In the swing of things…SXSW

Neighbourhood terraced graffiti park…and a castle!

If there was ever a time to come and experience Austin, it most likely would be right now. This already happening city is alive with musicians, filmmakers, artists, celebrities, foodies…It’s the yearly incarnation of the South by Southwest Festival, most commonly abbreviated as SXSW.  Over 2,000 musical acts in over 90 venues are set to perform, with many big names stopping by Austin City Limits to do live concert recordings as well (my husband was even treated to an impromptu Radiohead concert  on his walk home from work last week).  Jay-Z, The Magnetic Fields, famous Austinite Willie Nelson, Cheryl Crow…these are just a small sample of the talented entertainers and bands that are gracing the stages in this city.

In fact, Twitter got its digs here at the festival in 2007 and as we all know, it has been a massive social media superpower ever since. Even with such an enormous concentration on music and film, SXSW also focuses on interactive, which has now become one of the most popular features of the festival. Tonight’s lineup includes Al Gore and Ryan Parker discussing the landscape of new media – which you can livestream from the comfort of your own computer.

Speaking of interactive, I often discover some surprise photographs when I check my phone during the day, courtesy of iCloud (one of the world’s savviest inventions, as far as I am concerned!)  I am able to have all the photographs my husband takes on his phone immediately placed in the photostream on mine, and vice versa.  Last night I came across some new pictures of food that Grant must have taken at work that evening…I often enjoy these little surprises throughout the day, it is like a little glimpse into his cooking world and his kitchen… and the plates looked spectacular.  When he came home, knackered and dehydrated after he and his team had done nearly 350 people for dinner, he whipped out his phone and swiped through his pictures.  “How does the food look?” he asked. “Fabulous, did you take those before service?” I asked. “Nope, I took those after we’d done about 250 covers. Still looks pretty good, no?” I honestly was speechless. Now that’s quality control for you, and moreover, a brilliant way to keep yourself and your team on track.

I asked him if he felt extra pressure because of all the high profile individuals in the dining room this week in particular, and he just shrugged his shoulders. “You can’t think about it like that. Sure, we see the names on the bills and some celebrities have unmistakeable names and don’t use an alias. But if you start concentrating on their tables at the expense of others, that’s when it all goes to hell in a hand cart. It doesn’t matter who you are, we still crank out the same level of food.”  I love how well-grounded and level-headed he is and I think his philosophy is very insightful. I recalled the many nights over the years he’s arrived home from work late and I’d given him a bit of a hard time because he hadn’t phoned- sometimes I get so anxious for him to get back, and he often cannot stop what he is doing in the kitchen to let me know he’ll be much later than expected. The nights when Grant would come home rolling his eyes and apologising because Lou Reed came in with only five minutes til close, and was “slow to decide what he wanted to eat” or Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel came for dinner again and “you know how they like to linger.” Yes, honey. I know. Well, actually I don’t…but I’ll take your word for it!

Daily view of Austin

When you work in the service industry, you have lots of these sorts of experiences. I used to rib him about how ‘unfortunate’ it must be having to cook for individuals that ordinary people would love to even catch a glimpse of on the street, but I totally understand his perspective. When you are tired and rushed off your feet after a long day of cooking, sometimes you just want to go home, see your family, have a snack, and watch mindless television. That’s really what it all comes down to. But I must admit, some of his stories are pretty hilarious, from musicians who are so bizarre in real life they have frightened other diners, to actors with a stench so potent, nearby guests in the dining room requested to have their seats changed just to escape the odour.  There have been sweatpant-clad actresses who randomly pop into the kitchen to hang out, heads of state who eat more candy than you can shake a stick at, “trainwreck” popstars, understated sports legends and highly neurotic figure skaters.  Not short on entertainment value, it all becomes fodder for the novel that will never be… or will it? đŸ˜‰

Seeing as today is yet another sunny day with warm temperatures reaching 28C/82F, will we ever really get sick of all this beautiful sunshine? I’ll have to get back to you on that one. To beat the heat,  A+F and I have taken to making popsicles.  The recipe we are using is taken from a mouth-watering book called Paletas: Authentic Recipes for Mexican Ice Pops, Shaved Ice and Aguas Frescas by Fany Gerson, our new go-to book whenever cold treats are concerned.  Living in Austin, we consume more water on a daily basis than we ever have before; iced drinks, shaved ices and pops are a necessity after an afternoon out with the sun beating down upon you. We also find that keeping well-hydrated helps us feel refreshed and keeps our use of A/C to a minimum. I say this now…but when the temperatures hit 43C/110F when I’m 9-months pregnant in June, I might be changing my tune!

Since we decided to make these rather last minute and do not have any limes in the house, we are substituting meyer lemons. Do we manage to put meyer lemons in almost anything? Quite possibly. Although, grapefruits are sold in 20lb bags here at the grocery stores here in Austin – for normal household consumption – and I don’t think our meyer lemon obsession has quite reached that particular weight…Yes, 20lb bags! Makes us feel pretty lightweight lugging home our 5lb bags of clementines with pride, right?

LIME ICE POPS

Here’s what you’ll need:

2 cups water
2/3 cup sugar
Grated lime zest (approximately that of 2 limes)
3/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (about 10 small limes)

Popsicle-making essentials

Shiny meyer lemons + a lime

Begin by grating your zest into a bowl.  

Measure out 2/3 cup of sugar and 2 cups of water.
Bowls from West Elm are perfectly sized for ingredients

Toss your grated zest, water and sugar into a saucepan and bring to a boil. 

While you wait for the ingredients to boil, juice 10 of your fruits.  Don’t worry about getting the seeds in there, you can always use a fine sieve to strain them out later.


Once your mixture has been brought to a boil and cooled to room temperature, pour it through a strainer and add it to your freshly squeezed juice.

Pour mixture into your  popsicle molds, being sure to leave a bit of a gap at the top to allow the liquid to freeze and expand.

Be sure to pose with your finished work…
Then pop them into the freezer…

And ask your mother to take them out again so you can beg to eat one immediately…

Give the cat a little nose rub while you wait patiently for the popsicles to freeze

Relaxing on the couch with cat and belly bump

The recipe suggests freezing the popsicles for 5 hours. We’ll see if the little elves can resist eating them for that long. I hope to post some pictures of finished popsicles, but given the amount of pleading that is resounding in our house at the moment, I am doubtful!

Topo Chico bottles awaiting agua fresca
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