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The Heirloom Issue
Welcome to The Heirloom Issue. Focusing our winter issue on food culture, tradition and heritage foodways is not new to us. Last winter, for example, we featured a short history of sugar in Texas, a recipe for Southern Hospitality Punch and a story on the origins of the Texas pecan-growing industry in San Saba. The winter months are a good time for preserving the bounty of the late fall and winter harvests, preparing holiday meals in a warm kitchen and remembering things past. There may not be snowflakes on our windowpanes, but we can relax a bit from the grip of drought and summer heat.
By Kristi Willis
Photography by Jenna Noel
I’m staring at a package containing my birthday present, puzzling over the cryptic note from my stepmother. “One of these is your gift; the other is just yours. You’ll know the difference.” I rip open the box like an impatient six-year-old and find a Laguna Gloria cookbook published the year I started school at the University of Texas. I’m overjoyed with this thoughtful gift that Barbara must have spent days looking for, but I’m curious about the other item so I keep digging…and then I freeze.
There wasn’t a dry eye in sight by the end of David and Joe’s moving ceremony—even the couple’s dog Jigger howled during the vows. And with the pair’s mutual love of spirits and cocktails, the newly opened Treaty Oak Distilling Ranch was the perfect backdrop for those tears of joy. Instead of the expected champagne toast, though, the couple invited the entire wedding party to take a celebratory shot of Roca Patron!
Photography: Tristan Rhodes | Grooms’ Attire: J. Hillburn, Marshall Wright stylist | Florist: H-E-B Hancock | Venue: Treaty Oak Distilling Ranch | Officiant: William Norris | Catering: Franklin Barbecue | Bar Catering: Tipsy Texan | Wedding Planner: Jessie Riley | Invitations: Justin Esquivel | Desserts: Sugar Mama’s Bakeshop | Reception Band: Strahan & The Good Neighbors | Mariachi Band: Mariachi Los Toros
For the last decade, the names of Austin restaurants and chefs have peppered the awards lists of national food magazines and organizations. From the headlines, it appears that the local restaurant scene is smoking hot, but a deeper read tells a different story. The average diner might not be aware, but some of those in the industry see a bubble bursting.
The new year kicked off with the stunning news that not one, but two of Austin’s fine-dining establishments had closed. Being named one of Bon Appétit’s best new restaurants in 2011 didn’t save Congress from shutting its doors to become part of Second Bar + Kitchen, its more casual and popular sister restaurant next door. And having one of the most sought-after wine lists in the Southwest couldn’t keep French restaurant LaV afloat.
Photo Above: Sustainable Food Center Apiary with Brandon Fehrenkamp of Austin Bees and Tara Chapman of Two Hives Honey.
Move over schoolyard-bird wranglers. If nonprofits Whole Kids Foundation and The Bee Cause Project have their way, the beehive may just be the new chicken coop. The two organizations have partnered to offer schools and other community entities several types of grants to help save the bees through education, observation and hands-on care. Schools can apply to receive an indoor or outdoor observation hive, an outdoor top-bar hive or a monetary grant to start or enhance their own beekeeping program. Each school awarded the grant gets to work with a volunteer bee mentor—sourced locally from beekeeping associations—and receives training, curricula and equipment to ensure their program is sustainable.
Gardening in the backyard one day, Debra Knox needed to get one of her 40 chickens out from underfoot, so she handed it to her mother-in-law. Her mother-in-law suffered from dementia and made little sense when she spoke, but something changed as she stroked the bird. “Her face lit up and she started talking about growing up on a farm—conversations we’d never had,” says Knox. “It gives me goosebumps thinking about it.”
The title of “chef” evokes images of someone orchestrating in a restaurant or hotel kitchen—creating masterful dishes that amaze and delight diners. But opportunities for chefs abound beyond the kitchen line, and local chefs are expanding their culinary horizons to explore new careers outside restaurant kitchens.
“Did you find copper or did copper find you?” I ask Jonathan Beall, founder of the Mexico-based artisan copper cooperative, Sertodo Copper. “Let’s say we stumbled into each other,” he replies. “I was spending time in Mexico living on the severance package I’d received after the bubble burst at a dot-com, and trying to figure out what to do next.”
These small, tasty crustaceans, sometimes called mudbugs, look like miniature lobsters. They are often boiled with a hefty pour of Cajun spices. If your Southern host dumps a pile of them in front of you, don’t fret. Shelling them is easier than you’d think.
When artistic inspiration strikes, some write, some paint, some perform. De J. Lozada makes popcorn. Nothing less than the muse of kernels struck Lozada when she dreamed up and perfected nearly all 14 of the unique varieties for her company, Soul Popped, in the course of a single week. They came to her in a series of flashes—flavors unlike anything else on the popcorn aisle: chicken ’n waffles, nana (banana) pudding, sweet potato soufflé, Auntie’s best pecan pie, red velvet cake, buttered corn off the cob and others.
Sobremesa is a term common to Spain and parts of Latin America. Translating as “around the table,” the word reflects the act of gathering and lingering beyond the meal. It’s when the dishes are pushed aside, the coffee or liqueur poured and the real conversation begins.
If you’re ever in South Austin and forget the street address of your musician friend, pick the house with the beat-up van in the driveway. There’s a fairly solid chance that the person who answers the door will be a musician, although maybe not of the caliber of Guy Forsyth. As a respected singer-songwriter, bluesman and co-founder of the legendary, raucous and often-bawdy blues crew Asylum Street Spankers, Forsyth forged an impressive national and international career (as well as an equally impressive base of doe-eyed fans) since his arrival in Austin in the early ’90s.
To the brothers Hunt—the siblings behind Via 313, Austin’s mini-chain of extremely popular Detroit-style pizza joints—pizza equals community. “It’s inclusive, that’s what it’s about,” says Zane, the older of the two brothers. “We want people to feel like pizza represents community, gathering, a pitcher of beer after a softball game. That’s the sort of stuff we grew up with,” he adds, recalling the pizza places in and around their hometown of Riverview, Michigan, a southern suburb of Detroit.
Binge-watching shows on Netflix normally yields only tired eyes and a stomach full of popcorn. But for Bananarchy’sLaura Anderson, an evening of too much television led to a unique business idea. “At some point in the middle of the night while watching Arrested Development, I thought it would be a great idea to open a frozen-banana stand in Austin—like the one on the show,” Anderson says. “It was just a joke between my friends and I at first, but I was really excited about it. All I could think about for the next few months was opening a stand.”
Rather than start with just any old mash to make its new line of whiskey and gin, indie beermaker Real Ale Brewing Company turns to the complex brews already cooking up just a few doors down. Head distiller Davin Topel makes his Texas Hill Country Signature Whiskey and Single Barrel Whiskey from the early stages of Real Ale’s Devil’s Backbone Belgian Tripel and its Real Heavy Scotch Ale. What’s more, the company’s Grain to Glass Gin springs from Real Ale’s White Belgian Wheat Ale. With a few other flourishes along the way (like 10 different botanicals added to the gin including the unlikely bottlebrush leaf), the end results are spirits that taste like few others out there. The whiskey, for instance, has “a slight smoky profile without it being a big peat monster in your mouth,” says Topel.
We’re always trying new local products. Take a look at what our staff is enjoying this month.
Austin has long been a haven for urban wildlife, but because of our recent rapid development, local habitats continue to shrink. A simple way to support our critter friends—especially our beneficial flying critter friends—is to add low-maintenance, locally made nesting boxes.
With all of the pleasing outdoor activities that Austin has to offer, there’s still a tiny but mighty, and often dangerous, nuisance lurking just beyond the door. Mosquitoes are most active when the weather warms up—at least above 50°F—and they begin to really wreak havoc during their breeding periods (28 days after reaching adulthood).