• Apron Optional: Grab your onion goggles

    Hello, all!

    While you may think of me as a 1950s housewife from my picture, I am actually just a staff writer for The Daily Texan with an affinity for sun dresses, floral prints and bunny videos on the Internet — but this post is about food.

    I have been baking on and off for quite a few years now. Perhaps I inherited the bug from my dad, the cakemaster of our house. Or maybe it came about as a way to lock in my circle of friends with sugary treats and confections. Either way, there is no disputing the direct relationship between providing baked goods and being adorable — a concept I’m completely comfortable to admitting I enjoy.

    Every Friday, I invite all of you to join me as I take on new adventures in the kitchen, leading the way through the thicket of online recipes and confusing ingredient substitutions. Each week you will find a new recipe complete with tales of my culinary conquest. I’m definitely no expert, but that just means more entertainment for all of you!

    I’m not sticking to any specific style or cuisine. Instead, I’ll be digging up recipes that are presentable and impressive but still easy to make (hello, we aren’t on “Top Chef: UT”) and, most importantly, delicious. Being a student, the recipes will be (for the most part) student-budget friendly.

    Full steam ahead, I thought it best to do a little cooking 101: How to chop an onion and cook pasta.

    For some of you, this may sound a bit ridiculous and basic, but I’m not lying to you when I say a year ago I could make cinnamon toast cupcakes from scratch, but I didn’t have the slightest idea how to make spaghetti. No judgment here.

    It all started with a dinner party last summer. I had just started getting into cooking and invited five friends over for dinner. Between myself and my two self-elected helpers, the kitchen quickly devolved into a disaster zone. The dessert was messed up, the chicken alfredo sauce wasn’t cooking properly and my friend dumped two pounds of spaghetti (for six people) in a pot and left it for me to cook. Just as I was about to completely unravel, my brother (resident Pasta Roni aficionado) stepped in and saved the day. After a pleasant meal and a lot of cleaning up, my brother suggested perhaps it was time I learned how to make pasta.

    First, the onion. Oh, the onion, how I have avoided the task of chopping you. Is there any vegetable less appealing to chop than an onion? No, there is not. Unfortunately, onions are vital in making plenty of delicious things, so we’ll have to get over it. While you can choose to take the stylish route of wearing swim goggles like my mom, the most fashionable advice I can give you to avoid the traditional tears is to chill the onion in the freezer for 10-15 minutes before cutting it and breathe through your mouth.

    Now, on a cutting board, take a sharp knife and cut off the top and bottom of the onion. Resting it on one of the flat ends, carefully cut the onion in half, intersecting the bulls-eye in the center. Peel the skin off, and lay each on the board so the center is face down. Make parallel cuts beginning at one of the flat ends (please watch your fingers). The thickness of the slice is at your discretion or whatever the recipe requires. Take a few of those slices at a time and stack them sideways, and cut them again to make small pieces. Repeat with the other half and you have successfully chopped your onion! Next step: buying breath mints.

    Pasta is pretty simple. First, boil water in a large pot, using enough to clear the top of the pasta by a good three inches or so. One time I thought I would save time by heating water in an electric tea kettle and pouring it into a pot sitting on a preheated burner — big mistake. The whole thing started hissing and bubbling in a violent mess that left me with a minor burn and a bad mood. Don’t take shortcuts, just cover the pot and enjoy the 15 minutes to yourself. Once the water is boiling, sprinkle in some kosher salt (roughly a teaspoon, but it’s not an exact science) and put in your pasta. If you’re using spaghetti or any other sort of long noodle, there’s no reason to break them in half! Wait a few seconds and stir the pasta to push it all under the water. Set a timer for a minute less than the smallest amount of time on the package. When the timer goes off, (carefully) test a piece of pasta. It should be al dente, which is the fancy Italian way of saying firm, but not hard or undercooked. If it’s ready, drain it over the sink into a colander and you’re done. If it still feels crunchy, set the timer for one more minute, taste it again, then drain it. If you aren’t planning to use it now, I suggest tossing the pasta with a very small amount of olive oil to prevent sticking.

    That’s all for now! Next week, we’ll make something even your pickiest friends will want to mooch off of.

  • Pop Index: Bradley Cooper parle français, Reese Witherspoon’s diss and Anthony Weiner’s dirty tweets

    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: 06.09 — 12

    Check out this weekend’s top events recommended by the Life & Arts editor.

    A modern twist on classic romance, “I Love You Because” is a musical comedy about greeting card writer Austin Bennet and his journey trying to believe in love again in New York City.

    WHAT: “I Love You Because”
    WHEN: Thursday, June 9 at 8 p.m.
    WHERE: Hyde Park Theatre
    HOW MUCH: $18 – $25

    The Austin Flea will feature handcrafted and vintage goods made by local vendors.

    WHAT: The Austin Flea
    WHEN: Saturday, June 11 from 12 p.m. ­— 7 p.m.
    WHERE: The Highball
    HOW MUCH: Free

    The crude yet hilarious comedian Chelsea Handler, popularly known for her late-night series Chelsea Lately on E! and book, “Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me Chelsea,” stops in Austin for her tour “Lies Chelsea Handler Told Me.”

    WHAT: “Lies Chelsea Handler Told Me”
    WHEN: Sunday, June 12 at 8 p.m.
    WHERE: Bass Concert Hall
    HOW MUCH: $38 – $85

    Austin indie-soul garage band Follow That Bird! is kicking off its cross-country tour with Trail of the Dead at Hole in the Wall on Sunday. The band recently released their hot new vinyl 7-inch “Wooden Bones.” The concert will also feature indie bands the Sour Notes and Elaine Greer.

    WHAT: Follow That Bird! Tour Kick-off
    WHEN: Sunday, June 12 at 8 p.m.
    WHERE: Hole in the Wall
    HOW MUCH: Free, 21+

  • The Garage Sale Review: An Introduction

    Hello reader!

    Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Aaron West, senior writer for The Daily Texan. I am apparently allowed to write in this blog. When the people in charge over here at the paper told me about my blog access, I paused and took in the news. “What’s that smell?” I thought to myself. And then it came to me: it was the unmistakable scent of Internet stardom and social influence. I could practically taste the site traffic. But what should I blog about?

    I mulled it over and decided that I would write about a subject very dear to my heart, something that, since childhood, has influenced me in deeply significant and personal ways. The customs and tradition that surround my chosen theme, like any customs and traditions worth a damn, were instilled in me by my father – a man who knew the value of going to strangers’ houses before 8 a.m. on Saturdays, scavenging through the possessions proudly displayed on folding tables scattered throughout their yards and then greedily haggling with the owner over the price, regardless of whether the item was totally worthless or not. My father was a garage sale fiend. So am I.

    Yes, this is a blog post about garage sales. Every weekend I will pick some garage sales to go to, map my route, hop in my car and report back from the front lines of Austin’s (and perhaps beyond) garage sale culture. Are you ready? I am.

    Every Monday, faithful readers will be privy to where I journeyed and a weekly review of my finds. I’ll sift through folks’ unwanted items with the meticulousness of a paleontologist and the trained eye of someone whose first words were, after being tirelessly prompted by his father, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Just kidding, of course – that phrase is way too complicated for a baby.

    You’ll have full access: quirky family heirlooms, clunky electronics from a time before Steve Jobs, unlabeled VHS tapes that haven’t been watched since the kids moved away to college and almost anything else you can imagine – as long as you’re imagining strange odds and ends that have been sitting for years on the top shelves of hallway closets. Also, look forward to interviews with the garage sellers themselves, insight from my fellow junk vultures and photos.

    So buckle up, you crusader of crap. This is The Garage Sale Review.  

  • Weekend Recs: 06.02 — 04

    The museum’s bimonthly art party is showcasing its summer exhibition, “About Face: Portraiture as Subject,” this Friday. Fittingly, the night will include portrait artists, art with live models and music from Austin band Not in the Face.

    WHAT: Blanton Museum B Scene
    WHEN: Friday, June 3 at 6 p.m.
    WHERE: Blanton Museum
    HOW MUCH: $12

    The UT radio station is kicking off the summer with its annual music show on Friday. The set list includes Low Times, Final Exam, Springs, Os Ovni and The Nouns.

    WHAT: 91.7FM KVRX Summer Concert Series
    WHEN: Friday, June 3 at 8 p.m.
    WHERE: Spider House, 2908 Fruth St.
    HOW MUCH: $5

    Closing out its series of music party with spinning beats from Prince Klassen and DJ Orion, production group Knuckle Rumbler is amping up its final party with snow machines, photo booths and hookah. Guests are encouraged to wear black or blue.

    WHAT: Southern Violator: Depeche Mode vs Ludacris
    WHEN: Saturday, June 4 at 9 p.m.
    WHERE: Scoot Inn, 1308 East 4th St.
    HOW MUCH: $5

    The eight-time Grammy award-winning jazz group The Manhattan Transfer is closing the Austin Symphony’s 100th concert season with their swinging, jazzy renditions of “Tuxedo Junction” and “Java Jive.

    WHAT: The Manhattan Transfer
    WHEN: Saturday, June 4 at 8:00p.m.
    WHERE: Palmer Events Center
    How Much: $30-45