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Random Thoughts on Reading, Writing, Life, and Books, by Author Greg Leitich Smith
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Just back from the Texas Library Association Conference in Houston!
As always, it was great to see fellow authors and illustrators, as well as the librarians who've supported our books through the years. And I always enjoy seeing what's new at the publisher booths.
We had a great time for my panel Tuesday afternoon, "What's New with Texas Middle Grade and YA Authors," organized by Susie Kralovansky, featuring Jessica Lee Anderson moderating, and fellow panelists Paige Britt, Cory Putnam Oakes, P.J. Hoover, Cynthia Levinson, Liz Garton Scanlon, Jennifer Mckissack, and Joy Preble. Conversation was entertaining and enlightening.
Many thanks to everyone who puts in the work to make TLA the best state library conference in the country!
Here are some pics:
|Hitting the road|
|Rainy Houston from the hotel|
|Me, Cynthia Levinson, PJ Hoover|
|Carmen Oliver signs|
|Jennifer McKissack, Jennifer Ziegler, Joy Preble|
|Paige Britt and Donna Janell Bowman|
|Me and the world in the lobby of the Hilton|
|Signing BORROWED TIME|
|Janet Fox and Jennifer Ziegler|
|PJ, Jessica, and Joy|
|Me and Elaine Scott|
|Buffalo Bayou on my early morning run|
|Back in Austin!|
This past weekend, I had the pleasure of being one of the authors at the inaugural Lone Star Book Festival in Kingwood, Texas (just outside Houston)!
Here are some pics:
|Edward Carey, Emma Virjan, Jennifer Ziegler, Bethany Hegedus, Carmen Oliver, and me|
|Carmen Oliver presents BEARS MAKE THE BEST READING BUDDIES|
|Jennifer Ziegler and Jo Whittemore discuss encouraging reading|
|I present CHRONAL ENGINE and BORROWED TIME|
Thanks to all the organizers, sponsors, and attendees! It's on its way to becoming a grand, annual tradition!
occurred at Home Slice Pizza
-- Don Tate
joined me for the sausage, mushroom, and green pepper pie! This was the thickest thin crust I've had so far, and was sufficient to be not -floppy, yet not doughy, with a good, chewy texture. The cheese was flavorful and the toppings were each present in every bite.
Altogether, a most excellent pizza -- and they put the leftovers in a tinfoil swan (I've never seen that before in real life :-)).
Day 8 of #PizzaADayDiet
is another thin crust, this one from Southside Flying Pizza
. They call it “Neapolitan style,” which I guess is a really thin crust. I chose the whole wheat crust and it was pretty good – it stood up to the ingredients but I wouldn't have minded if it had been a tad crisper. The cheese was thoroughly melted and excellent, though, as were the toppings. The sausage had a good flavor and the peppers were nicely al dente. And the side salad was really good, as well.
Today's Pizza a Day Diet pizza is technically not a pizza. It's a flatbread. NB: All pizzas are flatbreads but not all flatbreads are pizzas (A flatbread has an unleavened crust).
I happened to be up north during rush hour so I decided to find the closest Italian place and see what they had that resembled a pizza. :-). This happened to be the Maggiano's in the Domain. The place has sort of a Disney-fied feel of a downtown Italian restaurant, which is not surprising since the first Maggiano's was founded in Chicago by the Lettuce Entertain You chain whose specialty is theme restaurants.
Anyway, I took a table in the bar and ordered a Caesar salad and the sausage flatbread. The sausage was removed from the casing but still distributed in large chunks and had that good Italian-sausage flavor. The cheese was also abundant and flavorful. And the crust? Nice and crispy at first and then steamed through.
Here are a couple pics:
Today's pizza a day diet pizza came from the Austin Beer Garden Brewing Co.
at 1305 W. Oltorf (right next to the train tracks).
I hit the place in mid-afternoon, so it was pretty empty (Happy hour is from 3 pm to 7 pm, though, so it filled quickly :-)). You order food and beer at the bar and they bring it to your table. Inside are long wooden tables with benches, for social/communal beer-gardening in the Bavarian tradition. Outside are round tables under the live oaks for beer gardening in the Austin tradition. :-).
I ordered a sausage pizza (boring, I know :-), but I like to try new places out on the basics). It was delivered hot and fresh; the crust was somewhat soft but firmed up after I let it cool a little. It had a nice chew and stood up to the ingredients. The sausage had a more subtle flavor than I was expecting, but I really liked it and its freshness. The cheese and sauce were also quite good.
One of their "by the slice" choices had also caught my eye, so I ordered it as well. This was venison, spinach, pesto, white bean, roasted tomato, roasted garlic, and ricotta. This one was amazing (not that the sausage was bad). The crust had just the right amount of crispness and chew, but the combination of toppings really made it. It had a richness from the venison without being gamy or overwhelming, and the remaining ingredients provided a terrifically contrasting texture in every bite.
Oh, and the beer was darn good, too. :-).
This is a post I originally put only on Facebook in January 2015. Click here for background. And the first pizza of the January 2015 #PizzaADayDiet comes from Hoboken Pie! A thin crust sausage, mushroom, and green pepper -- all the ingredients were fresh and in abundance. The sausage and sauce were slightly spicy and the crust was really thin. It could have had a tad more body, but I liked the fact that it didn't feel like I was filling up on bread. Delivery was prompt and the pizza was warm out of the box. I will definitely order from them again.
A few years back, when Cynthia Leitich Smith was off to Vermont for the VCFA residency, I undertook an exploration of Austin pizza joints and pizza blogging: the rules were these: aside from a dinner salad prior to the pizza, my meals were pizza for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. For ten days. For the record, the first time I did it, I lost five pounds; the second time, two and a half.
Here's the inaugural post from 2009: A Pizza a Day and Other Weird Activities.
I tried this again January 2015, but posted only to my Facebook account (I'll be reproducing the posts here along with this edition, with the term "archive" in the header). I also did it in July 2015.
To view the entire line-ups, just click the "pizza a day" label.
This time, I decided to do something a little different, since I'm on the verge of exhausting Austin's specialty pizza places: I'm going to see how many pizzas I can make using various techniques. I'll also take a look at some of the places I've missed or have recently opened.
And, for Christmas, I received this nifty little item:
Yes, it is a starship Enterprise
pizza cutter. So of course I had to make a couple Star Trek-inspired pizzas:
(You can see the Enterprise
if you squint real hard). The saucer section was Canadian bacon with an olive for the bridge. The nacelles were scallions and the engineering section Belgian endive. The pizza didn't turn out so great but the cutter worked fantastically.
I also made a pizza in honor of our Klingon allies:
This one sort of drifted apart due to migration of the mozzarella, but it is a Klingon D7 class battlecruiser. The main hull was a green pepper, while the nacelle supports were red onion. The nacelles themselves, and the neck section, were scallions, and the bridge was a mushroom slice.Q'apla
As of November 10, 2015, BORROWED TIME (the sequel to CHRONAL ENGINE) is now available in bookstores everywhere as well as online (in hardcover and ebook)! Signed copies are available from BookPeople
In an article titled, 'Borrowed Time' mixes paleontology and fantasy
, Saturday's Austin American-Statesman had a great review of BORROWED TIME, stating it's "a slam-dunk for dinosaur aficionados and will appeal as well to those who are fans of literary time travel and outdoorsy adventure."
Sunday was the launch party at BookPeople
! I had great fun doing a presentation discussing the connections between the book, Charles Umlauf
, dinosaurs, Johnny Weissmuller
, and me (really).
The dinosaur standees for the photo booth were a hit, as were the refreshments including water, soft drinks, wine and cheese, and crackers. (The wine, from the Languedoc region of France, is made from grapes grown in Cretaceous clays where dinosaur fossils have have been found).
But the real eye-opener was the mosasaur cake by author/cakelustrator Akiko White
. About two feet high, it featured a mosasaur sculpted from modeler's chocolate on a chocolate cake base with buttercream frosting! She'll be doing a youtube video on the making of it soon (and I'll link when it's available). Suffice to say that still pictures don't do it justice -- it was mounted on a motorized turntable and illuminated with a blue strobe that made it look like it was underwater!
Here are the pics:
|Me and cake|
|Carmen Oliver and T.rex|
|Akiko assembles! (photo courtesy Akiko White)|
|Presenting (photo courtesy Akiko White)|
|Frances Hill and Lindsey Lane (photo courtesy of Shelley Ann Jackson)|
|Shelley Ann Jackson and Lindsey Lane (photo courtesy Shelley Ann Jackson)|
Many thanks to BookPeople for hosting the event, to everyone who came for the event, and to everyone who helped out: Akiko, for making the awesome cake; Cynthia Leitich Smith
; Carmen Oliver
; Lindsey Lane
; Shelley Ann Jackson
; and Cory Putnam Oakes
|Cake topper in its natural habitat|
Last weekend I had the pleasure of being a panelist at the first annual Mississippi Book Festival at the State Capitol in Jackson, Mississippi!
For me, the weekend started with the plane flight out on Friday and a lovely reception that evening at the Eudora Welty House. Representatives of the Eudora Welty Foundation were on hand to provide tours and answer any and all questions about Jackson's favorite daughter. It was a great chance to talk to the organizers and volunteers, as well as other authors.
The next morning was breakfast at the Winter Archives Building, where the staff gave us a tour and showed us the forthcoming Museum of Civil Rights and Mississippi History Museum.
Then we were off to opening ceremonies, where the Jackson State University Marching Band performed on the Capitol steps, and then the panels! The Harper Lee Reconsidered panel, held in the old Supreme Court chamber, was lively and fascinating (and also covered by C-SPAN). I wasn't able to make it to the picture books panel due to the long line, but hear it went well, and I'd had the chance to talk with the presenters the night before :-).
My panel was the Young Readers panel, and featured moderator Margaret McMullan, and panelists Kimberly Willis Holt, Taylor Kitchings, Deborah Wiles, Carolyn Brown, and Cassie Beasley. Margaret did a great job as moderator and kept the conversation going and on track. :-).
Many thanks to all the organizers, volunteers, sponsors, and attendees for making the event such a success!
Altogether, it was a fantastic event, with standing-room-only crowds and a terrific venue! Here's a report on the festival from the Clarion-Ledger: Book Festival Attendance Outpaces Projections.
And here are some pics from out and about festival weekend:
|My duffel bag leaves the jetway in Houston|
|Art deco Greyhound Station, downtown Jackson|
|Kerry Madden, Susan Eaddy, Hester Bass, Chris Barton in the Eudora Welty House Garden|
|Deborah Wiles, Kerry Madden on the Eudora Welty House lawn|
|In front of the Eudora Welty House|
|MS State Capitol|
|Kerry Madden, Kimberly Willis Holt|
|W. Ralph Eubanks, Margaret McMullan|
|Jackson State University Marching Band|
|View from the Capitol steps|
|Capitol interior and dome|
|Dome in House of Representative Chamber|
|Dome of Senate Chamber|
|Kimberly, Taylor, Deborah, Margaret, Me, Cassie, Carolyn|
The Backspace, located at Fifth and San Jacinto, was recommended to me by author Margo Rabb:
It's a relatively small space, with correspondingly limited seating. All seats have a good view of the bar and the brick oven, though (They're bigger than they look).
I ordered the asparagus appetizer and a fennel sausage pizza and really liked both.
The appetizer came in a cast iron skillet with a fried egg, basil pesto, and prosciutto, and had a nice, earthy quality. In the future, I fully intend to try some of their other appetizers...
The pizza's crust was somewhat soft, but it had a good chewiness and rich flavor from the slight char/caramelization. The sauce was chunky and the fennel sausage was really amazing. I also liked the "blobs" of mozzarella that worked better on this pizza than an entire layer would've (I suspect the effect would've been to steam the crust a bit too much).
Although their web site doesn't specify, they also do carry out, which could be dangerous...
For today's Pizza a Day Diet experience, I went way out west -- nearly to Dripping Springs -- to try out Pieous with authors Brian Yansky and Frances Yansky.
The place was packed -- and inside seating is limited to a handful of cafe tables, picnic tables, and seats at the bar. There's more outside, though, and we didn't have trouble nabbing spots.
The pizzas are about 12 inches, so we ordered three: the Smoky Italian (crushed tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, house smoked Italian sausage, and spicy onions), the White Pie (mozzarella, basil, garlic, and olive oil), and a bacon pizza.
I didn't have the bacon, but I enjoyed both of the others. The crusts were soft but chewy, and the cheese (and sauce on the sausage) were flavorful. The White had a rich, almost Alfredo-like taste, and the Smoky Italian sausage was also really good. I particularly liked the hint of spiciness that you got in every mouthful.
And fans of TOFU AND T.REX
will appreciate the old-school deli slicing machine:
At first, I was a bit skeptical about Cajun Pizza Place
, partly because of its relatively remote location: 183 and McNeil (aka, South Canada), but I was in the area so decided to try it.
I ordered a mushroom, onion, green pepper, and crawfish (yes, crawfish) pizza.
As you can see, the toppings are present in abundance and evenly distributed. The crawfish was actually really good and had excellent flavor and body (I was prepared for frozen, textureless mush) and the pizza on the whole was quite rich and tasty. I also liked the crust: thin, crisp and flaky in a way that reminded me of the thin crust pizzas from neighborhood joints I had in Chicago growing up.
They are a bit far from me but if I'm ever in the neighborhood again, I'll definitely go back.
Marye's Gourmet Pizza Pub
is located somewhat out of the way in a strip mall on Bee Cave Road in West Lake Hills and offers pizzas, sandwiches, and other Italian favorites in a new, modern setting.
I ordered a 14-inch sausage, green pepper, and mushroom pizza.
I ordered this one carry out and it took me a while to get there and get back home, but it held up well. The crust was nicely thin with crispier edges. The cheese was great and there's a lot of it. The sausage was crumbled but tasty and nicely caramelized, and the green peppers and mushrooms were conspicuously abundant. Altogether, a most enjoyable pizza.
offers what they call "Detroit-style pizza." Now, being a Chicagoan and having spent considerable time in Michigan, I'd never heard of "Detroit-style pizza."
It turns out, it's not dissimilar to Chicago-style, in that it is a deep dish, with the cheese properly underneath the sauce. (This prevents the crust from getting soggy -- recently to my disappointment, I ate at a franchise Uno's and they had the cheese on top of the sauce. It was revolting. And heretical.). Intriguingly, the Via313 pizzas are rectangular, allegedly because they were originally baked in auto parts pans, which is one of those stories that, if not actually true, should be.
Via313, which gets its name from the Wayne County (Detroit) area code, has two trailers and one brick and mortar location. I went to the trailer at Craft Pride
on Rainey Street.
I ordered the Omnivore, with mushroom, onion, green pepper, pepperoni, and sausage.
I was very impressed. The crust was crisp without being cracker-y and had that chewiness and almost confectionary quality I associate with a good Chicago-style crust (And, of course, it was not soggy). The cheese had a good flavor, as did the toppings. The sauce was plentiful, but as you can see from the picture, did not cover the entire surface of the cheese layer.
All in all, an exceptional pizza, and I confess I approached the thing with a certain degree of suspicion...:-).
Little Deli and Pizza
is located in a mid-century strip mall in a residential (Crestview) neighborhood of north-ish Austin and, as the name suggests, doesn't have a lot of dine-in space; it does have a number of outdoor tables which were packed when I picked up my sausage, mushroom, and onion pizza.
This was another where I really liked the sausage -- it had a good, meaty texture and flavor and came in large chunks. It's thin crust, not extremely crispy, but with enough body to support the weight of the toppings, and was satisfyingly chewy.
Today's pizza comes from Bola Pizza
. Actually, it comes from Thom's Market
grocery store, because Bola Pizza is a home-grown Austin catering-only outfit (they'll bring the oven to you, which sounds kind of awesome) that also offers some of their selections frozen
I bought the Mushroom, one of four varieties -- all vegetarian -- available in the freezer case (Their catering menu features eleven, including some with meat :-)). The Mushroom pizza has a "crimini mushroom ragu, mozzarella, and ricotta." Here's what it looked like out of the box:
And here it is straight out of the oven:
Judging from their web site, one of Bola Pizza's points of pride is their crust, billed as being made with a "three day, cold fermentation" process. And I have to say, it was pretty fantastic. Extremely thin, straight out of the oven it had a terrific crispness (Part of this might be because it was a "white" pizza, i.e., no sauce so they can go a little thinner.). The edges (is there a term for those?) were crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside.
The rest of the pizza was really good, as well, with a light, flavorful, non-greasy texture. Even better, the cheese tasted the way cheese should (not just a waxy, gooey substrate) and the mushroom ragu would be terrific by itself. On the whole, this might be the best thin-crust frozen pizza I've ever had, better than some in-store or delivery.
The pizzas are available at stores in Austin, San Antonio, Houston, Dallas and Fort Worth. Click here
for the complete list.
A few years back, when Cyn was teaching at the Vermont College of Fine Arts Writing for Children and Young Adults residency, I decided to conduct a culinary experiment: a comparison (and blog report) of various pizza joints around Austin during the course of about ten days. I also made a couple pizzas of my own.
The rules were these: aside from a dinner salad prior to the pizza, my meals were pizza for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. For the record, the first time I did it, I lost five pounds; the second time, two and a half.
Here's the inaugural post from 2009: A Pizza a Day and Other Weird Activities. To view the entire 2009 line up, just click the "pizza a day" label.
I tried this again January 2015, but posted only to my Facebook account (I'll probably reproduce the posts here soon). So, this summer, as Cyn heads off to the summer residency, I decided to try it again, with a whole new pizzeria lineup. (The number of pizza restaurants in Austin has expanded dramatically in the past six years).
And, tonight, I started with the Austin incarnation of Gino's East, one of the great trifecta of Chicago deep dish pizzas (Uno's, Gino's East, Lou Malnati's).
The restaurant just opened and they don't have delivery or carry out yet, but the actual place is charming: a long narrow Sixth Street establishment, with a bar along one side, brick walls and cast iron chandeliers.
The pizza itself was outstanding: the corn meal crust was rich and had a thin bottom with structural integrity that stayed crisp and didn't overwhelm with breadiness. The Gino's East crust is traditionally my favorite of the deep dish pizzas, and this did not disappoint.
I ordered the "Gino's Supreme," with sausage, mushrooms, onions, and green peppers. The sausage was plentiful, with large flavorful chunks. The cheese was nicely gooey but not overpowering, and the vegetables were likewise plentiful. The tomatoes were just a tad sweeter than I typically like, but were a nice contrast to the richness of the crust, and also accommodated the red pepper flakes.
In sum, it wasn't quite the same as the original, but very good nevertheless. And the best part? Leftovers!
Today's pizza came from St. Philip, a pizza place with the look and feel of a sushi bar, which seems appropriate, since it's by the same folks responsible for Uchi. The pizzas are all thin crust, and they give the option of "traditional" sauce and "white." The latter apparently means there is no tomato sauce at all, which is just wrong :-). Although I'm slightly curious about it...
I had the House Meatball, which features "ricotta, grilled onion, garlic, basil, [and] chili flakes."
The pizza itself hit the mark on all four of the Very Important Pizza Criteria: crust, cheese, sauce, and toppings.
Crust was nicely textured, with a good level of chewiness and it stood up to the ingredients without getting soggy. The sauce had a good flavor and was proportional with the cheese - neither overpowered the other and the combination had an elegant subtlety.
And the meatballs were fantastic (and they also sell them as an appetizer). I might go back just for those.
The only thing I wasn't totally crazy about was the basil -- yes, they added a nice color and texture and flavor, but I kind of object to leaves on my pizza as a matter of principle -- they end up looking wilted and sort of look like the thing has been sitting under a tree in a windstorm.
Still, very, very good, and with reasonable prices and excellent, friendly service -- and I'm curious to try some of their more exotic offerings.
Oh, and did I mention they have their own bakery?
Day 3 of this iteration of Pizza a Day Diet was at Salvation Pizza
! They have two locations: one on 34th Street (around where Dragon's Lair
was back in the day) and a new one on Rainey Street. Because I'm a parking masochist, I went to the Rainey Street location (they also do delivery, but not to where I'm at). That said, I didn't encounter difficulties parking -- there's a public parking lot nearby and there were actually spots in front of the restaurant (although I went during off hours).
The place was crisp and clean, in one of the newer buildings close to the
Lady Bird Lake.
I ordered a 14-inch sausage, onion, and mushroom pizza. It came really hot out of the oven -- the cheese was nicely gooey and you could almost see the steam rising from the marinara.
The sausage came in nice large slices and had excellent slightly spicy Italian sausage flavor without any greasiness. The onions were al dente (the way I like them), as were the mushrooms. So, too, were the chunks of tomatoes in the sauce. The crust was of the ultra-thin variety, with a crisp edge and chewy bottom. Like St. Philip, they also feature "white" pizzas without a marinara, which I am anxious to try next time.
Day 4 of A Pizza a Day Diet came from Pinthouse Pizza
on Burnet Road.
I ordered an "artisanal sausage," green pepper, and mushroom pizza, with a side wedge salad. The trust was a traditional thin crust (not ultra-thin, like a Neapolitan) and had a slightly bread-like texture with a good body and taste that was not, in fact, bready.
The artisanal sausage was quite good (I'm beginning to think that the art of sausage-making is making a comeback, which I attribute to the fact that readers of TOFU AND T.REX
are coming into their own in the restaurant business :-)). The cheese and the sauce were well-balanced and flavorful.
And, of course,they're a brewpub with some excellent selections...
Just up Burnet Road from Pinthouse Pizza is Brooklyn Pie Company
, which serves a more traditional New York-style pizza. Although the place has a few tables, it's mostly carry-out, with a walk-up counter for ordering.
I ordered a gyro, onion, green pepper, and mushroom pie. Overall, it had an agrreably crispy crust with a lot of cheesy goodness and abundant toppings. The sauce was minimal, but sufficient for flavor, and the gyro meat could've been a bit thicker, but had a decent flavor and complemented the other toppings.
House Pizzeria, on Airport Boulevard, offers a thin crust Neapolitan style pizza. I had the pleasure of having lunch there today with authors Jennifer Ziegler and Chris Barton.
We ordered a sausage-and-mushroom and a pepperoni pizza. Both were excellent, with a nice thin crust and abundant toppings. I ended up liking the sausage a bit more than the pepperoni, but then I generally tend to prefer sausage to pepperoni :-).
Both are recommended, however. (And the salad (not pictured) was also quite good).
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So I came home and found this on my door from 360 Pizza:
Naturally, I had to try them (A friend had also recommended their original location).
I ordered the 360 Supreme, with pepperoni, Rosmarina ham, sausage, onions, mushrooms, green peppers, and black olives. I really liked the toppings on this one: they combined for a terrific combination of flavors. The crust was also good -- New York style thin crust, not as crisp as some, but still good with a nice chew.