Author Archives: KRKickshawPapers

Meat Me at Home

The American Barbecue Showdown Barn

Competitive cooking shows give me anxiety. I don’t like the beat-the-clock race to finish the challenge or to see the crestfallen faces of contestants who are booted off the show when they lose a challenge.

Having said that, I found a new one to dislike on Netflix called The American Barbecue Showdown. The only things I like about this show are the beautiful barn where competition kitchens are set up, and the refrigerated meat shed which is stocked with rows and rows of all cuts of beef, chicken, pork and sausage. Competitors get to pull whatever they want out of the shed to use for the challenge ahead. 

I recently ordered Dickey’s Chef Selections from Dickey’s Pit BBQ, a Texas barbecue mainstay for almost 80 years. The company launched direct-to-consumer boxes of beef, poultry, pork and fish including wild caught mahi mahi, Atlantic salmon, filet mignon, boneless ribeye, smoked sausages and sides that can be ordered online and shipped directly to your home. When I received my Tailgate Box filled with premium cuts of beef, pork and chicken, I felt like a contestant on The American Barbecue Showdown – I’d never possessed so much protein in my life.

There are two options for the Dickey’s delivery boxes: 1) The Weeknight Box: packaged to feed a family of four for a week includes Jalapeño Cheddar Sausage, pork chops, jumbo boneless skinless breasts, St. Louis Ribs and a pork tenderloin filet; and 2) The Tailgate Box that includes boneless ribeye steaks, filet mignon, St. Louis Ribs, Jalapeño Cheddar Sausage, Dickey’s Original Smoked Kielbasa Sausage and chicken wings. I chose the Tailgate Box because it contains all of the protein I would usually buy for two weeks and one lake weekend.

I always order sliced brisket at Dickey’s BBQ so I had no idea what to expect with their boneless ribeye’s and filet mignons. We seasoned the ribeye’s with a light coating of Montreal Seasoning from Central Market and cooked them over hickory for about 10 minutes. They were just as juicy and tender as the choice steaks I get at the butcher shop with just a little marbling to give it more flavor. I’ll admit I was pleasantly surprised. We cooked the filets a week later in a cast iron skillet and doused them in a green peppercorn sauce which was on par with anything I’ve tasted at a steak house.

Nothing against them, but chicken wings are not in my dietary or culinary repertoire, so I have never prepared them. I don’t know how to fry anything besides bacon, so I decided to bake them in the oven. I tossed them in a mixture of salt and pepper and put them on a baking sheet until done then tossed them in Nikky Phinyawatana’s Sweet and Sour Sauce and popped them back in the oven for a few minutes and sprinkled them with her Drama Queen Thai Crispy Chili when they came out.  WHOA, you should try this and serve with steamed white rice.

Though in my family it’s sacrilegious to use anything other than andouille in Red Beans and Rice, I used the Dickey’s Jalapeño Cheddar and Kielbasa sausages to my RB&R and it was fantastic. 

The Tailgate Box comes with two massive racks of St. Louis style ribs which my husband coated with his super secret rub and smoked over hickory over a long lake weekend.  Though my sides aren’t quite as good as Dickey’s, I managed to make a decent cole slaw and baked beans to accompany the beans. The ribs were great, but I don’t think hubs is going to be on any BBQ Showdown show anytime soon.

The price relative to quantity and quality is excellent.  The Tailgate Box costs around $200 and the Weeknight Box is only $100. You can also purchase strip steaks and prime roast a la carte or order a complete Prime Rib Holiday Meal that includes sides for $175. 

For my family, I can see ordering a Chef’s Selection Box about six times a year.  With the holidays around the corner, I am really excited about using these Chef’s Selections boxes for corporate gifting. My husband often calls upon me to handle that task and this year will be much easier thanks to my experience with this meat delivery.

With their meat box, Dickey’s leadership is clearly thinking outside the box.  We’ve beaten this story to death, but restaurants are hurting right now and the ones more likely to survive are ones that can create an alternative revenue stream to replace lost in-person dining and catering orders. Dickey’s has created a smart way to help their guests enjoy premium meats without the hassle of grocery shopping. 

How to Foxtrot

I don’t know exactly why, but in early October I decided to stage a boycott.  Since early March I’d been meal planning for at least five days at a time and making one, well-planned, agonizing shopping trip to accumulate what I needed. I’ve never been much of a meal planner, but thanks to COVID-19, meals driven by spontaneity and hankerings were few and far between.

So, earlier this month I boycotted meal planning and arduous trips to the supermarket and lived, instead, by eating at Foxtrot Market for three meals a day for four days. Why Foxtrot? I considered it an experiment and change my routine. I visited both local Foxtrot Market locations: Snider Plaza and McKinney Avenue.  There, I found everything I needed except for fresh produce.

To be honest, I’m typically not a grab and go gal. I’m always a little suspicious of food that’s premade, prewrapped up and sitting in a cooler with a “best by” sticker plastered on it but decided to use my boycott to boycott boycotting grab and go.

Many of Foxtrot’s salads, sandwiches, soups, bowls, and other grab and go meals are inspired by international cuisine.  Flavors from Korea, India, Asia, the Mediterranean, Mexico, and Spain are alongside traditional American standards.

Two standouts I recommend are the Aloo Gobi salad with roasted potatoes, pickled cauliflower, kale, lentils, bell peppers and serrano peppers with a sweet-ish fig masala vinaigrette and the Carnitas Bowl with Mojo braised pork, brown rice, black beans and vegetables with a poblano crema.  The carnitas bowl was dinner one night which I served with chips and Sarah Jane’s Finest Gourmet Queso.

Foxtrot has an abundance of snacky foods. This is a merchandising strategy that speaks to my heart. One night, my husband and enjoyed a charcuterie spread with Calabrese, Proscuitto and Iberico Ham from Creminelli, La Quercia and Fermin and cheeses from Kindred Creamery and other brands. The selection at Foxtrot is all premium but I didn’t consider the prices to be out of line as I have found in other “luxury convenience stores.” 

There was also a Dill Pickle Dip that I tried on a lark, which was so good (if you like pickles) and the Fresno Chili Hummus which was great – creamy, little to no garlic and a nice punch from the Fresno chilis.  Foxtrot has plenty of chips and crackers, including several gluten free options.

From Foxtrot’s extensive wine collection, which includes big red cabs such as Silver Oak, light wines such as Chablis and everything in between, I picked a Rickshaw Pinot Noir because it rhymes with Kickshaw which is part of the name of my food blog, The Kickshaw Papers.  It was a great pinot with black cherry notes and only $20 per bottle.

Foxtrot also carries some grocery staples, including Allen Brothers steaks which we grilled one night and ate with Foxtrot’s Kale Caesar Salad.  For dessert, we devoured Haute Sweets Patisserie’s chocolate cookie cream sandwiches which are in the refrigerator section near the dips.

The refrigerator section has stables such as milk, eggs, butter, and bacon the freezer section is loaded with pizza and other frozen dinners but what’s most impressive is the amount of ice cream Foxtrot has. Forget Baskin Robbins, just come here and pick up a pint or two of Jeni’s!  

There are a few fresh-made items to choose from here.  The Avocado Toast is a must try – avocado, orange slices, feta cheese, radishes and micro greens beautifully arranged on a slice of thick toast.  Breakfast tacos and sandwiches, including a beef tenderloin with Korean Gochujang sauce and cucumbers are also high quality and tasty.  Foxtrot partners with local companies such as Bisous Bisous Pâtisserie and Haute Sweets Patisserie for croissants, macarons and other desserts and pastries.

Prior to this experiment, I did not consider using Foxtrot as anything other than a place to grab a quick iced tea or coffee.  Honestly, I just didn’t know how to Foxtrot. My husband and I ate 12 consecutive meals from one, small market that also serves as a specialty wine and beer shop, social hub, study hall, meeting place, and gift shop.  We picked up the food and we used Foxtrot’s one-hour guaranteed delivery service. We never ate the same thing twice (except the cookie sandwiches) and spent less on groceries during that four-day period.

Both locations have large, pet-friendly patios for outdoor Foxtrotting. There are plenty of seats inside with some folks wearing masks and some not.  All employees are masked, and, per the state mandate, guests are required to wear them inside while not eating or drinking. Snider Plaza’s adjacent parking garage is very convenient with loads of open spots.  The McKinney Ave location is a little tricky on the parking, but there are two spots up front for grab and go.

Breathtaking in Austin: The Perfect Medicine

 

Song Pairing: The Breath You Take – George Strait

The lake was still tranquil aside from ripples caused by occasional jumping fish and gentle swirls from the paddle blade. The morning was peaceful, birds stretched their wings in the cooler air before heat drove them into thick tree cover, their tweets lyrical and apolitical.

After 45 minutes of cruising the Colorado River, I steered the yellow kayak toward the boat dock and inhaled deeply the scent from the nearby herb garden. The smell was a combination of rosemary, lavender, oregano, thyme, and renewal. I focused on my breathing, uncontained by stress, unveiled, my breath a gift of life; I took in the scent, a gift of the moment. My first morning at Lake Austin Spa Resort was restorative.

Tired of Sweltering in Place

It was the second week of July and I felt like I had been sweltering in place for years. Trips to Mexico and Florida were canceled, the holiday-less period until Labor Day loomed ahead bleakly. With the country starting to reopen, I decided the time was right for a change of scenery that would not involve commercial transportation and would infuse money back into the local economy. The perfect solution turned out to be Lake Austin Spa Resort, the 19-acre luxury wellness resort on the banks of the Colorado River in Austin.

Back in early March, I had lunch with Mike McAdams, co-owner of the wellness retreat, who, with several key team members, was in Dallas to promote the resort’s recent $2 million renovation. The pandemic interrupted their media tour and my plans to visit.  But now, determined to leave town, I connected with the resort and made the easy three-hour drive a few weeks later.

Breath

The thing that, during a pandemic, can be a contagion is the very same thing that revives and energizes us. In fact, it is life itself.  As I was headed to Lake Austin Spa, I was grieving the loss of a friend who had just passed away after a battle with cancer. While I was at the spa, I learned about the passing of another friend who died tragically and unexpectedly. I’m very grateful to have been in such a beautiful, peaceful setting while I was processing this.

The composition of Lake Austin Spa and the programming it offers is intentional and healing. Paddling in the mornings while the water was still and the air was thick with dew required me to breathe deeply, thoughtfully. I haven’t felt more present in any moments this year than when I was there, watching turtles pop up to the surface of the lake and birds glide from tree-to-tree.

In three words, Lake Austin Spa is: Intentional, Peaceful, Restorative.

Lake Austin Spa Resort closed down March 21, during their busiest time of year, and reopened July 1 after developing and implementing comprehensive health and safety standards, protocol and training for employees including servers, housekeepers, spa technicians, massage therapists, fitness instructors, programming consultants such as chefs, musicians, mediation experts, and others who provide their services for LASR’s unique wellness-focused programs and activities.  I reviewed the information on the website and felt safe with their approach.

The resort only has 40 rooms, each of them separate with no shared ventilation or air conditioning, and has limited occupancy during the pandemic.

Plus, the unique feature of the resort is its natural setting. Its irreplaceable location on the banks of Lake Austin, the shade trees, landscaping, and thoughtful outdoor spaces, and its minimal public spaces make Lake Austin Spa especially suitable for guests during this time.

Welcome

From the moment you enter the gates, it is clear that management has put thought into the guest experience relative to keeping everyone safe. Hand sanitizer is perched at the gate keypad so you can use it before and after you call the front desk to announce your arrival.  There are sanitizing stations located throughout the resort so anyone can take a squirt of sanitizer or a sanitizing wipe when and where they need one. All employees are masked indoors, and the same is required of guests.  Temperatures are taken daily at the front desk and color-coded wrist bands are issued daily to indicate the guest and employee has had his or her temperature checked and is normal, a requirement for any guest participating in an activity.

Rooms

Guestrooms, recently renovated and presented in a calming light aqua, tan, and white color scheme are immaculate and spacious. Each room is deep cleaned and sanitized prior to guest arrival and is outfitted with the resort’s private-label lavender amenities of bar soap, body wash, shampoo, conditioner, and lotion. Daily housekeeping service is discontinued as a health and safety measure, but whatever you need is a phone call away and a member of the housekeeping staff can deliver it to your door.

My husband and I stayed in room 20, which included a small workstation with easy-access plugs and ports and a spacious back patio, which included a hot tub. Connectivity was perfect and we had no issues when our Zoom/Microsoft Team online meetings took place concurrently.

I got a peak at the Lady Bird Suite, which is their version of the Presidential Suite and it is gorgeous, features fabulous antiques and a sitting room, expanded back patio with table and chairs suitable for a small dinner party. When I hit the big time, I will stay there.

Cuisine

Chef Stepháne Beaucamp has led the culinary mission there for nine years and still, he manages to keep it fresh and creative.  His menu is innovative, relying heavily on locally-sourced plants and protein.  Spa cuisine is meant to be healthy, low cal, and low carb, and Chef Beaucamp’s is, but his cuisine is abundant with flavors, textures, and visual appeal which, to me, made every meal feel indulgent and luxurious.

Preparing nutritious, tasty meals is labor intensive, time consuming, and requires technical expertise for preparing ingredients in ways that magnify the flavor, texture, and color without adding fat or salt. Every menu item I tasted, which was a lot, I confess, was memorable and bursting with flavor.

Lake Austin Spa is an all-inclusive property, so all meals are included in the price per person per night. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served in the main dining room and the adjacent outdoor patio.  Menus are presented using a QR code you can scan with your phone and on a disposable paper menu.  Dinner specials are featured on an A-frame stand. The Aster Café up at the spa also serves lunch packaged to-go so you take choose to eat in the lovely dining room there or go picnic anywhere on the grounds.

Some of the lunch menu standouts include Texas Pecan Vegan Tacos, which uses chopped pecans as a beef substitute, giving a rich, slightly crunchy texture with a slightly spicy kick. Tacos are served with gently pickled onions, avocado, and pico de gallo on corn tortillas.

Another standout was the open-faced falafel burger which piled hummus, tzatziki, a slice of heirloom tomato, arugula, cucumber, red onion, and feta atop a house-made falafel patty. It was flavorful and filling and only 231 calories which allowed me to partake guilt-free in the pistachio frozen yogurt dessert.  The lunch menu offers salads and Power Bowls with protein options such as Red Bird Farm chicken, grilled avocado, and sustainable salmon.

Dinner is by reservation only to ensure guests are appropriately distanced and the restaurant adheres to maximum occupancy guidelines. The menu is robust and offers a selection of interesting salads such as the Vitamin Boost Salad with citrus, fennel, radishes, herbs, watercress, and pistachios in a honey Dijon vinaigrette and main courses with chicken, fish, beef, and vegetarian options.  As I mentioned, Chef Beaucamp is a genius with vegetables, and the dinner sides are each works of art.

Roasted cauliflower side dish

Roasted cauliflower with harissa, cucumber, pomegranate seeds, almonds, and charred broccolini were big on flavor and virtually fat free.

Wine, beer, and cocktails are available for an additional cost and the list is approachable and well-priced. Dessert options change nightly and could easily pass as some something you’d expect to find at The Mansion Restaurant in Dallas, including a chocolate mille feuille with a passion fruit sauce and a stunning raspberry bread pudding.

Spa

This photo predates COVID19. All spa staff and
guests are required to wear masks

Really, the whole point of coming to Lake Austin Spa and Resort is the spa. A brief shady, scenic walk from the guest rooms, the spa is an impressive building positioned between the Pool Barn, where guests take aqua fitness classes, therapies and swimming, and the Palm Pool, an aquatic retreat with shaded cabanas and chaises for lounging.

Spa personnel take guest’s temperature or look to ensure they are wearing the proper wrist band for the day prior to check-in. The ground-floor locker room is well equipped and has a lovely shaded patio for relaxing before or after treatments, or guests can go upstairs to the Blue Room, which perhaps is the most memorable room in the entire resort. The massive yet cozy room is Austin Hill Country chic, with a cornflower blue vaulted ceiling, paneled walls, clerestory windows, and botanical and bird prints on the walls.  The room is elegant and comfortable, and I thought it almost a shame to leave when called for my treatment.

Therapists and technicians carefully explained the sanitation and safety precautions they take to ensure guest and employee safety.  The rooms are thoroughly sanitized, and therapists wear masks during the treatment as do guests unless they are getting a facial. Something I noticed on this and my previous visit to the spa is the commitment to wellness that each therapist demonstrates.  I have had two significant injuries that throw my entire musculoskeletal system out of whack.  The therapists at LASR, more than any I’ve had before at a spa, are interested in how the injuries occurred and how they impact me on a day-to-day basis.  With that knowledge, these therapists focused on the areas that would be most beneficial to me and I left my treatments feeling relaxed, steady, and more upright than I had in a while.

In keeping with its natural wellness vibe, LASR includes the Naturopathica treatment line, which is an all-natural, plant-based line used for my Luminous Skin Brightening Facial. Two of the products were so impressive I ended up buying them: the Manuka Honey Cleansing Balm and the Sweet Cherry Enzyme Peel which was gentle but effective and looks and smells like something you’d smear on a biscuit.

Programming

In a non-pandemic time, Lake Austin Spa offers hundreds of different classes, activities, and events for guests, some cost extra, some don’t. Though they are scaled back a bit now, there were still plenty of things to do.

Guests are advised to review the options prior and book in advance as some activities have guest limits to ensure proper social distancing. For me, my goal was to make this visit an investment in my health and well-being so I can return home with knowledge I can apply back in the real world.

This is not a a photo of my actual treatment. Photo courtesy of LASR

To that end, I signed up for an AquaStretch™  Myofacial Release upon my arrival and spent one hour one-on-one in the Pool Barn with Monica, a certified aqua fitness professional. This is a great treatment for anyone who is stiff, sore, or spends hours at a time in the same position, such as surgeons, who make up a large segment of Monica’s clients.  After I was loosened up, I trekked over to the Fitness Center to meet with Paul for a Functional Movement Assessment, which, even as loosened up as I was from my previous treatment, I still flunked.  However, included with the cost of the assessment is access to the Functional Movement Systems app and a personalized fitness routine that I can do at home. Both treatments cost extra.

Visiting Chef Beth Pav preps for class

The resort has a spacious and well-equipped demonstration kitchen and classroom where cooking classes are offered several times a week, led by Chef Beaucamp and local guest chefs. Chef is an engaging, entertaining teacher who prepared Baja Shrimp Tacos for the group of eight guests who all admitted to cooking more at home during the pandemic and saw this class as a way to expand their culinary repertoire. When I mentioned my failure in pandemic bread baking, Chef spent a few minutes to share bread-making hacks to the guests who also copped to unsuccessful pandemic bread baking.

Programming doesn’t end when the sun goes down and guests can take advantage of an outdoor lullaby concert by local musicians, meditation practices for bedtime, or watercolor classes. Or, if you’d rather, find an empty hammock or bring a blanket and find a spot to listen to nature and stargaze.

Pricing

Lake Austin Spa is an all-inclusive resort, so rooms, food and non-alcoholic beverages, most water and ground activities, classes, activities, events and parking are included in the price. 

At first glance, the rates might give you sticker shock, but when you break down costs, it’s completely in-line with any luxury property without pricey airfare. Activities that cost extra include the evening wine cruise, water sports such as tubing, skiing, and wakeboarding. Wellness is worth the investment–more so, in my view, than a handbag, shoes, or the latest fashion trend. Today, two weeks after I returned home from Lake Austin Spa Resort, I feel more energetic and optimistic, and I’ve lost two pandemic pounds from the healthy cooking tips, exercise plan, and motivation I got at the spa.

Many of the guests during our mid-week visit were women on mother-daughter, sister, or girlfriend getaways. In fact, I ran across several locals including Kelly Yandell, author of The Meaning of Pie blog, who was there with her incoming ESD senior daughter, Lily. Lamenting canceled spring break and epic summer trips, Kelly and Lily took every advantage of their time at the spa, including Kelly slalom skiing for the first time in two decades (being pulled by the resort’s resident former NCAA champion water skier) and the both of them challenging us to a dessert eat-off (which they won).

There were a few couples there as well, so my husband didn’t feel completely out of place, though he wants to return for a couple’s weekend when guest demographics are more evenly split male and female.

I look forward to returning there to enjoy it during cooler weather, taste what Chef does with fall and winter produce, and restore the halo of wellness I gained there this summer.

Tips

Be sure to visit The Garden Room

Every room is lovely, some have covered porches with comfy chairs, perfect for morning coffee. Many guests walk around in spa robes or athletic apparel and even show up for dinner that way.  It’s perfectly acceptable and, in fact, encouraged.  Just be comfortable (and covered). Be sure to fully understand which activities and events cost extra, you don’t want a surprise at check out and it isn’t fair to the front desk staff when guests react poorly to their bill.  

The gift shop and spa shop are well curated and worth visits. Included in my package were discount coupons for each and I shopped in each, picking up a pair of light-as-a-feather Anatomie travel pants and a LASR resort tee for my husband at the main shop. Check-in time is 4 p.m., but you can go “on property” and use the activities while your room is being prepared. Check out time is noon, so I checked out, left my bags at the front desk, and headed to the spa for a facial before driving home. Parking is a breeze and free, unlike many resorts. The spots, some shaded, were filled with luxury SUVs and sedans and are located conveniently close to the guest rooms.

For more information on Lake Austin Spa, visit their website https://www.lakeaustin.com/.

https://www.peoplenewspapers.com/2020/07/29/breathtaking-in-austin-the-perfect-medicine/

Something’s Fishy Here

What is the number one selling fresh seafood product at Central Market across the state?  Verlasso Salmon, the delicious farm-raised salmon from Chile. It outsells every other fresh seafood by a large margin and, if you’ve tasted it, you know why. Verlasso is mild in flavor, rich and buttery and has a perfect texture that makes grilling, baking, pan frying and even smoking very easy.  You can even eat Verlasso as sashimi; it’s that good.

So what makes Verlasso so good? It’s farmed in the fjords of Patagonia, southern Chile, where the Humboldt Current keeps the waters cool and clean. The area is pristine, far from environmental pollution, with cold, moving water rich in nutrients. Verlasso is a brand, not a breed, owned by AquaChile, which is selective in choosing its farming partners and invests in sustainable processes to cultivate the salmon.

Verlasso has been around for around a decade, which is pretty much when I first discovered it.  My notoriously picky daughter, 13 years-old at the time, wouldn’t eat much of anything so I picked up some Verlasso and roasted it with fresh thyme, lemon zest and olive oil.  Since then, I’ve prepared it for her about once a week and it was the second thing she requested to eat, after Whataburger, when she came home on college breaks.

The only retail outlet in Texas that sells Verlasso is Central Market, which is a perfect partner for a high quality product. I often write and post about my affection for Central Market, (remember this) because I think they sell the very best in each category they carry, and I appreciate the leadership and philanthropy of the owners, the Butts family.

If you’re not much of a cook but want to enjoy Verlasso, you can also find it on the menus of restaurants Parigi and Salum and many others.

Parigi Chef/Owner Janice Provost told me that “I chose to use Verlasso after seeing Abraham Salum using it. We share lots of ideas together,” she said. (Probably the reason they are two of my favorite restaurants.)

“We were getting Faroe Island [North Atlantic] salmon before March 17,” she continued. “Then, since COVID-19 shut things down, the product wasn’t as good. They had to freeze their supply to save it, and when we received it, it wasn’t up to our standards, so we switched to Verlasso.”

As an award-winning restaurant with a sophisticated clientele, clean food is important to Provost.  She added, “Like Faroe Island, Verlasso is also ocean farmed, not tank farmed, so it’s clean, no hormones, sustainable and we feel good about serving it. People love salmon so it is a regular on the menu.”

Want another reason to become a fan of Verlasso Salmon? When COVID-19 forced restaurant closures and many hospitality workers were laid off, Verlasso donated 2,500 pounds to Staff Meal Dallas, a program created by hospitality veterans including Alison Matis, who raved about the company:

“Verlasso Salmon has been a consistent and proven friend of the hospitality industry. By donating a literal ton of salmon to feed COVID-19-affected restaurant and hospitality workers, they ensured that hundreds of people in our community, and their families, would be nourished and sustained for months while out of work. Their ethical business practices carry through from their product to their practices in the community.”

Victoria Parr, Verlasso’s marketing director, estimated that their contribution provided 13,000 meals to those in need and were happy to support the hard-working foodservice workers who have represented the brand for years.

For more information on Verlasso Salmon including recipes and a fun story by Andrew Zimmern from Follow that Food, visit their website at www.verlasso.com.

Duck, Duck Juice

“Want to see my diamonds?” he asked, catching me off guard as I was trying to name the Led Zepplin song playing in the background. Lee Fuqua knows how to get a girl’s attention, and I followed him past a giant worktable and brown boxes stacked Nowitzki high. There they were on the floor, hundreds of sparkling diamonds lying in repose inside a four-inch long see-through pipe connected to black industrial tubing. The lights were dimmed, and Lee aimed a bright, white light on the stones which made them sparkle even more.  “These must be worth millions,” I teased.  “No, about four dollars,” he replied. “Worth every penny.”

Herkimer diamonds. Not for wearing.

Lee Fuqua’s award-winning Duckworth Vodka is made with 100% Texas pure cane sugar and distilled seven times, including through the Herkimer diamond gauntlet I stepped around on the floor of the distillery, giving it an extremely clean, pure, neutral non flavor, which is how vodka is supposed to taste. Or not taste.

Lee is a local guy, he started as a Bradfield Bronco and graduated as a Scot before heading off to Baylor, an unlikely choice for a future winemaker and vodka distiller. He spent a few years in the advertising business but he and his wife Julia are lifelong foodies who had a passion for travel and a creative pursuit. They attended culinary classes at El Centro and pursued their culinary hobby relentlessly, traveling near and far to taste the best wines and cuisines wherever they went.

As a student of wine and its history, Lee was familiar with Thomas Volney Munson, a late 19th century viticulturist who is credited for saving the European grape and wine industry from ruin from a fatal vine fungus. Grayson College honored the late T.V. Munson who became a resident of Denison to study the biodiversity of Texas and its grape-growing potential, by naming a vineyard for him as well as the T.V. Munson Enology and Viticulture Center at the college.

Lee took his passion to the next level when he attended and graduated first in his class from Grayson College’s Enology and Viticulture program and started Fuqua Winery in Dallas, right behind the Home Depot on Lemmon Avenue. He began making wine from Texas-grown grapes he sourced directly from growers.

After years of tasting and researching wines in the European style, he found success with his Fuqua Zinfandel and Syrah which gained attention, accolades, and fans, while his Orange Muscat won best amateur wine in a Texas competition.

But, back to vodka since we are celebrating National Vodka Day October 4.

After Lee was diagnosed as a diabetic in 2014, he switched from wine making to vodka, naming the brand Duckworth after his maternal grandfather, H.E. Duckworth, who was a pioneer in the fruit juice business, says Lee.  Fuqua studied distillation and dove head-first his new passion, creating the most pure and neutral vodka he could make. A year after he launched Duckworth vodka, but before he sold any product, he entered several competitions for amateur craft spirits.

Lee’s vodka won its first medal, a bronze, in the 2015 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Later that year, he upgraded to a silver medal at the Craft Competition in Los Angeles.  Each medal was only moderately satisfying to Lee and he marched right back into the Atwell Drive distillery to make a better vodka.  That determination paid off with a gold medal earned at the Beverage Testing Institute’s International Review of Spirits. He’s been selling Duckworth Premium Sipping Vodka ever since.

Today, Duckworth Vodka is distributed throughout Texas and major retailers and boutique wine and spirits stores. The product line has expanded to include a beautiful French Oak Barrel vodka in which the Premiums Sipping Vodka is rested in French Oak Barrels that Fuqua held onto from his wine-making days. The oak from Vosges is lightly toasted to accentuate the flavor and coax out the vanillin which gives this vodka a whiskey-like nose and taste. It’s stunning. 

Truffle Vodka in the making

Lee also crafted a Truffle Vodka which is made by infusing the original vodka with French black winter truffles which lord over the Herkimer diamonds in five-gallon glass carboys, shaved truffles lining the bottoms. The latest addition to the vodka line is Dry Grapefruit-Mango, which is made from natural grapefruit and mango flavors and completely sugar free, unlike most other flavored vodkas.  H.E. Duckworth would be proud of this concoction.

Duckworth Distillery is located at 3737 Atwell Street, Suite 203 in Dallas.  There is a tasting room open to the public and where small amounts of the vodka can be purchased.  When COVID hit and hand sanitizer was hard to come by, Fuqua made Duckworth Hand Sanitizer and made sure first responders throughout Dallas had it in their hands when they needed it.  You can also pick up a bottle or two and a refill of the hand sanitizer at the distillery. 

Sip sipping vodka at Duckworth Distillery

Prior to COVID, Lee and Julia, who is a member of the prestigious Les Dames d’Escoffier International organization for women in the culinary, hospitality and fine beverage industries, were fixtures on the Dallas food festival scene, promoting their vodkas and exposing foodies to this fabulous Dallas distillation.

It’s always nice to learn about a Highland Park student who stays close to home and makes a name for himself or herself.  Lee Fuqua has a passion for fine spirits and has worked hard to be successful. Look for Duckworth London Dry Gin launching soon.  I look forward to tasting it and including it in a story about National Gin Day which will be next June if you’re keeping a calendar.

For more information on Duckworth Distillery and to check tasting room hours of operation, please visit the website at www.duckworthvodka.com.

Butter Up

I don’t each much peanut butter.  Until recently, I would only use the cheap stuff to fill my pups’ Kongs but otherwise didn’t buy it. That was until I heard about Fix & Fogg Peanut Butter from New Zealand and picked up a few jars at Central Market. Peanut Butter from New Zealand. Why?

Well, turns out that a couple of Kiwis know a thing or two about this quintessentially American food and they’ve created a product line that is non-GMO and free of palm and low on other oils, artificial sweeteners and additives often found in peanut butter. The ingredients are simple: peanuts, salt and, depending on the type, natural flavorings and sweeteners. The texture of the peanut butter is silky and full, and the flavors are rich, earthy, and just a little sweet.  I was so intrigued by the product, I wanted to interview the co-owner of Fix & Fogg to find out what makes this peanut butter so different from any others I’ve tasted.  I asked if we could do the interview via Zoom, each of us with mouths full of Fix & Fogg peanut butter but, alas, the time difference made it hard to schedule. I settled for an email interview.

Andrea and Roman Jewell

Roman Jewell and his wife Andrea, a couple of recovering lawyers from Wellington, New Zealand, launched Fix & Fogg, named for the characters in Jules Vernes’ Around the World in 80 Days, in 2013.  In addition to making an award-winning product line that has received top honors in New Zealand, Fix & Fogg is also a Certified B Corporation, meaning it uses its business as a force for good in the world, balancing profit with purpose.

“I consider our business to be more than just nut butters,” Roman told me. “I’m really proud of the values that underpin Fix & Fogg. We were New Zealand’s first B Corp certified food business. We donate large amounts of peanut butter to charities in both New Zealand and the United States because I’m a big believer in supporting the communities that support us,” he added.

I’m a big believer in supporting companies that support our communities.  Good thing I like this peanut butter.

The peanuts in Fix & Fogg’s peanut butter were carefully sourced, and after much searching, the couple found them in Cordoba, Argentina, where peanuts have been cultivated since 1872. Roman said he fell head over heels for the place and the passion of its farmers. 

“The terroir of Cordoba peanuts is naturally sweeter, resulting in an amazing tasting peanut butter,” he added.

These peanuts are called hi-oleic runner peanuts which are bursting with monounsaturated “good fats.” I spoke to Dr. Anne VanBeber, registered dietitian, and chair of the Department of Nutritional Sciences at Texas Christian University about these products and their health benefits. “Scientific research indicates that oleic acid helps to lower LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) in our blood and reduces the risk for heart disease,” she told me.

Now having tasted several flavors of Fix & Fogg, I feel like a Kong, constantly being stuffed with peanut butter. I can’t resist. My favorite is the Dark Chocolate peanut butter (on a honey graham cracker) but found the Smoke & Fire flavor intriguing and created a more sophisticated version of the childhood snack “Ants on a Log” using it. The richness and pure peanut flavor of the plain smooth peanut butter is remarkable, and the crunchy styles are teeming with peanuts.

The international best seller Everything Butter

The company’s best-selling product in the world is the Everything Butter, which is a combination of seeds; hemp, chia, sesame, sunflower, pumpkin, and flax; and nut butters, peanut and almond. It’s crunchy, a little sweet, a little savory, and very healthy. “Hemp, chia, pumpkin, and flax seeds are good sources of omega-3 polyunsaturated fats that help to enhance the immune system, fight inflammation, and are a great addition to our diet,” VanBeber notes. 

“Inflammation in the body is the leading cause of chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancers.  In addition, most people are unaware that sesame seeds and almonds provide much needed calcium to the body.”

I add a heaping teaspoon of the Everything Butter to my morning oatmeal and sprinkle Craisins on it, which fills me up for the day.

The F&F Window in Houston

Roman and Andrea are always creating and will launch six new nut butter flavors in the U.S., including an Almond, Cashew and Maple Butter which I hope is launched by Thanksgiving, so I can add it to mashed roasted butternut squash to make a delicious side dish for my diabetic father in law, which got the seal of approval from Dr. VanBeber.

“With the carbohydrate, fat and protein profile of the Almond Cashew and Maple Butter, it’s appropriate for those following a diet for diabetics,” she said.

Now also produced in the U.S., Fix & Fogg products are available on Amazon, Central Market and, if you’re in Houston, you can find them at a little window shop in Montrose.  For more information on Fix & Fogg and for recipes, click here.

Spicy, Smokey Ants On A Log

  • Organic celery, cut in sticks
  • Fix & Fogg’s Smoke & Fire Peanut Butter Craisins
  • Curry Powder

Toss Craisins in mild curry powder and set aside.  Smear F&F’s Smoke & Fire Peanut Butter in the curve of a celery stalk.  Place curried Craisins on top of the peanut butter.  You’re welcome.

Taco-Bout: Pick Sides in this Food Fight

In 1000 AD, Archeologists discovered pre-hispanic comal “ovens” used to cook corn tortillas.  Since then, or maybe before then (this isn’t a history lesson) people have been eating tacos. Tacos have earned a place of great culinary and cultural importance and in 2009 the first National Taco Day was created. Taco aficionados everywhere assumed the taco could receive no greater honor than that, until October 2015 when the taco emoji came out. Since then, the taco has never looked back.

October 4 is National Taco Day and, thanks to the overwhelming success of People Newspapers’ Mac-Off, we will pit neighbor against neighbor, taco against taco to determine the Peoples’ Choice for best taco in town. For more about People Newspapers and its dedication to the fine art of tacos and everything else, read more here

Vote HERE for your favorite taco.  Voting ends October 2 at noon and the winner will be crowned October 4. 

Meals on Wheels: The Original Door Dash

Meals awaiting delivery

In August 2019, People Newspapers published my story about Meals on Wheels.  I have the honor of serving on the VNA/Meals on Wheels Board of Directors and wanted a way to promote our Drive Away Hunger campaign. My idea was to “review” the meals eaten by more than 4,500 Dallas residents who receive Meals on Wheels (MOW) daily.  The reaction I got from folks when I told them I was going to eat MOW for a week was pity, curiosity and, in some cases, borderline disgust.  I was undeterred.

In August of this year, I learned that my article on Meals on Wheels earned third place in the National Association of Newspapers Buster Awards for Best Feature.  I’m delighted to share this article and you can also follow this link to read the version that ran in People Newspapers.  

“Hello, my name is Elaine*. I just want to let you know that my mother really enjoyed it her meal Friday.  It was the Honey-glazed Turkey with Au Gratin Potatoes and Brussels Sprouts and she told me over and over how delicious it was and to be sure and tell the chef how much she appreciated it. Though we didn’t know it at the time, that was mom’s last Meals on Wheels delivery. She succumbed to cancer two days later. I wanted to be sure to pass along her ‘compliments to the chef’ and to say thanks to Meals on Wheels for being my mom’s lifeline for so long.”

Between Pinterest boards filled with edible works of art to “instagramworthy” meals to “food porn,” thanks to technology, food has been objectified to the point in which many of us have practically forgotten its value. I get it – my “phone eats first” and I can spend 10 minutes trying to get the perfect Instapic of shards of Maldon Sea Salt artfully arranged on a juicy red tomato. I have a healthy preoccupation with food and feel lucky to be able to write about it for this paper. This month, I’m not going to feature a new restaurant, I’m going to feature an old one: Meals on Wheels Dallas County which is about 40 years old.

Meals on Wheels is the original Door Dash with employees and volunteers canvassing the Dallas area Monday through Friday to deliver meals to 4,500 clients for whom their daily delivery of food, a friendly face and a kind word is a lifeline. Many MOW clients have health issues so providing nutritious, balanced meals on such a large scale and tight budget is challenging. If you’re reading this in a newspaper that was delivered to your home, chances are you live in an affluent area and are unlikely to be food insecure.  But have you ever wondered about what kind of food is prepared and delivered on such a large scale five days a week?  Maybe not but I hope you do, if just this once.

With the help of Dr. Ashley Lind, the VP of Meals on Wheels and Population Health, I ate four meals to gain insight into the value of Meals on Wheels to homebound seniors. It was an eye-opening experience, not because the food was especially good or especially bad, but because it allowed me to appreciate food in a way I haven’t in years.

Monday: Swiss Steak with Whipped Potatoes and Italian Green Beans

I approached the first meal as a novelty. The ground beef patty was juicy and flavored well with hint of sautéed onion. All meals must be low sodium, so the whipped potatoes and green beans tasted like not much until I added salt. Everything had good texture.

Tuesday: King Ranch Chicken with Steamed Broccoli and Carrots

The King Ranch Chicken was really tasty! It was a little spicy, in fact, and had big chunks of white-meat chicken in a cheesy sauce. The broccoli and carrots were cooked but not mushy and needed salt.  Without realizing it, I ate the entire meal in four minutes. As I walked out of the VNA Haggarty Center, it occurred to me that I inhaled that meal as if I was just checking a box and not feeding my body and soul. I started to cry as I walked to my car.

Wednesday: Turkey Tetrazzini with Brussels Sprouts and Vegetable Medley

My favorite meal so far, the pasta with chunks of tender turkey meat was full of flavor with a hint of spice. I wondered how they can make 4,500 plates of pasta and have it not become mush. Honestly, I didn’t eat the Brussels Sprouts. I’m sorry mom, I never liked them.

Thursday: Homestyle Meatloaf with Garlic Mashed Potatoes and

Herbed Green Beans

I think the Meatloaf is about the same as the Swiss Steak but with more tomato and seasoning. The meatloaf was tender but not mushy, the green beans were cooked just right with a little snap left in them and more flavorful than previous vegetable offerings. The mashed potatoes only had a hint of garlic and when I finished the trapezoid-shaped mound, I realized I hadn’t eaten mashed potatoes since last Thanksgiving, and I’d eaten them twice this week.  “How ironic, I thought.”

I’m so fortunate, most of us are, to afford high-quality food and spent time and money dining out with our friends. We can order what we want; throw out what we don’t. We have so many choices, too many sometimes, on what and where to eat. We can celebrate food with photos and hashtags and beautiful creations made from watermelon and a paring knife  – and we should! I hope, too, that we will be aware of those who are food insecure, lonely and rely on that daily delivery of Meals on Wheels as one of their few remaining connections to socialization, sensorial pleasure and nourishment for their bodies.

I say I’m not a critic, I’m a storyteller but I’ll summarize the meals this way: They’re better than airplane food, WAY better than the Frank Crowley Courts Building Cafeteria you’re stuck with for jury duty and better than starving, which is the alternative to Meals on Wheels delivery.

It’s National Tequila Day

It honor of this manufactured holiday, which I wholly support, I will share a story I wrote for Auberge Resort’s Esperanza to introduce their certified Catadores and Sommelier, Christian Moya.  I love story telling, especially about people, food and places.  But first, here are some recipes developed by Casa Dragones and mixologists at some of Dallas’ best Mexican food restaurants, Jose, Jalisco Norte and El Bolero.  You can enjoy these cocktails in their dining rooms or at home.  

 

Time Travel with Tequila Tasting

at Esperanza, An Auberge Resort

Tequila Master Christian Moya, Esperanza, An Auberge Resort

“It’s another tequila sunrise.” “Don’t ask her on a straight tequila night.” “Jose Cuervo you are a friend of mine.” He Drinks Tequila. Me and Tequila. Tequila Sheila. “Tequila makes her clothes fall off.”  And who can forget Tequila, 1958 hit re-popularized by Pee Wee Herman? Ah, the many odes to tequila. The national drink of Mexico made from a plant that is the most spectacular shade of blueish green I’ve ever seen, it’s the color of the sea when dark storm clouds are above, its many arms spread out like a powerful Hindu goddess.

I grew up in Guadalajara City, about an hour southeast of Tequila, Jalisco and remember speeding by fields of agave, blurs of greenish blue along the road during family road trips. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been around tequila. My family always had a few bottles of tequila open and available for occasions – special and everyday – for family, friends new and old, and perfect strangers. Tequila is about my culture, my family and my country’s history. It’s a great joy that my job at Esperanza allows me to share my passion with others.

Esperanza has been my home for 12 years. I am a Certified Tequila Master and a Certified Level 2 Sommelier, working on my Level 3 exam.  I’m both student and teacher, drinking in every bit of knowledge I can, then sharing it with guests. In addition to overseeing the beverage program at each restaurant and bar here, I work closely with the chefs on pairings for meals and banquet events and I host tequila tastings, which might be one of my favorite activities here.

Twice a year I journey to Jalisco, the land of blue agave in southwest Mexico, to meet tequila distillers, taste new batches and tour the agave fields that sprawl peacefully in the shadow of the Tequila Volcano (which is not a cocktail, rather an inactive volcano that is responsible for the rich soil ideal for growing blue agave). In the air is the unmistakable smell of tequila in various states of distillation. I return to Esperanza after these visits invigorated and ready to share what I’ve learned.

Many of our guests are well traveled and have basic, if not moderate, knowledge of wine.  It’s my greatest privilege to teach the history and nuances of tequila and its cousin, mezcal, of which guests tend to know less. When I conduct a tequila tasting event I’m often told a variation of the same story: guests’ experience with tequila consists of a bottle of tequila, a drum of table salt, cut up limes, and a regrettable feeling the next morning.  Unceremoniously slugging tequila versus smelling, tasting, wetting your lips and absorbing the depth of flavors on your tongue is as different as acid rock is from bossa nova.

I like to say that each tequila tasting session is like time travel; I cover 2,400 years in 60 minutes. The “classroom” is breezy, open-air, often with a view of the sea, and set with proper tasting glassware, a beautiful display of the many kinds of tequila and mezcal we offer and places for each tester.  I offer four kinds of tequila and one mezcal for comparison. Mezcal is not nearly as well known as tequila and is often disregarded because of its strong, smoky flavor.  I often find that guests who gravitate towards a “peaty” scotch have a distinct affinity for mezcal as well. There are many “ah-ha!” moments during the tasting and it’s rewarding to see guests continue to process their learning by trying new tequilas throughout their stay.

I’m proud to know that when guests leave here, they have a new respect for tequila and, long after they’ve returned home, they continue to share their experience and knowledge of tequila. Some of my best days on this job have been spending time with a group of 12 eager learners who become as passionate about the history and taste of tequila and mezcal as I am.  When I leave Esperanza, whether it is for visits to international wine regions to continue my enology education, to Jalisco to visit the distilleries or to one of the up-and-coming Baja Valley vineyards, I am always seeking more information and knowledge on my passion for wine and spirits so I can continue to share with guests.

Christian Moya and his team of spirit and wine experts would love to share their knowledge and passion with you.  Complimentary tequila tastings are offered Tuesday and Saturdays at 5 p.m. Please contact your concierge to arrange your own tasting. 

A Rosé is a Rosé is a Rosé

Smith Story Rose and a Texas Sunset

Blush, summer water, pink wine. It can be syrupy sweet, acidic and bright, fruity and vaguely effervescent, and bold but thin. It has become the omnipresent social accessory of summer for its refreshingly crisp taste that literally makes your mouth water and its ability to match summer outfits perfectly. Though often regarded as a “chick drink” because of its slightly effeminate tones ranging from pale pink to a translucent cherry red, there is no data to support that stereotype.  It really depends on individual tastes, and with ten different styles of rosé, there is enough range to satisfy nearly every palate. Good rosés can be had for less than $10 a bottle and there are many great rosés priced below $30 a bottle.

This Saturday, June 13, is National Rosé Day, always the second Saturday in June, the perfect time for a cold, crisp mostly low alcohol wine to enjoy on a toasty day. In honor of rosé day and several Dallas area restaurants have created specials to honor the occasion, but first, a history lesson.

Rosé wine is thought to have been created around 8,000 years ago in Armenia where clay jars with wine residue were found.  Back then, wines would have been lighter since the more advanced pressing and fermentation techniques that make red and white wines weren’t developed yet.  Some rosé is produced when black-skinned grapes are crushed and the skin maintains contact with the juice for around 24 hours, versus the skins immediately being filtered out for white wine or left in contact with the juice for long periods of time as with red wines.

In the past three years at least, rosé sales have been increasing around 40% each year, with the main source of rosé wines coming to America from France, Spain and Italy, though American rosés compare very favorably to Old World wines.  My favorite American rosé is from local gal Alison Smith Story, a Keller native and Baylor grad who started Smith Story wines with her husband, Eric.  They make only one, a Rosé of Pinot Noir Rheingau Germany which is bright and delicately fruity. I also love La Vielle Ferme (also known as “chicken wine”) which is in the style of Provence, a combination of granache, syrah and cinsault grapes making it a little tart, a little sweet and a little fruity, a great blend and an exceptional value at around $9 per bottle.

Foxtrot Market in University Park and Uptown have great rosé choices

How do you know which rosés you will like? Try them.  Rebecca Murphy, Wine Writer, Professional Wine Judge and Founder of The Dallas Morning News and TexSom Wine Competition (and is also considered to be the first female Sommelier in Texas), offers this advice, “I love rosés from Provence, but they are so popular that winemakers from other regions are going to great lengths to get that Provence pale pink. So, my first thought is to avoid selecting a rosé just because of its color.  Instead, pick a one from a grape you really like (like you).  Or from a region or country that makes wines you like. It wasn’t that many years ago that a rosé drinker was considered an unsophisticated rube.  Today, we are living in rosé heaven with a whole world to choose from.  Have fun exploring.” You can explore with minimal financial risk at Central Market, World Market or Foxtrot Market which have abundant selections.

Whichever rosé makes your day, as always, drink responsibly. For a few unique approaches to National Rosé Day, check out these cocktails and frozen drinks made from rosé.

Happy National Rosé Day, here’s to your health!

National Rosé Day Specials in Dallas

Blueberry Souffle and Rosé at Rise no. 1

Rise no. 1 has a beautiful selection of French rosés of different styles which are perfect to pair with savory and sweet dishes, including their seasonal Blueberry Soufflé.

Young & Beautiful at Knife

Knife at The Highlands Dallas has created a refreshing rosé-based cocktail called the Young & Beautiful, named after the famous Lana Del Rey song from 2013. The drink combines Rose Gold Provençal Rosé Dashfire Hibiscus Bitters, Fever Tree Soda and a Hibiscus Flower which can and should be enjoyed on Knife’s patio.

JAXON Texas Kitchen & Beer Garden has created a summer-inspired twist on the traditional frosé cocktail with a Fresh Watermelon Frozé , the perfect pairing for JAXON’s massive patio.

Malibu Poke always has rosé and frosé on the menu but Saturday you can enjoy $1 rosé all day while you’re partaking poke.

Poke and rosé sort of rhyme