thirsty thursday
jo's on south congress

Jo's Hot Coffee and Good Food
1300 South Congress (with a second location on....Second St.)
7am-9pm, Sun-Friday, until 10pm on Saturday

I was a relatively new Austinite when Jo's original location, on the ultra-hip stretch of South Congress, just across from The Continental Club, hung it's coffee-scented shutter, and it's held a special place in my coffee-loving heart ever since.

My first forays along that avenue, the one which clings to the 'Keep Austin Weird' command so stylishly, were always punctuated with a visit, and a cuppa, iced or steaming, depending upon the temperature.  So, iced, mostly.

They have some great snacks, too.  Sandwiches, sides, breakfast tacos (their migas taco, this particular morning, was fresh and steaming and plump, on a handmade corn tortilla, with very tasty salsa as an accompaniment.  Score!), muffins, and sweets. Always fresh.  I'm never disappointed.

Located next door to the Hotel San Jose, the 'hotel with a soul', you'll find curious tourists mingling with Austin's finest hipsters. Don't let those serious faces fool you--strike up a conversation and you'll learn all kinds of fascinating facts you never (or never thought you'd need to) knew.  The coffee is great.  The people-watching is phenomenal.

You can even buy a beer, if that's your thing, and, perhaps not so surprisingly  it was a few of these people's thing, at 8am on an overcast, muggy, most un-holiday-like day in late December. Hipster-grumpy.  But I love the bowler hat.

After loading my car with masa for tamale-making, I dropped by for a few servings of extra fuel, the Iced Turbo, and the Belgian Bomber, a lighter take on the Turbo, on what promised to be a long day in the kitchen for my friend, Kristina, and me, early in the Great Tamale Campaign of 2012.  They are the two drinks that got me through long days and nights, just a year ago, at St. Edward's University, just up the street, which, at the time, had a satellite Jo's all of their own. I trusted in the Turbo, and it did not let me down.

And after that taco was demolished, I was on my way to pick up Santa's best helper, to spend the next 3 full days, plus some, doing the tamale thing.

If the whole tamale Christmas thing seems odd to you, perhaps you'll understand a little more when you see what is typical South Austin holiday decorating that I spied on the way back to the car--palm trees, cactus in the rock bed, old trucks, and Santa in his rusted-out vintage car sleigh.

Yep. Keeping Austin weird.

Wanna take a stab at making your own iced coffee?  A good beginning can be found here, on Notes From Maggie's Farm, Get Up and Go Juice.

(almost) wordless wednesday
el milagro tortilleria

If you've been reading along, you probably know why we have pictures of El Milagra Tortilleria on our blog, today. If not, let me just catch you up.  This holiday season, we prepared, wrapped, sold, delivered, and gifted over 3000 tamales.  I believe 3700 is closer to the count, today.  This was not a solitary effort.  We had the help and support of friends who might just not answer our calls come about November of next year.  I'm relieved they are still answering them now.  They are the salt of the earth, and this is not the last you'll hear of them, or the Great Tamale Campaign of 2012.

Every year, we begin the production with a trip (or two, or four) to El Milagro Tortilleria on East 6th Street, in Austin.  And every year, it seems the word spreads, as we sidle up to the counter early in the morning, with a building clientele.  El Milagro opens at 5:30am, and you'll find us there right about sun-up.  This year, we ordered 250 pounds of masa, and it was loaded into our car proficiently, and politely--in the back, on the seats, everywhere!

A word to the wise--if you order the masa, it will be frozen when it is loaded.  If you buy it from the case, it is not.  The friendly cashier assured us that it would thaw, set out on the counter top, within an hour or two.  It was still frozen in the center 6 hours later.  It created a sizable bump in our operation, but we'll know better next time.  You learn something new every year.  It won't keep us from ordering from them again, because they have the best, and most economical, masa, both in preparda forms, and plain (without lard, spices, or stock) in the city.  We elected to use the masa preparada this time, but added our own spices, and a little more of this and that, along with a bit of dried masa, to the mix.

With a car loaded, and a five pound bag of their delicious chips, our favorite, added to the front seat for tamalada snackage, we were on our way.  With blessings.

El Milagro is open to the public, and their small storefront, located on East Sixth, in Austin, stocks those chips, tortillas, tostados, and almost everything you'll need to make tamales, too. Stop by and see them sometime, and grab a bag of those fresh chips.  Seriously.  Your best salsa deserves them!

(almost) wordless wednesday
tamale time!

It is a great honor to be featured today in the online and print edition of Austin American Statesman's Food Matters, by our good friend, food writer Addie Broyles.

Burnet farmer expands tamale-making business

After making tamales for years for friends and family, farmer-writer Margaret Christine Perkins, who writes the blog Notes From Maggie’s Farm ( about her farm near Burnet, has expanded her holiday production with the help of a commercial kitchen. Through Friday, you can order red chile pork, green chile chicken, smoked brisket or black bean tamales ($10 per dozen pre-paid or $12 per dozen upon delivery) for delivery on Dec. 21 or pick-up on Dec. 22. Sauces — poblano cilantro cream or chile con carne — cost $6 per pint. To order, send an email to

See the entire article, including a nice feature of our friend Anna Ginsberg of Cookie Madness, by visiting Austin 360, Food Matters.

And now those orders are pouring in!

We're taking orders through Friday, December 14th.  For more information, please visit Tamale Time!

Happy Holidays!
From Maggie's Farm

12 Days of Holiday Cookies
Ruthie's Pecan Pralines

I am honored, and delighted to be included in Local Savour's 12 Days of Holiday Cookies, and find myself in fine company as the gracious and elegant Elizabeth features some of my favorite blogging friends. Please do yourself the favor of visiting her lovely blog, and see all the goodies shared.

I am most fortunate to be included in the vibrant community in which we write, and eat, and share our lives.

While not technically a cookie per se, Elizabeth allowed me to contribute one of my favorite holiday treats.

Pralines, that's prahleens to some of you and prayleens, to others are a southern holiday staple, and versions can be found as they are in New Orleans and surrounding parts, golden and chewy, or crisp and opaque, like you'll find crowded around the cashier stand in many Tex-Mex restaurants.  I've taken liberties here, a crisp version adapted from a recipe for Mexican Pralines, substituting Lyle's Golden Syrup for corn syrup, adding a little half and half, a little more butter, a little less water, and a hint of warm spiciness.  I've never been much for leaving well enough alone.

These pralines, and all the other versions I've tried over the years at Christmas, are prepared in honor of the memory of my Granny Ruthie.  You'll find the recipe at the bottom of this story. It's a long one, and if you're short on time, perhaps you can save it for another day--maybe a quiet morning.  With a warm cup of coffee.  And a praline.  And maybe a hankie.

Famously fastidious, my mother was due to pick us up from our Granny Ruth's, or Ruthie, as her family affectionately called her, within the hour, and we had been scrubbed and polished and starched to perfection. Granny, who, if we're being technical, was actually our step-grandmother, yet never treated us with any less love and affection than any of her grandchildren, had entertained us while our parents we're on some kind of no-children-allowed venture.  Upon our arrival there, we soon forgot being left behind because there were adventures to be had!  Corners to explore!  Why, there was a whole HOUSE in Granny's backyard, and a door that went down into the ground--something called a cellar, which we'd only seen in The Wizard of Oz, and about which we'd always been so curious.

She also had two front doors, though only one of them had easy access.  She had a glider on the front porch, she didn't drive a car, her neighborhood was what we called downtown, there were sidewalks, and an ice cream man that pedaled his cart and announced his presence with no more than a bicycle bell.  To my childlike-self, it was different.  It was wonderful.

Granny wore knee-high stockings settled in a roll around her ankles, sturdy black lace-up shoes, and soft cotton calico house dresses.  She made roses of egg carton-cup petals stuck into a styrofoam ball with tiny pushpins, necklaces of paperclips and contact paper, crosses of yarn and spent matchsticks, homemade biscuits with chocolate gravy, and salad dressing that you couldn't buy at the store.  She was round and soft and had a gentle way of giggling when in the company of her family which included seven sons and a daughter, their families, including a passel of grandchildren, of which I delightedly was one.  We loved bathing in her big clawfoot tub, with the smell-good soap, which she used to shampoo our tow-heads as well as scrub our grubby limbs.

I was sad to be leaving my Granny's house that day, and snuck off for one last mill around the yard, making sure I'd plucked every flower growing, when I came upon the gigantic pecan tree in the yard of the rent house out back.  How could I possibly have overlooked this!?!  There was a wealth of pecans---and I knew they were pecans because I'd spent a few afternoons watching Gospel Jubilee and sharing pecans that my Granny had cracked, silently giggling that Granny called them peCANS (not peCAHNS) just like she pronounced VietNAM (not VietNAHM) which was a mysterious place that my uncle was visiting, often spoken of in ominous, hushed tones, and most every evening,  by David Brinkley on the nightly news.

But about the pecans.

What a find!  I couldn't wait to see the look on Granny's face when I showed her my treasure!  I pulled up the spic and span skirt of my dress, and filled it to brimming with the pecans that veritably littered the ground.  What LUCK!  I eagerly scuttled back to the house, fully enveloped in my awesomeness as a young and plucky forager.

Alas, I was mistaken.  I was not met with glee.  The look on Granny's face was not quite what I was hoping.  In fact, I'd never seen this look.  Nor heard this tone of voice.  Horrified, I think you'd call it.  And I think I came close to getting the only full-fledged spanking I would ever receive from Granny, though she did land a few swats to my skinny legs. I had lost my magical favor.  I was...she said....a mess.

And my mother was pulling into the driveway.

Well, it took a lot of years before we laughed about it.  A few years for Granny and the family.  A few many more for me.  Because every time the family gathered, it seemed, the old stories came out, and I was the key player in at least this one.

Y'all.  It kinda wore on my laughter-frayed nerves.

Several years later, not really several enough mind you, I was off to the airport, leaving my family in Oklahoma, returning to Louisiana for an ill-advised young marriage to a 'Cajun hooligan', as he was called by a few. My last stop was breakfast at Granny's-- her biscuits and chocolate gravy at my request.  No one was very happy with the headstrong young bride, and I suspected I might be entering a trap--a lecture like I'd received from many others.  But chocolate gravy. I'd suffer for that.

However there was no lecture, no suffering.  There was soft laughter, and compassion, and a new intimacy that took me, tearfully by tender surprise.  Granny gave me a quilt she'd made, told me to open it later, gave me a hug.  She told me she'd been a young bride, and that they'd made it work, and she knew we could, too.  She thought he was a 'funny little fella' and said when two people were in love, and couldn't be apart, you might as well let them be.  And love them.

I learned more about love that morning than I'd experience over the next few years. It was as difficult as they'd all said it would be, though fiercely proud, I never let on (and to my family's credit, in love and grace, never was there, nor ever has been uttered I told you so). As I had done the love of my family, I tucked Granny's kindness into my heart, and the memory of it, and the soft down of that handmade quilt, comforted and sustained me through scary and lonely and tearful times.

That day, back when I was a youthful bride-to-be, and the future was so bright, I arrived in Louisiana, and finally found a moment to tear into the package she'd given me.  Tucked in the layers of the fluffy quilt, which smelled sweetly of Granny, I found a recipe cut from a newspaper, yellowed from age, fraying at the folded crease.  A recipe for Pecan Pralines.  In her scratchy handwriting, across the top, it read...

To My Pecan Girl.

1 c. firmly packed brown sugar
1 c. granulated sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
a pinch, each, of cayenne pepper, and kosher salt
1 tbsp. Lyle's Golden Syrup
1/2 stick unsalted butter
2 tbsp. half and half
3 tbsp. water
2 c. pecans, halves or pieces

In two quart saucepan, combine sugar, spices, syrup, butter, and half, and water. Bring to a boil. Add nuts and return to a boil, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to medium, and continue until candy reaches soft ball stage or 238 degrees. Remove from heat and stir rapidly until mixture begins to lose its gloss.

Quickly drop candy from tablespoon onto waxed paper and allow to harden. Makes about 24 small pralines, or 6 gigantic, sprawling, good-for-the-pause-that-refreshes, too-large-to-dunk-in-your-cup-of-afternoon-coffee, just-this-side-of-tummy-ache-sized holiday delights.

(almost) wordless wednesday
lily's sandwich, austin

With nothing but pocket change to do my bidding, I showed up, hungry, at the North Austin Chinatown location of Lily's.

I'd heard of the place for years, and hoped that the bread, which I was promised would be the closest approximation to New Orlean's poboy-style bread I'd find in town, would meet my bread-picky standards.  It did.  In spades.

What a delightful place I found.  Rows and rows of all kinds of condiments for sale, the likes of which I've never tried.  If it weren't for the fact that loose change was all I had, considering Lily's does not take debit cards, I'd have tried everything in sight.  That's just how I roll.  Like I'm going to have to have some of that Grass Jelly some day. And a few of the other odds and ends sitting about.

And I was delighted with my bahn mi, too!  Fresh ingredients--herbs including cilantro, pickled vegetables, and some other stuff that I'm not sure I know--because my English was met with vacant stares, but hey, I'm an adventurer!  So a #3 it was.

Though there was a communication breakdown, there was no shortage of hospitality.  Or value!  I received a bright, fresh, tasty foot-longish sandwich, on that glorious crusty bread, along with a glass of iced jasmine tea, on the house, and with exchanged smiles and nods, I got down to the business at hand.

Having spent half of the cost of a standard fast food value(?) meal, I left satisfied, with a tad more pep in my step than greasy burgers and fries would have me, and looking forward to many happy returns.

I happily recommend a visit to Lily's, at 10901 N Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78753.

Happy Trails!

tamale time!

What began as a hobby in my small South Austin kitchen several years ago has grown to a full-blown holiday operation, and preparing handmade tamales for the enjoyment of friends, and customers who become friends, is now the joyful centerpiece of our celebrations. What joy it brings us to know that families are sharing the tamales we made together, with no small amount of love and laughter, around holiday tables locally, and beyond.

This year, we've already heard from repeat tamale-loving customers, and those who have found us through word of mouth.  Demand has sent us to a commercial kitchen for preparation, still using the same handmade process, with perhaps a tad more elbow room. Orders are underway!  We are excited!

It’s time to think tamales here in Texas, and beyond. From Maggie’s Farm begins taking orders for this season, today, for all of your favorites, including:
  • Red Chile Pork
  • Green Chile Chicken
  • Black Bean Vegetable
  • and this year's special, Smoked Brisket.
10.00/dozen, prepaid (payments received by Friday, December 14th)
12.00/dozen upon delivery.

This year's sauces include the customer favorite Poblano Cilantro Cream Sauce, and the new Chile Con Carne Simmering Gravy, a milder sauce, made at the request of customers, each perfect for dressing up a plateful of steaming masa beauties, as well as using as a simmering sauce, drizzling on taco filling, tossing into scrambled eggs, and more... 

We will be making Austin and Hill Country-area home deliveries on Friday, December 21st, and will have free-of-delivery-charge pickup locations in Austin and Burnet on Saturday, December 22nd. (*For more delivery options, please see below.)

Please place your orders no later than the Friday, December 14th, to assure availability.

For more information, or to order, contact from maggie's farm by email, at the link in the above right column, or comment, below.

* Special arrangements for delivery are no problem. Give us a shout and we'll work it out. 
 Giving these as gifts? Special wrap is available, too!

Thank you for letting us fill your holiday tamale needs and cravings.  Happy Holidays!

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