Year of the Rooster

It’s becoming more apparent with each colorful festival, parade and event here in the Alamo City that my cellphone just isn’t going to take pictures that do these things justice. Especially when it is drizzling like it was yesterday at San Antonio’s 30th Annual Asian Festival at the Institute of Texan Cultures.

So far every picture in this blog was taken by me with a cellphone. Editing can do a world of good but I think it’s about time I get my DSLR looked at (might need a new lens) and back in commission.

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This man is sporting a turban supplied by a booth manned by Sikhs. They allowed festival goers to try on turbans for the day. You can find out more at the Rivard Report.

That being said, walking in the high 40s/ low 50s from our apartment to the festival wasn’t something we non-native Texans were complaining about. After all, it’s going to be about 90 here on Tuesday. It’s February by the way, if you don’t recall.

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Spot the photo-bomb.

Scheduled to fall around the Chinese New Year, the Asian Festival hosts booths, performances, food, and vendors from all over the continent and beyond to the Pacific Islands. This year I encountered pieces of Pakistan, Turkey, India, Malaysia, the Philippines, U.S.A. (Hawai’i reppin), Japan, China, Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia and Bangladesh.

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Suman, Filipino rice-cake steamed in banana leaves (pictured with the hands of an authentic Pinoy).
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Malaysian tandoori chicken.

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It was absolutely wholesome, refreshing and mentally healing to spend a day surrounded by the good energy of diverse people coming together to coexist and celebrate each other. There was no room to be an outsider. Sikhs invited the audience onto the stage during their performance, the young group that volunteered to learn sumo were the poster children of diversity, the only thing the girls (and one boy) doing choreographed K-Pop dances had universally in common was a trendy Korean street style wardrobe.

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Enthusiasts of all backgrounds represented the various martial arts, regardless of the country of origin. The day could have been a Coke commercial.

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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.

A Contrast of Frozen Desserts (with tapioca pearls)

I am slightly apprehensive in writing this post as it is inspired by something I wrote a while back, A Contrast of Coffee. Not that that wasn’t a successful little write-up. In fact one of the coffee shops I mentioned, Cafe Punta del Cielo reached out to me saying that I had really captured their vibe. And that’s a compliment, so what’s the problem? Well they are no longer in business. And since I want neither Snopioca, “the first Asian shaved snow in San Antonio”, nor Jollicup Bubble Tea and Desserts to get the same curse I am hesitant.

But not really. Curses are just a good seasonal theme in October.

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For boba tea in the Alamo City we are pretty loyal to the aptly named Boba Tea. It’s the nearest to our side of town and really the only place to get the Vietnamese bubble tea drink on the Southside. But one day we decided to branch out just to see if there was another hidden treasure in town.Jollicup Bubble Tea and Desserts became our random pick.

While the tea was good (lavender milk tea + assorted sizes of pearls) the best part was the Cracker Barrel style checkerboard set. Hands down. That said, the checkerboard sets at Cracker Barrel are also the best part of Cracker Barrel (and I love Cracker Barrel pancakes). Also, A+ plus for my phone still sitting where it fell into my seat when I came back for it 20 minutes after leaving.

While sipping seems to be classic way to the classic way to enjoy your Asian boba pearl filled frozen desserts in Modern America, Snopioca‘s Taiwanese shaved snow, is breaking stereotypes hard with the introduction of the spoon. The kind of spoon that changes color when cold for extra cool effect. Get it?

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Every time I visit the place is packed. That’s partly because I’ve gone during the weekends and grand opening, but it is worth the hype. In true San Antonio fashion, Snopioca knows its city well enough to include lucas and chamoy options to take your shaved dessert down a sweet, sour and spicy Mexican inspired path.

The takeaway: both are delicious and full of sugar and please don’t go out of business.

Going Green – and Orange, and Black and Purple

My success with gardening has not always been success. I like to experiment, I don’t tend to follow planting seasons and spacing directions, and I just in general have always had more of an affinity for native and wild plants over the curated garden.

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Tower of the Americas stands in the distance.

The seasons of South Texas – all two of them, are something I’m still getting used to. It may officially be Fall all across the Northern Hemisphere as of tonight, but here in San Antonio it still feels like the middle of Summer.

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I could say the confusing and unfamiliar climate and new planting zone (going from 6b with my most recent garden in Fayetteville, Arkansas to 9a here) are excuses for my experiments like starting a summer crop (watermelon) in September but in actuality I just want to experiment and see what happens.

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You can see the shell of the watermelon seed.

That’s not to say I don’t have some logical plants going as well. Chard, a few fall herbs, some cucumbers and gourds, a sunflower and broccoli are the ones I hope will thrive like they should when planted this time of year.

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Looking towards South Flores.

However, most likely I will kill them – and I have accepted that. But if nothing else the little urban balcony garden has given me an excuse to buy an infinite number of Halloween candy buckets, which are much cheaper than traditional planters and obviously more aesthetically pleasing. The purple ones even have glitter.

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Local marigold seeds I harvested at Urban Farm Camp and organic heirloom broccoli.

Only time will tell whether I can manage to not just identify, but actually grow plants. If I never do a follow-up post, well, you can guess what happened.

¡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