Monday, December 10, 2012

Finally, some holiday weather

All over Austin today tags finally got ripped from sad sweaters on shelves. When we get any kind of cold snap here, everyone wears as many layers as they can stand. As if they wish they lived in Minnesota. But they live in the middle of Texas.

Here's a mini photo essay of twinkly lights, wine, holiday colors, and some precocious cars who are NOT allowed outside ;)

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Books and baking

I was fortunate enough to see Deb Perelman speak at BookPeople here in Austin last Friday; she's the New York food blogger who turned a simple site ( into a cottage industry--and now a top-selling cookbook.  She's not your average blogger.  She can write with unforced wit and charm, for starters, and every recipe post is more a story and a slice of life than it is...well, a recipe.  Plus, bottom line, I respect that she's turned a small kitchen-based endeavor into a lucrative financial venture.  For as many bloggers that start out with exactly that goal is mind, few really ever succeed.  My best guess as to her success is that she's tapped into amateur chefs' need for a loose but guiding structure in their experimental cooking.  A friend, if you will.

All that to say, I also wanted to write this entry to support BookPeople Austin's efforts and encourage everyone here to keep supporting the BEST and really ONLY remaining large independent bookstore in our midst.  That (by my estimation) about 500 people showed up on a Friday evening to talk crepes, get a book signed, and wander around browsing in a bookstore tells me that 1) I live in the right town and 2) people still crave cultural gatherings, plus thank goodness we've got a place that prioritizes hosting them.

Here is my effort to make one of Perelman's most popular new recipes--maple bacon biscuits.  I baked up a storm for Game Day this past Saturday but forgot to document the cinnamon squares I also made, mostly because once they exited the oven we were digging into the gooey layers.

The biscuits turned out wonderfully, but hey Deb, here's a message from my bacon- (and overall, just breakfast-) obsessed boyfriend: they need more bacon.

So the Dawgs lost, but our house won because it was filled with bacon and sugar.  Also jalapenos, pictured below as well.  John's pepper patch has exploded.


Christmas in Tejas

The humidity is here to stay. I drink hot cocoa defiantly and relish in the ability to run in shorts in December.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A big fat gap

To the friends and family who graciously keep up with this blog (many of whom have emailed me over the last few months wondering, "what the hell"):

I'm in the process of re-doing my entire web presence, and may start a "real" (i.e. professionally designed and much more focused) blog soon.  In the meantime, some quick updates--

Here's a link to a great new essay collection on the more complicated aspects of Louisiana history, being published by Wiley in January and featuring a piece on race relations by yours truly.  Order a copy, please, and help save books written by real historians.

What else.  My niece and nephew grow like weeds.  John and I cook A LOT of Mexican food and got addicted to Homeland.  I began a little job at the French Legation Museum in East Austin, where we research the Republic period and things like Pig Wars (which are real, and thank you, years and years of grad school, for prepping me to handle something so strange in a historiographical manner) and cooking pots.  The experience has even further ignited in me a need to work in the public history realm, and I'll share more on that end with you soon.


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Life lately

Life during my first two full months as an Austinite, in drinks and suppers and cuddly moments with my niece and nephew. Also, next on my writing agenda is a screenplay about what happens when you re-find someone you knew when you were a child and everything suddenly makes sense again. Cheers to strange twists of fate and new beginnings.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Photoessay: mid-July

My friend Meredith and I have systematically invaded the east side of Austin on a hunt for new coffee shops and watering holes (highlights: Weatherup, Papi Tinos, where a DJ spins during brunch, Blue Dahlia). My dad and I hit up the Paramount downtown for a classic film series. My nephew has yet to learn how to smile, but I promise he likes me. And Antone's has quickly become my favorite smaller music venue here.

Happy Saturday, folks.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Hail the little people

My niece Eleanor wants to say, "happy Fourth, y'all"... Also she wants you to know that she already feels way too mature for "craft time."

Finding the optimism amid all the cynicism

If you know me in person, then you know that I am definitely one to roll my eyes and attempt to bite my tongue when someone mentions "patriotism" or "American pride."  I am often cynical, but not all the time.  My complaints re: those phrasings have more to do with understanding their historical evolutions.  I am really livid, like, ready to throw books at people's heads, when political candidates throw the whole "founding fathers" thing around.  Define deism for me and I will then hear you out, I say.  Anyway.  As a historian, I always feel a pretty big weight on my brain about our country's violent wrongs against huge groups of people.  It's harder for me to celebrate the small steps when I spend much of my time writing about and teaching the missteps.

The very last book I read was a study of slave spirituals by a South Georgia folklorist.  Reading it, I realized I've been thinking about the parameters of "America" in this context basically all wrong.  Instead of placing the tragedy of slavery only in the column of "things we did that were terrible," historians and journalists and countless other types of scholars have been working tirelessly for the last couple of decades to make the slaves into America.  I spent years studying this historiographical process, but just now I am re-working the parameters of it in myself.

And so if the Fourth of July becomes about not just the white, whiskey-sucking men who wrote documents and disenfranchised people, if it really becomes about celebrating the diversity and the struggle of everyone's story, then I'm on board.  And despite a dismal economy and disheartening news daily, I think there are some victories for civil rights and the "American dream" that we should be tipping our hats to today.  Little things that are actually big--like the opening of the first Daughters of the American Revolution chapter in Queens today (the DAR used to actively forbid black members).  And huge things--like the trend of the winning of gay and lesbian marriage rights (hopefully only the beginning in an even bigger story).

In other news: check out this great piece by Nathan Heller in Slate about the very un-American origins of apple pie:

And in even further news: while I was writing this blog in a coffee shop I had a very awkward encounter with an ex-boyfriend.  Nothing more patriotic than faking a smile over a latte and silently thanking the universe that you put on makeup and cute shoes today...right?

Monday, July 2, 2012

The summer in drink glasses

I guess this blog has kind of turned into an occasional travelogue for Austin food and beverage. Had to share two new (to me) pitch-perfect cocktail places with you: Weather Up, at Cesar Chavez and Chicon, is seriously one of those bars with no sign outside. You know, to keep the uncool people out. Somehow I snuck in this weekend, and I'm here to tell you that their boutique ice (made and carved in the house next door) is nothing to joke about. It made my whiskey drink soooo much better. The owner came down from Brooklyn to open this, a sister site to the Prospect Heights original. It's pricey, but what place in Austin isn't now? And the Sunday Bloody award goes to Easy Tiger on Sixth, tucked down by the river and easily the only place worth stopping into before the street meets I 35.

There's something about sweating drink glasses that always makes me want to take photos of them.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

For the family:

Me with nephew Mac and niece Eleanor just yesterday. They are both so joyful and doing really well (and seem happy that "Aunt Sissy" is around these days).

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Running my arse off

I tend to come around to things late and in strange ways. Mostly because I'm so stubborn. I've always been a "kind of" runner--in other words, a walker and jogger who occasionally went faster and farther. I remember reading a blog entry from a fellow native North Louisianian and acquaintance (go see for lots of pretty things) that claimed "real" running was a realistic option for anyone, absolutely anyone, willing to feel uncomfortable for awhile. She had gone from doing very little to competitively running races in a short amount of time. I shook this off. Somewhere in the back of my head I put runners in another category from myself. Roommates, friends would run marathons or half ones or whatever, but for some inexplicable reason I never imagined I could get there. They were just people, my kind of people in fact, but they seemed otherworldly because of this one thing.

So of course I wait until the hottest summer of my life (temps measured at 109 in central Austin just a mile from the house yesterday) to re-envision my running abilities. I spent all of May hurting, as trusty AB said I would. Getting to the one or two mile marker consistently proved difficult at the beginning; the heat combined with those months of stationary dissertation writing to press down on me. And an earlier version of myself probably would have given up and moved on to the elliptical or made do with integrating some good old fashioned power-walking. But somehow I said, screw it, this is happening, I am not stopping again. And now I shout from the rooftops that yes, oh yes, this running euphoria is possible for anyone. I wake up early every morning and zoom away now, putting miles under my feet not necessarily with ease but with drive, clarity, and a sense of worth of it all.

If any of you out there have been watching the HBO show Girls, then you know that there was a scene directly illustrating such a conundrum. Hannah, our complaining, out of shape, yet brilliant-writer narrator insists that she was not "made" for exercise. I laughed when I saw this, because I'm pretty sure I've said that before.


Monday, June 25, 2012


This is how I feel about 105 degree temps. Yikes, the Southwest, yikes.

Sunday, June 24, 2012


No worries, I'm not about to break out some Abba analysis (although it's happened here before). Waterloo Records, nestled downtown on Lamar near the intersection of Sixth, is an Austin institution and I'd venture one of the top ten best remaining independent record stores left among us. They've catered to changing times with iPod shuffle sampling stations, but the rest of the massive but overcrowded two-room layout is the way it's been for a long while: shelves and rows and more shelves full of the newest stuff right next to dusty boxes of old LPs and bins of constantly-arriving used discs. This is the kind of place where record signings still seem magical. This is the kind of place you'll leave with a smile on your face after you found some Sonic Youth in the dollar bin (this happened to me today). I am by no means anti-iTunes; in fact, the opposite is true. Without that thin white cord that connects my iPhone to my laptop, I'd feel like the sun wasn't shining brightly enough anymore. But at the same time I can never give up the dream of popping in a new album and finding something that will change my life. And that's a tactile experience.

This weekend I picked up the two albums below, both new material by artists that have carved out a little piece of my musical heart-space already. New songs punctuated my summer afternoon, and I couldn't have been happier. Josh Ritter's 6-song EP is very quiet, his signature somber-ness but without the crescendos his longer efforts usually offer; that said, his voice is like whiskey on the rocks to me, so that doesn't matter. Brandi Carlile's self-titled album came out right when I started grad school six years ago, so her voice is this iconic thing to me--so relatable in its confusion and sweetness that often I feel like it is just my voice. This newest album is more country and slightly more upbeat than previous stuff. She's a guilty pleasure of mine--I mean, she's kind of like the third Indigo Girl--but one I will shout from the rooftops.

Friday, June 22, 2012

I forgot...

To post this:

On my flight back into Austin from Athens the other day, I got stuck in the back scrunched up next to the intercom. Our attendant Pedro crackled the loud speaker with this gem right in my ear:

"There may be 50 ways to leave your lover, but there are only 8 ways off this airplane."

And if you get that song reference (as, to my chagrin, not many around me did), then let's share a cyber smile. Because that's one of the best things I've heard in awhile.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Comfort food, Tejas style

Back in a booth on South Congress for a solo lunch. Well, with some salsa and marinated onions to keep me company. Followed by a jaunt through my favorite bookstore, where I spotted this gem (which I needed yesterday morning), and I welcome what they say is the first official day of summer.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Feeling Fried

So the most logical thing to do when one is withering in the Texas heat is...fry a huge batch of chicken in a small kitchen.

I suppose I was feeling misplaced and needed a greasy pan full of comfort food, stat. As much as I love Austin, I often find it difficult to feel connected to my roots here. And let's be honest, the two main ones are food and music. Sometimes I feel like my whole life is defined by the emotive memories of those two things. And I'm fine with that!

And so right now I spend my days here learning new Texas things, so to speak, and trying to look hip in big sunglasses, tight skirts, and a tan on my legs. Also I carry around notebooks and pens to look important. Yet my evenings are spent replicating my grandmother's recipes, listening to Hank Williams, and starting in small fits what I think may be not the next great American novel but perhaps the next great series of essays about what the Deep South means to us.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad Men World

On the heels of a great article in Slate detailing the oft-nauseating prevalence of Mad Men references in current literature and politics, I found myself in a theater tonight at a special screening of the current season finale. And then I realized I'm part of the problem.

The real question is whether the obsession with a cultural moment is necessarily bad. The argument could be made that a unifying experience full of wit instead of anti-intellectualism is worthwhile. Because, let's be honest, most Americans are getting less smart and a lot fatter these days.

I think that's why we love Don and Peggy and Roger so much. They may be slimy, but they're smart and pretty and svelte and ambitious. All the things we all want to be, and all with ease. Hmm. Which, really, we know never actually happens with ease.

Friday, June 8, 2012

It was a warm day in May (Photography by Kelli Guinn Olsson)

My twenties are well-documented by creative and beautiful shots like these because I've had the good fortune of counting this photog as a friend.  Kelli (who co-owns Twin Hearts Photography in Athens) did a session on the eve of my graduation.  It's a gift that will always take me back to that sense of accomplishment, to the weekend I triumphed over those fatigued evenings of writing and worrying and self-doubt.  They also document my father's sojourn to Georgia for the occasion, and I'll be able to frame some of these just in time for father's day.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Beach bums without the beach

Every Austinite knows that the summer is truly in full swing when Barton Springs Pool looks like an MTV beach party. For those of you fine people not familiar, BS is a natural spring right in midtown; grassy knoll gives way to a glassy and very cold oasis. My friend Meredith and I beat the crowd there this morning for some reading and lazing. Highlight for Meredith was obviously the moment in which I declared I was scared to get in the water because of germs but voiced that I was also simultaneously aware of my own hypochondria. Anyway, we capped off an unashamedly lazy day with a trip to Jo's on South Congress (SoCo to the hip...sters) for overpriced iced coffee.