Austin Urban Gardens

Raised Bed Gardening and Eating Well in Austin, Texas

Pink Wine and Tapenade Dinner, with Paula Disbrowe and David Norman, Part Deux April 24, 2014

Last Fall, for the second year in a row, I was fortunate enough to be the high bidder on a private dinner for eight, offered by Paula Disbrowe and David Norman, as an auction item for Les Dames D’Escoffier’s Food Fight.  The  money raised by the online auction goes towards assisting women get into culinary careers.

Last year’s dinner was epic, so I was very excited to do it again this year.  The theme, again was Pink Wine and Tapenade, and the food represents some of the couple’s favorite foods from their time in France.  The variety of pink wines was provided  by Glazer’s Distributing.

David is the head baker at Easy Tiger and the other restaurants in the ELM Restaurant Group which include Arro and 24 Diner with an Italian concept in the works.  His breads are beautiful and delicious.



David Norman Breads

The first course of passed appetizers included Beet Puree on Toast with Macadamia Nuts and Olive Tapenade.  Delicious.  With this course we sipped on Lucien Albrecht Cremant Sparkling Rose.


A second appetizer was a Caramelized Onion, Anchovy, Olive Tart.  Beautiful and delicious.



The first seated course was a lovely Garlic, Gish Soup, with Aioli on Crostini.  The soup was delicate and light and the aioli was creamy and rich and mostly just perfect.




The next course was Daube of Beef, with Roasted Carrots.  It was served with Braised Fennel in a Red Pepper sauce, as well as Pan au Levain (not pictured)  For this course moved on to Domaine Ott.



For a lighter next course, we had salads of Personal Romaine Lettuces, Frisee in a delicious Mustard Viniagrette.



For a final course, we have an amazing array of cheeses from Antonelli’s Cheese Shop, David Norman’s delicious breads, and Confituras jam.  The combination of the Mt. Tam cheese on David’s Walnut Bread was an outstanding pairing.  By this point, several wines were on the table, and I think we were supposed to be drinking Miraval Cotes de Provence.  We eventually got to it and also opened some Whispering Angel as well.


There was also a birthday cake in the shape of a whale made by my friend Valerie for our friend Paul’s birthday, but I did not get a picture of that.  It was a night of amazing food and fun, and I hope to be able to be the high bidder on this dinner again next year.

Last year I was excited to have my copy of Paula’s first cookbook, Cowgirl Cuisine autographed at this dinner.

This year, I was equally excited to have her sign my copy of her newest book (with Donald Link) Down South.  Both books are amazing!

To read about last year’s dinner go here:


Coterie Market Delivers the Best of Austin January 16, 2013

You know when you hear of something so cool, you want to kick yourself for not thinking of it?  That’s how I felt when I heard the first whisperings about Coterie Market months ago.  Shortly thereafter, I saw a picture of their first major order of local artisan gift baskets ordered by a local hotel as a perk for their guests on a special weekend.  The feeling then turned to pride in Austin and the local artisans we are so fortunate to have here, and joy that Chelsea Staires had the idea for this business that delivered the best of Austin, all together in one basket.

Coterie Market has officially launched, and the list of artisans is long, and diverse and most certainly, all local and handmade.  The categories available range from pantry items, such as Confituras‘ preserves and Citrus Salts, Dai Due pickles and mustards, Austin Honey Company, Bootleg Coffee, Sip Drinking Chocolate, to local cheeses and dairy from Dos Lunas Cheese and Mill-King Creamery, to Bola Frozen Pizza.  Baked to order items are available from Amity Bakery, and the gluten-free are not forgotten with a range of baking mixes from Bona Dea.  She also carries the most fabulous chocolate bars from The Chocolate Makers Studio as well as Cocoa Puro Kakawa Chocolate Covered Cocoa Beans.    The list of food items available is long, and gets updated regularly.

In addition to food and beverage items, there are several handmade jewelry makers, handmade clothing items, such as Criquet Shirts and Leah Duncan  Scarves.  There are totes, handbags and wallets, from Noah Marion and Canoe.  For the kitchen she offers the line of Fisk and Fern tea towels and aprons.  There are baby clothes, kids clothes and gifts for the new mom.  For the wannabe better homemaker you can order The Hip Girls Guide to Homemaking, by local author Kate Payne.

It would take forever to list all the items available on Coterie’s website, so I’ll just tell you what I ordered.  I have a slight addiction to cleaning products, Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day, to be exact, because I like the way they smell.  I vowed to try to make my own this year, or try to find local, all natural products.  Coterie offers cleaning products from The Purple Fig – All Natural Home Cleaning.  I ordered Eucalyptus and Lemon All Purpose Cleaner, Oregano and Lavender Counter Spray, Oregano and Mint Counter Spray, and they are all great.  Now I can continue my obsessive spritzing, keep my house clean and feel good about keeping those dollars in Austin.  And these products smell fresh rather than perfumy, because they are all natural.


I also ordered some Organic Goat Milk Soaps made by Old Factory Soap Company, for a gift.  They smell amazing and are gorgeous.


I ordered some Facial Toner and Face Scrub from The Good Hippie.  I have yet to try these, but am pleased to have a local and natural product to use.


Finally, I ordered some Mexican Wedding Cookies from Amity Baking, because I felt it was necessary for a more complete blog post.  Ha!  Don’t believe that.  Best cookies ever.


These are a bake to order item.  I placed my order online Sunday night, and as stated on the website, my order was delivered to my front porch on Tuesday, packaged neatly in a box, as promised.


After 3 years of honing my “eat locally” lifestyle, Coterie Market pushes that to the next level.  It feels good to be able to support local Austin artisans and to keep my money here.   It is also very cool to have a place to shop online, where any combination of items can be assembled into one box, and delivered to the gift recipient, for no extra charge.  You can choose from gift assortments that are already assembled as gifts, or mix and match and create your own.  It’s genius, and I wish I would have thought of it.  But, I didn’t and I’m happy that Chelsea did.




Canvolution! A Canning Party August 15, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — austinurbangardens @ 8:33 am
Tags: , , ,

On Saturday, I attended a Canvolution party, hosted by Stephanie of Confituras and Kate of Hip Girls Guide to Homemaking.  This Canvolution party was part of a nationwide effort to get people canning.   As you know, if you read this blog with any regularity, I am currently in the midst of a full blown addiction to canning, so when I received the invitation, my response was an immediate heck yes!  There were a total of eight gals in attendance, which was the perfect number of folks to get the work done without being overly crowded in the kitchen and breakfast work areas.

First on the agenda – peach preserves.  We put the first of the jars into the pot for sterilizing, and commenced peeling the peaches.

Peeling peaches

At the same time, we brought the chopped sage to a boil in white wine, for the Sage, Wine Mustard recipe.

Sage in white wine

Once drained, we put the mustard seeds into the wine to steep for two hours and set it aside.  The peeled and chopped peaches were combined with sugar, then on the stove to begin reducing.

Peach Preserves cooking down

Once to this stage, we turned to the okra for the spicy pickled okra recipe.

Johnson's Backyard Garden Okra

Okra tends to float to the top of the jar, once the pickling liquid is poured in, leaving a gap at the bottom of the jar.  While not problematic, it is not really the most aesthetically pleasing situation.  So, Kate and Stephanie suggested we pierce each okra with a knife, to see if this would prevent the floating problem.   Everyone commenced making three to four little slices in each piece of okra.


We then peeled garlic, and sliced serrano peppers, which would be included with the okra.  Once the first of the jars were sterilized, we started stuffing them tightly with the okra.

Jars of okra

Once Stephanie determined the peach preserves had reached their desired consistency, we took turns ladling them into jars, and then making sure to get any air pockets out.

Filling the jars with peach preserves

There was a constant rotation of jars in the boiling water, first to sterilize, then to process.  I think the first out were the jars of okra, then the peach preserves.  There was actually a break in the constant activity, when we were between filling and processing jars, so we had a snack and some tea until time to get busy again.

Since the mustard took the longest, it was the last to be put into jars and processed.

Making mustard

At the end of the afternoon, we each got to take a jar of each of the three things we had made.

Net result

Spicy Pickled Okra

This was a really fun way to spend the afternoon, with friends, (some new to me) working and cooking together, learning from those more experienced, and with some delicious loot to take away at the end.  We split the cost of the ingredients, which came to $14.00 each. 

With regard to the okra poking experiment, I think it may have helped a little.


Canning 101 with Kate Payne (@Hip Girls) and Stephanie McClenny (@Confituras) August 2, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — austinurbangardens @ 4:21 pm
Tags: , , ,

I’ve been trying to expand my cooking horizons, and have become addicted to canning.  I had pickled cucumbers and peppers, but until I took the Dai Due tomato class last month, I was too afraid of botulism to venture beyond pickling.  I have been canning up a storm, vegetables mostly, so the natural progression was to enter the realm of sweetness.  I attacked my peach jam adventures without much knowledge, and when Stephanie told me she was teaching a class with Kate, I signed up immediately.

Stephanie is the owner and master of Confituras, the small batch jam making company that took Austin by storm just last year.  Her fig jam won the Good Food Award in its category in San Francisco last year.  Find Confituras at the SFC Farmer’s Market downtown and at the Barton Creek Farmer’s Market, Antonelli’s Cheese Shop, La Boite, Monument Market, Breed and Co., and Con O’lio.

Kate is the author of The Hip Girls Guide to Homemaking and is currently back and forth touring with her newly released book.  The book is filled with hundred of hip tricks to doing just about everything around the house, on a budget, and is very creative.

The Hip Girls Guide to Homemaking

We were to be canning Fig Jam.  The class began with some much needed information about safety, equipment, and ways to make the canning experience less of a chore.  Kate suggested macerating the figs overnight which she did for the class.

Macerating Figs

Allowing them to sit in sugar draws out their moisture and gives the sugar more time to dissolve.  We sterilized the glass jars, and I learned that I’ve been making a mistake by boiling the lids with the jars.  We tossed the figs and liquid into a pan, and watched while it reduced and changed texture.  It’s all about the bubbles.

Fig Jam Cooking

Once it was the right consistency, (having been whirred with the immersion blender) we carefully took turns filling the jars, making sure to clean the rims before topping with the lid.  Next step, water bath for 10 minutes.  After 10 minutes of processing, the jam was done.  We saved at least an hour of time by having the figs stemmed and chopped in advance.

The class was very informative, and I learned that some of the inexpensive equipment I had decided not to purchase, really makes the process easier and cleaner.  There were snacks, coffee and water, and the kitchen was cool and comfortable for this hands on experience.  I highly recommend taking this class if you are hesitant to begin making sweet preserves.  We were given a jar of jam to take home.

Knowing that, once armed with new information, I would want to make my own jam, I had purchased Adriatic Figs from the Farmer’s Market the day before.  I stopped and bought a magnet, funnel and scale on my way home from class, and once home, commenced chopping and de-stemming my figs.  Once done, I put them in a big bowl with sugar, covered it and stuck them in the fridge.  The recipe calls for 8 hours at room temperature, but mine would be in this bowl for closer to 24 hours, and I worried about them sitting at room temperature that long.  I took them out of the fridge 4 hours before I would make the jam the following day.  The sugar was mostly dissolved and it appeared that they had given up an appropriate amount of their juice.

My figs macerating

Everything went precisely as in the class, and I followed the recipe, with one addition – a splash of Cognac, probably 1/4 cup.  The jam thickened quickly and I got it into the 1/2 pint jars and into a water bath.   I think they came out quite nicely.

My Fig Jam

It is a bit sad that the figs  don’t hold all of that gorgeous color-so beautiful, but such is the way with cooking.  In any event, the jam is delicious.

If you’d like more information about classes, here is some information.

Stephanie – stephanie @

Kate – kate @



Update Local Business Brings it Home – Confituras January 15, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — austinurbangardens @ 8:48 am
Tags: ,

Several months ago, I told you about a wonderful new local business, Confituras, preparing preserves, jams, jellies and conserves from locally grown, in season produce.

In just4 or 5 short months Stephanie, the brainchild of Confituras has just won the The Good Food Awards, presented in California, in her category with her fig preserves.  The Good Food Awards celebrates local and sustainably made food.  Confituras has been on fire since she rolled  out the first preserves at the Barton Creek Farmer’s Market, then the Sustainable Food Center Farmer’s Markets downtown and at the Triangle.  Her products are available at La Boite, both locations of Breed and Company, C’on Olio at the Arboretum and Antonelli’s Cheese. They are used on the menu at the W Hotel as well.

She isn’t even back in town yet from receiving this prestigious reward, but snatch up her products as soon as you can find them.  You’ll be glad you did.



Local gal brings home the big prize and I couldn’t be more proud!



I Heart Antonelli’s Cheese Shop January 5, 2011

This is no surprise to anyone who reads this blog.  But here’s further evidence why the Antonelli’s Cheese Shop rocks my socks off.  I’ve spent many hours in the hospital with my dad following surgery the last week. Prior to his injury, I had agreed to host the monthly Austin Food Journal a/k/a Bola Pizza night at my house.  It was time to give AFJ headquarters a break, and besides, the wine glasses we trade back and forth were already at my house.  So, I didn’t cancel.  However, things being as they are, I didn’t have time to do much planning.  I emailed Kendall the night before the party and asked if it was enough notice to do a cheese tray, and gave her my budget.  She said “no problem”.  When I showed up earlier than I was supposed to yesterday to pick it up there were two and they were stunningly gorgeous.


Gorgeous cheese plate

Another beautiful plate

Each plate came with a descriptive page, with cute stickers detailing whether the cheeses were cow, goat, sheep, or buffalo.  They thoughtfully included some of my very favorite cheeses, which are not local, so I had been deprived during my No Grocery Store Year.  (I had made the decision to also just eat local cheese for that year.)


One plate included an amazing Quadrello di Bufala, a washed rind Water Buffalo Milk cheese from Italy, along with my favorite Carr Valley Menage, which is cow, goat and sheep milk cheese from Wisconsin as well as Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Uplands Cheese Company in Wisconsin.  The other plate included the last of the Hopelessly Blue from Pure Luck Dairy which is local.  The goats stop producing milk until around March or April, so this was a wonderful addition.  My all time favorite Clothbound Cheddar was also on this plate with more delicious cheeses, Proscuitto and Crespone.


Cheat Sheet

One plate was accompanied by Confituras Apple Preserves, the other with Kocurek Mustard.  The Plates came with 2 loaves of Barrie Cullinan’s fabulous bread.  The plates were devoured in no time, and everyone was happy.


So, the story doesn’t end here.  Toward the end of the evening, John and Kendall announced that they had something for me in the car.  They had meant to help me celebrate the end of my No Grocery Store Year on New Year’s, but my dad was in the hospital.  So they brought in this:


Huge Box of Glorious Cheese!

Yes they did.  I haven’t even begun to dig in.  I’m thinking of a cheese of the day blog series to celebrate this amazing gift.  For now, I just keep looking at it in awe and with an amazing amount of gratitude.



No Grocery Store Challenge, Year in Review January 1, 2011

It all started with Food, Inc., a movie I had avoided for a long time, in fear of what I would see, and a hasty Twitter proclamation.  Now, I have come to the end of the self imposed No Grocery Store for a Year Challenge, and I’ve learned a lot.

I had been shopping at farmer’s markets for years, starting at those probably not organic farm stands along the side of the road in Luling or Lockhart – somewhere between my trips to Corpus to see my parents, years ago.  I found them quaint, and loved the idea of supporting local farmers.  And, I had been growing food for years as well, although on a much smaller scale.  I had already really cut back on fast food, but still was a frequent purchaser of ready made salads, dinners, and the International Food Bar at Whole Foods.  I cooked a lot, but if I could get something ready made and heat it up, I was all over it.  I had given up sodas a year ago, but was a big consumer of bottled water.

So, when I decided a year ago, that I wanted to see if I could live season to season, without the convenience of a year round variety of food, shipped in from afar and more importantly,  commercially raised, feed-lot food animals, I really had little idea what I might miss.  I did no preparation for this challenge, I did not stock up on grocery store food.  I cleared out all of the meat from my freezer and took it to my parents’ house, and started from scratch.  I didn’t clear out the fridge entirely, I just vowed not to eat the condiments I couldn’t bear to throw away.  I vowed to try to be a better cook, and a better gardener.

The things I knew I would be without, were avocados, sugar, butter, flour, cornmeal, beans, tortillas, popcorn, cooking oil, parmesan cheese and spices.  I was mostly worried about the popcorn, beans, tortillas  and avocados, and less concerned about the baking.  One thing I was not prepared for, was no milk or cream for my coffee.  That was soon rectified by a trip to Boggy Creek Farm, where I found Wateroak Farms goat milk.  I had never had goat milk before, and found it tasted no different than cow’s milk.  It does not taste like chevre.

So for the first couple months, I ate lots of Kocurek Charcuterie, Richardson Farms beef, and the vegetables that were in season, mostly lettuce from my garden.  And in the beginning, I hoarded food, feeling like the days between the two Farmer’s Markets I went to, were long.  Saturday to Wednesday, seemed like such a long time to go without shopping, and I was afraid either that I would run out, or just not want what I had.  I still hoard farmer’s market goodies, because my favorite local artisans might not make something I want again.

In an effort to have seasonal foods year round, I preserved fruits that were in season by freezing them, so I had tangerine juice when I wanted it, strawberries when I wanted them and peaches.  I processed lots of tomatoes and made sauces and purees for freezing.

Fresh tomato sauce

I pickled lemon cucumbers from my garden.

Pickled Lemon Cucumbers

I preserved lemons from my tree.

Meyer Lemons

Preserved Lemons

Early in the year, Richardson Farms started selling Whole Wheat Flour.  With some gifted yeast, I made some lovely looking 100% Whole Wheat Bread.

Whole Wheat Bread

It made an interesting BLT when it came out of the oven, but once it cooled off, it took on more of a brick like density.  And it weighed a lot.

Around September, the Richardsons started milling their own corn and selling the meal.  I went home from the Saturday market and immediately made cornbread.


I learned quickly that this was not much like the cornmeal you get in the store.  The batter was so much dryer, I had to adapt the recipe as I went, by adding lots more milk.  It was pretty good, but still denser than it should have been.

I made lots of stock.  Actually, I became a bit of a stockaholic.

Lots of stock

I made cheese and butter.

Homemade Mozzarella

Homemade Butter

And I made rather massive quantities of garden basil pesto, which was made possible by the Antonelli’s Cheese Shop, which came onto the scene in February, and found some local parmesan from Brazos Valley Cheese Company.

Garden Basil Pesto

John and Kendall fall into two important categories of my year long challenge.  1) All the  new food that came on the scene in 2010 and 2) Help I had from friends.

Catagory No. 1) Looking back on the food that was available from Farmer’s Markets early in the year, and the emergence of so much new locally made and sourced food now, the change is amazing.  Kocurek Family Artisinal Charcuterie was still new to the farmer’s market scene, having launch in October of 2009.  Since then, Antonelli’s Cheese Shop opened, and introduced me to Brazos Valley Cheese, Sand Creek Farm Cheese, Veldhuizen Cheese, Blue Heron Farms Cajeta and they also provided a variety of Pure Luck Farms cheeses which I couldn’t get other than from the dairy directly or a grocery store.

Also new to the food scene, Salt and Time, which launched a line of cured meats, and pickled vegetables, and has now evolved into cooking hot food at HOPE Farmer’s Market.    Another new revelation this year, Barrie Cullinan, whose bread is available at Antonelli’s Cheese Shop as well as Boggy Creek Farm.  Barrie was just named one of the top 10 bakers in the country by Bon Appetite Magazine.

At some point, Dai Due Butcher Shop expanded into selling hot food at the SFC Farmer’s Market downtown, a privilege which was then taken away by the City/County powers that be, then thankfully returned.

Confituras, the local preserve company that is taking Austin by storm, launched just 4 months ago.  Stephanie is going like gangbusters, making some of the tastiest and local preserves I’ve ever had.

And last but certainly not least,  Bola Pizza has since launched at the SFC Farmer’s Market downtown, bringing the amazing wood fired pizza I’ve been privileged to get to have throughout the year, to the masses.

Con Olio, a newish store launched in the Arborteum just over a year ago, and Savory Spice Shop on Sixth Street is another new local food store which made my challenge easier.

The number of vendors at the SFC Farmer’s Market downtown has easily doubled throughout the year, and the variety of food has expanded exponentially.  More farmer’s markets have popped up, some came and went.  The volume of food has increased as well, which speaks to the demand for locally grown food.

Category No. 2)  Help from Friends.  The Antonelli’s opened their shop in February, having met me in October at a launch party for the Kocureks.  I met them again at Pure Luck Farm for a Farm Tour, and we became friends.  They knew of my no local parmesan dilemma, and upon opening day, pronounced that they had procured some local parmesan for me.  I was amazed that they would think of me, in the midst of their changing careers and opening the cheese shop.  Likewise, my friend Kristi shared an avocado with me, from her local CSA Box, and brought black and pinto beans, and popcorn back from her travels and visits to other farmer’s markets.  Kristi also was the provider of the yeast I used this year.  Christian was the source for Topo Chico, and set-ups for some of the parties I had this year, and I believe he fronted me an avocado as well.   My friend Adam, took it upon himself to find me local flour, and enlisted his friend Vance Ely, to help.  They found and procured some flour from Waco, which lightened up my baking quite a bit.  (Vance is a chef for Central Market Cooking School, an irony that is not lost on me.)  Several readers of this blog offered advice on baking with 100% whole wheat flour, even testing recipes for me.  So, I have had lots of help along the way throughout the last year.

As far as becoming a better gardener, I think I grew a wider variety of foods than ever before, and also became a better garden planner, thus making my garden more productive.    I grew lemon cucumbers, royal burgundy beans, my first and second ever watermelon.

First Watermelon!

I had potato grow bag failures, but later had tater success in the garden.


And, to my excitement, I grew corn!


I became a better gardener, and a better composter as well.

An unintended consequence of this challenge was the amazing drop in the amount of trash I generated.  My food did not come in packages, no boxes, no cartons, just returnable egg crates and shrink wrap.  I cut the amount of trash I generated to at least one fifth, perhaps lots more.

It was a fun year.  I could recap all the shennagins I got into, but then we’d be here on this one post forever, and I’m sure you have other things to do but read.  To recap, we had an all local paella party, a whole pig roast, a blogger potluck baby shower, a Tamalada, and I went to Farm Camp.  The entire month of September was declared “Birthday Month” and much fun ensued.

Throughout this year, I became a better cook, a better gardener, and a better citizen of the Earth, I think.  I made a lot of really good friends, ate some amazing local food, and had a great year all around.  And it’s all on here somewhere.  As it will continue to be.  I’m going nowhere, and have no plans to return to my grocery store  shopping ways.  I have a greater connection to my food now, and the folks that grow it, raise it, and care for it, and I think that is amazing.

The most wonderful thing that happened this year, is that I got to see several good friends, launch into their dream jobs, and I’ve enjoyed seeing them succeed more than I can say.

Happy New Year!