About a year ago, on a tip from a friend, I took the borzoi and Carissa's two little dogs over to a large tract of open land not far from my central Austin home that for many years has served as an annex for Tex-DoT (Department of Transportation). It didn't take much, and soon I was hooked, returning repeatedly to drink in the magic offered by this largely hidden space.
Sadly, it seems the dictates of commerce and capitalism will soon see the tract leveled to make way for a large, mixed-use development to be called "The Grove." For the moment, though, it remains rough and wild - shielded from frenetic nearby traffic despite its proximity to major thoroughfares. The eastern side slopes down through groves of majestic, mature live oaks to a stretch of Shoal Creek that is largely inaccessible. Wide-open meadows sport patches of wildflowers in distinct colors depending on the season. At present, there is an extended swath of tall grass on the backside with tops in a furious bloom of gorgeous lavender - salvias maybe? And there are extensive areas of dense,...more
Carissa and I traveled to Montreal a couple of weeks ago. We were totally blown away by what a wonderful city it is, so gorgeous and French. Like Paris, except with really friendly people (JUST KIDDING PARIS - jeez, you can be so touchy).
We found an amazing bistro called L'Express (ok, we didn't "find" it exactly - our friend Carenn Jackson, chenin blanc queen, told us to go there). L'Express serves stunningly good and exactingly traditional French fare and has the wine list of my dreams. The city was flooded with people wearing their light summer clothing that spends most of the year stored in a trunk, awaiting the end of a long, frigid winter. Surrounded by the joyful energy of those who couldn't wait to leave the house every day, it was easy to forget that the weather isn't 70 degrees all summer everywhere you go.
That fantasy world evaporated more or less immediately when we stepped off the plane at Bergstrom. Dang. Central Texas summer has arrived, y'all. It is fried-egg-on-the-sidewalk hot out there.
But even though the sun is...more
A couple of Thursdays ago, I awoke early to a thudding sound just outside my window - which was odd, because I generally sleep on the second floor. I cracked one eye enough to see dim grey light - the kind that comes just before sunrise. Some part of me remembered it was my 56th birthday, but for a moment, further details were foggy.
Then I remembered. I was in Santa Fe - attending a writers' workshop led by my longtime writing mentor Natalie Goldberg and my dear friend, recent James Beard award winner for food writing, Bill Addison. That thudding sound? Well - that was snow sliding wet and heavy off the roof onto the veranda where it plopped in a pile and slowly melted in the 35 degree morning air. No wonder I couldn't quite place my surroundings.
The theme for the workshop was food writing. It was conducted in the manner of all of Natalie's workshops, which are grounded in her long practice of Zen Buddhism, and utilize meditation as a way to quiet the mind, allowing space for a deepened experience of writing practice.
Our group of...more
Some summers, in the dead heat of July, my dad and I would load up the station wagon and drive seven long hours to East Texas. As the trip would drag on, I'd pull the fold-out map from its place behind the visor and check off towns as they went by - Huntsville, Jasper - markers to measure our progress. Despite the 70mph speed limit, the ride seemed endless. Bored, I would clamor over the seat and into the back to forage the styrofoam ice chest for snacks, before climbing back over to sit (unbelted) in the passenger seat, where I'd try not to fidget.
Late in the day we would arrive on the shores of Toledo Bend, the enormous reservoir that delineates the southern half of the Texas/Louisiana border. We would pitch our canvas army surplus tent, fold out cots, and unroll cotton sleeping bags. Dad would sit out under the towering pines with my godfather (better known to me as "Uncle Juggy") who had driven up from Beaumont. On folding lawn chairs, with their legs stretched out in front of them, they would drink cans of Schlitz or Falstaff and reminisce...more
Wednesday mornings, you can usually find me huddled with Whitney at Table 20 (the 2-top closest to the parking lot door) going over our promotional efforts, including what I might write for the week's email. This week, Whitney had a pretty good suggestion - chronicling the journey of a single croissant all the way through the production process. In truth, I have been pleased with their quality lately, so the idea stuck.
This set me thinking about the old days, when I first learned to make croissants from scratch back in late 1981 or early 1982. I have vague memories of sidling up to the butcher block counter and slicing up whole sticks of butter; of mom showing me how to lay the sliced butter flat on a piece of hand mixed dough, then how to fold it in on top of itself, roll it back out and repeat the motion three to four times.
We used these very small French rolling pins (solid pieces of wood that tapered a bit at the ends) and worked with very small batches of dough that only made about a dozen croissants each. Once the dough was...more
Like I mentioned in my last email, our restaurant usually has a relatively quiet SXSW experience as we're situated away from the festival's primary tourist corridors. The bakery, on the other hand, catches a full-on dose of SXSW insanity, sending out pastries, breads, muffins, buns, you name it, not only to our regular wholesale accounts, but to caterers and out of town operations to feed the industry and convention hoards that flood downtown this time each year.
As such, it seems like an ideal moment to pull back the curtain and introduce one of the folks who is largely unseen at TFB but whose critical work keeps our wheels on, so to speak: Dennis Day, referred to around the shop as Fleet Commander of Texas French Bread.
Dennis has been known to wear driving gloves, crocodile leather boots, and vintage Star Wars tees. His superhero-like stealth allows him to dart around the bakery between the hours of midnight and nine am, organizing and packing bread products. In the very early hours of the morning, with recognizable style and sharp wits...more
Every year about this time I send out the same email. SXSW WOO HOO! (Giant eye roll.)
Look people, hang tough. We can get through this.
For those of you staying in town and braving the barbarian hordes over the next couple of weeks - yes, we are open. We have plenty of parking. You don't have to go downtown. You don't have to deal with the even-more-inane-than-usual traffic.
Really. You can just come hang out with us. We'll prepare a lovely meal for you. Think of this email as a personal invitation, along with a hug and a soothing mental margarita (we don't sell margaritas, but mental merlot didn't really have quite the ring). The point is - we've got you covered.
Speaking of adult beverages, I'm overdue in making a couple of suggestions about what to drink next time you're at TFB. Ok, admittedly that mostly involves me writing down the three or four things that wine director Betty Cole has gotten me really excited about lately. With that in mind, here are some wines that I think are showing exceptionally well and that you...more
The frenetic holiday baking is finally winding down over here at TFB. About this time each year, I'm reminded that things are about to clear out on Christmas Eve. Traffic will die down and folks will settle in with their family and friends.
I suppose I always feel a little melancholy as the high season comes to a close. I love having all of you in the shop, picking up holiday swag. The connections established in the small conversations over the counter feel a little brighter and more intimate. And as much as I enjoy the ensuing quiet, it's still hard to let go of that addictive energy that has built in the bakery in recent weeks.
Back in the old days at TFB, this slowdown in bakery madness was also the lead up to one last big event - a thing I looked forward to each year: Maline's Christmas party.
Maline and my mom were sorority sisters at UT in the late 1950s, and I think it's fair to say that she has always been a wee bit eccentric. That is, if keeping a parrot in the foyer, a pet monkey named Clarence out on the upstairs patio, a host of...more
My earliest memory of working on our holiday cookie tins was probably from around 1996. I was three years out of law school and ecstatic to be working on anything that didn't involve sitting at a desk in a closed office for 12 or 14 hours straight.
After three years and two different jobs at high-end, high-stress law firms (first in New York and then later Palo Alto), I had begun to think that something about the equation of me + law practice wasn't making me particularly happy. That year I returned to Austin to take a break, regroup, and think about my next move.
In those days, our production bakery was still at the Red River and 32nd Street location, sandwiched between our retail shop and Wells Fargo in that strip center just north of St. David's. I remember pushing speed racks heavily laden with tray upon tray of freshly baked Christmas cookies up the steep concrete ramp from the bakery into the adjoining retail space.
There, we would reallocate 6 or 8 dining tables in one corner of the shop for the purpose of lining up the...more
Last week was an emotional overload for me and many folks I know. But in truth, the entire year has felt rather stunningly charged and I've found it very difficult to write at all. The riff that I usually employ for this column involves weaving current events in with the comings and goings at Texas French Bread in a way that I hope comes across as lighthearted or even a bit silly, but that eventually winds its way around to a message illustrating our core values of inclusiveness and community. This year, it seems that everything has taken on a kind of political third rail quality that doesn't have much to offer in the lighthearted silliness department.
I've always believed that politics are about the art of the possible. As adults in a free country, we have little choice other than to face up to difficult challenges, choosing among wildly imperfect options with no guarantees of success. Anyone talking about simple and obvious right answers to such hard questions has either never held a position of leadership and responsibility, or they're...more