Then suddenly it sweeps over me, Florence, Italy

Italy

Hey guys, so it turns out Florence is really fucking beautiful! It’s full of amazing art and lovely bars and surrounded by properly gorgeous rolling countryside that is sort of like quintessentially English countryside but somehow more sun drenched and misty and lovely. I realise this is common knowledge for the thousands of tourists who flock there every year but somehow I missed it. 

As far as commutes into town go, it certainly beats the 55 down Hackney Road

Home for my two day stay was a lovely old house up on a hill about two miles southeast of the city. A real Airbnb gem, this great lil BnB is run by Claire, her son Stefano and their lovely housekeeper Nico. After dropping my bags in my (enormous) room and admiring my lemon yellow 70s bathroom of dreams I set off on the leasurely 45 minute walk into town, down cobbled streets flanked so closely by stone walls I’m amazed a single car fits down them. In my usual way I had done absolutely no research so followed my nose around town, spending a faintly ridiculous amount of money on hand marbled postcards and trying to remember which way I had come from. I paused at the river to get my bearings and generally marvel at quite how photogenic the whole situation was. It was then that I remembered the ever knowledgeable Curious Pear had done a city guide to Florence, and after consulting it decided to head to Gurdulu for dinner to try the ‘sophisticated, seasonal gourmet cooking’. Of course I was unfashionably early and the restaurant wasn’t open yet, so I popped into a tiny wine bar, Langolino, next door to read my book and kill some time. Two hours, various new friends and more than my fair share of Spumante later, I found myself exiting Langolino in the opposite direction, across Piazza Santo Spirito in search of some famously indulgent gnocchi alla tartufi from Osteria Santo Spirito. Sadly they were fully booked, so my new friend Mariano and I instead found ourselves propping up another bar, drinking boulevardiers and eating olives. After a while we had to admit that fun as it was, it really wasn’t dinner so Mariano led me through town to his favourite sandwhich spot –  All’Antico Vinaio. Even at 10.30pm the queue was out the door, but Mariano snuck us to the front and ordered us two ‘sandwiches’. Huge slabs of fresh focaccia with a great smear of truffle paste, fresh soft cheese, lightly sautéed courgette and fresh rocket. Dio mio. Cheesy chips may never suffice again. Refuelled, we wandered back into the night, but only as far as the steps of the Uffizi gallery where one of Mariano’s friends was busking. Another few hours and another few bottles of wine drunk surreptitiously from plastic cups, eventually I made the slightly wobblier walk back to the house, cursing past me for agreeing to an 8am breakfast.

The Ponte Vecchio at sunset. Show off.


The next morning, my headache and I were met with a delicious breakfast of local jams and toast, before getting the bus back into town to do some culture. In a move that, in hindsight, was possibly ambitious considering the scale of my hangover, I decided to tackle the Uffizi. Home to the largest collection of renaissance art in the world, it is worth braving the crowds to see, though I would recommend drinking at last one less bottle of wine than I had to fully enjoy the experience. After two hours of staring at various enormous visualisations of innocents being slaughtered and so so many terrifying ugly baby Jesuses, I gave up and retreated to a cafe for cake and WiFi and sitting. 

When all I could think off whole looking at this picture was ‘pull my finger’, I figured I’d probably had enough art for one day

When my Airbnb host, Stefano, checked in on me that afternoon to see how I was getting on I explained that I had failed to go for dinner the night before and asked if he had any recommendations. It turned out he actually owns Gurdulu and a couple of other spots around town, so he offered to get me a reservation at any of them or, as a wildcard, to come for dinner with him and some friends in a villa on the other side of town. Never one to say to no a free dinner, I agreed and a few hours later Stefano picked me up and drove, at truly terrifying speed, through the winding roads to the west of the city. The evening that followed was a blur. About 20 people, mostly friends since they were kids, all together in this mad huge beautiful villa, chain smoking and feeding me wine and roasted vegetables and bread and shouting at each other in that uniquely Italian way that simultaneously conveys outrage anger and deep rooted love. Obviously I had less than no idea what was being said most of the time but everyone was lovely and engaging and it made me miss my mad friends back home. 

The next morning, I contemplated my time in Florence and thought about how maybe not reading the guidebooks or doing the research is necessarily the worst mistake. Wandering slightly blindly but, crucially, saying yes to the situations we stumble into often produce the most unexpected and positive results. Maybe slightly less wine next time though.

Written by Laura.

What I’m saying now.

What I’m seeing now.

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If we do I’m sure that I’ll miss Bologna

Italy

In a perfect mirroring of our abandonment of this blog midway through our US road trip two years ago, here I resume it midway through another one.

There were no particular reasons for the previous desertion other than laziness, the distractions of life and the overall sadness brought on by writing about a trip that was imminently to be over. But apologies all the same to our 15 loyal readers who no doubt have been stricken for the past two years wondering how it all ended. In short, Vegas was tacky and full of pool parties. Non of us won our millions, non of us got married, one of us got sent their first dick pic (from a man claiming to be in the MBA). Then LA; which was great and sun drenched and full of cute boys on skateboards and delicious food but also pathos as the trip, and our bubble of American freedom, was coming to an end.

 But here we are! Two years later and it is a lone bitch who is tripping this time. While George slaves away in NYC creating plant based fast food magic, I (Laura) have temporality absconded from my East London railway arch for a solo road trip through Italy. The trip actually started a week ago, in Bologna. Initially I had no plans to document it in any particular way, but it turns out that Italian is a pretty difficult language to just jump into speaking, with a very basic working knowledge of French/Spanish hindering rather than helping matters. So with two weeks looming where the extent of my conversations would be limited to ordering wine or apologising for things, I decided maybe an outlet for my repressed internal monologue was a wise move. 


A quick precis of that first week. Two nights in Bologna, immersed in the spirit of Italy’s communist heartland – there is a thriving community of independent businesses made possible through the city’s lingering socialist business policies. The sizeable Antifa student rally I stumbled upon while exploring the city’s many university streets hammered home the underlying spirit of the city. 

My first meal was quite terrifying. I clung to the Italy Food Companion phrasebook my sister had given me for my birthday like my non starvation depended on it, dutifully reading out ‘vorrei una etc etc’ and the patient waiter answering in slowed down nursery grade Italian while I desperately thumbed through the book looking for my next phrase, stubbornly refusing to level myself with the many American tourists around me not even attempting a ‘ciao’. Either my phrasebook Italian wasn’t completely unintelligible, or the waiter helped me out, but the food that arrived was totally perfect. The thinnest, most al dente ravioli, packed with seasoned ricotta and happily drowned in browned butter and sage. Throw in a bread basket the size of my head and a personal bottle of white wine and I found myself coming over all insufferably Julia Roberts a la Eat Pray Love.  


After a long and strenuous planning session (a hasilty written Facebook status) I decided my next stop would be the much Instagrammed Cinque Terre. Comprised of five of the prettiest, least arcitechially feasible looking towns I have ever seen, it really is worth the hype. Two very contentedly sweaty days were spent hiking the trails between Corniglia and Monterosso al Mare. Corniglia is the smallest of the towns (250 residents) and from its position perched high on a cliff top, simply one of the most idyllic places I have ever watched the sun go down. Monterosso is positively metropolitan by contrast; being home to 1500 people. Although it lacks some of Corniglia’s cutesy charm and has a few too many tourists, my lovely hotel  Hotel Marina, serves free pasta and wine every afternoon which is the surest of ways to my heart. 


Once even I reached my limit on 3pm pasta pesto, it was time to wave goodbye to my seaside chocolate box Italian dreamscape, and head south east, to Florence.

Written by Laura.
What I’m saying now.
What I’m seeing now.

Standing in the car park somewhere in New Mexico

Uncategorized

**SPOILER ALERT**

Three notable things happened in New Mexico.

  • We didn’t find much exciting food.
  • We couldn’t find any goddamn nose rings to perfect our newly acquired quarter-life crisis piercings.
  • We found the world’s largest pistachio.

 

After a mildly hilarious run in with the border control officers which involved Laura and I desperately trying to put tops on as we were attempting a bit of roof-down sunbathing at 80mph along the Mexican border whist arriving at an unexpected police checkpoint, it was pretty apparent when we had crossed the state border into New Mexico from Texas. Immediately the interstate was bumpy, buildings were (even more) scarce, the horizon was (even more) huge and we spent a good 3 hours driving through miles and miles of oil fields. Gas stations were so infrequent that our first meal in New Mexico was wraps we fashioned from whatever was in our cool box, lovingly made up on the dash of the Mustang next to a ginormous oil pump.

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Spot the alien

After a quick pit stop at some unreal mile-deep bat caves (where the safety announcement was given by a guy wearing a stuffed bat in his best bat voice which left me with tears rolling down my cheeks from laughing because it was literally the best thing ever) we headed to our first destination, Roswell, made famous by the 1947 UFO sightings that took US media by storm. Roswell is all about aliens here. The street lamps have alien eyes. There are rows and rows of alien themed shops. We even had our first supper at “Galactic Sushi” (where none of the food is actually alien themed apart from the label on the beer). Now don’t get me wrong, I love everything about space (I have a GCSE in astronomy, dontcha know?!) but after a quick whizz around the ‘Roswell UFO Museum’ it’s safe to say I have felt sceptical about fewer things. IT WAS BASICALLY A BIT OF THE AIR FORCE SURVEILLENCE BALOON BREAKING OFF AND FALLING INTO THE GROUND BUT LAURA DOESN’T SEEM TO CARE.

After unsuccessfully searching in 4 different piercing shops for the perfect septum ring, we fuelled ourselves on Mexican food (where the waitress assumed we could eat ham seeing as we were vegetarians LOL), we got back into the trusty Mustang and drove north to Almogordo, a small town off the highway next to the White Sands national park, and a mere 1 hour 40 minute drive north of Ciudad Juarez, the most dangerous city in Mexico with a staggering average of 9 murders a day. After checking into our Motel we went in search of food, and after driving up and down the one road with any form of life on it, we managed to find a Chinese restaurant that was still open and a vegetarian offering on the menu. Vegetables swimming in thick, cornstarch-y (definitely GMO) soy sauce down, Laura insisted that we go to the drive-in frozen custard place, Caliches. Now I’d never heard of frozen custard before, but my extensive googling taught me that it originated in Coney Island in 1919 when the dudes selling the ice cream realised that adding the yolks to the mixture helped keep it colder for longer. Laura got one and it was covered in sprinkly things and I was very jealous. Yet more lactose intolorence woes.

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Laura & frozen custard.

Almogordo did manage to redeem our New Mexican experience thus far, though, with the cutest organic food store. We had egg mayonnaise sandwiches lovingly prepared by what looked like members of the local WI, all washed down with spirulina chia kombucha. Having managed to use all my will power to resist buying yet more **essential** car snacks (cue Laura raising her eyebrows as I request yet ANOTHER handful of almonds and cacao nibs whilst tucking into her Cheetos), we got back on the road and headed towards the White Sands National Park.

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White Sands National Park

Thankfully Highway 70 was open (it is often closed for missile testing), and we found ourselves surrounded by the most stunning white sand dunes, running for miles and miles, with a sea of moody storm clouds hanging over the mountains 20 miles away on the horizon. The heat was quite incredible, and as we desperately tried to run up the dunes and toboggan down on some plastic sheets we had acquired I was left in a crumpled sweaty mess, slouched in the car seat, wondering if I would ever see again due to the intense light of the sun being bounced off every shiny white sand particle into my retinas.

 

Once I had regained full consciousness we drove through yet another massive thunderstorm, through yet another drug-trafficking/immigration/police intimidation checkpoint, and arrived at the most bizarre town we went to in our entire trip: Truth or Consequences. Previously named Hot Springs, it gained its rather perculiar name after the host of a NBC radio quiz show announced that he would air the show from the first town that renamed itself after the show. A hilarious, and rather genius, piece of marketing if you ask me. And what a hilarious place it is.   Please can you all just take a look at our Airbnb, IT HAS A BATH IN THE KITCHEN!

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Kitchen with a bath WOT

T or Cs has a pretty thriving kooky art community, but we had arrived totally off season. We went to a couple cool shops, had a couple tasty meals, and had the cutest egg in baskets (egg fried in a hole cut out of a piece of bread) and smoothies lovingly made for us by a hysterical guy who had recently escaped the city and found himself working at the little organic food store here. He was totally bonkers and definitely high but the eggs were damn tasty. We had an amazing soak in the local hot springs where you alternate the baths going up in temperature with plunging into the ice cold Rio Grande river whilst holding onto a rope for dear life to fight the current. After another unsuccessful attempt to buy the perfect nose rings, which led to Laura accepting defeat with a piece of bent wire hanging out her nose, and New Mexico’s outrageously expensive alcohol licensing laws, we did what Americans do best, and drove 5 minutes to the nearest Wal-Mart, bought a 6-pack (Brooklyn Lager, naturally) and snacks, and watched “You’re the Worst” in bed.

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Blurry drive through fun

Santa Fe totally redeemed New Mexico for me, primarily because it has a wonderful Whole Foods, which meant I could waste $15 on the biggest box of salad you’ve ever seen and a green juice. In preparation for my old school-friend Lucy’s arrival we went (slightly ashamed) and got the car cleaned. Wow, Mustangs look so good when they’re not covered in Texan desert dust and full of Laura’s Cheetos crumbs! Car cleaned and laundry done, we went for our last meal together, at the finest establishment in America: Sonic – a drive in restaurant where you order out your window via intercom and the server brings your food right to you ON ROLLERSKATES. We ordered everything vegetarian off the menu (fries and onion rings and sugary slushy things) and exchanged in some witty banter with our exceedingly over-enthusiastic server Darren who, in his excitement to have some European customers, asked us twice how we said our names in French. Bless. We did get some extra ketchup though. Winky face.

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Café Pasqual’s: Smoked trout hash (l), vegan burgers (r).

We had a fabulous brunch with Lucy at Café Pasqual’s where we chowed down on vegan quinoa burgers with avocado, gluten free buns and kale salad; smoked trout hash with a golden gruyere potato cake, poached eggs and tomatillo salsa; and cold brew. We wandered around New Mexico in all of its loveliness and hung out with Laura’s distant something-th cousin something removed who owns 2 amazing galleries specializing in old and modern Tibetan and Nepalese art. He wanted to take us out for lunch so badly that we ended up having a second lunch. It was a tough day.

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Raw stuff mmm

The next day, on our way to Arizona, we passed through the town of Taos where we stopped for lunch at the cutest raw food café “Raw to Go” and ate some amazing salads before a long day driving. Our plates were piled high with salad veggies, alfalfa sprouts, raw pate, guacamole and hummus, the most delicious seaweed crackers. It took all my willpower to protect my exceedingly damaged bank balance and not order a fresh coconut meat cacao smoothie for the road. We chose to go off the interstate to make the journey more interesting, and although the majority of the drive was through one of the most colossal rain and thunder storms that I’ve ever endured, we did also pass through some of the most stunning scenery. The road wound around hills, through forests, and alongside arable pasture land, all the way to Farmington, AZ. It was certainly a great day to be behind the wheel of the mustang!

 

As promised, I will leave you a snap of Laura with said massive pistachio:

 

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Written by George.

See what I’m eating or what juice I’m drinking HERE

See what I’m up to HERE

See what I’m talking about HERE

Viva Terlingua!

Marfa, Terlingua, Texas

After Austin we had a decision to make. The path to the right led north, to Dallas via the big slide at Waco (seriously, watch the video and tell me that isn’t tempting?). The left path, on the other hand, stretched far far into the West Texan desert.

Fans of Robert Frost that we are, we took the road less travelled by and headed west, to Marfa. Marfa is a well established community of artists who have chosen to remove themselves from the bustle of city life in favour of sweeping views of nothing. We were starving (as usual) when we got to town and couldn’t check into our tent for a few hours, so drove around aimlessly until we happened to stumble upon Capri Kitchen. Tucked away in a gorgeous courtyard, this tiny kitchen was churning out delicious plates for just a few hours every day. We settled on the kale salad – lovingly massaged raw kale with just the right amount of lemon, pecorino and garlic croutons, and fantastically crispy and sweet corn cakes with slow roasted tomatoes. Both plates were practically licked clean.

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Corn cakes with roasted tomatoes and a sauce that was delicious and cheesy but that’s as far as I remember, and raw kale salad, from Capri Kitchen

We were staying in an RV park and campsite called El Cosmico, in possibly the fanciest tent I have ever not had to put up. Marfa’s most famous attraction is actually not in Marfa at all, rather a 45 minute drive away just outside Valentine. Prada Marfa, an art installation disguised as a Prada storefront, was built in 2005. Six days later it was swiftly broken into but, not being a real store, the thieves only made off with 14 right shoes. Now it sits lonely in the desert, gathering cobwebs, feeling like a simultaneous critique and homage to the consumerism it represents.

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Prada, Mustang and George.

Obligatory ‘Mustang in front of fake Prada’ photos taken, we drove back to Marfa to explore the town itself. Honestly after weeks of ever present southern charm, I have to admit that I was slightly underwhelmed by Marfa. It wasn’t so much that people were unfriendly (in fact everyone we met at El Cosmico was utterly lovely), it was more that the locals were quite dismissive. Maybe we were just two more not particularly artistically knowledgable tourists trampling through their town, but we felt the least welcome we had for weeks. We spent a while wandering round town, peering into galleries and looking for somewhere to eat. There were about ten places in the whole town to choose from, all of which seemed to be open for a different two days a week. We eventually stumbled across Cochineal, which our guidebook assured us was shut that day but seemed to have humans inside. They immediately presented us with bowl of homemade hummus which which hummed with delicately balanced spice. George had sushi, which was apparently remarkably delicious, especially considering how far we were from a sea of any variety. I ate a perfectly cooked piece of fish on a bed of mashed sweet potato and asparagus, all drowned in brown butter. After a lovely yet strangely sterile dinner experience, we both wanted a drink. We stumbled across the Lost Horse Saloon; a proper characterful Texan dive. A whiskey and a Lone Star later in the back yard later, staring at the real Texan stars, Marfa made a last minute sprint towards growing on me.

Lost Horse Saloon

The Lost Horse Saloon

As if Marfa wasn’t remote enough, we decided to further continue our retreat from society by venturing south four hours to Terlingua. Just outside the Big Bend national park, basically on the Mexican border, Terlingua was a thriving mining town a hundred years ago. Now the population has shrunk to just 48 at last count, and is largely a ghost town. We were staying in an adobe dome about an hour out of ‘town’. Built by a wonderful human named Trevor, the dome is completely off grid – all of its power is generated daily by solar panels. A solar fridge, rainwater tap, gas stove and composting toilet were all the amenities for miles and it was completely glorious. After stocking up on supplies at the nearest store, Needful Things, a twenty minute drive away, we made a remarkably impressive lunch of fresh corn tacos and with all the fixings. We hadn’t really managed to cook anything since staying with Mary in Atlanta right at the start of the trip, and it felt so good to just sit and eat a simple meal, prepared ourselves, with no one else around instagramming their lunch or stressing over how much to tip the waiter. Right there, in that hut, with nothing but tin shacks and the odd goat for miles around, I finally felt reconnected to food as nothing but fuel and simple pleasure.

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The Dome, Terlingua, TX

The next morning, we woke up at 5am to go climb a mountain, obviously. If we thought navigating the dirt roads to the dome in daylight was tough, then doing it in the pre dawn dark was a different ball game entirely. We eventually found our way to the main road and an hour later, just as the sun started to break over the horizon, we entered the Big Bend national park. As cliched as it is, there are no words to describe quite how breathtaking the mountains were in the early morning light. We were the only ones on the road as it swept through the landscape. We found the trailhead for the Old Mine trail and parked up, noting the bear proof lockers by the side of the road and suddenly wondering if we had bitten of more than we could chew. This feeling was heightened when another pair of walkers turned up in full hiking gear and I looked down at my trainers and the shorts that I’d slept in feeling like the kid who forgot her gym kit. Nevertheless, we set out ahead of the others, purposely striding past the sign warning of recent mountain lion sightings (apparently you should pick up all small children and under no circumstances run away. Seems legit). One brief freak out over potential bear/lion droppings in our path, and a few miles of clambering over rocks later, we broke through the tree line and found ourselves momentarily on top of the world. The sun was still low in the sky and cast long shadows in the valleys below us, only heightening the feeling of being on some sort of Avatar inspired floating mountain. The idea that we were still in the same country as the food trucks of Austin, the cowboy hats of Nashville and New York in all its eccentricities felt mildly ludicrous. And we hadn’t even needed hiking boots to get there.

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The Lost Mine Trail, Big Bend, TX

On the way home, we bathed in some hot springs on the banks of the Rio Grande. The surprisingly non Grande river acts as the natural border between Mexico and the US – we could have easily waded over to hang out with the Mexican donkey grazing on the opposite bank. We didn’t though because, you know, US border patrol are terrifying.

That evening we decided to brave the thunder storms gathering on every mountain and head into town for dinner. The Starlight Theatre was our destination; originally an open air movie theatre in the 1930s, it was brought back to life (and given a roof) in 1991. It was everything we could have dreamed of in a Texan saloon bar, from the ageing cowboy with a guitar in the corner singing country songs, to the stuffed goat drinking a beer in the back. Side note – It turns out the stuffed goat was actually the first Mayor of the next-door town. We met his living successor later that night and had the honour of feeding him beer ourselves. Long story.

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The Starlight Theatre, Terlingua, TX

No sooner had we sat down and ordered a beer, two brave young men approached our table and asked if we’d like to dance. The dance floor didn’t look like it had seen any action in quite some time so it seemed rude to refuse. Dancing with Luis and Victor, it emerged they were in Terlingua on the Texan equivalent of a lad’s holiday (Magaluf this was not) and were still in high school! Our food arrived and was surprisingly great; blackened salmon on a bed of greens with a great cucumber dill dressing. A few more beers in (us, not them, drinking laws and all..) and we found ourselves bundling into cars for an after party at their hotel. Just before we left, we asked for the check only to be presented with a note saying that out bill had been taken care of by our new friend Victor! Who could have guessed that the craziest night of our trip wouldn’t be in bars of New Orleans or the Nashville strip but at a golf resort in the West Texan desert?! The whole night was a bit of a blur but definitely featured a meeting with the town mayor (the aforementioned goat), coolers filled with beer, belly flops into the pool, and an eventual visit by the Sheriff to shut the whole thing down (a real human one this time).

The next morning, we reluctantly packed up the car, bid farewell to our dome away from home, and turned north. It felt like we had been in Texas forever yet had barely scratched the surface. We had run out of time though, and New Mexico was calling.

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See ya, Texas


 

Written by Laura.

What I’m saying now.

What I’m seeing now.

Bitches Be Balanced: Houston & Austin

Bitches be Balanced

Houston & Austin were a cities of extreme balancing due to the plethora of delicious food and beer and cocktails and fun on offer.  These were our saviours:

Houston

Pure Barre |  1948A West Gray St Houston, TX 77019

I go to Pure Barre in Williamsburg, NY, so I’m a bit biased, but I bloody love it.  Intense barre workout that gets you shaking.

Snap | Locations in Houston, Dallas, Austin and Chicago

Healthy take-out spot with amazing salad bar and a fridge stuffed full of homemade ready meals that can easily be reheated.  Seasonal and consciously sourced ingredients.  Cold press juice.

Austin

Barre3 Austin 115 Sandra Muraida Way #103, Austin, TX 78703

Some of the best barre classes I’ve ever taken.  The studio is large and airy and is full of Texan friendliness

Picnik 1700 South Lamar 400-B, Austin, TX 78704

Paleo food truck with the most ridiculous bulletproof coffee list.

JuiceLand | Several Locations

Cold-press juice.  Nuff said.

Casa De Luz1701 Toomey Road, Austin, TX 78704

Macrobiotic set price lunch.  Think soup, salad, veggies, rice and beans.  Dessert for small extra charge.


Written by George.

See what I’m eating or what juice I’m drinking HERE

See what I’m up to HERE

See what I’m talking about HERE

And P.S. if this is Austin, I still love you

Austin, Texas

Although the previous week through Mississippi and Louisiana had been a lot fun, we both felt that it was time to set down our forks full of catfish/crawfish/deep-fried everything, and find ourselves a bit of innovative, interesting, fresh food to really get excited about.

After having dropped Neil at New Orleans airport, we drove for 7 hours to Houston (thanks to a very long traffic jam in Louisiana swamp territory), and rolled into our motel at around 11pm.  Waking up at the crack of dawn for a much needed barre workout and virtuous lunch (wait for the next Bitches be Balanced post), we then jumped back in the car and drove the relatively short 2.5 hours to Austin.  We were greeted at our Airbnb by two kittens (for all of you who thought that Laura was a cat-hating emotional stone – think again), and a cute mouse in a tank which, after I had exclaimed “ahhhhh cute pet mouse”, found out that it was actually the pet snake’s dinner.

With huge cravings for food that hadn’t been within 100 metres of a deep fryer, we headed off to Elizabeth Street Cafe, a seriously cute Vietnamese cafe and French patisserie in South Austin.  Deciding to have a dry evening, we sipped on delicious housemade vinegar sodas (watermelon and thai basil for Laura, celery for me) which were slightly sweet and incredibly refreshing.  We shortly tucked into a little appetiser of rice paper rolls stuffed with ginger marinated tofu, radish, thai basil and serrano chilli, with 3 different dipping sauces (the peanut definitely coming out on top).  We followed this up by splitting a pho (noodles in broth) and bún (rice vermicelli salad bowl).  Our pho had the addition of white miso and came crammed with cauliflower, bok choy and toasted seaweed; it was absolutely delicious.  It’s always easy to forget how filling and comforting something so simple can be.  However the star of the show was definitely the bún, which came piled high with roasted mushrooms, grilled tofu, herbs upon herbs, perfectly julienned veggies and vegan nuoc cham (a perfectly balanced sweet, sour, salty, savoury and spicy Vietnamese dipping sauce) to drench it in.  We had to switch from our chopsticks to spoons to scoop up all the last scraps from the bottom of the bowl.  IMG_1713

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Elizabeth Street Cafe: Vegan Bún (l) and Pho (r)

Even though I could have happily fallen straight to sleep with my belly full of noodles, we drove over to Sweet Ritual, a vegan ice cream store inside the JuiceLand in Hyde Park, in honour of it being National Ice Cream Day.  I opted for a mint chocolate chip with spirulina for added greenness, whereas Laura went for a scoop of both salted caramel and toasted coconut.  A great introduction to what was about to be my best four days of the trip so far.

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Sweet Rituals: Mint Chocolate Chip (l); Salted Caramel & Toasted Coconut (r)

The next day after barre & breakfast, we donned our bathing suits and headed over to Barton Springs, an outdoor pool fed from natural springs in the heart of the city.  After a couple hours sunning ourselves and cooling off in the bracing waters (Laura got yelled for taking her rubber ring in with her), we drove around the corner (because we’re that American now) to Casa De Luz, a health academy cum yoga studio cum cafe, heavily focused on community.  Over their fixed price macrobiotic lunch we attempted to practice our best mindful eating skills that we learnt at NGI, and left very proud of ourselves for having had the most virtuous morning.

This was quickly ruined by the lovely Michael at By George (a gorgeous boutique in South Austin), who offered us a beer from the ice bucket which was built into the cashier desk (FYI Austin Beerworks‘ American IPA is now my favourite ale).  He sent us in the direction of Launderette, a trendy restaurant in East Austin, located in a renovated Launderette and gas station.  With a bottle of Gruner Veltliner sitting chilling in a gorgeous marble cooler on our gorgeous marble table, we poured over the menu which had one of the most overwhelmingly delicious vegetables section I’ve ever seen.  After sending back the server countless times while we made up our minds, we settled on Pei Mussles in white wine and chilli, parsnips with apple butter, mustard seeds and salsa, and grilled broccolini with a romesco pepper sauce and almonds.  I just looked over their menu again and nearly dribbled on my laptop.  Laura then finished off with a cheddar apple pie with salted beer caramel, clothbound cheddar and sage ice cream.  The barman whipped me up an espresso martini so it wasn’t too shabby my side of the table either.

Wah gimme

Wah gimme

Following a heavy night drinking with Laura’s friend JD (who also happened to be in Austin that night) and feeling incredibly sorry for ourselves, we made our way over to Clarksville (having removed the parking fine off our window), to Josephine House, a stylish yet casual restaurant set in an adorable clapboard cottage.  The menu is split into two sections; ‘On the Marble Counter’: a selection of breads, cheeses, pastries and salads that are sitting out in the dining room (how I wished my kitchen looked all the time), and “From the Kitchen”: food made to order by the chefs.  Having downed the most delicious and incredibly strong cold-brew coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice, we settled on splitting the avocado toast with a fried egg, hot sauce and lime zest on sourdough (yes, Instagram is full of avocado toast BUT THIS ONE WAS REALLY GOOD), and the ‘Josephine Rice Bowl’ (black rice, poached farm egg, roasted local vegetables, avocado, radish & salsa verde) which, hungover or not, was bloody delicious, and due to it not being dissimilar to what I would normally make myself for lunch when I have the time it was a real home from home.

Josephine HouseOther notable meals we had in Austin that, quite frankly, I’m too full to write about:

Magnolia Cafe | Serving some of the best comfort food 24 hours a day.  Super friendly staff.  The fish tacos are a must.

Torchy’s Tacos | Taco truck that helped start the booming food truck movement in Austin.  Try the deep fried avocado.

Lick | Ice cream shop serving the best vegan Ice cream I’ve ever had (coconut and avocado curd, uhhhh HELLO).  Also serves huge range of incredibly inventive dairy-laden flavours that Laura assures me are amazing.

Wild Wood Bakehouse | 100% gluten-free bakery with cafe.  The cookies are to die for.

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Written by George.

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Southern style down in New Orleans

New Orleans

One of the things I miss the most about England is the ability to buy a bottle of wine (*cough* Lambrini *cough*) and go drink it in the park like a normal functioning alcoholic. Unfortunately that hasn’t been an option whilst living in the US, so naturally I was enormously excited to be in New Orleans and subject to their more liberal drinking laws.

We arrived after three days of driving from Memphis, which had seen us pass through corn fields, corn fields, civil war sites, and more corn fields. The closest thing to a decent meal we had en route was when we stopped in Clarksdale with the intention of going to Morgan Freeman’s restaurant, only to find it was closed. Two failed attempts at Taco Bell drive thru l later (George’s efforts to order something gluten free and vegan over a crackly speaker had me hiding on the back seat in hysterics), we found ourselves in our motel room with McDonalds and Miller Lite. Truly the closest we have got to the American dream.

Our home in New Orleans was an adorable shotgun house just north of the French Quarter. We dropped our bags and gave Neil a well deserved break from our company by heading to a Barre3 class on Magazine Street; a preemptive strike on the mountains of beignets I was planning on consuming over the coming days. Two hours later we returned home, bearing limes, to start the real purpose of our trip to New Orleans – drinking. Half a bottle of Old Fourth vodka later and dinner thoroughly forgotten, we jumped in an Uber and found ourselves on Bourbon Street. George and I drank Voodoo Daiquiris (an interesting mix of Welch’s grape juice and battery acid, at a guess) while Neil found himself giving a very intense, surprisingly fluent, ten minute lesson to the bartender about the Greek financial crisis. We soon took our drinks to the streets, just because we could, and battled our way down Bourbon Street. The closest thing I can compare the experience to is my formative trip to Magaluf aged 17. But with non ironic cowboy hats. And possibly more vomit (for once, not our’s).

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The face of someone (me) when confronted with Bourbon Street

Bourbon Street crossed off the list, we ducked down a side street and found our way to Frenchman Street instead. I could call Frenchman Street the cooler, less stressful younger brother of Bourbon Street but really its more of a third cousin who denies any relation when asked. We wandered round Frenchman Art Market and ducked into dimly lit bars with live jazz bouncing off the walls. My memories of the evening have a pleasant blur around them so I can’t be sure of the details but I have a feeling we had a lovely time; mainly because Neil’s photos of George and I have the distinct look of a ‘falling in love’ montage.

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The next day, feeling ever so slightly delicate, there was only one thing on my mind. Beignets. Everyone had told us there was only one place to experience these fried French donuts, and that was Café du Monde. Right in the heart of the French Quarter, this New Orleans institution was packed but we found a table and soon were presented with three huge piles of powdered sugar, underneath which were three heart attacks disguised as donuts. When I interned at Anissa in New York I spent night after night dropping miniature beignets and thought I knew what they were, but these were a different level of delicious. Crisp, fluffy, fatty.. They were the hangover food of dreams.

Beignets from Cafe du Monde

Beignets from Cafe du Monde

Seeing as we had drunkenly skipped dinner the night before, that evening we needed some serious Creole soul food. Step forward, Jacques Imo’s. Located uptown on Oak Street, I had been told by a friend that we couldn’t afford to miss their proper N’awlins food and boy was he right. There was an hour’s wait for a table so after a few beers down the road we were ravenous. We were led to our table through the kitchen and I saw chefs pouring tray after tray of what looked like (very out of place) Yorkshire puddings. As soon as we sat down we were presented with what I then realised was some of the most buttery and delicious cornbread I have ever eaten. Continuing my grits tour of the south, I ordered deep fried grits with white corn, crawfish and tasso (a ‘ham’ made from pig’s shoulder).

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Deep fried grits with white corn, crawfish and tasso

Also presented to us were fried shrimp stuffed with crab, crawfish étouffée (meaning ‘to smother’ – basically crawfish smothered in deliciousness and served over rice), whole fried soft-shell crab on a stack of fried green tomatoes and eggplant with crab hollandaise and sides of greens (you know, for health), corn, red beans and slaw. My only regret is that we didn’t order the shrimp and alligator cheesecake, but as a recently fallen vegetarian it was just a leap too far.

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Crawfish étouffée

Softshell crab with fried eggplant, fried green tomatoes and crab hollandaise

Softshell crab with fried eggplant, fried green tomatoes and crab hollandaise

The only downside of this excess of deliciousness was that it rendered us completely incapable of staying awake. We soldiered through and went next door to the Maple Leaf where the Chris Mule Band was playing, but soon I couldn’t tell if I was swaying to the music or my own exhaustion and had to call it a night.

The next morning, George and I played domestic goddesses and made breakfast of garlic kale, avocado and eggs to atone for our indulgences. We then spent the day wandering the swamp in the Barataria Preserve and trying not to think about the fact that Neil was imminently leaving us to return to New York. A useful distraction provide to be the GIANT spiders suspended over ever inch of the path, and the warning signs of a feral pig that had been troubling visitors. Luckily, we survived both porcine and arachnid threats, and made it to Frankie & Johnny’s for the one thing we hadn’t yet eaten; Gumbo. Honestly by this point I couldn’t face one more crawfish so ate sweet potato fries and drank beer while the others worked their way through the bowl. Finally all that was left was all too premature tearful goodbyes at the airport. As Neil vanished though the departure gates George and I got back in the car and set off West, for Texas.

WE'LL MISS YOU NEILY

WE’LL MISS YOU NEILY


Written by Laura.

What I’m saying now.

What I’m seeing now.