Meet Our New Contributor: Kristin Paull

September 4, 2015

I hope I can fully convey to you how excited I am that Kristin Paull is joining us at the Queso…if only because for many years she has been a creative inspiration to me. Kristin is one of those people who just makes it happen and shares the love. If she wants to try more restaurants, she starts a dinner club. If she wants to do more gardening, she starts a garden program at her sons’ school. If she wants to bake things, she’s suddenly running a cookie business. All the while, she’s totally honest about the processes, the struggles and the successes as they come. And holy crap, those cookies have crack in them, I swear.

Kristin and I went to the same university but didn’t meet until we were both involved in an Austin startup, years later… which now was an unmentionable number of years ago.  We were in a book club together (that she started, of course) and mostly I just remember that we didn’t ever see a book the same way (Although I think we both agreed that Love in the Time of Cholera is not a love story, but rather a creepy stalker novel) but she always opened up a new perspective and creative idea. She’s continued to do that ever since and always. I can’t wait to see what all she shares with us here.

To get us started, I asked her a few questions, and I’ll let her take to from here. Please let me introduce you with a few highlights…


Kristin and her husband Jason have been married for 19 years, which doesn’t make any sense because they look like they are 19. Were they married in utero? Possibly. When I asked her about their life together she said…”We have decided we have the wanderlust gene full-tilt.  We have been so lucky to take some pretty awesome trips.  Our house is unfinished 15 years later, because we keep choosing travel and memories over floors and bathrooms.  Sometimes, I have to look through old photos to remind myself of these choices when I am bemoaning our jacked up floors.”


When I asked about her favorite new thing, she said…”Our newest addition.  Lily is equal parts sweet and vampirish, and she was my first opportunity to name a girl.  Fun fact- she sleeps on my head.”



About her hobbies…”I love to cook, and specifically I love to bake.  I started decorating cookies like these when my oldest was two- they were hideous but delicious.  I kept practicing!  Some people paint for their zen moment…I bake, cook and decorate.”


More…”We love to travel, and made a 17-year-old dream come true this summer- we traveled abroad with our boys for 6 weeks.  We love how life changes when you really unplug from it for a long period of time.”


And even more…

What are your greatest creative inspirations?

My kids bring so many opportunities to be creative through projects, parties, and  celebrations.  With three kids, I am always trying to make their moments special and unique to them- different personalities and interests take us different places with different groups of friends.  My other great creative inspirations come through cooking.  I love to try different recipes so much so that my family often complains that we never have the same thing twice.  While this is certainly not true (hello, taco night, I am talking to you!), I love to have an evening without practices or games so that I can try a new recipe while having a drink and listening to music as I cook.  Hello, happy place!

If you had a free hour, what would you do?

What is this “free time” of which you speak?  Ha!  I would love to say that I would sit down and read a book- my very favorite thing to do.  But, I hate to only read for one hour, and it is often hard for me to relax until my ducks are in a row- laundry humming, dishwasher running, house tidied and beds made.  I am very Type A, and I have come to accept the baggage that comes with that.  I must clear the clutter in my brain so that it can dial down a notch.  I am envious of others who can relax at any time.  It can be work for me much of the time.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I love this question, and my answers change all the time.  I think my current answer to this one (in a world that does not involve volunteer duties, school projects and soccer practices) is that I would love to be a travel writer.  We love to travel and all of the challenges and adventures it brings.  Learning about other cultures through their daily rituals, museums, food and drink, etc.  I really love to see how people live around the world, and there are still so many places on my list.  We have dreamt of traveling with our kids forever, and it is fun to finally be in a place where the kids are old enough to travel well and enjoy it all with us.  But, we love going places just the two of us as well, and have been so fortunate to take some amazing trips.

From James Lipton, host of Inside the Actor’s Studio 

What is your favorite word? 

I love this question, and probably thought about it the most.  I think I love the word “can’t.”  It is the one word that inspires me to action, and makes me want to go and do!  Whether it is someone else telling me that it can’t be done, or even if it is me struggling with that word rolling around in my own head, I have found that I have done so many things that CAN be done if you just keep pushing at it.  I have told my kids forever (cue the eyerolls), “Be the water flowing toward your goal.  If you hit a rock, roll around it in some way that keeps you moving forward to what you want.”

What is your least favorite word? 

Same word- “can’t.”  I think we limit ourselves and each other all the time with this word, and it absolutely gets my blood moving when I hear my kids say it.  Perspective is everything, right?  However, it was a very close tie with “hate.”  That word is a “no go” in our house.

What is your favorite curse word? 

There is really no contest for this one- “dammit.”  When our oldest (now nearly 16) was about 15 months old, he dropped his cheerios on the ground.  He clenched his fist, and said “dammit” with my exact expression and tone.  Oops!  In my defense, I had no idea he could understand what I was saying!  Yeah- that was his first real word.  Proud Mom moment!

From JL’s Uncle Jessie Meme

A song/band/type of music you’d risk wreck & injury to turn off when it comes on the radio?  

Hands down Kesha.  How did she even happen, people?  Nope.  I also cannot stand the voice of the lead singer of Silversun Pickup- it just irks me.

Best show on television?  

Right now, my favorite show is “Blackish.”  I want Rainbow to be my best friend.  She is smart, funny, silly and loves her family in such a genuine way.  The kids are too cute and precious, and I love Dre and how sweet he is with all of them.

Favorite movie? 

I am digging into the vault on this one- “Pretty in Pink.”  My best friend and I walked to the dollar cinema (anyone remember those?) practically every day one summer to watch that film.  I LOVED the music, and still do.  The whole thing was perfection for me.  I have not watched it in ages, but I need to change that.

Favorite restaurant?

Our favorite restaurant right now is Qui.  You might remember Paul Qui from Top Chef.  It is his restaurant.  The drinks are always phenomenal. The people there are so incredibly nice and talented.  I love how he has really taken an artisnal approach to everything from the murals on the walls to the actual dishes on which he serves his food.  He is really invested in every detail.  The food is always fantastic, and I enjoy stepping outside my comfort zone in such amazing ways.  They have introduced me to my forever favorite dessert- halo halo.  We did the special tasting room for a celebration, and it was probably the most perfect meal we have ever had.  I really believe in finding chefs that you love, and then trusting them to do what they do.  I trust Paul and Jorge to make anything for us- they know what they are doing in all of the most interesting ways.

Best concert? 

My aunt (the biggest music fan I know) and I took two of our boys and a friend to an OK GO concert in a small Austin venue downtown.  I love those smaller spaces, and they killed it!  The sound system wasn’t working, so they sang part of Les Miserables to entertain us while they fixed it.  It was both hilarious and awesome!  Every song of theirs was fantastic!  Someone came to put a box right in front of us during the set, and we weren’t sure what that was about until the lead singer jumped from the stage to stand on the box for an acoustic song.  It was fantastic.  I am a huge fan now!  I love those shows where you get to hear stories and learn their personalities.  I can listen to the music online anytime, so I really appreciate it when musicians take the time to give something extra in a live show.  We are lucky to live in Austin- it seems most musicians want to come through our town.  Yay for us!

Favorite room in your house? 

I would have to say my kitchen is my favorite room.  It was a super weird space when we first bought the house.  I thought forever about how I would want to change it if we were to ever redo it.  We finally renovated when our youngest was about 2 years old, I think.  It was a challenge to go down to the studs- we were cooking in the living room, washing dishes in the bathroom, and eating on the patio.  But, it was worth it, and I can honestly say that I would not do anything different.  It is a really comfortable kitchen to work in, and I can have lots of room for family to cook with me or for friends to hang out while I cook.  It’s a good thing I love it as I think I spend most of my time in there when I am home.

Favorite Girl Scout cookie? 

Thin mints- duh!!!  Do they make other flavors?

If you could have anything put on a t-shirt what would it be? 

Ok- this is actually the tshirt my husband threatens to make for me all the time.  “I could agree with you…but then we would both be wrong.”  It’s hilarious, and it is totally not my idea!  But, what can you say…it’s usually the truth!  Ha!

Nightmare job?

I could never survive being an accountant in an office with no windows.  That just sounds like my personal hell.  Thanks to all of you out there who can do it.  I will bring you cookies!

Dream vacation?  

Many years ago we were lucky enough to take a trip to Tanzania for a safari.  We absolutely loved it, and it might rank up there as one of our favorite trips.  I have always dreamed of taking my kids on safari.  I am not sure they would agree to it, but it has always been a dream.  As for a place I have not yet been…I would love to see Australia and New Zealand…or Finland, Norway, Sweden…or Brazil and Argentina.  One dream vacation?!!!  That will just never be me!

The best part about being your age?

I really love my age.  I think I was always an old soul, but now I feel like my soul matches my age.  I love being a Mom to teenage kids- they are hilarious and maddening at the same time.  I love our busy lives until I am worn out by the end of the school year.  I love the late night talks my boys like to have, and I love the awesome conversations with their awesome friends.  Life is so good right now, and I know enough to know that I must treasure every moment.

What’s on your nightstand? 

My nightstand has a bowl of hydrangeas, an analog clock with an alarm I never need to set, my Kindle and “The Mysteries of Udolpho” by Ann Radcliffe.

From the famous “Weird Things” blogoshpere meme

Tell us 3 weird things about you:

1. I have “situs inversus”- all of my organs are reversed.

2. One leg is 2.5 inches shorter than the other leg.

3.  I was an only child until the age of 8 when I became number three in a line of four sisters.  So, I enjoy the complications of having all of the qualities of an only child, oldest child and middle child.  It can be weird!

From Smith Magazine’s Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six Word Memoirs from Writers Famous and Obscure 

A six-word memoir that captures your life as an artist OR your art life.

Make good choices- try new things.


Welcome Kristin! I can’t wait for you guys to get to know her better.  Read more about Kristin right here. 

It’s Fun to Stay at the Y.M.C.A of the Rockies

September 3, 2015
By Wendi Aarons

Texans love Texas. Just not so much in June, July and August. The hot summer months are when our Lone Star love wanes a little bit, and we head to either the beach or the mountains for a much needed escape. Trust me, you can only spend so many weeks watching your landscaping turn brown and die before you’re weeping into your beer, wondering what it’s like to not have to douse your body in Clinical Strength deodorant every morning.

At least that was the dream I had in mind when my husband Chris, boys Sam (13) and Jack (11), and I packed up the Volvo, and headed to Estes Park, Colorado last month. “Drive until Mama sees a goose bump!” I commanded of Chris while we flew through Texas. “Drive until Mama can wear a mohair sweater!”

“Mama needs to calm the hell down,” he muttered, “or Mama’s gonna be left behind at an El Paso Chevron station.”

Roadtrips with me are like, super fun.

But just fourteen short hours of bickering later, we pulled into our destination for the week, the amazing YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park. It’s like a resort/Y.M.C.A/family camp/retreat/hide-out all wrapped up in one pine-scented package.


We were delighted to be met by an Elk just as soon as we passed through the main entrance. (The furry kind. Not the kind like my Dad and his drunk buddies from the Elk’s Club.) I tried to get as close as I could to snap a picture of Mr. Elk, hoping I’d then shoot to stardom on the Today Show as “blonde moron attacked during Elk Selfie,” but this guy was pretty sweet and chill. Just like this bunny and fawn playing together at the Y in a video that went viral.


The YMCA of the Rockies has four guest lodges that are like simple hotels, or you can choose to stay in a cabin. The cabins range in size from “ginormous family that’s wearing matching t-shirts” to “teeny family that’s sharing one hamburger.” We stayed in a two-bedroom cabin with a fireplace and kitchen, and it actually would have fit seven people if we’d used the bunk beds and pull-out couch. It was quite nice. Here’s Jack acting like he’s giving away our cabin on a game show:


The cabins don’t have TVs, which is fine. We didn’t drive up to the mountains to watch people exercise on “The Biggest Loser.” (The entire resort does have blazingly fast WiFi almost everywhere, though.) Besides, no TV gave the boys a chance to figure out a more advanced version of UNO that involves wagering and pinning each other down on the ground for hours: PAINO


Most of the cabins are located fairly close to the Y’s main buildings, so we were able to easily walk to the cafeteria-style dining room, or to the smaller restaurants. And, being a YMCA, there are activities all day long, most of them free. Tennis courts, a mini golf course, indoor swimming (with a big slide), horseshoes, wiffle ball, basketball, Bingo, yoga, kickball, hikes, etc. We actually had to highlight what we wanted to do on the schedule because there were so many choices. It was wonderful that we could all do individual things, but meet up right after. The boys would go play basketball, Chris would ride his bike, and I would sit on the porch and contemplate the meaning of life/Ryan Gosling’s abs while gazing at this view:


This is the yucky view I had later that day:


Some of the “for a small fee” activities we did (which, full disclosure, I was given as a comp by the Y) included a high ropes course, a climbing wall, a zipline, massage therapy (soooo good), and archery. We were happily exhausted at the end of every day. However, please note that even if you’re by far the best member of your family with a bow and arrow, it’s never a good idea to yell, “WHEN THE HUNGER GAMES BEGIN, I WILL BE YOUR QUEEN, LOSERS” because nobody will want to sit by you at dinner later. Lesson learned.


One day we took a two-hour guided horseback ride through the Rocky Mountain National Park (which abuts the Y), and my boys were in heaven. Me, not so much after the “trotting” started. I’m much better off riding one of those depressed ponies that slump around in a circle at the school carnival. Less impact on a cowgirl’s nether regions, am I right? But the stable at the Y is really fabulous, as are the trail ride guides. We would definitely do it again.

horsesThe weather in Estes Park was in the mid-70’s when we were there, but there was an afternoon rainstorm almost every day. Everyone would then immediately run into the Craft Cabin where (for a fee) you can do everything from mosaics to tie-dye to pottery painting and jewelry design, which Chris loved. I hope this new hobby of his quickly segues into diamond tiaras.



All of the employees at the Y are really, really nice. A lot of them are locals, but a lot are college kids working there for the summer. That helps give it a real “camp” feel, as do other activities like hayrides, drum circles, hikes, and “bird banding” where Jack and I watched a ornithologist put tiny ankle bracelets on birds. Here’s Jack holding a bird before he let it fly off:

birdIf you want to know anything at all about owls or how to catch a hummingbird, trust me, this is your dude.

Finally, the YMCA of the Rockies is literally right next to the Rocky Mountain National Park, so one day we drove up there to take in the scenery. Remember how I was dreaming about goosebumps? It was 32 degrees up there. I had goosemounds. Do you want to build a snowman? I JUST DID. IN AUGUST, BABY. SO WHAT IF HE’S MISSING AN EYE.


We all had an awesome trip in Colorado, and I highly recommend the YMCA of the Rockies if you’re looking for a place to vacation with your family—big or small. There really is something for everyone, even people who just like sitting inside with a puzzle and a nice drink (my retirement plan). Please take a look at for more info because there’s even more to the place that I didn’t mention, plus plenty of lodging specials throughout the year. It’s probably awesome in the winter months, too.

See? I told you it’s fun to stay at the YMCA. And not just because this is the best signage I’ve ever seen, either.


This post was written by Wendi Aarons, your next Hunger Games Tribute and all-around swell human. Read more about Wendi right here. 


IRL: In Real Life (August 31-September 6, 2015)

August 31, 2015
Goodbye Summer 2015

Summer is coming to a close…only, around here, we are still in our hottest months, so it gets a little confusing. The best thing to do is to be realistic. Ignore the pumpkin-spiced lies and find yourself some air conditioning. Here’s what we recommend:


The 2015 Out of Bounds Comedy Festival. Austin’s longest running comedy festival showcasing some of the best in improv, sketch, theatrical and stand-up comedy. Out of Bounds will host over 500 performers in 130 shows including Epic Rap Battles of History LIVE, Dasariski feat. Stephnie Weir [Rich Talarico (Key & Peele, Saturday Night Live, Tonight Show), Craig Cackowski (Community, Drunk History), Bob Dassie (iO, Carpet Bros.) Stephnie Weir (MAD-tv, The Comedians)], The Annoyance Theatre (Mick Napier, world-famous improv guru), Mike Lawrence (Conan, @Midnight, Last Comic Standing), April Richardson (Chelsea Lately, @Midnight), Matt Peters (Orange is the New Black, Weeds) and more. Etc. Good stuff. See the whole line up here. At The Hideout. Downtown Austin.



Los Angeles Times The Taste  is LA’s annual celebration of Southern California’s vibrant, influential culinary scene, and it’s returning to Paramount Pictures Studios’ iconic backlot over Labor Day weekend. Each of the five events will showcase the chefs and restaurants at the heart of L.A.’s food and dining culture and include unlimited tastings from the city’s best eateries, specialty drinks, wine seminars and live demos. See the complete schedule here.   If you are anywhere near LA, you should do this. Tickets are on sale now at Get more info on FacebookTwitter and Instagram @TheTasteLA (#TasteLA). Photo Credit: LA Times




Check out PhotoSeptembre in San Antonio. Do Beer Yoga in Fort Worth. Check out the Fall Music Festival in Kerrville. The Utopia Fest in Utopia (prettiest drive ever to get there). And then there’s an Oatmeal Festival in Bertram. (Really.) And a World Championship BBQ Goat Cook-off in Brady. (Really Really.) You have a lot of options. Or, you could just find the closest body of water to your house and jump in it. It’s the last official weekend of summer, after all. Although, we know better.  PhotoCredit: Your Daily Dose of Texas


San Marcos Special Summer Sangria

August 18, 2015
drink 1b

A few days ago I stopped in at my favorite spot in San Marcos, Root Cellar, and discovered that they just put in a bar. Oh yes they did. I’m not really an alcoholic beverage drinker…more of a sipper…but the bar is a lovely addition to the waiting area. And so I ordered a lovely white sangria. And here’s my interpretation of it.

San Marcos Summer Sangria

1  bottle white wine

2 Fredricksburg peaches, sliced

4 Poteet strawberries, thinly sliced

1 cup raspberries

3 tablespoons sugar, or more, to taste

1 bottle sparkling white wine

8 sprigs mint

In a large pitcher, whisk together the white wine,  peaches, strawberries, raspberries and sugar. Let chill in refrigerator for at least 1 hour.  Serve over ice with sparkling white wine, garnished with mint, because it’s nice.



First Film Festival

August 17, 2015

Photo Credit: First Film Festival

Do you have a child who is really into filming things? Or being filmed? Are you living with the next Kid President? More importantly, have you heard about the First Film Festival?


The First Film Festival is a project created to encourage kids to get out there and make videos. The festival will happen online in October. It will be both live-streamed and recorded. So wherever you are, you can watch it in real time, or watch the recording after the fact.

There will be three big winners, with three big prize packages — but EVERYONE who enters will receive a $25 movie pass, plus a First Film Festival t-shirt.And it’s open to anyone under 18.

If you’re just hearing about it for the first time, there are still a few days left to enter — there’s still time! The final day for entries is August 22nd. Then, the entries will be handed over to the festivals illustrious judges (including the dude behind Kid President: check out the fantastic judges page ).

So check it. Get on it. Tell your kids. Tell your friends. Such a fun opportunity for all those budding filmmakers out there! I know between Austin and LA, there are a lot of you. So go do that now. We’ll be here when you get back. And we can’t wait to see your kid’s entry.

IRL: In Real Life (August 17-23, 2015)

August 17, 2015

About this time of year, it’s probably just your best idea to stay inside. Indoors. In the AC. But if you’ve finally exhausted all inside options and you just can’t play bingo for one more second, then we have a few ideas that are happening outside of your house. Here are our picks for this week.


Thursday, August 20: Houston. The Houston Press 27th annual Music Awards Ceremony, with a free concert immediately following featuring Hayes Carll. The Houston Press Music Awards, presented by Bud Light, celebrate Texas talent and the thriving, dynamic music community of Houston. Built on the broad based, diverse cultural foundation that music represents, the Houston Press Music Awards invite community involvement in the voting process. The final ballot created contains a wide range of categories, including Latin, folk, rock, country, alternative and etc. This is where stars are born. Check them out. Photo credit: Houston Press


Thursday, August 20 – Sunday, August 23: Fredericksburg. The Gillespie County Fair and Parade. It’s the oldest continuously running fair in Texas and (not surprisingly) features agricultural and home skills displays, horse racing, concerts, dances, a carnival and midway. Parade starts at 10 a.m. on Friday on Main Street. You’ll probably want to see this for yourself. More info and schedule here. 

Also, Fredericksburg Trade Days are happening this weekend too (355 Sunday Farms Lane Fredericksburg, Tx). Peruse tons of antiques, collectibles, tools, crafts, primitives, candles, unique clothing, jewelry, food and also other things. More importantly, relax in the Biergarten while listening to live music. Ah, Fredericksburg. Photo credit: Gillespie County Fair and Parade


Saturday, August 22: New Braunfels. The Fall Creek Vineyard Grapestomp and Harvest Festival.  For 20+ years, the Fall Creek Vineyard Grapestomp and Harvest Festival has attracted individuals to squash fruit with their bare feet. It’s somewhat gross, somewhat awesome. The main attraction is the ‘stomp’ where guests can kick off their shoes and experience the thrill (!) of bare footed grape stomping, getting involved with their wine like never before. Adults can enjoy wine tasting hosted by FCV winemaker Sergio Cuadra and a celebrity chef luncheon in addition to live music on the vineyard terrace, bocce ball and tours of the vineyard. FCV winemaker, Sergio Cuadra, trained in top properties in Bordeaux, Australia, Chile, and California with world-renowned winemakers, will share his passion for wine and will offer a Reserve Wine and Barrel Tasting on Saturday at 3 pm by reservation for $30 per person. There will be tasting and discussion, cheeses paired with wines, all inclusive. Celebrity chef luncheons will be available by reservation only and will feature Chef Paul Hargrove of New York’s Café Bouloud and Gotham Bar & Grill on August 22 and Chef/Owner Mark Schmidt of Blackbird and Henry on August 29. Check it. Photo credit: FCV 


Saturday, August 22: Austin. Bat Fest. 

What will you see at Bat Fest this year? Allegedly 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats emerging from under the Ann Richards Congress Avenue bridge…although they’ve been Keep Austin Weird weird lately. Maybe they’ll show up to your party, maybe they won’t. Freaking hipster bats. But they’ve RSVPed “sure, ok, we’ll be there,” so we shall see. There will also be three stages con live music, more than 75 arts & crafts vendors, Austin food and drinks, children’s activities, a bat costume contest, more bats and other bat activities. Ann Richards Congress Avenue Bridge at dusk. Photo credit: The State of Awesome.



Saturday, August 22: Dallas. The public celebration of NorthPark’s Golden Jubilee. 

I’m sorry to inform all other malls in the state and in the universe, but NorthPark Center is the ultimate, the best, the Queen Mother of all Malls, Amen. François-Henri Pinault, CEO of Paris-based Kering, a company that owns more than 20 luxury brands, including Gucci, Bottega Veneta, Saint Laurent, Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen, recently called NorthPark “a shopping museum.” That’s an giant French understatement. And this week, the shopping mecca of all shopping turns 50. 50 years old.

You can read a lovely piece on this place in the Dallas Morning News on the mall and why you should genuflect if you are in its general vicinity.  Or just show up  and straight up and pay your respects to the Queen. The public celebration of NorthPark’s 50th anniversary begins Saturday. “Balloon Girls,” a throwback to the 1960s, will reappear with helium balloons for the children. And you should also check out Art Meets Fashion 1965-2015, an exhibition from the University of North Texas Fashion Collection featuring 29 looks from the last 50 years. There will also be a back-to-school fashion show, a Kim Dawson model search and a birthday cake at 4 p.m. Performers will include the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and students from Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. All events are free. Go. Photo credit: Dallas Morning News

And finally…


Sunday, August 23: Austin. The Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival.   

If you wanna beat the heat this summer, then you gotta eat the heat – so join The Austin Chronicle for the world’s largest hot sauce festival. That’s right. In the last 25 years, the Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival, has become the world’s largest, drawing as many as 15K spectators and more than 350 entries every year. This year, The Festival will take place on August 23 at Fiesta Gardens in Austin. FREE to the public (with a donation of three healthy, nonperishable food items or a suggested $5 cash donation to the Capital Area Food Bank of Texas), the event promises hot sauce. I’m not sure what else you could need. Besides AC. Photo credit: Austin Chronicle

Whatever you do…Stay hydrated, my friends.

You Scream, I Scream, We All Scream for Ice Cream

August 13, 2015
By Wendi Aarons

Texans love ice cream. That should come as no surprise to anyone who’s ever visited our state in the summer when the temperature is in the triple digits, the armadillos are sweaty, and all anyone wants to do is shove their face into a big bowl of Rocky Road until the chilly 90-degree temps of November roll in. Ahhhhh.

Alas, there was no comfort to be found in Texan ice cream this summer. Or, I should say, not in the state’s #1 Go-To because tragically, the Blue Bell factory that’s been churning out tubs since 1907 was shut down in June due to a Listeria contamination. (Not to be confused with a Listerine contamination, which is actually a good thing if you want super fresh breath.)

But while Texans wept, gallons and tubs and pints of Blue Bell joy were mercilessly yanked from every grocery stores and ice cream shops in the state. We were left bereft, overheated and well, a few pounds thinner because we weren’t gorging on ice cream every damn night. But honestly, is there anything sadder than a child who now has no choice but to snack on (gag) vegetables?

Photo via Mary Caroline Cruse Shreves

Photo via Mary Caroline Cruse Shreves

That’s why I decided to make it my mission to find new ice cream. Better ice cream. Ice cream that would cool me down on these scorching hot days while also keeping my waist in the peak muffin top shape that is both my money maker and my calling card. Yes, people, you can always count on me to do the heavy lifting when it comes to frozen treats. I am the Mother Teresa of the Freezer Section. My mantle is ready for the Nobel.

Here are a few of the new ice cream brands I sampled this summer. Please note that the pictures aren’t perfect because I took them when it was 2,000 degrees outside, I was under a red umbrella, and both my eyeballs and the ice cream were rapidly melting. I know, the ways I suffer for my art.

hebNot only is HEB like, the best grocery store in Texas, but their store brand is consistently as good if not better than national brands. Their Creamy Creations ice cream is no exception. It’s flavorful, satisfying, and priced very reasonably. Plus it comes in a ton of delicious flavors, including Texas-centric ones like Houston Texans: Texans Tackle Crunch, Texas Vanilla Seguin Pecan, and Poteet Strawberry. Oh, and there’s also one named after me: Intense White Chocolate.



What’s the difference between ice cream and custard? Same as the difference between roosters and chickens: EGGS. But what these eggs do is make the custard extra creamy and stay cold longer. Don’t ask me why. I’m not an Ice Cream Scientist. But my entire family thought the two Dreyer’s Custard flavors we tried—Vanilla and Snickerdoodle—were delicious, and now we plan on hunting down their Chocolate Malt Frozen Custard and making it our new bestie.

3. McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams

Shhhhhhhhhhh. Don’t tell anyone in my family that we had this in our freezer. And don’t tell anyone in my family that I ate the pint of CHURROS CON LECHE by myself. And the pint of DOUBLE PEANUT BUTTER CHIP. And the pint of, well, you’re picking up what I’m laying down, friends. And whatever you do, DON’T TELL TEXANS THAT THIS GIFT FROM THE ICE CREAM GODS IS MADE IN SANTA BARBARA, CALIFORNIA AND YOU CAN GET IT SHIPPED TO YOUR HOUSE BECAUSE I WANT IT ALLLLLLLL FOR MYSELF.

4. Tillamook Ice Cream


Did you know that Tillamook, the Oregon makers of best cheese ever, also makes ice cream? I didn’t, but apparently they’ve been doing so since 1947, and it’s now available in certain Texas cities. The Horchata ice cream is based on the Mexican drink made from rice and milk, with added Vietnamese cinnamon. I’m sure many people would love the Horchata, but alas, none of them live in my house*. We much preferred the Marionberry Pie and Tillamook mudslide. And the Tillamook cheese we went out to buy after the word “Tillamook” gave us cravings for some sharp cheddar.

*They all live in Laura’s house. Or, actually, Laura loves it enough for about six people.

5. Adams Premium Ice Cream


I love Adams Vanilla Extract. I use it every time I bake something, which is roughly once every nine years. But it’s the best, and it’s also made by one of the oldest continuously operated companies in Texas, and one of oldest spice and extract companies in the United States. Adams just celebrated their 125th birthday, and did so by launching this amazingly good ice cream exclusively sold at HEB. Flavors include Vanilla and Cookie Dough, but listen up: if you don’t scoop up every container of the Pecan Pie flavor that you can get your sweaty little hands on, then go buy a deep freezer for your garage, then store a lifetime supply of this ice cream in said deep freezer, then you sir, are a moron. It is THAT good.

So there you go, Texas. Plenty of ice cream choices to get you through our Blue Bell drought and through our endless summer heat. My muffin top is now in prime shape. And while rumor has it that BB will be back in business soon, try some of these brands in the meantime and keep your fingers crossed.

I’d cross mine, but they’re currently busy doing more “research.”


This post was written by Wendi Aarons, extended-dance-mix writer and all-around swell human. Read more about Wendi right here. 


What To Plant In August

August 5, 2015

August is the least productive season in Central Texas … in almost every single way. And this is for sure true when it comes to gardening. There are a few vegetables that you can get going, but for the most part, ’tis the season to ride out the last of the tomatoes and peppers and just give the soil a freaking break.

It’s also a good month to plant seeds for the fall. I’m cleaning out beds and the garden, cutting back all the overgrown and now frying plants and getting ready for what’s next.


Seeds I’m planting this weekend in seed starter pots: broccoli, cauliflower, winter squash, kale, collards and varied greens. Find a place for them to grow that’s not too hot, but has bright sun in the morning and shade in the afternoon.


Beyond seeds, there just aren’t a ton of great things to start in August (September is a banner month, so save up for that.) But you can still start Sweet Potatoes for a few more weeks and Celery as well. Corn is good to start this month (from seed, directly into the ground) and it’s so pretty when it grows in the fall. Throw a scarecrow in it and you are full on for Fall for sure.

I mainly save August for herb freshen ups and starting seeds in seed starters. I always make sure I have plenty of Basil and Sage growing by now because basil = pesto (which is totally a Fall thing for me) and sage = sage butter and/or Thanksgiving dressing deluxe. So make sure that stuff gets going. Now’s as good a time as ever.


Mostly it’s a great month to be lazy. To gather your peppers and tomatoes while you may. And make a lot of salsa, to be consumed near a large body of water, if at all possible. Enjoy the fleeting summer and take a nap. You deserve it.

Paletas de Sandia + Watermelon Ice Cream

August 4, 2015

Summer tastes like paletas. Or paletas taste like summer. It depends upon where you grew up and how you look at things. As the world works, I’m sure they are available across the country, but walk outside any door and onto a street in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona or California, and if you stand there long enough (without passing out from the heat), someone will ask you if you’d like a paleta. And the correct answer is yes.

Paletas are extremely frozen popsicles made from fresh fruit and water…sometimes with sugar…but not much more. They are basically frozen agua frescas on a stick, a staple in southern states, and almost always pure and simple magic.


When I was younger, I would bribe my dad to take me to the Sac N Pac at the end of the street where they had a small freezer full of Michoacana paletas. At the time, I imagined the Michoacana company to be the most impressive company in all the land, headquartered in a castle-like Willy Wonka mansion full of magical frozen popsicles and love.

In actuality, it’s a bunch of mom and pop shops, which is of course even better.

Michoacana is a toponym, meaning someone or something from the state of Michoacán in western Mexico. But the name is used in virtually every state of the country, and it is not because it’s a national chain. In one very small town in the Huasteca region of Veracruz, I counted six paleterías named La Michoacana within a three-square-block area.

Read more about this on The Austin Chronicle. It’s a great article.


As an adult, I now bribe myself to go up the street to the Market 150, where they have a small freezer full of my current favorites from Austin-based La Super Michoacana.  This is one of the delights of the summer. Walking through a glass door, from epic heat into a boxed room of AC cold that smells like bubble gum, rubber tires and cooler contents. And inside, across the tiled isles, a freezer full of frozen bits of watermelon juice.

As I’ve mentioned, I don’t think that watermelon can be improved upon or even should be attempted to, but considering Michoacana paletas, I was willing to look into Salted Watermelon ice cream.


Lick ice cream in Austin has featured a version of this. And I found this great no-churn recipe, but I want to make some in my ice cream maker that only includes the following ingredients: watermelon, cream/milk, sugar, mint and salt. I attempted some before I left for the beach, but I wasn’t able to execute it in a way that I’m happy about…let’s just say a little mint goes a long way. Ironically, an attempt to use the fewest and simplest ingredients sometimes becomes the most challenging, until you get it right. In the meantime, this watermelon ice cream recipe is pretty good. If I can create what I have in mind, and get the consistency and flavor right, I’ll share it here. In the meantime, here are a few hacks.


Enter Topo Chico. Make your favorite version of watermelon ice cream, add Topo Chico with Lime and some fresh mint…


…And you have an Agua Fresca Salted Watermelon Ice Cream float. Whoa. Good. Or, look what I found here…


This watermelon soda tastes like the 70s. This is possibly because it’s made up of very seventiesesque ingredients… no high-fructose anything… just carbonated water, pure cane sugar, a preservative, natural and artificial flavors and the dreaded Red 40. That’s really it, and if you can handle some artificial, I highly recommend picking these up.

If you’re in Texas, any H.E.B. grocery store has them right now. If you live elsewhere, you can probably find something similar in a spot near you. These old school bad boys taste like the 1980s watermelon Jolly Rancher sticks we used to hide under our pillows at summer camp, only in a fizzy water format. Add some vanilla ice cream, some mint, and a little rum for the adults, and you’ve got yourself a sample of frozen summer in a glass.


You won’t be disappointed.

The end of summer typically brings a heat wave of slight nostalgia for me. An attempt to recreate childhood summer vacations, flavors of August and lazy summer days. As is often the case, the less we try the easier it comes. The less ingredients the better.  Paletas de sandia and watermelon frozen treats do the trick for me.

Agua de Sandia / Watermelon Agua Fresca

August 3, 2015

Someone mentioned that it’s National Watermelon Day. Which really means nothing except that you should probably be eating watermelon as much as possible for the next month or two because, hand to heaven, it is hot outside.


I’m not a big fan of dressing up watermelon too much. Watermelon margaritas, no. Watermelon frou-frou overdone recipes, hell no. Plain watermelon with a dash of salt on top is just about perfection. That said, I did try out a salted watermelon ice cream recipe (because it’s also national ice cream year…okay maybe not, but it should be) over the weekend, and it was pretty great concept. More about that in the next post.

But back to now. Now, the one thing I think is great to throw in the summer line up is agua fresca. Specifically agua de sandia. Watermelon water. Here’s what you’ll need.


Here’s What You’ll Need

4 cups of watermelon

3 cups of Topo Chico con Lime

(If you don’t have that, just use water.)

The juice from one lime

1 tablespoon of sugar


Here’s the deal with Topo Chico. It’s just the best. It is basically just fizzy water, it tastes great, and I hear it’s magic for hangovers. This may be just a thing you can pick up anywhere in Texas (Can you find it everywhere in other places?) Or you can get it on Amazon. This summer, I was introduced to Topo Chico with lime (Thank you, Brooks family) and it wins all the other Topo Chico contests. So look into that. I highly recommend that you drink it whenever possible.


Here’s What You’ll Do

All you do is mix up all four ingredients listed above in a blender. My blender is crap, so I chop up/blend the watermelon in my little food processor chopper and then put that slushed watermelon into the blender. It’s just easier for all involved.


And done. Agua fresca is served. It’s the easiest thing ever. And it goes great with tacos. Or sandwiches. Or anything really. Top it with some vodka or rum and you have yourself a boozy slushy agua de sandia beach party. Or just grab a watermelon and some salt. That works too.

Happy watermeloning!