Saturday, June 23, 2012

Flaming Honey Turds

Don't yah love that title? Can you believe they let me into grad school for writing? Be afraid, be very afraid.

Trembling aside, I'm happy to tell ya'll about our trip to Austin --another thing to check off of our Texas Bucket List.

Austin is about 3 1/2 hours away from Houston, if you follow the speed limits (which we do...if I drive). To break up the drive, we stopped back in Brenham for our tour of the Blue Bell Creamery (i.e. ice cream factory). This means we were having our free bowl of ice cream at the end of the tour before 10am. You can tell I planned the timeline of this started with ice cream and pretty much revolved around food the rest of the day.

First, a super gangsta' shot of Nic with the Blue Bell Cow.

From Blue Bell, we set our eyes to the Western horizon and Austin. Austin is my favorite city in Texas, probably because it feels like a really big Ann Arbor. There was so much I wanted to see and to show Nic. But first, lunch. I had spent at least one full day at work just looking at food blogs to get a list of must-eat-at foodie joints. The list was three pages long. My stomach isn't that big, and neither is our wallet. So, we decided to tackle only two food groups: BBQ and Mexican. This meant we had to give up the legendary food trucks, but I did mange to get into a truck full of kittens for adoption. A decent swap, I thought.

We experienced lunch at Franklin BBQ. And I do mean experienced. Franklin's sensational brisket used to be served from a food truck (so I kinda got us to a food truck experience) and when the brisket ran out, the truck was closed. The restaurant/BBQ pit/shack still operates by this rule: the line starts forming at 10am (earlier on the weekends), doors open at 11am, and they're open  until the brisket sells out (usually by 2pm), and they've sold out' We had to get a piece of this...

We pulled up just before 12pm and I feared we were too late. We crossed our fingers, got in line under the sun and stood in the 90-something degree heat for probably 45 minutes. I have a habit when standing in line, I usually try and start a conversation with other people. Got nothing else to do, I don't have an iPhone so I have to actually interact with living people. This time, it totally paid off. The family behind us was lead by a travel/foodie blogger who has quite the following. We talked about our experiences traveling, homeschooling, college, living in Michigan and then Texas, and about the food we were about to enjoy. She was kind enough to take this photo of us.

Hopefully we make it into her blog!

Then came the big decision of what to order. The menu was listed on paper bags in permanent marker on the wall after walking along another wall mounted with various publications lauding the food at Franklin.
Low-cost menu.
Inside of the BBQ shack/restaurant

I decided on the Tipsy Texan, a sandwich bursting with brisket meet, a whole sausage, coleslaw, onions, and pickles...basically a whole true Texas BBQ on a bun. Win. Nic got the brisket plate with their homemade potato salad and beans. Feel free to drool.

The brisket master at work.

Let's see a close-up of that sandwich.

Oh baby, baby! 

I have never eaten so much meat in one sitting in my life. Even Nic was impressed. Although, he was a sport and helped me out when I started to slow down at the end :) It was, without a doubt, the best brisket I've ever had.

After our more than satisfying lunch, we headed out to explore Austin. We visited Barton Green on the river and saw the springs there. We walked S. Congress Ave. a.k.a. Hipster Heaven. We had food trucks on one side of the road, and a string of vintage-everything stores on the other. There were even messages on store chalk signs saying they had the best bath salts on the block and to come sniff them yourself. Oh, Austin.

Then we visited a historic home and its grounds and Sixth St., where, when I was a modest teenager who believed Jesus needed at least six inches to exist between boys and girls, I was serenaded by the Naked Cowboy. My dad thought it was a hoot and we still joke about it.

Sixth St. is the hub of Austin's Keep It Weird music/bar scene. It's also home of Tears of Joy, a super cool local store that only sells spicy foods and condiments. If S. Congress Ave. is Hipster Heaven, this was heaven for Nic. Warning: picture below contains some language.

Nic didn't think they were too bad.

Before dinner, we made a quick stop to Cornucopia Popcorn Creations, a local business owned by an alumna of the school I work at. Nadia is a sweetheart and her business is over-the-top fun. They have at least 40 unique popcorn flavors available at any one time: popcorn with chocolate, dill pickle popcorn, spicy chipotle popcorn, snickerdoodle popcorn, and even margarita flavored popcorn. I've been doing business with Cornucopia and supporting Nadia for two years and it was so nice to finally meet her and visit the store. I totally recommend checking out her website and ordering her unique creations for parties, wedding showers, etc.

You can sample dozens of flavors in the store.

Then, it was on to dinner! And dinner was going to be upscale gourmet Mexican. We chose Fondo San Miguel and couldn't have been happier. It's a beautiful restaurant with an even more vibrant menu with regional dishes from all over Mexico. Nic got chipotle blackened shrimp and I ordered chicken pibil, half a chicken cooked in a banana leaf with an onion and tomato sauce...and the best black beans Seriously, I would go back just for the black beans.

The super cool front doors. I was so eager for dinner I didn't get any other shots of the beautiful building.

So now, the flaming honey turds. On the way home, our ever-wise and adventurous Garmen took us by Kickapoo Rd. in the middle of nowhere Texas. Of course, this lead Nic and I into a conversation about how a road would get this name...heaven forbid it was the last name of some family! We decided it was named after a game invented by Pooh Bear and Eeyore where hard cow pies were coated in honey, lit on fire, and kicked as high as possible. Genius.

And that was our mini-vacation to Austin. Our next travel adventure will be to our new home in Chicago!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Texas Bucket List

Nic and I have been compiling a Texas Bucket List, a list of things we'd like to do or see in the nearby-ish Texas cities and country before we leave for Chicago. Naturally, at the very top of this list was a tour (complete with tasting at the end of the tour) of the Bluebell Ice Cream factory in Brenham, TX, about an hour and a quarter drive from where we live.

Naturally, something went wrong, i.e. the website did not say that you must purchase tickets by 3pm the day before for a tour, and we were unable to take our tour on Friday.

Fail Bluebell, fail.

However, failure for the day was not an option. So we improvised. We decided we would take the short road trip to Brenham anyway and stop at any mom and pop cafe, antique store, cemetery, and/or historical marker along the way. Winning.

Here we are, leaving upper-middle class suburbia for the open road and rolling Texan cattle and horse land.

You'd never guess how excited I was for this trip.

Nic was pretty pumped, too. This was as close as his "pumped" face got to my exuberant expression above.

Our first stop was the small historic town of Chappell Hill, established in 1847 and located inside Stephen F. Austin's original colony.

From Wikipedia: "Chappell Hill today has a tourist economy, attracting visitors with restored homes, Bluebonnet Festival, Scarecrow Festival and a museum. Main Street has been designated as a National Register Historic District by the National Register of Historic Places. Chappell Hill remains one of the best historically preserved towns in Texas."

Before heading into "town," Nic and I stopped at the Chappell Hill Deli and Bakery on recommendation from one of my friends at work. They prepare all of their own meats and all baked goods are homemade. They even have a small grocery area where they sell preserves, sauces, rubs, salsas, candles, cheeses, and meats, all made locally. They serve up true Texan BBQ fare every day and the place smelled a-m-a-z-i-n-g. Unfortunately, we had just eaten lunch, so we settled for a large Diet Dr. Pepper for our next venture into a giant antique barn.

My Husker hubby, always volunteering to be photographed :)

With soft drink in hand, we ventured into a Texas sized antique barn, filled to the brim with enough odd things to keep us ogling and giggling inside for an hour.

 Here are some of our most interesting finds.

Nic found this one. We're pretty sure it's supposed to be a book end. Or, an ancient carving of a nudist yoga instructor. Or, both? I was impressed with the realism of the cellulite and stretch marks on her thighs, but not impressed enough to buy her. I'll keep my Lord of the Rings Argonath statute book ends, thank you very much. Extra points for the boobs, though ;)

This was one of my discoveries. Who wouldn't want a quasi-erotic scene of Adam and Eve on their drinking stein?

In town, we walked along the historic main street, chatted with some locals, admired the gardens, peered in abandon buildings, and walked through some more antique shops. However, these were obviously owned by sensible, church going grandmothers since we didn't find any similar "treasures" in their stores.

The Bever Cafe, known for their pies and enchiladas. Welcome to Texas, folks. We enjoyed a slice of French silk pie. It was light and not too sweet, perfect for a 93 degree day.

A sign in one of the abandoned buildings. And Kinky was his first name.

Unfortunately, after we left Chappell Hill and later wandered through delightful Brenham, I didn't take any more pictures. We were too busy enjoying the boutiques, local art and gypsy stores, and soaking up the end of the our little mini-vacation.

As luck would have it, Nic and I were almost included in a historical reenactment of the Burning of Brenham. We discovered via informational signs at a small monument that Brenham, during the Civil War, suffered the burning of an entire city block as a result of fights between the Confederate soldiers and townsfolk. We had planned to have dinner at a local cafe known for its sandwiches and homemade chocolate pudding pie, but fate made sure that idea didn't pan out. Shortly before we arrived at the cafe, named Heaven on Earth, a kitchen fire forced them to close early. Sad day...

Since we didn't make it to the ice cream factory or Heaven on Earth, I'm only putting half a check mark next to Brenham on our bucket list. Hopefully, we'll get a chance to work on the list some more before too long. There is a slight possibility that our move date will be closer to the first of July than the 28th.