Dogs run free at Cedar Bark Park

06-DSC04608Austin is one of the most dog friendly cities in the country. We bring our pup to patio restaurants, festivals, parks and on hikes. But sometimes, a dog just needs to run around with other dogs and leave the leashes behind.

dog in lakeBut letting her run off-leash in an unfenced area is just a little to scary for my taste especially with her favorite distraction, squirrels, everywhere!

So I was so happy when we found the Cedar Bark Park, just north of Austin in Veterans Memorial Park. This is a BIG dog park! Five entire acres of fenced in, off-leash fun.

Cedar Bark ParkComplete with separate play sections for big and little dogs…

Large dog section Cedar Bark ParkAnd a lake for swimming and ball-chasing…

04-DSC04602There’s even a bathing area to clean up muddy pups before they go back in the car. (Trust me, we NEED this part! My dog loves to get wet and then roll!)

The park is free to use, and doesn’t require membership or registration. Everyone is great about keep their dogs under control and heading out if their pet gets grumpy or nervous.

Dogs playing at parkThe space is really big, so there’s plenty of room for games of fetch or puppy Frisbee. Benches provide seating for those of us who aren’t four-legged and a few are covered for shade. But they can get muddy, so come dressed to get dirty.

Owners are responsible for cleaning up pet waste, and bags are provided. Puppies under age four months aren’t allowed in the park.

The Specs

Cedar Bark Park
Veteran’s Memorial Park
2525 W. New Hope Drive
Cedar Park, TX  78613

Dawn to dusk except Tuesday (closed 7 am to 4 pm Tuesday)

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A very Austin date night — at Whole Foods!

20140301_220338Finding a place for a low-key, inexpensive date night can be a challenge. But the new Whole Foods in the Domain might be a very Austin answer to that challenge.

You know we love our Whole Foods here in Austin. But until last night, I never thought of it as a date night option. Grocery shopping just isn’t on my list of romantic activities (although come to think of it I did see a grocery store date night game on Dating Divas the other day.)

But this is something even better. The new Whole Foods has something I’ve never seen at a store…fire pits!

fire pit at Whole FoodsWe headed to the hot food bar and loaded up on things like veggie Samosas, sautéed kale and marinated roasted vegetables for me, and salad, Indian Chicken and vegetables for my hubby, then headed outside to enjoy our firelight supper.  Those who want to add wine or beer to their dinner can do that too…the store has a huge selection of both.

20140301_213855The setting was casual and relaxed, with lots of benches to sit on near the fire pits…plus additional seating off to the side if the fire pit area gets too warm.

20140301_221557The new store is within walking distance of the Domain, so you could combine your Whole Foods date with a movie at the iPic, too.

The new Whole Foods is located at 11920 Domain Drive in Austin. They’re open from 8 am to 10 pm everyday, although I would recommend waiting for twilight to head for the fire pits.

Oh, and just one more thing…the fire pits go off as soon as the store closes for the evening, so it won’t work for conversations late into the night. We found that out the hard way, as our cozy fireside supper was suddenly not so fireside!

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Vegetarian Tortilla Soup on Taste of Austin Tuesday

Vegetable Tortilla Soup

When we moved to Austin, I started seeing Tortilla Soup on menus all over the place. It sounded amazing, and when friends ordered it, it looked even better. But as a vegetarian, the chicken broth and chunks of meat kept it off my table.

But not one to be discouraged, I decided to experiment and create my own version. Just without the meat. And I’m happy to say, with endorsement from my resident meat-eater, I think I’ve finally got it right! The recipe is at the bottom of this post. But first, here’s the process.

I started the soup by making a pot of brown rice, and setting that aside to steam. I also put some cooked black beans into a pot to warm with some crushed garlic and lime juice.  You can use beans you’ve cooked from scratch, or use plain, unseasoned canned black beans. Your choice.

beans and rice for soup

The soup itself starts with coarsely chopped peppers and onion and several whole cloves of garlic, sautéed in extra virgin olive oil.

peppers and onions cooking

To that I added my seasonings…cumin, black pepper, oregano and cayenne pepper. Once they had sautéed for a couple of minutes, I stirred in a can of diced tomatoes.

bowl of diced tomatoesNext came the broth. I used a Kosher vegetarian broth mix that has a chicken-style flavor, but you could use your favorite homemade or commercial broth.

vegetable broth mixAnd then the Morningstar Farms Meal Starter strips and a can of yellow and white corn.

morningstar farms vegetarian meal starter strips

Then in went some fresh cilantro.

cilantro

 I let that all simmer together for about a half an hour. It smelled heavenly!

When the soup was almost done, I sliced a couple of fresh, ripe avocados, and drizzled them with lime juice.

Avocado halves

I chopped a whole bunch of fresh cilantro (never can get enough!  I love cilantro!)

fresh cilantro

And then it was ready to assemble. I like to use large shallow soup bowls for this. First I added a scoop of rice, then topped it with a tumble of black beans. Soup was ladled into the bowl and then the whole dish was dressed with avocado and cilantro.

IMAG1243

I put the tortilla chips on the table for everyone to garnish their own dish (soggy tortillas are nasty!) I also put out a selection of hot sauces for people like me who like a little extra kick. And finally, I had my very own Austin-style, vegetarian-friendly Tortilla Soup!

Ready for your own? Here’s the recipe:

Vegetarian Tortillia Soup

Makes 4 generous servings or 6 side servings

2 cups cooked brown rice, warm
2 cups cooked black beans
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon lime juice
1 tablespoon water

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 large green peppers, coarsely chopped
2 large yellow (not sweet) onions, coarsely chopped
6 cloves of garlic, peeled, but not crushed
1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes, plain or seasoned
1 1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp cayanne pepper (or more to taste)
Generous amount of fresh ground pepper (at least 5 or 6 turns of the grinder)
8 cups chicken-style vegetable broth
15 ounce can white and yellow corn
1 package Morning Star Farms Meal Starter Chik’n Strips
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

2 large ripe avocados, halved then sliced
2-3 tablespoons lime juice
Cilantro for garnish
Tortilla chips or strips
Hot sauce for the table (optional)

Put the black beans in a pot on low.  Add the garlic, lime juice and water, and cover. Allow to warm slowly, stirring once or twice while cooking.

In a large, heavy bottom pot, add olive oil, peppers, onions and whole garlic cloves. Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, or until onions just start to become translucent and peppers are slightly softened.

Add cumin, oregano, black pepper and cayanne and stir to coat vegetables. Cook for one minute.

Add canned tomatoes, broth, Chik’n Strips, chopped cilantro and corn. Simmer for 30 minutes.

Scoop rice into a ball at one side of the soup bowl. Top with drained black beans. Scoop soup into bowls but not over top of rice and beans. Garnish with avocado slices and cilantro. Pass tortilla chips and hot sauce at the table. Yum!

Welcome to A is for Austin!

When you move to a new city, you need to find everything.  But that can be harder than you expect…at least it has been for us.

As newcomers to Austin, we decided started by searching through guidebooks and tourist brochures to try and find the things we wanted and needed, from a great breakfast place to a nearby dog park.  But guess what?  Very little of that information is in there.

So we’ve decided to make it easier for other newcomers (and Austin locals as well) by creating our own list of the very best of Austin from A to Z.

Join us as we explore our new city, find the treasures and hidden gems, and share our experiences with you.  And please share your finds with us…we would love to check them out!

And now for a brief introduction!

Lance is a programmer by trade, an outdoors man, sci-fi geek, music lover, dad and husband by choice.  He is also the one most likely to put an all-you-can-eat buffet out of business, so he spends a fair amount of time cycling and hitting the gym, too.

Lindsay is a writer, SEO and Social Marketing goddess (and modest besides!) who decided to use the move to Austin to leave the corporate world behind and start her own social marketing consulting business and spend more time writing. She’s also a  scrapbooker, outdoor lover, beach lover, music lover, dog rescuer, mom and wife.