be a dinner at Salty Sow on Saturday night. That’s the thing about bloggers. They need to be fed constantly or they get cranky.

The conference is Saturday and Sunday, September 27th and 28th at the Bullock Texas State History Museum. You can purchase tickets for single days, key events, the dinner, or the whole enchilada. Use code: SAVE10 to get 10% off.

Hope to see you there!

Friday, September 19th

First Look: Stouthaus Coffee Pub

Cappuccino at Stout Haus Coffee Pub, Austin Texas

Still in the soft opening days, Stouthaus Coffee Pub already looks promising. The cappuccino I had, one of their first in the newly converted space, was dark and complex. Sophisticated.

Sophisticated is how I’d describe the space, too. The ghosts of Cannoli Joe’s have long been exorcised and in their place are clean lines, modern decor and dashing new places to spend money. Stouthaus inhabits the building with soon-to-be-opened Milk + Honey Spa and the most anticipated opening of the year, St. Philip.

Stouthaus Coffee Pub, Austin Texas

It’s impossible to discuss Stouthaus without talking about St. Philip. The former will be selling the latter’s baked goods. They coordinated beer taps. They share a building, doors, planning, and even share similar philosophies of excellent edibles, genuine customer service, and superior attention to detail. This is an optimal match and the best thing to happen to Sunset Valley since the farmer’s market.

Beer taps at Stouthaus Coffee Pub, Austin Texas

While the intended focus is, of course, the coffee (Cuvée) there’s plenty more to be enjoyed in the vintage fittings, the gorgeous reclaimed wood, the subtle art that enhances and doesn’t scream to be noticed. Blacksmiths are currently working on custom tap handles for the carefully selected brews. I am most excited for the Leprechaun Dry Cider, a personal favorite of mine.

Stammtisch, Stouthaus Beer Pub, Austin Texas

The inspiration is found on the wall. Stammtisch is loosely translated as “regular’s table” or a get-together. Owners James and Sandy Hughes envisioned a comfortable place that was an extension of their living room. A setting where people would gather to converse, have fun, and enjoy being together. There is wifi, but James insists that this is not going to be a coffeehouse with heads buried in laptops. He wants to restore community from an online notion to…real life. What a novel idea.

Stouthaus Coffee Pub

Stouthaus Coffee Pub, Austin Texas

There’s no word on the official opening date yet, but stop by in the morning or afternoon for the soft launch, which they anticipate to last another week or so.

Stouthaus Coffee Pub

4715 S. Lamar, Austin, TX 78745

Wednesday, September 17th

Together: My Little Korean Hole-in-the-Wall

Kimchi Dumpling Soup at Together Restaurant, Austin Texas

I enjoy fine dining as much as the next fancy pants, but it’s the hole in the walls that I really gravitate towards. The places where the chairs might not match and there are paper placemats and cheap plastic water glasses. Nondescript little nothing places where you are the ambiance. Together Restaurant fits the bill with the decor consists of some whimsy, some ugly, and thin walls that let you hear the Mexican karaoke next door. It’s in a kind of rundown location, quite far from my South Austin digs…and damn, I’m just crazy about this place.

Together Restaurant, Austin, Texas

The love affair began when Mr. Betty and I joined some foodie friends for a night of Korean BBQ and drinking. It was so much fun that we decided to make it a monthly endeavor. We don’t make it there quite that often, but it’s become enough of a regular thing that we have a routine with a core group of friends and usually order the same things. The extended cast of characters always changes a bit, with new faces and friends joining us for each dinner. These are some of my favorite nights!

Korean BBQ at Together Restaurant, Austin, Texas

Samgyupsal at Together Restaurant, Austin, Texas

Typically, my friend MJ orders everything in Korean and bustles around manning several grills and feeding us all like we are guests in her home. In between bites of crisp pork belly—Samgyupsal—wrapped in lettuce, she urges us to take another shot of soju, another sip of makgeolli from our bowls. Both the soju (spirits made from rice) and the makgeolli (a lightly carbonated, malted rice drink) are relatively low in alcohol. It’s socializing the Korean way and we always play a drinking game or two at the table. Sometimes we’ll get a few Hite beers and they are served with a full bowl of peanuts.

Makgeolli at Together Restaurant, Austin Texas

Soju at Together Restaurant, Austin Texas

Soju at Together Restaurant, Austin Texas

The banchan keeps us busy between grillings, which goes on for a couple hours. The small dishes vary and it’s always exciting to see what we end up getting and who likes what. Michelle loves the potatoes, Mr. Betty is crazy for bean sprouts, I’m a fan of the broccoli, Peter likes the fish cakes, and so on. There are always about ten little dishes to nibble on.

Banchan at Together Restaurant, Austin Texas

Banchan at Together Restaurant, Austin Texas

We’ll all jump up and take some turns grilling. In addition to pork belly they have beef ribs (bulgogi) and tender baby octopus (jjukkumi). We always skip the rice to save room for more of the good stuff, preferring to linger over several courses and not fill up too quickly.

Together Restaurant, Austin Texas

Pork Belly at Together Restaurant, Austin Texas

Beer at Together Restaurant, Austin Texas

Baby Octopus at Together Restaurant, Austin Texas

Unlike some other Korean BBQ joints I’ve been to, it never gets too smoky at Together. Still, it’s wise not to dress up as we all end up with little splatters on ourselves from cooking at the table. Like the decor, it’s 100% casual and anything goes.

In addition to the BBQ, we always get a seafood pancake and another meat dish, either pork or beef.

Seafood Pancake at Together Restaurant, Austin Texas

Pork dish at Together Restaurant, Austin Texas

Beef dish at Together Restaurant, Austin Texas

The night ends with what might be my very favorite dish, an enormous bubbling hot bowl of kimchi dumpling soup. It’s not just hot, it’s as spicy as it looks and it’s the thing I dream about when the temperatures in Austin fall below 70. Look at how magnificent that is, bursting with thick noodles and dumplings, layers of kimchi underneath. It’s a fragrant bowl of nirvana:

Kimchi dumpling soup at Together Restaurant, Austin Texas

Our per person average on these nights is about $20 to $35, depending on how many bottles of soju we order. It’s a great value for the amount of food consumed, laughs laughed, and memories made.

Do you have a favorite hole in the wall? Leave a comment and tell me about it.

Together Restaurant

9200 N. Lamar, Ste 101, Austin, TX 78754

Open everyday 4 pm-2 am

Friday, September 12th

Training for a 5K

Race day is tomorrow! I’m certainly not in it to win it. I merely want to survive the heat and cross the finish line. I couldn’t bring myself to train outdoors, so my running and walking have been confined to a treadmill in a freezing air conditioned room.

I’ve spent the last few weeks jogging a few times a week, increasing my running time and stamina. I can run about three times longer than when I started. I realize all bets are off when I take this show outside, so I’m not going to put the pressure of a time goal on myself. The important thing is that the training got me in a place where I’m exercising more and on some days I even looked forward to it. I don’t think I’m ever going to be a real runner or experience that “runner’s high.” I’ll just have to get high the traditional way…heroin.

I treated myself to some new workout gear and the Fit Foodie 5K organizers and sponsors have generously been sending some swag to the ambassadors every few days. So I got the look, I got the loot, and what else do I need? The music. Here’s the most playlist I’ll be using. Click on the songs to hear for yourself.

Wish me luck! Follow along with me and my fellow ambassadors by following the hashtags #FitFoodieRun and #TweetYour Feet. And leave me a comment and tell me about the most recent goal you’ve been working toward. It’ll help inspire me when I’m sweating and panting in the sun tomorrow. :)

Wednesday, September 10th

In Case You Missed it: Big Announcements from Apple

In case you missed it, all eyes were on the Apple live stream yesterday. Well, when it live stream finally worked. It wasn’t the smoothest start.

iPhone 6 and 6 Plus

Anyway, the new iPhone comes in two models, the 6 and the 6 Plus with retina HD displays of 4.7″ and 5.5″, respectively. The sleeker, curved models are a departure from the classic boxy shape and are improved with ion strengthened glass, faster processing and graphics, and battery life with considerably longer talk time and slightly longer data time. It has faster wifi and if you have T-Mobile, you can make calls on the wifi. Sustained processor performance means the phones will be better for gaming, if that’s your thing. The M8 processor measures relative elevation, so you can track flights of stairs.

iPhone 6 camera

I’m always amazed at how great the cameras are in the iPhones and we’re getting improvements there, too. The new autofocus system will be twice as fast and the new sensors have larger pixels. The two versions offer different stabilizations. It has better face, blink, and smile detection, improved details like sharpness and contrast and will let in 81% more light. You might as well throw out your old camera, because this one rocks. The video capabilities are kicked up, too. We’re all going to have fun with the slo mo.

iPhone 6 and 6 Plus can be preordered on September 12th and will be available September 19th.

iPhone 6 prices

iPhone 6 Plus prices

Other cool things

Apple Pay is a virtual wallet that looks to replace your credit cards. Since the phones are so much larger, you might need the extra room in your pockets/purses anyway. It stores credit cards, but not their numbers. Apple can’t see your credit card numbers, what you bought, or what you paid. (Merchants won’t see your numbers either.) It’ll work with major credit cards and lots of merchants like Whole Foods, Macy’s, Sephora, Uber, and all the places I like to spend money.

The new Health app is a dashboard of health and fitness data, which is becoming increasingly more popular and important to everyone. (And I think that’s just groovy, baby.) Track things like your cholesterol, calories, blood sugar, heart rate, exercise, and whatever else you want. Health Kit is a tool that makes that data shareable which means you can send info directly to your doctors, nutritionists, and more.

Apple Watch

This is where Apple really blew it out of the water. The sleek design of the watch with the revolutionary interface is like being caught between the past and the future. The interface is controlled by the crown, or wheel, just like winding an old-fashioned watch, but you can detect someone else’s heartbeat. This is so sci-fi romantic, I could die.

There are tons of styled straps and two sizes for larger and smaller wrists, with the main body coming in sport edition, 18k gold, and a polished stainless steel. You need an iPhone to use it. In addition to things you’d expect like calendars and music capabilities, you can send messages and text analysis makes asking questions fun and easy. Kind of like those notes you’d write in grammar school. Do you like me? Yes or No. Even more childlike, you can customize animated emoji. Send a smiley face, or touch it to make it smile and wink.

Apple Watch

Apple Watch has integrated maps and navigation, two-way messaging, and sketching abilities. There’s social media, travel apps, and tons of other third party apps that would be handy on your wrist as well as plenty of fitness tracking. You can unlock your hotel room door with it. And of course, use Apple Pay. They aren’t messing around with this no wallet thing. And because Apple products play so nicely together, you can use the watch as a remote for Apple TV or your iPhone camera. Out early in 2015, the watch prices start at $350. I can only imagine what the 18k gold one costs.

While the iPhone is a necessity for many of us, the Apple Watch is like candy. I want some, might not get some, but I’ll still want it. No doubt it will be a very profitable revenue stream as the cult of Apple fans will race to get them. As always, Apple doesn’t take any shortcuts and they continue to be creative, innovative, and brilliant.

*Photos from Tech Crunch.

Tuesday, September 9th

An Afternoon at Winflo Osteria

Winflo Osteria, Austin, Texas

Down on West 6th, an area with notoriously limited parking, there are a bunch of cute restaurants and shops that I rarely visit. It took me a long time to make it to Winflo Osteria, and even then, it was prompted by a lunch invite with a group of lovely ladies I had not yet met. I should note that they have free valet parking, so that won’t be my excuse anymore. We ordered with abandon and shared everything, enjoying a lovely day on the sizable patio of the bungalow.

Cocktails at Winflo Osteria, Austin Texas

Cocktails at Winflo Osteria, Austin Texas

Cocktails at Winflo Osteria, Austin Texas

The Insalata Mista and Polenta Fries were the perfect starters with our various cocktails before we moved on to heavier fare.

Insalata Mista at Winflo Osteria, Austin Texas

Polenta Fries at Winflo Osteria, Austin Texas

Our group’s favorite dish was the Salisiccia pizza, with fontina, ricotta, Italian sausage, roasted peppers, and caramelized onions. We also had the Prosciutto pizza with baby arugula and balsamic onion marmalade. The Spaghetti Alla Carbonara was too rich for my tastes, especially at lunch, but it was nice to try it.

Salisiccia Pizza at Winflo Osteria, Austin Texas Prosciutto pizza at Winflo Osteria, Austin Texas

Spaghetti Alla Carbonara at Winflo Osteria, Austin Texas

I was recently part of a conversation where a number of people expressed their anxiety over meeting new people. When I think back on this lunch with a group of strangers who decided to eat a meal together, it makes me happy. All four of us remain connected and my life has been enriched in small ways. I don’t have anxiety or shyness about meeting new people, but can imagine that it’s quite a burden for those who feel that way. Anyway, I encourage you to reach out to someone you’ve been wanting to meet. Invite them to lunch, to coffee, or for a drink after work. You have nothing to lose.

Winflo has happy hour Monday through Friday 3:00-6:30, featuring $6 select cocktails, wine, and appetizers, and $10 pizzas.

Winflo Osteria, 1315 W. 6th St, Austin, TX 78703

M-Th 11am-10pm, F 11am-mid, Sat 11am-3pm, 5pm-mid, Sun 11am-3pm, 5pm-11pm

Tuesday, September 2nd

Top Ten TV Intros

True Blood

If I had a TV show, I’d care deeply about the opening credit sequence. A great show doesn’t necessarily need a sequence. Plenty don’t have them at all. But personally I think there’s no better way to hook an audience and build excitement for the show. The creativity, passion, and budget in the intro are often indicative of the quality of the show. Without further ado, here’s my top ten list of of TV intros.

10. Arrested Development / I love the quick set-up of the show’s premise and the fun graphics. And I’m a sucker for Ron Howard. It’s short and sweet. Perfection.

9. Fresh Prince of Bel Air / If I ever get called onstage and am forced to rap, this will be my song. I love the bright 90s neon esthetic and this reminds me of being a kid. My sisters and I used to sing this together in the living room and mimic Will Smith rolling his head around at the end.

8. The Sopranos / Obviously there’s some Jersey pride with this one and most of my family can pick out personal landmarks in the opening. The gritty highway imagery is beautiful in its ugly reality and is made poignant with glimpses of the Statue of Liberty and Twin Towers. And while the debate about whether Tony Soprano is still alive, sadly, James Gandolfini is not. I love that this opening features just him and no one else in the cast.

7. BoJack Horseman / This is the newest show on the list and has only been out for a week at the time of writing, but it captured my heart right away. The lounge-y theme song was written by Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney and the animated scene is so LA. It’s a good preamble to the subtle darkness that lies within the show.

6. Treme / The show was a total love letter to New Orleans, so it’s no surprise that the opening features powerful real-life photos from the city and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The photos changed in each of the four seasons and reflected the progress of the city, becoming a little less dark each season. The fantastic music is by New Orleans jazz musician John Boutté.

5. Cosby Show / By all accounts, having the characters dance in the intro should be cheesy and terrible, but damn it, those lovable Cosby’s pulled it off season after season. We watched the kids transition from little kids to the awkward years, to teenagers doing trendy dances, to adults. Cliff was always a little silly, Claire always classy.

4. Mad Men / The silhouette of Don Draper immediately became the iconic image of the show. The dreamy opening is mysterious and a bit swanky, just like the show. It may be the best 30-second representation of any show without showing any actors. Simply put, it is brilliant.

3. True Blood / The opening is edgy, sexy, a little disturbing, and Gothic southern. The music, the fast cuts, the smears of real blood on the film…it’s so well done. It’s a bit more serious than the campy show. The elements of birth and death were included in an overall theme of evil and redemption, with violence, nudity, and lots of other stuff that make us uncomfortable. In the case of True Blood, the opening was the best part of the show, which exhaled its last tired gasp a couple weeks ago before finally succumbing to its own true death.

2. Northern Exposure / This opening makes me happy in its cheerful simplicity. The moose wanders through the fictional town of Cicely, Alaska and we get to experience an outside glimpse at the businesses where much of the series takes place: the doctor’s office, the bar, the general store, etc.

1. Six Feet Under / It wasn’t hard to land on Six Feet Under as the number one title sequence for my list. I believe this opening to be the most beautiful and meaningful. There’s something comforting in the way that death is represented in the wilting flowers and lone tree (among other images) with artistry and elegance. It’s the real death we all know, not the glamorous movie violent deaths that we can write off so easily. Funeral homes, coffins, grave stones. Things we all have to encounter and never want to think about. The haunting music was written for the show by celebrated composer Thomas Newman and it won two Grammys. Years after the show went off the air, this opening still feels just as powerful and compelling.

So those are my top ten. I have many others that I love that I couldn’t squeeze into such a small list. Which of your favorites did I miss?