I’ll tell my kids about it

Full disclosure, I flaked out like a blizzard when it came time to, how do I say this diplomatically, make efficient use of our aggressive rooster Ruby. We had raised Ruby since he was a chick. Fed him. Housed him. Named him. So it was tough for me to then do the dirty and dispatch of him. That, I gladly left for Heath to endure. (Though I had no problem doing the subsequent cooking and eating and blogging.) Given my lack of participation in that surreal and slightly icky life moment, it seemed unlikely I would sign up for any future endeavors of the same ilk. How wrong you are my friend. For I was front and center when pals Mark and Ranjana made, er, “efficient use” of their three hens and two ducks last weekend.

Like Heath and I, and thousands of other wannabe urban farmers in Austin and elsewhere, Mark and Ranjana spent a good long while providing a comfortable space in the backyard in which Rothko, Benedict, Omlette, Frank and Scott could scratch up and stink up. It’s perhaps what they do best after egg laying and mealworm eating. But, alas, the couple has decided to relocate, and as the saying goes, you can’t take it with you. And “it” includes chickens and ducks. So, a chicken dinner it would be for Mark, Ranjana and their invited guests.

I’m not blind to the fact that to many, it may seem gross and odd and perhaps even cruel to do in your pets. Nor am I obtuse to the cold hard truth that there is an entire industry out there that does this sort of thing day in and day out, and it’s in many ways not such a big f-ing deal. (In fact, the average American eats about 185 pounds of chicken a year, according to this NPR story, so chew on that if you’re a chicken eater of the “that’s cruel” ideology.)  Whatever camp you’re in—Gross, Cruel, Who Cares—it doesn’t change the simple notion that it is important to know where your food comes from, REALLY comes from. So this time, I put on my big girl pants and played an active role in helping Maranjanark prepare their meal.

Why? Well, to help out some friends, for one. But also, I wanted to be there for selfish reasons. I wanted to document the process for the sake of art, or nostalgia or something. And I wanted to be able to tell my future kids about it. “No kids, I haven’t gone skydiving, or set foot on Antarctica, but I did see with my own two eyes, a chicken run around with its head cut off, and it was weird, and startling and magnificent.” I wanted to be there for my street cred.

What didn’t factor into my decision making process at the time I volunteered for this assignment, was the odd sense of fulfillment I would derive from it all. Not from the actual morbid blood-and-guts part, but being a part of the life cycle. For years Mark and Ranjana gave to the birds, and now the birds were giving back. It was all done humanely and gracefully. Mark and Ranjana said a few words to remember and be thankful for the experiences the birds afforded them, and then shared their nourishment with friends who had supported them along the way.

I was confused and conflicted and frankly a little immature when we made a meal of our rooster. But being a part of the experience, the whole experience, with our Austin family was different. It felt right. It felt important. It felt beautiful.

“If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him… the people who give you their food give you their heart.” –Cesar Chavez

kaiserandchickensducksthechickensmarkchicken3ranjanabirds1markgardenranjanabirds2markranjanaaftermarkchickens1eatingdinner


A very doodle Christmas

Merry holidays from the doodle fam!  It’s been a rather unconventional Christmas this year for Heath and me—partly because we hosted the family Christmas celebrations for the first time, partly because we celebrated on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas Day, and MOSTLY because today we take off for our two-week vacation in India!  New posts will be absent from the DH blog for the next two weeks, but I’m hoping to come roaring back with hundreds of pictures and tales of our travels when we return.

Until then, enjoy your friends and family as we have enjoyed ours this holiday!

Some of the family (dog included) cuddled up on the couch pre present-opening.

Some of the family (dog included) cuddled up on the couch pre present-opening.

Cooking in the kitchen with mom.

Cooking in the kitchen with mom.

presents

Heath enjoying some Stephen Colbert.

Heath enjoying some Stephen Colbert.

Bro got a girlfriend for Christmas.

Bro got a girlfriend for Christmas.

christmastable

Our family’s tradition is to make fish (and shrimp, and mussel, and scallop) stew for Christmas dinner. Unconventional perhaps, but none the less delicious.

I wonder if Stella knows it's Christmas.

I wonder if Stella knows it’s Christmas.

My fantastic parents who celebrate 15 years of marriage tomorrow!

My fantastic parents who celebrate 15 years of marriage tomorrow!

Heath and me with Papa, my remarkable and beloved grandfather.

Heath and me with Papa, my remarkable and beloved grandfather.

 

 


Mexico City: 5 Reasons Why

Tell someone you’re planning to vacation in Venice, Italy,  and they “ooh” and “awe” and get all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed over it. Tell them you’re going to Mexico City and they scratch their head, puzzled, and manage only to sputter, “why?”

Why? Because it’s a city where, even in the thick of summer, the high temperature doesn’t scoot an inch above 77 degrees, and where if it doesn’t rain for an hour every afternoon, people are apt to call it a dry season.  In Ciudad de Mexico, a 2-hour lunch break is considered customary and you can drizzle hot sauce and lime juice over everything.  You can marvel at the intricate detail of architecture created in the 1500s or try and count the number of floors on a marble, state-of-the-art sky scrapper that’s younger than you are. Mexico City is a wonder.

Claro, the splendor of Mexico’s capital was practically a mystery to we Texans prior to our arrival. We had heard legendary stories of Tenochtitlan, been vaguely versed as undergrads in the history of the Mexican Revolution, and were fairly confident in the fact that it might be the dwelling place of my our Mexican movie star boyfriend, Gael Garcia Bernal. And yes, for you mothers of the world, we had heard a note or two about some kind of drug war, which we didn’t take too much to heart. For the most part, except for a few trivial factoids, we went to Mexico City as infants.

The purpose of our journey was two-fold. First, we wanted to celebrate two years of liking being married to each other with an exotic vacation (exotic in the sense that you could eat bizarre foods but not spend $1000 on a plane ticket). Second, we wanted to visit newlyweds Alex and Santi* who relocated there a few months earlier. But, for the non-anniversary-celebrating/friend-visiting traveler, why Mexico City?

Food
Promptly upon arriving in Mexico City, before even stepping out of the airport, we were handed a cup of Mango (purchased on the street, no less) sprinkled with chili powder and spritzed with lime juice. Bienvenidos indeed. But the incredibly irresistible combination of lime juice and chili powder (which comes on, if not next to, practically everything you order in the District Federal) is merely a starting point. Throughout the week we ate street tacos for 20 pesos and extravagant ceviche for considerably more—both tasted like meals intended for kings. We savored Oaxaca cheese, nibbled on cups of roasted corn, and delighted in ordering a laundry list of local staples: gorditas, gunabana, flautas, quesadillas, bistek, consommé.  It’s rare, state side, to find any meal that can rival the freshness or flavor of the street food in Mexico City; in fact, I think certain FDA requirements make it impossible. And you can’t touch the price. It’s unlikely, too, to be able to find truly enjoyable menudo (cow intestine), grasshopper guacamole, corn fungus or cucaracha (an entire shrimp deep fried in spicy tempura batter). We found, and happily devoured, each. Journey to Mexico City and you will eat like royalty if not like a god.

Slowly cooking pork for tacos al pastor.

2 a.m., 2 tacos al pastor, $2. Too perfect.

Hot sauce on everything. Chips no exception.

Camaron Cucaracha

Fried kosher quesadillas prepared on the sidewalk in 60 seconds.

A traditional corn-based Mexican breakfast pastry served with creme.

A cart of fresh fruit, ripe for the picking.

Once again, hot sauce served on everything.

The Markets
I don’t think it a stretch to say the promise of collecting a truckload of inexpensive goods at market is a significant, if not the primary, draw for many Americans visiting Mexico’s urban cities. As a collective, the markets were hit or miss. The misses were cheap stands covered in rain drenched tarps and splayed with plastic cell phone cases made in China or bootleg DVDs of bad made-for-tv movies. You are sternly beckoned from the street to take an interest in the tackiest of paraphernalia, and you feel compelled to keep your purse plastered to your side as if it were as dear to you as an arm or other apendage. But the good markets, the hits, are worth risking the misses. There you browse at your leisure through mazes of crisp produce, artisan crafts or festive clothing, and the vendors are friendly rather than forceful. The prices are fair and people watching sublime.

The History
Every nation has its story, but tales of the people that lived and the events that unfolded in Mexico City seem to be exceptionally compelling. There are the familiar, but still intriguing, tales of dictators erecting ornate monuments in their own honor, destructive and widespread colonization, and brave native heroes. And then there are the slightly more unique bits of Mexican folklore. Indigenous lords sacrificed losers of sporting events to the gods; leader Porfirio Diaz had a quirky affinity for painting himself white; Frida Kahlo showed a bizarre talent for depicting pain; and jilted presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador led a 3-month civil resistance campaign in Zócalo—the heart of Mexico City—after losing an election by half a percent. The stories are wild, and with more museums to its name than any other destination on the planet, you can fill up on them in Mexico City.

Heath in front of the Museo Nacional de Antropología

At the museum, Heath stands next to Lucy, the world’s oldest person.

Chapultepec Castle

Heath poses in front of a mural in Chapultepec Castle

This mural is painted on the ceiling of Chapultapec Castle and depicts the story of 17-year-old Juan Escutia who, wrapped in the Mexican flag, jumped from the top of Castle to his death during the Battle of Chapultapec to evade capture.

Heath stands before the ruins of Pyramid of the Moon in Teotihuacan, a city established in 100 BC and that flourished up until the 7th or 8th centuries when an internal uprising is thought to have caused its demise.

Taking a breather on top of the Pyramid of the Moon

Heath practices his moves on the ancient ball court.

Alex gives us a history lesson on the Pyramid of the Sun.

The architecture in Zocalo was very impressive, but as Santi said, “a democracy could never have built this.” Dictators certainly know how to make their mark on history.

Santi gets Heath up to date on some of the history of Zocalo.

The haunting Diego Rivera museum was exceptionally weird. The eccentric artist had it built to house his private collection of more than 5,000 indigenous artifacts.

The view from the top of the museum allowed for a contemplative view of the city.

Frida Kahlo’s house was little more my speed, with its lively color and tropical courtyards.

Frida Kahlo’s House

Frida and Diego’s Courtyard

The Architecture
Many of the city’s historic buildings and plazas were designed and modeled after some of the greatest cities in Europe, which gives many facades an intricate, ornate and Gothic texture. Simultaneously, there are are an abundance of structures that take on very modern characteristics. Clean lines, flat surfaces and exceptional use of light give many spaces  an airy and minimalistic quality. The Santa Fe neighborhood boasts sky scrappers of marble, geometric in design. Some structures there more closely resemble futuristic  washing machines than a usable public space. And intermingled with them all are mansions made of mosaic tile and modest clay dwellings painted like Easter eggs. The city is wildly eclectic and homes and buildings vary in style from house-to-house, neighborhood-to-neighborhood. No matter your personal preference in architectural styles, there’s something to love on the skyline.

Chapultepec Park and Castle were all about structures adorned in intricate details and bold shapes.

The old neighborhood of Coyoacan was mainly populated with bright red, blue and yellow homes and cafes.

While still very grand, the church in the old Coyoacan neighborhood was very modest compared to the stuff of Zocalo.

The Polanco Neighborhood was much more modern. Most homes had walls of windows and terraces with tropical gardens.

The style downtown is traditional, European and stately.


The architecture on the campus of the National Autonomous University of Mexico resembled Modern Art as much as it did collegiate buildings.

The skyline as seen from the Anthropology Museum

The People
The culture of Mexico City is baroque through and through. The food is made more flavorful with liberal use of citrus and pepper. The colors on the streets and in the people’s art are explosive, and the history is gruesome and romantic, tragic and complex. But all of those elements are so because of the people who created them. There is no other country where I have been received so warmly as in Mexico. Strangers kiss you on the cheek on first introductions and mariachis serenade you on the streets and in bars. Mexicans will debate you when they disagree and praise you when they are in good company. They are bound to their indigenous roots while  welcoming foreign ideas. They value loyalty and family and friendship and are the reason why this city is so enchanting.

Our week-long adventure in the city was more gratifying than I could have imagined. Of course, the city is not without it’s flaws. The lack of access to safe drinking water took its toll on us after we made our 2438243 purchase of bottled water, and the people’s wild driving habits were chaotic if not comical. From above, I imagine the city’s traffic patterns more closely resemble ants running frantically from a squashed mound than an organized system of transit in one of the world’s largest urban centers. Here, lanes–where they exist–are viewed more as arbitrary suggestions than actual guidelines. There were some public areas which charged for use of their restrooms (a practice that, to me, seemed simultaneously criminal but genius), and sometimes when walking the city’s cobblestone streets you can get whiffs of some offensive odor in the right wind, which urged Alex to tell us that Mexico City seems to always smell like either lime or garbage. Some areas are plagued with devastating poverty and parts of the political system are horrendously corrupt. It’s not a perfect city and there is room for much improvement.

Why Mexico City? It’s a city of beauty, one that feels like it was built inside a garden. In engaging with its citizens, dining on its cuisine and absorbing the beauty of its environment we were filled with wonder and curiosity and life.

Boats of Xochimilco

*It is imperative we note how influential Alex, Santi and his sister Maria Ines were during our Mexico City tenure. This remarkable trio listened with patience to our insufferable Spanish, provided thoughtful responses and insight to our endless barrage of questions about Mexican culture and showed us an intimate view of the city. Without their thoughtful guidance and kind hearted nature, we would not have experienced the city with nearly the same gusto. 


Will power is overrated.

Some weeks we gorge on pounds of homegrown lettuce, handfuls of cashews and gallons of freshly pressed juice. And sometimes we eat bacon marmalade and pizza topped with fried eggs. This week was definitely splayed with the latter. Food was the central theme.

The Good.

We chomped down on dishes from some east side establishments we’ve been meaning to try for a long time, but hadn’t yet got around to visiting: Blue Dahlia Bistro and East Side Pies. Blue Dahlia is a European fusion bistro, popular for its patio dining and open-faced sandwiches on soft, freshly baked bread. East Side Pies is nearly the exact opposite—a pizza joint which enjoys notoriety for it’s crispy thin crusts that serve as the canvas for unconventional toppings like salami, sauerkraut and avocados. (Not all on one pizza, though. That would be too bizarre even for Austin standards.) Though each provided quite different experiences, both warrant return visits and reminded me why I love living in city that embraces things like curry pizza and pets on the patio.

Smoked salmon with herb cream cheese from Blue Dahlia Bistro

The Bad.

Of course, once you’ve broken the unhealthy eating seal, it’s easy to justify making poorer (but not really) decisions down the road. Saturday we made three different stops at friends’ homes across Austin that featured slow-cooked braised rib, fried polenta, Niagara Falls portions of home brew and a dessert of strawberry crepes. The calorie count may very well rival the Michael Phelps diet.

The Ugly.

Why stop there? Mondays are the days to start anew. You wake up early and run a quick 5K, down a protein shake before work, eat a salad for lunch and skip dinner altogether, except for maybe a few grapes or a handful of almonds. Yes. That kind of eating is for Monday. Sunday is a day for brunch. And that means a pancake bar, basil mimosas, brown sugar bacon, habanero apricot dip, poached eggs and homemade tortillas. Every bite of brunch was sheer ecstasy, and the food coma that followed was definitely worth it.

Berry fixins for the pancake bar.

Basil mimosa with strawberry

Fresh strawberries

Brown sugar bacon

I’ll just say, it’s a good thing wedding season is nearly over and I don’t have any bridesmaids dresses to fit into in the near future. After this weekend, I may need to fast for the rest of June. Worth it.


Taste =Tested

Question: Can the average Joe (or Bro) REALLY tell the difference between a fresh egg and an egg from the fridge?

As keepers of chickens, we get that question semi frequently. We always answered with a resounding “YES” because, well, we want to feel justified in our chicken raising. But can we really tell or is it just wishful thinking? Who better to test this theory than the one and only Bro? A manboy who exists solely on a diet of sloppy joes and ravioli and has practically no picky eating habits to speak of whatsoever is the perfect subject on which to test this theory.

Hypotheses: I predict, that even with the palate of a common man, fair Bro will be able to distinguish the fresh egg from the friged one.

The experiment: First things first…gather materials. One fresh egg and one from the fridge.

Both yolks side-by-side. Guesses as to which is which?

To test accurately and fairly, it had to be a truly blind taste test with both eggs prepared under identical conditions. Both eggs would be cooked over easy, on the same type of pan, cooked over the same heat for the same length of time. They would even be served on the same plate. No differentiation whatsoever.

And we couldn’t add any fixin’s like salsa or salt and pepper. Only egg in its purest form would do. 

Bro prepares.

Bro chooses his favorite.

Bro chose the fresh egg! We are vindicated!

The Result: In the end, Bro finished both eggs but said there was a clear difference, and the fresher egg was “more robust.” He said there was more flavor, thought it wasn’t over powering…just preferable.

So there you have it. Fresh eggs are finer. Another hypothesis tested and proven.

Special thanks to Frannie Sue, the Scientific Method and Bro for contributing to this post.


Hearty Party

I had ulterior motives when I offered to host this year’s Super Bowl party–mostly I wanted to choose the menu. I’m not a picky eater but Heath and I have been on a health binge lately and I wanted to keep the menu tame-ish. Maybe some hummus instead of home fries and quinoa instead of queso. I carefully constructed a veggie heavy menu and set out for Central Market to acquire the ingredients. The menu would be a fresh (but still delish) alternative to traditional Super Bowl fix-ins.

The Menu
-Quinoa Tabbouleh
-Veggie Shish Kabobs
-Southwestern Bean Salad
-Guacamole
-Red Pepper Hummus
-Fresh veggies for dipping
-Jalapeño hot dogs (because, well this is still America and it’s still the Super Bowl)

I spent almost all day preparing. I was going to make fans out of my non veggie-loving friends even if just for one night.

“Oh no,” I told my guests. “You don’t need to bring anything. We’ll take care of it.”

Those were famous last words. Somehow during the course of the evening, things took a turn and I learned a valuable lesson: don’t tell your food-loving friends to bring “nothing” to a party.

The good…

The Bad…

The Ugly…

By the end of the night I had nibbled on a carrot or two, sure, but also downed a bacon milkshake, fist fulls of pizza dip, mac n cheese, creamy jalapeno dip, peking duck and more. I was grateful for the whirlwind tour of terribly unhealthy edibles, but I did have a killer food hangover the next day.

Maybe I’ll lose the weight by next year’s party.


La Condesa

I COULD go to trendy new restaurants soon after they open and THEN blog about them, but I much prefer waiting a few years until everyone already knows how awesome Eating Establishment X is, and then write about it like I’m the first to know. I’m talking, in this case, about La Condesa.

I ventured to the downtown TexMex restaurant for lunch recently and was pleased to see the hype wasn’t for nothing. I have no trouble believing this place will be a regular contender when the mister and I find ourselves in the “where should we go for date night” predicament.

Right off the bat I liked La Condesa for the location (across from Austin’s super cool City Hall, The W Hotel, Moody Theater and Lamberts). At night the trees light up and the people watching is superb. So kudos, LC, for picking out some pretty prime real estate in which to serve tacos.

Besides being situated in the heart of mucho A-town action, the architecture and interior design is jaw dropping, astounding even. You could sit inside and stare at the textured walls, vibrant murals, swanky lighting, everything…before  you realize it has been 10 minutes and you haven’t even opened your menu. I’m not overselling either. In fact, the restaurant won a people’s choice restaurant design award from AIA Los Angeles. Pretty nifty.

If you weren’t already intrigued, allow me to go on. I’ve always heard you can tell how good a TexMex restaurant is going to be by the chips and salsa. Perhaps forecasting this very school of thought, the brains behind the La Condesa menu offer not one, but four salsas on which to over indulge before your meal begins. There’s a classic salsa roja, as well as a fresh and creamy avocado tomatillo, chipotle salsa and a super spicy but delectable option. Four salsa choices AND a generous helping of warm chips. Don’t mind if I do.

The main meal itself (fish tacos, my go-to taco when breakfast tacos aren’t an option) was splendid as well. The serving wasn’t too massive, but was still plenty filling and the tacos themselves really hit the spot. The best part about the entree, however, was the extra tortillas that come with the meal. Some places (no names) up-charge for extra tortillas (not cool), but La Condesa included two additional corn tortillas right on the plate, just like that. It was an unexpected treat and came in handy for scooping up extra salsa, black beans and rice. It’s such a small thing to do, but that alone would have tempted me to return for another visit.

By lunch hour’s end, I had been converted. The tasty array of  salsas, visually entrancing atmosphere, and surprise bonus tortilla had me singing the praises of La Condesa to anyone that would hear it. Unfortunately I can’t speak on behalf of their margaritas. I guess I should return for happy hour in order to tell that tale.


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