Monday, June 29, 2009

Frito pie in the Hill Country

Looks like I'm straying from my theme pretty quickly. I won't even try to stretch a connection between building community through food in Austin and eating a snack on my own in Luckenbach. But it's worth mentioning because it was my first Frito pie served in the chip bag.

I've never met a Frito pie I didn't love. I've made it with super salty canned chili in lean times (though there's nothing lean about it) and I've recreated Spiderhouse's vegetarian Frito pie at home since it's been demoted to an infrequent menu special. I've also cleaned my plate of the fancypants version with goat cheese at Lambert's. But it wasn't until I traveled to the Hill Country for a freelance assignment this weekend that I had it in its authentic form, Little League-style. It completely hit the spot.

The town of Luckenbach (pop. 3) is a creekside spot with a dancehall, a rickety general store/post office/bar, a stage and a dirt parking lot filled with trucks. Things move slowly here. Oak trees and crops of cactus grow side by side, looking a bit like the visiting city folks sharing picnic tables with old ranchers you just know have sipped Lone Star there every weekend for decades. While I stirred my bag of cheesy, corny goodness with a plastic fork, this guy walked by:

Just as I saw him, I heard a mom hollering from the next picnic table over: "Your daddy didn't spend $6 on that so you could feed it to a damn rooster!"

So maybe there is a story of community here — little girls communing with roosters by sharing their fried mozzarella sticks. Really though, it's not hard to squint past the motorcycle dudes and the ATM machine and feel connected with old-time, backroads Texas and all the folks who have come here looking for a place to slow down and take a spin on the dance floor.

It would be a real shame to drive down U.S. 290 in June and not stop for roadside peaches, which are absolutely everywhere right now. Everywhere, that is, except the stand I stopped at that had already sold out of their Fredericksburg beauties. So I got some blackberries and moved on down the road to a place that sold me about a dozen juicy plums for one dollar. And I got my peaches. The plums I'm eating straight, but some of the blackberries and peaches have a different fate.

Peach ice cream

about 4 large peaches
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
a few drops freshly squeezed lemon juice

Peel the peaches, slice them in half and remove the pits. Cut the peaches into chunks and cook them with the water in a medium, nonreactive saucepan over medium heat, covered, stirring once or twice, until soft and cooked through, about 10 minutes.
Remove from the heat, stir in the sugar, then cool to room temperature.
Puree the cooked peaches and their liquid in a blender or food processor with the sour cream, heavy cream, vanilla and lemon juice until almost smooth but slightly chunky.
Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, then freeze it in your ice cream maker.

Friday, June 26, 2009

First bite

The midpoint of 2009 is this week, which means it's high time something I've long resolved to do gets done. So, welcome to Belly Bulletin!

For a good while now, I've wanted a place to write about food and eating in Austin — but mostly about the people who make, eat and share food here. I wanted to tell the story of buddying up to enter an MLK-inspired pie contest that included a writing component (perfect for two bakers/word nerds) and to pass along the recipe from friends who founded a community garden and taught me how to pickle using cucumbers from the neighborhood's shared green space across the street. Or how about chronicling the process of another resolution it would be a shame not to keep — starting a baking business from scratch?

And beyond my own food adventures, plenty of folks are growing, sharing, delivering, harvesting, teaching and cooking all over town. I want to get a taste of food co-ops, community cooking, innovative eateries and school vegetable gardens — and in the process maybe even create a spot for all the Austin news that's fit to eat. You know, put my journalism degree and my taste buds to use all at once.