Wednesday, August 11, 2004

According to the Austin Business Journal, Austin is set to get $9M in funding (secured by Rep. Lloyd Doggett, so one assumes this is federal money, although that is not clear) to improve Austin's Hike and Bike System. Mayor Will Wynn is quoted saying "The home of Lance Armstrong will become the most bicycle-friendly city in the United States."

Most of the planned improvements are in Southeast Austin.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

I noticed last night that Violin's Etc. seems to be moving in around the corner from my house -- Burnet and Rockwood. This is a nice addition to the neighborhood, and just strengthens a trend started by Serendipity Bridal and Terra Toys of speciality shops moving from higher priced neighborhoods (Violin's Etc. moved from Lamar & 38th, Terra Toys from South Congress) to the North Shoal Creek Area.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

I ran across an intriguing new product this morning at Gelato's, the new gelato and coffee place in my neighborhood (review coming soon...). MetroMint Peppermint Water. The first whiff is like toothpaste, but after that it grows on you. It tastes almost like peppermint tea, but with none of the tannins. Quite refreshing.

I find this an interesting addition to the "Smart Water" trend -- in this case without the smarts. The ingredients are water and mint. (From Oregon and Washington, "the best peppermint you can grow.")

The MetroMint website describes the creators as a "cutting edge group of beveragites", which is a bit pretentious for my taste. Does it surprise anyone it is from San Fransisco?

Monday, July 26, 2004

Went to Central Market this weekend and got the lowdown on the renovations to the orginal store on North Lamar. Here's the skinny.
1. The store is expanding northward into the old Origins store space.
2. The produce section moves into the Origins space.
3. The "Healthy Living" section (vitamins and soaps and such) moves into the old produce section, along with bulk items.
4. The Cheese section is moving over by the wine department, and they are planning on doing wine and cheese pairings/tastings in the new combined area. As part of this move, they are getting rid of the ports and harder alcohol (some TABC rule about not serving samples if you are selling stronger alcohol -- which makes me wonder how GrapeVine Market can do wine samples, since they also sell hard liquor).
5. The old cheese section becomes part of an expaned "Cafe on the Go," serving more prepared foods, similar to the food courts of the UK department stores.
6. The "Cafe on the Go" section expands to include a smoothie bar and other cafe oriented additions.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Another article on the Taxo Xpress/Walgreen's issue in the Austin Business Journal.
Sara's Chocolate Review: The Chocolate Traveler (Bittersweet Chocolate Wedges)

As an experienced traveler to chocolate, I was a bit suspicious when I spotted The Chocolate Traveler on the shelf at Central Market. After all, I regularly travel with chocolate, and find a nice chocolate bar (or two or three) fits nicely into a purse or a backpack. But since fancy packaging is often just an excuse to charge a premium for good chocolate -- a premium I gladly pay if the chocolate is good enough -- I decided to give The Chocolate Traveler a try.

The "travelling tin" concept, while a fallacy, is the strongest point of this chocolate. It's a round tin with 16 pie shaped wedges in two layers inside, and a fancy deco style world traveller graphic on the cover. I chose the bittersweet variety (also branded as "carb controlled"...) which was 70% cocoa. This was probably a mistake, as "carb controlled" ends up meaning "sugar free with malitol." (Examining their website, I see they also have a normal bittersweet variety, which I did not see at Central Market. I assume the normal flavor has sugar instead of malitol.)

Bean Origin: none specified

Place Purchased: Central Market, North Lamar, Austin, Texas

Cost: $3.99 for 400 grams

Sight: Glossy finish, even coloring. 3/5

Smell: Earthy, not too sweet. Nothing special, however. 2/5

Snap: The wedges are about 1/2 inch thick, which is a bit thicker than I prefer. They snap in half cleanly, however, with an even break. 3/5

Taste: Taste was too sweet, probably due to the malitol. A bit nutty in flavor. 2/5

Texture: melts easily in the mouth into a creamy, smooth paste. The texture is very buttery -- this may be attributable to the malitol (usually used in liquid form) instead of more crystalline sugar. I suspect this chocolate would melt easily and evenly. 4/5

Final assessment: The gloss, smooth texture, and snap indicate a well tempered chocolate, but the flavor is too sweet and nutty. In this case, the chocolate does not live up to the packaging. However, for people looking for a sugar free chocolate, this is probably as good as you can find. 14/25

Friday, July 23, 2004

Here's the proposed site plan for the Walgreen's/Taco Xpress development.
John Kelso has his usual funny stuff on an unusual topic this week. Walgreens has proposed a joint development with Taco Xpress owner Maria Corbalan on the site of Maria's current lease on the Taco Xpress property on South Lamar.

I actually find this story amazing -- big corporate America (boo, hiss...) is locally aware enough and flexible enough to propose what I think is a very decent compromise to local opposition to "big box" retailers. (By the way, I don't consider Walgreen's "big box" -- drug stores are neccessary parts of neighborhoods, and although an independent drugstore might be preferable, there aren't many left...)

This plan has a lot of benefits:
1. Maria, assuming she can get a loan for her portion of the property, would have a permanent home without threat of losing her property to development.
2. The South Lamar area will keep local-business Taco Xpress.
3. Walgreens gets it's location.
4. The neighborhood gains a drug store.

According to Kelso, neighborhood association President Kevin Lewis says he would like to see "for starters, something with residential on top, and some small shops of some sort. We look at some of the places on South Congress as an ideal, the kind of mixed use transit-oriented growth that the city's promoting, in fact."

While I think mixed-use development that mixes residential and commercial space is a a great idea for urban planning, all these neighborhoods that want nothing but "small shops" are being unrealistic. Small shops are great, but your basic neighborhood services like grocery stores and drugstores, won't fit into that plan. Coming up with ways to partner with the Walgreen's and HEBs of the world and integrate them into a "mixed use transit-oriented" neighborhood is much more practical (and challenging). South Lamar should see this proposed partnership between a large corporation and a local business owner as a model for compromise that could set the flavor of future development in the area -- subsidized cooperation funding the local businesses instead of competition forcing them out.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

The Alamo Drafthouse folks, Tim and Kerrie League, have just sold the franchising arm of the Drafthouse to CEO Terrell Braly.

I did some research into Terrell Braly, and found that in February of 1999, Terrell Braly was manager of sales for New York based residential brokerage the American Real Estate Group. I can't find him in the business press for anything else. Anyone else know anything about him?

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Went tubing this weekend -- in the preparation dug up last year's recommendations to tubing newbies.

Sara (and Ben's) top 10 tooooobin' recommendations:

1. tons of sunscreen (suggested application is in the morning *before* putting on your bathing suit); liberally re-applied at the under-arm tubing hotspot (having your armpits burned is really the pits!)
2. lots of bottled water. drunk is fine; dehydrated is really tiring. alternating beer and water is a pretty good approach.
3. beef jerkey/turkey jerky/trail mix. When you start drinking at 10AM it's good to have something to put in your stomach.
4. breakfast tacos for breakfast. see #3.
5. get a tube with a bottom. really. ben might disagree with me, but trust me on this one.
6. water shoes of some sort.
7. a complete (dry) change of clothes for afterwards. most of the tubing places have showers.
8. suggested post-tubing activities: grist mill or rudy's in gruene; gruene hall for music & dancing if you want to make a day of it; and the san marcos outlet malls are on the way back.
9. if you go on a not-saturday, you can find coupons online for most of the tubing places. links to tube rental places:
10. no glass or styrofoam on the river. you can rent coolers in tubes for your beer and ice.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

There's an article in yesterday's Statesman about the memorial service I attended Friday for Lt. Brian Smith, who was killed 2 weeks ago in Iraq. I only knew Brian in vignettes -- drinking beers at the Draught House (where he would try to out-Southern the rest of us) or his work on my will before my trip to Africa (as an unemployed lawyer waiting for Basic Training to start, he actually did 2 house calls and spent a lot of time in exchange for homebrew...). I saw him the last time he was in Austin before deploying to Iraq, and he regaled us with stories of his training experiences. This vignette based experience of Brian makes me feel a strong loss of potential -- this is someone who was *becoming* a friend.

Brian's untimely demise really brings the war in Iraq home to me -- although he is the only soldier in Iraq I know/knew personally, all of a sudden this has become my generation's war....

I find it appropriate that the first Austin area death in this war is one of an extremely unconvential, extremely intellectual individual.... Brian was a very typical Austinite in many ways -- science fiction fan, UT grad, member of the SCA, post-graduate degree, even worked in high tech....

Friday, July 09, 2004

Red vs. Blue, irreverant miltary drama created out of the the video game Halo, plays tonight and Saturday night at the Alamo Downtown. Did I mention it is created in my hometown of Buda?

Wednesday, July 07, 2004 is hosting an online auction -- Wear Yellow -- for the Lance Armstrong Foundation. The auction features designer goods -- some of them one of a kind.

My favorite? The Ralph Lauren Citrine ShoulderSweepers. Although the Manolo Blahnick boots aren't bad. :)

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Grapvine Market is now carrying Vosges chocolates. Cute little "purses" of Red Fire and Gianduja, and Red Fire and Black Pearl candy bars. The Red Fire Bar is fabulous -- the best executed "chocolate and chili" combination I have *ever* had. (Why did a Chicago company beat Texas to this? Shouldn't some local chocolatiers think about developing some chocolates with Texas ingredients? I'd love to see a line of chili chocolates featuring different types of hot chilis combined with chocolate...)

The black pearl bar, which I have not tried yet, has wasabi in it -- yep, I said wasabi. I'll let you know how it is, but Ike (cheesemonger/gourmet manager at Grapevine) said it was surprisingly good.

Did I mention I was the one who request Ike get them? And that he's selling them for $1 less than the bar at Hotel San Jose, the only other local source?
Vickie Howell and Knitty Gritty, mentioned here yesterday, also makes the Austin Chronicle this week. Read the article here.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Austin Country Limits is a nicely done photo-blog of the Austin area. My favorite is this view of the umbrellas at the Oasis.
Austin hipster Vickie Howell hosts knitting show on DIY channel. I haven't seen Knitty Gritty -- "It's not your Grandmother's Knitting Show" -- but it's a good move for Austin creative craft community. Unfortunately, It's filmed in LA.

Rumour has it that other DIY shows may come out of Austin in the near future.
Newest fashion accesory to hit the streets of Austin: The bright yellow LiveStrong bracelet. So much packed into such a little package: affordable (just $1), summer color, cool font, jelly-like texture reminescent of the 80s, and let's not forget the cause (the Lance Armstrong Foundation). Get them all over town -- Chuy's and PureAustin Gyms both have them (and I'm sure you can find them at plenty of other places).