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On April 11, Austin adds yet another unique tour to a calendar already brimming with curious annual sights and events. In this case, folks who’ve come to know and love the many joys and benefits of fowl play present the first Funky Chicken Coop Tour—a chance for urban chicken wranglers to show off their beloved birds and, more specifically, the coops in which they’re kept.
Like human domiciles, chicken coops run the gamut from slapdash mash-ups of found supplies to carefully planned architectural masterpieces. The common denominator, though, regardless of form, is that a good coop keeps out the endless army of predators unfazed by decorative touches and driven by an appetite for that which “tastes like chicken.”
Tracie Downing, an active member of the local AusTex Poultry Group listserv, has been instrumental in planning the tour. She’s looking forward to introducing coop tourists to her personal flock that includes five “slow-laying” Cochins (about one egg every three days) and one “accidental” rooster mistaken for a female as a chick.
Aaron Blanco, owner of San Antonio’s Brown Coffee Company, remembers his early foray into life with the bean. “I started like everyone else . . . in college . . . drinking coffee as fuel . . . with lots of cream and lots of sugar,” he says.
But a propensity for purism eventually led Blanco to drinking his coffee black, and his passion for the liquid fuel inspired him to get educated. In 2002, Blanco took a barista job at a Philadelphia Starbucks—quickly moving up to manager. Three years later, he and his wife moved to San Antonio to be closer to family, and they soon noticed a dearth of independent coffee peddlers. Blanco used a small loan from his parents and in-laws, bought a five-pound coffee roaster and hung out a shingle.
Eventually, he needed a larger roaster, but the cost of even a used 25-pound roaster was prohibitive. Lamenting the situation to his father-in-law, a retired aviation engineer, the idea for a homemade roaster began to percolate. Soon, using various bits and scraps salvaged from everything but other coffee equipment, the two cobbled together a benevolent Frankenroaster.
By Elif Selvili
If you believe it’s possible for a nation to be in love with a vegetable, then you’ll understand how Turkey feels about the eggplant. Originally hailing from Southeast Asia, this curious purple vegetable has a starring role in Turkish cuisine and is served dozens of ways—hot, cold, healthfully, sinfully, fancily, plainly, sliced, cubed and stuffed—in dishes that often tout equally colorful names like hünkar begendi (the sultan liked it), karniyarik (split tummy) and imam bayildi (the holy man has fainted).
By Laura McKissack
Photography of hügelkultur beds at in.gredients by Whitney Arostegui
Back when I began teaching and was freshly moved into a new place, I didn’t have the money to purchase new soil for a garden. Instead, I piled sticks and leaves onto a raised bed and covered it with some soil and compost I’d transported in coolers from my old garden. I had a great garden that year!
By Beth Goulart
Photography by Bill Albrecht
May is going to be a crazy month for Chrissy Omo of CKC Farms in Blanco. Her spring-bearing goats—now more numerous than ever—will be producing high yields of milk in need of pasteurization and processing, her first pecorino will be ripe and ready for tending, and to top it all off, she’ll face final exams.
By Helen Cordes
Imagine this: it’s long about suppertime and you’re hungry, so you step out into the front yard and gather ingredients for a tantalizing Tuscan mélange—green beans, tomatoes, squash and herbs. And why not grab some peaches for dessert, while you’re there? Don’t forget to wave at the guy next door sweating over a loud lawnmower, then breathe a contented sigh that you’re avoiding the hours of fertilizing, mowing and maintaining the lawn you’ve replaced with an edible landscape.
At long last, spring has arrived. There’s a special shade of green that Mother Nature reserves for use only in the springtime; budding trees flaunt new foliage with this neon-like hue against cerulean-blue skies, while grass that’s been long dormant and brown sends up brightly colored stalks to herald the season of reawakening. Likewise, the first crops of spring have flavors that taste alive, vibrant and new.
Being a barista is a challenging job, no doubt—cups and saucers moving quickly, steaming liquids all about, multiple orders to remember. Randy Stephenson, a vocational teacher at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, is currently transforming his students into the big, bad baristas of tomorrow.
“Everyone thought it was a crazy idea,” says Stephenson. “But guess how many people have been hurt or burnt since we started? Only one: me.”
The idea began brewing years ago when Stephenson and local coffee hero R.C. Beall of Texas Coffee Traders discussed a potential collaboration. The necessary start-up funds weren’t available at the time, but they recently materialized thanks to new government grants. Now, with the fancy equipment in place and proper training and coffee-bean backing by Texas Coffee Traders, the school’s own café class is up and running. From start to finish—scooping, grinding, brewing, lining up espresso shots, steaming, stirring, pouring and cleaning—these kids do it all, with the use of very deliberate and mindful tactual and auditory skills.
If Joe Reider were ever desperate for work, his want ad would read: Seasoned Amish farmer seeks to pass on 50 years of knowledge to organic farmers. Highly skilled. No salary necessary. Just room and board for me and my dog, Monty.
But Joe would never be desperate for work, because free advice from a kindly, experienced farmer is an irresistible commodity. And in 2005, when Joe appeared on the Austin organic farming scene, he was eager to share.
By Jeremy Walther
Photography by Kelly West
A common frustration for gardeners is lack of control. The books say it won’t happen, but we do get late-April freezes in Central Texas. We also get 13 inches of rain in one weekend, followed by months of nothing: a combination that garden pests and disease vectors live for. Hail, wind, squirrels, La Niña—nature puts on a plunder parade every year that’s especially painful for new gardeners.
Did you know there are at least 16 Texas distillers with products available on liquor store shelves? You might know of a number of vodkas and rums, but the variety extends to gin, bourbon, corn whiskey, single-malt whiskey, orange and lemon liqueurs and even an agave spirit.
Producers of these products have experienced heartwarming local support along with hard knocks competing in the world of Big Distilling. With astounding growth over the last five years and no end in sight, Texas spirits producers have elected to band together to form the Texas Distilled Spirits Association.
“We felt the time was right to establish Texas spirits as its own brand to be marketed in its own right,” says Paula Angerstein, founder of Paula’s Texas Spirits. “We are all little guys compared to the national brands, and we shouldn’t waste energy competing with each other. We needed to pull together to grow the market for Texas spirits as a whole—then we all win.”
By Elizabeth Winslow
Photography by Knoxy
I married for love, but if I’m being completely honest, the recipes had something to do with it, too. My husband’s family is rich in recipes—the dog-eared, sugar-stained, time-tested and perfected kind. These recipes are for dishes that appear year after year at family gatherings, holidays, celebrations and special occasions. I fell in love with my husband’s grandmother’s pepper jelly and charlotte russe (known in East Texas family parlance as “charlotte rouge”), my mother-in-law’s famous dinner rolls and pecan fudge and the hot onion dip everyone seems to make. But the most famous and sought-after recipe of them all is my sister-in-law’s mother’s toffee recipe.
In March of 2006, I got a call from Lewis Dickson, a prominent Houston defense attorney. He wanted me to taste the La Cruz de Comal and Dickson wines he was making in Central Texas.
“I met you a couple of years ago when my winemaker, Tony Coturri, and I came to your restaurant for lunch,” he said. He had a fantastic old-Houston twang that made the word wine come out wahn.
When Hugh and Sarah Fitzsimons of Shape Ranch decided to switch from raising Hereford cattle to bison, Hugh thought it was important to educate himself. The initial lesson in “bisonry,” however, quite literally left a bad taste in his mouth.
“I’d never tasted bison, so I bought one and had it killed at a slaughterhouse,” he says. “I took a bite and spit it out.”
By Jim Long
Is a rose an herb? Most people would say no, believing herbs to be merely parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme and a few others. However, if you visit India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkey or neighboring countries in the region, you’ll find the rose firmly planted in the list of important culinary seasoning plants. In fact, the rose is so important that the International Herb Association (IHA) has designated it the official herb of the year for 2012, and the Herb Society of America will be promoting the rose throughout 2012 as well.
In the morning, before the heat sets in, Hugh Fitzsimmons drives his truck down rutted wheel tracks, looking for signs of his bison herd. He’s in no hurry, though his ranch is vast.
“Thirteen thousand acres,” he says. “More than I deserve.” Five miles per hour is slow enough to notice the richness in the endless grass, and Hugh likes to point out the details. Whip snake. Roadrunner. Jack rabbit. Mesquite. A 1920s-era windmill, revolving slowly.
By C. Jeanette Tyson
Illustrations by Matthew Lynaugh
Aunt Frances said to pull one from the bottom, so I did—dove through the murky syrup, hooked one with my fork and ate it straight from the jar. Crisp as a cotton sheet snapping on a summer line, just-this-side-of-cloyingly sweet…good…though not exactly the pickled watermelon rinds I remembered from my youth. I said this out loud.
Shane Bordeau and Jim Sampson were happy enough at their high-tech gigs—toiling away by day, then throwing back Mexican beers by night when they wanted to chill. But then, flying in the face of this dismal economy, the company they worked for was purchased by a mammoth entity. Enter the freedom to dream a big dream buoyed by the dough to pursue it. At the time of the buyout, Bordeau and Sampson had already been experimenting for years with home brewing. Now, their imaginations revved—what if they opened a microbrewery focused on a variation of the style of beer they preferred? Why not throw their sombreros into the growing ring of Austin area small-operation beer crafters?
By Jim Long
Creative chefs are always on the lookout for unique and unusual herbs and plants to complement and flavor their dishes. Here are a few gastronomic darlings that have recently moved to the forefront. Consider adding them to your herb garden or purchasing them locally and experimenting with some exciting, cutting-edge flavor sensations.