We took advantage of the good weather during our last weekend in Austin to get outside and do a little hiking. We went on a Saturday and practically had the place to ourselves; it might’ve been because the day was overcast and humid or because it was the weekend before Christmas, but we weren’t complaining. Also, we should note that while it was 78 degrees that day, the following day had a 50 degree swing and didn’t get above 38 so we’re experiencing drastic temperature changes along with the rest of the country.
McKinney Roughs is located about 20 miles east of downtown Austin and has miles of hiking and equestrian trails. The entrance fee is $5/person, but we lucked out going on a day where they weren’t able to access the system so we got in for free. We hiked the Pine Ridge Trail to the Cypress Trail; it wound its way through a pine forest and meandered along the Lower Colorado River. The terrain was very different than what we experienced in Hill Country at Pedernales Falls – much less rocky and more pine than scrub grass.
The trails weren’t very long, but we got in a good 4 miles and took some time to let Snickers play in the river. She’s come a long way in her relationship with water since we introduced her to the Pacific Ocean back in January! Our favorite part (and her least favorite) was when a herd of cows came down to drink across the river and she proceeded to growl and stare at them for a good 10 minutes.
All in all, it was a perfect way to get out of the city and spend a Saturday. And what Matt and Beth hike would be complete without a stop for some suds? We ended our day at Live Oak Brewing, which is located near the airport. They have a pretty solid rotation of traditional German style beers; we went with the Big Bark Amber, Liberation IPA, Schwarzbier (a black lager), and the Oaktoberfest. All were smooth and mild and perfect for drinking outside on a warm winter day.
For better or worse, we’ve fallen into a bit of a routine here in Austin. Matt has been working from home the majority of the time, which has been great, but also makes it very easy to forego going out to dinner or a show in lieu of popcorn and West Wing on the couch. Regardless, we’ve been able to do quite a bit of exploring and have found some great restaurants, walking places, and even a yoga studio [seriously, if you are in Austin and looking for a stretchy, sweaty, intense workout – check them out! We always leave a bit sore and drenched in sweat.]
Spicy margaritas at Lichas Cantina
We spent Thanksgiving here in Austin just the three of us (because Snickers counts), and it was great. We had a very leisurely day of sunning ourselves, cooking, and gorging ourselves. The weather was amazing that day – upper 70s and sunny – so we spent some time at the pool; quite the juxtaposition from the snowy pictures Beth and Casey sent us from Thorp! We made a relatively modest dinner all from scratch – even the bread for the stuffing! – and just enjoyed our time together. While we love our families, the quiet holidays together are some of our favorites.
Thanksgiving in Austin
We also went up to Chicago for Matt’s company holiday party. Coming from Texas I was not prepared for the snow and cold. The party was at a local winery and we enjoyed getting to mingle with his coworkers and put some faces to names. We might have imbibed a little too heavily and nursed hangovers the day after, but snuggling up in a hotel while the snow falls and blankets the city is pretty nice too. They got their first snowfall while we were there, and there’s just something really magical about big, fluffy flakes against a backdrop of twinkly Christmas lights.
We clean up nice
Matt stayed in Chicago for work after the party and I came back to Austin, welcomed by 75 degree, sunny weather. My parents were in town so we ate our way around. Since I was working they were mostly on their own, but we met up in the evenings for food. Ralph used to come to Austin for work back in the 90s so he suggested we go to the Oasis on Lake Travis for dinner one night to watch the sunset over the lake. We got there after the sun had mostly set, unfortunately, but the sky was lit up with flames and the view was still pretty spectacular. They also headed up to Waco to see Magnolia Market since they apparently watch a lot of HGTV; per them – “it was nice to see if you’ve got a free day with no agenda, but if it’s your destination it’s not worth the drive.” We did some walking around East Austin and Lady Bird Lake and just had some easy days. I think they loaded up on just as much chili, Tex Mex, barbecue, and margaritas in their week here as Matt and I have; food is definitely the best way to enjoy a city!
Sunset over Lake Travis
Lake Travis from the Oasis
We’ve got one more week here and we’re hoping to catch a show (Matt the Electrician is playing so that’s our goal), eat more food, and drink more beer.
Back in November we took a drive out to Texas hill country in search of some hiking. We’ve been missing the mountains a lot lately and were hoping to find something to quell that desire a bit. Hill country is quintessential Texas in our opinion – the terrain is rocky and arid scattered with scrubby trees. We chose Pedernales Falls State Park not only for its proximity to Austin (~1 hour drive) but for its proximity to Jester King Brewery (priorities).
We noticed that to get to any real, single track hiking trails you have to go about an hour west of the city in any direction. Luckily we had a beautiful, clear day so the drive was very enjoyable. Since it was Veteran’s Day weekend the fees were waived, but beware they charge a $6 entry fee per person! We chose to do the Juniper Ridge trail after talking with the park ranger, because it was less crowded and had greater tree coverage.
We set out to do an 8 mile loop starting at the Madrone Trail, hooking up with Juniper Ridge, and finishing back on Madrone. Our initial plan was to run the whole thing; we ended up running the first 5.5-6 miles and walking the last 2. The terrain started out pretty easy, but quickly got very technical with all the rocks and tree roots. Snickers had a blast being off leash and running between us. We only passed a couple of people at the beginning of our hike and one bike along the way (how they were biking through all those rocks was a miracle to us!), and we thoroughly enjoyed having the trail to ourselves.
Cooling off on the Juniper Ridge Trail
Sweaty family selfie
After a sweaty run, we made it back to the car and headed to Jester King for some delicious brews. It’s located on a working ranch so the grounds are expansive and ideal for hanging out on a sunny afternoon. Bonus: they have kid-free areas!
I have been looking forward to this pairing all year long! It combines my love of Stouts with the love of pies. You may have guessed it… November was Oatmeal Stout and Pumpkin Pie! Mmmm.
Those of you who have been lucky enough to have a beer or two with me know I love my stouts. Imperial Stouts! Anything particularly with a ABU of 10% plus and aged in a bourbon barrel. I believe oatmeal stouts actually run on the more drinkable side, usually a lower alcohol content and very sweet and smooth due to the lactose (right??). This was a great pairing for the Thanksgiving Day pie and fresh whipped cream.
Since we are in Austin, TX at the waning months of the year, I have had quite a few local and regional stouts. In fact, just across the street is a local beer bar called Craft Pride which only serves Texas beers, and they have a great selection. That said, I had already chosen a beer back in Minneapolis for this occasion, so we went ahead with Braubeer MooJoos from Lucan, MN.
Beth made the pumpkin pie and we had it along with everything else from scratch for our Thanksgiving Day feast! Here is the recipe:
Filling (Beth here – if making two pies, use a 29 oz can of pumpkin and 5 eggs, double everything else in the recipe):
1 x 15 oz can of pumpkin (unflavored)
1/4 t nutmeg
1 t cinnamon
1/4 t cloves (0r 3 whole cloves ground)
1/2 C sugar
1/2 C packed brown sugar
1 C milk
Pie crust was made from scratch (Beth here –or use your favorite pre-made crust, Pillsbury was always a favorite in my house):
1 1/4 C all purpose flour
1/2 C butter, chilled and diced (works great if frozen and grated on a cheese grater as well)
1/4 t salt
1/4 C ice water
Whipped cream (Beth here – I don’t actually measure when making whipped cream I just go by sight, but these are standard measurements):
1 c Heavy cream
1 T powdered sugar (confectioners sugar)
1 t vanilla
Mix the filling, set it aside.
For the crust:
Make the crust by combining the flour and salt. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add in water 1T at a time until mixture forms a ball. Do not over mix and don’t add too much water; this causes the butter to melt and aids in gluten formation that leads to a less flaky crust. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let chill in fridge for a few hours. When ready, roll it out and place it in a pie tin, any ol’ disposable tin will do.
Pour filling into crust and bake at 375 degrees until knife comes out clean (~60 minutes).
For the whipped cream:
In a large bowl, whip cream on high until soft peaks form (~2-3 minutes). Add vanilla and confectioners sugar and continue beating on medium until stiff peaks form. Make sure not to over-beat or cream will become butter!
When the pie is cool, top with whipped cream and serve!
This one is a bit out of order, but wanted to share the delicious-ness. September was West Coast Lager and Beer Can Chicken.
We had heard of beer can chicken; however, I never knew how to make it. We did some research as to how exactly this method operates, but (spoiler alert) after we had collected the data we ended up butterflying the whole bird and grilling in directly on the rack. Some points on why it is disappointing clear we had to go our route:
First, the beer can in the chicken plays no gastronomic role at all! That is, the beer can only exists to help hold up the chicken. There are a few sites that will tell you the [open] beer is supposed to evaporate into the chicken to make it more juicy, but my whole grilled chicken always comes out juicy, so I don’t see why this is a problem in the first place.
If the beer can is supposed to structurally support the chicken while cooking, the physical setup still baffles me. I don’t think that top-heavy foul would support well even with a big beer can crammed in its cavity. I imagine one would have to create a suspension system to keep the bird up. So, even if it could be balanced, the practicality here makes it pretty hard to make the point.
The chicken won’t cook properly on a grill if it sits on top of a beer can- the top part of that bird is so far from the rack/heat source that the bottom would be extra crispy while the top of that breast would be extra rare. This method might work in an oven where the heat is evenly distributed, but I fail to see it working on the grill.
These are my thoughts, so take them with a grain of salt.
To prep the chicken, I butterflied it by taking a large chef’s knife and cutting along the backbone. I also cut the skin that holds the thighs and legs, since I want the heat more evenly spread. The whole then essentially lays flat. I season the skin with salt, pepper, paprika, very little cayenne pepper, and maybe some rosemary. I make sure the grill is hot and throw on the bird, cavity side-down. I always start chicken with the skin-side up, so it get mostly cooked then halfway through I put skin side down for not quite the rest of the half. This gets it cooked well all the way through and the skin has time to crisp but avoids burning it. The whole chicken will take about 20-25 min to cook on the grill.
We served it up with a simple meat and potatoes meal – a microwaved sweet potato and some red leaf lettuce with a bit of balsamic vinegar + olive oil topped with cheddar.
Now the beer: We cooked this at the apartment in Minneapolis, so I had a hard time finding “West Coast” lagers from which to pull. I ended up using a Lakefront Brewery, Inc. Oktoberfest Lager, which is based in Milwaukee, WI. For the truest West Coast notion, I went as far west as we can go- Kona Brewing Co Longboard Lager, which also reminded us of the warm vacation just back in Jan at Hawaii.