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The Chandler and Price letterpress in Shannon Lowry’s backyard studio has been working hard for nearly 100 years, while the seeded paper she uses in her line of hand-printed greeting cards is a more recent phenomenon—only about 10 years old, she says. The delightful idea of imbedding handmade paper with wildflower or herb seeds made immediate sense to her, both as an artist and an entrepreneur. Who wouldn’t want to send a note that could be read—then planted?
“It’s a sustainable business,” Shannon says. “Even if all my cards don’t get planted, I imagine them blooming in a landfill.”
Shannon began imprinting seeded paper note cards with her trademark retro/modern designs only two years ago, but they quickly traveled to more than a hundred retail outlets and countless more mailboxes. The time was right.
“Growing up, I never wrote thank you notes or anything like that,” she says, “but now it does seem nice and important to me. People are really appreciative of a handwritten note.”
By Elizabeth Winslow
Photography by Jody Horton
A universal symbol of life, fertility and rebirth, the egg indeed represents abundant possibility. I only had to try baking a cake without them one time to understand the science of their robust protein structure. Scrambled, poached, whipped, emulsified, souffléed or baked, eggs provide richness and texture, depth and height to all my favorite dishes. That the same ingredient can yield rich aioli, mile-high meringues, tender, lacy crêpes and soft, fluffy scrambled eggs never ceases to surprise and delight—there’s no question which comes first in my kitchen.
This past summer my husband and I had the unfortunate experience of having our seven-year-old well go dry. For the past several years, we’d noticed our water supply diminishing, and the situation finally came to a head. Several times in the mid-summer heat, I stood in the shower with a head full of shampoo as the water came to a halt. Sometimes half an hour would elapse before the well replenished itself and I could rinse off. It was a wake-up call for all of us—and probably for many others in the Austin area.
By Terry Thompson-Anderson
Photography by Sandy Wilson
Along the pastoral banks of Texas’s rivers, early explorers found many kinds of treasure. Some found silver while others stumbled upon bountiful groves of nut-laden riches that blanketed those fertile bottomlands.
The earliest reports of exploration in the Central Texas region came from Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca—a Spanish explorer who, in 1542, reported his adventures in the New World to the king of Spain, including his being held captive by Indians.
By Emily Larocque
Illustrations by Matt Lynaugh
Farm-friendly Austinites who participate in local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs might gently sigh now and again at the repetition, even the copiousness, of certain boxed goodies. But you simply can’t knock the variety. Ensconced amid the familiar greens, herbs, okra and beets are dazzling vegetal novelties—a gourmand education—nestled in every CSA box!
But wait…what’s up with that alien pod?
By Jeremy Walther
Photography by Jody Horton
For those of you with an already-full plate and a love for new projects, a warning: do not talk to a beekeeper. Their passion and love for bees is captivating, genuine and completely contagious. In other words, if you’re susceptible to such hobby siren songs, stay far away from Brandon Fehrenkamp, owner of Eastside Honey Company.
“After eight years of keeping bees and doing live removals, still one of my most favorite things to do is set up a chair by the hives, open a beer and just watch,” says Fehrenkamp reverently.
By Jessica Maher
Photography by Jody Horton
When the air finally bristles with the slightest whisper of crispness, it’s time to turn the oven on after a months-long hiatus and start making plans for sweets! It’s hard to imagine this time of year without them, but which ones to make? A few favorites reappear year after year, but I definitely like to mix it up so I don’t wear out my taste buds before the New Year. If you enjoy baking sweets to give as gifts, it’s a good idea to have a number of options in your arsenal.
By Ellen Sweets
Photography by Andy Sams
It’s a mild, blue-sky weekday that finds seven men in identical turquoise-and-gray-striped shirts and pants working on nicely banked rows of newly started plants. Their color-coded apparel identifies them as residents of the Travis County Correctional Complex in Del Valle, yet they are unceremoniously doing what hundreds of home gardeners throughout Travis County would be doing by week’s end: preparing a garden—an organic garden at that.
My sons and I love Laura Ingalls Wilder. The boys love all nine of her autobiographical books—about the American West in the 1870s and ’80s—for their own reasons; I love them for the understated, elegant writing. I love them because I’m an atheist, and they are the closest thing I have to a guiding moral framework. I love them because my boys and I have spent many happy hours on our back porch reading them aloud and talking them over. And I love the way Wilder wrote about food.
by Cari Marshall
At six years old, Sophia Stack knows more about growing mushrooms than the average kindergartner. She dexterously mists a blossom of oyster mushrooms while pondering their appearance and flavor. “I like seeing what color they are,” she says. “Certain kinds are different colors. And you can really taste the difference of each one.” Sophia’s precocious knowledge of edible fungi is a natural byproduct of her upbringing—she lives at the 100th Monkey Mushroom Farm, a recent addition to Austin’s back-to-basics DIY food movement.
By Amy Crowell
Photography by Bill Albrecht
In late winter and early spring, you might notice the strong smell of garlic or onions rising from underfoot as you walk along a river or lowland trail. Follow your nose to the small, green plants with elongated flat or slightly tubular leaves extending long and tall from underground bulbs and you will most likely find yourself in a wild onion or garlic patch.
Nearly a dozen species of wild onions and garlic, or wild alliums, grow in Central Texas. I use the genus name allium because wild onions and wild garlic are common names, often used indiscriminately to describe the same plant. One way to distinguish between cultivated onions and garlic is to examine the leaves— cultivated onions have hollow, rounded and tubular leaves, and cultivated garlic has flat leaves. This is not always true among their wild relatives. However, the important thing to remember is that both wild garlic and wild onions are edible, and so closely related, that sometimes even botanists can’t tell the difference.
There’s something exotic and deeply southern about a banana tree in a Texas yard. Its fan-shaped leaves dress up old-fashioned porches, casting authentic shade over wrought-iron railings. They’re almost impossibly ornamental, but that doesn’t particularly impress nurseryman James Visco.
“My wife Carol and I love banana plants because they grow fast,” he says. That’s one reason he sells them at Plantucopia, his Creedmoor nursery, and at the Sunset Valley Farmers’ Market. Even more compelling is the fact that Visco’s plants actually produce fruit, a prospect that’s long been seen as dicey here.
The BioGardeners are looking for a few urban landowners who can look at a vegetable garden and see romance.
“These are the people who see the farmer behind the table at the farmers market and have a twinge of jealousy,” says BioGardener-owner Jeremy Walther. “They know farming is hard work, but they also see the romance of growing your own food on a philosophical level. And maybe they do grow some vegetables, but they just can’t keep up with it.”
In that case, Jeremy and his partner, Rick Zarria, have a proposition: the BioGardener Farms Organic Garden Co-op, where backyard gardeners share the wealth—your excess poblanos for my extra tomatoes.
BioGardener, a strictly organic landscaping company, serves as the $40-per-hour, hired middleman. Services can be as simple as providing one hour of consulting each month, or as complicated as building a co-op member’s vegetable garden from the ground up, and maintaining it.
By Kristi Willis
Photography by Marshall Wright
Ordering oysters on the half shell can feel like a whirlwind tour around coastal retreats—Malpeques from Prince Edward Island, Blue Points from Connecticut or Wellfleets from Massachusetts. Yet, on many menus, oysters from the Gulf of Mexico are listed simply as Gulf oysters with no unique moniker, known as an “appellation,” describing their point of origin. That hasn’t always been the case. In a Galveston Daily News article from 1902, the writer extols the delights of oysters from Ladies Pass, Pepper Grove and Deer Island. But by the 1970s, Texas oysters had lost their appellations.
By Stefani X. Austin
Photography by Stefani X. Austin
“You know they sell that stuff at the grocery store,” my husband says with a smirk. “Whole shelves full.”
I don’t dignify this with an answer because I know he’s not serious. He’s baiting me—trying to get me to climb onto the worn soapbox and deliver my near-famous sermon on how food preservation saves the soul, not just the harvest. I can’t oblige just now; I’ve got a pot of boiling, ruby-red plum jelly on the stove and three little helpers underfoot.
Photography by Nicole Lessin
It was logical that the Holly Neighborhood Coalition would ask a team of public interest design graduate students at the University of Texas for a mobile toolshed. Providing money-saving home repairs to fellow homeowners in danger of being priced out of their neighborhood had become the focus of the coalition’s latest initiative—Holly Neighbors Helping Neighbors (HNHN)—and the students needed a volunteer community project as part of their intensive course of study.
By Ellen Zimmermann
Photography by Carole Topalian (upper left & middle) and Ellen Zimmermann (upper right)
Spring is here, and it’s the perfect time to renew, refresh and restore the body’s delicate balance after the less active days of winter. Strolling through the springtime garden’s lush new growth, I love to harvest and nibble nutritious, cleansing herbs like cleavers (Galium aparine), yellow dock leaves (Rumex crispus), dandelion leaves (Taraxacum officinale) and chickweed (Stellaria media).
By Kelly Yandell
Photography of pier (below) by Kelly Yandell
Photography of fish, courtesy of P.J. Stoops, Louisiana Foods
I am a fishing kid. Or rather, I am a 40-year-old version of a fishing kid. My mother and father were both raised fishing, and they raised my brother and me to fish, as well. I knew how to pull out a backlash on a casting reel before I turned seven. I knew as a mere toddler that at 6:30 a.m., a Texas lake is prettier than almost any spot on earth. But my decent vocabulary of freshwater game fish—the various bass, crappie, catfish and bream to name a few—belies my landlocked ignorance.
Ben Stevens, a wide-smiled and dreadlocked former bluesman, believes cooking should be easy, food should be fresh and you shouldn’t have to sacrifice time or flavor to eat well. But he also believes that one of the biggest obstacles to eating fresh, healthful food at home is the lure of the high levels of sodium and fat found in prepared foods and take-out. It’s his personal mission to get people back into their kitchens, cooking healthfully with friends and family, using his new line of seasoning blends called Wildly Natural One.
All natural, low sodium, gluten- and MSG-free, the seasoning blends come in four varieties (Original, Fiery, Salt-Free Select and Salt-Free Spicy) and can be used to enhance everything from fish and meats to quick salad dressings. “It’s like a rub, condiment and spice cabinet all in one jar,” says Stevens.
The power of spices and herbs was first revealed to Stevens when he was apprenticing under a Jamaican seasoning master years ago. “Once I started learning from him about all the colors of the spices and herb world, that’s when I learned how to make the blends I have now,” he says. Stevens studied the food science of various spices and herbs—trying to unlock one blend that would be extremely versatile.
Though the seemingly generous amount of rain our city finally received in December and January provided much-needed relief from record-breaking aridity, Central Texas drought conditions are still very much a reality because of the lingering La Niña effect. In response to the many questions and problems that arose in response to the drought, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center launched a virtual Drought Resource Center just before Thanksgiving.