New Orleans-style Snowballs in Austin, Texas

Sweet Caroline's

After a year and a half of living in Southwest Austin and frequently passing this cute little food truck in Circle C, we finally made a stop. We were hot and sweaty after an afternoon at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and anything frozen sounded delightful (Weight Watchers, be damned!).

Sweet Caroline’s serves up New Orleans-style snowballs, and, despite my former days as a Hawaiian shaved ice maker (Hawaiian in Southern Illinois…), I had no idea what a “New Orleans-style” snowball was. According to the folks who run Sweet Caroline’s, snowballs are light, fine and fluffy, whereas traditional snow cones are coarse, crunchy and granular. Snowballs absorb the flavor instead of draining to the bottom of the cup like a snow cone. And this place is so legit that they even buy all of their machinery and flavors from local New Orleans businesses.

Amazing Grace at Sweet Caroline's

I had the Amazing Grace: peach, strawberry, vanilla and cream. And it was amazing. I’m not a snow cone fan, but I am now a snowball fan.

We won’t be waiting a year and a half until our next visit!

Around Town in Austin

Around Town in Austin

These are a few of my favorite things in our new city of Austin, Texas: the skyline, Lady Bird Lake, Patika Coffee and Delish bakery.

We’re kind of spoiled with the fantastic views of the Austin skyline from our apartment, especially at nighttime. Nora’s keen on watching the cars and busses whiz by on the streets below, and checking out what’s going on in Republic Square Park just across the street. She also likes pointing out “tick tock” (the Frost Bank building with the clock on top).

Lady Bird Lake (or Town Lake, depending on who you ask) is just two blocks from our apartment. I’ve yet to run the path along the lake (color me intimidated – some of these fit Austinites book it!) but we’ve taken plenty of walks there and it is just lovely. There are people walking, running and biking constantly — and lots of dogs. This is a dog-friendly city for sure. We like to walk along Cesar Chavez and then cross over the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge. This is typically where I let Nora disembark the stroller and “walk walk walk,” which is what she requests the entire way until we get to this spot. There are just too many runners and bikers along the path and I don’t want her to get in the way. Over on the Riverside Drive side of the path, there’s even a “leash-free” zone for dogs and there are always lots of them over there playing fetch or taking a dip.

What better way to end a jaunt around the lake than with a coffee and a decadent pretzel magic bar? Patika operates a cute little coffee kart on 4th Street between Congress and Colorado. They support local roasters plus some others from around the country. Given the number of independent coffee shops around town, I made it my mission to check out a new one each Friday. I haven’t gotten past Patika! And after I get my coffee, I stroll over to Delish bakery which is conveniently right on my way home. I’m told it was featured on some food show on TV, but I’d like to keep this shop under wraps. I’ve tried more of their cupcakes than I care to admit, plus the pretzel magic bar which truly is magical. The carrot cake cookie (which is what I’d call a whoopie pie) is next on my Nora’s list.

We’re having a great time exploring our new city, both on foot and through our tummies.

Goodbye, Chicago. Hello, Austin!

Chicago

“This is my kind of town, Chicago is
My kind of town, Chicago is
My kind of people, too
People who smile at you”

— Frank Sinatra

It’s official. We’re no longer Chicagoans. We’re Austinites. With the chaos of packing, saying goodbyes, driving 1,100+ miles and unpacking (partially) behind us, we’re slowly settling in and will hopefully have a new routine in place soon.

Our last week in Chicago was a busy one. I drove Nora to my parents’ so that she could have some one-on-one time with them before we moved, and so that she was out of the way when the movers came. And then I drove back to Chicago. I wanted to see exactly how much time I could spend in the car in one week… KP and I spent the final days sitting around while the movers packed up our home, and then waiting for them to load the truck. Why is it that moving companies always tell you they’ll send three to four people to tackle your move, but then only two show up? And then they’re surprised when you’re angry. As is par for the course with our moves, Mother Nature decided to drop a few flurries on us on loading day. It was nothing like we had our past two moves, but snow, nonetheless. I’m just glad we got out when we did; Chicago got 15″ of snow the weekend that we arrived in Austin.

Since Nora was with Grammie and Gampa our very last night in Chicago, we made grand plans. We had to stay in a hotel since our entire home was packed up, so we booked a room at Hotel Palomar. After we checked in, we walked to the Signature Lounge on the 95th floor of the Hancock building for pre-dinner cocktails– something I’ve wanted to do ever since we moved to Chicago but never got around to doing.  The people-watching was fantastic and the view is spectacular.

Chicago, as seen from the Signature Lounge
Chicago, as seen from the Signature Lounge

We finally made it to RPM for dinner. We were supposed to go for my birthday but it didn’t happen, and I’m glad we were able to squeeze it in, if for nothing more than the light, fluffy mozzarella balls in the lobster (!) caprese salad. A baby-free night called for an after-dinner hot toddy at Sable in our hotel. Had to go out with a bang! Although my head at 2:30 a.m. kind of wishes we hadn’t made that decision.

But a good night out is just what we needed before returning home to a house full of boxes. This was my seventh move and seeing your home and all of your belongings packed in boxes doesn’t ever get easy. There are always memories that were made in the place that you’re leaving, and our home in Chicago was chock-full of them. It’s the first house KP and I bought together as a married couple, and the home that we brought Nora home to after she was born. I couldn’t linger in her empty room too long.

Nora's room
Nora’s room

Leaving Chicago was really bittersweet. I love the city, and I don’t think I’ve been this sad to leave any place else that I’ve lived (except for maybe London). I had to remind myself (and still do) of all of the great things we’re going to have and experience in Austin. And the sunshine and warm weather Austin greeted us with our first full day here certainly helped (especially when Chicago got more snow dumped on it right after we left).

Life in Austin has been good so far, save for getting reacquainted with apartment life and a parking garage and hauling grocery and Target bags from said parking garage up to our 14th floor apartment. We’re living in corporate housing for the next two months or so. It’s right in the heart of downtown and we have amazing floor-to-ceiling windows that Nora can’t stop looking out of and watching the “cars! cars! cars!” It’s spacious and comfortable and both KP and I commented on how quiet it is and how well we’re sleeping — save for the usual sirens and city sounds. I think it’s good that we’re parked here for a few months; it’ll force us to get out and about and get the lay of the land downtown, plus we’re within walking distance of beautiful Lady Bird Lake.

Lady Bird Lake
Lady Bird Lake

 

Austin Eats

Traditional and Modern Mexican Fare in Austin, Texas

KP and I spent New Year’s Eve eve in Austin, preparing for our move there later this month. I was excited to get there and explore the city a little bit, see some neighborhoods and get a sense of where we might want to live. But let’s be honest, I was also excited to check out the food scene. I was wowed by Odd Duck on my last visit and promptly did my research for where we could enjoy dinner on our baby-free night in our soon-to-be new home. La Condesa won for dinner and for lunch we decided to wing it and ended up at Serranos Especial.

Serranos Especial

Austin didn’t exactly welcome us with the weather we were looking for, having come from cold, gray Chicago. It was equally cold (maybe not equally, but still cold) and gray in Austin, too. And drizzly. Soup weather. When in Texas, there’s only one kind of soup to eat — in my opinion — tortilla soup.

We were slightly strapped for time for lunch, as we had a date with our realtor that afternoon. So I scoured Yelp for the closest acceptable Mexican spot near our hotel. Serranos Especial seemed decent (three stars from Yelp, which I take with a grain of salt) but more importantly, it was really close to our hotel. Sold.

Since KP and I already knew we wanted tortilla soup, there was no lingering over the menu. We foolishly ordered “large” soups, thinking, “it’s just soup.” Well, it was “just soup” for a family of… four? This pic doesn’t do it justice, but the bowl was huge. I liken it to one of the serving bowls we use for dinner at home.

Tortilla soup at Serranos Especial, Austin

The soup was loaded with carrots, celery, tortilla strips, shredded chicken, what seemed like a whole avocado (not complaining) and a hunk of an ear of corn. It was loaded. It was hot. And it was delicious. So maybe ordering a large wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

The interior of Serranos Especial feels like a traditional Mexican restaurant, and there’s a huge patio which I’m sure is just lovely in the spring. Although, I’d have to be super careful if I were to return and sit outside to enjoy a margarita (or three) — the patio is made of uneven slabs of stone. Tricky for klutzes like me.

La Condesa

We finished with our realtor earlier than expected, and our dinner reservation at La Condesa wasn’t until 8:00. So we did what you do when you visit Austin. We went to Sixth Street and bellied up to the bar at Darwin’s Pub. I really like that place. It was so casual and comfortable and the staff was really friendly. Although, as I quickly learned, that’s how most people in Austin are. I don’t think I’m a Sixth Street kind of gal, but I’d go back to Darwin’s.

Onto dinner… I anticipated a delicious dinner even more so after telling a few people where we were going and getting lots of, “oh I love that place” in response. We arrived much earlier than our reservation but it was full, so we went to the bar upstairs and enjoyed a Margarita La Condesa — cazadores blanco, damiana, pineapple juice, agave nectar, lime juice, cactus-lemongrass salt rim. I think I’m going to become a margarita drinker if they’re all that good. While we were upstairs in the open bar area, we had a chance to scope out the cool decor throughout the restaurant, especially the interesting lighting. It was unique in each room and each piece was cooler than the next.

La Condesa lights

La Condesa is more than just a trendy scene with neat lights. The food — shared plates — is solid. Our server steered us in the right direction in terms of how much food to order for two people. Would you believe it if I said the ejotes (grilled Texas green beans, garlic, epazote) was my favorite dish? Green beans. But they were so good. I’ve since tried to recreate at home, to no avail. The other standout was dessert. I hardly ever order dessert but it was a special occasion — New Year’s Eve eve, baby-free and our first dinner in what will soon be our new home. So we splurged and shared the dulce de leche cake and as I said to our server, it was without a doubt the best dessert I’ve ever had in my life. Cream cheese ice-cream. Need I say more?

Once we arrive in Austin, finding a gym will be a priority if we’re going to be eating like this!