Bacon vs. Tofu: The Battle That Never Was

I am particularly proud of this morning’s bacon-related item in the Houston Press, a blog post and an accompanying slideshow of the 11 reasons that tofu is not the new bacon. It’s heretical to even suggest otherwise.

Check out the blog post first and then check out the slideshow.

A preview: “Tofu is one of the most peaceable objects on earth: mild, unobtrusive, yields easily and has no real qualms about taking on the flavors and textures of other things. That’s why no one will ever make an automatic weapon out of it.”

You know you want to read it.

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Austin In My Rearview Mirror

Back from a very short weekend in drizzly but gorgeous Austin, which has somehow become the size of Tokyo since I last laid eyes on our little capitol city.  What happened?  Where did all this steel and glass come from?  Have the Highland Park and Midtown folks in Dallas and Houston abandoned their posts for the Hill Country?  Sadly, it would seem so.

Despite that, Austin is still gorgeous.  Sprawling and covered with yuppies (yes, I realize they were always there in some quantity, but now moreso than before) but gorgeous.  The wedding was on the lush grounds of Laguna Gloria, a Spanish-style house that’s part of the Austin Museum of Art and overlooks Lake Austin.

The bride (from West Virginia by way of Texas and Georgia and Connecticut and now living in Washington – this is important in a second) and groom seem to have suffered a bout of culinary schizophrenia while choosing the menu for the night, since it included tamales, sushi, Thai noodle salad, cheese biscuits, guacamole, brisket, chicken satay, tuna tartare and grits (which were covered with roasted red peppers and balsamic vinegar – please, do not ever attempt this at home – in fact, no one should ever attempt this abomination ever again), among other things.  But I love them.  And I loved the food, all 600 square miles of it.  So, really, what does it matter?  Eat what you want at your wedding, folks.

We had brunch this morning at Stubb’s BBQ on Red River, in downtown Austin.  Their famed gospel brunch was packed tight with squirming Austin families, gawking tourists and nearly everyone who had attended the wedding the night before, most of whom were shaking off the effects of the afterparty with Stubb’s build-your-own Bloody Mary bar.  The gospel music was incredibly loud but the food was good enough to endure the screams and wails coming from the stage.  More grits were in order, since it’s not a Southern brunch without grits.  Grits twice in one weekend makes me a fat, happy little Texan indeed.

Meanwhile, back at the blog, I wanted to call your attention to the fact that some more Houston food blogs have been added to the blogroll to your right.  Houston has always been an underground food town, and I’m constantly pleased when new blogs (sometimes “new” only to me) crop up to cover all the thousands of food facets this city has to offer.  Check out the newbies below:

Chili Bob’s Houston Eats: Chili Bob eats at – as he puts it – “Houston’s great diversity of eateries, with an emphasis on ethnic cuisines and peasant food, as opposed to haute cuisine, and places that are new to me.”  His posts cover a great variety of restaurants that most other bloggers never even venture into (or, if they do, we just don’t hear about it) and are an absorbing read.

Dirty Kitchen Adventures: Also known as @treelight on Twitter, this blog is more personal and occasionally includes divine-sounding recipes, like the recent ginger-vegetable soup entry which made me nearly choke on my own saliva.  Mmm…ginger.

Houston Uncorked: Although not updated very often, this is nevertheless an entertaining and easy-going blog on wine and the state of the wine community in Houston.

The Grub Junkie: On name alone, this food blog has the market cornered. I love this name. So much. Yet despite the name’s promise of things like greasy burgers and Frito pies, the brave blogger has recently embarked upon the Martha’s Vineyard Detox Program.  Follow along if you’re brave or thinking of a detox program yourself (or if you’re just voyeuristic, weirdo).

Houston Wok: Another misleading name. No, this blog isn’t all Houston Chinese food, all the time (although with two Chinatowns and about eleventy billion other Chinese restaurants in town, that wouldn’t be hard).  This relatively new blog does cover a lot of Asian food, though the author isn’t picky about which kind of Asian cuisine he’s eating that day, which is good – and enlightening – for us. But he also covers burger joints and lobster macaroni and cheese.

Is This Thing On?

Fish & Scallop Pie with Leek Mash

Test, one, two. Test, one, two.

Is anyone still here?

Buttermilk Pie

There. I thought those might do the trick.

I’m not dead. Far from it; in fact, I’ve been busier than ever lately. Funny how that happened. Here I was, thinking Now I can fully concentrate on writing and editing and social media and bunnies instead of doing all of that while performing all the duties of my day job – I’ll have more spare time than ever! Not so much. Instead, I’m busier than I can ever recall being in my life. But it was a nice thought while it lasted. Especially the bit about the bunnies. The fluffy, fluffy bunnies…

Anyway, life at the Press is wonderful. I enjoy my job more than I ever could have expected, although – as with all good things in life – it comes with the constant terror that it might all be taken away at a moment’s notice. Don’t act like I’m the only one who thinks that way. Whereas before, I batted at things like pageviews and linkbacks as if they were cat toys – interesting diversions, but not all that important to my trifling little blog – they have now become my very own Sword of Damocles. I live and die by pageviews now. Although I’m sure I’ll become more comfortable with it over time, for now I’m all too terrified of not meeting our pageview goals each month, something which has all but overtaken any enjoyment I take from writing for the time being.

That said, I was in print again last week with my review of Manena’s, a lovely Argentinean deli and pastry shop off Westheimer. If you missed the print edition, you can still read it online. And a million thanks to Jeff for being the first person to take me to Manena’s and making me wonder how I’d missed such a little jewel all this time.

As for my other food writing, I’m still at it (links below). I’m still plugging away at the photography, too. Some of my recent slideshows for the Press have been the most highly-viewed each week, so I’m both pleasantly puzzled and excited to have them so well-received. A sampling, for your clicking pleasure:

And, of course, you can keep up with my food photography over at my Flickr account.

Now, to the meat of it all: what I’ve been writing…

Continue reading Is This Thing On?

Spirited Houston

Books & Bottles
Books and bottles behind the bar at Anvil.

No, I’m not talking about haunted Houston.  I’m talking Houston’s busy wine, beer and spirits scene.  (Although I could just combine the concepts and write a post about La Carafe.)

I was at Anvil Bar & Refuge yesterday afternoon, getting a sneak preview of the bar in its [nearly] final incarnation and chatting with owner Bobby Heugel for an interview that will come out in the Houston Press food blog later this week.  It struck me — and not for the first time — that in addition to the growing emphasis on local, fresh, organic, artisanal food and restaurants in Houston, we’re lucky to have people pursuing that same level of craftsmanship and attention in the spirits scene.

Pimm's Cup
Freshly-made Pimm’s Cup with muddled cucumber, homemade lemon juice, homemade simple syrup, gin and soda.

Bobby and his crew at Anvil aren’t the only ones in Houston who are once again giving bartending as a profession — and alcohol as a libation — the credibility it deserves.  Cocktails made in restaurants like Beaver’s and Textile (both of which were training grounds for Bobby and his staff, and both of which owe their success in those areas to the likes of the Anvil crew) demonstrate a level of craftsmanship and creativity not seen at places like the Daiquiri Factory, the vulgar intoxi-quarium that used to exist in Anvil’s building.

Likewise, more bars around town are seeking out local microbrews and unusual imports to add to their draft beer selection, aside from simply leaving beer-flavored water like Miller Lite on tap.  Grum Bar and Grill is an example of this phenomenon, their beer selection being extremely limited to only beers that they themselves would drink: no Budweiser or Miller to be found here.  More established pubs like the Ginger Man and the Stag’s Head have embraced the concept of exploring unusual or exotic beers for years, and the beer-drinking public is following suit.

Avery Cask Conditioned Ale
Avery cask-conditioned pale ale at The Petrol Station.

We’re also lucky enough to have a local microbrewery — Saint Arnold — that supplies Houston and points beyond with finely-crafted ales and lagers in addition to being a community-minded organization that does much more than simply create beers.  We even have our own local  association of homebrewers —  the Foam Rangers — and entire shop devoted to the craft, De Falco’s.  Beyond Saint Arnold are many other exquisite Texas microbreweries such as Real Ale in Blanco and Southern Star in Conroe.  And let’s not forget the one and only Spoetzel Brewery in Shiner, Texas.

Wine bars, too, have cropped up around town like Starbucks.  Although each is different in its character, all are devoted to the ideals of exploring and discovering wine and educating their consumers to do the same.  From high-end, glitzy concepts like The Tasting Room to local, neighborhood-y joints like Boheme, it’s never been a better time for oenophiles in Houston.

To whit, I’d like to encourage you to read a few local spirit blogs that do a far better job of explaining and capturing all of this than I do.

Barley Vine:  This man has the word on wort, hands down.  A local hop-head who provides insightful commentary on the Houston beer scene and Texas microbrews. And he doesn’t just review beers; restaurants occasionally make the cut, too.  Writing consistently since 2006, his blog is the best local resource on beer, breweries and news as it relates to the beer world.

Drink Dogma:  A blog established by Bobby Heugel and his partners — including Kevin Floyd and Justin Barrow — to keep the public abreast of their progress on the Anvil opening, it’s evolved into a fantastic resource for cocktail information ranging from the history of certain drinks to their favorite libation literature.

Blue State Carpetbagger:  A wine blog from a man who knows his varietals, Tom Casagrande worked in the wine business in New York City for five years before moving to Houston.  His blog is a great read for two reasons: He’s been blogging continually since 2005, so there’s a wealth of information from prior years and posts and he specializes in recommending inexpensive yet wonderful wines, an especially welcomed speciality these days.

Do you have your own local favorites? Did I miss a beverage blog you can’t live without? Leave it in the comments section below; we want to hear all about it!

And…cheers!

Hot Links, Get Yer Hot Links!

It’s been over three weeks since the last roundup of Houston food writing (yikes!), so let’s get to it!

A few (but not all) of my own posts from Eating Our Words over at the Houston Press:

And some excellent posts from around town:

  • The King of Tex-Mex Is DeadRobb Walsh pays tribute to Matt Martinez, Jr., who passed away last Friday in Dallas.
  • Tofu & BBQ:  You wouldn’t think these two things go together, but Robb shows us that’s not the case.
  • Bargain of the Week: Hot & Sour Soup from 888 ChineseAlison Cook raves about the spicy soup — available for $3.75 per quart — that’s both budget- and belly-friendly.
  • Hue Gone AwaySwamplot uncovers some facts about the oddly-situated Vietnamese restaurant’s recent closure.
  • Mayhaw! Yams! Honey!  Houston Foodie divulges the location of a prime produce market off I-10 outside of Anahuac.  He had me a mayhaw.
  • More Sex!  Less Food!  The Eggheads Proclaimeth:  Another Houston Foodie post, this time at Eating Our Words.  I’m noticing a distinct fondness for interrobangs in his headlines.  This is a well-researched commentary on a recent Stanford University article that had tongues wagging: Is Food the New Sex?
  • Houston’s Professional Food Critics:  A interesting discussion of where new and old media meet with regard to local food writing.  Anonymous Eater at Food in Houston has been on a roll lately, pushing out one thoughtfully written post after another.  It’s been a rare treat.  Check out some of his other great posts below…
  • The Tale of the Pig’s Head:  What exactly does one do with a whole pig’s head?
  • Houston’s Diversity: Food for Thought:  For all our diversity, Houston seems to be missing a few key cuisines.
  • Tasty Salted Pig Parts:  Ruthie at Great Food Houston is currently vacationing in San Francisco.  Read about her adventures with tasty, tasty pig parts.
  • All Is Right in the Food World:  Cory at I’ve Got the Munchies happily notes that our very own Texas Burger Guy is back to blogging after a one-year hiatus.
  • …On Brownies:  Plinio Sandalio, pastry chef at Textile and Gravitas, shares a fabulous recipe for stovetop brownies on his blog, Bakin ‘n’ Bacon.
  • Road Trip Chow Down: Chris Madrid’s in San AntonioH Town Chow Down takes a trip to the famous San Antonio burger joint and conclues that Houston is still the best burger town in Texas.
  • Vegan 3-Bean Chili:  The amazingly talented Shannon at Shabak’s Kitchen shares a hearty recipe for vegan chili.
  • Universal Recycling Techniques:  Dr. Ricky has an incredible compatcness to his writing, and shares in his typically straightforward manner four ways you can recycle leftover food for new meals.
  • Seven Reasons Kroger Sucked Last Night:  And, finally, for a bit of levity, Jeff Balke elaborates on a point we can all agree on, which is that Kroger’s sucks.

What’s the Story, Linking Glory?

Wrapping up the week with a few links to what’s been going on around Houston this week:

Missed anything?  Let me know in the comments section below.

Hitch Link Cop, On Ones and Nine Millis

A short but informative link roundup from the past few days…enjoy!

First, my own links, cause I’m big pimpin’:

  • Tweating Out:  A post at the Houston Press on the newest Twitter trend…food meetups with [almost] total strangers!
  • Green Eggs at Baby Barnaby’s:  Another Press post about my adventures at the notorious Montrose breakfast spot with my Meemo.
  • Baba Ghanoush at Cafe Rita:  Because my eternal quest for the world’s best baba ghanoush has ended.

Now for other, more entertaining links:

  • New @ Rainbow Lodge:  Jenny’s review of the new items offered up by Randy Rucker at Rainbow Lodge.  Notable primarily for the lush photography as much as for the ninth comment (a must read, as is Jenny’s response).
  • The Year in Burgers:  Alison Cook’s roundup of her favorite burgers of 2008, also notable for its insane comments section (which at last count had spiraled to 125 comments, primarily from people who need to attend the Derek Zoolander Center For Kids Who Can’t Read Good And Wanna Learn To Do Other Stuff Good Too)
  • Give Me Some Hot Wings, Hold the Buttocks:  Jeff’s take on the amusing “employee handbook” at no one’s favorite wing place, Hooters.
  • Handicapping the Best of Houston Picks:  Misha doing what he does best…deconstructing and carefully evaluating what others tend to take as gospel.
  • Wine Cork Trivet in Progress:  The endlessly creative Mellowynk recycles her old wine corks in a unique way that I would never have thought of.
  • Robb’s Oyster Book:  Robb Walsh’s new book — Sex, Death and Oysters — has finally hit the shelves.  He’ll be cruising bookstores and signing selected copies of the book incognito, so be on the lookout for a man with a fountain pen, smelling of oysters (and hopefully not sex or death).

That’s it, folks.  I’m off for a mug of jasmine green tea and a comfy couch.  See you on the other side!