Ah…food out of Airstream trailers. What could be better than gathering around outside a parking lot with dozens of other Austin hipsters waiting for a savory crepe, a slow roasted green chile pork taco, or fried chocolate chip cookies?
For my 30th birthday, I went to Austin to celebrate. In talking with my curly-haired travel companion recently as we reflected on the trip, neither of us really remember what we did. I vaguely remember the Texas History Museum, and learning more about settlers than I ever really wanted to. I remember seeing old friends and trying on expensive cowboy boots. I remember walking by the City Lake and seeking out those elusive South Congress Bridge bats. Other than that, we decided, we were basically camped out at various mobile food trailers around the city, thinking how much we wanted to bring a funky airstream back to SF and start ‘er up.
I’d almost fly back to Austin just to go to Torchy’s Tacos. It’s parked in the South Austin Trailer Park and Eatery along with a burger trailer and a coffee/s’more trailer. Kinda like the county fair…for discerning adults who’re into food. The fried avocado taco was pretty exciting as was the “trailer park” taco made with fried chicken and ranch dressing. Mmmmm, ranch dressing. On the other side of town, the chicas at Flip Happy Crepes are gracious, the crepes rock (sweet and savory, you decide), the set-up is awesome (colorful picnic tables and umbrellas, lots of seating, packed)–it’s a true destination.
And then there must be dessert. To be honest, the cupcakes from Hey Cupcake really weren’t that great. I so wanted them to be. I traipsed up to that trailer around 10 p.m. hoping that magic was soon to be had. But alas… dry cupcakes and marginal frosting. If you’re looking for some bomb dessert in Austin, I do have some words of advice: the Whole Foods dessert bar. Yes, Whole Foods started in Austin so it has many options that your local Whole Foods probably does not. Case in point: a dessert bar. Now we’ve got the salad bar and the hot bar, but serve-yourself tres leches cake with fresh local berries? That my friends, we don’t have. So while it’s not mobile, it’s big-time noteworthy.
So what’s the draw? Why was there a line fifteen deep to order a crepe from an old trailer in an abandoned parking lot? Perhaps this trend reflects a zeitgeist that we’ve eased into: a sense that restaurants are pricey, that really good creative food is happening elsewhere, and there are innovative, energetic people out there that want to bring their creations to the masses. There’s something about gathering outside on a cool spring evening sitting around a communal table with people you don’t know, sharing tastes of a fried chocolate chip cookie. It’s cheap, it supports local businesses, there’s a thrill in the seek and search, and a satisfaction in knowing ya’ just can’t find it at home.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.
In a few short weeks, we're headed to New York, Vermont and New Jersey to visit family and see my sister Zoe get married. In starting to think through the trip and do a little planning, I found Oliver the cutest tiny-person dress shoes I've ever seen (and he's quite smitten with them), sussed out childcare options for the night of the wedding, and found what feels like the most expensive (and last) rental car in the state of New Jersey. I try very hard not to be one of Those People that begins lamenting the loss of a season before it's remotely appropriate to do so, but this year, as we'll be gone much of September, I've felt a bit of a 'hurry, make all the summery things!' feeling set in. So we've been managing increasingly busy days punctuated with zucchini noodle salads, gazpacho, corn on the cob and homemade popsicles (preferably eaten shirtless outside followed by a good, solid sprinkler run for one small person in particular. Not naming any names).
Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can't remember a time we didn't have an Oliver, and in other ways it's all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent's group, doctor's visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver's need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it's thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we've all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it's from her beautiful new cookbook that I've bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
A triple berry summer crisp made with oats, quinoa flakes and hazelnuts. Summer in a skillet.
I had a weak moment on our honeymoon in Italy when I decided that I should be making gelato for a living. My enthusiasm for Italian gelato wasn't surprising to anyone. I'd done extensive research, made lists, had Sam map out cities in terms of where the best gelaterias were. I took notes and photos and hemmed and hawed over flavor choices: Sicilian Pistachio! Chestnut Honey! Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig! In truth, on that particular trip, I cared far more about treats, sunshine, and cobblestone walks than I cared about famous landmarks or tourist attractions, often leaving the camera back at the hotel in favor of my small black notebook which housed detailed jottings on dessert discoveries in each city we visited. Our friends Matteo and Jessica happened to be in Naples on the one night we were there, and we all went out for pizza together followed by a long stroll around the city. At some point the conversation turned to gelato (as it's bound to) and Matteo brought up the famous school in Bologna where many renowned gelato artisans study. My wheels were spinning. Maybe we should visit Bologna. I should see this school! I should talk to these students! I could make Sicilian Pistachio; Chestnut Honey; and Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig each and every day of our lives. Or at the very least, travel to Bologna to learn how and then come back to Seattle to take our Northwest city by storm. Well here we are six months later, back to reality, and the impetus to pack up my bags and head for Bologna has subsided for the time being ... but not the unwavering gusto to sample. That part will always be with me. It's been awhile since I mixed up a batch of ice cream at home, but the other day a beautiful new cookbook landed on my doorstep and I flipped right to a recipe for dark chocolate sorbet with toasty, salty almonds. I didn't need much convincing.