Monday, February 17, 2020

A Cheap Foodie's Guide to SXSW - SXSW 2020 Free Stuff!


It's February, and we all know what that means... brace yourselves, SXSW is coming!

For those who are new to the area or have no idea what I'm talking about, SXSW, or South by Southwest, is our biggest festival of the year in Austin, Texas. The festival and conference lasts about two weeks in mid-March. During this time, Austin is overrun with tourists, brands, and most of all PARTIES.

I've lived in Austin for six years, and have attended SXSW in some capacity nearly every year. From working for a brand, to having a full badge, to getting a press pass, and NEVER having much of a budget, I've gotten the full experience. And mostly, it's been a free SXSW experience.

Read on for my suggestions on how to have the best SXSW experience on a budget! Or even FREE!

Pick Your Experience
There are four tracks to SXSW: Education, Interactive, Film, and Music. The majority of the first two are filled with teachers or business people who were sent by their employers, and the other two are filled with people looking to see the best new films or their favorite up-and-coming recording artist.

You can purchase and individual badge, or a platinum that gives you access to everything. What not everyone realizes is that ANY badge will give you secondary access to any of the branded events. So, for example if I have a Music Badge I get first priority for Music events, but I can still get into any Interactive or Film event before it's opened to the general public. Considering the steep cost of the badges, pick the track you're most interested in and don't get Platinum if you're paying your own way.

My REAL tip? DON'T buy ANY badge. There is plenty to do without needing to drop over $1000 on a badge alone (after all, flights to Austin nearly triple during March). Read on for my tips on what you can do for FREE!

Know What's Free
There is more than enough to do during the festival that doesn't require a badge, but each track seems to have its own benefits for what is free. Here's what I've found to be true of the free SXSW experience:

Innovation: Brands take over the city and provide free swag, food, and open bars to those partying during the festival. There's also often tons of local music playing. You can literally keep your food and drink budget to pennies a day if you know how to sniff out the brand parties!

Music and Film: The freebies during these tracks will mostly be free shows and screenings. Most of Austin takes advantage of the influx of people to showcase local music in smaller venues across town. Occasionally you can find free swag or food/drinks, but for the most part the show IS the prize, and the venues want to charge for what they can.

Education: Nothing, really. Sorry. This track seems to be purely business, and since it's the first track in the festival, things haven't really started up yet. There might be included parties, but not much outside the actual festival.

Sometimes you run into your favorite YouTube celebrities!

But how do you FIND the free stuff? People often underestimate how truly overwhelming SXSW can be. Make sure you've downloaded the following apps to make your way around and hit up all the free spaces.

  • The SXSW App: Even if you don't have a badge, you can use the app to sign up for official events that are badgeless. The app lets you build your schedule and reminds you when events are coming up.
  • Do512: If you're not from around here, you may not know about Do512. Basically, it's our go-to resource for all events! Simply download the app, create an account, search "Free SXSW" and RSVP for any events that look interesting.
  • RSVPster For a small fee, you can get RSVP'd to all free events and unofficial SXSW parties via this service.
  • Twitter: Follow the following hashtags:  #sxlines #sxdrinks #sxnoms #sxfree #sxswag. This is the BEST way, throughout the fest, to see where the free food, drinks, and swag are, but also where the lines are shortest! Posters will also often tag if a badge is required.

Other Tips and Tricks

Stay Near the Action - As much as you can afford, anyway. Austin's public transport is nowhere near sustainable for us on a normal day, so you'll be relying on peak-pricing Ubers and Lyfts if you don't choose a spot within walking distance. And if you need to stay outside of downtown, factor in time for traffic. Again, it's bad on a normal day, during our biggest event it'll be even worse.

Don't Just Visit on the Weekend - Weekdays are your best bet for the shortest lines and best experience. On the weekend, the crowd doubles with working locals who want to get in on the fun. If you're local, try to take at least a day off to get the full experience before the lines get insane.

Pace Yourself - It's a large festival that spans the entire city, and Austin can get HOT in the Spring. Even outside of downtown, the rest of Austin wants to enjoy the influx of tourists, or the influx of locals wanting to get out of downtown. Especially if you're hopping from free event to free event, you may be covering ten city blocks between each spot. Wear comfortable shoes, bring a backpack for freebies, and try to plot out your schedule so that you don't have to rush long distances in a short timeframe. Oh, and water is your friend. Luckily, if you've forgotten one, it's a popular swag item you can snag pretty easily.

Have a Back Up Plan - Even with a badge, popular events fill up quickly. I once got in line for an Assscat show two hours ahead of time and still didn't get in. SXSW isn't really about just seeing your favorite bands, films, etc. It's about discovering new things. Do your research and have a backup plan in case your favorite event fills up before you get there.

Create a dummy email - Most free things require you selling your soul--err, I mean your email address--as an entry fee. If you don't want to be flooded with marketing emails after the festival, create a specific email just for the event RSVPs. You'll thank me later.

Take Time to Explore - Austin is so much more than just downtown. If you can, take time to get outside of the tall buildings and see the rest of the city! Check out the breweries on Metric, take a Fredericksburg wine tour, jump in Barton Springs or Deep Eddy, explore the Cathedral of Junk, or rent a car and try the world-famous Salt Lick in Dripping Springs!

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Keep It Weird Austin Winters - French Onion Soup Recipe with Vegetarian Option


Happy February, everyone! I suddenly had a craving for a warm bowl of soup and thought I'd share my favorite recipe (now updated with vegetarian substitutions!) for one of my favorite soups.

As a New Englander, I thought that up North we had the most haphazard weather; freezing one minute, hot the next, rain, sun, thunderstorms in the same day, winter too long and summer too short. But Austin is definitely giving it a run for its money.

The sun makes me happy,
and so does my favorite dress.

In the past week in Austin I've been able to wear a winter coat and a sun dress. IT EVEN FRIGGIN SNOWED! It's been 30s and it's been near 70. I went from living in an endless winter to enjoying a sort-of winter with bits of summer in between.

Hey, I'm not complaining. That's why I moved here! I need the sun, I like it popping in to say hello like this. The days of the week I can bask in the sun like a cat are worth the days I have to turn up the heat and curl up WITH my cats (and dog) instead.

And if I have this soup, all the better.

Just look. at. that. CHEESE!

This recipe is a combination of what my mother-in-law showed me over one Christmas, and Alton Brown's dummy-proof recipe. Plus my own little flair, as always, and some substitutions to make it meat-free. The result was pretty fantastic, and I highly recommend you make this the next time a chill comes through. Bursting with flavor, paired with toasty bread and gooey cheese. Delicious.

French Onion Soup
(Loosely based on Alton Brown's recipe)
  • 5 yellow onions (or a combination of yellow and red), sliced to 1/4" thick
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 2 cups mild red wine
  • 5 cups beef broth (or vegetable broth)
  • 2 chicken stock cubes
  • 1 tbsp sherry vinegar
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce (or use a vegetarian version or soy sauce)
  • 1 sprig thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp dried or fresh chopped parsley
  • 4 slices baguette, toasted and brushed with butter
  • 4 slices provolone cheese
-In a large dutch oven or large heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Once melted, add a layer of onions and sprinkle with salt. Continue until all onions are in the Dutch oven.

-Cover the dutch oven and let onions sweat for at least 15 minutes. After the onions look shiny and wet, gently stir. Add the pepper and sugar. Let cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are deep caramel in color.

-Once onions have reduced to about two cups, pour in the wine. Turn heat to high. Let the wine reduce until thick, about 7 minutes or so.

-Add the broth, stock cubes, sherry vinegar, Worcestershire or soy sauce, thyme, bay leaves, and parsley. Simmer for 20 minutes.

-Remove thyme and bay leaves. Heat oven to broil.

-Pour into four croques or heat-save bowls set on a cookie sheet. Place bread and a slice of provalone over each. Broil until cheese is bubbly. Serve hot.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

What to Do in Austin - the First Time Texas Experience


Hi there and welcome to my new little series "What to do in Austin" the Forking Up edition! In the next few posts I'll be detailing out my favorite suggestions for what to do in Austin, based on what kind of trip you're hoping to have. I hope you'll enjoy reading these new Austin travel guides as much as I enjoyed writing them.

I'm starting with my guide for First Time Visitors to Texas! While Austin is a bit different than other Texan cities (we like to "Keep Austin Weird!") you can certainly find your fair share of good old fashioned Southern fun in our great city. Read on for my suggestions on what to do on your first visit to Austin!

The First-Time Texas Experience Travel Guide

Tamale House East - An Austin institution. The original has sadly shuttered its doors, but the family keeps the East location hopping. There isn't anywhere better to grab brunch, or stop by for a hearty lunch with the titular tamale. The ambiance is wonderful, the patio is gorgeous, and the food is delicious. A perfect start to your Austin adventure!
Location: 1707 E 6th St, Austin, TX

Allen's Boots and Cavender's - enter Allen's Boots on South Congress and breathe in the deep leather scent of the wares lining the shelves. Have a complimentary drink while you browse boots that cost half my rent. If you're able to shell out the cash, it's the ultimate Texas souvenir. If your wallet is more like mine though, head over to any one of the Cavender's locations in town for a stylish pair of boots that won't break the bank.
Location: Multiple, check websites for Allen's and Cavender's

The Capitol - The Texas State Capitol building seems to shine like a beacon at the end of South Congress, which in part is due to the fact that surrounding buildings cannot be taller within a certain radius. It's free to explore, and while there isn't much to actually do there, you can admire the gorgeous architecture inside.
Location: 1100 Congress Ave, Austin, TX

Salt Lick  - Truth be told, there is better BBQ within city limits. If you have a whole morning to spare, maybe try your hand at waiting in the endless Franklin's line for a taste of the city's favorite. But there truly is no better Texas EXPERIENCE than a drive out to the original Salt Lick in Driftwood. The wait will be long, but it's made better by live music and popcorn and lemonade while you wait. Once you enter you're greeted with an open pit, stuffed with every smoked meat your little heart desires. Get a little bit of everything with the Thurman's Choice platter.
Location: 18300 Farm to Market Rd 1826, Driftwood, TX, or check their website for more locations

The Oasis - I remember the first time I visited, The Oasis seemed like a ghost town. It's set up like an outdoor mall, but most storefronts were empty. The joke was that you didn't go there for food, you went for the view. These days the storefronts are open again, with multiple options for food, drink, and shopping. While the food is fine, it's still my suggestion to watch the sunset on Lake Travis with a few drinks and maybe some chips and salsa. For the Instagram crowd, you'll find plenty of photo ops with a gorgeous view of the lake.
Location: 6550 Comanche Trail, Austin, TX check website for menu

Maverick's and Broken Spoke - Let's talk true Texan nightlife! Are you looking for some serious country music? Want to break in those new boots? Then you'll have a blast at either of these dance halls, known for their live music and two stepping. Grab a pint of Lonestar and your favorite dance partner and hit Maverick's for a younger crowd and rowdier time, or Broken Spoke for a slice of Austin tradition and a more laid back (but still fun!) good time.
Location: Maverick's (multiple, see website) and Broken Spoke 3201 S Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX

Did you enjoy my Austin Travel Guide? Locals, what am I missing? Let me know in the comments!