travel guide: a weekend in austin, tx

magnolia cafe

As we prepare to leave the great state of Texas, I admit I will be sad to lose my proximity to Austin. One of the most dynamic, diverse cities I’ve ever visited, full of flavors and colors and textures, Austin is one of those places in which I could see myself living someday. The entire city has a personality — artistic, yet entrepreneurial; health-conscious, yet ready to have fun and let loose; with Texas its warmth and West Coast style, there’s a niche for everyone.

Last weekend we took a final trip to Austin to say our farewells to our favorite haunts and spend some time with an old friend, Heather. As a local, she was able to point us in the direction of some new attractions we wouldn’t have found on our own (hello, Rainey Street!) while we shared a few of our Austin must-haves that she hadn’t yet discovered  (waffles at 24 Diner!). With my fourth trip this year under my belt, I think I’m finally equipped to share my travel guide to Austin, or how to spend a weekend in a city that has everything for everyone.

craft pride

Two of the biggest attractions in Austin are the music scene and the food. Local venues draw in bands large and small, and at least three major music festivals take place in the city each year. The first show I saw in Austin was a Sigur Ros concert at Cedar Park, and it was the most incredible event. If you’re stopping through on a weekend, check on any big concerts or festivals — you may want to attend or just avoid that part of town for the traffic — but make sure to stop in at the little dive bars featuring local musicians and a smaller crowd. Sixth Street and South Congress always have something going on.

The food is the main attraction to Austin, in my opinion. Food carts spring up like mushrooms on every corner, representing nearly every cuisine imaginable. You can get Greek food, Indian curries, gourmet doughnuts, tacos, barbecue, wraps, vegan food, vegetarian fare…there is quite literally something for everyone. Little colonies of food trucks are scattered all over the city, but most notable are the lots on 1st Street, Rainey Street, at the 2nd Street farmers market on Saturdays, and those scattered all along 6th Street. Some of my favorites include: Torchy’s Tacos, La Barbecue (INCREDIBLE BBQ) and Gourdough’s. Go to Gourdough’s if you want a hot, gooey, decadent doughnut made with maple syrup and bacon in the middle of the night. It’s ridiculous.

The food carts are not the end-all-be-all. Local restaurants have a thriving presence in Austin and embody much of the ethnic and cultural diversity found in the food cart population. This is a city that loves to eat — fancy dinners, quick lunches, brunch or breakfast at midnight. Some favorites include:

Magnolia Cafe – an Austin staple for breakfast or brunch. The food was pretty good but the service was impeccable. Get here before 9:30 a.m. on weekends if you don’t want to stand in line. Try the migas  with fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice.

24 Diner – for brunch, or anytime, really. They’re open 24 hours and look like a typical greasy spoon on the outside, but serve surprisingly upscale meals. They’re committed to sourcing local and ethically raised produce, meat and eggs, and you can truly taste the difference in their attention to detail. I love their Sweet Potato Hash with house-made sausage, serrano peppers and local eggs. Andrew adores their Yeasted Belgian Waffles and French-pressed coffee. [600 N. Lamar Blvd]

Uchi – an upscale, gourmet Japanese restaurant, perfect for a fancy occasion. The first time we visited we waited about an hour to get a seat, but enjoyed edamame and roasted peppers with sake as an appetizer in their outdoor garden. The wait was entirely worth it for the flavors, the inventive presentation of the tasting menu, the fresh fish and the storm of umami that rained down upon my taste buds. [801 S. Lamar Blvd]

La Condesa – a more gourmet twist on typical Tex-Mex, this restaurant is decorated with an artful mix of Southwestern rustic and LA glam, and has THE BEST cocktails. I still dream about El Cubico, with whole leaf tobacco-infused cazadores reposado, vanilla infused brandy, lemon, grilled pineapple juice, mezcal essence and a volcanic-saffron-infused salt rim. [400A West 2nd Street]

Clay Pit – at this Indian restaurant I had the most velvety, satisfyingly rich dish of Lamb Rogan Josh, and so far all other interpretations of the dish have fallen short. The food is authentic and flavorful with a moderate price range. [1601 Guadalupe St  Austin]

Lick – not a restaurant, but a destination in itself. They specialize in gourmet ice creams made from locally sourced ingredients including high-quality milk with a ridiculous butterfat content. With flavors like Salted Caramel Lick, Too Hot Chocolate, Dark Chocolate with Olive Oil, Cardamom Pear Cake or Candied Tomato, Basil & Balsamic, their ice cream is as inventive as it is delicious. [2032 S. Lamar Boulevard]

G’Raj Mahal – not quite a restaurant, and yet not quite a food truck, an assembly of exotic tents and outdoor furniture does this eatery make. It’s casual — your food comes on paper plates and patrons are instructed to BYOB — but the wait staff is friendly and attentive, and the location is a half block from Rainey Street, where all of the newest, coolest bars are located. [91 Red River]

Other notable restaurants that were recommended to us but that we never visited include: Hopdoddy, a famous burger joint on Congress; Whip-In, an Indian restaurant; Hula Hut, a Mexican-Hawaiian food hybrid; The Iron Cactus, Leaf, Moonshine and East Side Showroom

the buzz mill II

Finding the quirkiest cafes is one of our favorite games to play when Andrew and I travel together. This time around, we hit the jackpot. We found Juan Pelota [400 Nueces St] by accident, and it ended up being the perfect spot to enjoy Stumptown Coffee and gluten-free treats. Located in Lance Armstrong’s bike shop, the service is friendly and the location is blissfully removed from the hustle and bustle of Sixth and SoCo. Halcyon [218 W 4th St] is another 4th Street find, although this is less of a quiet coffee spot and more of a racous gathering place — they serve “all your vices in one place,” from specialty coffee drinks, to liquor, to cigarettes and cigars plus and tableside make-your-own-s’mores experience. Walton’s Fancy & Staple [609 W 6th St], part charming French country cafe, part floral shop, is owned by Sandra Bullock. Here, you can find comfort food brunch, delicate pastel macarons, and an oasis of calm on Sixth Street. Picnik [1700 S. Lamar 400-B] is a place I discovered while at Paleo f(x) this year. Devoted to serving gluten-free and Paleo-friendly meals, snacks and coffee drinks, Picnik is set up much like a food cart but is instead stationary, built into a refurbished freight trailer. There you’ll find the only Bulletproof-esque coffee in town, and other drinks with creative twists sure to satisfy the primal palate and promote ketosis. Our friend Heather sent us to The Buzz Mill [1505 Town Creek Dr] to check out the themed interior and the handmade bar. The coffee was pretty good, but the attention to detail was incredible in this woodsy, lumberjack-inspired space. Not just a coffee bar, The Buzz Mill also hosts flapjack brunches on Saturday, live music in their courtyard on the weekends, and specialty infused-liquor cocktails at night.

It is incredibly easy to stay Paleo on a trip to Austin. Most restaurants are committed to sourcing local ingredients, and using pastured or grass-fed meats — and they’ll tell you, right on the menu. As with any dining out experience, you as the customer have the freedom to customize your order, but at least in Austin you can add nitrate-free bacon to your frittata without getting the evil eye from your server. At the very least, Whole Foods offers Paleo-friendly snacks (EPIC bars, dried fruit or nuts from the bulk bins, fresh fruit or veggies, sliced meat from the deli counter) and a hot breakfast bar with eggs prepared every way, should you not find a satisfactory meal in the area.

But don’t be afraid to branch out a little and try things that would normally be off your Paleo radar. Vegan restaurants, for example, can be excellent places to pick up a snack — their commitment to dairy-free often bleeds into a commitment to gluten-free, like at ThaiFresh on Mary Street, where you can find gluten-free treats and homemade coconut ice cream at the coffee bar. Incredibly, restaurants of all kinds are providing gluten-free options for customers, often going so far as to provide an entirely gluten-free menu. Always ask, and never be afraid to ask for what you want, but do so with kindness and humility.

the buzz mill

We didn’t get out to too many bars, so if you’re looking for a cheater’s guide to Sixth Street, you won’t find it here. We did love Easy Tiger [709 E 6th St] , Star Bar [600 W. 6th St], Craft Pride [61 Rainey St], and I’ve heard that Crow Bar on Congress and Gibson Bar on Lamar are also noteworthy.

For shopping in Austin, it is key to stay authentic. Keep away from the big stores and hit up the many well-curated vintage stores, like Feathers [1700 S. Congress Ave], Laced with Romance [1601 S. 1st St]. The Whole Foods Market HQ on Sixth and Lamar is a must-see, as is the tiny, quirky South Congress Book Shop.

Lodging in Austin can be conventional or out-of-the-box. I recommend you research your options and find what’s best for your situation, but if at all possible try to stay at an Air B&B to glean all of the knowledge of a local host. If staying in someone’s spare bedroom weirds you out, try the Hotel San Jose on South Congress. It is a quirky, boutique located right in the middle of all of the action, and will afford an authentic Austin experience (but with a hefty price tag).

There’s plenty to do in Austin without planning an itinerary — heck, most times we’re just content to sit on a patio and people watch with a drink in hand! But for those long afternoons that call for a little something more, I encourage you to visit the Bullock Texas State History Museum and the Blanton Museum of Art on the edge of the University of Texas campus. The History Museum is small but packed with information, and the impressive Blanton hosts artists from Picasso to local state crafters and everyone in between. On a nice day, take a run or a walk around the Lake Travis trails or have a picnic at Zilker Park. With all that beautiful public space, it’d be a shame to let it go to waste.

But most of all, Austin is a great place to wander, without many plans or places to be, free to stop at any interesting thing along the way. It is generally a safe place in which to walk around, even at night, and the people there are friendly and willing to help out with directions if necessary.

It is, however, a super-stylish town. When you visit, wear comfortable, sturdy walking shoes, but make sure you leave the fannypack and visor at home. Locals can sniff out a tourist a mile away, and if you can blend in with some tattoos and cool hipster duds, all the better for you. Take heart that you can also wear your cowboy boots here and still feel at home.

Please add your favorite Austin spots in the comments if you have any, or feel free to ask questions. I’d love to hear your recommendations for this and future trips, for current and future travelers.

around here

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetThis weekend we got the first taste of fall in the form of chilly mornings and bright blue September sky. We harvested our final tomato and made pumpkin pancakes in the span of two days — a sure sign that autumn is around the corner. There’s a beauty to seasonal eating, and the overlap that characterizes the switch from summer to fall. It’s not as if the leaves begin to turn and the pumpkins ripen on the exact day of fall equinox, but instead we have this gentle season of transition that is  not quite one thing and also not quite another. We wear long sleeves and scarves in the morning, but by lunchtime we’ve shed our layers, thankful to be wearing sandals instead of boots.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetI think it’s a shame to wish away one season in favor of the next. Already Halloween decorations are out in the stores and coffee shops are advertising their version of pumpkin lattes. Why not relish this last stretch of summer here and now, work on our flexibility and adaptability as we traverse varying temperatures and a mixed bag of bounty from our farmers markets?

I like this time of year. It keeps me on my toes. And only recently have I arrived at a place in which I can be content in the present instead of wishing it away for the future. Autumn is my favorite season, but I can say with confidence that the here and now is my favorite place to be.

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Speaking of favorites, Saturday was Andrew’s birthday! We celebrated all weekend long with big brunches, steak dinners, a craft beer tasting with friends and plenty of his favorite brownies. We saw a special showing of Fight Club at our local theater and went on a couple of hikes to stretch our legs and soak up the gorgeous weather. Happy birthday to my love — may we celebrate many more in the years to come!

around here

SONY DSCSONY DSCart museum Iart musuem IISONY DSCI’m enjoying getting back into the rhythm of these posts, of sending out little snapshots of the most notable, colorful parts of my weekend. Andrew helped me pick out some blush carnations from the grocery store, and now they’re cozy on our table in the kitchen. Everything is a little brighter in our house now that we have new windows — even if that did mean a day without air conditioning and with fifteen gaping holes in my walls while they took out the old and installed the new. But at the end of the day I have a potentially reduced electric bill and a cool old windowpane/door to make something with, so I’m a happy girl.

Over the weekend I baked a peach pie with a homemade lard crust and gave it to the old guys who run my favorite butcher shop. They make their own bacon and sell eggs gathered from their farm and, last month, gave me a free gallon of lard they’d rendered. I can’t receive free lard and not repay the kindness with a pie, Whole30 be damned.

A couple of pieces from a museum art exhibit were so striking I couldn’t help but snap a photo — the colors, the texture, the glow were all too much to leave behind. And speaking of left behind, our neighbor anonymously left a box of bread on our doorstep, nine packages to be exact of everything from white and wheat and all that’s in between. This “just because” mentality of kindness is something I’d like to get better at. We are all either teachers or students, our roles expanding and contracting depending on the day, the heat and the cold, the pressure from within. And no matter if you eat bread or not, you can’t deny the generosity of a box of free food from neighbors.

I made a big purchase this week: a pair of beautiful high-waisted Emerson Fry vintage-inspired jeans that I have been enamored with for no less than four years. While doing a little birthday shopping for Andrew I found these babies on super-sale and snatched them up. After a quick stitch to hem the length they fit perfectly. Happy birthday to meeeee…and now begins a self-imposed spending hiatus. Not that I’ll need to buy anything ever again now that I have these beautiful pants.

Listening to The Wailin’ Jennys and the new Civil Wars album. Working on refinishing some furniture. I can’t wait for this to come in. Making these on repeat, and eating them with everything from spicy chicken and deli turkey to scrambled eggs. Reading this again and waiting for my hardcopy of 7 to come in the mail so I can read it for the second time, thanks very much to my sweet mama for sending it my way.

cardamom mint sweet iced tea

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There’s something about the simplicity of iced tea that makes it perfect for summer. Whether you go the slow route of making it on the porch in a ray of sun, or if you boil a few bags of Lipton on the stovetop and shove in as many ice cubes as a pitcher will hold, it’s one of those simple, very good things.

One summer when I was growing up it was the best treat to make a glass of iced tea with fresh mint and vanilla syrup. I would putter around the yard with my own vague intentions, usually holing up somewhere to read, while my parents made actual headway in the garden or in yardwork or house repairs. Some days I’d be called to scrub down the porch, water the plants, wash the windows. Other days I would be the sole picker of what seemed like endless rows of green beans.

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One summer we had so many green beans that we ran out of buckets to keep them in, and so dumped the whole lot in the bathtub. I lobbied for less green beans every year, but it wasn’t until this bumper crop that we started to scale down our planting.

Another summer we repainted the porch. An immense job, it started with much sanding and scrubbing, several incidents with the spray hose and too much indecision over what color would be best. Mama finally settled on an incredibly deep burgundy, an almost bloody crimson.

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I was painting while they were doing some other work around the farm, relishing the long smooth brushstrokes over the wooden planks of the porch. At that time I had the most incredible long hair. Unruly, yes, but long and soft and brown with streaks of honey gold. I wore it down most of the time, and on this day when I was painting our porch with durable outdoor-strength red paint I let a few stray locks fall forward and into the paint can. Where they sunk. And soaked.

I raised up my head and watched, horrified, as a good third of my hair dripped like something out of a slasher film, remembering the words on the paint can that this stuff wasn’t water soluble.

I’ve always been pretty good at reacting efficiently under pressure. In about a minute in a half I had run to the water hose to rinse it off, with no avail. I’d gone inside, to try a little soap and more water, smearing the bathroom sink in the process. And by the time I made my way frantically back outside to the porch my parents had returned to find their only daughter, screaming and in tears, with a terrifying mess of bloodred goop all over her head.

Needless to say, there was a bit of a communication gap about what was actually happening.

After a moment of panic, my mother realized I had not in fact sustained a massive head injury, and set about rinsing my hair with turpentine. After every trace of red was scrubbed out, we probably put the painting away for the day and sat down with a few calming glasses of iced tea. That’s just how things usually turned out.

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Simplicity. It trumps everything, every time. It wins out over complexity and shines through in memories. It is fresh in the face of daily dramas, too many engagements, too few opportunities to sit and really taste.

Here’s wishing you a happy and simple Memorial Day weekend. Fill it with sun, good drinks, and memory-making.

SONY DSCCardamom Mint Sweet Iced Tea

½ c. water

2 heaping Tbsp. raw honey

1 tsp. powdered cardamom

handful of fresh mint

3 bags organic oolong tea, or your favorite black variety

I made my tea in an infuser-style pitcher out on the porch in the sun, but you can make yours however you prefer. This is the first step: make the tea.

While the tea is cooling, heat the water in a small saucepan until boiling. Lower the heat and dissolve the heaping spoonfuls of honey in the hot water. Stir in mint and cardamom and cover to steep.

To make the sweet iced tea, mix together 1-2 Tbsp. of simple syrup with a glass of tea, fill with ice, and garnish with lemon slices and another stem of mint. Enjoy on a porch somewhere. If it’s painted red I hope you’ll think of me and laugh.

around here

SONY DSC1) finding prismatic rainbows all over the house lately.
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SONY DSC 2) burning through my new beautiful beeswax candles from Zoe’s Corner on Etsy. SONY DSC3) nurturing a wee African Violet, bought for a little more than a dollar at the grocery store.

SONY DSC4) sending out a lot of love through the mail, after receiving plenty last month.

SONY DSC5. flying through our weekly supply of farm-fresh eggs.

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Have a beautiful weekend.

a hidden gem

SONY DSC SONY DSCSONY DSC SONY DSCOver the weekend we went to a little winery outside of town to explore and do a tasting with another couple. We tasted six wines, nibbled on cured meats and cheese, shared another bottle and wandered the grounds. (My favorites were the Tempranillo and the Old Vine Riesling.) The sunset was incredible. The live oaks were lush and the pecans still clung to a few choice nuts against the backdrop of yet another incredible Texas sunset. For a little bit, I felt like we were somewhere else. Somewhere luxurious and cultural and relaxing and far, far away from reality.

It was an escape that I’m hoping to return to very soon, a little hidden gem of beauty. I’m feeling pretty tired this week (yes, already), so I’m clinging to these photos and remembering the feeling of the sun on my back and red wine on my lips.

What’s getting you through the week this week?