Austin / Restaurants

Exploring Poke-Poke in Austin

01.27.17

I keep seeing this thing called poke everywhere, and I’ve just kind of been in the dark about it! I decided to give it a try this week, and I’m so glad I did. I felt the same confusion about Pho until I tried it a few months ago: A) what is this stuff, and B) how do I even pronounce the name? Phoe? Phuh? Po? 

So even though it seems like 95% of the population in America has now been exposed to poke, if you were confused like me, here’s the scoop:

I’ve heard it pronounced “poke-ay” and “poke-ee”, but it seems like the former is the way the Hawaiians say it, at least via Youtube. And there’s no accent on the end. It’s a raw fish salad that originated from Hawaii, and although it’s fairly new to the mainland USA, Hawaiians have been eating the stuff for generations. Traditional poke is made from tuna or octopus, with Japanese seasonings like soy sauce, sesame oil, sesame seeds, and scallions, but there are plenty of other variations to it. And of course there are ways to go all funky on the traditional poke seasonings by adding any sort of creative flavor to the raw fish, like jalapeño, Sriracha, avocado, or quinoa.

So if you’re still unsure about poke, think of it like a deconstructed sushi roll that’s served in a bowl. It’s a mound of raw seasoned tuna, soy sauce, sesame seeds, and (if you’d like to add it…) a pile of sticky white rice. I also chose to add avocado, chile oil, and pickled ginger to mine, which was t-t-tasty!

Poke-Poke opened in Austin in the middle of 2016 by wife-and-husband team Trish and Jason, who moved from California to open their second Poke-Poke location; the first is located in Venice Beach. (If you’ve been in Austin for long, you’ll know this location as the S. Congress spot that used to hold an Amy’s Ice Creams across the street from St. Ed’s University….but never fear! There’s another Amy’s Ice Creams just another mile north on S. Congress!) It’s a small shop with a few tables, some counter space, and an outdoor area with picnic tables.

My thoughts about eating poke for the first time: 

– I’m glad I added rice to the bowl! I’m not sure I could have handled that much raw fish…

– Poke-Poke is insanely reasonably priced for the amount of fish you get! A small bowl is only $8, or $11 if you choose to go sans rice for more fish. (But even though I asked for rice, I was still given a big serving of fish!)

– It was vaguely similar to the feeling of eating beef tartar in Paris…obviously the two foods are entirely different, but the texture of eating that much raw meet without a lot of other food to mix in was a lot to handle.

– I definitely enjoyed it and will eat it again…but I think I’ll always eat rice with it instead of going purely traditional (or at least, I think eating it without rice is the traditional way….does anyone know for sure?) and eating only the raw fish.

-I kept thinking, I wish I were on a beach right now! It would have tasted even better if I had been smelling the salty ocean air and listening to the waves.

So if you know anything about poke, could you fill in the gaps for me? Is eating it without rice the “traditional” way? And what about the seasonings…is adding chile oil or pickled ginger ok, or would that be considered disrespectful? According to this chef from Hawaii, Hawaiians feel conflicted about the attention poke has been getting recently…I want to make sure I’m eating it right and not screwing up a longstanding traditional food! Because I think it’s awesome.

Oh my gosh…there are so many great foods to try. And I just want to try them all!

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I’m heading out of town this weekend for an orchestra concert; I’m going to play Mahler Symphony No. 5! This is a MASSIVE piece and I’ve never performed it, so I’m super stoked! I’ve spent the better part of today practicing it, and I’m currently listening to a recording of the Vienna Philharmonic performing it via Apple Music, so I’m just about ready for our first rehearsal! Wish me luck!

Happy weekending, friends!

Kelsey

Austin / My Life

Our Engagement Photos

01.25.17

Nate and I get married two months from today (eeks!), so we’re in the home stretch of wedding planning stuff. I’d say that planning a wedding has been fun, overwhelming at times, not quite as big a deal as I originally thought it might be, but definitely more time consuming than I anticipated.

Here’s why: there are literally millions of wedding ideas. From pinterest to instagram to just googling and clicking around on wedding planners and bloggers websites, I have no shortage of good ideas being thrown my way! But I’ve realized pretty quickly that if I look at too many ideas, I’ll never pick one. Haha. Take wedding dresses, for instance: there are a plethora of styles, brands, price points, and even colors from which to choose, and I spent a lot of time on pinterest looking at what I liked. But after several weeks of this, I realized that there were so many different dress styles that I liked equally, and I needed to just pick one! So I found a store that had several of that style, drove to Houston, tried on about 6 dresses, and picked my favorite that day. And then I was done. And I know that I could have (maybe should have?) driven around to other stores, spent a few days debating it, set up other fittings, blah blah blah…. But my personality just wanted to pick one and be done. And I LOVE my dress! Could I have maybe found another dress that I liked better? Possibly. Would it have made me happier? I don’t think so!

So that’s what this whole rant is about. There are too many options, and eventually I just have to pick one and move on and realize that there are a million RIGHT answers when planning a wedding.

Anyway…moving right along.

Since today marks t-minus two months until our wedding, I’m sharing some of our engagement photos! Nate and I took them with our photographer Sam last fall. We wanted to do one of the locations on Rainey street at Craft Pride, the bar where we had our first date (not where we met, because we met online), and the other location at The Long Center where Nate will sometimes come to watch me play with Austin Symphony or Austin Opera; the Long Center has one of the prettiest views of downtown Austin! Unfortunately, Texas Monthly’s BBQ Fest was going on that weekend at the Long Center, so we improvised by using the surrounding areas.

** Photos by Sam Hugh Photography

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Oh my. I love that man so much. And I’m so glad we decided to take engagement photos…I was on talking with my mom shortly after I got engaged last summer, and when I told her that we weren’t planning on doing an engagement session, she encouraged me to rethink it. She said it’s one of the only times when you’ll have professional shots taken of just the two of you, and you’ll be happy to have those photos.

And she was right!

Happy Wednesday, y’all!

Kelsey

Travel

A Weekend in Denver

01.23.17

Hey, happy Monday! I’m back in Austin after a fun little weekend getaway in Denver, CO. Nate already had to be up there, so I flew up to meet him, hang out in one of our favorite cities, and spend some time with my in-laws-to-be! (His parents live just outside of Denver). Our wedding is 9 weeks away!!

Denver is the perfect city for a little weekend whirlwind vacation, because it’s a central city with no more than a 3-4 hour flight from pretty much anywhere in the country! Holla! So after teaching orchestra on Friday morning, I packed my bags and hopped on a plane to fly the less than two hour flight from Austin to Denver.

I think it’s fun to see how people travel, because everyone does it pretty differently. Nate and I are definitely focused quite a bit of this this trip visiting craft breweries (because 10% of the nation’s craft breweries can be found in Denver!), but we also enjoyed going to restaurants on the Eater 38 list and checking out a couple other fun sites. Here’s what we did:

Friday

Last April, Denver airport opened a light rail service from the airport to Union Station. I tried it out and will definitely be using it again! For $9 and a 37-minute ride, you get a clean, easy, traffic-free ride to downtown.

Lunch was at Biju’s Little Curry Shop in RiNo. It’s a teeny little spot that does their curry in a Chipotle-style serving line: pick the bowl you want, and then choose toppings and spice level. I had the Coconut Curry Chicken for something warm and cozy on a cold January day!

If craft beer is your thing, the RiNo neighborhood hosts a plethora of great little breweries within walking distance.

The first stop wasn’t a brewery, but a pour-your-own brew bar called First Draft Taproom & Kitchen with 37 taps of beer, cider, and wine from around the country. Each customer gets a card to swipe in front of a tap and then pour the desired amount of beer for $0.50-$1.00 per oz.

Here’s my sad story from that event: I was so excited to see they had Pliny the Elder on tap, and when I poured the tap, it kind of sputtered out at me… I should have realized this mean the tap was out, but when the bartender went to go cancel out the charge so I wouldn’t have to pay for the foamy spurt, I DUMPED IT OUT because I thought I could pour more….and then the screen told me it was gone! Boo. Haha. No more Pliny for me until my next trip west!

Bierstadt Lagerhaus, a traditional German-style brewery, had a great, crisp little pilsner that knocked my socks off.

Our Mutual Friend Brewing Company had a nice little session ale, along with about 10 other tasty taps.

And Beryl’s Beer Co. had something crazy! Their specialty (surprise…) was a bunch of barrel-aged beers, but I wasn’t especially in the mood for one of those. But I tried a coffee stout infused with pear (<- yeah, you read that right!) that I was super skeptical about, but actually loved! It tasted mostly like a coffee stout with just a liiiiittle bit of sweetness added in. If I didn’t know it was pear, I probably wouldn’t have picked it out, but it added a nice layer of depth.

Dinner was at a teeny Italian restaurant called Dio Mio Handmade Pasta. The concept was pretty interesting: to mix high-end dining with a more casual experience. So while the pasta is handmade and the wait can sometimes be very long, guests order at the counter and seat themselves. The price of the pasta (see the menu here) definitely screams “WE’RE FANCY!” while the service is more laid back and the wine is served in little glass cups instead of wine glasses. A little weird, right? Kind of fun though. I’m not sure..

I do know this: the ceiling decoration was made from folded copy paper, and I loved it!

I went for the Cacio e Pepe, after basically committing to a life-long relationship with the dish back in November at Emmer & Rye. I’ll definitely say that Dio Mio’s Cacio e Pepe fell short of Chef Kevin Fink’s version that I tasted in Austin. But that’s setting the bar pretty high.

Dessert was Nutella Semifreddo. The bowl it was served in was made to look ceramic, but was actually plastic. Again, nothing wrong with that, but the mix of expensive cost with a more casual dining vibe was a little confusing!

Saturday

True story: three years ago, before I met Nate, I’d be fine going to any random Starbucks to get my coffee. I wasn’t even really a coffee person…I could go for days without coffee, and maybe just have a little black tea or a diet coke if I needed a caffeine fix. Now? I’m a consistent 1-cup-of-coffee-a-day sort of girl. I have it upon waking, and usually one is enough. But after being exposed to high quality coffee, I’ve become a little more snobbish about my coffee… And I kind of hate it, but it also makes my life more enjoyable to enjoy a good cup of coffee, so I kind of love it, too. (PS: Nate calls it an “enlightened enthusiast,” and I tell him that’s ridiculous..haha.)

This means that every trip we take together involves a decent amount of coffee research, finding and starring the nearest shops on our googles maps, and a moderate amount of deliberation before each cup of joe. Friday morning started with cappuccinos at Little Owl Coffee, a pretty little shop at the end of the 16th Street Mall.

Followed by brunch at Rioja, a lively, plush, Mediterranean-inspired restaurant influenced by local and seasonal products. This was a beautiful meal, and while I can honestly say I loved it and would go back, I loved Sunday’s brunch even more (read on for that one!), so if you have to pick just one brunch spot, this wouldn’t be my first choice….even thought it was wonderful!

|rioja house made doughnuts, lemon scented doughnuts, raspberry mascarpone cream, raspberry coulis|

|sweet potato hash, blackened pork belly, poblano peppers, red onions, sunny side up eggs|

|chronic breakfast sandwich, grilled jalapeño cheddar sourdough, poblano cream cheese, scrambled eggs, bacon, avocado, lettuce, tomato|

I had been debating buying a new winter coat. In fact, I’ve been trying to convince myself to buy a new coat for years. The coat I used when I lived in Chicago was a cheap off-brand coat that made do, but it’s definitely worn out and not very useful any more.

I’m an under-spender (meaning I’ll try to just get by without buying something that I obviously need, like tissues or salt or hand soap….y’know, obvious things that I know I’ll have to buy! I read about this concept in Gretchen Rubin’s book Better Than Before), so I keep telling myself just get through the winter and you won’t have to buy a coat! And then I make it through the winter, but I’m kind of miserable.

So after my first 18 hours or so in Denver, I realized I actually had to make the splurge and buy a coat, because I get really grumpy when I’m cold! I was set on getting a North Face, but there was a Patagonia store right around the corner that looked tempting..

I ended up trying on a few coats and getting this one in silver and I love it! I almost went with the synthetic puff, but decided that since I live in Austin where it rarely (if ever!) snows, I don’t have to worry about it getting wet (because down feathers lose their warmth if they get wet). So I basically never took it off for the rest of the trip. Haha.

Another cup of coffee at Amethyst Coffee, a sunny cafe down in Capitol Hill. This was my pick for my favorite cafe of the weekend for sitting down, relaxing, and maybe doing a little work or reading. It was just cozy!

 Nate just got the AirPods from Apple, and using wireless earbuds came in SO handy! We’d each take an ear and jam out to some music while walking around the city. I think I might get myself a pair. They’re obviously easy to share, but they’re also so handy to use by yourself because there are no wires. I’m not crazy about how expensive they are right now, but I’m hoping that the price might go down when the novelty has worn off. Have you bought them yet? Any thoughts?

And one more quick cup of joe at Black Eye Coffee. There are two locations, and the Capitol Hill is the prettier of the two!

We killed some time at the Tattered Cover bookstore before going next door to the Sie Film Center, Denver Film Society’s small cinema that focuses on artistic, independent, and both domestic and foreign film. We saw the film “Loving,” the 1916 film about Richard and Mildred Loving, a mixed-race couple living in 1958 Virginia, a state that banished them for living as a mixed race married coulee. It was moving and informative and sad…all the feels! And the film center was a great little place that I’ll definitely be visiting again.

Dinner was at Cart-Driver a little brick oven nook pizzeria (really – it’s teeny!) with a southern Italian flair. Sausage and Kale pizza with a glass of Prosecco was dinner!

Dinner was followed by two quick little brewery visits. The first was to Epic Brewing Company. The Big Bad Baptist is a chocolate-and-coffee-infused, whiskey-barrel-aged, imperial stout. Haha, what?? This thing blows my mind every time and it’s definitely worth a (little) taste. Of course there are plenty of other lighter options to try!

Epic was followed by a flight tasting at Ratio Beerworks, a microbrewery just around the corner from Epic. I was pretty “beer-ed out” by this point, but I did have a couple tastes!

Sunday

All bundled up and ready for another day of exploring! Sunday’s coffee was at Novo, one of the first specialty coffee shops in Denver. And yeah, I’m wearing the coat in literally every picture…haha! It was just so warm! I’m a little bit of a cold weather wimp..

My very favorite meal of the week was Sunday’s brunch at Linger, a restaurant that draws inspiration from street food. So while some of their items fall under they “typical American brunch” category, most of them have some sort of Asian influence.

I kicked off the morning with something just slightly healthier to give me an energy boost, them sampled a couple of menu items with Nate.

|Anti-Milkshake: Almond Cashew Milk, Chai, Cardamom, Carrot, Hemp and Cacao|

Left: |Dragon Bun, Tempura Avocado, Radish, Snap Peas, Nori Puffed Rice, Unagi Sauce & Wasabi Aioli|
Right: Mongolian BBQ Duck Bun, Scallions & Miso Pickled Cucumbers

|Adobo Pork Benedict: Poached Eggs, Braised Pork, Plantain Sopes, Chipotle Hollandaise, Refried Lentils & Black Beans|

The Museum of Contemporary Art was a nice way to spend an afternoon. It’s small, with just three stories of rotating exhibits. That’s kind of fun, because then it’s different every time you visit!

 <no pictures, but thoroughly enjoyed!>

And then three more little brewery visits on Sunday:

Denver Beer Co. was doing a cookie and beer pairing (yes! cookie and beer! be still my soul) with Deb’s Traveling Bakery. There wasn’t one ounce of me that even tried to resist the urge to get a flight of beer and cookies!

Next up was Hogshead Brewery which specializes in English-style craft beers. I really enjoy these cask beers that are served slightly warmer and flatter than the Co2 carbonated keg beers. It makes me want to go back to London to enjoy a pint in a proper British pub!

And the final stop before the airport was Crooked Stave, an artisanal brewery focused on farm-to-barrel brewing. It’s located in the The Source, and if sour or funky beers are your thing, be sure to make a visit to Crooked Stave! Even if you’re not a beer lover, The Source is a beautiful indoor market with multiple food and beverage venders sharing a space. We got a cheese board for dinner to enjoy with beer, but there are also several restaurants in the space, along with wine, coffee, spices, meat, and other vendors. I love this space!

Our flight was delayed with made for a late arrival on Sunday night back in Austin. I’m always happy to be back home in my city! I think that loving my home makes traveling even more fun; as fun as I have while I’m away, I’m always really happy to be back to my normal schedule in ATX.

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And that’s a little look into my weekend! Happy Monday, everyone!

Love,

Kelsey

Austin / Restaurants

A Peek Into Round Rock’s Salt Traders Costal Cooking by Chef Jack Gilmore

01.20.17

I’m a big fan of Jack Allen’s Kitchen. If you’ve ever tried their buffet brunch and stuffed your belly with some of the best southern, homestyle dishes in Austin, you don’t need me to remind you how delicious it is! So when I found out that owner and chef Jack Gilmore would be taking on a seafood concept with Salt Traders Coastal Cooking, I couldn’t wait to make the 20-mile drive north to Round Rock to try it out!

Chef Gilmore opened this new seafood restaurant close by to his Round Rock location of Jack Allen’s Kitchen….so close that you could walk from one to the other, in case you’re still hungry after your seafood grub! (You won’t be, by the way…). Salt Traders is open for lunch and dinner 7 days a week (wait, what? do they ever get a break??) with an awesome happy hour from 3:30-6:30 Mon-Fri with some preeeeetty nice drink specials.

Pepe’s Hibiscus Paloma: Pepe Z Blanco, hibiscus liqueur, grapefruit, lime, grapefruit soda, citrus salt |

There are so many great things for starters, but here’s a #protip: get the Chowda Fries! Think kind of like a Canadian poutine, except the gravy is similar to a creamy clam, leek, and bacon chowder! Be still my soul…

We were also brought a little taste of the smoked fish dip upon arriving. I could have easily eaten more than this one tasty morsel!!

| Smoked Fish Dip: smoked fish, cream cheese, chives, kettle chips |

The Shrimp and Lobster roll is a perfectly chilled, creamy seafood medley tucked into a warm, crusty, buttery roll. Crunchy potato chips fried in-house make the perfect side.

Another beautiful and classic dish: fish tacos. In true Gilmore chef fashion, everything at Salt Traders was deliciously prepared and pleasing to the eye as well as packed with flavor.

| Flat Top Fish Tacos: candied jalapeños, fennel slaw, cilantro, avocado mousse, street corn salad |

There are so many nice little touches at this restaurant. The servers are knowledgable and quick to answer questions, the decor is stunning (all nautical themed, but not in that obnoxious “we’re-pretending-to-be-at-the-beach-but-we’re-really-in-the-middle-of-texas sort of way….do you know what I’m talking about?) with all the bright whites and blues and breezy wall decor.

I didn’t get a chance to try the raw bar. But I’m looking forward to coming back in the near future!

pssst: Jack, if you ever open another location of Salt Traders, bring it to Austin!!

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Happy Friday, friends! I’m hopping on a plane for a little weekend getaway to one of my favorite cities: Denver! I’m looking forward to lots of rest, some craft beer, a little bit of coffee shop time (y’all know how much I love my coffee shops!), and a some pretty mountain views!

Stay in touch on on instagram over the weekend!

Love,

Kelsey

Austin / Health

Cooking Winter Veggies with Johnson’s Backyard Garden

01.18.17

I recently signed up for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture – basically a farm share) box from Johnson’s Backyard Garden. JBG is an organic garden that started at a little plot in east Austin in 2004, and has now grown to a much larger plot about 5 miles east of downtown. They have over an over 1,000-member community supported agriculture operation going on. You can find them every week at multiple farmers markets around Austin, like the SFC downtown farmers market every Saturday morning.

source

I picked the individual share, which is big enough for me to share with Nate and have plenty of veggies for cooking and juicing without feeling stressed about using them all up during the week. Shares start at $25, with a discount available if you pay for 10 or more weeks at a time. Every week, I drive to the pick-up location to get my box and bring the veggies back home to unload in the fridge. There are locations all over the city in Austin, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio, so it’s easy to find a pickup location for any day of the week!

So, let’s get to it, ok? Here are some of the things that Nate and I have been cooking with our CSA share.

Some of the winter veggies we’ve been getting in our box: sweet potatoes, turnips, carrots, radishes, cabbage, kale, dandelion greens, spinach, fennel, romaine, and broccoli. 

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One of my favorite weekend brunch meals is a homemade hash. This was made with sweet potatoes, apple, onion, delicious bacon from Salt and Time Butcher Shop and a few sprigs of thyme from my herb garden.

Beef and broccoli made in the wok! Now that I’ve been using a wok for a few years (I have this one), I can’t imagine trying to make a stir fry in a skillet. Everything would fly over the edges! This is such a simple little stir fry with garlic, oyster and soy sauce, thai chiles, beef sirloin, and the organic broccoli from Johnson’s Backyard Garden.

This pretty calzone was stuffed with spinach, broccoli, a mix of all the extra cheese left in the fridge (ha! anyone else do that too?), tomato sauce (not homemade – I bought it at Trader Joe’s), garlic, and wrapped up in a Trader Joe’s pizza crust.

This is a “quick – use up all the produce before it goes bad!” veggie roast. Haha. Carrots, fennel, and turnips, tossed in EVOO, salt, peppah, and rosemary!

One of the things I don’t love about committing to a CSA box is that I don’t have control over the veggies I’m getting each week. So, while it’s fun to have a wider variation of produce than I would normally buy (because I have never ever bought turnips, radishes, or fennel “just because” at the grocery store!), it’s a little annoying to get cabbage 4 weeks in a row. I mean, I CAN ONLY EAT SO MUCH CABBAGE.

Okonomiyaki is a savory Japanese pancake that contains a variety of ingredients, but this one was made from cabbage, flour, eggs, baking powder, salt, and sugar. The toppings are up to each individual, so the pancake can taste different every time! Nate and I tried okonomiyaki when we were at Brixton market in London, and so when we saw a recipe recently when we were flipping through cookbooks, we knew we wanted to make it.

The first batch was made with squid, and the second was made with pork. It took a little trial and error to get the thickness of the pancake right, but regardless of mistakes and tweaks, this thing is SO good! And it used up a lot of the cabbage, which was a good thing. Haha.

And finally, a quick and easy pork and veggie roast with carrots, beets, thyme, and rosemary. So cozy in the winter!

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Any good cabbage recipes for me? I’m not a fan of cabbage soup, and while I can eat kimchi and sauerkraut at times, I’m not going to eat gallons of it..haha. If you haven’t any good suggestions, let me know!

Have a great Wednesday!!

Kelsey