Saturday, July 23, 2011


Usually I let my husband and kids pick our movies, which means I've seen a whole lot of sci-fi, fantasy,  gore, action and comic-based movies.  Ever so often though, I dig my heels in, and insist that we see something worthy of being called "film" or "cine."  For the last few years, that's been a problem, since the only art house theatre in Austin was on the far north side.  I lucked out when I happened to find Midnight in Paris showing at one of the mainstream theatres, and again when I just happened to be in Dallas during the one week when Bride Flight was being shown.  But those two just whetted my appetite -- made me crave more of the same!

So, imagine my glee when I stumbled across some facebook chatter about a new place called The Violet Crown!  With its convenient downtown location, it's at least 20 or 30 minutes closer to us than the other art house theatre, and there are other plusses as well.  Such as the lovely cafe/bar just off the lobby, in case you want to meet friends for a drink or dinner beforehand.  I was kinda tickled with the beverage selection too -- at a help-yourself fountain in the hallway, with free refills allowed.  It's not every day you see selections such as these:

That's Dublin Dr. Pepper, in case you didn't notice, and Texas Prickly Pear Cactus Juice Lemonade!

When I checked to see what all was showing on that particular day, I realized that I would be happy seeing just about any one of the five or six choices, so we just went and enjoyed a leisurely lunch at nearby Walton's Staple and Fancy (the cafe I wrote about in my last post), then showed up at the theatre and bought tickets for whatever show started next -- which is how we came to see Buck, a wonderful documentary about a real life Horse Whisperer.  See it if you get the chance!  Now if only Austin would extend that light rail south, to Kyle.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


Last Sunday the hubby and I revisited Sandra Bullock's little cafe, called Walton's Fancy & Staple, over in Austin.  I liked it a lot on our first visit, but I think I fell in love with it this time. It may even join the ranks of Onion Creek Cafe and Mima's to become one of my "IT" places.  

Hubby and I love to go exploring, and try lots of new places in the process.  Very few of them, however, have what it takes to call me back over and over again.  I'm not even sure I can explain what it takes for a restaurant to do that.  It takes a whole lot more than a cute decorating theme.  Walton's skipped over the cutesy theme scheme and went with having a real florist and a real bakery sharing the premises instead.  I love real!

It takes more than good food, too, though this stuff is fairly awesome.  I don't even like sandwiches, as a rule, but this one with it's paper thin roast beef and creamy horseradish with bits of blue cheese, set off by the perfect counterpoint of spicy-crisp arugula, actually made me moan.  A sandwich, for pete's sake.  And the bread...oh. my. stars.  The bread!  Just look at this pretzel bun they put my hubby's ham, gruyere, and dijon mustard on!

Turns out Bullock has a sister, Gesine Bullock-Prado, who decided to ditch her career as manager of Bullock's production company, then followed her heart to become a master baker.  She helped develop a lot of the recipes for this cafe, though her own business is in Vermont.  She also has a couple of cookbooks under her belt, including Confections of a Closet Master Baker.  She blogs here.

But, like I said, it takes more than good food, cute decor, or even reasonable prices, if I'm going to come back time and again.  It takes a certain je ne sais quois...  That french phrase was my tip off.  To be an "IT" place, a cafe must have a certain feel.  One must be more than comfortable there.  One must home.  As I looked around me, at the couples lingering over coffee with their Sunday papers or meeting up with friends, people typing away on their laptops or just soaking up some sun at the tables outside, I realized that they were all doing exactly what I had read about when I was researching French bistros and cafes -- they were treating this place as if it were an extension of their own homes.  C'est bon!

This makes me so happy!  What makes you happy?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Yesterday was a near perfect day.  It started with DH and I having a leisurely breakfast at our favorite bagel joint.  Have you ever had a cheesy bagel fresh from the oven, slathered with salmon cream cheese?  Definitely a moaner -- especially when you only get to eat them a few times per year.  Afterwards I dropped John off at the office and went back to the hotel for a bit.  When I was ready to head out on my adventures, I discovered that the key gizmo I had (John's car is a hybrid that uses a sensor thingamajig, rather than an actual key) was dead, which meant walking all the way back to his office to get his key, in the rain, then walking back to the hotel again, to get the car.  Know what?  It was actually rather pleasant.  I can't remember the last time I walked anywhere on a nice, overcast day, holding an umbrella over my head!  Again, some things are much more fun the less often you do them.

First stop was my favorite mall from days gone by.  It was time for my annual clothes-shopping trip, mostly to replace the everyday essentials that I had worn to a frazzle.  I also nabbed a couple of summer tops, shocked that they had already been put on clearance.  I couldn't believe how quickly I had forgotten the way the stores do everything a whole season ahead, after all the time I'd spent working in retail! After a solid three hours of trying on clothes, coming on top of my walk to John's office and back, I was feeling a bit weak in the knees, so I headed off to get one of these.

That's the old-fashioned, char-grilled hickory cheeseburger at Beck's Prime -- the only burger I really love!

Mid-afternoon John called to say he'd had enough of work and would rather be having fun with me, so I wen't to fetch him.  The mall was filling up with people by then, and I'd had enough of it to last me another year.  Was there really a time when I used to go to malls almost weekly?  Next we headed for our favorite cluster of free-standing stores.  I like it way more than the mall.  For one thing, it has a great bookstore, where I found a promising new book that I will probably be reviewing for you soon.

It also has a Williams-Sonoma shop, and the most gorgeous container gardens around.  I could do pots like these, if it weren't for the dang deer.  A former boss and I used to do them for all the La Madeleine cafes in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, because it added to their French ambience, but then the economy went south and they had to tighten their purse strings.  I love visiting this shopping center each season, just to see what these pots have in them!

At W-S I bought a jar of beef demi-glace, to use in a crock-pot recipe for Boeuf Bourguignonne that I've been wanting to try, along with some really good olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and, at a nearby HEB grocery store, I nabbed some Barilla whole wheat pasta and French green lentils! (see 10 Easy Ways to Improve Your Cooking)

From there we went to have dinner with son Austin, only I was so busy catching up with him (and, perhaps, pumping him for information about his new girlfriend) that I totally forgot to pull out my camera.

So, how do you end a most wonderful day?  By paying tribute to the ending of the most wonderful book series ever written.
Won't someone out there please write another good one?  Soon?  I'm feeling rather bereft right now.

Monday, July 18, 2011


Dear Hubby had to go to Houston again this week, but this time he was only staying two nights, so on the spur of the moment, I decided to hop in the car with him!  I haven't been to a mall or department store, or eaten any Asian food since before Christmas, and haven't seen my son since Easter!  I think tomorrow is going to be a very good day.

I'll be back Wednesday afternoon, but in the meantime, I have something I want you to be thinking about.  I have a very precious niece who just turned 13, and one thing I love most about her is her positive attitude and her knack for finding joy.  If you were to spend even one hour with her, I guarantee you would hear her say "This makes me really happy!"  In fact, she's got my whole family saying it now.  She's rarely talking about anything major, either.  It's usually as simple as the way something tastes or feels. I think she's quite gifted, don't you?

Since I also think that the most important step towards living the good life is being able to do just that -- find pleasure in the small, simple things -- I've been thinking about doing a weekly post about some of the small things that give me the most pleasure.  I think I'll call it "This Makes Me Happy", in honor of Miss M.  Know what would make me really, really happy?  If you guys would leave comments, sharing some of your own simple pleasures as well!  In fact, you might want to start a list, so you can jot them down as you think of them.  Maybe we'll even have an occasional guest post!

Sunday, July 17, 2011


As often happens when you discover a favorite new blog, My French Corner led me to another, which led me to yet another, which...well, you know how it goes.  One of the many amazing, French-inspired blogs I ended up stumbling across was David Lebovitz: Living the Sweet Life in Paris.  David is an American pastry chef who spent 16 years working with Alice Waters at Chez Panisse in Berkley.  In 1999 he left there to work on the first of his six books, then in 2004 he moved to Paris, where he now lives fulltime.

On one of his blog posts I found this list of easy ways to improve one's cooking, and it just tickled me no end to discover that I could check off almost everything on the list (they don't sell Lentilles du Puy here at our little grocery store), for they are all habits I have picked up since moving to the Hill Country.  Without further ado, here they are -- ten easy steps which are guaranteed not only to improve your cooking, but to add a bit of joie de vivre to your life as well!

1) Use fresh herbs.
2) Use shallots.  Lots and lots of shallots.

3) Upgrade your oil.

4) Rethink your vinegar -- try sherry vinegar instead of your usual red wine vinegar, and if you get the chance, try a real balsamic vinegar, from Modena.  I hear it tastes absolutely nothing like the fakes they sell in America, but I've yet to try it.  I'm afraid it will spoil me for life, the way that tasting my first bite of foie gras did.

5) Keep a good amount of decent bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate on hand.  (We all know I've got that one covered!)

6) Salt -- treat yourself to some fleur de sel, or at the very least, a big box of kosher salt.

7) Try Lentilles du Puy, the caviar of lentils.  These French green lentils from the Auvergne are grown in volcanic rock, and dry naturally on the vine, which gives them their special flavor.  Also, they contain less starch, so they don't go mushy when you cook them.  At least, that's what I've heard.

8) Try whole wheat pasta -- Lebovitz says Barilla is making their own now, though he's not sure if it's available in America yet.  He also suggests trying Latini farro pasta.  One of his favorite quick dishes is whole wheat pasta tossed with sundried tomatoes, red chili flakes, chopped sausage, greens and extra virgin olive oil, then topped with some good feta cheese.

9) Get thee some decent cookware.

10) Wine -- don't be a Two-Buck-Chuck.  There's plenty of decent wines out there for less than $10 a bottle, that are very drinkable.

Above you see the very basic roast chicken we had for dinner a couple of nights ago.  The chicken came straight from one of our Bountiful Sprout growers, Richardson Farms.  It was seasoned with nothing but kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper, and a few pats of butter were tucked under the skin.  The veggies, and some fresh thyme from my garden, were first browned in a bit of good olive oil, in my treasured Le Creuset pot that Dear Hubby presented me with last Christmas.  The chicken was then placed atop them, and it went into the oven to roast for about 75 minutes at 375 F.  It couldn't have been simpler, but you will rarely taste anything finer -- especially if you pair it with a decent glass of wine and tear off a piece of crusty baguette, as we did, for sopping up the juices!  Try these 10 simple steps, and you'll be eating like this most every night.