Two ways to fill hungry bellies, save lives this season

I usually reserve Mondays for posts about organizations and events helping the people and pets of Austin. But this time I’m making an exception because the causes are too good and the need is too great to wait even a few more days.

stuff the bus logo 2014

Stuff the Bus 

Capital Metro and Whole Foods are working to bring 30,000 much needed meals to hungry families in the Austin area, and they need your help to cram those buses full of tasty, healthy food.

Here’s the deal, in their own words because I couldn’t say it better if I tried:

This holiday season, Capital Metro, Whole Foods Market and the Capital Area Food Bank work in unison to help feed hungry Central Texans by hosting the 3rd Annual “Stuff the Bus” food drive Dec. 12-14!  Help us fill 2 entire Capital Metro buses with food to provide 30,000 meals for families in need. Donate non-perishable food items at any Central Texas Whole Foods Market store Dec. 12-14!

Three ways to participate: 

  • Bring your donations from home: Drop-off at any in-store collection bin OR take donations straight to the two buses parked at the Downtown and Domain stores!
  • Visit Whole Foods Market Dec. 12-14 and fill a brown bag with non-perishable items OR purchase pre-packed brown bags at the Downtown store.
  • Add a donation dollar amount to your final in-store purchase total at the register.

Bus Collection Sites: Open Dec. 12-14 | 10 am – 6 pm 

  • Whole Foods Market Downtown: 525 N Lamar Blvd.
  • Whole Foods Market Domain: 11920 Domain Drive

All proceed benefit the Capital Area Food Bank. 

Of course, all food needs to be in its orginal, sealed packaging. And only non-perishable foods can be accepted. It’s so simple to add a few cans and boxes of food to your next shopping trip or two, or buy one of the prepackaged food bags at Whole Foods and they’ll take care of getting it on tables that might otherwise be empty.
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And lest pet-friendly Austin neglects its beloved furry citizens, there is another awesome campaign running to keep dog and cat bowls filled.

Pound for Pound Food Drive

The Pound for Pound Food Drive

Tomlinson pet food has launched their annual double-the-donations food drive to benefit homeless pets and rescue groups throughout Austin. Here’s how it works, in their own words:

“Our annual food drive for local animal rescues is on. From Black Friday to Christmas Eve, all food donations made will be DOUBLED–pound for pound.
Here’s how you can help:

  1. Drop by any Tomlinson’s location.  (There are nine locations around Austin.)
  2. Upon checkout, donate a small, medium, or large bag of pet food.
  3. Check a box for the rescue to which you would like your donation to go.

After Dec. 24, we will collect your donations–doubled by our generous vendors–and distribute them to your choice of the following rescues:

Austin Boxer Rescue
Austin Dog Rescue
Austin Siamese Rescue
Animal Trustees 4Paws
Bastrop Animal Shelter
Blue Dog Rescue
Canyon Lake Animal Shelter
Central Texas SPCA
Diamond Dachshund Rescue
Greyhound Rescue Central TX
Love-A-Bull
Pawsitive Karma
Pug Rescue of Austin
San Antonio Dusty Paws
TX Great Pyrenees
TX Humane Heroes
Texas Sweeties
Thundering Paws
Wags, Hope, & Healing
Wee Rescue

Their goal? To provide 100,000 of pet food. That’s enough to feed 400 homeless dogs for all of 2015!

So now you see why I couldn’t wait until Monday to share this information!  We all need to help get the word out, too. Won’t you please share this post or the information in it with everyone you know in Austin? Hungry people and pets are counting on you to keep their tummies full.

Pass it on, please!

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It’s Puppies! Austin Dog Rescue on Make a Difference Monday

Lindsay and a PuppyAustin Dog Rescue and a puppy to hug…gotta love it!

Over the past few days, Austin Dog Rescue has been offering a Puppy Kissing Booth in honor of Valentine’s Day. It’s a great way to celebrate the holiday (raise your hand if your pets give you more love than most people!), and a fun way to show off the puppies looking for their forever homes in Austin.

Mimi, one of the adorable dogs at Austin Dog Rescue

But as much as I loved the cuddles (as you can see in that first shot, where she snuggled up against my neck, and fell asleep!), I really enjoyed learning more about this wonderful group.

Austin is known for its focus on animal rescue and no-kill shelters, but that’s not an easy thing to pull off. Caring for dogs until the right home is found is expensive, and requires a committed group of volunteers who will work with the pups until they’re adopted.

Pile of Valentines puppies

And when it comes to Austin Dog Rescue, that also means finding the right foster home for each and every dog accepted into the group. Unlike rescues based in shelters, which are another essential piece of the animal rescue puzzle, these puppies and adult dogs are cared for in private homes where they can spend time socializing with people and other pets.

That home-based care was the goal when the group was founded in 2006. And since that start, it has worked to help them place over 1,000 homeless pups in loving homes in and around Austin. But they’re not done. Even after all those forever homes were found, there are still so many wonderful dogs waiting for their own home. And new homeless dogs appear every day.

Austin Dog Rescue event

The pups are great, but it all comes down to the volunteers

At Sunday’s event, I loved meeting the amazing rescue volunteers almost as much as playing with the dogs. There were teens and there were seniors, and all ages in between.  Some were foster moms and dads. Others were event volunteers. But you could see that each and every one of them loved these pups.

If you’re thinking about adding a pup to your family, please celebrate one of the best aspects of Austin and head to a rescue group like Austin Dog Rescue, Austin Pets Alive, Austin Cats’ Angels instead of a breeder or a pet shop. The love — and the chance to save a life —  is there waiting for you!

Smashburger adds a juicy twist to Austin casual dining

Smashburger signWho would have thought it…a near-lifetime vegetarian raving about a restaurant based on meat?  But it’s true. No, I did not cross over to the dark side. Let me explain.

Yesterday I had the privilege to attend a press preview for the newest location for Smashburger, a Colorado-based chain that’s opening its 202nd location at 9900 S. IH 35 in Austin today. Company founder and head cheerleader Tom Ryan was on hand to treat us to samples the restaurant’s signature burgers, chicken sandwiches, and (dear to my vegetarian heart!), in–house made black bean veggie burgers (yeah now you see where my enthusiasm comes from!)

veggie burger at Smashburger in Austin

Well, that and the piles of fragrant rosemary and olive oil fries, the crispy fried jalapeno pepper slices and the super-thin crispy onion rings with a truly addictive dipping sauce.

fries onion rings jalpenos at smashburger

In a world (and city) filled with fast-food burger joints, what makes Smashburger different? We found out as sample after sample came out from the kitchen.

Great big burgers topped with bar-b-que sauce, bacon and cheddar. Chicken sandwiches crispy in a chicken-friend-steak style coating. A cilantro-and-blue-corn-tortilla infused black bean burger (mine was topped with fresh slices of jalapeno and a spicy chipotle mayo on a spicy chipotle bun — I love my spice!)  A grilled chicken sandwich topped with slices of locally-sourced goat cheese and crisp cucumber. Salads and hot dogs, too. The food kept coming, and the reviewers kept eating.

burgers and other sandwichs smashburger

“It’s too good to stop”, one food blogger said. Another added that Smashburger’s chicken sandwiches were the first chicken sandwiches he’d had that actually had flavor. And when we headed into the kitchen to watch the unique “smashing” process in action, another reviewer said the burger tasted more like steak than ordinary hamburger.  And (and this is a shocker!) in a city so well-known for its bar-b-que, several reviewers rated the Smashburger BBQ, Bacon and Cheddar Burger the best they’d ever had.

For those who can’t image a burger without a tall frosty beer, they have you covered.

beer in mug

And for those who crave an ice-cold sweet old-fashioned shake or malt with their meal, yup, they’ve got you covered, too.

Milk shake at smashburger

As a vegetarian, I’ll admit there was a lot I didn’t taste. But as a foodie, I appreciated the incredible attention to detail in everything they do. The buns are toasted on the inside to prevent the juices from making them soggy. The menu in each of their 200+ locations is adjusted to match the tastes and food sources in the local market. The burgers are made from prime Angus beef, and the veggie burger is crafted in-house. Nothing is frozen and thawed.

Tom Ryan of Smashburger

Tom Ryan, who’s prior food masterpieces include the Pizza Hut Stuffed Crust Pizza and the McDonald’s Fruit and Yogurt Parfait seems to have done it again.

Smashburger is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week. They have a kids menu and a pet-friendly patio at their I-35 location. More Austin locations are planned, but for now only the Slaughter Lane and New Braunfels locations are open.

(My personal meat-eating partner couldn’t join me yesterday, so thank you to all my fellow reviewers for sharing your experiences with the meat!)

Baskets waiting for burgers

Breakfast Tacos, Hippie Church meet at Maria’s Taco Express

Maria Taco Express June 2012

I kept hearing people talking about Austin’s “Hippie Church” and imagined some sort of New Age gathering. I had no idea breakfast tacos were involved, and I couldn’t have been more wrong about the vibe.  Ten minutes on a Sunday morning at Maria’s Taco Express and I discovered exactly what they meant.

The music? A mixture of amazing blues and gospel, with a classic rock edge.  The people? Lots of people who were probably around when “hippies” were something new and controversial.  The food?  Big servings of classic homemade Tex-Mex served on a mixture of plastic and wood picnic tables.

And the setting?  Pure Austin unique.  Part dive bar feel, part old west/old Mexico theme (don’t miss the old “village” down the outside wall!), part someone’s backyard patio.

There’s no table service at Maria’s and the line to order is long, but please don’t let that keep you away.  You’d miss the chance to dance to blues with some of Austin’s most unique residents. You’d miss some truly amazing tacos, chicken stew and other Maria’s favorites. And you’d miss sitting in a plastic patio chair and listening to some of the very best gospel and blues for no cost beyond your breakfast.  (Of course, the tip jar beckons, so do contribute generously!)

Space downstairs near the live music is limited, so get there early (the music starts at noon) or be prepared to share a table with some of the other friendly diners (we have, and it’s fun!). There’s more seating upstairs (super hot in summer!) and indoors.

Maria’s is open all week, but so far it’s the Sunday Hippie Church that’s drawn us in again and again.  Once we finally do check it out on another day, I’ll update this review.

Pets are welcome on the patio, although it’s crowded so make sure they’re very well-behaved! Prices are low, so this a great place to go with little kids — there’s lots to choose from without breaking mom and dad’s budget.

Dogtoberfest comes to the Domain

Dogtober Fest Austin 2012

Dogtoberfest is one of Austin’s most popular annual canine festivals, featuring costume contests, breed rescue groups, and booths from the areas best dog care services and products.

When the Domain goes to the dogs, Halloween can’t be far behind. That’s because Dogtoberfest, one of the area’s most popular annual dog festivals is held there each October.

Sure,. the Domain is always dog-friendly.  But during Dogtoberfest, the upscale shopping and dining center is transformed into dog and dog-people heaven.

I lost count of the wonderful rescue groups there, each working to bring together people and pups (including my personal favorite, Austin Boxer Rescue (we have a rescued boxer mix, so we’re biased!)  Add to that dozens of booths offering information on training and boarding, another dozen or so more for gourmet dog treats and healthy pet food, and a bunch of places to buy really cool dog toys, collars and other accessories, and you have the perfect day for spoiling your four-footed family members.

And because Dogtoberfest is around Halloween, you even get to dress your pups up for the festivities, and compete for prizes. I saw everything from simple sweaters to elaborate team costumes complete with movable sets!  The “I Love Lucy” group won this year, but sadly my photo of that team didn’t come out

If you missed the festival this year, take heart!  There’s always next year’s festival — and now you have plenty of time to plan that perfect costume!

Yes, Austin loves its dogs…and this festival is just one more fun, silly piece of that!

 

Dogs enjoy freedom at Austin off-leash parks

Auditorium Shores  Dog Park in Austin TexasMoving from South Florida where dogs were either on a leash or in a fenced dog park or yard, it was surprising to discover the number of off-leash parks here in Austin.

We were hesitant at first.  Our dog is friendly, but what if others weren’t?  What if she took off?  (She did, but didn’t go far…only to Great Outdogs to get more treats!)  But finally we gave in, and headed to Auditorium Shores for a gathering of Austin Boxer Meetup…and some off-leash, unfenced playtime.

Maya seemed surprised when we took her leash off, but she quickly found some new friends to play with, and was off.  She played with other big dogs, and some adorable tiny ones, too. There were no aggressive dogs — just lots of playmates and dips in the river — and a few unfortunate rolls in the dirt (lovely when a wet dog rolls in the dust!  Next time the bath will be AFTER the dog park! Good thing we had an extra blanket to cover the car seat!)

Auditorium Shores (near the Long Center) isn’t Austin’s only off leash park.  There are also play areas for pups at Zilker Park and eight other Austin-area parks and recreation areas. Just make sure your dog is good about coming on command, and likes playing with canine companions of all sizes.  Then grab your pup, a water bottle and some toys and head on out.  Oh, and take along something to cover your car seat,,,just in case!

Have Frisbee, will travel!

Dog-friendly Austin welcomes Great Outdogs, a mobile dog supply truck

Great Outdogs Austin Texas Mobile Dog Supply Truck

In the land of food trucks and pet-friendly businesses, I probably shouldn’t be surprised that someone decided to combine the two to create Austin’s first mobile dog supply truck.  After all, we all love Austin’s food trucks, so why should our pups be left out of the fun?

So I was happy when I discovered Great Outdogs, the brain-child of Austin entrepreneur Matt Edwards.  “I had the website for awhile,” he said, “and this was the dream, to take outdoor dog supplies to the places where dogs play.”  Then a serendipitous discovery of the perfect truck made it possible.  “I found the truck, spent a few weeks making it over, and here I am.”

We met Matt at the off-leash dog park across from the Long Center while we were waiting for the Boxer Meetup to start. The truck really is a one-stop shop for dog lovers who enjoy Austin’s outdoors with their pets.  There were leashes, collars, toys, treats, water bowls, and of course, a good selection of dog waste bags ( a must-have for all of us owned by a dog or two!)  He even had safety flotation vests in all dog sizes for people planning on taking their pups out on the river. In fact, his truck offers over 1,300 eco-friendly, pet-friendly and budget-friendly dog items.

Matt’s truck can be found most days at the Auditorium Shores off-leash park, although he said he has plans to create a schedule for visiting several dog parks in the future.

This unique truck may be destined for great things…Matt told me the Statesman had just published a story on  his business, and he had been interviewed by local Austin TV station KVUE.   That’s great for his fledgling mobile business — and for dogs like mine who are already enjoying some of his great products.