If there is one thing Berlin has plenty of, it’s patios. I like this. I don’t think there is any scenario in which I take umbrage with there being unlimited options for outside dining and wine drinking. It’s how I would spend all day every day if I had my druthers. And Graffiti. They like their chaotic street art in Berlin. Patios and graffiti. Oh, and their bicycles. Patios, graffiti and bicycles. And depressing, grandiose memorials. I should start over….
Truthfully, I was taken aback by Berlin’s laissez-faire attitude. Particularly as it is located in a country who’s people are stereotyped as being strict and rigid and preoccupied with maintaining order. As evidence of its go-with-the-flow personality, I submit to you their aforementioned lax policy on building defacement, as well as the fact that in Berlin, it’s perfectly acceptable to stroll down the street with a beer in hand–in glass bottles no less! Definitely a no-no stateside. Further, during an afternoon outing to one of the city’s community pools, we witnessed no fewer than 3924761432342 children sliding down a water slide at once. And running on wet cement–an activity the American lifeguard community views as being on par with smoking a cigarette indoors—is not only not reprimanded, it seemed downright encouraged. Then, there’s the part where before Heath jumped off the diving board, he politely asked the pool’s only lifeguard whether doing flips was permissible. He was met with a befuddled response: Of course this is fine. Why would it not be? Perhaps I’m applying the community pool’s gentle policies a little to liberally to the entire city, but still, Berlin as a whole seems content to let its people be. It’s likely the result of a long and tragic history marked by a series of oppressive and totalitarian regimes. But Berlin seems to have learned a thing or two from its past, and today enjoys a vibrant and resilient atmosphere.
But I say all this before arriving at the crux of my argument. Berlin–like every place–is made more special by the people you experience it with. Our German vacation was made what it was by the company we kept. As I’m inclined to list off all the things that make Berlin unique, I’m also inclined to include Nick and Melissa on that list—two people who were pivotal to the good times had.
One of these evenings, I’ll provide a more insightful post about our recent trip overseas, documenting everything from magic shows to night swims to elephant rides. Unfortunately, that night is not tonight. I can, however, share my favorite snaps from our trip to the enchanting country that is India.
I can’t wait to share more in words (once they are ready of course).
Yesterday Heath and I had the opportunity to host a stock-the-bar couple’s brunch for our soon-to-be-married pals Mark and Ranjana. It was our first go at hosting a bridal-ish type shower, and I’m not gonna lie, I was a little anxious about it. Normally I’d give myself some prep time before hosting a monumental party for a few friends. You know, spend the day before making a few dishes, cleaning the house, hanging streamers and performing other party prep procedures. Unfortunately, I was shooting a wedding all day on the Saturday before, so party prep would be limited to only a couple of hours on the morning of. That in mind, I opted to forgo dazzling decorations and spend my energy instead on creating a menu that would fill up the masses yet still have the element of intrigue and in vogue you would expect of food stuffs at a bridal brunch.
Here’s what we came up with:
Egg, sausage, jalapeno and cheese braid. This recipe came from MyRecipes.com and seemed like it had all elements you would want in a brunch dish: egg, cheese, meat and spice. I also like that it included the word “braid” which, to me, screams “HEY! THIS DISH IS NAMED AFTER A HAIRSTYLE. THERE IS NO MEAL GIRLIER AND MORE APPROPRIATE FOR A BRIDAL BRUNCH THAN THIS.” Of course, when it was all said and done, I didn’t end up braiding the thing at all and instead just sort of folded the dough over the yummy gooey egg filling…sort of like making a bed. Braid or no braid, the dang thing was pretty good. We actually modified the recipe a bit besides just skipping out on the braid. Instead of real sausage, we went with a veggie variety so our vegetarian friends could get in on the action. And we used whole wheat pizza dough instead of regular flour–not out of some grand scheme to be healthier, it’s just all that H-E-B had during our trip to the grocery store. If I make it again, I think I’d try and sub pizza dough for crescent roll dough, which is sweeter and flakier and fits the brunch motif a little better than thick and chewy pizza dough. Either way, served with some salsa, the breakfast
braid bread was a winner.
Migas Casserole. I basically made this recipe up but I love it because it’s fast, easy and flavorful. The idea is simple enough– sautee onion, tomatoes, peppers, cheese and pieces of corn tortillas with oil and cumin, cover with egg mixture and bake. Voila. in 20 minutes you’ve got a ready-to-eat casserole that feels slightly exotic if not intriguingly spicy. Plus, with peppers and tomatoes instead of sausage and bacon, you can feel a little less guilty about going for a second piece.
Banana Cinnamon Waffles. Heath is the designated waffle maker in the house, and for years has been using a tried and true recipe borrowed from the Martha Stewart Living Cookbook. But because we were trying to give this brunch a little flair, Heath decided to step it up and add banana, cinnamon and brown sugar–at Martha’s suggestion. It was an incredible addition and we ended up with sweet and moist waffles that mimicked the flavor of banana bread.
We also incorporated fresh fruit, smoked salmon, peach salsa and crackers. And we had a few other friends pitch in with smoked brisket and a crock pot hash brown dish.
All of that food paired with either a bloody Mary or mimosa made for a brunch that was almost as delicious as the beautiful betrothed coupled themselves.
This weekend Heath and I met up with pals at the 2012 Texas Craft Brewers Festival at Fiesta Gardens on Lady Bird Lake.
There were dozens of micro brew booths at the fest, which, according to our buddy and home brew aficionado Mike, was twice as many as were in attendance at last year’s gathering. Yes, the surge of micro breweries in Texas has quite literally doubled over the past year, and you won’t hear any complaints from us. And considering that micro breweries may be one of the only industries not in recession, it seemed like the only American thing to do was to get out there and grow the economy, one beer at a time.
The selection at the fest pretty well covered the spectrum of beers: dark and light, bold and mild. We got to taste 6-oz samples from some of our old favorites like Live Oak and some new ones like South Austin Brewery. Neither of us are much in the way of beer experts, but we do know a good beer (and a bad one) when we taste it.
The satisfying and sobering Blogworthy concoctions included:
- Flying Monk by Adelbert’s Brewery—A rich and nutty brew that’s as delicious as it is dangerous at 10% ABV.
- Saison D’Austin by South Austin Brewery— A beer on the dark side with a little kick and spice but still goes down smooth.
- Das Wunderkind by Jester King Craft Brewery— A sour beer, which is apparently “in” right now but looks like foggy water and tastes like vinegar. (In other words, don’t do it.)
- Smokin’ Beech by Circle Brewing Co.— An unusual, thick beer with smokey flavors that aren’t overwhelming but definitely get the taste buds tingling. I could get down on a pint, but think I would need to switch to something less anomalous after that.
Good beers or bad ones, we enjoyed ourselves sipping on cold and distinctive brews on what was the first chilly day of fall, overlooking the lake and chatting with pals. I imagine we will be back at next year’s fest, especially when I know it makes Heath so happy.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
*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.
There are few rituals Health and I abide by religiously: one is watching every game of Heath’s favorite sports team The Dallas Cowboys, one is playing foosball to decompress after work, and one is attending a weekly ceremony appropriately known as Movie Night.
Movie night started as Mad Men Mondays–a time when friends would come together to mooch off each other’s cable television and watch the previous night’s episode of Mad Men. But then the show went on an extensive hiatus and we were still itching for some way to pass the time with dinner and TV. (No books of course. A book club would be way to classy for the likes of us.) Thus, Movie Night was born.
Movie Night has become a staple for we doodlers for several reasons. First and foremost, it gets us out of the house and prevents us from being weird anti-social hermit crabs. (This is extremely important as Heath and I can often get sucked into home improvement projects and forget the rest of the world exists. We even bailed on SXSW this year to redo our kitchen, so it’s sort of a problem.) Second, it’s a terrific way to see films I probably never would have known existed, much less watched, on my own. Third, like watching an episode of Lost, we get some pretty good backstories on our friends. Selected movies are usually given some context for why they were chosen—whether it was a Christmas-time family tradition, a film that had an impact, changed someones way of thinking, etc. You can learn a lot about someone based on their movie choice for this most precious of traditions.
As you may have presumed, Movie Night operates as follows:
- A different person volunteers to host each week
- A specialized cuisine is prepared by the host (sometimes related to the film, sometimes not)
- A film is selected, screened, and discussed.
One truly enjoyable aspect of the ritual, is there are virtually no limitations or parameters set for what type of film can be screened. We’ve viewed everything from Ding-a-ling-Less, the part-comical, part-bizarre story of a fictional man who is, well, minus one ding-a-ling, to Waltz with Bashir, an astonishingly original animated documentary about the 1982 Lebanon war. (And oddly enough, both were chosen by the same Movie Night Patron.) Having no guidelines, no theme, no confines from which to operate within has allowed for some wonderful cinematic experiences that have been eye opening, contemplative, riotous, thoughtful and other diverse but intriguing adjectives.
I’ve started to view movie night as more than just a weekly social gathering. On paper, I suppose that’s the gist of it, but for me personally it has taken on a greater role. While not a totally original concept (I know, dinner-and-a-movie is a classic date-nightish staple in American culture), this weekly gathering of friends, communal cooking, humorous reflections and fresh cinematic experiences will forever be engrained in my memory as unique custom specific to a truly remarkable stage of my life. Most of us are existing in a weird, post-college transitional stage where we’ve all disembarked, in one form or another, from our own families and family customs but have yet to create our own. So in a sense, Movie Night is my family’s Saturday trip to the public library, my after-school ballet rehearsal, my summer trips to my grandparents’ house. It’s a custom I take great joy in experiencing, but know–like my ballet rehearsals—will eventually come to a close. I aim to cherish it while it’s here.
Mom to me: So in between all of this traveling back and forth to Denton for wedding responsibilities and working on house projects, when are you finding time to have fun and do your own thing?
Good point, Mom. It is high time I started being way more selfish and irresponsible.(What? That’s not what you meant? Well, that’s how I’m taking it.) I mean, when your own mother points out the fact that you are kind of being a lame 20-something-year-old, you really owe it to yourself to pick up the partying pace. Don’t mind if I do take a weekend off from painting and pruning to indulge in some merriment.
The first non-home-improvement related activity of the weekend: backyard party and musical extravaganza.
Our friends Tristan (musician) and Monte (intellectual) hosted a backyard shindig to celebrate the former’s birthday. Among other things, their late-night get-together featured a keg-loving kitty and live performances by Your Friendly Ghost. We’ve experienced a healthy variety of interesting party panoramas (including a cheap beer taste test and drinking among living manikins at The Gap to name only two), and this one lacked the grandeur of some of our other weekend romps in terms of food or fanfare, but was nonetheless a thoroughly enjoyable evening (completely free of drying Spackle or matching paint colors). After all, it’s not every day you’re granted front-row seats to an exclusive musical performance from one of Austin’s most talented up-and-coming bands. Point, Robinsons.
For day 2 of our vacation from renovation we went to the Live Oak Brewing Company on the East side for the local microbrewery’s 15th anniversary celebration. I attended an eerily similar event last year which I blogged about here. The biggest difference between that event and this one is mostly (and by mostly, I mean totally) in the numbers (14 years vs.15 years). The party was pretty much identical to the previous celebration…from the music talent, to the weird school bus themed bounce house, to the tortilla wrapped bratwurst. But it was free beer (the best in Austin), free food and perfect weather…so not at all something at which to turn up your nose.
From there we wandered to campus to hear Minus the Bear play at 40 Acres Fest. The annual concert is free for all, and in the past has hosted much bigger players like Little Richard and The Roots. This year’s show was much more scaled down than others I had experienced, and probably drew about 1/4 of the crowd, though even then, I’d venture to guess there were 400 or so MTB fans in attendance… mostly (as to be expected) students. Heath and I felt like old codgers in our folding lawn chairs off to the side of most of the concert action, but still had to hand it to ourselves for making it out after several hours of day drinking.
Lucky for us, sound was still pitch perfect from our side seating…AND we got to see the most ridiculously huge Texas flag hanging from the main building and acting as a backdrop to the emo/rock music. So, no curtain hanging this weekend, but definite flag hanging for sure…in fact, I’m fairly certain I’ve met my Texas flag quota for the year.
On Sunday we finally broke. We had to stop at Home Depot to get a few knick knacks for some side projects we have planned for later in the week. After all, we’re only human and can’t be expected to stay away from our calling for long. So I guess the weekend wasn’t COMPLETELY without thought of home improvement projects.
To make amends for our infidelity, we opted to spend the later morning/early afternoon taking in Sunday brunch and cocktails at Nomad. The neighborhood bar has time and time again won awards from The Austin Chronicle for having the best bar staff and being one of the best neighborhood bars, and it’s my prediction it won’t be too long before it gets a nod for its brunch. The brunch, by Mark Rivas Catering, is $13 for all you can eat brunchy goodness that includes a waffle bar, omelet bar, fruit bar and 23480234234 other options that get me in a tizzy. Admittedly, I probably love it so much because it’s walking distance from the house and has an option for bottomless mimosas, but since moving to the new casa, it’s been tough to abstain from brunch binges at Nomad.
And just like that, our weekend was done. We tended to the chickens and watched the latest episode of Mad Men, but other than that the house was unchanged. On Monday morning, the old house looked just as she did on Friday afternoon.
I know when my mother said we should take time for ourselves, she didn’t so much mean “take time to party, and sleep in, and be lazy.” She meant take time to travel and explore and experience new things, which is still on the docket for a weekend in the very near future; but heavens, I did enjoy my weekend of reckless disregard for my status as “homeowner” and drinking adult beverages with child carelessness. Still, I might be a little excited about returning to my rightful role of diligent caretaker to the doodle manor in the coming days.