Thursday, August 28th

Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries

Signs of autumn have crept in with back-to-school sales and pumpkin spice lattes, but I’m still fully entrenched in summer. Because it’s hot out there, people. It’s not fall until I put on long sleeves.

Cherry Almond Tea Cake

We’ve had a nice long cherry season and I’ve been taking advantage of it all summer long. I can’t remember a year where Mr. Betty and I ate more cherries. Most days I enjoyed a bowl of fresh cherries as my afternoon snack, but I also froze them for smoothies and baked them into a delicious tea cake, pictured above.

Part of my cherry inspiration came from Stephanie McClenny of Confituras, and a cooking demo she did at Whole Foods where she demonstrated several ways to use cherries. In that class I got to pickle cherries, make syrup and cocktail cherries, as well as learn some flavor profiles that are complimentary to cherries. Stephanie talked about how cherry pits have an aroma similar to almonds and ever since then I was dying to make a cake.

Stephanie McClenny of Confituras

Pickled Ranier Cherries

My Cherry Almond Tea Cake is adapted from an Epicurious recipe. We enjoyed it for dessert with steaming mugs of tea or frothy cappuccinos. It was rich and moist and satisfied our sweet cravings without being too sweet.

  • 1½ cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ c unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 c sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 2/3 cup sour cream
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 cup cherries, pitted and halved

Sift the first four ingredients together and set aside. Combine butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, then mix in eggs one at a time along with the extracts. Slowly incorporate dry ingredients, reserving 2 TB, into the wet. Mix in sour cream and zest. Dust cherries with reserved dry ingredients before gently folding them into the batter, which will be very thick.

Pour batter into greased and floured springform pan (9 or 10 inches) and bake in a preheated 350 oven for 30 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Garnish with a light dusting of powdered sugar and more cherries if you like.

Cherry Almond Tea Cake

Thursday, August 21st

Fit Foodie 5K Race Weekend

Even at my most fit, I’ve never been a runner. I’ve always been intimidated by the prospect of a long stretch of road (or time) with just me and my sneakers on the pavement. Unlike a spin class, which is my preferred cardio, there’s no routine, no one to push you on, no air conditioning.

And yet, I signed on as an ambassador for the Fit Foodie 5K which is a race and also a whole weekend of events. Why?

Because I need a challenge.

And because I’m NOT at my most fit.

And because I’d like to be someone who runs, if not obsessively, at least sometimes.

And because 10% goes to City of Hope.

The reasons to do it far outweigh the reasons to stay home. So I’m doing this.

Fit Foodie Race Weekend Austin

But this is so much more than a race. The theme is Calories Burned, Calories Earned, which means that there are some delicious elements to the weekend, too. (How very Austin, right? Exercise and food? If they incorporate some dogs, a live band, and a new online social platform, they’ve nailed the city. Oh, and hipster mustaches. Can’t forget those.)

In addition to the Saturday morning race, there’s a VIP Party Friday night, a post-race chef experience, and brunch, yoga and bootcamp with an obstacle course on Sunday. You can go to one or all. And the code MADBETTY will get you 10% off. Buy tickets or learn more here and get updates and news on Facebook.

My goal for the race is simply to run for as much of it as I can. I won’t be the fastest. I might even be the slowest. But I will finish. And I’ll be running for the next few weeks to prepare and using the hashtag #TweetYourFeet. Should you decide to join me, use the hashtag so I can cheer you on!

#tweetyourfeet

What’s going to keep me inspired?

  1. The Finisher’s Village with chef tastings and demos, giveaways, and Alison Sweeney, Biggest Loser host and author, signing her book for fans.
  2. Mr. Betty. He’s an avid runner and fellow race ambassador, so I’ll have a buddy on race day as well as a training partner.
  3. I have a bunch of friends who are also participating in the race including Mary Makes Dinner, Stetted, and A Time to Kale.
  4. My playlist! I’m putting together a motivating selection of songs to keep me pumped for 3.1 miles.

I’d love to see you on race weekend! And my question for you: Have you done anything lately that’s pushed you out of your comfort zone? Leave me a comment!

Disclosure: I received free entry to the Fit Foodie 5k Race Weekend but was not compensated for this post or any further social media sharing. And the running? That’s all me, baby.

Monday, August 18th

Mad Betty’s SXSW 2015 Panel Picks

SXSW 2015 El Arroyo Sign, Austin, Texas

SXSW 2015 is months away, yet it’s time to start thinking about it. South by Southwest hopefuls have submitted their ideas for next year’s conference and now the community gets to vote for their favorites.Votes account for about 30% of the decision and it’s a highly competitive arena. I submitted a proposal among the 3,000 others in the interactive category and am crossing my fingers that we make the cut. And you can help by checking out the panel picker and giving thumbs up to my entry and any others you’d like to support. Even better, leave a comment and contribute to the conversation in the SXSW Panel Picker.

My panel New Journalism: Black & White & Reddit All Over (which can also be accessed by clicking on the web tile just to the right) will be a conversation about the (often contentious) relationship between bloggers and traditional journalists. We’ll seek to address issues about credibility and bias among writers, and about how people get their information today. The part that excites me the most is the prospect of exploring these issues with two people I respect very much: Corrin Foster and Mike Sutter. So please, give us a thumbs up and share in the comments what interests you about this panel.

Craft Taste

Another panel I’m also pulling for You Can’t Sit With Us: Craft Beer Subculture, is about the exclusionary attitude that can take place in craft beer culture. Mr. Betty put together this one with other knowledgeable people in the craft beer community. As someone who sits on the fringe of craft beer culture, I’m intrigued by this topic.

Weird Al Yankovic

You’ll notice that the panel What Every Marketer Should Learn from Weird Al has generated a lot of buzz and for good reason. This crossover of innovation, business, and art is what SX is all about and Jason Wesbecher is just the person to speak about it. This one’s going to be popular, you guys.

Crowdfunding for Causes (Without Losing Friends) is a great topic and very relevant to me. I happen to know a lot of brilliant, ambitious people who are often looking for funding. Amanda Quraishi has one of Austin’s biggest hearts and actively advocates for the causes she believes in.

In a discussion about a topic that affects all of us, Addie Broyles will interview the Supermarket Guru about the future of grocery stores. Addie’s a pro interviewer and always gets right to the heart of what people want to know.

A related topic, Building a Better Breakfast, will focus on sustainability and making healthy eating affordable. This will likely draw a big crowd who want to see Andrew Zimmern speak.

And, here are a few more fun ones that I’d like to see happen:

No More Kittens! Content Marketing for Social ROI

NASA’s Next Giant Leap: The Path to Mars

KU! What Makes Asia Such a Pop Culture Powerhouse?

Is Pop Culture Binging a Good Thing?

When Did Spoilers Start to Matter?

Social Media Celebrity: Audience vs True Influence

Hamburger Helper is My Bae: Weird Brand Twitter

Those are my picks! I, and my fellow SXSW submitters, would be so grateful for your votes. It doesn’t take much to set up an account and vote, just an email and password. (And SXSW doesn’t bombard you with emails; I think I get two a year…if I submit.) Voting closes September 6, 2014.

Did you submit a panel? Please leave a link in the comments so we can vote for you.

Friday, August 15th

South Lamar Alamo Drafthouse Reopens

Alamo Drafthouse and The Highball, Austin, Texas

Tomorrow the long-awaited South Lamar Alamo Drafthouse officially opens. The redux is substantially larger, with nine theaters and an increase of almost 20,000 feet, nearly doubling it in size. There’s a parking garage (and a couple more being built) that will hold 700 cars or so. So, yeah, our little neighborhood theater is a behemoth. But Austin is crowded and we need more parking, more seats, more everything.

I’m thrilled that while there are lots of digital upgrades and the like, the spirit of the old Drafthouse lives on in the decor. The old metal spaceships and planes dot the ceiling of the lobby, along with a new zeppelin. And it seems like a silly thing to be attached to, but I always loved the whimsical hot dog in the original theater and am happy to report they brought him back.

South Lamar Alamo Drafthouse, Austin, Texas

 

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The hallways feature vintage horror posters with a bit of a freak show element. Think Mr. Bungle at the movies.

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Attached to the theater is The Highball, which also features decor and furniture from the old one. You can’t bowl there anymore, but the wood from the lanes is everywhere from the floor of the top of the bar, the ceilings and benches. It’s smooth and shiny and feels like home. A point of pride with the cocktail program is that the staff (all from the original Highball) create the drink menu themselves. In addition to the 22 craft beers there are two cocktails on draft, all of which will rotate regularly. And mixed drink bottle service is a new feature, which is perfect for the karaoke rooms. You’ll be able to get a large bottle (enough for six) of Moscow Mules and other cocktails for $45. Very convenient.

Speaking of the karaoke rooms, they are the real draw. Each of the seven private rooms is done in a fun theme and all are spectacular. I won’t show but a couple photos, because the real magic is being surprised by the details yourself. Needless to say I was blown away and especially loved Truly Outrageous, done in a sparkly Jem and the Holograms theme and The Fifth Dimension, a black lit Twilight Zone room.

Truly Outrageous, Jem earrings

The Fifth Dimension Twilight Zone

The Fifth Dimension Twilight Zone

I’m not even into karaoke but I think I’ll be changing that. And I can’t wait to resume my regular trips to my favorite location to see movies. Welcome back, Alamo Drafthouse. It was a long year and a half without you.

Alamo Drafthouse

1120 South Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78704

Wednesday, August 13th

VERTS Kebap

VERTS Kebap, Austin, Texas

Did you know that August is National Sandwich Month? I like to think of it as Joey Tribbiani Month, the biggest sandwich lover since Mr. Betty.

In honor of the celebratory month, VERTS Kebap treated us to dinner one night and we happily accepted. We both ordered the special Döner Kebap, the signature Berlin-inspired wrap with a freshly baked flatbread. With the choice of meats, we chose the chicken and beef/lamb combo and topped both with loads of fresh veggies.

Doner Kebap at VERTS Kebap, Austin, Texas

The sandwiches are quite large and the crunchy vegetables keep it light. All told, it’s a very satisfying meal. For me, it’s the sauces that make it. The choices are garlic, spicy red, vinaigrette, house, and an intense hot sauce. I enjoyed a combination of spicy red and garlic, which was suggested by the server.

Doner Kebaps at VERTS Kebaps, Austin, Texas

Cheers to you, VERTS, and thanks for the sandwiches. It wasn’t my first visit and it won’t be my last. As Joey would say, How YOU doin?

VERTS Kebap, 1500 S. Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78704 (Or visit one of their other locations.)

11 am-10 pm

Friday, August 8th

What I Learned About Blogging

Grumpy Cat birthday

Happy Birthday, blog! It was three years ago today that my first post went up. Today’s post is my 500th and it feels like a good time for reflection.

I started blogging because I needed an outlet for writing when I was working a job that bored the crap out of me, the only job I’ve ever had that didn’t require me to write. I needed something challenging and fun, an expression of creativity that was all my own. And it’s served me well although there was a big learning curve. A few things I’ve learned along the way:

Just because you’re putting something on the internet doesn’t mean people are reading it. All the time I hear from people who want to start their own blogs. And the reservations are always the same: fear of making mistakes. But you know what? When you first start writing, no one knows about it. There’s no audience. There’s time to get comfortable before you decide to alert anyone to your presence online. And then, forever, you have to point people in the direction of your blog to get them to read it. (And then, forever, you’ll still make mistakes. And you fix them. No biggie.)

Blogging is WORK. Yes, it’s creative. And it’s fun. But it’s demanding, time-consuming and is like having constant homework. One can choose to do the work or not. Personally, I believe that if you’ve developed a readership then you owe it to them (and yourself) to stay active. I don’t believe in “writer’s block.” But I think that lack of motivation is very real and can be a tough hurdle. And like any hurdle cleared, we are better for overcoming difficulties and getting the job done anyway when we just don’t want to.

It’s not easy to make money off your blog. Think it’s going to be an extra source of income? For some it is, but for many of us it costs so much money and time that it never evens out. There’s also an integrity issue. Could my blog be making more money? Yes. If I took even 10% of the opportunities I was offered this place would be so crapped up I wouldn’t want to put my name on it. And if one is simply looking to make money, then that’s okay. It’s all in the intent. I figured out pretty quickly that this gig was better suited to me as a hobby. My financial goals are pretty low and easy to reach, paying for my hosting and some other blogging incidentals.

People are nice. When you put something out there you open yourself up to criticism. It’s bound to happen. But for the most part, people are pretty cool and will be supportive of any endeavors that we put our hearts into. I’ve had some hurtful comments on my blog that left me reeling. But when I compare those negative comments to the favorable ones, I realize what a small fraction the bad is.

The best part of blogging is the community. Bloggers, no matter what they write about, have something in common: The desire to put something out there and the determination to do so. That is something so fundamentally appealing to me, the idea that people will pour themselves into a passion project and really work at it. I’m drawn to people with a strong work ethic and an inclination for creative expression. People who are a little brave, a little driven, and maybe a little crazy. So many of my friends are bloggers and it’s enriched my life in a way that I never imagined.

Willy Wonka Meme

So how has Mad Betty done in three years? Pretty well, I guess. It’s opened a lot of doors for me professionally and personally. It’s not the world’s biggest blog or even Austin’s biggest blog. And it never will be. But I have a group of loyal readers that I’m grateful for and it’s made me a more disciplined in the way I approach both work and my hobbies.

Some Facts

My top ten most regularly visited posts, excepting TV recaps, which do pretty well:

1. Cheap Eats in Austin

2. Uchiko Social Hour

3. Why You Should Go to Uchi for Social Hour

4. First Look: Radio Coffee & Beer

5. Dang Banh Mi

6. Shishito Peppers

7. The Highs & Lows of Popovers

8. Standard Process Cleanse

9. Ramen Tatsu-ya

10. Kin & Comfort

My post with the most pins is Szechuan House. My most controversial post is Why I Forgive Lance Armstrong. Random old post that I love: Cool Yule, Fool, because I love the photos of my Christmas ornaments.

Some goals for the future

-Put more thought and effort into my social media. I have an embarrassingly low number of Facebook fans because I’m too proud to ask anyone to “like me.” I can’t make myself care about Facebook too much, but this page has caused me to lose out on a few cool opportunities.

-Redesign. Sometime next year I’d like to correct a few things I was too uneducated to ask for in my initial design. Better social sharing icons, more editing capabilities, and most importantly, a responsive theme.

-This is the hardest one for me, but I’d like to use this platform to show more vulnerability and maybe grow a thicker skin. My favorite blogs to read are deeply personal and authentic. It’d be nice to go there…just once in a while.

Anyway, it’s been a great three years. Thank you for reading, from the bottom of my heart.

Tuesday, August 5th

Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy

I saw Guardians of the Galaxy over the weekend and I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s been a long time since a summer blockbuster blew me away. Sure, they always have spectacular CGI and a decent cast list. But so often the writing blows. (Ahem, Ironman. Cough.)

But Guardians of the Galaxy? Good story, excellent writing, and so damn funny. And also poignant. Dare I say, I shed a tear or two. No spoilers here, but check out the trailer if you haven’t already.

 

Our scrappy group of ex-cons is led by Peter Quill aka Star-Lord, played by the likable and buffed out Chris Pratt. This character seems like it was written just for for him and Parks and Recreation fans will rejoice in seeing him in a role more worthy of his talents. We learn a little about Star-Lord’s past, but many questions are unanswered. The door is wide open for the sequel, due summer 2017.

Peter Quill, Star-Lord, played by Chris Pratt in Guardians of the Galaxy

The rest of the guardians are composed of Gamora, played by Zoe Saldana (who looks as lovely in Guardian Green as she did in Avatar Blue,) Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), and Groot (Vin Diesel, in his best role ever.) The foes are numerous and the tone and setting are evil and scary. Yet the movie doesn’t get bogged down with the darkness and there’s enough comedy to show it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Kind of the way Batman used to be. Fun, exciting, dangerous. Mr. Betty and I will probably see it again because we both liked it so much.

Gamora played by Zoe Saldana in Guardians of the Galaxy

Drax played by Dave Bautista in Guardians of the Galaxy

Rocket, voiced by Bradley Cooper in Guardians of the Galaxy

Groot voiced by Vin Diesel in Guardians of the Galaxy

Anyway, I want to know what you guys thought of the movie. Share in the comments!

Tuesday, July 29th

aRoma: Italian by way of South Austin

Neapolitan Pizza at aRoma, Austin Texas

Located in the base level of the 704 Apartments on South Lamar is aRoma Italian Kitchen & Bar, which has been open for almost three months. Here’s a look at some of their menu, which I tasted at a media event shortly after they opened.

Salumi & Formaggi. The selection of meats and cheeses were paired with castelvetrano olives and condiments.

Salumi & Formaggi at aRoma, Austin Texas

Barbarietola. A salad of roasted beets, goat cheese, pine nuts, farro, crispy onions, and red wine vinaigrette.

Barbabietola at aRoma, Austin Texas

Margherita Pizza, Neapolitan style.

Margherita Pizza at aRoma, Austin Texas

Fettucine Gamberetto. The pasta is made with shrimp, prosciutto, cherry tomatoes, arugula, and smoked tomato cream.

Fettuccine Gamberetto at aRoma, Austin Texas

Brasato al Vino. Red wine braised short ribs, mascarpone potatoes, wilted spinach.

Brasato al Vino at aRoma, Austin Texas

Biscotti and Brownies

Biscotti and Brownies at aRoma, Austin Texas

In addition to a sizable wine list, aRoma makes specialty cocktails like the Americano or the Nonino Sour, a frothy, sweet concoction that was perfect for dessert.

Americano at aRoma, Austin Texas

Nonino Sour at aRoma, Austin Texas

aRoma has a great happy hour M-F 4-7, with ½ price pizzas, $1 sparkling wine, and $1 off all other drinks.

aRoma, 3403 S. Lamar, Austin TX 78704

M-F 4-10, Sat & Sun 5-10

Thursday, July 24th

Dang Banh Mi

Dang Banh Mi

The much-anticipated Dang Bánh Mì opened this week. The passion project from the Pluckers owners was born out of a love of Vietnam and its cuisine. I attended a media preview and was pleasantly surprised by the authenticity and attention to detail in the food.

Lemongrass pork and shrimp spring rolls were light and fresh, but the real star was the peanut dipping sauce. My dining companions and I looked for anything and everything to dip in that sauce.

Lemongrass Pork & Shrimp Spring Rol

At first glance we were surprised to find one lone Thai dish on the menu, but the Som Tam was so well done that we agreed that its inclusion was warranted. A 6 oz portion is $2.50, a bargain.

Som Tam at Dang Banh Mi, Austin Texas

I tried three bánh mì. The Dang Original was my favorite, made with 15 ingredients including pork belly, pork tenderloin, ground pork, and homemade pâté. The Char Siu Chicken was just as hearty and flavorful. The Oxtail, which is a limited offering, was a labor of love having been braised for 12 hours in pho stock. All were delicious and on the heavier side for bánh mì, and as with most bánh mì found in Austin, the bread’s not quite as light/crusty as you might find in other cities. Each sandwich is topped with a fried egg, which I found to be a nice touch.

Banh Mi at Dang Banh Mi, Austin Texas

The pho broth was incredibly flavorful and beefy, delighting my good friend Peter, whose opinion holds a lot of weight. I really liked the inclusion of mint in the toppings, which brought a burst of cool flavor that contrasted nicely with the brisket, sirloin, and eye of round. Meat-lovers will really love this pho.

Pho at Dang Banh Mi

Already full, we pushed on to sample the grilled lemongrass pork bún, which was chock full of vegetables, making it lighter than many other bún I’ve had. It’s worth noting that the fish sauce was aromatic, citrusy, and just very special. Maybe my favorite fish sauce ever! I also loved the generous portion of fried shallots on the dish.

Grilled Lemongrass Pork at Dang Banh Mi

Although it was later than my cutoff for consuming caffeine, I couldn’t help but indulge in the Vietnamese iced coffee. Sometimes they can be too sweet for me, but this particular cup had just the right amount of sweetened condensed milk. Perfection!

The prices are a little higher than typical Vietnamese restaurants. The pho is $9.50 and bún are $10. Most of the bánh mì are around $8.50, with the most expensive being the oxtail, which is $12.50. But the popularity of Elizabeth Street Café suggests that people are willing to shell out more for Vietnamese, so we’ll see how it goes.

Will you be checking out Dang Bánh Mì? Leave me a comment and tell me your favorite Vietnamese joints.

Dang Bánh Mì

9070 Research Blvd, Ste 303, Austin, TX 78757

Mon-Sun 11-9

Monday, July 21st

What It’s Like to Get Botox

So you’re curious about Botox. You’re afraid time will ravage your face and you will look like the Crypt Keeper by the time you are 35. I totally get it. 

Crypt Keeper

Several months ago I saw a Groupon-ish deal to get 20 units of Botox at a discount. I wasn’t sure how much that was in relation to what a normal face needs. So I called the doctor’s office to see what they recommended. To get the full treatment in the forehead, a person uses around 40 units. I opted to just go for the 20 units. Because I don’t have the “elevens” between my eyebrows, I can get away with less.

I sat on the deal for months, intimidated. As the expiration date grew closer, I realized I needed to bite the bullet and make an appointment. When B-day arrived I woke up nervous and made my way to the office. The waiting room was full of plush furniture and there was a television looping a video promoting a fat-removing contouring treatment. There were also some signed celebrity photos and different surgery ads. Weird. Please excuse the stealthy iPhone photos.

Tyra Banks

Once inside the exam injection room, there were more surgery ads and to my delight, a Nip Tuck poster. And implants!

Nip Tuck

Breast Implants

Breast Implants

Soon, the child young girl came in with the needle. It was small and was going to be stabbed in five places: One in the center of my temple, and two above each eyebrow. I tried not to wince as each injection went in and asked what age it’s recommended to start Botox. 22! Well, I missed the deadline on that one. But it’s a preventive treatment so earlier is better than later.

Botox needle

How bad did it hurt? Enough that I had to sit for a few moments afterwards, woozy and weak. But not enough that I wouldn’t do it again, if the circumstances and price were right.

I took before and after photos, but they don’t really look that different. I would have been better off recording short before and after videos so that you could see how I couldn’t move my eyebrows much afterwards. It took a couple days, but indeed my forehead felt paralyzed.

Another thing to note is the tipping. In a clinical setting, tipping can seem out of place so I asked and was told it was acceptable but not expected. (I chose to tip because I felt embarrassed about feeling faint and having to stay and ask for water. I’d base future tipping decisions on each situation.)

This experience taught me that I’m not going to take extraordinary measures to preserve my youth. No fillers and definitely no surgery. I’m not comfortably with being “sold to” in a doctor’s office or taking large unnecessary risks with my health, nor am I interested in spending thousands of dollars this way. No judgement to those who do, it’s just not for me.

Have you tried (or are you interested in trying) Botox? Leave a comment.