• Apron Optional: Shortbread

    The shape and firmness of shortbread make it an easy snack to wrap up and send to friends and family. This simple, five-ingredient recipe can have warm shortbread ready in a little over half an hour.
    The shape and firmness of shortbread make it an easy snack to wrap up and send to friends and family. This simple, five-ingredient recipe can have warm shortbread ready in a little over half an hour.

    Where to begin? This week has been chaotic.

    I’ve been in the hectic process of moving out of my apartment. I am always equal parts amazed and disgusted by the sheer magnitude of stuff I am able to cram into my apartment. It’s insane, really.

    What’s the plus side to all of this madness you may ask? I will be spending the next week in Paris with my family. I’m ecstatic just thinking about the art and food — I can’t decide which is more exciting. Since we are staying in an apartment next week, I will actually be cooking for you from France — in my French kitchen!

    Because of all this hustle and bustle, I wanted to make something relatively simple that would also serve as a good travel snack (I think I build up the drive to Houston in my head as some grand excursion and prepare as such).

    Although I make desserts a lot, I’m don’t really have a huge sweet tooth. With the exception of a few things, I never really ‘crave’ dessert (don’t think that stops me from eating them often).

    One thing I can’t resist is a good piece of shortbread. The crunchy, crumbly texture is almost as addicting as the rich, buttery flavor. It’s one of those things that tastes so perfect in its simplicity. Really, the only flaw in shortbread is me — I could polish off a whole tin of it in one sitting if I’m not careful.

    Shortbread is relatively easy to make, and it comes out consistently well. But I am convinced that the more carefully you follow the recipe, the better they come out. Sometimes the simpler something is, the more noticeable the quality can be.

    You can make your cookies in a round pan and cut them into triangles, kind of like pizza slices. Or, you can do what I prefer and make rectangular bars. Really, they can be any shape you like (I almost considered longhorn-shaped cookies!). But the smaller they are, the better they pack without breaking.

    Packablility is something to consider, primarily if you’re giving your shortbread to someone. The cookie itself travels well and could easily be sent to a friend far away or delivered to that lucky son of a gun nearby. I mean what a great gift, right? FYI: I’m always registered for shortbread gifts.

    Now I know this isn’t exactly a revolutionary idea, but the other great thing about shortbread is its incredible dipping ability. My personal dunking (or spreading, if you’re fancy) favorites are Nutella and jam, such as strawberry or red/black current.

    I used a recipe I found on Allrecipes.com because it was simple (it only has three ingredients!), but I added 2 teaspoons of pure vanilla and a pinch of kosher salt to enhance the flavor. In this case, the vanilla doesn’t so much alter the flavor as it enhances the buttery taste — and who doesn’t want that?

    Until next week, au revoir! (I should really learn how to say something else in French before I get there...)

  • Weekend Recs: Third Thursday, Swanky Jazzy, Pop on Cello, Happy Birthday Iggi

    The Blanton Museum is hosting a free evening of art and activities, with main events including a screening of John Berger’s 1972 BBC television series “Ways of Seeing,” yoga in the galleries and a book club discussion on “Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You” led by Sam Gosling, UT psychology professor and author of the book.

    WHAT: Third Thursday at the Blanton
    WHEN: July 21 at 5 p.m.
    WHERE: The Blanton Museum

    Lead by Austin’s swanky six-piece jazz band The Copa Kings, the HighBall is traveling back in time to the sophisticated days of the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s with straight scotch over ice, swing dancing and some scat singing.

    WHAT: The Copa Kings
    WHEN: July 22 at 7 p.m.
    WHERE: The HighBall

    Classically-trained pop cellist Ben Sollee and his bandmates are making a pit stop in Austin, perhaps hot off their bicycles. Known for their quirks — from touring across America and hauling their instruments on bikes to intertwining American folk with pop and classical music — the band is the perfect dose of flawless musicality and youthful fun.

    WHAT: Ben Sollee with Thousands
    WHEN: July 23 at 8 p.m.
    WHERE: The Parish
    ADMISSION: $12 online, $15 at door

    The deliciously greasy vegan food trailer, Iggi’s Texatarian is celebrating its first birthday this Saturday with live music from DJ uLovei and DJ Fredster and bands such as Coma in Algiers, Wicked Poseur and The Bang Bang Theodores. There’ll also be some yummy food from Iggi’s and Asian fusion trailer Me So Hungry and face painting!

    WHAT: Iggi’s One-Year Anniversary Party
    WHEN: Saturday, July 23 from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.
    WHERE: Cheer Up Charlie’s
    ADMISSION: Free, 21+

  • Art in Translation: The Trees Have Souls

    (Photo Courtesy of Davis Gallery)
    (Photo Courtesy of Davis Gallery)

    I’ll admit, I have really come to love having an excuse to go these art excursions and this week was no different. I stopped in to Davis Gallery on the corner of West 12th Street and Shoal Creek Boulevard, intent on writing about an abstract cityscape I had seen online.

    Not wanting to short change any of you, I made a courtesy lap around the gallery to ensure I had not missed anything — and boy, I did. I struck gold, or at least gold leaf, with Sandra Langston’s charcoal sketch “Tree of Souls.” I turned the corner while I was making my way through the gallery and it literally stunned me with its, well, soul.

    Before I get into this piece, it might be helpful for me to give you a little background on how I fell in love with not art, but art history.

    In high school, I was always frustrated by the fact that I never really found my niche in any of my classes or extracurricular activities. Then, my senior year I took Advanced Placement Art History and it finally clicked. For the first time, I wasn’t just interested in what I was studying; I was enchanted by it — and by other subjects by proxy. After deciding to double major in art history, I took a survey class on modern art, my longtime favorite.

    Although the professor was a somewhat kooky woman (in the most fantastic way, I can assure you), she said something that has shaped how I look at art ever since. “The reason so many people hate modern art is that so much of it is just paint splattered on a canvas, just a picture, just hotel art. When you study [modern art], you come to find that the pieces that work have a soul. You can feel them,” she said.

    And with that, we can now move into this week’s piece. “Tree of Souls” caught my eye because it was so different from the rest of the pieces on display. In a gallery of colorful paintings and mixed media installations, the black and white sketch is a clear departure from the rest of the art in their Summer Group Show. The gold leaf painted on the wispy, energetic tree leaves, however, gives it the ethereal quality that draws you in.

    Langston, originally from Austin, currently lives in the middle of an olive grove in Southern Italy. Although these groves consist of dozens of streamlined rows of thin trees, every once in a while, you will find an olive tree that is centuries old. These behemoths are incredibly thick and gnarly, showing a sort of individual character that can’t be found in the groves.

    The artist was struck by how much life you could see in a tree such as this. It seems as though she is showing the soul of the tree or perhaps even the souls which the tree has experienced over the years. Either way, the golden leaves give it a hint of magic that immediately makes my mind go to childhood nature movie favorites such as “Pocahontas” and “Fern Gully.” Just wait before you roll your eyes.

    Think of a time when something in nature really struck you or touched you in some way. If you haven’t, go to a park and close your eyes or something. Think about the trees rustling lightly and that hint of breeze brushing over your shoulder as you look up through the branches and see golden gleams of sun (much like the piece’s golden leaves) shining through the leaves. It’s not just a view. It’s a feeling, and it’s a feeling Langston has captured in her drawing.

    Has a work of art ever given you that sort of experience?

  • The Garage Sale Review: A Special Feature: A Trip to the Federal Surplus Property Program

    The Federal Surplus Property Program’s warehouse in Austin is filled with all sorts of surrendered, discarded and unused odds and ends from government agencies — airport contraband included.
    The Federal Surplus Property Program’s warehouse in Austin is filled with all sorts of surrendered, discarded and unused odds and ends from government agencies — airport contraband included.

    Editor's note: All photos taken by Gillian Rhodes, Daily Texan Staff.

    Howdy, my sidekicks of secondhand stuff!

    In the name of always keeping the world of garage sale blogging vibrant and new, fluid and flexible, lean and mean, Gillian and I decided to turn the tables this week and focus on something a little different from our normal routine. You can always count on us to keep your palette for yard sale tales satisfied with exotic flavors!

    So, a few months ago my mom told me about a mysterious warehouse in Austin where all sorts of Texas airport contraband is hauled off to and sold for reduced rates. Have you ever gone through security at an airport and been forced to surrender your snow globe? (You can’t have more than 3 oz. of liquid on a plane, buddy. Don’t act like you didn’t know.) Or maybe you innocently forgot to check your huge, illegal-in-49-states bear hunting knife. Or perhaps you didn’t realize that you’re not allowed to transport your bizarre rattlesnake in a jar across state lines (see below). How embarrassing for you!

    Regardless of the item or the reason people thought it would be OK to bring the item onto an airplane, the fact is, they couldn’t, so they turned it over the airport security officer (the one that’s over yonder checking out the nude body scans) and the officer puts the contraband in a box. But then what happens to it? I always thought the security fellas played poker with the stuff after they got off work. Nope, I was wrong. It goes into the Federal Surplus Property Program.

    The Federal Surplus Property Program is a program that receives goods from all parts of the federal government (not only airports, but leftover stuff from other government agencies, too), and then resells those goods in their warehouses. So it’s like the government’s garage sale. A yard sale hosted by The Man! What could be better? Gillian and I had to check it out.

    Central District Warehouse (Federal Surplus Property Program Headquarters)
    6506 Bolm Road (hours: M-F, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.)

    View Larger Map

    We walked into the nondescript building and into the little lobby area, which the Surplus Program calls “The Texas Treasure Chest” on the front of their brochure. The hospitable woman who was working the counter told us that Gillian couldn’t take pictures of customers or employees and she made us hand over our driver’s licenses for her to make a copy. This ain’t like any garage sale I’ve ever been to before! I assume our identities went into a database of people who like to look at junk for sale and write about it online. Well, guess what, Uncle Sam? Your plan backfired because that’s one list I’m proud to be on.

    The first thing we noticed were the snow-globes for $3 each. There were a lot of them. Probably about 100, and it’s clear that just about all of them came from crappy San Antonio Riverwalk gift shops. It was kind of a letdown, actually. Before I arrived, I had imagined a mountain of snow globes from all over, but this just looked as if the Surplus Property Warehouse had received a few orders of Riverwalk snow globes by mistake. I wonder if the gift shops know that the government is totally undercutting their prices? I smell a salvage scandal.

    Also, there were knives. So many knives. There were knives with forks and spoons attached to them, hunting knives, butterfly knives, kitchen knives, small knives and knives tucked away into objects that you wouldn’t think should have knives tucked away into them. And the knives were so cheap ($3 for a big Swiss Army Knife)! If I bought that whole tray I wouldn’t have to worry about finding a Father’s Day gift for my dad ever again!

    Cellphones for $5 each! Not only would this be the place to go if you were in need of a cheap cellphone, but it would provide a wonderful opportunity to research the history of cellphone technology. Along with a few newer Blackberries and the like, this cellphone bin was filled with those from a time before camera phones, color screens and fancy cell phone doodads such as calculators and clocks. I’m telling you, this cell phone box smelled like the late ‘90s and what a sweet, guilt-free aroma it was.

    The knives and cell phones and such were all well and good, but Gillian and I wanted the juicy stuff. You know, like that illegal, spicy Mexican iguana meat that people try to sneak through customs in their underwear (for future reference, if I say something is “juicy,” that’s the definition I’m using). So we asked the warehouse counter lady if she ever receives any juicy stuff and she pointed us to a case in the corner. The items in the case (nunchucks, an old type writer, some knives adorned with skulls —you know, the usual) weren’t for sale, unfortunately. The lady said the items couldn’t be priced, but that just made them all the jucier. We couldn’t take anything out of the case, but Gillian managed to snap some shots of the curious reptile-in-a-jar from behind the glass. Delicious!

    There was a lot of good stuff in the Texas Treasure Chest, but most of it didn’t compare to the pile of Shake Weights that were stashed away under the table. What a shame it would be to lose such a useful device. And yes, that is my ripped bicep.

    Beyond The Texas Treasure Chest lies the real warehouse, where the government stores all the office furniture, keyboards, floppy disk drives, etc. people try to sneak onto planes in their carry-on bags. Just kidding. A desk would never fit in a duffel bag!

    Actually it was all the furniture, equipment and supplies that aren’t needed by government agencies anymore, sold at a discount. That doesn’t necessarily mean there were any truly amazing deals (this is The Man we’re talking about here), but it was still a pretty impressive collection of stuff and definitely worth checking out if you need some office chairs.

    OK, you guys. Have fun out there, and if you ever need a rattlesnake-in-a-jar or about 500 Swiss Army Knives, you know where to go.