My Love Letter to Austin and Chipotle Sweet Potato Fries

I leave Austin in five days.

This flat, hot and beautiful place has been my home for the past year +, and now it’s time to go back to Seattle. I’m returning to green trees, tall mountains, salty seas and family.  I’ve come to the conclusion that a piece of myself will stay in Texas. This town will always be a second home. It wouldn’t be an honest departure without a love letter, so Austin… this one’s for you.

My Southern Love,

I will miss your warmth. I will miss your wet heat that felt like the biggest, sweatiest hug. I will miss riding my red bicycle through your streets in my cut-offs. I will miss eating tacos for breakfast, lunch and dinner and then for breakfast again. I will miss your friendliness and open arms. I will miss whiskey on tap, two stepping with strangers and late nights with my favorite people. I will miss swimming in any body of water I could find, just as long as it got me out of the heat. I will miss being in the land of fireflies and topo chico.

Austin, I will miss your people. The ones that welcomed me without question. Those people who I would carry around in my back pocket if I could, little reminders of what it feels like to be surrounded with goodness. This town is full of folks who live. Take all of it and shape it into something worthwhile. Austin, you are a neverland. Sitting outside of barton springs in my bathing suit, watching the stars in the 85 degree heat on a summer evening, I looked at my friend and said, “this place is magic…”

Austin, you are magic. You are sunshine, pants, bike rides, food, friends and dancing. So much of my heart will be left in Austin, forever.

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I am moving on to the next adventure. I ate the Texas sun, I had year round freckles, I scuffed my boots and turned all my jeans into shorts. Now it’s time to go home. I’m bringing a bit of the south home with me. I’m determined to bring some of the warmth, some of the genuine friendliness, all of the dancing and you BETTER believe I will bring “y’all” with me…

Onward and upward y’all, onward and upward.

Black Bean & Avocado Salad with Chipotle Sweet Potato Fries & Cabbage Slaw

This is what my perfect plate looks like. Sweet potatoes are my jam, and when you add in the complete protein of rice and beans, I’m in heaven. And it wouldn’t be a well-rounded meal unless there were some greens, and the cabbage slaw fit the bill. It only seems fitting that I give y’all THREE recipes this time around, because everything is bigger in Texas. All of these dishes are great to mix together and stick into a tortilla, because EVERYTHING is better in a tortilla.

Tacos forever.

Black Bean & Avocado Salad

  • 1 can black beans
  • 1 cup brown rice
  • 2.5 cups water
  • ½ cup cilantro leaves, chopped
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 2 small shallots, diced
  • ½ tbsp olive oil
  • ¾ tsp ground cumin
  • ¼-½ tsp salt, to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 large avocado, chopped into ½ inch pieces

Cook the brown rice, I use a rice cooker, but you can cook it on the stove top, do whatever tickles your fancy. Drain the beans and rinse. In a large bowl add the beans and toss with limes, cilantro leaves, diced shallots and ground cumin. Season to taste with salt & black pepper. After your rice is finished, set it aside to cool slightly before you mix it in with everything else. Peel and slice an avocado, and serve the beans at room temperature, with chopped avocado on top or mixed in throughout the salad. This salad lasts for several days in the fridge, so it makes for the perfect lunch to bring to work.

Chipotle Sweet Potato Fries

  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into ¼ inch fries
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • Ground chipotle chile
  • Garlic powder

In a medium bowl, toss sweet potatoes with olive oil, salt, garlic powder and chipotle chile powder. Spread potatoes on a baking sheet. Avoid crowding so the potatoes get crisp. Bake for 15 minutes. Turn and bake an additional 10-15 minutes. Ovens may vary so keep an eye on them and be sure to cut all the potatoes the same size. It’ll ensure even cooking. Cool and try not to shove them all in your mouth at one time. These are delicious.

Cabbage Slaw

  • 1 head cabbage, cut into small pieces
  • 2 carrots, shredded (optional, I didn’t have any, so I went without… delicious either way)
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped
  • Handful of fresh cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1 ½ Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 1 Tbsp honey (or agave)
  • Pinch of cumin

Generous pinch of salt and pepper

Chop up your veggies and mix with jalapeno and cilantro. In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, lime juice and honey. Add to the veggies and season with cumin, salt and pepper. Toss until finally coated. Serve immediately or refrigerate in an airtight container for 3-5 days.

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Fall

Fall is my favorite season.

The only fall that I have ever known is the one filled with honeycrisp apples the size of my head and my family’s annual trip to the pumpkin patch. It is the fall that is filled with blue rain boots and roasted pumpkin seeds. It is the gathering of friends over new soup recipes and pulling out my overly baggy sweaters.

That is the fall I know.

Yesterday I found myself in shorts and a tank top. Swerving through the flat streets of Austin on my red bicycle. Trying to keep up with a boy who makes biking look like a cake walk. It felt like summer. Warm air and the sound of crickets. Firemen playing catch outside the station.

This is the fall I will get used to.

Until I do find my rhythm with this Texas season, I will make soup. I will sit in front of the air conditioner with my baggy sweater. I will pretend the leaves are changing and that somewhere in this big old state there is a pumpkin patch with my name on it.

Chickpea Stew with Olive Oil Fried Eggs

adapted from Bon Appetit

3 tbsp olive oil, divided throughout the recipe

4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

8 cups spinach

salt and pepper

1 cup chopped red pepper

1 tsp cumin

1/4 tsp smoked chipotle (the recipe called for paprika, I had none… the chipotle tasted like heaven, do whatever floats your boat)

2 15-oz cans of chickpeas, rinsed

5 canned whole tomatoes, crushed

3 cups vegetable broth

4 eggs

  • Heat 1 tbsp oil in a cast iron over medium heat. When oil is hot add 1 garlic clove. Stir until the garlic starts to turn brown and add spinach to the pot. Toss to coat and season with salt and pepper. Cook the spinach until it has just wilted but is still bright green, about two to three minutes. Remove the garlic and spinach and set aside.
  • The magazine recommends wiping out the pan. I did no such thing. Woops.
  • Heat the remaining olive oil (I used less than 2 tbsp… there were still remnants, and it cut down on the fat content of the dish). When oil is hot add remaining garlic and the red pepper. Add the cumin and the chipotle, cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the chickpeas and tomatoes; stir to coat and let cook for about 10 minutes, until the chickpeas start to brown.
  • Add 3 cups of broth and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 20 minutes. Occasionally mash a chickpea or two to show it who’s boss, and to make the mixture a stew like consistency. After the 20 minutes, fold in the spinach and simmer for another 10 minutes. If it is too thick, add more broth 1/4 cup at a time. I didn’t do this, as I like my stew to be REALLY thick. Just a matter of preference.
  • Spoon all of this goodness into a bowl and cook your eggs. I just used the remaining oil that was in the cast iron, and cooked for medium low heat, covering the eggs with a little bit of water to cook evenly. I like my eggs sunny side up with a runny yolk, but do whatever floats your boat. The olive oil makes the edges nice and crispy, which is delicious with the stew. Yum.
  • Serve the stew in bright bowls and top with an egg.

* I made some homemade wheat bread with this recipe because every stew needs hearty bread. If you have the 2 hours that it takes to make bread, go for it. We may or may not have eaten two loaves in two days… Homemade bread is just that delicious.

 

Hot Hot Heat

Man oh man. Austin is hot.

People up in Seattle liked to remind me that it was hot down here. “It gets to be 100 degrees Chelsea! Can you handle it?!?!”

It may seem obvious that Texas is hot. These warnings came from my people. These are the people who know me. They know me well. They are privy to the fact that every time summer rolls around (Pacific Northwest summers to boot), I break out in a heat rash. Or I get a sunburn. Or I get heat stroke. Basically, I was made for temperate weather.

So all those who know and love me were concerned for my well-being with my somewhat irrational plan to up and move to Austin. I think they all thought I would just melt. Instantly. I would step out of my car in Austin and become a puddle on the ground.

I didn’t. I thought about it for a second, and then rallied like a champion.

Here is what you do to beat the heat in Texas:

– You drink your body weight in water. If I leave the house with out a water bottle I get a little bit panicky. Like how you feel when you leave behind your keys or your wallet. I may or may not carry around a jug of water that holds the amount of water you are supposed to drink in a day. I drink about three of them. HYDRATE!

– You swim. A lot. There is this place called Barton Springs down here, a place I highly recommend. It is a spring fed pool. It is huge. It is refreshing. It is like a little bit of heaven for these hades like days. We also spent a whole day floating down the river in inner tubes. Now if that isn’t summer, what is?

– You stay inside. This is a weird concept to me. You know you are a true Seattle-ite when you see  a sunny day and your mind INSTANTLY jumps to all the ways you can avoid being inside for the day. The difference is that in Texas it is sunny. A lot. So if you were to spend every day outside that was sunny, you would be spending 9 months of your life outside. Which sounds like a great plan, except 2-3 of those 9 months are days where the temperature creeps over 100 degrees and just meandering down the street leaves you drenched. So you stay inside. And write a blog. Or something.

– If you have a dog, you walk them EARLY in the morning and LATE at night. And they are still hot. And if you have a dog that is a HUGE goober and can’t seem to do anything normally, you will get irritated with the panting that sounds like a fighter jet. To combat said panting, you can soak a bandana in water, pop it in the freezer for a bit and then tie it around their neck. Not only do they look SUPER hip, but it cools down their body temperature. Win, win.

– You try to avoid making food that involves being around things that are warm. I have made a lot of salads (see below). Things that just involved chopping vegetables. Recipes that make giant batches so if the only energy you can muster is rolling off the couch and crawling to the fridge, you will have something to shove into your mouth, cutlery optional.

I have been here less than two weeks and this place is already starting to seep into my skin. I am coming down with a sort of routine. I am exploring and tasting and taking the city in. I am planting roots, one way or another, and making this hot, hot city a place of my own.

Wild Rice and Kale Salad

Adapted from Whole Life Nutrition Cookbook

1.5 cups wild rice

3 3/4 water

Pinch of sea salt

6 leaves of kale (your choice on which kind.)

red bell pepper

2.5 cups wild rice

1 bunch green onions

Grated carrots

Avocado (optional)

Dressing:

1/2 cup lemon juice

1/4 olive oil

1 tsp cumin

salt and pepper to taste.

Bring water, rice and salt to a boil in a 3 quart pot with the lid on. Once boiling, reduce heat to low and simmer for 50-55 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool for about 30 minutes until you mix in the veggies.

Chop the kale, green onions, bell pepper and grate in the carrots. Mix all the veggies in with the cooled rice.

Prepare the dressing by mixing the lemon juice, olive oil, cumin and salt and pepper. Whisk together. Stir into veggies and rice.

Top with avocado for some delicious fat… mm. Avocado.