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Random Thoughts on Reading, Writing, Life, and Books, by Author Greg Leitich Smith
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1. Cubs Win!

Every Cubs fan is ten years old tonight.

For the first time since 1945, the Cubs are in a World Series.  They haven't won one since 1908.  In that year, Harriet Tubman was still alive.  So was Mark Twain.  And Leon Tolstoy. And Geronimo. And Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

My high school was founded that year.

It's just baseball, yes, and I have philosophical objections to the culture of professional sports in this country and elsewhere.

But let me repeat: in this, the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Sixteen, the Cubs are in the World Series. For all the years since '08, for all the years they had great players like Ernie Banks and Billy Williams and Ron Santo and Ryne Sandberg, this time, they finally, finally made it. 

For fans who remember 1945 and bovid mammals of the genus Capra; for those who recall the implosions of 1969 and 1984 and 2003, this time, they did it (Yeah, there were a couple other times they were in the playoffs since '84, but those never felt like their year).  This time, they finally did it.

I remember, in the 70s, my mother taking me and my brother and our friends to the Cubs games, especially on Fridays, which was Ladies' Day and tickets were cheap (Fridays didn't become popular until the 80s).  It was the era of Reggie Jackson and the Pirates and the Big Red Machine of Cincinnati. 

There were peanuts outside and hot dogs inside and vendors selling Old Style beer (which of course we didn't drink). There were Andy Frain ushers and no one had even thought about putting seats on the roofs of buildings across the street. There was that deliciously analog giant scoreboard in center field.  (And, of course, there were no big screen high definition TVs.).

I remember our neighbor's cousin from Japan coming to see a baseball game in America and being wowed by Wrigley Field.

I remember some of the coldest spring days of my life sitting along the unreserved seats of left field.

I remember when they installed lights and being relieved they architecturally matched the stadium.

I remember commemorating the 50th anniversary of my high school's new building and the seventy-fifth anniversary of its founding by walking down Addison to see the Cubs play.

And I remember when Hank Aaron came for his first appearance in Chicago after breaking Babe Ruth's home run record and the entire stadium stood and gave him a standing ovation even though he was on the other team. 

I remember Jack Brickhouse and being kind of disappointed when he retired and was replaced by Harry Caray who, of course, had covered the White Sox, which was just wrong.

I remember friends being fans of the Reds and the Pirates and the Dodgers and the White Sox, which was just wrong. (For the record, I was not opposed to their winning the World Series a couple years back.  I don't like their new stadium, though.  Or the fact that they took Comiskey off the name).

I totally shouldn't care about professional athletes making millions for their billionaire employers for mediocre performances over the course of a century.  And part of me doesn't. 

But it's the Cubs.  And today, every Chicagoan who remembers is ten years old again.  And tonight, that's sublime.

Even if they don't beat Cleveland.  But they will. Unless they don't.  In which case they will do so in the most heart-breakingly way possible. Because they're the Cubs.

And it's what they do.

And there will be a next year.

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2. Busy Writing and Running Summer

Well, it's been a busy summer writing-wise.  I'm letting a draft of a middle grade sci-fi adventure cure for a bit and also completed a work-for-hire project, and two-and-a-half nonfiction projects. (The half is still in-progress :-)).

Circa 1995.  No hills :-).
After the Cap Tex Tri weather debacle, I reconsidered my original plan to try the Austin Half-Ironman (or Ironman 70.3 as they're calling the things these days).   I'd wanted to do a couple Olympic distance races this summer (the other would've been the Tri Rock Austin Triathlon over Labor Day weekend) to get the kinks out before going for the longer distance.

Unfortunately, the schedule didn't quite work out (and I'm going to be doing some school and bookstore visits in October, prime training time :-)).  Also, this allows me to delay buying a new bike -- my current one is a 1989 Trek that is fine, but riding 50+ miles around the Hill Country, I can see where handlebar shifters would be useful :-).

So I decided to dive back in to the Austin Distance Challenge and take up the Austin Runners Club on the marathon training (which would also help with next year's triathlons).  My goal is a personal best or possibly Boston Marathon qualifying. (With the age-group corrections, BM qualifying has finally caught up with my PB :-)).

The ARC program is based on the Runner's World "Run Less, Run Faster" program, which has you run three days a week and do other cardio work two days a week.  One of the days is a track workout, one is a tempo run and the third is a long run, with pace times based on a one mile time trial we did a couple weeks ago. I have no idea if it will work, but I like it because I want to keep up the biking and running as well.

After the long run
I just completed the first week of the program and didn't actually hit any of my goal times, but I've never actually tried running for time, so at least the effort is interesting.  I ran a trial mile of 7:10, slightly slower than my 6:50 from last spring and a lot slower than my PB of 5:55 (granted, twenty years ago :-)).

From this, the track workout was supposed to be 4x1000 m at 4:09; my times were 4:20; 4:14; 4:15; and 4:22, so not terrible.  The tempo workout was supposed to be 4 miles at a 7:38 pace and my actual pace was 7:46. I figured it would be a challenge to hit those marks but was glad to have been close.  

The long run was supposed to be 11 miles at 8:57, which I though I could do, no problem, since I'd done my half marathons last year at around 8:24.  But with the humidity and heat (in August, hydration tends to be my biggest problem) and having only three hours of sleep (due to small feline mammals), I only did seven miles at a 9:07 pace.

Based on limited data, I like the program because it's not just about racking up mileage, which was getting a bit old. Also, the track workouts are not far from where I live :-). 

Anyway, I'm looking forward to the challenge of a new marathon best time, at the 2017 Austin Marathon!

Setting my PB on a wintry spring day


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3. Capital of Texas Triathlon/Duathlon/10K/5K

So my plan to do my first triathlon in twenty years on Monday didn't turn out so well.

It rained.

A lot. But not so much in town.

At Camp Mabry, just north of central Austin, we got less than an inch of rain last Thursday. At Bergstrom Airport, just south and east of downtown, they got about nine inches.  And it was much worse farther east, along the Colorado River (which also runs through Austin).

On Friday and Saturday, it rained in the Hill Country.  West of Austin.  Upriver.

On Sunday, there was the CapTexTri expo and packet pickup and bike dropoff.

Swag!  My first cowboy hat since I was around seven.
Bike drop off.  I got there early.
Packet pickup
Coveting my neighbor's bike, Part I.
It was clear and sunny.  But because of all the rain, the LCRA opened at least one floodgate from the Tom Miller Dam, releasing water into Lady Bird Lake.  Which was where the swim portion of the CapTexTri was supposed to take place.

At the course talk at the expo, they announced that there was a flow of about 3 mph and they were considering changing the course so that it ran point to point (downriver).
Course talk.  Could've used a projector.

Later that day, they announced the swim was canceled.  Which was disappointing, but I've weathered a couple of triathlons in Chicago where that had happened and one when it probably should've.

Monday, race day, I awoke at 5 AM, fed the cats, ate breakfast and drank coffee, and then I heard rain.  Lots of rain.

Nevertheless (discovering, to my chagrin, that I am apparently an optimist), I headed out.  When I arrived at the transition area, I was told it was closed, and that we should shelter at Palmer Events Center or its garage.  This was around 6-620.

In the garage and on the deck of the Palmer Events Center, folks seemed to take things in stride and with humor.  Some people were concerned about hairpin turns on a wet course, but were generally willing to take it slow.
Sheltering in the garage

We heard a tentative plan to cut short the bike portion to 20k, but the rain and lightning continued. Finally, at around 830, race officials called off the bike portion entirely because of flooding on the course. 
Still a bit lightning-y
They announced that Olympic distance participants could do a 10k, while sprint participants could do a 5k and that start time would be at 10 am. Most folks removed their bikes and went home or back to their hotels. There was some grumbling -- last year the event had been cut short due to flooding, as well, and I gather there had been similar problems in 2014, too.
Athletes clearing out the transition area
I took my bike back to my car, but decided that I'd gotten up at five that morning to run a race and so, I was going to do one.  Besides, I didn't want to waste all those carbs I'd eaten in the past few days. :-).

At ten o'clock, the rain pretty much stopped.  And then we were off!  By 10:15, the sun came out.  No, really. 
Everyone who's still there seems in good humor :-)
And we're off!

Turned out, there were only about 200 of us who stuck around for the 10k, with another 150 for the 5k (out of around 3000 original participants), but everyone seemed to be having a good time.  I was pretty happy with my race -- I'm not sure it was exactly 10k, but I still did one of my better overall times and paces. At least this century :-).
The view from the Biergarten.  Note the utter absence of rain.
Sunny skies.
On the whole, it was a bit surreal but fun, although in the moment sometimes frustrating.  And, in retrospect, kind of funny.  I think the organizers did a good job under trying conditions and kept us pretty well informed via social media.  So, thanks (And I am really glad I wasn't in charge :-)).  Thanks also to all the volunteers who stuck around to the bitter end.

 Oh, and I actually ended up getting a bit of a tan.

Coveting my neighbor's bike, Part II
Epilogue: Late Monday, the Austin Fire Department closed Lady Bird Lake and Lake Austin to all boat traffic.

And they're giving us a discount for the 2017 race. :-).

Here's what the lake looked like Tuesday morning:


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4. Capital of Texas Triathlon Preview

Monday I'm going to be running in the 25th Capital of Texas Triathlon!  It's my first triathlon (Olympic distance) in twenty years and I'm pretty jazzed.

Steely-eyed determination 20 years ago. :-)

One of the great things about triathlons (and running races in general) is that you get to occupy unusual spaces: the last ones I did were Leon's Triathlon in Hammond, Indiana, a couple of Bud Light triathlons and others in Chicago. Leon's had a swim in Wolf Lake (shudder), followed by a cycle leg on an elevated highway that ran past the old U.S. Steel plant, and a run leg through an industrial downtown.  The Chicago ones were on the lakefront, just north of Navy Pier, with a bike on Lake Shore Drive and a run along the lake.

2013 CapTexTri
The CapTexTri also has a great location in downtown Austin, with a 1.5k swim in Lady Bird Lake; a 40k (24.8 mile) bike on a quadruple loop through downtown Austin, including Congress Avenue and Cesar Chavez; and a 10k (6.2 mile) run through Zilker Park.

The only thing I'm not too keen on is the bike route, since it requires you to do the same loop four times.  I don't like loop routes because I always think of how many more times I have to do the thing...Still, going up and down Congress Avenue without any cars is going to be pretty cool. As long as there are no poles in the middle of the road, I should be okay. :-).

Don't ask.

I feel fairly good about my training.  I've maintained good running mileage after the Austin Marathon and Austin Distance Festival and got some good workouts in even while traveling doing school visits.
On Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis
The swim is probably my weakest event -- I could stand to do more work on technique and probably do more open water swimming, but the distance won't be an issue.  Also, Lady Bird Lake isn't going to have waves (I seem to recall a couple of triathlons in Chicago with 3-4 foot waves on Lake Michigan (and this was on the near side of the breakwater).  Also, I won't have to deal with a wet suit.  My biggest concern is to not get kicked in the face. :-).
Lady Bird Lake during 2013 CapTexTri
The bike I'm feeling good about as well.  I'll be using the bike I used for my triathlons back in the day - a Trek 1000 I bought when I was in grad school for $450 (a guy at one bicycle shop here tried to sell me a new one, asking if I had a "nostalgic attachment" to it.). I do, but I also don't think a new bike is going to drastically transform my performance.  At least not $2000 worth :-). (A guy at another bike shop told me the Trek 1000 was his first road bike and he wished he still had it.  It's possible he was being kind :-)).

Tomorrow is packet picket, bike drop-off, and a chance to scope out the transition area, which I'll need because I can't see without my glasses...:-)

Oh, well.  Onward!

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5. Austin Distance Challenge!

The famous Distance Challenge fridge magnets
It's been a few months, but I finally have some time to sit down and blog my having completed the Austin Distance Challenge (long course), sponsored by the Austin Runners Club.  I'd done most of the events before, but decided to do the challenge itself (six races, culminating in the Austin Marathon), because I wanted to put more structure into my training for the marathon. I'd done several in the 90s, but this was my second of the century and I wanted to do better than my last one (2013).

The first race was the Run Free Texas 80s 8k (for those who don't think in metric, that's about five miles) up in Cedar Park.  Naturally enough, there were a couple of DeLoreans, each outfitted with a flux capacitor.  Time travel being what it is, they were obviously the same car but from different time periods. :-).  The course was through residential neighborhoods and parks and had some rolling hills -- nice for a beginning of the season race.

Back to the Future!
The second race of the Challenge was the Run for the Water Ten Miler.  The course was along Lady Bird Lake and up through Tarrytown and then back downtown, There were some great hills on this course and let me know I needed more hill work...And, ironically enough, it was raining. :-)
Rain and hills
Race three was the Decker Challenge, a half marathon in early December with a course around Decker Lake.  It's notorious for hills and really bad weather.  (The last time I ran it, it was in the 40s and pouring rain).  If anything, last year, it was a bit too warm.  The hills were pretty brutal, though. 
My face when attacking the hills
But Santa was there!
After that, we had a month break until the Rogue Distance Festival 30k (about 18.6 miles) in early January.  This one was fairly cold and probably my least favorite of the events.  It was up in Cedar Park again and ran through residential neighborhoods which was fine.  There was an issue with marking the course, though, so most of us got off track, which meant the mile markers were out of order so it was impossible to figure out a pace. (I think at some point, we were going in circles -- and ended up going about a mile farther than we should've.).  Still, it was my longest run before the marathon and I was kind of glad it happened that way. 
Yay!  I'm done! :-)
With four events done, it was all downhill from there.  Literally.  The 3M Half Marathon starts up in the Great Hills area and runs a straight line down to downtown. It also has a swag bag filled with useful (and not so useful) 3M products.:-)
Leo checks out the swag bag
This one also started out pretty cold and way too early :-). 

Before dawn, in the warm car before the cold race.
I really enjoyed this one, though, and it was a nice preview of many of the neighborhoods on the marathon route.
The piece de resistance, of course, was the Austin Marathon in mid-February.  I like the course, but the first time I ran the Austin Marathon, it was all downhill, starting up north and snaking its way downtown.  Now, there's a good bit of uphill until around mile 18.  I still like the course, though, and it's not like the hills from the Decker Challenge or the Run for the Water races.

I was pretty happy with my time -- my second fastest of the century!  I did it in under 4 hours, which had been my goal.  Next year, I'll work more on speed, but this time, I just wanted to not have my quads seize up in the last two miles :-).

Running through UT campus
Made it! Best time of the century!
Anyway, thanks to everyone involved in putting on the races and the challenge itself: organizers, volunteers, emergency personnel, and all the rest!  You keep Austin running!

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6. Midwest Schools and Bookstores

I'm just back from a twelve day trip up to Chicago, Milwaukee, and Minneapolis-St. Paul, where I did a bit of research and visited a bunch of schools and children's indie bookstores.

The trip started inauspiciously, when my flight was canceled because the wind blew the plane onto a belt conveyor.

Eventually, I made it to Chicago, though, where the weather looked like this:
Still, I had arrived ahead of time so I could go down to the Museum of Science and Industry, which has a World War II German u-boat and a chicken incubator.
Next two days were the actual school visits, arranged at Henry Puffer Elementary  and Liberty Elementary by Anderson's Book Shop and at Attea Glenview School and Rondout School by The Book Stall.  Afterwards, I got to hang out with Robert from The Book Stall and stopped by for a couple of pics.
Posing with posters


Then I was off to Milwaukee for a school visit at Atwater Elementary arranged through the Boswell Book Company.
It was my first time I'd ever been to Milwaukee, but sadly didn't have a chance to sightsee, because it was off to Minneapolis-St. Paul for three days of school visits.

Visits at North Trail Elementary and Brimhall Elementary were through Addendum Books; those at Crestview Elementary and Little Canada Elementary were through the Red Balloon Bookshop; and at Valley View Middle School, through Wild Rumpus Books.

I had some free time, so I went over to Addendum Books for some pics and had a fun lunch with Katherine and Marcus, the proprietors.

In front of the "Purple Rain" wall

Since I was there over the weekend, I spoke at Red Balloon for the Minnesota SCBWI about Research and the Suspension of disbelief.

I also had the chance to go run a couple times on the Mississippi Riverfront trail and visit the Science Museum of Minnesota.

After Monday's school visit I had a fun lunch with Drew and Jordan of Wild Rumpus Books at Pizzeria Lola (a separate Pizza-a-Day Diet post will be forthcoming).  Then I visited the bookstore, where I met the menagerie.
Copper oven and decorative birch logs
Then I was back to Chicago and spent a day at the Field Museum of Natural History and showed Madeline Smoot of CBAY Books a bit of the city!


Many thanks to all the librarians and booksellers and Blue Slip Media and everyone else who made this happen.  Thanks also to Quinette Cook and all the folks from MN SCBWI who came out for the workshop.  It was great fun meeting you!

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7. Texas Library Association Conference (#txla16)

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
Janet Fox and Jennifer Ziegler
PJ, Jessica, and Joy
Me and Elaine Scott
Buffalo Bayou on my early morning run
Back in Austin!

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8. Lone Star Book Festival!

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
Jennifer Ziegler and Jo Whittemore discuss encouraging reading
 Thanks to all the organizers, sponsors, and attendees! It's on its way to becoming a grand, annual tradition!

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9. Pizza a Day Diet Archive [January 2015 Edition]: Home Slice Pizza

Today's ‪#‎PizzaADayDiet‬ 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 :-)).

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10. Pizza A Day Diet Archive [January 2015 Edition]: Southside Flying Pizza

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.

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11. Pizza a Day Diet: Maggiano's Little Italy

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:

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12. Pizza a Day Diet: Homemade Chicago-style

Today I went back to the Cook's Illustrated Cookbook for their Chicago-style pizza recipe (No, they're not from Chicago, but their recipe is actually pretty close to others I've used in the past.). 

They've got a technique where you "laminate" the crust with butter to make it crispier.  It worked well with the sides, but I'm not sure that it quite worked with the bottom, but the crust did turn out pretty firm and full-bodied.  And rich.  Next time I might let it cook a little longer to see what happens.

The recipe for the sauce and the cheese were a bit different than what I've done before: using shredded mozzarella and diced tomatoes instead of mozzarella slices (or a fresh ball) and crushed tomatoes, but it turned out pretty well.  Next time, though, I think I'll go back to crushed with slices.

And the Star Trek pizza cutter is actually big enough to use on deep dish...

I had Brian Yansky and Frances Yansky over to share the results, so I didn't end up taking too many pictures, but here are a couple:

Pizza! And the Star Trek pizza cutter!
Frances poses with a slice.

The cat inspects the table.


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13. Pizza a Day Diet: Austin Beer Garden Brewing Co. (The ABGB)

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. :-).

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14. Pizza a Day Diet Archive [January 2015 Edition]: Hoboken Pie

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.

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15. Pizza a Day Diet: Star Trek Pizza

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.


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16. BORROWED TIME release and launch photo report!

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

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17. Mississippi Book Festival

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
Mayflower Cafe
Kimberly, Taylor, Deborah, Margaret, Me, Cassie, Carolyn

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18. Pizza a Day Diet: The Backspace

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...

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19. Pizza a Day Diet: 360 Pizza

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.


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20. Pizza a Day Diet: Bola Pizza

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.

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21. Pizza a Day Diet: Little Deli and Pizza

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.

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22. Pizza a Day Diet: Via313

Via313 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...:-).

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23. Pizza a Day Diet: Marye's Gourmet Pizza

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.

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24. Pizza a Day Diet: Cajun Pizza Place

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.

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25. Pizza a Day Diet: Pieous

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:

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