Anyone who has cell phone contact with me knows I was in Austin, Texas the week before Thanksgiving (all those pictures of cupcakes I texted y’all? Y’all are welcome!). When I found out my husband had a conference there, I thought I should go along to keep an eye on him. My sister agreed to take care – excellent care – of my daughters for the week, so I thought I better jump at the chance. I will try to encapsulate my action-packed week untethered from all domestic duties and obligations. As is the case with most good stories Eaters, (well, most that have me as the protagonist) it begins and ends with food. The middle part is also food.
Austin had been on my must-visit list ever since I saw a picture of Barton Springs in a magazine 3 years ago. My imagination is captured by swimming spots and eateries, especially when they exist near each other. Luckily that old caution about getting a cramp when you take a post-prandial dip is a myth, or I would have fallen into peril much sooner with my eat-swim-repeat lifestyle.
We arrived on a balmy Sunday night and walked from our downtown hotel to the funky South Congress neighborhood, stopping for a photo at Jo’s coffee. We ate at Guero’s, and since I was hungry and elated to be starting my vacation, I enjoyed it, even if it wasn’t the most inspired meal. The Austin Lager was superb though. I don’t have any vocabulary to describe beer, but to borrow from the old saying, it was colder than my ex’s heart (trust me, that could freeze your thumbs off).
On our walk back we passed the Hey Cupcake airstream (can I live in there please?) and though I am a chocolate cake snob, I indulged in a chocolate cupcake because it had cream cheese frosting (so did the carrot cake, but I was wary of the common, white collar crime of cinnamon abuse). It was a splendid little cake, and even better for being consumed while walking on the first warm night of our first vacation without kids.
I was worried about how much stamina/tolerance my husband would be able to muster on this trip (“Look honey! They make Tempeh bahn mi! That’s incredible! Look honey! These Great Tailed Grackles are so charming; I need to photograph them eating out of that garbage can! Look Honey, it’s O’Henry’s actual house! Look Honey! It’s a museum exhibit that will take me 3 hours to experience while you claw out your eyes from boredom! Look Honey! Etc!”). Indeed, on Monday and Tuesday he had to abandon me at some point, to “do some work.” He was actually in Austin for work, but between you and me, I think he just couldn’t look at another bird. He may also have been weary of lashing me to my bicycle mast every time we passed a patisserie. Whatever the source of his fatigue, it’s okay, because we visited the capitol together, (largest in the U.S., because it’s Texas) experienced the awe-inspiring LBJ Library and Museum and, most importantly, he got to watch me eat nachos (from Chuy’s, I recommend them – pickled jalepenos are a must) and listen to me complain about my distended stomach. I walked the labyrinth at St. David’s Episcopal Church without him, but I knew he was there in spirit because the man can’t get enough labyrinths.
The Chuy’s on Barton Springs road is adjacent to “The Picnic” food truck park, the perfect place to enjoy shaded picnic tables and try the local beers (they weren’t serving them; I brought them in my backpack). Have you noticed there are no food trucks created around the cuisine of countries where people are long-lived? Where is the Okanawan food cart where they make you chop wood and carry water before they ladle you up an earthen mug of steaming “Longevity Root Vegetable Broth” and seat you at a bench with centenarians? Nowhere, that’s where. Just as well for me I suppose, since I wasn’t really there to practice austerity, as anyone who saw me practically sitting on a pile of nachos will attest.
Then on the way to the Umlauf Sculpture Garden (oops there goes my husband again! Bye Honey! He’s cycling away awfully fast…) I stopped at Holla Mode Thai Ice Cream, thanks to a tip from a local. This was something utterly new to me and thrilling, since it was 80 degrees and humid that day. This style of ice cream is made to order atop a frozen metal disk. Once the ingredients are amalgamated and smoothed into a thin layer, the cunning creamarista (?) scrapes the mixture up it into tidy rolls and deposits them in a cup. Because I asked for extra lime juice in my key lime ice cream, (and hold the graham crackers because that’s just weird) mine wouldn’t roll up properly and was served to me in sheets. No matter, it was tart and refreshing.
And I didn’t just eat! We were car-free so we walked and biked for miles. I got to swim in Barton Springs* (twice in one day!) and in Deep Eddy Pool, the oldest pool in Texas, which was built in 1936. I kept picturing pre-war bathers there in modest, 1930s swimming costumes. I shopped at Bookpeople, we ate breakfast at the haunted Driskill Hotel, built in 1886, but were unable to contact the spirit world. I waited at sunset on the Anne W. Richards bridge for the largest North American urban bat colony (as opposed to the rural bat colonies who sway elections) to emerge, even though I had already called the bat hotline** (using the bat phone) and found out they all hightailed it to Mexico two weeks prior to my visit. I listened to a little live music, though not as much as you might think, since I go to bed at 9.30. I toured the Prohibition exhibit at the Bullock Museum, and I took multiple pictures of charming turtles lined up on logs.
I had the best time. And I haven’t even told you about the branding irons. Those are big there. Next time…
*In answer to the frequently asked question,”Hot springs?!” No, cold springs. Well, cool anyway: 68 F.
**Yes, that’s real: (512) 327-9721.