¡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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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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What I learned at Urban Farm Camp is…

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(more backstory on Urban Farm Camp as told by me at the Rivard Report)

..snack time is sacred. When your group of campers are needing a little inspiration to finish harvesting the amaranth, spreading the marigold seed, or watering the ancestral garden bed – the promise of chilled fresh melons, raspas, paletas and fresh pressed juice shines like a beacon that rivals the summer Texas sun.

Put on by Lorie Solis of the Renewable Republic, food is the heart and soul of Urban Farm Camp. Captured in more obvious activities like pickling cucumbers and preparing lunch, the theme of food and the cycle of food is also found in changing the goat’s hay, starting seedlings, using an Eloo (dehydrating toilet) and feeding scraps to the soldier flies.

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Complementing the theme of food, awareness was also emphasized. We did sit spots each morning to hone our senses in on our surroundings. Plenty of farm camp sounds like birds and wind in the trees, and smells like tomato vines and a fish pond were present. But so were the noises of the urban world we sat in the middle of. Trains, sirens, cars passing by. We noted the contrast of life inside and outside the perimeter fence.

I was fascinated by how quickly things changed in a few short days, such as the budding, opening and closing of blooms on the lotus plant. But what also changed were some attitudes.

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It wouldn’t be truthful to say there wasn’t any resistance to the smell of old cheese and meat products in the bin where the soldier flies live – and there was plenty of discussion over the unfamiliar experience of sharing bathroom quarters with a few grandaddy-longlegs. But for many of the campers, even the “gross” stuff started to feel normal and even fun as they grew more comfortable with “roughing it” as the week went on.

However one of the larger issues we explored with some early resistance was the responsibility associated with meat. Death to allow life.

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Chef Micheal Sohocki of Restaurant Gwendolyn joined us for Thursday’s “fish kill” day. Along with instructing our fish cleaning, Chef Sohocki lead instruction on making scratch corn tortillas and a garden-fresh cucumber onion slaw. Continue reading

On a Mission

It has been roughly a year since the San Antonio Missions received UNESCO World Heritage Site designation. The four missions maintained by the National Park Service, as well as the Alamo (now managed by the state of Texas) all received this honor for their historical and cultural significance.

There is so much to do at the missions and around the missions, so many layers of history going back centuries, that I could write a whole guide book and still run out of room for suggestions. And I say that as a very non-expert on the subject.

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Mobile Om occasionally offers free yoga classes at Mission San José, bilingual Mariachi Mass is offered on Sundays, all the missions are bikable with your own ride or a rental from B-Cycle (which is releasing new sleeker bikes this weekend),  you can kayak or SUP down the river to make your stops at the missions, watch free movies at the Alamo, have a picnic, volunteer at the centuries old farm, do some architectural drawing, and so on. There is always something going on. And it’s almost always something free.

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Mission San José is largest of the missions in San Antonio and tends to elicit a wow-factor with its “Old World” European feel. I’ve visited four or five times now and noticed new details on each trip. Somehow I overlooked the grist mill the first couple of times, which is a shame because I would have liked for my guests to have seen the pre 1800s structure. But that is also a testament to how easy it is to keep discovering new things at the sites.

The restored mill operates today, moving water through an acequia that once would have irrigated farmland, brought water to livestock and of course powered the mill to grind grain.

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However it is the architecture that keeps bringing me back. The United States is a young country so our definition of old sometimes only goes back half of a century. Half of century does sound significant from an American perspective, but the missions in San Antonio were being constructed before George Washington and company ever made the great Brexit of 1776.

 

The oppositions of rustic raw materials in simple residences set next to intricately designed dome-topped churches allow for a sort of design inspiration you can’t find walking the streets of Manhattan or Chicago. Continue reading

The rain has stopped..

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..the clouds have drifted away, and the weather is clear again.
If your heart is pure, then all things in your world are pure.
Abandon this fleeting world, abandon yourself,
Then the moon and flowers will guide you along the Way.

                                                                                                        Ryokan Taigu

If there was just one piece of advice I could give in regards to visiting anything outdoors in San Antonio, it is that rain will kill the crowds. Even if the rain has been gone for five hours or isn’t expected for five hours, it will absolutely clear the dance floor. Furthermore, if you see San Antonians sitting on a patio during the rain – even well covered – it means there is not a single seat left in the restaurant. They are desperate if they are courting precipitation. Which could also (probably) indicate that the food is very good.

I was fortunate to visit San Antonio’s Japanese Tea Garden right after a nice shower. Parking is one of the main drawbacks of the garden, especially on a weekend. But even on a Sunday we were able to find more empty spots than filled ones.

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The new VIVA bus routes do make visiting the Tea Gardens and other sites easier than ever. Continue reading

Hike in the City

Yesterday was National Trails Day but that doesn’t mean you can’t “find your park” today. If you want to take a little hike in Texas Hill Country, there is no reason to leave San Antonio city limits. Friedrich Wilderness Park is one of the six “San Antonio Natural Areas”. Alone it is comprised of 280 acres containing 8 miles of trails. Unlike Government Canyon State Park nearby, there is no charge for admission.IMG_1762

Other than being home to my favorite heat friendly parking lot in the world, the park hosts two species of endangered birds, a bounty of wildflowers, both paved and strenuous trails, ephemeral streams and an unexpected basin of koi fish beneath a historic windmill.

Sunday morning seems to be the best time to visit if you’re looking to be greeted by every single person you encounter. Walmart and Baptist door greeters have nothing on the continuously smiled “good morning,” “hello good morning,” “good morning” Continue reading