Why Trader Joe’s Coming to Austin Matters

Well, I guess it would be more fair to say: Why Trader Joe’s Coming to Austin Matters to Me.

It is nostalgia. Trader Joe’s brings forth memories of time spent with my dad… weekends… the introduction to great beer options… the first place where I could get really good food and try new things… Trader Joe’s was the candy store of grocery stores. And it’s the only place people should be allowed to wear Hawaiian shirts without irony.

I grew up going to Trader Joe’s in Southern California. My dad and I would play tennis on Saturday mornings and then wander their beer section before going to the hardware store. At that time, in 19(cough!), Trader Joe’s was one of the few stores that had a truly eclectic selection of beers. If this had not been a part of our routine, I may have entered adulthood thinking Coors Light and Miller High Life were actually beer.

When I moved to Washington, DC Trader Joe’s came to Alexandria, VA. It was in the bottom level of the building where my dad worked – I sometimes wonder if he chose the building specifically because they were there. I would drive out to Alexandria to have happy hour with him. We would wander to the store, pick out a beer we’d never had, and sit on the patio.

When I visited California to drive a car back to DC, one of my best friends, her young daughter, and I went to Trader Joe’s to stock my car for the trip. Brooke’s daughter was very young and the two of them played a game of spotting the lemurs throughout the store. It was a genius game Brooke had started. While her daughter was happily engaged in searching out the many lemurs that resided in the store’s “decor” she and I talked about… um… I don’t remember, but it was fun. Trader Joe’s played a role in another one of my favorite memories – time with my friend and her daughter.

When I first decided to move to Austin, I joked that I couldn’t move here as there was no Trader Joe’s. So, Trader Joe’s coming to Austin matters to me… I have an irrational affection for the store – it represents family to me. And I am home, so I like that Trader Joe’s finally arrived.

Truthfully, I will probably not shop a lot there, I suspect by the time it arrives, I will try to avoid downtown. There are too many infrastructure problems, but that’s a post for another time.

Austin’s Restaurant Week: #CauseyEating at Asti

We are in the midst of Austin’s Restaurant Week – and today I dove in with gusto! Earlier this year, Jodi Bart with Tasty Touring posted her Best Italian Restaurants picks, and Asti was on the list. She included a photo and rave about the Spaghetti Carbonara that made me drool. So when Restaurant Week started, I jumped!

For Restaurant Week, there is a three-course offering for dinner for $36. I got a meal that seduced and delighted me. I went with a new friend – someone I wanted to get to know better. I felt it was fitting given I also wanted to know the restaurant better.

My meal:

PEI Mussels

Asti's PEI Mussels

PEI Mussels– tomato / garlic / chili flake / white wine / grilled bread.
When they say “garlic” they mean thick shavings of heaven.

Market Vegetable Risotto – pecorino / roasted shallot / thyme
I wanted to eat it all, but could not; I suspected I would need to hide it when I got home. If you have not had a roasted shallot, I suggest you have one or five. I am going to try to make this at home; it was delectable.

Tiramisu – almond brittle / chocolate sauce
Honestly I could have done without the chocolate sauce, but it made the plate pretty and anchored the fluffy Tiramisu. I will say the almond brittle made the dessert though. The texture of the brittle and the gentle sweetness of the Tiramisu were perfect. Though, I could eat a bowlful of the brittle and not be remorseful about missing the Tiramisu at all.

#CauseyEating means that Austin’s Restaurant Week has a GivingCity bend to it as well.

However, I wish the manner in which the beneficiary was supported had been better highlighted on the webpage. The 2012 Austin Restaurant Week was for the benefit of Meal on Wheels and More – but in order to benefit them, I needed to make my reservation a specific way. I assumed that a percentage of the receipts for the prix-fixe menu sales would go to the NPO. However, this evening, as I write this, I discovered text buried in a paragraph that says: “Each reservation through our site or the ARW app will result in a donation to our non-profit beneficiary, Meals on Wheels and More!”

Navigation leads me through too many pages to keep me on board in terms of making a reservation through their site – and it’s unclear whether or not if I bypass them and go straight to Open Table if Meals on Wheels still benefits. Either way, I love that Meals on Wheels and More gets to be a part of the week!

Looking forward to the next great meal I have – which will likely be the poached eggs I put on top of the leftover risotto tomorrow morning!

Thanksgiving Timpano – The Good Things In Life

My favorite of the year-end holidays is Thanksgiving. I love the Hallmark-ness of everyone thinking about and giving thanks for the things in our lives. I love that it is the beginning of the runway toward the end of the year. It is still early enough in the holiday season that most people still like their relatives and don’t mind being with them. And I love the food: real cranberry sauce, stuffing, yams, asparagus, and pumpkin pie… I feel full just thinking about all the yummy goodness. I always wanted to cook the big Thanksgiving meal, but always ended up at someone else’s … usually by crook but in the last few years by delight.

However, this year was my Thanksgiving. There were two people who would eat at my house, and we decided to do it small… and non-traditional. Since the first time I saw the film Big Night, I have been mesmerized by the amazing meal served on the film’s Big Night. Specifically the timpano – a baked dish only described by Tony Shalhoub‘s character, Primo, as “all the good things in life”. How tantalizing can a description of a meal be? What an incredible Valentine it seemed to put all the good things in life into one dish and serve it. I have always wanted to make a timpano… and for Thanksgiving 2011, it was to be done!

Thanksgiving Timpano

A timpano waiting to be cut into.

My partner in crime and I quickly decided to make two – which seemed an obscene amount of food. Which for Thanksgiving also seemed par for the course. We made what would be called a “Traditional Timpano” with pasta, homemade meatballs and sauce, sausage, hard-boiled eggs, and cheese. But, being that we were in Austin, Texas… the second would be all the good things in life from Texas. The “Texas Timpano” had roasted poblano peppers, brisket, potatoes au gratin, BBQ sauce, sausage, tamales, pickles, and onions. They were amazing.

Thanksgiving is a time to gather with the people you love, cook big, eat big and revel in all the good things in life. In other words, it’s the perfect time for making timpano!

See all the Thanksgiving Timpano photos here.