Syrian, Iraqi refugees to prepare Hope & Sesame dinner on Sunday

If you’ve ever wanted to try Syrian and Iraqi cuisine, Sunday is your chance.

Austin doesn’t have many Middle Eastern restaurants that specialize in these cuisines, but thanks to Hope & Sesame, a nonprofit whose mission is “empowering recently-resettled refugees through opportunities to integrate economically and socially into the Austin community,” a group of Syrian and Iraqi cooks will be preparing a dinner at 7 p.m. Sunday at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, 8134 Mesa Drive, to raise money for the organization.

Hope & Sesame has hosted several of these dinners in the past year, including several with a focus on Afghani cuisine.

What’s on the menu? They organizers haven’t said exactly, but guests can expect vegetarian and gluten-free options, as well as some including meat. In keeping with Muslim customs, this event is alcohol-free.

Tickets cost a suggested donation of $70, but the organization has encouraged people who want to attend to come, even if they can’t donate that amount. You can find out more about the organization and find out more about upcoming events at

This month’s St. Elias Mediterranean food and music festival started 70 years before ACL

It’s the 86th year for Medfest, the St. Elias Mediterranean Festival that takes place every year at the St. Elias Orthodox Church downtown.

Arabic folk band Layalina performs at the 82nd annual St. Elias Mediterranean Festival in 2014. The festival features Mediterranean food and music, kids activities and a bazaar. It is a fund raiser for the historic downtown church. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Thanks to the Jabour family, which runs Twin Liquors and has a long history in Central Texas, this festival celebrating Mediterranean cuisine and culture has taken place since the early 1930s. The Austin City Limits Music Festival, by comparison, started in 2002, a mere 70 years later.

In 2006, Bill Attal, left, and George Oldziey practiced their dance steps in preparation for the St. Elias Mediterranean Festival. American-Statesman file photo

This year, the Mediterranean festival returns September 21 and 22 at the church at  408 E. 11th Street with Mediterranean foods, cocktails, wines, beer, a shopping bazaar, dancing and live Arabic and Greek music. Festivities will run from 6 to 11 p.m. on the 21st and noon to 11 p.m. on the 22nd. Admission is free from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday.

Tickets to the event are available at all Austin-area Twin Liquors locations for a $5 donation.

“Medfest is one of my favorite events of the year, and one that is very close to my heart because of our family heritage,” Twin Liquors president David Jabour said in a release. “With food, wine, cocktails, music and dancing, it’s a true celebration and we’re thrilled to lend our support for such a long-standing tradition.”

This handout photo from St. Elias Church shows the early food work that went into the annual Mediterranean Festival that is now in its 86th year. Contributed by St. Elias


Austin Food Blogger Alliance to host noodle cook-off on Sept. 23

The Austin Food Blogger Alliance is hosting a cook-off event again this year, but with a new theme: Noodles.

Sesame-tonnato noodles. Contributed by Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post.

After several curry cook-offs, the nonprofit is now bringing together anyone who loves any kind of noodles, from Italian spaghetti to Vietnamese vermicelli. (Full disclosure: I helped start this group and now serve on its community advisory board. In 2013, we wrote a cookbook!)

From 2 to 4 p.m. Sept. 23 at Brew & Brew’s event space, 906 E. Fifth Street, more than a dozen contestants, who include some local bloggers and area restaurants, will bring their best dishes, and the crowd and a panel of judges will determine the winner. The Oodles of Noodles Community Cook-off costs $25 in advance or $30 at the door. You can still register to compete by emailing For more info, go to

You can make a vegetarian pad Thai with sweet potato noodles and edamame. The Austin Food Blogger Alliance is hosting a noodle cook-off on Sept. 23 at Brew & Brew’s event space, which will feature any kind of spaghetti or noodle you can imagine. Contributed by Chrystal Keogh for Monkey-Bites.

Here is a noodle recipe from Chrystal Keogh, the Austin blogger behind Monkey-Bites, whwo created this vegetarian take on traditional Pad Thai using sweet potato noodles and edamame. You could use rice noodles if you don’t want to use spiralized sweet potatoes.

RELATED: Use up this week’s leftovers in a spaghetti pie with ricotta, veggies

Veggie Pad Thai

For the stir-fry:
3 medium sweet potatoes, spiralized
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 cup frozen shelled edamame, thawed
2 tablespoons coconut oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon ginger, minced
1/4 cup red onion, diced
For the sauce:
1 tablespoon fish sauce
3 tablespoons palm sugar, brown sugar or honey
1/4 cup tamarind concentrate
1 to 3 teaspoons sriracha, to taste
1/4 cup water
2 to 3 teaspoons soy sauce, to taste
For garnish:
1 mess bean sprouts
1 mess cilantro, roughly chopped
1/2 cup peanuts, chopped
Lime wedges

Cook sweet potato noodles in boiling water for two minutes. Drain.

Combine all sauce ingredients in measuring cup and set aside.

In a wok or skillet over medium-high heat, add coconut oil and onions. Cook, stirring continuously for about one minute. Add garlic and ginger and cook for another two minutes. Add edamame and red bell pepper and cook for another two minutes. Add sweet potato noodles and sauce and cook for another two to three minutes until noodles are desired doneness and all ingredients are evenly distributed. Serves 4.

— From Chrystal Keogh, Monkey-Bites

Agriculture and Art: More than 20 area farmers to showcase artwork at upcoming exhibit

For the sixth year, local farmers have created pieces of art — including paintings, photographs and sculptures — for a Farmer As Artist exhibit at Prizer Arts & Letters, an art gallery at 2023 E. Cesar Chavez St.

This photo, by Christian Sacra of ANUME Foundation Farm, is called “Larry & George” and is part of an upcoming art exhibit at Prizer Arts & Letters. Contributed by Christian Sacra.

As the exhibit has grown, so has the number of contributors. This year, 23 local farmers will show at this exhibit, which is open from Sept. 8 to 28. You’ll see works from Boggy Creek Farm, Millberg Farm, Tecolote Farm, Urban Roots, Johnson’s Backyard Garden, Munkebo Farm, Farmshare Austin, Agua Dulce, Joe’s Organics and ANUME Foundation Farm.

The opening reception, which is free and open to the public, is scheduled from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday.

RELATED: Larry Butler, co-founder of Boggy Creek Farm and local food champion, dies at 70

Local chef to take over East Austin’s Springdale Farm as it awaits redevelopment

Carol Ann Sayle of Boggy Creek Farm painted these tomatoes for this year’s Farmer As Artist exhibit at Prizer Arts & Letters. Contributed by Boggy Creek Farm.



Central Texas Food Bank, local pickle company win big at Quesoff

Quesoff, Austin’s big queso contest, was last weekend, and the event raised enough money for the Central Texas Food Bank and its partner agencies to serve meals more than 15,200 Central Texans in need.

More than a dozen teams competed in the Quesoff at the Mohawk last weekend. Contributed by Jessica Alexander

The food bank was the beneficiary of the event, but there were queso winners, too.

The team from Better Half won best meaty queso at the recent Quesoff. Contributed by Jessica Alexander.

The queso from team Willigan’s Island, from a local pickle company of the same name, won best in show. The team from Better Half Bar won best meaty queso, while Kesos Taco House won best spicy queso. The best vegetarian queso also went to Kesos Taco House, and the Austin restaurant Dai Due won the wild card award. Micklethwait Craft Meats earned an honorable mention.

Contributed by Jessica Alexander.
Contributed by Jessica Alexander.

Fresh Chefs Society raising money to teach cooking to teens in foster care

If you’re looking for an excuse to enjoy some delicious food and cocktails while mingling with people who are involved in Austin’s food and nonprofit scene, you’ll want to know about Fresh Chefs Society’s fall fundraiser coming up at 5 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 9 at a house in South Austin. (Link for tickets.)

Fresh Chefs Society teaches youth in the foster care system basic and not-so-basic culinary skills. The nonprofit has worked with more than 500 Central Texas teens since it started five years ago. Contributed by Fresh Chefs Society.

The event, which is the wrap party for a year-long capital campaign to hire a full time executive director, will have a happy hour vibe with cocktails, heavy hors d’oeuvres — from Foundation Foods, Launderette, Olamaie, Bespoke Food Austin and Dos Lunas Artisan Cheeses — silent auction and music from DJ Mahealani.

What does Fresh Chefs Society do? In five years, nearly 500 youth in Central Texas have participated in at least one of Fresh Chefs Society programs. One of the organization’s primary functions is to match local volunteers, including everyday home cooks and professional chefs, with young people who are in the foster care system but are learning how to live on their own.

“Through dynamic (and edible) programming, Fresh Chefs Society is providing a new way of connecting community to youth through food and creating experiences that enrich their lives, enhance their connection to food and give them important life skills,” says founder Shaleiah Fox.

Fresh Chefs Society has an upcoming fundraiser on Sept. 9. Contributed by Fresh Chefs Society.

General admission tickets cost $50, and there are other suggested donations that will help the organization expand its support of Central Texas teens. You can find out more about the event at or buy tickets here.



That’s a lot of cookies: The Big Bake Sale raises more than $12,000 for RAICES

Over the weekend, dozens of bakers set up bake sales at Austin-area restaurants and cafes to raise money for RAICES, the organization assisting families that have been separated at the border.

Austin-area bakers made treats at home and then sold them at several locations through the city on Saturday morning. Contributed by the Big Bake Sale.

Including donations from partners, including, Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ and Crema Bakery & Cafe, the group raised $12,482.77 that will “go directly to RAICES to help immigrant and refugee families at the border.

Austin Bakes, which is the Big Bake Sale’s sister organization and started after the Japan tsunami, has raised more than $80,000 for humanitarian relief.

You can find out when the next bake sale is through the Big Bake Sale’s website or Facebook group.

The Big Bake Sale raised more than $12,000 over the weekend. Contributed by The Big Bake Sale.

One of the delightful treats we picked up from the Valentina’s location on Saturday morning was this churro Chex mix from Kristina Wolter, my food stylist friend behind She shared the recipe she used to make this sweet snack.

Churro Chex Mix

1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) salted butter
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
4 1/2 cups Rice Chex cereal
4 1/2 cups Corn Chex cereal
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon

Heat oven 350. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and set aside. In a pot, add the brown sugar, butter and corn syrup. Bring to a boil for 1 minute and then add baking soda and set aside.

Put the Chex in a large bowl, and pour the hot caramel over the cereal and mix until all cereal is coated. Spread the mixture on a parchment-lined sheet pan. Mix granulated sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over the top of the cereal. Bake for 15 minutes. Stir and bake for another 5 min. Let cool before breaking up. Store in an airtight container.

— Adapted from a recipe on

Mark your calendars now for annual Austin Mac & Cheese Festival this fall

It’s only July, but it’s time to mark your calendars for a food event in November.

Many people say Luby’s makes the best mac and cheese, but you’ll find plenty of other contenders at the annual Austin Mac & Cheese Festival, which returns in November. Contributed by Luby’s.

The Austin Mac & Cheese Festival will be returning for the third year from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 11 at the Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts.

Tickets go on sale on Sept. 11. This event sold out quickly in its debut year, creating something of a cheesy phenomenon that could be rivaled only by the Quesoff, another tasting event that also caters to cheese lovers.

RELATED: Sample queso from some of Austin’s top restaurants at Quesoff in August

No word on how much tickets will cost or who will be serving mac and cheese, but you can stay tuned for details on the event’s Facebook page.

Think Austin’s food scene is thriving? At Food for Thought events, learn why the answer isn’t so clear

If you think Austin has a thriving food scene, you only know part of the story.

Austin’s food scene might look like it’s thriving, but it’s not thriving for everyone. At several Food for Thought ATX events this week, you can learn more about food access and insecurity. Jay Janner / American-Statesman

A third of kids who live in Austin are considered food insecure, and so are 25 percent of the adults who live here. A lack of affordable housing and living wages mean food industry employees are struggling to stay in Austin, despite incessant news reports about new restaurants that are opening and the latest 10 top list that the city has landed on.

But anyone who has looked with a critical eye on Austin’s food system knows that inequities abound and that the ecosystem is more fragile than you might think.

This week, the Entrepreneurs Foundation and Blackbaud are hosting Food for Thought ATX, an annual spring service week that encourages tech workers to volunteer at local nonprofits during the day, but some of the evening events are open to the public.

Raj Patel, a research professor in the LBJ School of Public Affairs at UT Austin and recipient of the James Beard Foundation s Leadership Award, will speak at the Capital Factory at 4 p.m. on Monday. Contributed by Sheila Menezes

At 4 p.m. Monday, the Capital Factory, 701 Brazos Street, will host an afternoon of speakers, including Raj Patel and Erin Lentz, who oversaw the most comprehensive study of food access in Austin, and leaders from a handful of food nonprofits, including Derrick Chubbs of the Central Texas Food Bank, Ronda Rutledge of the Sustainable Food Center, Max Elliott of Urban Roots, Robyn Metcalfe of Food & City magazine and Edwin Marty with the City of Austin’s Office of Sustainability. These leaders will give their insight into what is and isn’t working in the local food economy.

On Tuesday, Springdale Farm and Eden East are hosting a free networking event on the farm that starts at 6 p.m. and includes light bites and drinks, and on Thursday at 7 p.m., organizers are hosting a screening of the movie “Chef” at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Mobile Loaves & Fishes Community First! Village. Bring chairs and a blanket, and burgers, french fries, snacks and drinks will be available for purchase.

For the latest information about the events, go to

You’ve heard about slow food, but what about ‘slow money’? Find out at dinner, talk with Woody Tasch

Slow food inspired an entire generation of eaters and food businesses, but about 10 years ago, influencers in the financial world started picking up on the locavore ethos.

Woody Tasch is the founder of the “Slow Money” movement, which aims to bring the ideals of the local food movement into investing. Contributed by Slow Money.

One of them, Woody Tasch, coined the term “Slow Money” in his 2008 book on a more organic way of funding food startups, and since then, more than two dozen investment clubs and networking groups have started across the country.

With two events in Austin this weekend, Tasch will be sharing about ideas and concepts from his newest book, “Soil: Notes Towards the Theory and Practice of Nurture Capital.”

The first is a free book signing at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 20, at the Central Library downtown, and the second is a dinner at Eden East and Springdale Farm on Monday, May 21.

​Austin Foodshed Investors is hosting the dinner, which will bring together food entrepreneurs and investors to learn about the personal impact investing and the Slow Money ideals, as well as the local community that has sprouted up around them. According to AFI, which has grown significantly in recent years, local companies that have benefited from Slow Money investments include Richardson Farms, Cat Spring Yaupon, Eden’s Organic Nursery and Bola Pizza.

Tickets to the Slow Money/AFI dinner on Monday night cost $150, and you can find them at