Austinites don’t get as many excuses to visit Richardson Farms in Rockdale as they do the other farms a little closer to the city.
But this Saturday, Hillside Farmacy chef Sonya Cote and Tink Pinkard, Austin’s pig roasting aficionado, are teaming up for a Homegrown Revival feast at the farm run by Jim and Kay Richardson, omnipresent figures at local farmers markets who provide pastured pork, beef, chickens and turkeys to restaurants and home cooks alike.
The dinner, which starts at 5 p.m. with a hayride tour of the farm, costs $85, and you can find out more on the Homegrown Revival website.
It conjures up images of my mother stirring beans and tomato sauce with a spoon in our California kitchen. Catering to my poultry-only preferences, she always made it with ground turkey.
In Texas, friends sometimes scoff at the idea of chili without beef. After all, the red meat is a bit of a tradition in the dish, but I was always convinced my mother’s turkey version was much tastier.
As it turns out, there are a lot of people who think chili is better off without red meat- and many who think the classic dish is better without meat at all.
The Lone Star Vegetarian Chili Cook-Off has taken place annually in Texas since 1989. Started when four vegetarian societies formed the Lone Star Vegetarian Network, the competition has been held in several major Texas cities and draws hundreds of eager chili tasters each year. This past Sunday in Round Rock marked the 26th annual cook-off and featured vegan chilis prepared by 11 different teams from all around the state.
Along with six other judges, I took a small scoop of each chili and rated it based on consistency, appearance and overall flavor. The variety of vegan chilis was astounding. Some teams used squash and tomatoes, others simply mixed a variety of classic beans; some were thick and sweet, others more soupy and spicy. My favorite chili was a mix of beans, corn and quinoa with a thick consistency and hint of sweetness.
Once the judging was over – we gave the top prize to Phillip Steifer from Elgin – we were allowed to leave the table and walk around to greet the chili chefs, each of whom proudly scooped out servings with a ladle.
Despite the fact that I was stuffed from 12 chili samplings, I couldn’t resist another taste of the corn-quinoa chili.
The cook-off aims to show that vegan foods can be just as delicious as those prepared with meat, and there was no denying the scrumptiousness of these meat-free chilis.
Sure, there are countless barbecue and chili competitions that feed into the various regional and national contests, but these are, for the most part, the small town festivals that started out as a way to celebrate and promote a local crop or meat, including alligator or oysters.
Some of these festivals are going on stronger than others, and they all rely on weekend warriors like yourself coming into town and dropping a few extra dollars while you are there. From where I sit, the cultural and community value of their existence is even more important than the economic impact, but one can’t continue without the other.
Did we leave off your favorite funky food festival? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll update the list.
The Jalapeño Festival, now in its 37th year, takes place during the Washington’s Birthday Celebration Festival in Laredo in February. jalapenofest.org
Oysterfest takes place the first weekend in March in Fulton and will celebrate 36 years in 2015. fultonoysterfest.org
In March, the town of Granbury hosts General Granbury’s Birthday Celebration, which includes a number of bean eating and cooking contests. granburysquare.com
Texas Onion Festival takes place every March in Weslaco, where the famed 1015 Onion was developed by Dr. Leonard Pike. weslaco.com/onionfest
The Poteet Strawberry Festival returns to the small town south of San Antonio every April. strawberryfestival.com
Spring hosts the annual Texas Crawfish and Music Festival, which started in 1986, over two weeks in late April and early May. texascrawfishfestival.com
The Texas Steak Cook-off will return to Hico on May 16 next year for the 13th annual contest. texassteakcookoff.com
Texas Blueberry Festival passed the quarter century mark this summer in Nacogdoches, and it will take place the second weekend of June next year. texasblueberryfestival.com
Jacksonville, home of hundreds of concrete tomatoes and the Tomato Bowl stadium, celebrates tomatoes unlike anywhere else in Texas. Its 31st annual Tomato Fest will return June 13, 2015. jacksonvilletexas.com
The Luling Watermelon Thump has been taking place every June for more than 60 years. watermelonthump.com
The town of Holland celebrated the 40th Holland Corn Festival this summer, and it will return in late June next year. hollandcornfest.org
La Dolce Vita celebrated the 25th year of its annual fundraiser in a way that feels familiar to longtime supporters: an elegant sip-and-stroll evening featuring some of the best restaurants in Central Texas on the grounds of Laguna Gloria.
The event has raised millions for arts education programming at local museums that are now under the The Contemporary Austin umbrella, but it’s also a way for foodies to get a taste of what dozens of local restaurants, wineries and even catering companies and bakeries have to offer.
Every year, we get a sneak peek at soon-to-open restaurants, which this year included Fixe, which will open on Fifth Street downtown in the next month or two and served this salad of puffed grain (above), and Vox Table, one of the restaurants to open in the new Gibson Flats multi-use complex under construction next to the Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar.
(Vox Table actually won best dish of the night from attendees, who voted on their favorite food and wines. They served these little cucumber crudo skewers, below.)
Ranch 616’s Kevin Williamson has helped organize the event for many years, and his team always serves a refreshingly down-home dish: Frito Pie in a bag.
Megg’s Cafe in Temple
Desserts from Trace
Duchman served this aglianico, made with a varietal of grapes that hadn’t been grown in Texas until they contracted to buy three years’ worth of grapes from a grower in the High Plains. That vineyard now has the largest planting of aglianico outside Italy.
Wagyu beef cones from Lucky Robot Japanese Kitchen
Beef tongue tacos from Salty Sow
Crab cake from Eddie V’s
Barlata owners Vanessa Jerez and Daniel Olivella serve paella negra.
Cheesy ramen from Ramen Tatsu-Ya
Satay owner Foo Swasdee
Kome served this snapper ceviche on shrimp toast.
Tipsy Texan Joe Eifler serves cocktails in the VIP area.
It’s been a particularly hard year for Skip Connett and Erin Flynn, who own Green Gate Farm in far East Austin. Connett was involved in an accident recently that has led to them having to cancel their fall CSA. He’s posted the whole story, as well as half a dozen ways you can support them during this time, over on the Green Gate blog. One of the cool things they have this fall are Adult Farm Camps, a crash course in managing livestock and growing organic vegetables. The next class ($150) is from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Sunday, followed by another at the same time on Nov. 15. The farm, 8310 Canoga Ave., is also hosting Family Farm Days ($10) from 10 a.m. to noon the first and third Saturdays of the month with kid-friendly activities, like planing seeds in the greenhouse or making flower bouquets. Find out more, including about renting the space for weddings or other events, or reserve a spot at newfarminstitute.org.
Here are a few other farm events of note coming up soon:
Interested in the intersection of architecture and farming? Boggy Creek Farm, 3414 Lyons Road, is hosting free architecture tours the first weekend of November of two significant buildings on its property: the white farmhouse that is one of the oldest houses in Austin, rivaled by the French Legation, which was also finished in 1841; and the modernized spin on the classic dogtrot house that owners Larry Butler and Carol Ann Sayle finished in 2012. The docent-led tours will run from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 1 and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 2, and you can find out more at boggycreekfarm.com. Don’t forget the Green Corn Project’s annual fall fundraiser will take place at the farm on Oct. 26.
Farmshare Austin will host its first Harvest Festival at 2 p.m. on Oct. 25 at the starter farm at 3608 River Road in Cedar Creek. Tickets ($15) available here.
The Austin Discovery School, a free public charter school near the intersection of FM 969 and Decker Lane, has organized its seventh annual Slow Feast in the Field fundraiser dinner, this year featuring chef Sonya Cote. The dinner featuring heritage meats, seasonal farm produce and local wines starts at 6 p.m. Nov. 8, on Green Gate Farm’s historic property east of U.S. 183. Tickets ($75 per person) and info at austindiscoveryschool.org.
Like to take photos of your food? There are two food photography and styling classes coming up in the next few weeks if you’d like to learn more about how to take even better pictures of what you eat.
The first is from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday at You’re Welcome Studios’ co-working space inside Canopy, 916 Springdale Road. Leading the hands-on workshop is Candice Stringham, an editorial photographer who lives in San Antonio, and tickets cost $40 and will cover how food photography trends have changed and what that means for shooters now. Send an email to email@example.com to reserve a spot.
On Nov. 8, Atlanta-based photographer Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn and photo stylist Annette Joseph will lead a daylong workshop at Photo Group Austin, a photo rental space at 4605 Commercial Park Drive. The class, covering everything from how to buy props to tethered shooting, starts at 9 a.m. and ends at 4 p.m. and costs $375, including meals. You can sign up and find out more at annettejosephstyle.com/annette-joseph-workshops.
Last weekend, I had the pleasure of looking at the first weekend of the Austin City Limits Music Festival through the lens of the @Austin360 Instagram handle.
It was fun to let my eyes to lead me through the festival this year, always scanning the frame, as it were, for interesting pieces of fashion and unmissable bites of food. (I couldn’t help but shoot the sunsets and shows, too.)
Now that I’ve had a few days to think about all the cool stuff I got to see, here are 15 food and fashion sights you’re sure to see at the second weekend of ACL:
I’ve had some really terrible Rocky Mountain oysters.
Calf testicles, for the uninitiated, can be a delicacy when prepared correctly, but they are nearly unpalatable if you forget to remove the membrane or soak them too long in something meant to cover up the flavor, like lemon juice.
But Austin musician Doug Moreland knows that there is a finer side to eating balls, which is why he started the Cattlelacs Calfry more than a decade ago.
The event has evolved into a two-day music festival and cooking contest that takes place at his chainsaw art shop (yes, he’s also a chainsaw artist) in the small town of Manchaca just south of Austin.
I ran into Moreland at the free Sun Radio show at Guero’s last week and heard him talking about the upcoming Calfry. I couldn’t believe I’d never heard of this contest (I feel like I’ve judged every contest in Austin at this point in my food writing career), and having grown up in a part of the country where testicle eating is, contrary to rumors, more common than eating possum or squirrel, I felt like I really needed to be part of this year’s event.
I introduced myself and asked if I might join them at the judging table. He happily obliged, but by the time the contest was over on Saturday night, I was especially happy I’d asked because two of the contestants prepared some of the best Rocky Mountain oysters I’ve ever had.
The competition has drawn as many as 10 or 12 teams in the past, but this year, only four brave cooks took Moreland’s challenge to make the best balls in “South South Austin.” (They also prepared wild game and salsa, which were far less interesting than the main game.)
The teams had plenty of fun with innuendo (“Have a ball!” is the tagline for the event), but the truth is, if we’re going to seriously advocate nose-to-tail eating, including sweetbreads, livers and trotters, it doesn’t make sense to skip the part of the calf that separates the steers from the bulls.
Two of the entries tasted a lot like the Rocky Mountain oysters I’ve had before. One was cut into strips, breaded and fried and tasted like frozen steak fingers. The other was also breaded and fried, but they were cut into round discs and had exactly the texture you’d expect from sliced testicles.
The top two entries, however, held their crunch all the way up until judging time, and the cooks had done whatever it is that prize-winning calfry cooks do to flavor and tenderize the meat in a way that really does make them taste like freshly fried oysters, but without the brine.
The winning entry, from team Hay Chihuahua Que Cojones, wasn’t just perfectly fried, it was crusted in what tasted like cornflakes and seasoned so perfectly that they could have put half a dozen on a plate and sold them for $12 from a food truck in East Austin.
According to my fellow judge Beau Smith, team Hay Chihuahua Que Cojones has won before, and I plan on asking them ahead of next year’s event if they have any secrets they’d be willing to share. Not that a lot of you are frying calf testicles these days, but in the name of preserving tradition, I feel like I need to know.
Another note about the judges table: Also joining us was David Arnsberger, the longtime local radio DJ who hosts those free Wednesday night shows at Guero’s. For nearly 30 years, he hosted and organized Spamarama, which apparently featured far worse dishes than the ones we tried over the weekend.