It’s official…..I’m a lame-ass, lousy carnivore. Despite having arrived in Austin equipped with an impressive list of some of the best barbeque joints in all of the U.S., when push came to shove, I just wasn’t up for it. The fact that some afternoons saw the mercury peaking at 96 degrees didn’t help, nor did eating all that fantastically hearty Tex-Mex and swilling all those frosty Lonestars. It’s not that I wasn’t genuinely interested in experiencing these intriguing, reputable eateries….I simply was not in the mood to tuck into a big-ol’-plate-a-meat.

Menu board at Lambert's Downtown Barbeque.

We finally did end up at one from my list, on the last night of my visit. Lambert’s Downtown Barbeque had appealed to me because it is a beautifully designed room (I’d seen it in a few magazines) and it serves a diverse clientele; from construction workers to state senators. They do what I’d call hip ‘que….traditional barbeque, but with a twist. The sides created to accompany the meat-only mains brilliantly compliment the protein-heavy menu....Pan Seared French Beans, Lemony Sauteed Spinach, Buttermilk Potato Salad, Spicy Ranch Style Beans,.... I couldn’t resist, and ordered two sides (Collard Greens with Bacon and a Peas, Squash & Mushroom Gratin) plus a Broiled Gulf Oysters appetizer as my main. Kenneth, having more appreciation than I for the context of our chosen dining establishment, ordered the ribs. (I did try one….it was good, but plenty.)

Side Bar: During my week dining with K, it quickly became apparent that I loved vegetables, while he really had no use for them at all. Any veggies served with his meal were automatically pushed over onto my plate in an action I started referring to as ‘flickin me his yard clippins’.

While enroute home to Vancouver, I picked up the June issue of Gourmet Magazine. What story do you think is on page 26? If you guessed Where to Find the Best Texas ‘Cue you would be correct. And, of the five places I had on my list, Gourmet listed three of them: Smitty’s Market, Black’s, and Kreuz Market. This informative article taught me that it was over a century ago that Texas barbeque first began, as a way for the meat market to make use of unsold (and unwanted) cuts. Writers Jane and Michael Stern reflected on their first visit to Kreuz Market back in the 70s when "....the benches were outfitted every ten feet or so with sharp knives attached by chains so that the diners could use the blades to cut their meat but not steal them or stab anyone." I was also reminded of all that I had missed, and how lacking I can be when it comes to follow through. Sigh. Anyhoo, it would seem that, these days, barbeque is hotter than ever....if you are a committed meat eater, that is.


dai due supper club

dai due supper clubdai due supper club.

Photos by Leslie Nowlin

One of the best ways to elevate an already beautiful meal is to eat it outside (assuming that the elements are cooperating, of course). Dining alfresco is an opportunity to honour our good fortune with those we care about, as well as those we have just met. To enjoy our daily bread in a natural environment connects us to where many of our meal's ingredients came from in the first place and also adds greatly to the sensual, communal experience of dining well.

So I was super keen to learn about Austin's monthly 'Dai Due Supper Club'.... and equally bummed to realize that none of its outdoor dates lined up with the window of my visit. Started two years ago by chef Jesse Griffiths and Tamara Mayfield, Dai Due's menus focus on fresh ingredients from local farmers and vendors, with Griffith doing most of the cooking on an outside grill. These 'travelling dinner parties' change venues each month. A meal served at settings such as Rain Lily Farm or Boggy Creek Farm would include many ingredients fresh from its own garden, trees or hen house. Dinners are $75 per person, B.Y.O.B. and, as in so many places in Austin, play live music!

Dai Due also offers some interesting looking seasonal classes "for people who are ready for a more in-depth look at our local food possibilities. We offer hog butchering classes in the Fall; guided tours of local chicken farms; and fishing trips to local rivers, where you will learn how to catch and prepare fish." For those looking for a less 'in-depth' experience, they also provide catering services and will deliver prepared dinners for up to 8 people. To learn more about Dai Due Supper Club check out this article written by Jessica Dupuy for the May issue of Tribeza magazine.

las manitas

A piping hot plate of well prepared huevos rancheros is definitely one of my favourite vacation breakfasts. For some reason, travelling makes me perpetually hungry and a healthy serving of eggs, beans, tortillas and salsa is one successful way of keeping my hunger at bay right up until, well....lunch time (oink). Las Manitas (meaning the hands) does them well, serving them up with their own fresh handmade tortillas and a mighty fine twangy tomato salsa (though the potatoes were lame and could've / should've been switched out for rice). Referred to by Austin locals as a 'cultural institution', this is a restaurant that is not into fancy.... just good, tasty and traditional Tex-Mex fare served up in generous portions that are affordable and satiating.

Enter through Las Manitas front doors on Congress Avenue and dine in its bustling kitchy interior or continue on towards the back of the restaurant, passing through its large working kitchen and out to a colourful exterior courtyard. Lunches are crowded and line-ups the norm, frequented by workers from surrounding downtown offices as well as employees and government officials from the nearby State Capitol Building. Menu items include migas (eggs scrambled with corn tortillas), chalupas (crispy corn tortillas covered with beans, cheese, lettuce and tomatoes), enchiladas, fajitas, quesadillas and crispy tacos.

The nearby State Capitol Building, as illustrated by children for an 'Art City' project at the AMOA. Ironically, the capitol city of Austin is a decidedly democratic city, in sharp contrast to the very republican state of Texas.

just like steve mcqueen

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that the only thing hotter than Steve McQueen in his prime would be a Texas heat wave. My week-long visit to Austin saw the mercury reach the high 90s two days in a row. Not that I was complaining....so what does Steve have to do with my recent getaway? My fabulous host, Kenneth, just so happens to have a motorcycle that is a replica of a Triumph 'Scrambler' McQueen used to ride out in the desert in the late 60s. (K's blue model looks like this- plus, it has paniers on the back which are perfect for storing sunscreen, towels, wet bathing suits and tequila.) I am not normally a tire biter, but driving around town on its black leather bitch pad all week, zooming from swimming hole to cocktail bar to Tex-Mex eatery to barbeque joint to dance hall to roadhouse made me feel....like I was on vacation. Carpe diem, baby.


texas or bust

I've been freezing in Vancouver for what seems like forever. Early May and it's still colder than a witch's tit out there. Enough already. So when my friend, Kenneth, offered to host me in his new home town- Austin, Texas - I didn't need to be asked twice. With its plentiful live music, cheap + yummy food, not to mention its balmy climate/ outdoor lifestyle all making for an incredibly appealing getaway option....today I'm off for 1 week, promising to return with tales to tell and pics to post.


jose's farm

Jose shows the fruits of his labour at JPS Vegetable Farm.

When first arriving at JPS Vegetable Farm in Richmond, B.C., one may think it not to be a farm at all. The prominently displayed road sign reading 'Doggie Day Care / Canine Social Club' is a quick tip-off to Jose's quirky sense of humour. A series of buildings set back from the road obstruct the view of a large glass structure beyond. Formerly a hydroponic greenhouse (its heating equipment is no longer in use), it is now not only used to grow organic vegetables and seedlings,....but also serves as home to ducks and geese which are rotated from plot to plot, keeping the birds well fed and the the soil fertilized. Oh yeah....and he plays host to the 'Canine Social Club'.

Back to the organic vegetables....produce grown include kai laan, bok choi, ung choi, mezuna, spinach, arugula, lettuce, choi joi, pumpkin, squash and cabbage. Jose is experimenting with growing food in a manner that would appeal to local chefs.....'value added' products grown by crowding the seeds and harvesting early, while the vegetables are still tender and small. Locals are also welcome to drop by JPS to purchase produce, as well as fresh eggs. He is now considering opening a 'drive-thru salad bar' for the summer months; an opportunity to introduce more people to his unique way of growing food.


I first came to help out in Jose's greenhouse through Chef Ian (one of my instructors at culinary school). Volunteers were invited to come out for a few hours on Saturday mornings and lend a hand. Tasks such as trampling down and hauling away overgrown plots of mature bok choy, transplanting pumpkin seedlings, planting basil, and taking a spin with the rototiller are all activities we are able to experience with each visit. It's true that many hands make light work, and such a collaborative effort certainly is a lovely way to start the weekend. One morning I arrived to the sound of loud opera music being played through stereo speakers....audible to all with limbs, tails, wings and root systems. Knowing as little as I do about growing and nurturing a garden (successfully) I see JPS as a wonderful opportunity for me to learn, hands on (and supervised) from someone who genuinely and enthusiastically loves not only farming, but also to teach others.

Beautiful mixed greens play centre stage to my homemade pizza.


back to life

I've been a pretty lame blogger these last few weeks. With culinary school complete and my schedule my own again, I've been luxuriating in returning to my previous lifestyle; one where I am the driver of my own bus. The timetable, routes, road conditions and fellow passengers vary daily....keeping me both stimulated and inspired....reconnected with family and friends, participating in more cultural events, wearing clothes that actually make me look and feel like a girl (instead of the asexual polyester uniform I'd been sporting 5 days a week since January 2) and cooking in my own kitchen. Soon enough, it will be time to start the next chapter of my culinary journey. It is going to take some time to make sense of school. What have I learned and how will I apply it? I am confident that, in time, the answers will reveal themselves. For now, life is rich and spring is here.

My lunch....Ham & Pea Soup, Spinach Salad and Sauerkraut ($1.75)

Last Wednesday I popped by to volunteer for a day shift at Carnegie Centre (something I used to occasionally do about a year and a half ago). Located on the corner of Main and Hastings on Vancouver's lower east side, Carnegie serves as an invaluable resource to its largely low income and often marginalized community. Located on the historic building's second floor (built in 1903), their kitchen and dining area serve some 400-600 clients 365 days a year. The food program relies largely on help from the clients themselves, offering food coupons in exchange for completed kitchen shifts, which can later be redeemed for in-house meals. The food is fresh, healthy, affordable and very tasty. Wonderful food for the people, by the people. It was great to be back and see so many friendly, familiar faces.

Sean's Cookin' Clogs.

Lemon & Mint Water + Fresh Salad....both 'a la Mike'.

Roasted Mushroom, Pepper & Artichoke Salad.