Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Monica Crowe Portraiture Launched

My pencil portraits portfolio website, Monica Crowe Portraiture, has officially launched. As an introductory rate, I'm offering a 20% discount through Oct. 31.

My portraits are drawn with artist-grade pencils on acid-free, archival paper, so they will last for generations to come. Order one and you'll get quick turnaround, 2 to 3 day shipping and a cherished heirloom portrait.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Austin's 2011 Pecan Street Festival

The 2011 Pecan Street Festival has concluded, but come spring, like a flower in bloom, another will pop up in its place. For those who are new to the Austin area or who plan to visit, the festival is a free event on 6th Street that spans several city blocks from Interstate 35 to Brazos. During the festival Sixth is blocked off from traffic, making it similar to New Orleans' Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras – only family friendly.

 1. Sixth Street is the historic center of Austin where many of the buildings date back to as early as the 1800s. It's now the hub of Austin's music scene, playing a role in Austin's reputation as the "Live Music Capital of the World." 2. Austin Shrooms was one of my favorite booths at the Pecan Street Festival. I brought three red and white cap stems home with me.

Vendors are juried into the festival, so you can bet you'll find impressive goods rather than a bunch of crappy hemp jewelry like many other markets. I perused just about every tent this year and pulled contact info from my favorites. Think of this as your front row seat to the Pecan Street Festival without the parking hassle and blazing heat-stroke temperatures.

The Best of the 2011 Pecan Street Festival (as voted by me -- of course)
Ceramics -- Austin Shrooms

These weren't all of the amazing artists at the festival, but rather a small portion. So get ready for the next one, and you'll be ready to catch all the goodness too. :)

What to Bring to the Pecan Street Festival
A wide-brim hat 
Cold bottles of water
Your friendly dog 
An appetite for festival foods

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Opa! Coffee and Wine Bar

Possibly one of the best things about Austin in the fall is being able to enjoy its many unique outdoor restaurants. From food truck "parks" like South Austin's Trailer Park and Eatery to intimate patios at local eateries like Hyde Park's Dolce Vita Gelato and Espresso Bar, there is something for everyone.

Opa! Coffee and Wine Bar also fits that bill. Recently, a friend and I sampled delectable bits from its menu. The Mediterranean Plate, above, is a sampler that includes each of the eatery's appetizers from hummus and pita wedges to spinach and cheese pies.

The food was good but simple. For the price, $18, I would have liked to have had more variety than just bread and cheese. However, splitting the cost of the dish with my friend made it more reasonable. If you visit Opa during warm weather months, note that the patio and even indoors are rather warm. The structure is old and doesn't seem to have much insulation, and despite the patio having dew misters, there isn't much to ease the discomfort of a sweltering southern summer. Instead of a hot cup of Joe, consider whetting your whistle with the Peach Lambic. It's a tasty, refreshing and lightly sweetened beer that's perfect for the remaining days of warm weather.

Overall, the atmosphere at Opa was enjoyable. At dusk, under the canopy of trees and strung garden lights, this would be a great place to have a casual date or drinks with a group of friends. The eatery is also dog friendly and has live music every night.

Happy hour is from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. and includes half-off glasses of wine, $1 beer and cocktails and other super affordable drink and appetizer specials. They also have free wifi.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Recipe: Beer Bread

Even though it's still hot enough to cook an egg on any sidewalk in Austin, it's beginning to feel like fall is finally on the way. Happening upon a spooky pumpkin patch outside of Whole Foods and eating "Apple Pie" ice cream at Amy's this weekend are only a couple of things that made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside about the immenent arrival of my favorite season.

In preparation for cooler weather and the warm, hearty soups and chili's that will innevitably grace our dinner tables, I'd like to share my family favorite bread recipe. Beer bread -- it's surprisingly easy to make, addictively delicious and great for sopping up flavorful gravy, stew, soup or chili.

3 cups self-rising flour
4 tbs. sugar
1 room temperature 12-oz. beer (lager is best)
1 stick butter

Directions: Preheat cast-iron skillet in 400 F oven. Mix together flour and sugar in a medium size bowl. Form a well in the center of the flour, and pour in beer. Fold ingredients to incorporate flour; however, you want the batter to remain lumpy. Pour into pan. Melt stick of butter, and pour it evenly on top of the batter in the skillet. Bake for 30 minutes.

Monday, August 29, 2011

11 Uses for Empty Food Jars + An Appetizer Recipe

Send a pretty food gift home with a loved one, or pack one in your child's lunch bag. Decorate the lid or glass as you like.

I have a penchant for World Market's sundried tomatoes packed in oil. It's heavenly I tell you. I can empty a small jar in a matter of two days. Naturally, I have a few of those glass jars stored in my cabinets, and I know more will eventually pile up, so I gathered some ideas to make use of them. More on that later. But first, here is a quick and delicious light lunch/ appetizer.

Whole fat cream cheese
Whole-grain sesame crackers
Sundried tomatoes packed in oil (Couldn't find the exact name brand. Will update soon.)
Fresh avocado
Garlic stuffed olives

Spread whole-fat cream cheese liberally over whole-grain sesame crackers. Place a whole sundried tomato on top, and add a dollop of fresh avocado. If you'd like, mince garlic stuffed olives and sprinkle sparingly. 

Now, let's talk about how we can use those empty food jars. These ideas are good for any jar with a wide mouth. I'm interested to see what you all do with your empty food jars. There are innumerable shapes, sizes and colors that might enhance a collection or serve as pretty storage.

Uses for empty jars:

  1. Vase – Place wildflowers or a few flower stems in a window for a casual-pretty look.
  2. Disposal – Pour grease into a jar and dispose of it to avoid a clogged drain or melting holes in your garbage bag.
  3. Craft storage – Buttons, color pencils, paint brushes, spools of thread and whatnot look like collections when displayed in various jars.
  4. Decorations – Display seashells, sea glass, polished stones or decorative potpourri.
  5. Candy jar – Pour colorful gumballs in, or create a color wheel of candy by displaying one hue representative of each color of the rainbow. Arrange the jars from purple to blue, green, yellow, orange and red.
  6. Vanity storage – Cull your assortment of lip glosses, eyeliners and makeup brushes. You can also store rubber bands, bobby pins and hair clips each in a separate jar as needed.
  7. Paint wash jar – If you paint with acrylics, watercolor or gouache, empty jars come in handy for wetting and cleaning your paintbrushes.
  8. Leftover food – Store your leftovers prettily. Glass jars are easier to clean than most plastic containers, because you can pop them into the dishwasher without worrying about chemicals leaching onto your dishes.
  9. Time capsule – Have your child gather items for a time capsule, place them in a large jar and bury them in the back yard to unearth in years to come.
  10. Votive holder -- A tea light in a small jar radiates a soft glow at the dinner table or in the bath.
What do you do with your empty food jars? Feel free to leave a comment and/or a link to a photo on your blog.

Ciao bella!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Artful Living on a Budget

Photo taken on First Thursdays in Austin.

Howdy from Austin, Texas! 512 Chick was born from my personal need to have my strawberry cupcake and eat it too – on a budget ... and in this awesome city. You see, I'm a freelance writer, but I didn't start out that way. I used to be an arts and entertainment newspaper reporter/ healthy living magazine editor in Louisiana. I got regular paychecks, much of which I spent on gas for my hour and a half (round trip) commute and a wardrobe to look all fancy schmancy at the office. I loved the work, but I wanted more autonomy to do what I wanted, when I wanted. And I also wanted to write whatever I felt like without being censored.(Aside: That happened a lot.)

So, with my husband on board, I hatched a plan to get free from my job. This entailed selling a freighter-load of our stuff and saving nearly every dollar we could. About a year later I was on my own – officially a freelance writer. This is what I do today. I'm also a portrait artist. It's not always easy to live life on your own terms, especially as a creative person, and when you're just starting out, you sometimes have to make sacrifices. Total disclosure here, but I make less money than I did as a salaried writer. Regardless, I'm happier than ever, and I'm excited by the challenge of stretching my dollars – having fun and living artfully on a budget in Austin.

Hello there. Pleased to meet you. I'm Monica & this is my hubs, Trey.

If you are a creative person living on a budget, or if you have thoughts you'd like to share, I would love to hear from you. What do you find most challenging about your lifestyle? What do you love about it? How do you stretch your budget and still live artfully?

Hugs and blissfulness to you from your humble writer.