26th August 2014


Meanwhile in Texas…

The past few mornings have been a sultry mix of heat, humidity, and hungry mosquitos. Evidently, the handful of years living in New England has robbed me of my ability to function in these normal Texas conditions, so I sit inside bemoaning the heat and slathering on the insect repellent. I spend my afternoons attempting to channel my inner southern lady, reading vintage cookbooks from my family collection and sipping tall glasses of iced tea. But what I really want is a sip of something a bit more potent. Enter the Earl Grey Gin and Tonic.


1960s/1970s Gordon’s Gin advertisements

Blame it on the heat, but I’ve had khaki coated pith helmets on the mind. Making the trip through the mosquito infested stretch between the front door and the car requires a particular agility and appropriate attire. And though the threat of malaria is not imminent, I feel better taking the extra precautions and the extra swig of tonic.

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Back in the 18th and 19th centuries, British explorers traveling through India – some of whom belonged to the infamous British East India Company – found themselves with similar unfortunate environmental issues and needed a way to deal with the symptoms of malaria. A special tonic water (later known throughout Great Britain as Indian Tonic) was made with various herbs, bitters, and copious amounts of malaria quelling quinine taken from the bark of the cinchona tree. Long voyages over land or sea required the additional lifesaving application of citrus – usually in the form of lime juice – to prevent scurvy. But nobody, including British gentleman, wants to take their medicine, so a bit of persuasion and a little liquid courage, in the form of dry English gin, was necessary. And that’s how the Gin and Tonic was born.


via Military-History.org


Gin has long since been a favorite of the English. Several local distillers improved upon the original Dutch process and brands like Gordon’s Dry Gin soon became staples on well-stocked English bar carts. In the 1950s and 60s, Gordon’s launched a multi-part ad campaign referencing the historic role of the beverage in British Imperialism and exploration. Capitalizing on the idea of “the Other” and of the masculine nature of the cocktail, the brand enlisted Commander Edward Whitehead, a retired officer in the British Royal Navy and the general manager of the company, as the face of their brand. With his refined yet rugged good looks and his placement in sophisticated yet adventurous locals and activities, Commander Whitehead’s association with gin reinforced the spirit’s reputation with class and gentility. Despite these clear cultural connections to India and the popular era of the British Raj, the Gin and Tonic is rarely considered in its original historic context today.


1950s/1960s Schweppes advertisements


To bring things back to their Imperial English origins, I’ve decided to throw in another flavor of British colonization in the form of Earl Grey tea. It’s a fitting addition, you see, since these British explorers often replaced their cups of afternoon tea with glass after glass of medicinal gin and tonic. I say, why not combine them all?

Earl Grey Gin and Tonics
Makes one drink
For the Earl Grey Orange Syrup:
2 heaping tablespoons Earl Grey tea
1 cup boiling water
1 tablespoons sugar
Peeled rind from half an orange

Combine all the ingredients in a small glass bowl and let steep for 15 to 20 minutes. Strain and transfer to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator until ready to use.

For the drink:
1 ½ oz gin
2 oz tonic
1 ½ teaspoons Earl Grey Orange syrup
Orange peel for garnish

Fill a short glass with ice. To the glass, add the Earl Grey Orange syrup, then the gin, then the tonic water. Garnish with a twist of orange rind. Drink immediately.


Stay cool, y’all.


18th August 2014

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This is my first Fall in 19 years that won’t be marked by a first day of school. It’s a little peculiar stepping outside the academic calendar, thinking of time in months rather than semesters. Not needing to buy school supplies, not even pens or paper. And I don’t like it one bit. Which is why, perhaps, I have a disturbingly thick copy of a GRE prep book on my desk and a long list of PhD application to-dos that seems to keep growing. This year’s application deadlines have long since passed, which makes the absence of school – and the smell of freshly sharpened number two pencils – seem that much stronger.

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Other signs of the school year have started, too, signs of fall and the changing seasons. This kind of crisp weather always reminds me of early morning band practices – at least a kind of romanticized version of them anyways – complete with sweatshirts, cups of coffee, hot Shipley’s donut holes, a few falling leaves crunching underfoot, and the sound of grackles and crows signaling the dawn. This time of the year is when my clock resets and I start fresh: I get up earlier, my running improves, I feel more inspired, think more clearly, and I swear I have more good hair days between the months of August and November than the rest of the year combined. This is simply my season.


With this in mind, I decided it was time for a little change around here. Semi-officially done with school and semi-officially part of the mature real-world, I felt that my site deserved a mature make-over as well with a proper theme and buttons that worked. It’s still a little under construction and you might notice some additional changes over the next few weeks, but I feel refreshed with these cleaner lines, new layout, and hints of color. I dare say that The Young Austinian can now be considered The Young Professional Austinian. But only time – and the application of self-control around all the sugary leftovers from this recipe – will tell.

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Excited for these changes, but still clinging to summer, I’m a mix of wanting a plate full of fresh tomatoes and a cup of apple cider. Torn between the barefoot days of summer but oh so ready to wear a scarf. My favorite thing of all is how the smoky scent in the air changes from backyard grill sessions to logs being thrown on the fireplace. My mind immediately goes to crisp, cold evenings, campfires, and toasted marshmallows. It’s kind of fire that seems appropriate all year long and a sweet that perfectly bridges summertime to early autumn. So naturally, marshmallows leads us to s’mores, which, in turn, leads us to s’mores tarts. S’mores tarts that you can make inside when it gets a little too chilly out. But since we are trying to squeeze every little bit out of summer – and before everything is pumpkin spiced again – that favorite warm weather berry, the strawberry, features alongside the traditional flavors of chocolate and toasted marshmallow.

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Strawberry S’mores Tarts

baked tart shells (use your favorite pie dough)
dark chocolate, melted
strawberries, thinly sliced
large marshmallows

1. Brush the bottoms of the tart shells with a thin layer of melted chocolate. Place the shells on baking sheet or other flat surface and place in the freezer until the chocolate has hardened.

2. Remove the shells from the freezer. Fill each shell with a layer or two of sliced strawberries.

3. In a glass bowl, place a handful of marshmallows (about 3 to 4 per tart) and microwave for 15 to 20 seconds. Alternatively, you can melt these in a small saucepan over low heat. The marshmallows will puff up and melt, creating a fluffy spread. Working quickly, use a silicone spatula to spread a dollop of fluff on top of each tart.

4. Toast the marshmallow topping:

In the broiler: Set broiler to high and place the baking sheet with the tarts as close to the flame as possible. Keep the oven door open and adjust the sheet every few seconds to evenly toast – but not burn – the marshmallow topping.

With a blow torch: Start the torch and toast the marshmallow topping to the desired toastedness.




13th August 2014

sunflowerseeds2 Before any excursion or even before daily errands, my mother would stop for a Texas-sized Diet Coke and a bag of salted sunflower seeds. Not sure why this particular duo was her snack of choice, a kind of central Texas riff on the Southern Coke-and-peanuts combination, but they were a fixture of my mother’s things. Plenty of Southerners – and non-Southerners too – eat sunflower seeds in their hulls and out or use sunflower oil for cooking. There are several varieties of native Texan sunflowers and the state is one of the top producers of the agricultural product in the United States. So I guess it makes sense that we enjoy them. sunflowerseeds1 I was never really a fan of plain ol’ salted sunflower seeds, they chap your lips and make you everso thirsty. Perhaps that explains the extra-large Diet Coke. Mother always knew best. I’ve been trying to find similarly salty snacks that provide a bit more nutrition and pack an extra ounce or two of protein, and this girl’s had her fill of almonds and roasted chickpeas. I decided to give mom’s snack du jour another try. sunflowerseeds5 A couple weeks ago I was waiting for my iced coffee at SOFRA Cafe and had a few minutes to look over their dry goods selection of Middle Eastern spices and herbs. My friend picked up a small box of za’atar – a kind of Middle Eastern herbes de Provence blend of thyme, oregano, savory, marjoram, sumac, sesame seeds, and salt – and the proverbial light bulb started to flicker. I popped back in line and quickly bought a box for myself. sunflowerseeds6 Cranking up the oven in these dog days of summer is quite the effort, so I tossed together a couple other flavors to make use of the heat. A nod to my mother’s Rio Grande Valley roots, I mixed a cup of seeds with a blend of chile powder, lime zest, and citric acid creating a flavor profile that mimics the little shakers of seasoned sour salts that locals sprinkle over grilled corn, mangoes, or just the back of your hand. Giving a second nod to my mother’s affinity for Ranch dressing drenched salads inspired a twist on the Southern flavor with dried buttermilk powder, dill, onion powder, and lots of freshly ground black pepper. All three variations are quite tasty and decidedly mother approved.sunflowerseeds7

Spice Roasted Sunflower Seeds
makes one cup

1 cup sunflower seeds
1 heaping tablespoon olive oil

For the Za’atar: 2 tablespoons za’atar spice blend, salt to taste.

To make your own za’atar spice blend, simply combine equal parts dried thyme, oregano, sumac (optional), and a sprinkle of sesame seeds in a small bowl. Salt to taste. You can also blend the seasoning into a powder by pulsing the herbs in a spice grinder and adding the sesame seeds and salt after.

For the Chile Lime: 2 teaspoons chile powder, 2 teaspoons citric acid, 2 teaspoons lime zest, salt to taste.

For the Buttermilk Dill: 2 tablespoons buttermilk powder, 1 teaspoon dried dill, 2 teaspoons onion powder, 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, salt to taste.

1. In a small bowl, combine all the ingredients, tossing to evenly coat.

2. Set the oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread the spice-coated seeds evenly on the sheet and place in oven. Roast for 10 minutes, tossing with a spatula halfway through, until lightly golden. Let cool in the pan or take the risk and get to snacking.


Happy snacking, y’all.



7th August 2014


“Most every woman in America has at some time in her life thought she would like to have a tea room all her own.” – Charleen J. Baker, Buttercup Hill Tea Room

A few weeks ago I found this bright little black and gold cookbook in the Brattle Bookstore downtown. I have to confess, with its smart design and vintage typography, I bought the book just for its looks and didn’t even flip through the recipes inside. Another confession: this wasn’t even the first time I’ve done that. It’s a bad habit of mine, this cookbook buying, and so my shelves are filled with pretty stacks and vintage collections that never seem to get used for their original purpose. On the train back home, I flipped open the cover to find that this little book came from a local historical gem, the Buttercup Hill Tea Room.

Image via Lunenburg Online

With a little research I learned that Buttercup Hill Tea Room Recipes was published by the Barta Press in Cambridge, MA in 1935. Its author, Charleen J. Baker, was a local woman who, as she says, was just like every other American woman, and wanted to start her own tea room. In 1928, Baker started the Buttercup Hill Tea Room in the little town of Lunenburg, Massachusetts with the help and encouragement of her husband Emerson W. Baker. What started as one small kerosene stove and a room that only seated twelve quickly gained popularity with the locals, expanding into additional rooms and serving thousands of people over the next few years.

With dishes like Pimiento Egg Canapes, Fried Summer Squash – Southern Style, Veal Parisienne, Somerset Gelatine Salad, and something called Princess Cashew Nut Cake, Baker’s recipes are a mix of her Southern upbringing and early 20th century East Coast frugality all combined with a delicate touch of lingering Victorian era foodways. As a rule, my generation is reluctant to try anything made with gelatin that isn’t also colored some obscene shade of the rainbow. And so many of Baker’s traditional tea room aspic recipes failed to inspire my appetite. Canapes and croquettes are best when shared over tea and it’s simply too warm for soups and baked dishes. But there, tucked away in the appetizer section, was a recipe for something sweet, Fresh Pineapple & Mint Cup.

The original recipe called for fresh pineapple and thinly shredded mint, a half cup of sugar, and a couple tablespoons of sherry. Perhaps the pineapples of the 1930s were on the sour side, but a half cup of sugar is overkill for this already overly sweet fruit. And since this is 2013 and I don’t have the liquor cabinet of a timepiece carrying gentleman, I substituted a bit of Pimm’s liqueur for the sherry. A slug of honeyed whiskey, a bit of white rum or vermouth, or even a little elderflower liquor would do too. frig

Image via National Women’s History Museum

Baker’s instructions say to “place in ice box overnight” which can be an interesting instruction for 21st century cooks. Ice boxes made in the 1930s varied in construction, but were not typically divided into separate refrigerator and freezer compartments like we have today. Typically, a large block of ice – delivered daily or weekly by the iceman – was held in a compartment which in turn cooled the zinc or tin lined box that held the food. In other words, in the dead of summer, this refreshing dessert was most likely served semi-frozen like a fruity slush.
Fresh Pineapple & Mint Cup
serves 6

1 fresh pineapple
1/4 cup shredded mint (about 10 – 12 large leaves)
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons Pimm’s liqueur

1. Cut the pineapple in half. Using the tines of a sharp fork, shred the pulp of the pineapple to the core. Transfer pulp to a medium-sized bowl.
2. To the bowl, add the shredded mint, sugar, and liqueur and stir to combine. Place in freezer for 2 to 3 hours until semi-frozen and slushy. Alternatively, you can chill in the fridge and serve cold instead of frozen. Portion into cups and top with a sprig of mint.
Pinkies high, y’all.



18th July 2014

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I’m not typically a fan of eating watermelon any other way than off-the-rind, but there is something to be said for a fresh melon salad in the dog days of summer. This caprese-style salad allows the watermelon to shine – one of my strict requirements – but also highlights its incredible ability to pair with unlikely flavors like creamy goat cheese, lemon, honey, and fresh mint from my garden. Pretty in pink, even watermelon purists can at least appreciate the vibrant color palate of this simple summertime salad.

Thank you Best Friends for Frosting for featuring another one of my creations!

Find the full recipe and many more lovely things here.