The Florida-based LaCroix is the bestselling domestically made sparkling water in the country, and it’s recent boom in popularity is causing even the Coca-Colas of the world to reinvent their sparkling water game, and an Austin company is now in on it.
First off, a few weeks ago, we tried some of those new LaCroix flavors, as well as the Dasani- and H-E-B-made knock-offs, in a Facebook livestream.
Fast forward a few weeks, and I find out about a locally made drink that might as well go after the LaCroix market.
Two years ago, Sway Water hit the market with a line of bottled water that had been infused with various fruits and even some vegetables. That bottled water is unsweetened and naturally low in calories, and this year, they are launching a similar product, but with bubbles. Lots and lots of bubbles.
In this week’s Facebook livestream, we tried three new Sway sparkling flavors: mango, strawberry and grapefruit peach. (There’s another flavor, lemon ginger, that I didn’t include.)
The carbonated water comes in four flavors: mango, strawberry, grapefruit peach and lemon ginger. The drinks, which cost about $1.69 each, are like a mix of Topo Chico and La Croix but locally made, and each had a mild taste with very little sweetness and lots of bubbles.
You can find them at People’s Rx, Royal Blue Grocery, Central Market, Ingredients, Arlan’s Market, Fresh Plus, Snap Kitchen, Wheatsville and Daily Juice.
More than 100 Austin schools carry Sway’s still water products, so the sparkling water could soon be available for purchase there, too. You can find out more about the brand at swaywater.com.
The Colossal Curry Cook-Off will take place from 2 to 4 p.m. at Shangri-La, 1016 W. Sixth St., and the purpose of the event is to bring together food bloggers, Instagrammers, home cooks and curry-lovers alike to embrace all the varied curries from all over the world.
Both restaurants and home cooks are invited to compete, and attendees can sample all the entries and vote on a favorite. Tickets cost $20 in advance and $25 at the door.
You can sign up to compete by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, and tickets are available at austinfoodbloggers.org.
The deadline to enter the contest is April 7, so get on it!
To inspire you, here are a handful of curry recipes we’ve published in the past year or so:
In today’s food section, we chatted with the founder of a peanut butter company in the UK, who has recently written a whole cookbook on cooking with nut butters.
I thought I’d use one of the recipes from the package — this easy peasy chicken satay — to try out a new recipe card tool I found recently. I’m trying to find a way to make our recipes more presentable online, so maybe you can print them off or otherwise use them more easily in the kitchen.
In my livestream taste test today, I had Katey Psencik, the Austin360 staffer who took on the Whole 30 earlier this year and recently blogged about the ups and downs of the challenge.
We tried all kinds of flavors of sunflower seeds from an Austin-based company called Chinook Seedery, honey peanut butter from HomePlate, a high-protein coffee drink from High Brew and new bubbly water from Sway Water, an Austin beverage company.
I just told you about Chinook Seedery, a local sunflower seed company that will certainly see a boom in business now that baseball season is nearly here, but you might be surprised to find out about another local company’s connection to the baseball industry.
HomePlate Peanut Butter launched in 2015 with the goal of creating a peanut butter with excellent taste and texture but without the additives of most store-bought peanut butter.
But why HomePlate? We don’t usually think of peanut butter and baseball, so what’s the connection?
Founders Clint Greenleaf and Danny Peoples, a former book publisher and retired baseball player, respectively, knew that peanut butter is the inexpensive food of choice among minor league baseball players and that even major league players who aren’t on a budget liked the ease and nutrition found in high-quality peanut butter.
They teamed up with a number of other retired players to start the company with three peanut butters — creamy, crunchy and a smooth honey-sweetened variety. HomePlate uses non-GMO peanuts grown in Georgia to make their spreads, and unlike many nut butters in the natural foods space, theirs don’t separate on the shelf or require stirring before use. The jars cost between $4 and $5 and can be found at Central Market, Randall’s, Fiesta, Royal Blue, Thom’s Market, Riverside Market, Sprouts and, starting next month, Whole Foods Market in the Southwest region.
As the official peanut butter of the Professional Baseball Clubhouse Managers Association, HomePlate peanut butters are now found in the clubhouses of all 30 MLB teams and a number of minor league teams, including the Round Rock Express and San Antonio Missions.
HomePlate Power Cookies
In tomorrow’s food section, we’re going all out with nut butters, so I thought I’d feature these no-bake peanut butter cookies from HomePlate. You could use any kind of nut butter in this recipe, including a chunky homemade butter made with the nut or seed of your liking.
2 cups rolled oats
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 scoop chocolate protein powder (optional)
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
1 tablespoon shredded coconut
1/4 cup dark chocolate chips
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup honey
In a large bowl, stir together rolled oats, cinnamon, salt and protein powder, if using. Mix in pumpkin seeds, coconut and chocolate chips. Combine peanut butter and honey in a small bowl and microwave until thinned, about 20 seconds. Add to bowl and blend well. Shape into cookies on parchment paper-lined cookie sheet. Refrigerate for up to an hour, then store in a sealed container.
Baseball season is officially here, and that means sales of sunflower seeds will skyrocket. I grew up eating sunflower seeds in the dugout, but I hadn’t seen seeds quite like the ones from Chinook Seedery, an Austin-based company that launched in 2015 and is now selling the biggest seeds I’ve ever seen in stores around the country.
Founder Mark Pettyjohn started the company in Colorado but shortly thereafter moved to Austin to be closer to Chinook’s co-packing facility in Tyler. He started with four flavors — dill pickle, Hatch green chile, Parmesan and pepper and original — and has since added smokehouse barbecue and cinnamon toast. The seeds are sold at Whole Foods, Sprouts and, as of last week, more than 100 H-E-Bs in Central and South Texas.
I tried these crazy flavors during my livestream on Facebook, but it was the size of the seeds that first caught my eye. Pettyjohn says they weren’t always quite so big. About 10 months ago, they started using a non-GMO Israeli sunflower seed grown in the Dakotas, which is part of America’s so-called sunflower belt. The cooler climate allows the seeds to grow to their full size of nearly an inch long. They are easier to crack, Pettyjohn says, but he knows not all customers want to crack them before eating, so keep an eye out for shelled products in the coming year or two.
Pettyjohn says that although we associate sunflower seeds with baseball, some of Chinook’s biggest fans are backpackers, campers, road trippers and even office workers who want something to snack on. The seeds come in a 4.7-ounce bag that retails for about $2.50 and a smaller 1.5-ounce bag for about 99 cents.
Several chefs at each farm will serve food, while local beverage artisans take care of the drinks and the farm staff give tours and talk about how they run their urban farms.
The participating restaurants and businesses include Dolce Neve, Lenoir, Live Oak Brewery, Sala and Betty, Texas French Bread, The Austin Wine Merchant, Twisted Skillet, Weather Up and Wink (Boggy Creek); The Brewer’s Table, Counter 3.FIVE.VII, Dripping Springs Vodka, Emmer & Rye, Geraldine’s, Old Thousand, Lauren’s Garden Bloody Mary Juice, Paula’s Texas Spirits, Texas Keeper Cider, Uchi, Wimberley Tea Company and Zilker Brewing Company (Hausbar Farm & Guest Haus); Buddha’s Brew, Confituras, Dai Due, Juniper, Leroy and Lewis BBQ, Lick Ice Cream, Olive and June, Strangeland Brewery and Texas Sake (Rain Lily Farm); Argus Cidery, Contigo/Chicon, Eden East, Friends and Allies Brewery, Justine’s, L’oca D’oro, Lost Pines Yaupon Tea, Olamaie, The Hightower and Wahaka Mezcal (Springdale Farm).
Tickets cost $55 for adults (children 10 and under are free) and are available at eastaustinurbanfarmtour.com. The event’s sponsors this year include Farmhouse Delivery, Lisa Munoz Realty Austin, Big Wheelbarrow and Wheatsville Co-op.
Austin’s high school students are about to have a new option for where to get lunch: A food truck outside.
For about a year and a half now, students at Anderson High School have been able to order from a dedicated food truck in their parking lot. The pilot went so well that AISD Nutrition and Food Services, thanks to a $600,000 grant from the Life Time Foundation, decided to add a second truck that would go to the other 13 high schools in the district.
Last week, that truck served its first meals at Travis High School.
From a release:
Nacho Average Food Truck will hit the road and rotate among all AISD high school campuses with a fresh, around-the-world inspired burger menu featuring: a tasty Mekong burger topped with pineapple chutney and hoisin sauce; a Mediterranean burger topped with Greek salad, feta cheese and tzatziki sauce; a Tuscan burger topped with marinara sauce, mozzarella cheese, parmesan cheese and fresh basil; and a Yucatan burger topped with guacamole, pico de gallo and cotija cheese. The truck also will serve vegetable and/or fruit sides, and a milk to provide a complete school meal.
The food truck is cool, but the really encouraging news here is that the Life Time Foundation, which is based in Minnesota but has two locations in Austin, has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to improve the already notable food being served at Austin’s schools.
In addition to the truck, the grant money will also go to expanding AISD’s breakfast in the classroom initiative, made-to-order salad bars and scratch cooking, which are just some of the innovative additions that the school has implemented in recent years.
I’ve written a ton about school food in the past few years, in part because I’m a parent of two elementary-aged kids who eat the school lunch but also because I think school food service is an important community issue that’s often misunderstood.
Here are a sampling of those stories/posts if you want to learn more:
If you aren’t already rinsing rice before you cook it, it’s not too late to start.
Famed chef Masaharu Morimoto includes his recipe for perfect white rice in his new book, “Mastering the Art of Japanese Home Cooking” (Ecco, $45), as well as an easy nori-wrapped rice ball that will ease your craving for sushi without actually having to make it at home.
Washing off the excess starch makes for perfectly plump, springy grains that are blessedly free of mush and clumps, but don’t cheat and buy cheaper long-grain rice, he says. Short-grain rice — often labeled “sushi rice” — is essential, even though you’re not necessarily making sushi.
Onigiri Rice Balls
Go into any convenience store in Japan and you’ll see rows of the classic, portable and shockingly tasty Japanese snack called onigiri, triangular rice balls wrapped in nori seaweed and filled with delicious things like pickled plum or broiled salmon. The filling can be anything you desire, including last night’s leftover salmon. You can even roll the outsides in toasted sesame seeds, shichimi togarashi (Japanese seven-spice powder) or furikake.
— Masaharu Morimoto
2 ¼ cups short-grain white rice (sushi rice)
¾ cup leftover salmon, chicken or vegetables, chopped
4 nori seaweed sheets, halved lengthwise
Put the rice in a large-mesh strainer set inside a large mixing bowl and add enough water to cover the rice. Use your hands to stir and agitate the rice to release the starch from the exterior of the grains. Empty the water, fill the bowl again, and repeat the process until the fresh water no longer becomes cloudy when you stir the rice.
Drain the rice in the strainer and shake well to help drain excess water. Let the rice sit in the strainer, stirring once or twice, until it’s more or less dry to the touch, 15 to 30 minutes.
Transfer the rice to the rice cooker, add 2 ¼ cups of fresh water, and cook according to the manufacturer’s directions. Gently fluff the rice with a plastic or wooden rice paddle. Let the rice cool slightly, so you can handle it without burning your fingers.
Pour some salt in a small bowl. To make each ball, wet your hands slightly with water, dip two fingertips in the salt, and briefly rub your hands together to distribute the salt. Grab ½ cup clump of rice and spread it slightly in your palm to form a ¾-inch layer.
Make a slight indentation in the center and add about a generous tablespoon of the filling, pressing lightly to flatten it if necessary. Fold the rice around the filling to enclose it completely, using a little more rice if necessary. Use both hands to shape the rice into a rough ball, then firmly pack it to form a rough triangle that has about 3-inch sides and is about 1-inch thick. Repeat with the remaining rice and filling. (You’ll have about two cups leftover rice, which is perfect for a stir-fry the next day.)
Just before you eat the rice triangles, wrap them in the nori. Serve right away, while the nori is still slightly crisp. Makes about 8 balls.
Back in February, I wrote about my decision to embark on a new food journey: the Whole30. For those unfamiliar, Whole30 is a lifestyle program (I hesitate to call it a diet, because it goes a few steps beyond just telling you what to eat) which encourages eliminating “psychologically unhealthy, hormone-unbalancing, gut-disrupting, inflammatory food groups” from your body for a full 30 days. The program is aimed to help pinpoint which foods may have a negative impact on your physical and mental health by eliminating certain foods and then gradually reintroducing them after the 30 days were up.
The forbidden food groups? Grains, dairy, legumes, added sugar, alcohol and a handful of banned additives like MSG, sulfites and carrageenan—yeah, it’s no easy feat, and it meant checking labels constantly, and being the girl who had to disrupt brunch to ask questions like, “What type of oil do you cook your vegetables in?” It also meant eating a full three meals a day and a lot of cooking at home, which was extremely new for me.
Though I’ve been on a weight loss journey for about three months now, my main motivation behind trying the 30-day program wasn’t to shed inches or pounds (though after seven pounds and about 10 inches lost in just one month, that was a serious added bonus). I did it to work on changing my eating habits and my relationship with food. I’m currently clawing my way out of a downward spiral into a bout of depression and anxiety that lasted more than a year, intensified by a horrific breakup and getting laid off from my job. I took a lot of comfort in food—I never thought twice about treating myself to pizza or tacos or Whataburger, ironically because I was trying to be kind to myself. I thought I’d treat myself to unhealthy foods because I “deserved it” because everything else in my life felt so awful. All it did was cause me to gain more than 30 pounds over the course of a year, which left me feeling worse than ever. I needed a change.
So, on Feb. 1, I embarked on this journey to “food freedom” (that’s Whole30 slang for “not having an emotional connection to your food”), and here’s what I learned:
Food plays a huge role in mental health (and vice versa).
I have what my doctors initially called “atypical depression,” which is a type of major depression. It usually includes symptoms like weight gain, increased appetite, excessive sleep and fatigue (as opposed to decreased appetite, weight loss and the inability to sleep, which is referred to as “melancholic” depression). The other big indicator of atypical depression is frequent mood swings brought on by external circumstances. Basically, that means I can fall into a depressive mood if even the smallest bad thing happens throughout my day, but my mood can easily improve if something positive happens.
During my Whole30, I found myself having way more good days than bad ones, and it wasn’t a coincidence. The connection between food and mental health has been heavily studied. According to Mental Health America, mental health can be negatively affected by habits like skipping meals, having too many sugary or caffeinated drinks or consuming high-fat dairy or fried and refined foods (all of which I was guilty of doing before the program).
Since my body was feeling healthier, my brain started feeling healthier too. Since I felt happier and more clear-headed, I wasn’t craving my go-to comfort foods anymore. It was a delightful healthy cycle.
Support is vital in any huge lifestyle change.
I mentioned before that two of my close friends, Melanie and Brittany, joined me in this month-long journey. We started a group text that pretty much didn’t stop for the whole 30 days, and we stayed in constant communication, sharing recipes and food photos and “God, I could really use a cheeseburger” struggles. It was invaluable. And while these girls and I were close before, the experience brought us together even more. They were my sisters in this journey, and I couldn’t have done it without them. So often, women are pitted against each other when it comes to body image, but this process made me feel incredibly lucky to have friendships full of emotional support and encouragement rather than jealousy or spite.
Sugar is everywhere, and it does weird things to your body.
Y’all, there is sugar in everything. EVERYTHING. I read hundreds of labels and had to say “no” to dozens of foods during this process, just because everything has added sugar. I didn’t realize how reliant my body was on all this added sugar until about two weeks into the program, after my sugar detox headaches went away. I was sleeping better and sleeping deeper (which also led to some really vivid dreams, apparently fairly common in this part of the process). Despite the crazy dreams, it felt like that was how my body was supposed to operate: Sleeping when it was tired, not being propped up by sugary drinks to help me stay awake or empty calories to give me fake “energy.” By the end of the 30 days, I had more energy than I ever did when I was pouring sugar into my body.
Think your body can process dairy? You’re probably wrong.
Y’know how your parents always told you to “drink your milk?” Maybe they shouldn’t have. It turns out our bodies aren’t really great at processing dairy. According to a report from ABC News, doctors say it’s actually really common to be lactose intolerant. Less than 40 percent of the entire world has the ability to process dairy, which means that your body is probably sensitive to dairy even if you don’t know it. I found this out the hard way, when post-Whole30 I reintroduced dairy into my diet in the form of a few spoonfuls of yogurt, and well, I nearly had to call in sick to work that day.
Yes, milk contains nutrients like calcium, potassium and vitamin D. But according to WebMD, some doctors believe milk actually contains too much potassium. It’s also relatively high in calories, and for those whose stomachs don’t really love breaking down dairy (like mine), it may be better to get your calcium and potassium elsewhere (eating lots of fruits and vegetables helps with this).
So, while dairy isn’t exactly bad for you, it’s not great for you, either.
Social outings are still fun without alcohol.
On the first day of my Whole30, I went to a Surfer Blood show at The Parish with my best friend. I was nervous about not being able to have my requisite tall-boy Lone Star (it’s more of a social crutch than anything else—I need something to do with my hands!) so instead I opted for a Topo Chico with lime, and you know what? I still had a great time. So many social outings are focused around alcohol, but I’ll trade my Lone Star tallboys for waking up without a hangover any day.
Eating more doesn’t mean you’ll gain weight.
I ate so much food during the Whole30. Since the program advises against snacking, I wanted to make sure my meals were big enough to tide me over until it was time to eat the next meal. I felt uncomfortably full sometimes, especially after eating a large breakfast (I was used to not eating breakfast at all), but I rarely felt hungry. And I still lost seven pounds, so don’t let anyone tell you that cutting calories is the only way to lose weight.
Doing dishes is the least fun of all the household chores.
I didn’t mind doing dishes before. Now, the thought of washing dishes sends me into a blind rage. I probably washed the same pans 90 times in a 30-day period. If somebody can recommend a dishwasher that loads and unloads itself, I’ll spend my life savings on it.
There are an infinite number of ways to cook an egg.
Poached, scrambled, hard-boiled, soft-boiled, omeletted—I tried ’em all. And I got kind of good at it! I’ve never been a particularly skilled cook, but I surprised myself every day with how delicious the food tasted. I felt like Bobby Flay in my kitchen. I only burned a few dishes and only sliced my fingers open a few times, so that’s a success in my book.
My willpower is way stronger than I ever thought.
I said “no” to more doughnuts and cookies than I ever thought I’d be able to. If you don’t work in the journalism industry, you may not know that a newsroom is really not the best place to try to be a healthy eater. At least once a day, a newsroom-wide email slides into my inbox with a title like “Doughnuts in metro” or “cookies by the features department” — it’s basically just Mad Libs: “Come eat the [sugary food] in [newsroom department]” and y’all, it’s so hard to turn down. But every time I said no, I felt a little stronger.
30 days with a new habit can change your life—but it doesn’t end there.
I’d be lying if I said I’ve eaten like a perfect paleo angel after the Whole30 ended. I’ve had more than a few beers and more than a few cookies. I ate tater tots covered in queso and washed it down with a Lone Star (my stomach hated me afterward, so I paid for it in full). It’s proof that I can still enjoy the finer things in life without going overboard (I mean, I would’ve never ordered a hamburger with lettuce instead of a bun before this experience), but it’s also proof that changing your eating habits is a lifelong journey, and there’s no “quick fix”. I hope to start my second round of Whole30 in April, after my friend’s wedding. And oh yeah, that bridesmaid dress I mentioned before? It’s too big now.