Serious SourdoughContinuing with the “local” beat, I decided to pay a visit to the Austin Farmers’ Market and ask a simple question; why is it important to shop local?  I apologize in advance for the shoddy audio, my little Flip Mino HD was working as hard as it could, but between the plodding bass beat from the band from across the parking lot and that killer harmonica solo during the second section, things got a bit rough.  Regardless, it is a good taste of what it feels like to be caught up in the local spirit on a Saturday morning.

Of course, it always sounds great to be a supporter of the local economy, but there are other important benefits to factor in when shopping at a local market.

1. It may be healthier for you

And I am not just talking about cutting down on pesticide covered/unnaturally fertilized vegetables.  The use of honey, such as that from Round Rock Honey, made from local wildflowers is known to help cut back on allergic reactions due to pollen in the area.  Think of it in terms of getting a flu shot; a little dose in advance can go a long way toward preparing your body for the onslaught of debilitating conditions later.

2. The quality is outstanding

The effort by vendors, such as Jean Brooks from Serious Sourdough (featured in the video), to painstakingly prepare their products by hand day after to day pays off.  Typically, what a vendor has to offer outclasses most of what you can find in your everyday supermarket, but do be aware you will likely be paying a premium for that freshness.  As always, this is choice each person will make on an individual basis, but in many cases that little extra expense is worth it.

3.You get to be an active member of the community

For many students who choose to spend four or more years here in Austin, it is easy to get locked into that university “bubble.”  You eat in the cafeteria, you go to class, you study in the library, you might go out a night or two, and then you end up back in the “comfort” of your dorm.  But if you never break out of your mold, you will never get to experience the little things that Austin has to offer.  A farmer’s market gives everyone an opportunity to spend some time with a group of people who just enjoy being alive on a Saturday afternoon.

Of all the precious things this city has to offer, always make the effort to spend time with those who have been here all along.  You might learn a little bit more about yourself in the process.

(Here are a few more pictures.)

(Map to the location.)

The Austin Farmers’ Market runs from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday.

(Photos by Shannon Wade.)

Photo courtesy of Earth Balance

When it comes to vegan alternatives, it is often difficult to find ones that can even compare to the original. While I avoid the meat alternatives — who wants to eat soy soysauge? — one of the tastes I have missed most since cutting out dairy is butter. I prefer olive oil and never used butter in my meals all that often because of the fat content, but when baking or browning something with butter, I want true butter taste and not a waxy and watery alternative.

One of the first alternatives I discovered was Smart Balance that was that exact and unfortunate combination of waxy and watery. Luckily, while atCentral Market I stumbled upon Earth Balance Natural Buttery Spread and Vegan Buttery Sticks, which are ironically a part of the daughter company of Smart Balance. In these soy bean based, vegan, gluten-free, all natural (with organic options), non-hydrogenated and blended-oil concoctions, Earth Balance found the solution to the vegan butter problem.

Much like its father brand, Earth Balance aims to create a product that is as healthy as it is delicious. On their site, they have a comprehensive explanation on the use of the “good guys” ­— Omega 3s and HDL Cholesterol — and the harms of the “bad guys” — Trans Fat and LDL Cholesterol.

Photo courtesy of Earth Balance

Ultimately, (along with an overall well-rounded diet and regular exercise) the balance of fats in your diet effects the levels of cholesterol in the body and, if you haven’t figured out already, more Omega 3s and less Trans Fats improves the levels of good HDL Cholesterol and lowers the levels of bad LDL Cholesterol. To achieve this healthy balance, Earth Balance includes good oils that contain Omega 3s and excludes hydrogenated ingredients (which should always be avoided) as the source of Trans Fat. With a few added plant derivatives, like soy and beets, and clever ingredients, they came up with a nutritionally mindful, spreadable, meltable and delicious product.

While I still prefer olive oil and limit my butter consumption to the occasional baked good or tofu stir-fry, I feel better about what I am eating. Without the artery-clogging dairy fat, Earth Balance is already a better alternative. With the addition of healthy fats and lack of hydrogenated ingredients, it might as well be considered a health food — a tasty one at that.

I have a slight obsession with apples.. :)
Every morning I have an apple for breakfast. It has been a long time this habit planted to my habit.

Fuji Apples via Flickr Creative Commons

There are various kinds of apples at the grocery stores but for me Fuji is surely one of the more attractive modern apple varieties. I usually buy organic fuji apples at my local Costco store and you might pay about $8 per a pack. (12 apples in one pack) It is pretty good price compared to Central Market or Whole Foods Market if you care about ‘organic.’

Fuji’s main characteristic is the lovely pink speckled flush over a yellow-green background. It is also crisp and juicy, with dull white flesh which snaps cleanly. The flavour is predominantly sweet, very refreshing, but not particularly outstanding.

Fuji is originally from Japan and is named after the famous Mt. Fuji. It was developed in Japan in the late 1930’s and brought to market in 1962 . It is a cross between the two American apple varieties, the Red Delicious and old Virginia Ralls Genet apples.

Fuji apples also have a very long shelf life compared to other apples, even without refrigeration . With refrigeration, Fuji apples can last up to 5-6 months.

apple-crisps

Fresh fruit is not always available to eat. Whether you are at work, in the car, or traveling, you need to find a new alternative to get their daily fruits. In that situation I usually get Brothers-All-Natural Fruit Crisps are the 100% freeze-dried fruit snack. You might realize that it is made of fuji apple!

You can get it at Austin Whole Foods Market or online (Amazon, Vitacost, and Linda’s Diet Delites) but I usually grab it at my local Costco store.

This snack is easy to handle and pack, and it’s non-perishable and portable, dried fruit is not a substitute for the one to three cups of fresh fruit recommended every day. Fresh fruits are naturally rich in fiber, potassium, folate and vitamins C and A.

* Here is the video clip that I interviewed a dietitian, Ms. Shih who talks about an apple.

image

Ming’s Cafe (located on Guadalupe St., near Kerbey Lane) is one of the many places in the university area that accepts the Go Local Card, so when 2 o’clock rolled around today (like it normally does) and I felt the pangs of hunger (like a person should) I decided to pay Ming’s a visit.

One thing I enjoy about Ming’s in particular are the rock bottom prices for their fried rice entrees. I am a big fan of sauteed (or, I guess in this case, “fried”) vegetables, so although the chicken and shrimp based meals are tasty, my go to is the vegetable fried rice.

The fried rice comes with broccoli, snow peas, onions, carrots, bean sprouts and pieces of scrambled egg. And as you can tell by the photo, they don’t skimp when it comes to providing an ample serving. (I ordered the small!)

But perhaps the most satisfying aspect is the price. With the Go Local Card, the plate costs only $3.89, which easily rivals the dime-a-dozen Americanized Chinese fast food restaurants we have all had the displeasure of regretting later.

So I say do the Austin thing; support your Austin businesses and keep Ming’s Cafe in mind the next time you are in the area.

Wheatsville Food Coop reminds me small Whole Foods Market. It is small but they have what I want.  They’ve expanded and got a much bigger better offering of everything.

They display food in a space-efficient way. Everything is clearly and lovingly labeled with state/country of origin, and organic or conventional farming methods.  There’s wide selection and it’s so fresh.

They carry locally grown organic produce. You can get local eggs, local produce, local herbs, local meats, and so on. I think their prices on organic produce and free-range, grass-fed meats are much better than what I’ve seen at Whole Foods Market or Central Market.

John Perkins, finance manager of the Wheatsville, said,

“Buying local is a great way to support our community and it reduces the pollution and other negative ecological effects of transporting the produce long distances.”

Popcorn Tofu via Wheatsville Popcorn Tofu fan page

Also, check out their deli section. They always have plenty of locally made wraps, pitas and sandwiches. I really like the food in the deli and recommend their popcorn tofu.

When you check out your products cashier ask if you are an owner. That’s because they’re a co-op. If you are a owner, present your card to the cashier. You can shop even if you are not a member but can’t use someone else’s owner number at Wheatsville.

Wheatsville is owned and operated by people. The motivating purpose of co-ops is to serve the needs of the members, not to generate a profit. When the co-op makes a profit, it is cycled back into Wheatsville to increase services for the owner, or if sufficient profit is made, it given back to the owners in the form of a patronage refund.

John said,

“One of the greatest advantages to Wheatsville compared with the larger businesses is that our ‘human-scale’ store is simply more convenient, and we maintain personal relationships with our customers.”

* Tips for shopping!

  • Be their facebook or twitter friend and find out about new products!
  • Check out the coupons when you enter the store! They have plenty of coupons at the front for various things being promoted.

Wheatsville Food Coop via google map

The vegan lemon-blueberry cupcake recipe started off as a very basic vegan vanilla cupcake recipe from a friend. While the basic vanilla version is delicious in its own right, I wanted to change it up to make it even better. One of my favorite flavors in baked goods is lemon and when added to tart blueberries, they make a scrumptious paring. With a few changes, this is what I came up with.

Vegan Lemon-Blueberry Cupcakes

Before you get started, here are a couple recommendations. Use apple sauce in place of the oil to make the cake lighter, and a tiny bit healthier. When making the icing, use a beater to make it extra fluffy. The apple cider vinegar may seem like an odd ingredient but it “curdles” the soy milk to make a kind of vegan buttermilk to act as a thickening agent in place of eggs. This recipe makes 18 cupcakes, so keep that in mind when buying cupcake tins.

Ingredients:

Cupcakes:
• 2 cup soy milk
• 2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
• 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
• 4 tbsp. cornstarch
• 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
• 1 tsp. baking soda
• 1 tsp. salt
• 2/3 cup apple sauce
• 1 1/2 cup sugar
• 4 1/2 tsp. lemon extract
• 1 package of blueberries

Frosting:
• 3 tbsp. Earth Balance vegan butter
• 5 oz. Tofutti Vegan cream cheese
• 2-3 cups confectioners’ sugar
• 1 tsp. grated lemon zest
• 2 tsp. lemon extract as seen fit

Directions:

Cupcakes:
1. Preheat oven to 350 and line muffin pan with cupcake liners
2. Whisk the soy milk and vinegar and set aside to curdle
3. In a large bowl combine flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda and salt
4. In separate bowl, beat together soy milk/vinegar mixture, oil/apple sauce, sugar, and lemon extract. Stir the dry ingredients and mix until no large lumps remain.
5. Fill cupcake liners 1/4 full of batter, add a few blueberries then add more batter until about 3/4 full
6. Bake for 20 minutes or until done
7. Transfer to cooling rack and let cool completely before frosting

Frosting:
1. Mix butter and cream cheese until smooth, mix in lemon zest and extract
2. Slowly add sugar until thick enough to spread.
3. Frost and enjoy!

Vintage Ad #743 by jbcurio via Creative Commons

The weekly ritual arrival of the grocery store circulars are one of the few things you can count on, unless you happen to live in a dorm. Although some might find them to be a nuisance, today’s grocery store ad pamphlets should not inspire thoughts of our parents and grandparents clipping coupons to save a few cents on cans of soup. Many stores have acknowledged that keeping up with those flimsy slips of paper are a hassle, with some (such as HEB) going as far as making them freely available in store.

So what is the proper mindset to have when dealing with these bundles of savings? Here is a little advice.

1. Just because it is on sale, it does not mean you need it.

Sometimes there will be an amazing deal on Hass avocados (35 cents a piece!), but that does not mean you need to load down your cart with them if you have no plans to make guacamole.  A good deal only goes as far as the usage you plan to get out of the item.  If a discount makes you want to purchase more of an item in order to stock up, really think about how your future self will feel about cleaning out your fridge in a week or two, still half full of the “good deal.”

2. Look for savings on typically expensive items.

I think you would be hard pressed to find anyone who is not a moderate fan of pot roast, but it is pretty universal how much people dislike buying the piece of meat at full price.  Almost every item has the point in the year where it becomes either “in-season” or “out-of-season,” and when it goes out it shows in quality.  But if you are on the ball you can take advantage of these moments to get fabulous deals.  Just be weary of the fish.  Ask your local fish monger when the fish arrives each week, and avoid the day or two before then.  You do not want to be a part of the “purging.”

3. Go into grocery shopping with a battle plan.

If you just go to the grocery store without a list or a guide, you are just asking for trouble in the form of wasted money and unhealthy indulgences.  Take the time to look through the circulars and find what appeals to you the most that week, and build a meal or two around that item.  Saving a few cents or a dollar here every once in a while does not seem like much; but when you are consistently saving those amounts it starts to add up.

Don’t know where to start?  This page on Coupon Sherpa provides links to the top 100 (in their opinion) must-have grocery store circulars.

For those of you in Austin, I suggest you take a look at the following for the best opportunities in town.  And if you have the ability, get your ads via email if at all possible to help cut back on paper waste.

HEB Market
Randalls
Dollar General
Albertsons
Family Dollar
Target

Sushi Nichi has become my favorite place near campus to get sushi. It’s walking distance from pretty much anywhere on campus, and most of west campus. When I lived in the university towers which is private dorm next to this sushi place I often went there to get sushi or Japanese dishes. Even though I moved out and no longer live there I go to there whenever I want to have sushi. It was little bit drizzling during the afternoon so I and my friend who wanted some hot Japanese dishes stopped there.

I usually grab a couple of rolls (I recommend: dragon, blue moonlight, and spider) or get lunch special bento box (bento is really good and popular and it is more than enough food for lunch: served with miso soup, salad, rice, 4 pcs of california roll, and veggie tempura). However, at this time I tried different one.

We had two pieces of sushi for appetizer.

Then I ordered chicken curry don – chicken, carrot, potato in house curry sauce on rice.

And my friend had tempura udon – noodle soup with crab, shrimp, and veggie tempura.

The sushi was good and tasted fresh. Also my curry dish was pretty good, but not that spetacular…

The prices are reasonable and they now have a happy hour menu from 4-6. It’s nice. As I mentioned earlier part of this post, the blue moonlight is a really popular roll and I definately recommend. Also, if you go during happy hour, try the unfiltered sake. My friend says it’s really milky and sweet and the most perfect compliment to the sushi.

Go and check more information: sushi Nichi.

The only drawback is parking space.. It is limited.. It would be good to walk or bike.

In addition to Austin Appetite, I also write a bimonthly series, Faces of Austin, for the University of Texas‘ newspaper, The Daily Texan. Faces of Austin aims to introduce interesting members of the UT community to Austin. This week, I spoke with UT alum Adam Avramescu about his recently launched baked good delivery company Say It With Cookie Cake.

Cakes Make Sour Message Sweeter

Adam Avramescu, Photo Courtesy of Danielle Villasana of The Daily Texan

By Amber Genuske, Daily Texan Staff
Published: Thursday, April 1, 2010

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a bimonthly series looking into the lives of students who help shape the city of Austin.

Adam Avramescu is wandering around the lobby of the Union in neon-striped Adidas sneakers that heavily contrast his ensemble of blue clothing — navy blue cotton blazer, light blue oxford top and blue jeans. He is holding a silver tray full of cookie cake decorated with blue and white icing. Written on the cake is a phrase not often iced onto confectionery treats — “Bite me.”

The rectangular chocolate-chip-cookie cake is a product of Adam’s make-shift baked-goods delivery company, Say It With Cookie Cake.

“We have all had our moments in life where we just want to lash out and say the things that we couldn’t say — and, of course, if you say that to someone’s face, that gets you slapped or fired or … ” he trails off, thinking as he scratches his neck, “Dumped. I just thought, why not just say it with cookie cake? Why not have a venue to say the things you can’t say yourself in this really absurd and delicious way?”

Whether it is ironic, sarcastic or absurd, any message can be iced onto the cakes — with the exceptions of hate speech, because they will not bake a hate crime. The $20 cakes are baked on a made-to-order-basis out of various commercial kitchens and hand delivered by Adam himself. Though he frequently ices the classic “eat me” or typical “I love you,” Adam says his favorite delivery was for a couple.

“My favorite by far was a couple who, without knowing it, both ordered cookies cakes for each other for Valentine’s Day,” he says. “His said, ‘You’re okay I guess’ and hers said, ‘Who farted?’ I said, ‘You are a very lucky couple to have such exquisite tastes in cookie cakes.’”

The interview moves outside to the patio chairs of the Starbucks in the West Mall on a humid but breezy spring night. Adam assumes his position in his chair and barely moves, with the exception of the occasional nose, head or neck scratch. He seems timid, almost rigid, thinking about every single word he says, picking them carefully to reflect his English and rhetoric with English honors and liberal arts honors — a Plan I degree from UT.

He starts talking about the music scene in Denton, a place he often visited with his Colleyville band, Fish Boy. On top of Cookie Cake, which launched a month ago, and Fish Boy, Adam also plays with local band Minorcan and works full time at educational company BancVue as an instructional designer
developing curriculum.

Before BancVue, Adam worked at Enspire Learning — he notes that he has never been able to hold a job with a company that could spell its name right — where he met his cookie-cake co-pilots, Kristin Kahlich and Alex Kasavin. He says they are “two of the most,” again choosing his words, “fiercely — I don’t even know what adjective I want to put on that — but very fierce.”

It is obvious that these are the people with whom Adam associates most. They share a liking for mockery, often of one another, which is how the company got its start.

After a night of his usual “drunk-and-bitch sessions” with Kristin, they discussed the idea of snide cookie cakes. She showed up the next morning at work with a cake that said, “Suck it.” Instead of taking offense, Adam says he remembers how happy it made him to see an insulting cookie cake delivered to him.

“I think that Say It With Cookie Cake definitely speaks to part of Adam’s personality,” Kahlich says. “He’s oftentimes disarmingly witty, where it takes you a few seconds to even understand the joke. So while you’re uncontrollably laughing, you’re also trying to figure out how he came up with it so quickly.”

Oddly enough, once he starts self-analzying and talking about his lack of sleep, he seems to relax, crossing his feet into a more comfortable position.

When asked if he is sarcastic like the comments on the cake, he questions himself before jumping into a discussion on absurdity and irony.

“I think there are enough people that are in on the joke to see that no matter what you are writing on a hateful cookie cake, that is an act of love. It’s a total love-hate thing, and that is what strikes me as this really absurd thing that I love. It’s ironic more than it is sarcastic, and I think I am ironic more than I am sarcastic … ” he says. After a long pause, he adds, “I don’t know where I am going with this.”

As the interview winds down, he relaxes, allowing himself to laugh. His speech speeds up, and there is less of a thought process about word choice, allowing his bizarre wit to come through.

“We want people to think of us as the go-to place for the birthday when ‘Happy birthday, old chum’ won’t do,” he says, “and for the anniversary where ‘I love you’ isn’t going to cut it.”

Fries in a basket with ketchup

Fries with that? by klynslis via Creative Commons

One of my proudest health related moments came during my second year of college.

When I first moved into Jester my freshman year, I, like many others, went through that culture shock of immediate freedom.  I could order pizza whenever I wanted!  Sleeping in was no longer considered a bad thing (everyone was doing it)!  And thanks to my dining plan in the dorm, food was constantly available as long as I could find a merchant that would accept the card.

But I was already in bad shape. When I walked across the stage at my school graduation, I weighed 210 pounds, and not much of that was what I would call “muscle.”  Diabetes runs in the family on my dad’s side, and high blood pressure on my mom’s.  I came to the realization that something needed to change, and quick.  So I started being more structured with my meals. I hired one of the personal trainers in training at the Gregory Gym (conveniently located across the street) to get me started, and once that ended I kept going.  To make a long story short, I ended up getting down to 150 lbs by the beginning of my second UT fall, became a lot happier with myself, and felt a lot more secure about my future.

It is safe to say that almost all of us could do for a little more respect for our bodies, but when you are taking that leap of faith into the “real” world of a college student, sometimes that is one of the last things on your mind.  And even if you do decide to take control, where do you even begin?  Who can you talk to?

Brandy Shih’s job, as Dietitian for the University of Texas’ Department of Housing & Food Service, is to do just that.  I spoke with her to ask about common concerns and sources of confusion for beginners, and to find out just what it is that pushes so many students to succumb to the “Freshman 15.”

Austin Appetite: Many people have heard the advice that you are supposed to get 2000 calories in a day, but is that true, and where does it come from?

Brandy Shih: Basically, the nutrition fact label says that the daily intake is roughly 2000 calories, but that is really not the best. Everybody is different. When I do calculations for figuring out how many calories you need, I need to take in account your age, your weight, your height, your activity and everything, so that is a little bit better of a ballpark number. Just saying 2000 calories, that’s just really general. Looking at my consulations I do with the students here, it basically ranges from 1500 calories up to maybe even 2800 calories, depending on how active the person is.

If someone recognizes they are having issues with being over or under nourished, what are some of the things that you would recommend for them to rectify that?

[With students I advise] I always go through the different food groups and what recommendations of how many servings they need of each one. So, how many servings of the green group, how many servings of fruits and vegetables, and the dairy, and the proteins. I just kind of go from there, and having those amount of servings generally add up to the amount of calories they should have.

If there were three things you wish everyone was more aware of (in particular, the student population), what would they be?

1. Portion control. I always tell people about portion control. People go way overboard all the time. They don’t realize what an actual “portion” is. If you go Romano’s Macaroni Grill you are going to get a plate of pasta that is probably like 4-5 servings. There is no reason why we need to be eating all of that in one sitting.

2. Having a variety. Variety is such a huge and broad term, but it really is [important]. I mean, one of my good friends, he just eats fast food every single day, and basically it is a burger, fries and a drink. And it is like, there is a lot more foods out there that can meet your needs that are tasty. So having a variety of food is always good and something I suggest to students. Maybe at home they only had a set amount of things they were exposed to, but there are so many types of foods out there you may like. You should always try new things.

3. Physical activity. I get a lot of people in here that want to lose weight, but they kind of don’t want to go move. It is a pretty big part. You know, studies have shown you can diet [and get results], but it is not going to do as much good as doing diet and exercise, changing your lifestyle. So that’s what I tell students, it is not a diet, it is basically a behavior change, that you are going to eat these foods, and then incorporate the healthier physical activity by getting out there and moving. We lead such sedentary lives, and you have to get out and move at some point! People kind of forget that they need to do that.

In your opinion, what is the biggest problem you see students having?

When I go upstairs to eat during my lunch time, I see a lot of food, piles on people’s plate, and I’m just impressed with how much they are eating. I know that they are moving around a lot, they are active and things like that, but sometimes it is such a huge amount I can’t help thinking if they keep that habit up, and never slow down, it’s just going to get bad. I think part of the issue is a lot of people don’t know how to eat healthy now, and you are setting in your habits now, so once you get out into the “real world” with office work and doing things on your own and are not having mom and dad to help you cook foods, you are not going to incorporate those physical activities in order to have a healthy life. Keeping up the healthier behaviors throughout the college years and into the 20s, it makes it a lot easier later.

Do you have any resources you would recommend to anyone who wants to get serious about monitoring their own nutrition?

Lance Armstrong has a website called The Daily Plate, and you can put in what you eat during the day, what you exercise during the day, and you can enter your height, your weight, and if you want to lose weight or maintain or gain muscle, those kinds of things, and it will help you see what you need to do. For example, you have your breakfast, you had this many calories, and then maybe during the day, you went to run for 30 minutes, so it will now say you have a negative amount of this because you only had this much to eat. So it kind of helps the person track down what exactly they are doing. That’s what I tell people; if you keep a food journal, it helps you keep track of things, because you have to write down everything. You can’t just skip the part where you ate a piece of candy or [drank the] soda, you have to write everything down. It is just keeping log and seeing the calories in verus the calories out, and seeing where exercise comes into play.

There is even MyPyramid.gov, that’s where the food guide pyramid is, and they also have their own program where you can track different foods. It shows you what servings you should have, so that is also a great resource to have.

Brandy Shih is available to talk by appointment to all students living in on-campus through the Division of Housing & Food Services. Her contact information (along with more helpful advice from Nutrition Services) can be found here.

Photo by Omar Omar via Flickr Creative Commons.

College students are always looking for cheap, good-tasting food. To those who think it’s impossible to combine the two, I suggest you check out a couple of the numerous taco stands around Austin.

To provide some advice on the best taco stands in town, I sat down with my friend Andrew Kreighbaum, who writes about taco stands for The Daily Texan.

Austin Appetite: So how do you pick the taco stands that you write about?

Andrew Kreighbaum: I usually spin a wheel like in The Price is Right. Actually I do most of my research online or just talk to people. When people found out I was writing about tacos, a lot of people got really excited. They all have their personal favorites or have heard of places they suggest I check out.

AA: What do you look for in a good taco stand?

AK: There are several criteria. Any taco stands that I’m going to suggest to my friends have got to be cheap, No. 1. If they’re not cheap, then I’m not going to waste my time; I could just go to a brick-and-mortar establishment. There also has to be something unique about it. They have to have character in some way. That could be because of the location or a theme on the menu or a particular item they’re well-known for.

AA: So what is your favorite taco stand and why is it your favorite?

AK: It’s tough to choose just one. It’s like choosing a favorite child, really. I feel like each taco stand says something about the particular region of Austin it’s in, whether it’s the East side or Riverside Drive or South First or North Lamar. It’s tough to decide, but if someone put a gun to my head, I’d say take me to Piedras Negras. There’s a lot of emotional attachment there and that can be more powerful than an original menu item that someone had wracked their brain over. Those traditional flavors and recipes that you can come back to, it’s not that it’s something that goes out of season, it’s something that will always be there and people appreciate that.

AA: OK, you mentioned youre emotional attachment to Piedras, other than that, where can I get a great, cheap taco?

AK: You could just drive for 10 minutes on Riverside.

AA: So you’re saying you’re a fan of all of those places?

AK: Not of all those places, but if you want to get a taco for cheap. I write about tacos but I’m not going to tell people what’s right for them all the time. Some people love a good breakfast taco. That’s not my thing. I prefer a good carne guisada or maybe a crispy torta if I don’t feel like a taco. Everyone just has to find their thing, you know, that one thing they can go back to and rely on in their lives. I don’t want to be the person to tell them what that one thing is, I want to help them find it. I’m like, you know, I want to be the Virgil to their Dante.

photo by thegreendebateteam.wordpress.com

Honestly, I’m not a vegetarian but I like vegetarian eating. There is a controversial issue whether vegetarian diets are always healthful. However, many studies found that vegetarians have much lower cholesterol levels than meat eaters, and heart disease is less commnon in vegetarians.

Vegetarian meals are typically low in saturated fat and usually contain little or no cholesterol. Since cholesterol is found only in animal products such as meat, dairy, and eggs, vegans consume a cholesterol-free diet.

Also, vegetarians have lower blood pressure than nonvegetarians and vegetarian diet helps prevent cancer.

People might think being a vegetarian is hard because of diet limitations. However, it is easier than you might think. Vegetarian Times and the physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine suggest the 3-step way to be a vegetarian.

  1. First, think of three vegetarian meals that you already enjoy. Common ones are tofu and vegetable stir-fries, vegetable stew, or pasta primavera.
  2. Second, think of three recipes you prepare regularly that can easily be adapted to a vegetarian menu.
  3. Third, check out some vegetarian cookbooks from the library and experiment with the recipes for a week or so until you find three new recipes that are delicious and easy to make.

One of the big issue regarding vegetarianism is protein. People are concerned that vegetarian diet never get too much protein. However, many nutrition authorities, including American Dietetic Association, believe protein needs can easily be met by consuming a variety of plant protein sources over an entire day. Orr, a professor of nutritional science in University of Texas at Austin, said,

“Most vegetarians have to use complimentary meal plans, mixing different types of plant-based protein together to make centric amino-acid. For example, corn and beans. Those have differnet amino-acid but you put them together and then make centric amino-acid.”

If you make your own dishes at home, it would be fine. But if you plan to eat out, you definitely want to find a restaurant serving vegetarian dishes. Vegetarian eating is on the rise nationwide, so it should come as no surprise that many Austin restaurants are catering to this increasing demand. I know Veggie Heaven and Kerbey Lane cafe offer vegetarian menus. But there are many vegetarian-friendly restaurants in Austin. Check the list :)

But keep in mind that anything done in extreme is things to avoid. Professor Orr said,

“Meat, eggs, and milk have lots of good nutrition. So avoid any extremes, and middle of the road.”

Mixed Berry Pie

To me, pies are the quintessential pastry in baking. There is something charming about the intricately folded dough on top of a mystery concoction of berries, spiced apples or out-of-the-box rhubarb.

Despite the appetizing allure to pies, making the crust always seemed like a daunting task. Consequently, I didn’t get around to attempting crust until recently and it turned out to be a fairly simple task with even simpler ingredients.

After a few tries and tweaks, this is the recipe that I rely on. Some use vegetable shortening in place of the butter, but what is a pie crust without the flaky, buttery goodness? This recipe makes enough dough for two separate crusts for pies with fillings so you can cover the dish and the top.

Here are a few more tips before diving into the sticky task of pie crust baking:

  • Make sure you have a large, clean and flat surface that you can roll your dough on to directly.
  • Prevent the crust from sticking to the rolling-pin, your hands, the surface, etc. by sprinkling it with a good amount of flour.
  • While you can use a fork or two knives to combine the flour and butter, a pastry blender is a good tool to invest in specifically for this task.
  • Do not play with the dough too much because it will make it tough and not flake properly. Combine all the ingredients well, but don’t over do it.
  • Be ready to get your hands messy because there is no better tool to combine everything.

Vegan Pie Crust

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup vegan butter (Earth Balance is a good option)
  • Around 8 tablespoons ice water

Directions:

  1. Combine the flour and salt in a bowl.
  2. Cube the butter and using the pastry blender (or a fork, or two knives) combine it with the flour and salt mixture until it becomes crumbled.
  3. Add the cold water a tablespoon at a time and combine into flour, salt and butter mixture with hands until the dough is thick enough to hold together.
  4. Separate into two sections, one slightly larger (for the dish crust) than the other (the topping crust) and shape into balls.
  5. On a floured surface and using a floured rolling-pin, roll the larger ball into a circle that is about 1 inch larger around than the pie dish.
  6. For an easy transfer, roll the circle of dough on to the rolling-pin, then unroll over the dish slowly, pressing it lightly on to the bottom of the dish. With a knife, cut the larger bits of overhang so there is an even amount of dough hanging off the sides of the dish.
  7. On a floured surface and using a floured rolling-pin, roll the smaller ball into a circle for the top of the pie. You can get creative with this part, just make sure there is some sort of venting so the pie doesn’t burst. My favorite look is the classic criss-cross pattern achieved by cutting 1/2-inch strips and layering them 1/2-inch apart on the pie horizontally across the surface, then perpendicular across the other way.
  8. Fill with whatever recipe you want, my favorite is a mix of berries like strawberries, raspberries and blackberries.
  9. Fold the overhang and pinch it closed with the top crust into a high edge.
  10. Depending on the filling’s ingredients, bake the pie according to the directions.
  11. Allow to cool and enjoy!
Bad cup of coffee

worst coffee ever by massdistraction via Creative Commons

Here at Austin Appetite, we have covered coffee a few times, but for me, that advice falls on deaf ears.  For the longest time I tried to convince myself that I had what it takes to be a part of the coffeehouse scene, but eventually I simply had to admit it to myself: I am just not a consistant fan of coffee.

Don’t get me wrong, when I could find a place that served coffee with taste just to my liking (shout out to Lava Java on Medical Arts), it was heavenly.  But I reached a point where wading through tons of subpar mugs of the stuff (while wasting quite a few dollars) was something I just could not sustain anymore, and the thought of making it myself at home (buying a maker, grinding my own beans) was just tiring.

So I turned to my other flavored water love, tea.  Sure, you can also get as involved in this process as you would like, but for tea all you really need is a method to heat up some water, some sweetener, and the time for the tea to steep.

A friend suggested Tea Embassy as a good starting place, and although their selection was amazing, I still found it a little steep in price for my needs (I do highly recommend the place to anyone wanting to experiment or take it to the next level).

Ceylon Tea Collection

My collection of Ceylon Tea

After testing out the standard Lipton’s and Nestle’s and store brands, I happen to stumble upon a box from the Ceylon Tea Company, almost hidden on the bottom shelf of the local HEB.  For only $1.99 for 25 bags, I figured it was not too much money to put toward a test run of this new brand, and picked up one of their Earl Grey and an interesting one called 1001 Nights.

For being an off the shelf brand (blasphemy in Austin, I know!) I was blown away.  The Earl Grey’s bergamot comes through better than almost any other Grey I have had before.  1001 Nights blends black and green tea with bits of rose and strawberry, and it has just about changed my mind on floral teas (which I am typically not a fan of at all).

I do not mean for this to be just a plug, however, there is a moral to this story!

Take the time to investigate all your grocery store has to offer, and that means searching both high and low (from top shelf to bottom shelf) to find the hidden treasures that do not get the privilege of being at eye level or at an end cap.  Grocery stores are not trying to do you a favor by putting the “best” things within reach, in fact, there tends to be other reasons for doing so.

You just might find your next culinary surprise.

All of Whole Foods Markets are filled with a wide variety of fresh and prepared foods and all provide a place in which to dine, but I especially recommend the salad bar because you would be able to better control the vegetable intake than when you order a take-out salad from a restaurant.

Salad Bar at Whole Foods Market

Fresh fruit, vegetables, mixed salads, green salad fixings, vegetarian and vegan dishes, they have it all.

variety at the salad bar

Their salad bar is also extensive, featuring everything from American staples to Middle Eastern and Indian foods. It also has a huge olive bar, a soup bar, and a dessert bar. (However, salad bar offers different kinds of foods depending on size and location of markets.)

You could choose from and plate  or box yourself and then were charged by the pound for. For between $10.00-$15.00 dollars you are guaranteed a delicious, filling and totally good-for-you meal!

Whole Foods does not sell any products that contain unnatural ingredients like dyes or preservatives and most of their food is organic. Mary Olivar, Healthy Eating Specialist of Austin Whole Foods Market, says,

“Some studies found that organic food maybe higher in vitamins. One major benefit of organic food is reducing your exposure to pesticides and other potentionly harmful chemicals. That’s primary reason poeple choose organic foods, especially when they have a family or children for better care of bodies.”

Also, here is the video clip to check out a variety of  prepared food options.

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