So what are you making with your Thanksgiving leftovers, Austin?

Southwestern corn chowder and spiced sweet potato souffle with stuffing crust

This is another one of those off-topic posts (I’m thinking of making them a regular feature on Fridays, so I can share the rest of the Austin experience with y’all.)

Today’s off-off-topic (kind of like off-off-Broadway but without the pretentious audiences) is a “What to Do With Your Thanksgiving Leftovers” cook-off on Google Plus.  There was three of competing, plus an awesome judge and timekeeper (sucking up?  You bet!) and a fun audience.

The challenge?  Come up with a creative way to use Thanksgiving leftovers to make a tasty Black Friday meal.  And we all jumped right into the challenge.  We each cooked in our own kitchens, and shared the event as a live Google Hang Out.

The first competitor was Mary Helen Leonard of Mary Makes Dinner. She crafted her Thanksgiving leftovers into a tempting-looking Turkey Day pizza.

The second competitor was Amy Kritzer from Kosher food blog What Jew Wanna Eat and a series of regular cooking demonstrations from Google Austin.  She turned her Thanksgiving ingredients into a delicious looking Thanksgiving Benedict.

My creations were a bit different.  Because we are vegetarians (or at least 2/3 of the household is; my husband eats, well, pretty much everything!) , I skipped over the turkey and went right for the leftover veggies and stuffing.

And because we’re living in Austin, I opted for a local flavor, too.  I started with a Southwest Corn Chowder, full of chopped veggies from the vegetable tray, corn, mashed potatoes and an array of smoky spices.  The soup was finished with a dash of cream, and garnished with fresh cilantro and a sprinkling of Mexican cheese.

Southwestern Corn Chowder

I also made a dish with leftover sweet potato casserole and stuffing, combining the sweet with heat by adding cayanne, San Antonio Chili Powder,  a touch of garlic and some hot Paprika to the potatoes and then whipping them with eggs and egg whites.  That became the soufflé to top a crust made of twice-baked stuffing baked in muffin cups.

Sweet potato souffle on a stuffing crust

I was going crazy getting ready for the event, but I had so much fun doing it!  If you want to see the video, check it out on Google+.  And don’t forget to vote for your favorite chef!  There are prizes afoot, so click here to pick your number one choice! 

After Thanksgiving Cook-Off

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Gobble, Gobble, Give on Make a Difference Monday

gobble gobble give austinWelcome to the first day of our new “Make a Difference Monday” feature and our first guest post!

Today we’re featuring Gobble, Gobble, Give. 

Gobble, Gobble, Give began fourteen years ago in Los Angeles when one man, Barry Walker, saw a need and chose to do something. Although he had little to give, he chose to share what he had with those that had even less. The first year, he fed 28 people.

Each year, with the help of friends, the efforts were multiplied. Since then, the organization has spread to San Francisco, Las Vegas, New York City, Santa Monica, and here in Austin. Last year they fed 5,500 people. Check out this video of Gobble Gobble Give to see a piece of the impact.

This year, on Thanksgiving morning, at 10:00 am, people from around Austin will bring a Thanksgiving dish and gather at Go Greene Auto at 2617 South First.

Some will assemble the meals from all that has been brought, and others will be in charge of distribution. They will venture out into the community and share a hot meal with those that are less fortunate. Armed with toiletries, blankets, and a smile we will try to make someone’s morning a bit brighter. It is that simple.

For many of us, Thanksgiving morning can be a bit hectic or you might have out of town plans. The good news is that you can still help.

Financial donations are accepted through the Gobble Gobble Give main website and will help us pay for things like paper plates, buy turkeys and provide other necessities for our fellow Austin residents in need. Every dollar helps, so please give whatever you can.

Or if you’d like to donate blankets, toiletries, to-go containers, or food ahead of time, please contact us on the Facebook page, Gobble Gobble Give Austin or email Alissa Leenher.

Gobble, Gobble Give is a Gobble Gobble Give is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit charity. Donations are 100% tax-deductible. 

Thank you Alissa!

Austin Celtic Festival brings Ireland and Scotland Deep in the Heart of Texas

Austin Celtic Festival 2012I am cautious about Celtic fairs.  I’ve been to far too many of them that are more flea market and carnival food meets Ren Faire than a real Celtic gathering.  So I was thrilled when the Austin Celtic Festival was everything it promised.

The musicians were amazing…it was hard to believe that the small admission fee ($15 at the gate, $12 in advance online and kids under 13 free) covered the incredible music.  My personal favorites, The Tea Merchants, made me forget that I was in Texas at all.  I seriously expected to look out over rolling green hills or peat bogs instead of a slightly dry park.  Harpist Thomas (Doc) Grauzer‘s music was haunting, and the Celtic dance bands made it hard to stand still.

I loved the Viking encampment (ok, I admit it…I did think Vikings wore horned helmets!  Blame it on Hagar the Horrible!). Did you know that they typically carried a nail kit and comb?  Who knew?  Vikings were the first metrosexuals!

There were dozens of booths offering Celtic jewelry, kilts and other gifts (NOT good for my budget! It was all so tempting!), and lots of demos (sheep herding, or rather goose herding, weaving, dancing). There were also Celtic music workshops for guitar and violin players and Gaelic language classes.

But my favorite part of the whole event was the Irish storyteller Máirtín de Cógáin.  His tales had us all laughing — and had me wishing I  could meet the characters from his town back home.

This Festival is an annual gathering…2012 is its 16th year.  I can’t wait for the 17th!

Getting ready for the unexpected in Austin

I know that this isn’t my usual post for A is For Austin, but between the storms in the Northeast and the earthquakes in Utah, it seems like being prepared is a really good idea.

Whether it’s a fire, flood, hurricane, tornado or ice storm, when the unexpected hits here in Austin, will you be ready? Experts say that in a crisis, it usually takes about three days for people to either reach safety or for help to arrive. So being prepared with the things you need for those first 72 hours only makes sense.

That’s why I decided to take a step away from my usual reviews to offer some advice on putting together a 72 hour kit for you and for your kids. Sure, there are books about what to include and what to leave behind (I know…I wrote one!) But in reality you can put together a simple three-day kit without spending days researching it.

Ready?  Here’s a checklist for simple 72 hour kits for kids or adults

I know it’s kind of long.  But don’t let that throw you. The list has suggestions for kits for kids, for teens, for babies, and for adults. And just in case an emergency keeps you in your house instead of heading out, I’ve also included things you should have on hand in case weather makes it impossible to get out.

Most of the things on the list are easy to find around Austin. Some you may want to buy online. Not sure where to look?  Here are some suggestions for where to find the basics for your kits without spending a fortune.

BackpacksGoodwill and Salvation Army are great places to find good backpacks for really low prices. Expect to pay from $5 to $10 for a full-sized backpack in good condition. If possible, choose a backpack with separate zippered sections — it makes it easier to keep things organized.

Camping gear – When it comes to things like space blankets, camp stoves, emergency tube tents and high density food bars, head for your local REI , (there are several around Austin) Bass Pro (the nearest one is in San Antonio) or Cabelas (head to Buda, TX for the closest one to Austin.) Yes, you might find cheaper prices at some discount stores, but the quality might not be there. An emergency situation is not a time to cut corners.

Sleeping bags and tents – You can get a compact emergency sleeping bag at almost any outdoors store, like the ones mentioned above. But if you want to get a real sleeping bag or tent that will last, start with Academy Sports.  They have good prices, and several Austin area locations. If money is tight, head for the thrift stores to check for sleeping bags. I usually see several decent ones each time I’m at Goodwill, and they’re usually under $15.

Multitools, pen knives, scissors and more – If it’s something that might have been confiscated at the security checkpoints at the airport, odds are it’s available at the State Surplus Store in Austin.  Go here for multitools, basic tools like screwdrivers, and emergency supplies like Swiss Army knives, all at seriously low prices.

The little things – Before you pay a lot for the small things in your 72 hour kit, check out Dollar Tree. They’re a great source for kids books, coloring books, emergency candles, inflatable pillows and small sized-toiletries. There are plenty of locations around Austin, so it’s easy to find one near you.

A word of caution…avoid buying crayons or toys made in China. Yes, they’re cheap, but they may also be toxic, so skip those, even if it means paying a bit more somewhere else.

If the budget is super-tight, consider printing coloring pages from your computer and stapling them together. Saving the crayons from restaurants after your kids color is another way to stock your bags for little or no cost.

Healthy food and drink choices – If you’re facing the stress of an evacuation or a storm that makes travel impossible, the last thing you need to do is add to your stress by filling your bags with junk food. Austin is fortunate to have several wonderful places that offer healthy, compact choices in food and packaged drinks. Try Whole Foods, Central Market or Sprouts for tasty, healthy snack bars, dried fruit, juice pouches (or boxes) and ready-to-heat packaged meals with less salt than grocery store brands (important when water may be limited.)

Outdoor clothing – If the weather is cold (admittedly a rarity here in Austin, but without proper clothing, even the 50’s can feel cold), having warm clothing can be life-saving. But if cost is an issue, try some of the area’s better consignment and thrift stores.  My favorite is Buffalo Exchange, where they consistently offer incredible choices for a fraction of even the discount stores.

Water pouches and MREs – Water and food are essential for survival, but commercial packaging designed for kitchen use are often too bulky or heavy for 72 hour kits. Using water pouches instead of bottles, and adding some MREs to your pack can lighten your load and make those three days more bearable.

I haven’t found a reliable in-town source for these in Austin, so I recommend you order them from a reliable online store like Emergency Essentials.A case of 64 of them is under $20.00, so it’s an affordable choice, too.

If you do order online, sticking with a trusted source helps you avoid damaged or spoiled food — a problem with some online “survivalist” websites.

What’s in your own four walls — Odds are, a lot of what you need is already in your own house. Look around for small toys, a cuddly stuffed animal, an extra blanket or some ready-to-eat snacks. Put some extra crayons into a plastic box, and give those scuffed shoes another life as your backup pair for emergencies. You may be surprised at how much of your needed emergency supplies won’t cost you anything extra!

Tips and ideas:

  • Use plastic zipper bags to keep things together, and prevent leaks. Those vacuum storage bags are great, too, if you have them.  Just check them once in awhile for leaks to prevent one “re-inflating” in your backpack!
  • Check clothes and shoes every 3-4 months to make sure they still fit and are appropriate for the season
  • Don’t underestimate the power of a familiar toy to a child in a scary situation. Buy a extra of a favorite and keep it in the bag in case there’s no time to grab the well-loved toys
  • Twice a year, check food and drink for expiration dates, leaks, crushing or other damage. I like to have an “eat the treats” party with my kids when it’s time to update or replace the food and drinks in the bags
  • Store the bags in a area of your home where you could grab them in at a moment’s notice. Avoid high temperature storage, as that will destroy food and other items (melted crayons are no fun!)
  • Consider making a duplicate bag for your car, in case an emergency strikes when you’re not near home. Most of the items in an emergency bag are also good to have if your car gets stranded.
  • If your kids are little and go to daycare or a babysitter, consider keeping an extra kit there.

Native American PowWow brings history, music, food to Austin

Native American Powwow Austin Texas via Ais4Austin.comYesterday, it was time to discover yet another new event in Austin, so we headed out for the 21st Annual Austin Powwow.

I love powwows…we used to go to the Native American Pow-Wow every year on City Island near Harrisburg, PA. when we lived there.  And we always tried to go to gatherings in Florida and in the Rockies, too.

The music, dancing and the clothing are my favorite parts, so I was thrilled to see that Austin’s Powwow was focused around those elements. The auditorium at Sunset Valley was filled with drummers, singers and dancers in dramatic traditional apparel.  As each dance was called, the music changed, the drum beat shifted, and a new group of dancers took center stage.

Austin PowWow 2012

Unlike many “shows” which focus on providing cultural demonstrations for visitors, this was clearly a gathering for members of the local and regional tribes.  Those of us who were not identifiably Native Americans were there as guests, not spectators. And that gave the whole event a different feel than more commercial, touristy “Indian events” — and one that I appreciated.

At one point, guests were invited to join in a dance, and most seemed to really enjoy the chance to be a part of the celebration.  Kids, especially little ones, loved this!

Outside, the celebration continued, with stands selling handmade flutes, beautiful drums and herbs used in healing. Yes, there were stands offering nearly identical jewelry, but the authentic craftspeople at other stands made it worth walking around, asking questions and shopping.

Austin PowWow 2012 Flutes for saleThere were also stands offering educational information about tribal history and customs.  We spent quite a bit of time at the Chickasaw table, learning about their history, stories and their new Oklahoma Chickasaw Cultural Center. A future road trip, maybe?

The event also includes a food court, with Fry Bread dominating the menus (no complaints from me!  I love Fry Bread with honey or beans and veggies, and they had both in abundance!) Austin PowWow 2012 Arrows for sale

Admission and parking were free, which makes this a great choice for families with kids. It also leaves more cash for lunch or shopping — another big plus in my book!  Pets are not permitted at the festival.

I just want to leave you with a few more images from the Festival…not my usual format, but I can’t resist.

Austin PowWow 2012 Sage

Austin PowWow 2012 Dream Catchers

Austin PowWow 2012 Cherokee Story Tellers

The Russians are coming…no, wait, they’re here!

Russian House Austin TexasA new restaurant has opened in downtown Austin, bringing with it the tastes, and the look and feel of Russia.  And the result is delicious!

We found Russian House thanks to a Goggle+ event, and were kind of embarrassed we hadn’t noticed it earlier in the week. It was directly across the street from Ecopocalypse (on 5th Street and Trinity) we reviewed only a few days ago!  So much for being observant!

But once we found it, we were very glad the event had pointed it out! Russian food is something we love, but hadn’t found in Austin — thankfully that gap is now covered.

Our group sampled a number of items from the menu, including a wonderful baked wild mushroom dish, several lamb dishes, several kinds of smoked meats and a mushroom cap filled with cheeses, salted cucumber and fresh onion. That last one had me wanting to lick the plate…the taste combination was so unexpected and so delicious. Some members of the group ordered from the vodka tasting menu, and pronounced the offerings “amazing!”

The restaurant is decorated to represent different eras in Russian history.  We dined in the Soviet room, a space furnished with benches and tables, and open to the air on 5th Street. If it’s a chilly evening, you may want to take advantage of the rack of Soviet-era jackets and hats near the entrance to the restaurant — they’re not only fun, they’ll keep you cozy when the not-quite-Siberian winter winds in Austin begin to blow.

There’s also a large dining room decorated like a Russian grandmother’s home, right down to the matryoshka dolls and samovars in the sideboard and to the lace table cloths and old-fashioned dishes on the tables. Another smaller version is placed towards the back of the restaurant — a perfect space for a family gathering or friends night out.

A more intimate space features a low table and piles of pillows to site on for a small group dinner or special date night.

The main area of the restaurant includes a well-stocked bar, featuring, of course, many varieties of vodka. There’s live Russian music and plenty of room for dancing, too.

The owners, Varda and Konstantin, had initially intended to open a Russian restaurant in New York.  But a visit to Austin last year had them changing their plans.  “We fell in love with Austin,” said Varda.  “So we went home, packed everything up, and came here.”

And may I say, I am very glad they did!