• Apron Optional: A Father’s Day take on infamous cookies

    As I may have mentioned before, my dad is quite the baker. In high school, my friends always looked forward to days when I would bring them his leftover brownies, cookies or perhaps the mythical rum cake.

    One thing I think makes my dad so great in this department is he constantly revises and improves his recipes, refusing to give up until he is satisfied with the final product (ask anyone in my family about his time spent on chocolate mousse).

    Since I was unable to go home for Father’s Day, I video chatted with my dad during the family lunch. He graciously offered his version of the fabled “Neiman Marcus Cookie,” one of my personal favorites. He sent me the recipe and I immediately became giddy with memories of taste testing each batch as they became more and more amazing.

    The cookie gets its name from an urban legend that a woman bought the recipe for Neiman Marcus’ iconic chocolate chip cookies under the impression that it was $2.50. When she saw that she was actually charged $250, the department store refused to refund her the difference. To get even, she posted it on the Internet so that anyone who wanted it could have it for free. Likely false, this story has been revised many times over with a few simple name changes. In fact, Neiman Marcus provides their cookie recipe free of charge on their website. Personally, I like my dad’s better.

    Think of it as a big, soft chocolate chip cookie ­— but even more delicious. The recipe calls for oatmeal, which gives the end result the texture of a regular cookie, but the chewiness of an oatmeal cookie. The winning combination is sure to gain the approval of anyone who likes cookies (if they don’t, really, why are you friends with them?).

    First things first! Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. You will need two mixing bowls, a food processor or blender, a hand or stand mixer, a grater (like for potatoes or cheese), a mixing spoon, measuring cups, and a baking sheet (and a baking pan to put it on).

    Cream the butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar together in a large mixing bowl with your mixer. This will be easier if your butter is at room temperature, but don’t melt it in the microwave! If you’re impatient, cut up the butter in a small bowl and put it in the microwave for 10 seconds, then mix.

    Next, mix in the eggs and vanilla. I know real vanilla can be a little pricier than imitation vanilla, but use it if possible. You can really taste the difference.

    Now the food processor (or blender) comes into play. Measure out your oatmeal and pour it in your machine of choice. Blend it until it becomes a fine powder. Pour that in your unused mixing bowl.

    In the bowl with the blended oatmeal, combine the flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder, and mix them. Grate your chocolate bar into the bowl as well, while carefully avoiding grating your hands (something I have regretfully done before). Add in your white-, milk- and semi-sweet-chocolate chips.

    If you want to kick the cookies up a notch, you could add butterscotch chips, chopped pecans or chopped walnuts. Personally, I prefer them with a cup of crushed heath bar (like father, like daughter). Add in any extras, and mix it all together.

    Now, take the dry mixture and pour it in the other bowl. With your mixer, blend the dough until it is evenly mixed and there are no pockets of powder.

    Place your cookie sheet, ungreased, on the pan. Using a regular table spoon, scoop oversized spoonfuls of dough. Roll each into a ball and place them two inches apart on the cookie sheet. The cookies will be large so give them space.

    Place the cookies in the oven for 10 minutes, then take them out, let them cool and enjoy!

    There is one crucial and final step: Share the cookies. They are large and there are a lot of them — too many for any one person.

    Until next week, share your cookies. Trust me, I go to the doctor.

  • Pop Index: Bon Iver’s new album, a possible Destiny’s Child reunion and Jon Stewart’s media war.

    Welcome, kind readers, to the Pop Index. My name is Aleksander Chan (pronounced like Alexander, but with a Russian spelling) and I am the Life & Arts associate editor. Every Friday I will write this index of the best and worst of the week’s pop culture, handily rendered in the photo above for your viewing pleasure.

  • Weekend Recs: Wells Mason Gallery, South for the Summer, Keep Austin Weird, Skanky Summer

    A new contemporary art gallery in East Austin, Wells Mason Gallery, will hold exhibits primarily of abstract expressionism and deconstructivist art.
    WHAT: Wells Mason Gallery Opening & Reception
    WHEN: Friday, June 24 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
    WHERE: 727 Airport Boulevard
    ADMISSION: Free

    Take a quick day trip to Texas Music Theater in San Marcos on Saturday for the South for the Summer concert showcase, featuring local bands such as The Canvas Waiting, Suite 709 and Eyes Burn Electric.
    WHAT: South for the Summer Showcase 2011
    WHEN: Saturday, June 25 from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m.
    WHERE: Texas Music Theater, 120 E. San Marcos
    ADMISSION: $5

    Embracing the city’s quirks, Keep Austin Weird Festival & 5K celebrates local arts, music, food and philanthropy. Attendees are highly encouraged to come in their most creative costumes.
    WHAT: Keep Austin Weird Festival & 5K
    WHEN: Saturday, June 25 at 2 p.m.
    WHERE: The Long Center
    ADMISSION: Free

    Acclaimed local folk-pop indie band Little Lo is releasing its EP, “A Poison Tree” Sunday at the Parish.
    WHAT: Skanky Summer: Little Lo EP Release with One Hundred Flowers, Sip Sip + More
    WHEN: Sunday, June 26 from 5 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.
    WHERE: The Parish
    ADMISSION: $7 at the door, free Little Lo EP with ticket

  • Art in Translation: Construction on Congress

    Jorge Galvan’s “This Land Was Made” is a sculptural installation made with mixed media.
    Jorge Galvan’s “This Land Was Made” is a sculptural installation made with mixed media.

    Hey, everyone! Back again, art in tow.

    Walking into Mexic-Arte Museum on Congress Avenue and Fifth Street, I was immediately intrigued by the brightly colored graphic prints and eclectic, wall-mounted sculptures straight ahead as I walked into the exhibit. The show, “Thought Cloud,” features the work of 10 Texas-based contemporary artists, all under the age of 35, each expressing their own views on the human condition in the 21st century. I was looking at a bright, pinkish-lavender screen print depicting cartoon cats when I turned around and instantly locked eyes on an industrial installation piece.

    What we’re looking at is a 2-D outline of a telephone pole decaled on the wall, whose wires reach upward, dangling three light bulbs in the air. On the ground, in front of this, are snippets of the lyrics to the classic American folk song “This Land is Your Land.” Each letter of the lyrics depicted in a different medium ranging from steel to copper wires to fiberglass — all of which are common materials found at a construction site.

    “This Land Was Made” is a sculptural installation by Jorge Galvan and is comprised of mixed media — that’s the official way of saying there are so many different materials that it would be tedious to list them all. But for this installation, Galvan used wire, light bulbs, various metal coils, steel, and glass, to name a few. On his info card, Galvan says his work expresses an inner struggle to not feel like an outsider in both his native Mexico and his life-long home, the United States.

    The piece specifically reflects his experiences working with Project Row House, an art-based nonprofit organization in Houston’s third ward. Galvan was inspired by the juxtaposition of the inner city environment against the organization’s thriving arts scene.

    This piece is a stand out because it takes all of the resources normally concealed in a finished building and creates beauty out of them. All of the mismatched parts seem to coexist and create something harmonious. Although it is not necessarily the smoothest or most refined piece, the sense of raw, unfinished exposure shows that the process of creating can be just as captivating ­­­­— in its own way — as a completed project. It’s somewhat enchanting in its imperfection.

    Personally, I look at it and feel like it shows that you can find beauty in the parts of a sum, giving way for art to exist in the most unlikely of places, such as a construction site. If a building can be beautiful, why not the metallic coils that conduct its electricity? Why not the wood? Why not the cement foundation that supports it all? Why do wires have to be a tangled mess when instead they could be a wild, intertwined web of vines?

    I challenge you all to find beauty in the underbelly of your lives. Where do you see it?

    Until Wednesday! 

  • The Garage Sale Review: The Circle of Life['s crap]

    Roger Rice, an avid hunter of bargains at garage sales, examines one of his favorite things to find when he's out treasure hunt
    Roger Rice, an avid hunter of bargains at garage sales, examines one of his favorite things to find when he's out treasure hunt

    Howdy, you wonderful people!

    It’s time for another edition of The Garage Sale Review. If you don’t remember, The Garage Sale Review is just a fancy name for that thing I do on Mondays where I talk about all the funky junk I find for sale in strangers’ yards and garages around Austin. It’s a breathtakingly fun time, let me tell you. There’s nothing quite like reaching your bare hand into an unlabeled cardboard box, pulling out a strange family heirloom from the ’80s and haggling with the seller over the heirloom’s price while trying to avoid touching the stray pieces of hair that have adhered to the object’s faintly sticky exterior. Trust me, brave adventurer, ignore that stickiness; it will all be worth it when you get home, wash your hands and immediately toss your purchase onto some shelf where you’ll never see it again. Well, at least until you host your own garage sale and attempt to dump the sticky artifact onto some other unsuspecting traveler. That’s the way the sacred Circle of Life(‘s crap) works, you see?

    At this point, you might be saying to yourself, “When is this guy going to stop blabbering and do the thing where he talks about weird garage sale stuff?” Well, guess what, people who might be saying that? I’m not going to do that this week. Now, before you click away to check on your Myface’s and Twappers, allow me to explain.

    This is a very special week in the short but lovely life of The Garage Sale Review. As you may be aware, Father’s Day was this last weekend. Father’s Day is a pretty important day for fathers everywhere, no doubt, but it’s perhaps the most important day for this series of garage sale focused Internet postings. If you’ve read the last two weeks’ posts, you know that the fire that burns in my blood for yard sales can be traced back to my own father, whose passion for garage selling is like a fierce, blazing sun compared to my own. Given The Garage Sale Review’s roots, I feel like it’s only right that I call him up on this day of days and conduct a short Q&A with the man. So, without further ado, I give you Allen West.

    Actually, he didn’t answer. But fear not, there is a substitute! Roger Rice, a long-time friend of my father’s and a valiant garage-seller to boot, has graciously agreed to answer any questions I might have.

    Q&A with Roger Rice, a seasoned garage seller

    The Garage Sale Review: How long have you been garage selling?

    Roger Rice: 15 years, probably. [confers with Ms. Rice, who is sitting next to him]. Well, 25 years. Let’s make it 25 years. I’ve consulted someone else who knows me better, so 25 years.

    GSR: Who introduced you to garage selling?

    RR: I don’t know. Myself. My dad and my mom weren’t garage sale people, but I enjoy it thoroughly.

    GSR: What stands out to you as a particularly juicy find at a garage sale that you’ve been to?

    RR: Last year I found two bicycles that were five bucks apiece that I gave to Steve (Mr. Rice’s son) and Jessica (Steve’s girlfriend) for Christmas. They were $1,000 bikes that I got for five bucks apiece.

    GSR: Did the sellers not know they were $1,000 bikes?

    RR: I don’t know if they did or not. One was a Bianchi and one was a Trek. We had actually already bought Steve a bike that he wanted but then the next week I found these bikes that were better than what he asked for. The secret is to go to a bunch of them and you’ll find something you want at a really good price.

    GSR: What’s the strangest thing you’ve found at a garage sale?

    RR: Women’s underwear. I find it to be extremely strange that anyone would buy underwear from a garage sale. Also, wedding dresses. I see those at garage sales and that’s just bizarre.

    GSR: Do you have any advice for any novice garage sellers out there?

    RR: Don’t feel like you have to buy something from every garage sale. Go to multiple garage sales — one or two won’t be enough. The earlier you go the better.

    GSR: What time do you hit the streets when you’re garage selling?

    RR: If the garage sale starts at 7, you need to be there at a quarter 'til  7. And the reason is, if it’s a really good garage sale, by 7:30 they’re going to be finished selling all their stuff so you’re going to miss all of the good deals.

    GSR: Any more tips?

    RR: The best garage sales to go to are where someone is trying to get rid of their stuff and not trying to make a lot of money. There are professional garage sale people that use garage sales as a store outlet because they’re trying to make a living. Also, go with a buddy so that you have a good time even if you don’t end up buying anything.

    GSR: What about any tips as far as haggling goes?

    RR: Never pay what they’re asking. As the day goes on, the prices should drop, so be willing to walk away or at least act like you’re walking away if they don’t accept your price.

    GSR: Wow, have you employed the bluff before?

    RR: Oh yeah.

    GSR: Is there anything that you find yourself buying a lot of, inexplicably perhaps?

    RR: Barbecue pits.

    There you have it, folks — sacred advice from a veteran garage seller. We’ll be back to our normal programming next week, so stay tuned and watch out for barbecue pits; they’re like Sirens on the rocks.

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