Monday, January 9, 2012

Austin/Boston Food Love

Last month, the Boston Food Bloggers (BFB) teamed up with our new friends in Texas, the Austin Food Blogger Alliance (AFBA), to do a holiday gift swap. I'll write more about the background (and hopefully future!) of the swap in a recap post over on, but over here, I want to recap my personal swap experience. I worked with Jodi Bart, the AFBA's Communications Chair, to organize the event, and we decided to participate as well by becoming swap partners. (Yep, the AFBA actually has a Board of Directors and everything. Pretty snazzy. Something to think about for BFB?)

Jodi (whose blog is Tasty Touring) and I were both dealing with particularly hectic lives around the swap and never got a chance to talk on the phone (I'm totally phone-awkward anyways!), but we swapped a few emails and learned a little bit about each other. Jody was born up in Ottawa and attended a French immersion kindergarten in Montreal; I'm a total francophile nerd (and minored in French), so I hope we have a chance to parler en français at some point! (Yes, I know "to parler" is redundant, but I'm making up my own Franglish rules here.) Fast-forward to college at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, where Jodi studied history. Then, she moved to NYC to do PR for The New Yorker before moving to Austin in 2003.

She's been blogging since 2008 - me too! - and awesomely won a national food blogger video contest through Whole Foods last year, resulting in a fabulous free trip to Europe. Amazing.

From Boston to Austin

Picking out the local goodies to share with Jodi was pretty exciting. There are the obvious choices that came to mind right away, like Taza chocolates and local honey from Follow the Honey; the ones that I came across randomly, having never heard of them before, like Fat Toad caramel and Minnie's Mandelbrot; and everything in between.

Here's what I sent:

Wildflower Honey from Warm Colors Apiary in Deerfield (purchased at Follow the Honey in Cambridge)

Follow the Honey is a newish bee-themed store in Cambridge. I first learned about it from a friend of a friend who worked there, and I went in, tasted a ton of honey, took a ton of photos, and wrote about it for CBS Boston. I was expecting just a store full of honey, but it’s so much more than that. Product-wise, there are bee and honey-themed accessories, beauty products, and honey from all over the world. The staff is also extremely knowledgeable about bees, colony collapse disorder, etc., and many of them are artists, so the store is gorgeous.

Most of the local honeys available last time I went in would have put me too close to the budget limit for the swap, but fortunately this local wildflower honey was “on tap” at a reasonable price - they have a rotating selection on tap that you jar yourself. It's from Warm Colors Apiary. (As you'll read a bit further down, Jodi also sent me a local honey!)

I had hoped to include print-outs of recipes from the websites of several of the products I was sending and stores I was visiting, but I unfortunately ran out of time. Warm Colors has a nice collection of honey-based recipes here.

Chocolate from Taza Chocolate in Somerville (purchased at Magpie in Somerville)

Taza is headquartered in Somerville - my home! The chocolate is gritty and intense, not creamy like European-style chocolate. Pretty sure most Boston swap participants included some Taza in their package. I’ve toured the factory twice. Lots of fun! I included one of my favorite flavors, guajillo chili, and one that everyone else seems to love, salted caramel. These are sold all over the place as of the last year or so; I picked these up at a cute gift shop called Magpie in Somerville's Davis Square.

Here's Taza's recipe collection, which makes me drool. A lot.

Italian Plum and Wild Concord Grape Jam from Central Bottle in Cambridge (includes plums from Autumn Hill Farm in Groton)

I’ve never tasted this one, but I love the store, Central Bottle. It’s primarily a wine store - a great one - but they have some other goodies, including a sandwich that I occasionally power-walked 14 minutes from the office to get for lunch when I worked in Kendall Square - goat cheese, arugula, walnuts, pecorino. And amazing bread! Central Bottle jarred the jam, which includes plums from Autumn Hills Orchard in Groton. According to the ingredient list, it also includes chartreuse (which I love) and “tastiness.” Yay! I hope it tastes good!

Mexican Chocolate Cashews from Q's Nuts in Somerville (purchased at the Eat Boutique holiday market in Boston)

Q’s Nuts makes the rounds at many of the local farmer’s markets, and I stumbled upon this flavor awhile ago and loved it. This bag was bought at a local holiday market organized by Maggie of Eat Boutique, a Boston-based food blog-turned-business that creates awesome food gift boxes that you can subscribe to - or send to friends. Check out the stunning recipe collection on the Eat Boutique website.

Minnie's Mandelbrot in Boston (purchased at the Eat Boutique holiday market)

And now for something a bit more Chanukah-oriented! I found this cinnamon, raisin, and walnut mandelbrot, made by Minnie's Mandelbrot, at the Eat Boutique holiday market, tried a sample, and thought it’d make a nice addition to the box. Minnie was the baker’s great-grandmother, who brought this recipe over from Belarus more than a century ago. (Never had mandelbrot? It's pretty much a Jewish/Eastern-European version of biscotti.)

Goat's Milk Vanilla Bean Caramel from Fat Toad Farm in Brookfield, VT (purchased at the Eat Boutique holiday market)

Another random purchase from the Eat Boutique holiday market! No special significance - I just tried a sample and thought it was delicious. Fat Toad Farm is a family-run goat dairy in Vermont, which still counts as local, right? Be sure to check out their tasty-looking recipes.

Vegan Chocolate Ginger Bomb Cookies from 3 Little Figs in Somerville

3 Little Figs is my new favorite place! It’s a Greek-inspired cafe that recently opened just five minutes’ walk from my apartment. I’m in love. Everything’s delicious, especially the sandwiches. I’ve never had these cookies, but I’ve had a bunch of other spectacular baked goods from here.

Mayflower Poultry Coaster from Magpie in Somerville

I’ve never been to Mayflower Poultry in Cambridge, but it has been around since the 1930s, and its logo is very well-known around here. They even sell branded thongs on the Mayflower website. This coaster is from Magpie, the aforementioned Somerville gift shop.

2010 Holiday Cookies Issue from America's Test Kitchen in Brookline

Just a whole lot of cookie recipes from Brookline-based America’s Test Kitchen! Yum! America's Test Kitchen, of course, has a ton of recipes on their website.

To describe the items that I sent, I printed out a collection of some of my favorite photos that I've taken around Boston, and I wrote about each item on the back of a photo. I had a great time putting together this collection of goodies and supporting some of my favorite local businesses while discovering new ones.

From Austin to Boston

What's a big event like this without a little drama and mystery?

As other swap participants happily tweeted about the packages that they were receiving, I started feeling a little sad...mine hadn't arrived yet even though I thought Jodi had shipped it a couple days before I had shipped mine. Jodi got worried as well and tracked the package, delivering the devastating news that it had apparently been delivered to my porch a week before. Remembering reading an article about a spate of porch package thefts in my neighborhood that week, I actually called the Somerville police department and left a message about my missing package; one of the articles stated that the thieves had been arrested, and police were working through hundreds of packages found in the thieves' car and apartment to try to return them to the owners, so I wanted to make sure they could contact me easily if mine were to be found.

Then - and I should have done this first - I called FedEx with the tracking number Jodi had given me. When I put in the number online, I could see very limited information - it was delivered to my porch on a specific date - but it turns out FedEx had more details to provide. A very nice lady read through the information, including one very key detail. "Let's see, this says that the package was delivered to your back porch..." Back porch! I have a back porch! I live on the second floor of a triple decker; the back porch is only attached to the first floor tenants' door, so I'd never have a reason to go back there, and no one has ever delivered a package to me at that door before, so I completely forgot it existed. The FedEx lady said that the drivers had been instructed to be extra careful during the holiday season, and many were apparently delivering to side and back doors to try to avoid theft. I hurriedly ran out in the rain to find the package sitting rather forlornly, a little soggy and a week old, on the back porch. Success!

As it turns out, nothing was damaged by the rain, and a detective from the Somerville police department even returned my call. I felt bad wasting his time since it turns out I had the package all along, but he was very nice about it.

So here's what I got:

Austin Publications

I didn't know this at the time, but it turns out I'm actually going to be traveling to Austin in March for SXSW, so these publications have become very good research materials for me! Jodi sent me the December issue of The Austin Chronicle (the gift guide), a "Cooks!" edition of Edible Austin (a sister publication to Edible Boston), and the special food issue of Austin Monthly, which I devoured in order to figure out where to eat during my trip. Turns out Jodi's actually in this issue of Austin Monthly - she is one of the experts consulted to build the "best of" list. Awesome.

Barbecue Sauce from The County Line

I told Jodi that I loved barbecue, so this was a perfect choice! I haven't tried it yet, but I bet it'll be amazing. The County Line's original location apparently opened in 1975 and has since expanded. Since  1990, it has been shipping meats, sauces, and more all around the country. Good to know in case I fall in love with this sauce!

Hot Sauce

As you might already know, I really really really like spicy food, so of course I was excited to find a Texas hot sauce in the package. I can't wait to burn my tongue on this.

Cheddar Jalapeno Pretzel Chips from Fat Belly Bakery

"...for the German heritage," wrote Jodi. I haven't had a chance to try these pretzel chips from Fat Belly yet, but they're next on my list.

Pure Wildflower Honey from Goodflow Honey Co.

This honey comes from Goodflow Honey Co., a family-run Austin business that has been around since 1975.

Pumpkin Seed Cheddar Snackers from Doctor Kracker

Yeah, I pretty much devoured these within days of receiving the package. This Dallas-based company, Doctor Kracker, is carried at a variety of stores across the country...including Cambridge Naturals, which I walk by almost daily. SCORE. I will be getting more of these. Oh yes.

Bearded Brothers Mighty Maca Chocolate Energy Bar

If there's one thing I need more of, it's energy. Bearded Brothers - which, you might guess, is a duo of brothers with beards - produces a variety of energy bars. This one is chocolate. Yum.

Enchanted Rock Soap with Sweet Almond Oil and Red Clay from Austin Natural Soap

This Austin Natural Soap smells absolutely fantastic, and a portion of the proceeds benefit Texas parks and wildlife.

Just What the Dr Ordered Brownie from Lovepuppies Brownies

OMG. I might have to order more of these from Lovepuppies or stock up when I'm town. Obviously, this was the first thing I devoured. Dark chocolate (yes!), Dr Pepper (Texas' state drink and probably my favorite soda), and Texas-grown pecans. And heaven.

Thanks Jodi!

At least from my perspective, the Austin to Boston Food Swap was a huge, exciting success, and I hope we can do it again next year. (More on that in the post that I eventually write for BFB!) I'm also very excited to actually meet Jodi in person when I travel to Austin in a couple months!

Read about Jodi's thoughts on the swap on her blog.

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