Sunday, June 20, 2010

Homemade Shaved Ice!

Taking advantage of potential business in the fight against the Texas summer heat, snow cone and Hawaiian ice trailers have been popping up everywhere.  I always crave Taiwanese shaved ice in the summer.  The texture of the ice and the variety of toppings are so much better than the artificially flavored crunchy snow cones.
I'm not particularly fond of the kidney beans topping (my mom's favorite), but I love taro, barley, red beans, green beans, stewed peanuts, and all sorts of fruits on my ice.

In the past, you can only buy a hand cranked ice shaver at Chinese supermarkets.  Those sucked because the plastic bowls that you had to fill with water have a tendency to split or warp due to water expansion in the freezer.  We never really had a chance to successfully make shaved ice at home.

Recently, we came upon an electric Taiwanese ice shaver at an Asian market.  I would not recommend buying it because it broke after our first try.  If anyone knows of a good ice shaving machine, please tell me where I can get one!

I topped my shaved ice with fresh mango, blueberries, and Vietnamese condense milk.  It tasted heavenly.

Taiwanese Shaved Ice-with mango, blueberries, and condensed milk

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Breakfast at Galaxy Cafe

Galaxy Cafe at Brodie

My brother's visit to Austin gave me an excuse to use up some of my Groupon and Living Social purchases.  One of them was to Galaxy Cafe.  The main draw for me is their French toast, which had been featured in various local food magazines.  I finally got to try it!

The food was delicious and filling but like Zoot the night before, the food lacked "wow" factor.  Even the French toast did not meet my expectations in appearance.  The photos of the French toast in magazine articles look amazing.  In person, it looked and tasted good, but it wasn't as spectacular as described by other people.  It is comforting that the breakfast tasted healthier than other breakfast options out there.  I really appreciated that Galaxy Cafe prepared the dishes without excessive grease.  I left feeling full but not disgusted like I often would at most breakfast joints. 

Iced Coffee; French Press Coffee

Deluxe French Toast with Strawberries and Bananas

The Big Breakfast-eggs, skillet potatoes, ciabatta, and bacon

The Uptown Wrap with Spinach Tortilla-eggs, Canadian bacon, Gouda, mushrooms, and avocado

Zoot: Dining Half Off Thanks to Booming Online Coupon Deals!

I jumped on the Groupon, Living Social, and Localitor bandwagon when spring semester started.  My grad school friends have been enjoying dining out using gift certificates.  However, I find the deals on complicated and in the end bad deals.  Almost all the gift certificate denominations require that you make a minimum purchase above the gift certificate amount that you purchase.  If you pay $10 for a $25 gift certificate, you'll be required to spend at least $35. 

I prefer Groupon, Living Social, and Localitor deals because there's hardly ever a set minimum purchase that is above the amount of the gift certificate.  I would still read the fine print before purchasing though.  One of the deals I purchased was $30 for a $55 5 course dinner at Zoot.  I bought 4 and invited the family out for a wonderful multi-course dinner in May. 

Zoot at Bee Caves

My brother came to Austin, and it's been a while since the family had a nice meal together.

Food Dilettante and Bro

I read one review on Yelp that complained about the price and portions of the dishes at Zoot and how he had to stuff 3-4 mustard seed rolls to finally feel somewhat full.  Well, it's expected that the portions of each dish would be small for multi-course meals, but I didn't know what to expect after reading that review, so I indulged on 2 mouthwatering, fluffy, mustardy rolls before the first course.  Yes, it's worth it to eat as many rolls as you want, but it was, nonetheless, a mistake for me because the portions of the dishes are just right.  I was stuffed to the max by the end of the meal. 

Mustard Seed Roll

We are all carnivores and thus ordered the chef's tasting menu instead of the vegetarian farmer's menu.
The amuse-bouche that evening was a refreshing ball of strawberry sorbet with cracked black pepper.

Amuse Bouche-Strawberry Sorbet with Cracked Black Pepper

The first dish was a piece of crispy pork belly with strips of fried pig's ear on sweet corn grits.  Like most preparations of pork belly, the pork was too salty.  I was glad that they countered the savory with the sweet corn grits, otherwise this dish would've been unbearably salty if paired with something savory.

Sweet Corn Grits with Crispy Pork, Cilantro and Lime Vinaigrette

Next came the tasty but uninventive salad (right down to the Caesar dressing).  The only thing that stood out were the sweet croutons. 

BCF Greens with Cauliflower, Zucchini, and Caesar Dressing

Our favorite dish of that evening was the snapper in five-spice broth.  The fish was so tender and light, quite different from the pork dish.  I guess it makes sense to start with a small, strongly seasoned dish for just a "taste" and ease into lighter, larger portioned dishes.

Sauteed Snapper with Snap Peas, Bok Choy, Fennel Salad, and 5 Spice Broth

The ribeye was also very well cooked.  However they went overboard with the mustard in the warm German potato salad.  It was too strong for a relatively large portion (or so it seemed to me because I could not eat more than a few bites).

Grilled Ribeye with Warm German Potato Salad, Mushroom Puree and Scallions

The meal ended with a very concentrated chocolate cake. 
Flourless Chocolate Cake with Candied Hazelnut, Orange Curd, and Raspberry Coulis

I admit that I probably would not have tried Zoot without the online deal.  I'm glad that I finally got to try it, but the food, although tasty, did not blow me away.  My brother's company outshone the food.  I guess that's an unfair and silly comparison since my brother's company will always come out above any food.   

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Eating Well on a 2-Day Canoe Trip on the Rio Grande in the Santa Elena Canyon

Far Flung Canoes

I always wanted to float down the Rio Grande.  It's my romanticized version of living out scenes from old Westerns.  The reality is, I've always been a bit of a princess throughout most of my childhood and adult life.  I've come to a point where I want to break out from that mold and push myself to greater limits.  Outdoorsy activities have always been an impossibility for me, what with the bathroom situations, sweat, lack of sanitation (the horror!).  People who know me well really don't think I can handle anything remotely close to "roughin' it."  My own uncles once scoffed at the idea of me ever visiting China.  Well, I sure showed them when I went to China last year on my own and handled a handful of "situations" quite well, thank you very much!  Well, this time, I felt like there's no better place to rough it in Texas than in Big Bend!  Being a complete amateur, we booked a 2 day canoeing tour with Far Flung Outdoor Center.  I orignally wanted a rafting tour instead (seemingly less work), but the water level was too low. 

Low Water at the Rio Bravo del Norte/Rio Grande

The 2 day river trip on the Santa Elena itinerary is 21 miles.  I remember the only time I ever canoed was on the Huron River in Ann Arbor, and I couldn't even go 1 mile!  I clumsily yet consistently crashed into trees and 21 miles on the Rio Grande?  Yeah, I'm just glad that Becky, our guide, didn't divulge the number of miles we would be canoeing until the second day of the trip!

Throughout our trip, the right side of the river was Mexico and to our left was the U.S.  We were surprised at the number of loose livestock along both sides of the border, and I asked Becky whether national parks allowed ranchers to let their animals roam within the park.  Apparently, no.  All the cows, horses, and mules we saw were all from ranches in Mexico.  The Mexican government leased some of the park lands to ranchers, and some of the Mexican ranchers allow their livestock to roam free.  Often times, their livestock would cross the border, and border patrol would round them up and take them miles inside West Texas (there aren't any customs offices in Big Bend).  Because it's too much trouble for the Mexican ranchers to cross the border to retrieve their livestock, they simply abandon those that cross the Rio and buy new animals!  We encountered a bunch of Mexican cows and horses that unwittingly crossed the artificial border.  Oops!  Oh well, they made the river trip super fun for me. 

Ruins on the Mexican Side of the Rio Grande

Cows that Crossed the Rio into the U.S.-Watch out for border patrol!

Horses in Mexico

A Not-So-Young Colt Drinking His Mom's Milk

One of the most memorable parts of the trip was during the second day when I canoed right next to a spotted gray horse that was neck-deep in the river.  I was nervous about losing control and bumping into him as we we were entering a fast-moving section of the river.  He panicked as I moved close to him and past him, and he trotted right behind me as I struggled to move away from him.  It was intense, but oh-sooooooo-cool!

Turtles Sunbathing

Two-toned Limestone Formation

Mom and Me Canoeing on the Rio Grande

If you choose a trip with Far Flung or Big Bend River Tours, you really don't have to worry about crappy food.  Far Flung made sure that we were well fed.  The only thing was that I felt so bad for Becky.  She paddled non-stop, just like us, but at least we could rest for lunch while she had to unload all the food and equipment off of the canoes and chop tomatoes, onions, and cheese and put out the picnic spread.  Everything was delicious.  Of course, it may be the hunger talkin', but I'm pretty sure that the homemade salsa was the best I've ever tasted!

Stopping for Lunch

Becky Prepping Our Lunch

Chips and Homemade Salsa

Turkey and Ham; Apples and Oranges

A Butterfly that Wanted to Share Fickle Foodie's Lunch

I was in a bad mood after lunch because my body was telling me that it wants a nap, and I was unable to regain any energy for the latter half of the day.

Cute Colt

If it weren't for the adorable animals along the river, I think I would've been in a sulkier mood.  I think I didn't prepare myself mentally about how difficult this trip would be.  I only focused on the romanticized image of canoeing along the Rio Grande.  The reality is that it takes hard work and I'm not fit enough to canoe and camp with ease.  In hindsight, I absolutely loved this trip.  But 4 hours after we started canoeing, I wanted to curl up and cry.

After a very long day of canoeing, we finally stopped to set up camp right after passing the rock formation below.

Camp Site

The ground was stupendously sludgey.  When Becky got out of the canoe, she sank knee deep into the sludge.  When I got out, I sank, attempted to walk, and fell back on my bum.  There was no hope to clean the mud off my body because there's no running water and access to the river required walking knee-deep in the sludge again.  Germaphone Food Dilettante had to eat and sleep drenched in sludge that probably was a mixture of mud, water, and a variety of animals' poop and urine. 

Mud Bath

While Fickle Foodie and I set up our tents, Becky was cooking up a storm in her makeshift kitchen.  Unfortunately, Mother Nature was cooking up a wind storm herself, and soon the appetizer of cheese and crackers were covered in dust, the fire cooking our filet mignon was being blown out, and finally, the metals holding up the tent that I set up for mom and me completely broke and our tent became uninhabitable.  Fickle Foodie's tent was the only one that survived the violent winds, so mom and I moved in with Fickle Foodie.

Becky Shielding the Fire for the Filet Mignon

White Wine, Cheese and Crackers, and Cream Cheese with Balsamic Vinegar

The Tent that Survived the Wind Storm

I was amazed at how well Becky was able to feed us in light of the rough environment.  We dined on filet mignon, green beans almondine, mashed potatoes, and even an upside down pineapple cake, all made in that makeshift kitchen!  Mom and I felt that it's cruel of the company to make their guides prep and cook all this.  I mean, customers should be ready to eat crappy food on a camping trip.  We shouldn't expect the guides to work non-stop AND cook an excessive meal.  We felt really bad and really appreciated Becky's hard work.

I was hoping that I could sleep soundly, but seeing how it was my first experience sleeping in a tent, and on top of that, sleeping with 3 people in a 2-person tent, and hearing an animal grunt and snort right next to the tent, I managed 3 hours of shut-eye.  We woke up to the sounds of Becky making breakfast.  When I got out of the tent, I saw a bunch of fresh animal poop in our vicinity.  I wasn't hearing things!  We did have visitors throughout the night!

We ate delicious breakfast tacos, yogurt and pineapples, and coffee.  I felt much better than the previous evening.  There was another reason to get pumped.  We would enter the Santa Elena Canyon that day!

We had to canoe past the Sentinel before entering the canyon.

The Sentinel

Santa Elena Canyon

Becky, Mom, and Me in the Santa Elena Canyon

Everything went pretty smoothly in the first half of our day.  We landed in Mexico for a quick lunch of chicken salad wraps.  I followed javelina tracks into the bushes to go do my thing, which may not have been a smart thing, but it's hard to find cover in the canyon!

Picnic in Mexico inside the Santa Elena Canyon; Javelina Tracks

Chicken Salad

Spinach Dip, Fruits, and Condiments

The latter half of the day made me want to curl up and cry again.  This time it wasn't because I was tired.  Our canoes got caught on some rocks in a very shallow rapids section of the river in the canyon.  My canoe flipped over in the rapids, and we couldn't flip it back up.  Two of our bags flowed out of the canoe, down the river, and out of our sight!  We had our IDs and cameras in there!  We somehow got the canoe right side up again and later caught up to both bags.  Hooray!

Right after exiting the canyon, an alligator fish flopped onto my feet in the canoe.  I screamed and jumped into Becky's canoe while Ficke Foodie chuckled at my "girliness."  I got my revenge minutes after my fish incident when a smaller alligator fish flopped into Fickle Foodie's canoe, and she screeched with equal girliness! 

Becky Rescuing Us from Rogue Alligator Fish

The fish flopping marked the last stretch of our trip on the Rio Grande.  I was relieved and oh, so happy that I would be back on Ten Bits Ranch that evening! 

View of the Mule Ears on through Big Bend and back to Terlingua

This post is dedicated to Fickle Foodie and Becky, without whom I would have perished with all dignity lost along the Rio Grande.