Thanksgiving in Hill Country

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Despite the fact that my phone fell from a tall bed Wednesday night finally finishing it off along with most of my recent photos, as well as the fact that half of my visiting family (and I) were varying degrees of sick all throughout the weekend, Thanksgiving 2016 went by smoothly. The perfect weather lured us outside each day to hike, stargaze, and walk beneath trees of twinkling Christmas light-lit oaks.

By popular demand: the link to the recipe for the “Rosemary Corn Cake with a Honey and Brown Butter Buttercream” is further down, along with some of my own notes.

About a five-minute walk from my apartment on South Flores in San Antonio is the 1851 Guenther House. Known for brunch and being home to the Pioneer Brand baking mixes, I usually see a lot of people coming and going around noon when I walk by. Yet before this weekend, I had not visited myself.

Maybe it was the menu or maybe the clientele, but we ended up dubbing it “fancy Cracker Barrel” complete with outdoor heaters and afghans for the mild autumn chill. Unfortunately my pictures of the grounds along the river and replica gingerbread house in the museum were lost when my phone bit the dust later that evening.

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Keeping with the theme of outdoor fancy heated seating, we visited Hotel Emma at the Pearl while on a mission to get the sea salt dark chocolate ice cream from Lick that my sister had fallen in love with during her stay in the summer  (though it cost as much as the five paletas we bought at El Paraiso for lunch). We also took time to visit the Japanese grocery store, the Japanese tea gardens, Southwest School of Art (to keep with theme of places established in 1851), and the Denman Estate Park pictured above.

Did I point out all the aforementioned activities went down on same day? (along with seeing the lights of “Light the Way” at University of the Incarnate Word and dining for supper at wood-fired all local Il Forno just past Southtown).

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As such, arriving at the peaceful 1851 Opa’s Haus in Kingsbury, Texas was the perfect foil to a full day on the town.

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“The house was originally built by German immigrants who used ‘fachwerk’ (half timber) construction with which they were familiar in Germany. Some of these original walls have been exposed to show the structural beams held together with hand-whittled pegs instead of nails. Between the beams you can also see the handmade bricks.”

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We heard a range of creatures during our stay – the cows that live in the field beyond this bathroom window, an owl, yipping foxes and definitely probably a few ghosts.

We did find that most (all but one) of the windows did not have full curtain coverings, maybe the German way?

Less than twenty minutes to Landa Park in New Braunfels, it was easy to stop by the Comal Springs, once home to the Natives who called it “Conaqueyadesta, meaning “where the river has its source”, for a little hike post Thursday’s dinner/brunch.

Not pictured is the very old Founder’s Oak, a tree with its on webpage.

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Because we had our turkey dinner while watching “Christmas Vacation” at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin Thursday evening, even featuring Aunt Janet-style green bean casserole and pecan pie – Thursday morning was host to a lunch/brunch centered around ham and hashbrown casserole.

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You can find the recipe for dessert at The Bees’ Knees. The batter makes a three layers rather the two pictured, and personally would recommend halving that recipe. Furthermore, I found the buttercream to be a bit grittier than I prefer, but I did mix it by hand. Browning the butter is wonderful idea however, and brown butter could incorporated into any buttercream recipe I believe.

An #optoutside hike on Enchanted Rock and a drive through the Christmas-ready town of Fredericksburg to the soundtrack of live polka music in the square capped off our Friday in Hill Country. There were plenty of leftovers to be had at Opa’s Haus for the meals that day.

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Needless to say, I slept 15 hours straight Saturday night – almost as long as drive for my family returning to Arkansas.

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Southtown Oktoberfest

Oktoberfest is split between two weekends at Beethoven Maenerchor. For the latter of the two, the crowd was not lacking. A ten minute walk from our apartment, the Halle and Garten boasts the German influenced architecture typical of King William Historic District but with a different vibe than many of its contemporary-themed Southtown neighbors.

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Upon seeing that we were younger than the vast majority of the crowd, the older German man selling us tickets (while simultaneously lamenting the weakness of American beer) suggested maybe we shouldn’t buy too many until deciding whether or not the polka music would be to our liking. Little did he know I could have started singing along with band playing that was playing Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as he spoke (assuming that particular melody doesn’t have any other lyrics).

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Coming from the land of dry counties, it’s still somewhat of a culture shock to see the family-friendly icehouse culture of Central Texas. It’s not like Texas has even remotely a monopoly on this in either the US or worldwide, but there really is nothing like it in Arkansas. From nuns, to tat and pierced teens, to dirndl sporting omas, and Filipino software developers as well as little kids that were very fascinated by the locks on the porta-potties until the dads shut it down – a little bit of everyone was brought together for bratwurst and beer and Josh’s newfound love: leberkäse on rye with caramelized onions.

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The man preparing the sandwich chuckled when we ordered. Little did he know that leberkäse’s blend of corned beef and bacon in a sliced SPAM-like consistency is a Filipino’s dream come true.

As the name suggests, Beethoven Maennerchor was formed as a men’s choir or chorus in 1867. While Oktoberfest is one of their larger events, it’s only a part of the society’s activities.

Nearly 150 years later, many things remain the same. The Maennerchor meets at 8 o’clock to rehearse its songbook full of rotating music for any one of the dozens of performances throughout the year. Today, practice is held on Tuesday evenings. However, the same sentiment for friendship, music, and heritage that radiate from the club are the same as they were then. The main building features a large performance space, which is used for concerts as well as other activities. Adjacent to the house is the Garten, which is the site of our Gartenfests, first Fridays, Oktoberfest and Fiesta festivities. A neighboring building, the Kuest Haus, is currently being renovated for use as a museum.

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In the spirit of the choral tradition, there was an unexpected singing of the US national anthem mid-festivity. The beer, “hotdogs” and live version of the Star Spangled Banner created a very ballpark feel. I half expected (and wanted) someone to shout “play ball!” after the song ended, but I was left disappointed. Continue reading

¡Holy Mole Fries!

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Mole fries y’all.

Last week while walking to school I noticed that chairs and tables had been added to the patio of a little blue house that sits facing South Alamo Street. I wasn’t caught completely off guard, in fact I’ve been anticipating Casa Azul de Andrea for a while. I first heard of the Mexican cafe through an article detailing how the city approved zoning for the restaurant on accident – not enough parking spaces for code.

Fortunately since it was the city’s mistake, the restaurant was still allowed to open sans parking. And since we live right outside the King William Cultural Arts District boundary where Casa Azul is located, we don’t need it anyway- we walked. (BCycle and bus stops are nearby as well).

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Some restaurants take a little while to hit their stride. I won’t call out names, but one of my favorite San Antonio spots took a few months to really fine tune their eats. Casa Azul on the other hand opened exactly a week ago from today, and have already done everything right. That includes the wonderful cantaloupe agua fresca that we had both as an appetizer and then again as a dessert.

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Historic King William Neighborhood.

The naming of Casa Azul is obvious – it’s a blue house, literally a casa azul. But more than that, La Casa Azul is the home of Mexican artist and activist Frida Kahlo. Now preserved as a museum, La Casa Azul saw the birth of Frida, the life of her family and lovers, and is still celebrated for its architecture and garden.

The closest I’ve gotten to the house was at the New York Botanical Garden during the summer of 2015. The exhibit recreated the beautiful gardens of Casa Azul with explanations on how the colorful setting influenced Kahlo’s work.

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Frida spent much of her life bound to her bed – now commemorated on this table signage.

San Antonio’s Casa Azul de Andrea plays homage to Frida throughout the restaurant. The menu itself is meant to be that of a simple sandwich shop you could find in Mexico City.img_8626

And like the aqua fresca, the food is perfect too. Hello mole fries!

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Transitions & Updates

Two weeks(ish) may be the longest I’ve gone in between writing posts. I’ve tried to find space between the transitions but even now I’m really not as caught up as I would prefer. I’m not even unpacked all the way – thus the strategic angles of my photos in the apartment.

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Mi Casa es Mi Casa is probably the most clicked-on Bexar Life post after What I Learned at Urban Farm Camp is…. The stats change depending on the week, but in general the entry on my loft set-up is popular. But as fun and funky as warehouse life can be, it had me missing outdoor space hard. Not having a place to use my green-thumb creates the ultimate claustrophobia. I love urban life, but need the green balance.

Tossing bird seed out the window to entice the local grackle, finch and occasional mammoth pigeon population was a part of my daily routine at Blue Star, as well as tending the plants in the window. But ultimately I missed the kind of balcony space we had back at Eco Modern Flats (Platinum LEED certified + rainwater saving + prairie restoration beds + my stamp of approval) in Fayetteville, Arkansas. So in early August we moved a half mile from Blue Star west to South Flores.

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Pioneer Factory as seen from the River Authority heading to Blue Star.
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Pioneer Factory as seen from our bedroom looking towards Blue Star.

It’s literally a ten minute walk from the new apartment to the old, same zip, same buses. So it is a transition, but then again it isn’t.

Minnesota in 79 hours (making even the airport count)

(Note this post is not about San Antonio or the surrounding areas, the blog header is a lie. I know I almost tricked y’all.)

How much can you do in Minnesota in 79 hours without a car?

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Birch at Minneapolis Institute of Art.

Plan well and you can actually do a lot. Plan little and you can still actually do a lot. I know this – I started planning for our Thursday departure on the Wednesday night before. Admittedly, having wedding festivities laid out on the first two days of the trip made Thursday and Friday’s itineraries just a tad easier. Did I mention that was why we were traveling? Some guy I know was getting married.

Love ya’ Jordan – though you don’t read my blog anyway.

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Minneapolis city stylin’ outfit brought to you by Elf Sack, Free People, and Rachel Roy.

Thursday – Hours 1-13

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Maynard’s – Patio lunch by the lake in Excelsior, Minnesota.

Thursday night’s wedding rehearsal allowed a chance to get acquainted with the wedding venue residents at Gale Woods Farm in Minnetrista, Minnesota.

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Tavern 4 & 5 Eden Prairie, Minnesota.

Thursday night’s rehearsal dinner allowed a chance to get acquainted with dessert.

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And family, not pictured.

Friday – Hours 14-38

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Historic Fort Snelling, St. Paul, Minnesota.

Historic Fort Snelling in St. Paul does charge admission – and that’s why there are no photos of the fort itselt. Still, the visitor center is open to the public free of charge with a small gallery of artifacts in a brutalist architecture-setting.

Above the Mississippi, bald eagles show off gliding on the air currents. Can you spy the eagle by the pillar?

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Mississippi River with Minneapolis in the distance.

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Following forts and patriotic birds, the main event back in Minnetrista.

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Key lime, chocolate and strawberry cupcakes from Laurie’s Touch.
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Green and white hydrangeas seem to be Minnesota’s summer calling card.

Body heat, and body heat. No personal bubbles on the dance floor or off.

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The guest book/The Hobbit – complimenting the live quartet performance of Concerning Hobbits after the wedding ceremony.

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Thursday night was spent in Minnetonka, but a quick UBER ride and we were in the heart of downtown Minneapolis late Friday. I watched some of the buildings’ spotlights shut down around 2:00 a.m.

Saturday – Hours 39-63

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A woman arranges produce the Mill City Farmers Market.

Overshadowed by Gold Medal Flour’s former digs, the location for the Mill City Farmers Market is not without irony. Organic foods and seasonal vegetables as well as small business goods sold beneath the heritage of preservatives, industry and pollution. Happily, the space is probably greener now than it has been for a century.

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Summer Squash pizza from Northern Fires Pizza.

Pizza is a food I will pass up in favor of cereal or dirt. Unless it’s really really good. Then pizza is one of my favorite foods. Northern Fires Pizza makes really really really good pizza. It’s about tied with the kids’ creations at Urban Farm Camp a couple of weeks back. (It was actually much better, but don’t tell them. They had no chance anyway because I am all about squash in the summertime).

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Gold Medal’s former factory now lives on as the Mill City Museum. The little movie they showed on the history of Minneapolis answered several of my questions on the city such as:

Is Minnesota considered a part of the Midwest? Yes

Why are there so few old buildings downtown? Bad urban planning in the 50s and 60s demolishing buildings in order to create lots that sat empty for decades.

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The “Flour Tower” elevator movie/tour thing was also transparent about the good and bad effects that flour milling left on the community and beyond.

Dough islands floating down the Mississippi = bad, the museum preserving the history of dough islands so it is not repeated = good.

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Hilton Minneapolis is a quick walk from the park and museum.

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Saturday ended with Kramarczuk Sausage Company, a Polish counter-service restaurant, bakery and deli going strong for 62 years. The nalasnyky was delicious even if I butchered the pronunciation enough to make make the counter-guy laugh.

Sunday – Hours 40-79

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The Midtown Exchange Building, once a Sears and Roebucks – now the home of Midtown Global Market.

Like the Mill City Museum, the Midtown Global Market is an adaptive reuse project. The 1920s Art Deco former Sears building is now home to residential spaces and a varied food and goods market representing vendors from most continents. (I can’t say for certain if Australia/Oceania was repped, but a pretty solid no on Antarctica).

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Though we did take UBER  to the market, there was a the option of Minnesota’s bike share Nice Ride right outside. All of which is in close proximity to the Midtown Greenway Bike Trail.

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Ten minutes by bike away is the always free if the doors are open, Minneapolis Institute of Art.

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A collection of Frank Lloyd Wright furniture with a view of downtown.
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Austin Swearengin

The Walker Arts Center was on the original agenda, but on a tight schedule, we chose MIA as to not feel like we didn’t get our money’s worth if we rushed.

Those dollars turned out to be well-saved upon finding Surdyk’s at the airport.

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Not pictured: extra pretzel we bought later because wow, so much cheese.

Surdyk’s is the only airport dining-option I’ve ever seen receive 5 stars on Yelp. With 82 years of history, the proof is in the pudding. But seriously, wonderful cheese. Continue reading

Gifts from the Sister City

The name Denman Estate doesn’t exactly conjure up images of The Land of the Morning Calm (I googled nicknames for Korea). But it should.

In 2018 San Antonio will be celebrating its tricentennial as a city. In terms of the United States, a tricentennial seems like a fairly long time – especially when the U.S. has yet to hit this milestone as a nation. (Albeit the native Payaya people were around long before the land that is now San Antonio was given its current name, or before the British even crossed the pond).IMG_0869_edited.jpg

But 300 years old loses its impression when compared to Gwangju, South Korea’s 2,075th birthday occurring the same year. Yet despite the age gap, the cities are siblings. And in the spirit of sisterly city love, Gwangju shared a gift with her younger relative.

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The Korean Pavilion at Denman Estate is only one of the parks’s several inviting features. The grounds also include a historic estate house, a labyrinth, a large pound, grassy lawn, picnic tables, walking paths as well as large twisting old oaks. But the pavilion is uncontested as the crown jewel. Not yet a decade old, the structure was built by skilled Korean craftsmen who traveled to Texas in order to construct the gift usually traditional building methods.

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The craftsman-work is deserves a picture more than words.

Denman Estate Park is best described as tranquil. With the soft reflection of the pavilion shining on the placid water, the shady oak trees, and meditational labyrinth, the park is respite from the busy Med Center not far from her borders.

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Mi Casa es Mi Casa

It’s not how the phrase usually goes, but I think it’s fitting. Sometime in December after Christmas in Arkansas, I realized my home in San Antonio felt like my home. Mi casa es mi casa.

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Recently I got to fangirl out by writing a post on San Antonio for Apartment Therapy. (Being that I’m a major AT and Alamo City fan).

My post was all about what to do out and about in San Antonio. Exterior, events, eats. Lot’s of things that start with E’s.

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But as much time as I spend in the city or by the river, there is a place I lay my head at night – feed my cat – take showers. En mi casa.

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Thoughts of Texas may not conjure up images of converted warehouse loft living quite the way Brooklyn does. It’s not something you can really find in Austin even if you have the dollar to get it. But in San Antonio, there are several loft type living spaces throughout the former (and in some ways current – as the train headed to Pioneer Mills reminds us quite often) industrial areas of town. Not that I even notice the trains anymore.

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Living in the Blue Star Arts Complex does come with other perks beyond the free alarm clock trains. As a non-driving Texan/San Antonian, I rely on a good Walkscore to buy groceries, get to school, go to meetings, get to farm camp, live life, etc.

A “walkscore” isn’t as literal as it sounds. Bikeability and public transportation are also factored into the formula along with walk-ability. To quote the results for my address at Blue Star, terrain is “Flat as a pancake, excellent bike lanes.” With two B-Cycle stations in my complex alone, it’s an ideal spot to hang up those car keys and never look back. (You just might be Ubering or hitchhiking to leave town).

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For the longest time, most of our visitors found the downstairs spooky. After all there is a bit of grunge around the edges that makes you wonder if the ghost of a bygone meat-packer is lurking in the shadows, confused to see people living in what once was essentially a storage unit.

However, we’ve stayed spooky-ghost free so far, even going so far as to make the alleged-by-our-guests to be haunted downstairs a “zen” yoga and relaxation space.

Namaste Casper. Continue reading