Monthly Archives: December 2007

Only in Austin: P. Terry’s Burger Stand

“Only in America” has become something of an expression, in the United States, to talk about things which are possibly only found in this country. As a cultural anthropologist, I can’t help but question the validity of those claims of “American exceptionalism” when I hear them. As a non-citizen, I tend to perceive those claims as rather nationalistic in tone.

But it’s all good.

And it can be fun to apply the same concept to Austin, as it’s a rather unique city. Austinites have almost a patriotic attachment to their city. It might even come from the fact that most of them come from elsewhere… ūüėČ

As the name implies, P. Terry’s Burger Stand is a small hamburger restaurant. Had seen it before (it’s in my neighborhood) but didn’t really know what it was. Noticed that the Austin Chronicle’s readers poll had the place listed as Best Fast Food for 2007. Became intrigued, browsed their site

As it turns out, they’re “Anti-Fast Food” and the owner opened the place after reading Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation. They use “ethical” meat, get fresh produce every day, pay their employees decent wages, and seem to genuinely care about things besides profit. They play a bit of “Austin humor” in the fact that their vegetarian burgers are on the “South Austin Addition” part of their menu.

Had “The Double” as a combo, with iced tea as the drink. It didn’t really take longer than at a fast food to get the food ready. The tea was rather good (and unsweetened iced tea is one of the things I like about living in the South). The fries were nice, somewhere between typical fast food fries and genuine Belgian fries. Hadn’t noticed that the double was a cheeseburger (I don’t like processed cheese) but it was rather good as burgers come.

Things which surprise me for such a “high-minded” place:

  • The burger tastes almost exactly like a generic burger from a mainstream chain. Same type of sauce, iceberg lettuce, bun… Not that it’s a bad thing as it probably makes it easier to reach the “mainstream consumers.” But I somehow expected something which would be very unique in taste. Maybe not like La Paryse or even like Frite Alors. But at least like BellePro.
  • It’s mostly a drive-thru. As a compulsive pedestrian, I can’t help but associate drive-thrus with consumer culture, conspicuous consumption, etc. Not as “Anti-Fast Food” as a sit-in burger joint.
  • They use as much wrapping material as any fast food chain location would. It does make sense for a drive-thru to wrap the food but, since I ate on premises, I thought they might have used a reusable tray or something vaguely “ecological” like that.
  • In the “pleasant surprise” category: their food is very decently priced. Especially when compared to the average meal in this city. I also mean to imply that the portions are rather big, which does make their pricing even more impressive but also goes with the whole “American fast food” model.

Overall, a nice experience. And I do perceive something “typically Austin” about the place. It’s both very clearly connected with mainstream U.S. culture and just a bit on the quirky side of things. Noticed the same balance at the Book People bookstore and at the Magnolia Caf√© diner (“Sorry, we’re open”). Not to mention all the coffeeshops like the Flipnotics Coffeespace from where I’m sending this blog entry.

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How to Inflate an Air Bed with built-in Sponge Pump?

A similar one to this, but bought at Target (Deco brand but same picture):

Image: Quality Double Flocked Air Bed with built in Sponge pump by FUN ZONE

The package didn’t contain instructions. The way the pump works is a bit awkward and, for a while, I really wasn’t sure it was working. Went online looking for instructions. Closest I came to helpful advice was this Amazon comment. It eventually did work but it took a while and I’m thinking that maybe, just maybe, I didn’t do it properly.

What I did: took off the cap and valve from the pump and pumped using my bare foot making sure I was covering the hole with my foot while pressing the pump and letting air in while lifting my foot. Because the sponge pump sends the air in other parts of the mattress, it’s hard to see that the mattress is in fact being inflated. There are two other valves on the mattress but they seem not to be used while inflating the airbed using the pump.

It might have taken me less time blowing the airbed with my mouth, especially given the time I spent looking for instructions. After all, I’m a longtime sax player and a lifetime non-smoker. My lungs are working properly.

To be honest, I did feel rather silly being unsure as to how this inflator worked. And I’m not completely reassured. Guess I just became accustomed to reading detailed instructions, even when they’re insufficient. Even a single diagram without any word would have been quite useful.

Now, we need to find out how long this will last as a mattress. We plan to use it as our bed until our furniture comes in from Montreal, which might take a few weeks. Hadn’t noticed the comments on the Target.com site saying how this airbed may deflate after just a few uses. The box does include a small puncture repair kit. Let’s hope it won’t be needed under normal conditions.


Reviewing Austin

Been in Austin for ten days. Using Google Maps and Google Earth,¬†had planned¬†to go to some places in town, especially coffee and beer places.Currently sitting on the patio at¬†Spider House, sipping a rather nice weizen from¬†Live Oak Brewing. Coming in after¬†spending time¬†at¬†Flipnotics, another patio-worthy caf√©. Not that it’s so warm (13¬įC/55¬įF) but it’s fun to be on a patio in late December.¬†¬†Been updating my map of “Places of interest in Austin.” Added a few things, changed the color of markers for places I’ve visited.¬†Google Maps¬†Some quick observations.

  • Still can’t help but compare with other places. Keep getting “flashes” from many different places. That’s probably what you get when you move 21 times in almost exactly seven years.
  • The city was quite empty, the last few days. Typical of a college town. Things seem much better today.
  • Good potential for a real coffee scene but, so far, the only two places where coffee was good were¬†JP’s Java¬†and¬†Caff√® Medici. These were the top two¬†recommended places in Austin¬†for coffee and espresso, on CoffeeGeek. Not disappointed with either place.
  • The beer scene is interesting, overall. Texas has very restrictive beer laws but Texas micros and brewpubs are doing interesting things. Will finally meet some members of the¬†Zealots brewclub¬†tonight. Should be fun to talk about beer. Some of my favorites so far,¬†Real Ale Roggenbier,¬†Uncle Billy’s¬†Bitchin’ Camaro, and this here¬†Live Oak¬†Hefeweisse.
  • Maybe I just prefer pulled pork over beef brisket but, so far, I’ve had some really nice pulled pork and the beef brisket has been relatively uninteresting. Can’t wait until I start barbecuing on my own.
  • Someone said Austin was a slacker town. Not hard to believe. And it can be fun to be in a place where slacking is ok. For one thing, servers aren’t constantly harassing me to order drinks.
  • There seems to be something of a “town and gown” issue, here. Maybe not as much as in¬†Bloomington. But still. It seems like students control part of the town (the caf√©s/bars) and “normal people” are found elsewhere. One big difference with Bloomington is that people of different ages do seem to mingle, to a certain extent.¬†
  • Though we’re luckily located in an ideal part of town for¬†public transportation, Austin really is a car-city. The MidWest is already pretty intense in terms of car-emphasis, Austin is more car-oriented than I expected. For instance, car drivers pay no attention to pedestrians even when turning left while the “walking” light is on. And it might have more to do with the weather than anything else but there seems to be more SUVs and less bicycles than I’d see in the MidWest.
  • Public transportation is cheap and rather useful downtown. It seems not to work so well for anyone living at any distance from downtown. There are some free routes, a bus connects the airport with both UT and downtown, and the monthly pass is nice (10$ for 31 days, starting at any point).
  • Because the city is spread out, it does seem difficult to do things without a car. Haven’t really felt the need for a car yet and we’ve been lucky enough to get help from a car-owning friend last weekend. Yet a pedestrian lifestyle seems a bit difficult to sustain in Austin. At the same time, the downtown area is relatively small and weather is less of a problem at this point than it could be in Montreal. People keep telling us that the heat of the summer will surely force us to get a car with air conditioning. We’ll see.
  • Grocery stores are a bit difficult to get to but they seem rather interesting. By decreasing order of preference, so far:¬†Central Market, ¬†H-E-B,¬†Whole Foods. Whole Foods has a good selection for certain products, but it’s quite expensive. Central Market seems to have as good a selection for most things yet its prices are rather decent. At H-E-B, we were able to buy some things (produce especially) for much cheaper than what we might pay in Montreal (where food is very inexpensive). Even though it makes a lot of sense in terms of regional differences, it’s still funny to see that tomatoes or cranberries are much more expensive here than in Montreal while oranges and avocados are significantly cheaper. Overall, we’ll be finding ways not to spend too much on grocery.
  • On average, restaurants cost about the same thing as they would in small U.S. cities: less expensive than in Boston but more expensive than in Montreal. Unsurprisingly, Mexican and barbecue restaurants seem to offer the best “bang for the buck.” And there are some places for¬†inexpensive all you can eat pizza. While it’s not the type of food the typical foodie would brag about, it’s nice to have the option.
  • Won’t say much about people’s attitudes because it easily gets me to go into “ethnographic fieldwork mode,” which isn’t what I want to do tonight. Let’s just say that it’s part of the adaptation.¬†¬†Not “culture shock.” Just, getting to learn how to behave in a new city.
  • Despite the lack of snow and the scattered palm trees, it doesn’t so much feel like a Southern city. Maybe because most Austinites come from other parts of the country. Similarly, it doesn’t really feel like Texas. Maybe the town and gown division has something to do with this.
  • There are some nice things to look at but the overall visual aspect of the city isn’t necessarily made to impress. Maybe just my own biases but, to me, Austin looks more like¬†South Bend, Moncton, or¬†Springfield¬†than like New Orleans, Boston, or Chicago.

Overall, an interesting experience so far. Can’t say I really got the pulse of the city, though.


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√Čloge de la patience

Tout simple. Pendant un petit coup de cafard. Essaie de sortir une corde d’un ourlet.

T√Ęche ni facile, ni difficile. Un de ces trucs pratiques que chacun doit savoir faire. Le ¬ętruc¬Ľ c’est, selon ce que ma m√©moire m’intimait de faire, d’utiliser une aiguille pour tirer la corde le long de l’ourlet.

Pas d’aiguille sous la main.

Tire avec les doigts, en maintenant le bout de la corde et en glissant l’ourlet le long de la corde. √áa fonctionne, mais c’est long. Surtout pour passer √† travers une couture. √áa vient, tranquillement.

Jusqu’√† l’ouverture de l’ourlet par laquelle la corde doit passer. C’est ici que le b√Ęt blesse. Plusieurs minutes √† m’acharner sur ce petit bout de corde.

Arrêter si près du but? Pas question.

Tout essayé.

D√©cide de poser l’ouvrage, un instant.

Le reprends, sans grande conviction. T√Ętonne un peu… √áa y est! La corde est sortie!

Et le bien que cette petite r√©ussite m’a fait valait la peine. Me sens mieux.

Surtout que je suis sur la terrasse du café Flipnotics, près de chez moi. Ambiance sympathique. Connexion sans-fil gratuite. Café passable à moyen. Espresso semi-correct. Décor amusant. Oiseaux qui se promènent sur la terrasse.

Je serai probablement ici de temps √† autres. Histoire de m’acclimater.


Port-Based “Sangria”

Ok, it doesn’t really taste like sangria. But it’s a similar drink. And it’s pretty nice, IMHO.

A bit of ruby port, some fresh ginger, lime juice, and orange juice. Haven’t measured the proportions but the result is pretty close to what I thought it’d be. It’d work rather well with “Christmas spices” like dry ginger and cinnamon.

While living in NoHo, MA, I bought a bottle of very inexpensive ruby port at Whole Foods. Can’t remember the brand but it was simply delicious. Better than most Tawny ports, IMHO. And much less expensive than almost any wine. So I became interested in ruby port.

Tried a few other rubies. Including some that was sold in Quebec. For almost three times the price of what I bought in Massachusetts. And not as pleasurable.

Today (Christmas Eve), I went to a liquor store right here in Austin with the definite intention of buying ruby port. Got some Taylor and some Fairbanks. The Fairbanks was even cheaper than the Taylor and, as it so happens, I prefer it. There’s something to these ruby ports that I find quite nice. Can’t quite put my finger on it but it’s related to “freshness.” They do taste “green” but in a nice way. This Fairbanks ruby port I got is still not exactly what I’m looking for, but it’s pretty nice.

I started mixing the Taylor with some lime juice. Then thought about sangria, so I added orange juice and fresh ginger. Quite a nice mix. Summery.

Quite fitting for my first snowless Christmas in years.

Anyhoo… As I’m here, all alone on Christmas Eve, I thought I’d blog about my experiments and experience.

Fun!