Category Archives: Austin

La Cuisine!

We moved into our newly remodeled house several months ago, but many of the finishing pieces are still trickling in ever. so. slowly. The arrival of the banquette  marked the (almost) completion of the kitchen and breakfast area, which I am happy to finally share with you. The kitchen was my favorite part of the remodel, and the part I thought about and researched the most. I wanted to make absolutely sure it suited my cooking style as well as my aesthetic. Because mine truly is a “working kitchen,” it was imperative that the lay-out of appliances, sinks, and storage were well planned and made sense for me. I am thrilled to report that so far I am totally loving cooking and baking in this space, and have not yet discovered anything I wish we had done differently.

This “before” picture shows the kitchen, which was about half the size of the new one, and flanked by a tall pantry. We ripped everything out and added two more windows on the right wall. This left us with a big open space to play with!

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The two additional windows add light and fresh air on those rare days we can open them here in Austin. The window panel looks out onto a gravel courtyard surrounding a magnificent oak tree, and we plan to turn that area into a dining/entertaining space reminiscent of those we loved in Provence. Pass the wine and cheese, please.

Originally I thought I wanted a white marble countertop, but I was concerned about its durability. I am not a fastidious cook, and splashes of stuff have been known to sit on my counters longer than I care to admit. After much thought we opted for quartzite, a natural stone that can look much like marble but is more forgiving of cooks like me. We liked it so much that we put it on the backsplash as well. So far I have not had any problems with etching or staining, and  I love the veining and the shine.

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The wall of windows meant that we couldn’t have many upper cabs. I have gotten used to the drawers, though, and use them to store dishes, glasses, and pots and pans. The slightly restricted storage was a good exercise in culling my cooking implements to the ones I really use. All duplicates went into boxes for the kids, or went to the lake, or were given away. I love opening a drawer and seeing exactly what I need, with no unstacking required. Less truly can be more!

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This hand-me-down from my grandmother made the cut, though.

This freestanding open shelf unit was made from counter remnants and steel. The white stone shelves remind me of a display from a French patisserie (alas, without the pastries). I keep some of our every day dishes and glasses on it, and plan to rotate decorative pieces on it, as well.

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I  love these two “floating shelves” on either side of my range. They are also steel, and were attached to the sheet rock before the stone backsplash was threaded over them. Amazing, non? I am glad I wasn’t there to see it happen.

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Mark loves the look of clear counters, so we built a little storage area to keep our frequently used appliances hidden but still accessible. Not visible but also there are a toaster and a blender.

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I kinda like these sleek electrical outlets, which are covered and lie flat along the back of the counter top.

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Voila

My pantry space is to the left of the refrigerator. The pull-out unit takes some getting used to, but is an efficient use of space. I store a few extra items in an upper cabinet.

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All of my dry goods live in this shallow cabinet next to the pantry. I found the containers at a restaurant supply store, and they have kind of changed my life. No more partially- used flour bags zipped up in plastic bags. No more dry beans slipping out of open packages. No more wondering what lurks in the depths of deep dark shelves.

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This pantry is still evolving. I need some more containers (like one for that sad bag of powdered sugar) but haven’t made it back to the store for those yet. I really love that I can dip measuring cups into these wide containers without spilling contents onto the counter. It’s the little things, you know?

Another thing I planned out ahead of time was my spice drawer. I cannot stand pulling out bins of spices and lifting countless jars up in search of the cumin or the cream of tartar. I found these little cuties on-line, and they please me greatly. I like buying my spices in small quantities, so this small size works well for me.

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My island is the size of a sedan. I KNOW. But it is so nice being able to spread out several kitchen projects at the same time. It also makes it very comfortable for more than one cook to be in the space. Also if we ever want to turn out house into a disco for a night, it will make a great dancing stage. Just gotta watch out for the prep sink.

The island is home to the microwave and the wine refrigerator and the trash/recycling/dog food bins. IMG_9153

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To the left of the wine fridge is a handy lift for my mixer (which is heavy as hell). I can crank it up, slide it onto the island, and then say goodbye to it when the cookies are baked.  Sweeeeeet!

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Thank you for your service now go away.

The banquette was a subject of debate, as Mark was not crazy about the idea of blocking the windows. He relented (thanks honey!) and I think it looks fine in that space.IMG_9147

So that’s it- my shiny bright brand new kitchen! Thanks for stopping by and please come again. And if you enjoyed your tour, please don’t forget to tip your guide.

 

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Filed under Austin, cooking, decorating, design, kitchen, Uncategorized

We Are Here

Bonjour mes amis! I know we are all happy that spring has arrived, although some places are looking springier than others. Austin is almost completely leafed-out, and the bluebonnets arrived early and are already packing up again. Spring always seems too short here- like if you take a long nap you just might wake up to summer, which always seems WAY too long. All the more reason to make the most of each day.

That reminds me of Amy Krouse Rosenthal, beloved writer and mom who died a few weeks ago at 51. If you somehow missed her beautiful essay in the New York Times, read it here, but grab a Kleenex first. After reading it, I wanted more Amy so I looked her up and listened to this Story Corp recording of a conversation she had with her teenaged daughter shortly after the recurrence of her cancer. If you didn’t use your Kleenex while reading her essay, you will definitely use it while listening.  Amy’s mantra, even before she had any idea she would be dying at 51, was this:

Make The Most Of Your Time Here

Her daughter mentions in the recording that Amy had engrained that command in her for a long time. These words have been bouncing around in my head ever since I heard Amy say them. Even though I do feel like I make a conscious effort to ensure my days are meaningful and intentional, this phrase gets to me because of the last word: HERE. It’s a not- so- subtle reminder that we have a return ticket waiting for us, and none of us knows when we will have to use it. So while “make the most of your time” is good and familiar advice, Amy’s addition of “here” adds urgency that we might otherwise choose to ignore. It’s particularly poignant that Amy, who lived each day with those words, ran out of time here so quickly. When I am tempted to go back to sleep, or to keep scrolling or clicking, I hear Amy reminding me that I am lucky enough to have life here today, and to get on with it. Thanks for that, Amy.

That life I am lucky enough to be living has been full of new places lately. Mark and I spent a weekend in Mexico City at the beginning of the month. My favorite spot was the Frida Khalo house, “Casa Azul”. I had just watched “Frida” on Netflix, making the tour much more meaningful.

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Our small hotel in the historic district was a converted villa, with wonderful architectural quirks.

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Fortunately the windows were sound- proofed, because there are a lotta people on those streets. That is one crowded city.

Last week we drove an hour to San Antonio for two nights at a fabulous hotel in an old beer brewery. I hope to do an entire post on the Hotel Emma, because it was so photogenic I couldn’t stop taking pictures. Here is a teaser of the lobby.

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Finally, we loaded up our old SUV with camping gear and drove an hour and a half to Colorado Bend State Park for a night. It was primitive and peaceful, and the stars were superb.

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When we haven’t been gallivanting, we have been slowly settling into our new house. Window treatments and furniture will arrive some day, but in the meantime its more comfortable than the tent and less comfortable than the Hotel Emma. Here is a sneak peek at my study. I am seriously in love.

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May your days here continue to be full of what makes you happy, and I hope to be back in this space with you soon.

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Filed under Austin, Texas, travel, Uncategorized

January’s Nature Break

The weekend’s  words and images of  “us” and “them”, who can and cannot come into our country, left me feeling adrift and ashamed. Monday morning, sunny and cool, was the perfect time to escape the noise and quiet my mind. I drove two hours, to a peacefully remote state park, Colorado Bend. It was the perfect antidote.

People who go to Colorado Bend State Park would do well to arrive with everything they need, because civilization is at least a half hour away. Actually, that’s not entirely true. There is this little gem at the entrance to the park.

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However, there was no live bait or ice cream to be found when I passed by, as the place was locked up tight.

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A veritable wealth of treasures- all out of reach.

The park HQ is eight miles beyond the entrance gate, down a windy park road lined with cactus and cedar trees. Many trails are marked along the road, most with parking pads at the trail heads. I chose one of the most popular trails that led to Gorman Falls.

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Early in the hike I came across this bench that said,”When You Drink From The Springs, Consider The Source”. Someone had left a perfect walking stick on the seat, and I used it the rest of the way. I thought about the kindness of strangers, who having walked the rocky trail and returned, offered a helping crutch to those who would follow. It was a nice reminder of our humanity.

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Most of the hike was gentle, but the last bit was steep descent to the falls.

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Good job with the plastic coated lines, Park Dept. I definitely used them. Those rocks are slicker than they appear.

The reward for the trek was a family of gorgeous falls, surrounded by bright green moss and mysterious rock formations.

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I ate my peanut butter sandwich to the sound of water drops tumbling down the cliffs. It was divine.

Enjoy the day, my friends. And remember these words-

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Filed under Austin, Texas, Uncategorized

Good Morning, World

Fall has finally arrived here in Austin, Texas, and not a moment too soon. This morning was particularly beautiful.

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Tomorrow morning we point our car back to the west for a week in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. If all goes as planned, we will be having dinner in Santa Fe this time tomorrow night. We are taking this guy with us, but he doesn’t get to go to dinner. Don’t tell him.

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It’s hard to believe that a year ago today we were walking around Hyde Park in London.

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And two years ago we were in Paris, living the dream.

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If someone can figure out how to slow down this experience we call “life”, please let me know. It’s all happening way too fast.

Enjoy whatever life brings you in the next week, and thanks for checking in with me!

 

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Filed under Austin, London, Notre Dame, Paris, Texas, Uncategorized

Happy Trails

When Mark and I took our little hike through the canyon in Bandelier last July, I was reminded of how wilderness thoroughly refreshes and refuels me. How easy it is to neglect that part of myself that craves occasional solitude with nature. After that trip to Colorado where we enjoyed so many beautiful hikes, I made a mental promise to schedule one day a month on which I would get away for at least a couple of hours and honor that facet of my being that thrives on the peace of the outdoors. August and September kind of slipped by, but it’s hellahot here then, so I gave myself a pass.

One of the many perks of living in Austin is the abundance of opportunity to enjoy nature trails and beautiful scenery without even leaving the city limits. On Monday morning I drove to McKinney Falls State Park, which is an hour from my house but still in the city of Austin. I was hoping to spy some signs that fall might be sneaking in, but I guess October 24 was still too early for fall color. Oh wait- there was this:

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Behold the splendor that is fall in central Texas.

I chose the Homestead Trail because it was the longest park trail, but still only three miles. The only challenging part of this trail is getting across the falls to access the trailhead!
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I was able to hop across the rocks with only a modicum of moisture entering my shoes and socks, but next time I would bring water sandals.img_8070

This trail goes right by these sad ruins of a home built in the 1850’s by Thomas McKinney.

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The scenery along the trail was a bit disappointing. It was mostly brush and an unattractive invasive stalky plant. The lackluster vegetation was made up for, though, by a proliferation of butterflies that pleased me very much. Most of the butterflies were small and pale, with just a lower band of coral on their wings, but when they flew around the trail they seemed to sparkle with pale pink hues. It occurred to me that perhaps we all cast our best light when we are moving through this world rather than sitting still in it.

There were a few flashier butterflies, like these two striped beauties.

I checked out the camp sites, which were large, private, and very nice. The real draw of this park ,though, are the falls and the swimming holes that lure humans and their dogs during the long hot months.

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I was back home by 2:00, but felt as though I had been worlds away.

Perhaps next month’s outing will reward me with a few signs of autumn. Central Texas doesn’t do fall well, but we love it anyway.

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Happy trails, mes amis!

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Token Paris pic

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Filed under Austin, Texas, Uncategorized

Lawdy But It’s Hot

Bonjour from Austin, Texas, where the second full day of summer finds us wondering how many more days until fall, and will it rain again before then? The answers are “too many” and “sweet baby Jesus I hope so”. Until then, we spend most of our daylight hours inside, venturing out only mornings and evenings, which are cooler but still make our sports bras and Nike shorts stick to us like cling wrap. And by “we” and “us” I mean “I” and “me”- not sure why I am gravitating toward the third person today.

My house is currently redolent with the sweet smell of the double batch of granola I just removed from the oven. IMG_7168

This is my go-to granola, and I have gifted some of you with your very own portion, casting me forever in your good graces. I will be bringing this crunchy Nirvana In A Jar to friends who are hosting us on our Colorado road trip next month. If this moves you to invite us to stop by your mountain retreat, feel free to leave a comment below. Or you can make your own, but that’s not as much fun for me.

Can you guess what this lovely concoction is?

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This, mes amis, is the beginnings of lavender and honey ice cream! My good friend and I went to the Lavender Festival in Blanco, Texas the other weekend, and I bought a jar of cooking lavender specifically so I could attempt this ice cream. When we ate at Chicon recently, one lucky person at our table ordered lavender and honey ice cream, to which I sneered and opted for the coconut cake, because who wouldn’t? The ice cream turned out to be the clear winner over the cake, which was the only weak link in a delicious meal, and I have been thinking about that ice cream ever since. I used this recipe, but with one cup of cream and two cups of whole milk and a tad less honey. The loose lavender is strained out of the batter after steeping for ten minutes, so you do not end up with purple bits in your teeth after dessert. But it would be worth it, even if you did. We liked it with a sprinkle of that heretofore mentioned granola (did you know I was a lawyer in my previous life?) because the granola makes everything better. I think you can buy culinary lavender at Whole Foods, in case you happened to have missed the Blanco festival this year. I didn’t ride this to Blanco, but someone did. Lest you think Lavender Festivals are for sissies.
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It hasn’t all been lavender and unicorns around here. We moved all our stuff that had been in storage from Paris into the rooms not being renovated in our new house. Fortunately, everything appeared to be in as good shape as it was the day it flew out the window of our Paris apartment almost a year ago. Those Frenchies know how to pack.

We also moved out of our Houston home and have stuffed boxes and belongings into our lake house until it is groaning with the strain. But whew. Glad the heavy work is done and that our treasures weathered the sea passage and storage.

What else? I finally finished Queen Of The Night, a delightful tome by Alexander Chee. I loved all six-hundred pages of this story about a star soprano of the Paris opera who discovers that someone has written a novel of her life, including secrets that few people know. As she tries to figure out who the author is, she tells us of her amazing life as a circus performer, a courtesan, an assistant to the Empress, and a starving orphan. This book was enchanting from beginning to end. And did I mention Paris?

We had Martha all to ourselves for Father’s Day, which we ended with a nice dinner with a view.

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Cheers to dads and sunsets everywhere.

Stay cool, y’all.

 

 

 

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Filed under Austin, Austin dining, books, cooking, moving, Texas, Uncategorized

Leaving So Soon, May?

Bonjour from my new “office”, and by “office”  I mean the porch of my lake house, now offering a view of a very full Lake Travis, which is a most beautiful thing. Hallelujah.

Lots going on in these parts. Spring has been sassy, bringing bounteous rain, flowers, and unexpected cool snaps. Although many folks around here are weary of the rain, we can’t help but be grateful for every drop, and hopeful that it doesn’t disappear again.

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Tomorrow we move all of our stuff from Paris into our new Austin house, even though a large part of that house looks like this.

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After ten months, we want to get our things out of storage, even if it means cramming  all the boxes and cartons into bedrooms and studies and moving it around again when we finish this project (which could be a glimpse into eternity). So that’s my day tomorrow. You?

Later in the week we make one last trip to our Houston townhouse, which we will pack up and vacate next Monday. It will be strange to no longer have a Houston landing spot after so many years. Fortunately we have friends and family there who will offer us beds occasionally. Right? Hello???

Mark and I have been exploring the Austin restaurant scene, which like many other parts of Austin is totally different from when we lived here in the early 2000’s. We are keeping lists of places we have gone and places we want to try, and both lists are getting longer each week. We have already learned that reservations and/or off-peak dining times are crucial at all of the trending eateries. Even with advance planning, the search for parking places at many cool spots can mean that you walk into the restaurant in dire need of a house cocktail STAT. But if you make your reservation well in advance and get lucky on a parking spot, you are likely to enjoy many a fine meal in Austin, Texas.

True Food  is one such place. Turns out there is one in Houston (and other places), but we never discovered it. The Austin location is in a corner of downtown that is being redeveloped and still feels a bit awkward, but no doubt will blossom into something lovely in no time.

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Def try the cocktails.

The interior was sleek and handsome, but all those shiny hard surfaces meant lots of noise bouncing around. We scored a table on the patio that suited us fine.

My favorite dish of the evening was the Mushroom Lettuce Cups. Bonkers good, and not something I would be tempted to make at home.

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Something I have been cooking lots of at home is this Roasted Broccoli. There are endless variations on this theme and all are quick and easy. I make a bit batch, and what we don’t eat that night gets gobbled up on salads or on rice or grains later in the week. Trust me- you will never let your broccoli near the microwave again.

Mark and I loved watching a six-episode show called The Night Manager on Apple TV. Lots of glamour, hard-bodies, and gorgeous European locations. And with only six episodes, you don’t have to commit to a long-term relationship. Yea.

That’s all for now, friends. Thanks for keeping me in your radar. I’ll be back. Just like the fruit flies I finally got rid of in my kitchen this weekend.

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Filed under Austin, Austin dining, cooking, flowers, Paris, Uncategorized