Saturday, November 30, 2013


Well, why not? When I did my Berlin blog, I called it BerlinBites, and when I discovered I had a bunch of little things for the blog that didn't cohere into a single post, I called them "crumbs." I got to France, and by the same principle, I called them "miettes." So here in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood in Austin, "migas" seems appropriate. And yes, I realize it's an amazing egg dish that I'll probably never learn how to make properly: scrambled eggs with onions and salsa (or salsa ingredients) with bits of tortilla chips added at the very end. The secret is to present them at the table without sogging the chip migas at all. I do not know the secret, and, as long as Austin has dozens of places that know how to do this well, I may never.

* * *

Have I been here in this house a month already? Not quite; the rent due tomorrow is prorated for the difference. But I've done a lot of stuff in that time, most of it involving spending money. The last big outlay was this week, when I went to Alberto's Appliances, a place I just stumbled onto reading a Craigslist ad, and bought a washer and dryer: new, discontinued, pre-digital models. They were cheap enough, and Alberto's delivered and installed them. They also have an unbeatable guarantee and after-sale care program. Plus, they were local. Same with the stereo I got: it came from A&B TV on Anderson Lane, which has apparently been there forever. The salesman had been in a local band when I was at the newspaper and remembered me -- or said he did. 

These purchases, necessary outlays of money, made me feel good because I'm hemmed in by monstrous commercial spaces, the most hellish of which is South Park Meadows. Now, when I lived here last, South Park Meadows was a concert venue administered by a succession of local promoters, most famous for its profusion of insect and arachnid life. (Ticks are arachnids, right?) 

...six, seven, eight. Yup!
I attended one show there and never went back, because I hate anything that even smacks of a rock festival. I'm sure a number of colorful people made colorful real-estate deals, and in the end, South Park Meadows is the biggest shopping center I've ever seen, with all the big brands: a Walmart that people apparently take the bus up from Mexico to shop at, OfficeMax, Best Buy, get the picture. 

Now, South Park Meadows is just the worst example of this I've seen because it's big, so big that, on a trip to visit one of its stores, I roamed all over the place and still haven't seen all of it. Not that I need anything in any of the stores I haven't seen, but they're big enough stores that I wonder how much of the site I haven't located yet. And as I drive hither and yon, I see signs for stores that I suppose I'm supposed to be familiar with: Lowe's, Kohl. What do they sell? I really don't care: I have pretty much what I need at the moment, although I'm going to need to hit Ikea once more when the ship comes in (see below) for more shelving, although not before I check the Salvation Army again first. 

If I hadn't seen Austin as it was in November, 1973, I wouldn't know where it was underneath all of this generic commercialism. 

* * *

On the other hand, not far from me is a little strip mall that says all the right things about the new Austin. It's got a chain kolache shop (kolaches are Czech pastries that are big in Central Texas, although West, Texas, the town I most associate with them, blew up when its fertilizer factory went earlier this year), a taqueria, a place where I've gone with a friend for pho for many years, and, I discovered, on my way to get it there recently, a very well-stocked Indian grocery store. 

Kommercial Kolaches: You can do better than this. 
Nobody planned this, this isn't a theme park, and in fact there are other businesses there, including a large Goodyear tire shop, and a couple of empty storefronts (including a failed Indian restaurant). But it's also something you'd never find in Europe, where ethnic populations tend to huddle together in homogenous clusters: a place where you can have a couple of tacos for lunch while you're having your wheels balanced, then grab a kolache for dessert, after which you can pick up a bag of besan flour and some panch phoran seed mixture. 

There's also a gigantic supermarket across the street from it, posing no threat to the Indians, but selling sushi, fresh tortillas, and, to my surprise when I needed some the other night, diced pancetta, that bacon-like stuff Italians use. I haven't really dug into the neighborhood yet; lord only knows what other surprises await. 

* * *

I haven't really looked at that Indian place yet because my trip to the My Thanh Supermarket to restock my Chinese larder caused $75 damage to my pocket, although I'll admit some of that was due to my buying some dishes to help make Chinese food, but I'll also admit that I forgot some really basic stuff, for all I bought: I didn't get fermented black beans, ginger or rice. Really: imagine being in a gargantuan East Asian supermarket and forgetting to buy rice. I anticipate similar damage restocking the Indian end of things, but I'm trying to hold off. 

Which is not to say I haven't been cooking. Two weeks of going out to restaurants also put a dent into my finances, not to mention too much food into my belly, and it feels good to be able to cook again, albeit not with the equipment I'm used to, and control the portion size. Most of the equipment is on its way from France, and was supposed to arrive this coming Tuesday, but will now be a week later. 

Still, using what I have on hand (it was great to discover a perfectly-seasoned wok, two perfectly-seasoned cast iron frying pans, a top-notch pizza stone and a peel which I think I may have made in shop class in high school, given to my mother, and reclaimed when she admitted never using it) I managed to use the last tomatoes of the season from the local farmer's market to make a pizza that was one of the best ever (and would have been even better if I'd remembered to buy 00 flour, which you can actually get here), and I've twice made Chinese food in that wok. 

I'm quite surprised to discover that I am using the microwave that came with the place (perfect for heating up tamales, like the ones a little lady going house to house sold me the other morning) and the dishwasher, something I never thought I'd use. 

None of this will translate into anything more than bachelor cooking, though, until the ship comes in: another thing that's on it is a formidable antique German dining table with leaves, and that's much better than the rickety Ikea table I'm dining on right now. Then I can start inviting people over for dinner. Um, after I buy some more chairs.  

* * *

And that will mean that my social life may pick up. I've retreated pretty much into this house, getting it set up and livable for me, let alone making it a place others can visit. I've pretty much recovered from the revelation that I'd been romantically pursuing a were-Republican for 2 ½ years, but what with my avoiding live music, I don't really have many excuses to get out of the house. I'll have to remedy that. It's not like there's nothing happening in Austin, after all. 

At least Thanksgiving was a welcome chance to get out, visiting my friends down in Wimberley and seeing their invited guests, who were mostly people I've known forever. After dinner, some of us took a walk, and I managed to take one photo that was no good, and then accidentally triggered the video button on the phone's camera. 

Wimberley, late afternoon. There were better shots, but I missed 'em. 
There's no reason to be impatient, I keep reminding myself. I know why I feel that way, though: I've made a huge change and I want it to pay off right this minute! Ain't gonna happen. Shouldn't happen. And if I learned nothing else in the Sud de France, it was how to wait for things to take their natural course. 

* * *

And now for the commercial. Much of my time here has been spent going through the books that were in storage and carefully checking their condition, any reviewer's materials that may have been stored with them, and putting them up for sale on my Amazon store. There are a bunch of fairly scarce first-edition cookbooks, all gotten when I was a book reviewer, and some literary first-editions that are all souvenirs of my various stints as book-reviewer or books editor at publications like Oui (really) and of course the Austin Chronicle. There are too many books that have been dined on by silverfish in the inadequate storage they were put in (by someone else) years ago, but few of them are for sale, and the ones that are (like that extremely rare copy of Wolf Vostell's de/collage and happenings) are priced below market value. Surely you know a serious '60s art geek that needs that! And these make stupendous Christmas presents, too! 

Okay, better get back to cataloguing. Anyone know where I can get Chinese fermented black beans in South Austin?

The knee is not for sale. Um, on the other hand, make an offer.

1 comment:

  1. "If I hadn't seen Austin as it was in November, 1973, I wouldn't know where it was underneath all of this generic commercialism."

    Amen, Ed. The steamroller is headed down Lamar, with its eye S 1st, and Congress. Good to have you back.


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