hello there!

It’s me! I’m still here, but mostly I’m over here, at www.nataliesanluis.com. I’m preparing to graduate (finishing my thesis, looking for jobs, drowning my existential angst in baked goods and wine), so I normally only cook on weekends.

But I’ve still been eating, of course, and I have pictures to prove it. I know you only look at the pictures anyway.

2012-09-11 09.59.03 2012-09-29 18.24.43 2012-09-29 23.03.11 2012-11-10 22.19.38 2012-12-20 14.41.32 2012-12-20 14.52.12 2013-01-05 20.19.42 2013-03-13 20.59.27 2013-03-31 10.30.48 2013-04-01 19.14.00

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i’m around

I am back from Paris and have moved into the Little Green House (LGH [#LGH]). My life is busy, but mostly with great things. Here are some pictures.

Brunch at Contigo for Jenny’s 21st birthday

This also happened. Not shown: fireball whiskey

Lately I have been in a constant state of gin-and-tonic making/drinking

I have a problem

I ate it

Also, I have a well-stocked wet bar now. Prepare for mixology.

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One Friday, I took a train from Milan to Rome to spend 36 hours in the Eternal City.

To be completely honest, I spent a bit of time finding somewhere that felt right in Rome. As a tourist I understand both the hypocrisy and pointlessness of criticizing tourists for being touristy; I, too, took pictures of the Coloseum and threw a Euro into the Trevi fountain and walked to the Pantheon. But it didn’t take long for me to become irritated with crowds of families decked out in American flag garb. I reached the apex of my frustration when I sat down for a glass of wine at a restaurant in front of the Monumento a Vittorio Emmanuelle and was handed a menu boasting of frozen pasta selections.

Luckily, sightseeing in crowded places isn’t really my traveling style anyway. So I started my first and only full day in Rome by taking the metro to Testaccio (Piramide stop), a neighborhood a little off the beaten path known for its outdoor market and incredible food. Testaccio cooks were preparing offal-based dishes before they were cool: the population once was composed primarily of poor stockyard workers.

My first stop in Testaccio was Gastronomia Volpetti, a shop with meats, cheeses, pastries, olives, wines, fresh pasta, and coffee. It smelled like a million paradises crammed into one tiny shop. I looked around for a bit and bought a calzone with spinach and cheese, which I ate on the way to Testaccio’s famous outdoor market.

There are very few things that I enjoy more than an open-air market, and they either consist of butter and sugar or are inappropriate to put on the blog. Any time I travel, I do my best to seek one out. It’s a great way to find local produce and get a taste of the culture. Testaccio’s market was split between produce stands, butchers, and a flea market. I bought a peach and walked around.

My next stop was Trattoria Checchino dal 1887. I forget what type of cheeses were used for these dishes, but I hadn’t had them before. Obviously the riagtoni and pesto were absolutely perfect.

A brief aside: do you eat alone often (hey all you people who don’t click hyperlinks — click this one)? I always intend to take myself on dates, but I never end up doing it. While I ate, I sipped a glass of wine, wrote in my travel journal, and took my time. This was the first of many hour-long, solo meals in Europe, and when I get back, I’m going to keep making time for them every couple of weeks.

I spent the evening walking through Villa Borghese, a giant heart-shaped park. It was one of the most romantic places I’ve ever been, and dozens of couples around me thought so too. I had a special moment with some tomatoes, bread, cheese, and The Sun Also Rises on a bench near a fountain. The night ended with gelato, eaten while sitting on some stone steps and watching a lengthy, dramatic gypsy fight. And those were my 36 hours in Rome.

Click for photo source

Roma travel tips:

  • Spend some time walking around and seeing the sights, but do some research and find some things to do out of the center of town.
  • If a restaurant is near a monument or tourist attraction, you probably don’t want to eat there.
  • If someone is yelling at you from the street to come eat in their restaurant, you definitely don’t want to eat there.
  • Treat yo self to a nice meal alone (and I’m not talking about a veggie burger eaten standing up over the sink while watching Arrested Development) (although there’s a time and place for those meals too).
Posted in advice, bread, entree, Europe Adventure 2012, pasta, photos, restaurant review, vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments


Imagine this: one morning, a sweet blonde girl wakes you up by nudging you gently and placing a buttery pastry filled with Nutella in front of your face. How do you respond to a gesture like that, other than gazing up into her beautiful eyes and asking if she might move in with you in August?

All of the above really happened, more or less. After London, I flew to Milan, Italy to meet my dear friend (and future housemate) Kelsey. We spent the next couple of days traipsing around the city, scaling the Duomo, and eating incredible food while tan, well-dressed men called us beautiful and professed their love. Kelsey said something at one point that really hit home: “I don’t worry about seeing everything in Italia when I come here, because I know I’ll be back.”

Italy is beautiful. The people are warm. The food is fresh and flavorful. The wine is goooood wine. The coffee is inexpensive and delicious. The blondes are pastry-bearing.

We watched the Eurocup Italia vs. Deutschland game in the Duomo Piazza. I don’t even know how to describe what it was like. When Italy scored the first goal, the entire piazza immediately turned into a moshpit of joy. I was embraced by a few sweaty dudes, people lit fireworks, and beer rained down from the heavens. Italians are passionate, beautiful people, especially when a shirtless Ballotelli is involved.

Here are a few things I ate and loved in Milan:

  • Peck, a gourmet food store recommended by David Lebovitz. Fresh produce, expensive truffles, and a great meat and cheese selection. We ate panini at the caffè upstairs. Our waiter encouraged me to try the “best cappucino in Italy,” so I did. Worth it.

  • I was blown away by how readily available, delicious, and inexpensive Italian coffee was. I’m not afraid to admit my coffee addiction; wandering around looking for a macchiato was a necessity. I always kept my eye out for a caffè (sometimes they call them bars) with outdoor seating and old Italian men reading the newspaper.

  • Gelato from Cioccolati Italiani (Via de Amicis, 25): easily one of the top ten best things I’ve ever eaten. Kelsey’s friend recommended this gelateria, located just down the street from the Duomo. If I could take anything back to America with me, this would be it. The dark chocolate was absolutely incredible, especially when served in a cone coated in chocolate from their chocolate fountains.

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In the moments before I boarded my flight to London, I wrote the following in my travel journal: “I’m spending a week in London and Italy, then a month in Paris, and if I’m being completely honest, I’m terrified. Excited, but also terrified.” My nervousness didn’t subside when the plane left the tarmac, and it was definitely still plaguing me above the Atlantic Ocean. As I schlepped sixty pounds of luggage onto and off the Tube, then down a sketchy street in East London, my excitement was building, but my fears weren’t diminishing proportionally.

So after I settled in, I rode the subway back to the middle of the city, and I got off at Westminster. I walked to the stairs and climbed toward the exit, and when I got to street level, I stopped. At that moment, I completely forgot that I was thousands of miles away from literally everyone I knew. This is the first picture I took in Europe:

There’s something truly incredible about emerging from a dirty underground station to finding something monumental or ancient or pristine or beautiful staring back at you. Since I first saw Big Ben about a week ago, I’ve experienced that stand-there-mouth-open-blinking-like-an-American amazement several times. I can’t quite describe it accurately, but then again, I’m glad no one told me about it.

The London Eye

I spent most of my time in London walking around aimlessly, which is a travel technique that I highly recommend. At one point, I almost thought I was lost, but then I followed a sidewalk to an open gate, beyond* which was a beautiful park, which I walked through to find Buckingham Palace. I set a loose structure and to-do list for my day, but spent the majority of time going where I felt like going. At one point, I ended up at the Tate Modern; when it closed, I read a book on the museum’s lawn on the bank of the River Thames for an hour.

*Originally I typed “beyonce.” My mind’s auto-correct clearly prioritizes the words I use more frequently.

These are the things I ate:

Strawberries from a stand at Portobello Market. Portobello Market is a market (doy) in Notting Hill. Lots of fresh produce stands, vintage stuff, and kitschy tourist things.

A Posh Sausage Sandwich (sausage, smoked applewood cheese, portobello mushroom, and red onion chutney) from The Breakfast Club. Meat, y’all. I ate it. It was alright, but nothing to write home about. Still don’t dig it, but I’m trying to eat whatever I want here. Lesson learned: I don’t want any more sausage.

Fish and chips from Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. This pub (built in the 13th century!) was really awesome–it’s set up like a winding cellar with dining areas on the way down. The fish and chips were overpriced and bland, but I ordered it over more intriguing menu items because I figured I had to have the fish-and-chips experience. I didn’t. Alas.

I hunted down some street art by Banksy. This was in a sketch alley about a block away from Savile Row.

The First Kitchen’s London Travel Tips:

  • Portobello Market: go there.
  • Wander: across the River Thames, to the London Eye, back across the river, through Whitehall Garden, to Buckingham Palace.
  • The Tate Modern is one of London’s many museums you can visit for free. Take advantage of that. They have a Kandinsky, a Dali, and a Judd, just to name a few.
  • Eat where I ate, but eat what sounds good, not what you think a tourist should eat.
  • Don’t take EasyBus.

From a secondhand bookstore in Notting Hill. I dropped 20€ on books before I realized that I had to tote them around all day.

Posted in advice, Europe Adventure 2012, my life, photos | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

are you still doing that blog thing? + beet and citrus salad

Wow! I suck at blogging! I kvetched all semester about how I couldn’t maintain TFK because I had no free time, but I haven’t sat in a classroom in over a month and you’re still looking at pictures of muffins.

I went to Mt. Bonnell for the first time. It was incredible. I took a very small picture.

I am still doing this blog thing, I think. It’s obviously been on the back burner for a while, and will continue to be during the summer: I’m about to leave for Europe for six weeks. But I’m still going to try to post when I can, so stay tuned if you like looking at pictures of the food I eat both here and abroad.

I started watching Mad Men. It was boring. Mad Men parties, on the other hand, are wonderful.

Despite my absence from the blog, I’ve actually been relatively busy this summer. I haven’t had a summer to do whatever I want to do since middle school. In high school, I spent my summers at (nerd alert) debate camps; since college started, I’ve been working and going to school full time, all the time. These weeks of free time have been a very welcome change. Since classes ended, I’ve spent almost every day reading, playing pool, drinking, hanging out with friends, watching Community, going to movies in the park, hanging out in coffee shops, catching up with my parents, and neglecting to plan (hashtag) Europe Adventure 2012.

Mexican martinis occasionally bring tears to my eyes

Vegan early grey soft serve from Sweet Ritual

I drink iced coffee at least once a day now.

Once I also made a beet and citrus salad. Grapefruit is out of season now, but this would be incredible with blackberries and a blackberry vinaigrette.

Beet and Citrus Salad (serves one)

I don’t have a recipe for this. Basically, I roasted a beet (wash it, wrap it in foil, roast at 450 for 30-40 minutes, peel, slice). Then, I made a salad out of green things, walnuts, red peppers, the beet, an avocado, and grapefruit. Then, I made a vinaigrette using grapefruit juice, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil. The end.

Posted in entree, fruit, my life, photos, salad, vegan, vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

grapefruit olive oil muffins

*Check out my guest post at Cheekyness today about co-ops!*

In case you haven’t picked up on it in the past few posts, this semester has been an exercise in stress management. I’ve always lived a stressful existence, and I kind of like it most of the time. I thrive under pressure. I’m just not used to crushing, overwhelming pressure (which is dimensionally equivalent to mass over time squared times length), or debilitating tension (which is dimensionally equivalent to mass times acceleration).

one of my friends once told me I eat grapefruit like a sea urchin

For the past few months, I’ve been exploring different ways to deal with my stress. There’s always beer, and I do enjoy a pint or two on a Thursday night (or, in some cases, a Thursday afternoon, in the 45 minutes between class and work). I also tried out burning off stress at the gym, but sometimes it’s hard to exercise after that first beer.

So I’ve started Sanity Baking. My friend Jenny introduced me to the concept of Sanity Baking, her favorite method of dealing with phy666 stress. And when my co-op acquired a Kitchenaid mixer, I felt like the Sanity Baking gods were… reaching their (lady)fingers down to… soften my butter to room temperature… so to speak (I can’t even defend the words that come out of my head anymore) (note: Sanity Baking doesn’t always make you sane).

Anyway, muffins.

Grapefruit Olive Oil Muffins. Yields 18 muffins. These are only faintly sweet, so feel free to up the sugar by a little bit.

2 grapefruits
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup buttermilk
3 large eggs
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup whole-wheat flour
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup oatmeal
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt

Preheat the oven to 350F. Zest both grapefruits. In a mixing bowl, combine the zest and sugar by rubbing the zest into the sugar. Add the juice of one half of a grapefruit, buttermilk, eggs, and olive oil, and stir to combine.

Sing along if you know the words:
Sift the dry ingredients (if you are Jenny. Or dump them in the Kitchenaid, if you are me). Combine wet and dry, mix well, pour into a muffin tin lined with those muffin things. Sprinkle with brown sugar and oatmeal (optional). Bake for 16-18 minutes (long enough to do about one-eighth of a physics problem).

Posted in 5 ingredients or less, Austin Food Blogger Alliance, breakfast, dessert, nuts, side dish, vegetable, vegetarian | 7 Comments

breathing deeply

eating lunch at New World Deli

Normally, I begin each semester with new pens; fresh, empty notebook pages; a brand-new nalgene bottle to replace the one I left at the gym/library/auditorium. I have goals: do assigned reading before class! don’t procrastinate! do all the yoga! Inevitably, I end up slipping back into old habits, but at least I give it the old college try.

developing a close relationship with Avalon's new Kitchenaid

This semester was different. On the first day of classes, I moved out of my old apartment and into a co-op because I had started a new phase of my life (if you haven’t caught on, that’s a diplomatic way to say “I’m single now”). Due to several factors, I was already up to my neck in financial issues, relationship issues, and emotional issues; on top of that, I’m enrolled in some of the most difficult, time-intensive classes I’ve ever taken. Did I mention I’m also working at both the writing center and a marketing company? Any of these things, on their own, are problems that I can address and deal with, then move on. But on January 17, staring down months upon months of exhaustion and work, I had already started to raise my white flag. I give up. I throw in the towel. Someone else take the wheel.

hanging out with audre lorde and stovetop espresso

For two weeks, I felt helpless. I dreaded dragging myself to school. I lost and gained weight. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t establish a routine that felt right. I had taken on too much, but there was nothing I could really afford to give up. Here are some things I did at the beginning of the semester: cried in the shower (at least three times), ate half a pan of brownies… in bed, went to my professor’s office hours just to tell him that I’m way too stupid for his class.

And then one day, I decided: I will not feel like this anymore. I will not let this semester ruin this semester. I will survive these months.

building a bed (with much help from a friend)

Every time I felt overwhelmed, I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Every time I had to deal with someone who was taking advantage of me, I took a deep breath and let it out slowly (and probably told them to screw off). Every time I needed a break or a cookie or a hug from someone, I took a deep breath and let it out slowly and then I went and got it.

For the first time in a very long time, I am finally giving myself permission to put myself first.

partying with housemates

I’m giving myself permission to stop going to the gym every single damn day. I’m also giving myself permission to skip the occasional discussion section if I want to exercise muscles that aren’t located in my skull.

predicting my future using college M.A.S.H.

I’m giving myself permission to read, and I’m giving myself permission to not read for an entire week if I have to.

I’m giving myself permission to stop trying to please everyone, all the time.

getting pizza and donuts with friends

I’m giving myself permission to go out for $1 beers at The Local, even if I haven’t finished my physics homework yet.

And lastly, I’m giving myself permission to let the blog go a little bit. I’ll update when I can, but my list of priorities and obligations is long, and The First Kitchen is toward the bottom this semester.

spending quality time in the garden

I guess I’m writing this to explain why I haven’t been around much, but also because I’ve learned something important and I kind of wanted to tell you about it. Ironically, since I stopped worrying as much, my stress levels have gone down, my grades have gone up, and I have become truly, genuinely happy with my life. The pictures in this post are the things I’ve made time to do because I’ve rearranged my priorities. You can’t see it, but the girl behind the camera (cough Instagram) is smiling in every one.

except for this one. you can definitely see the smile in this one.

Posted in advice, my life, photos | 9 Comments

tofu scramble

I rarely make breakfast, but when I do, I don’t mess around. Making breakfast means leisure. If I have the time to make breakfast, it means that I’m not being assaulted by my responsibilities from all sides 24/7. I break out the French press. I sit down with a plate and a fork and possibly a book. I don’t half-ass breakfast.

But most of the time, I skip the most important meal of the day. Too often, I find myself biking to class with coffee in one hand hoping I don’t have to use the brakes. Sometimes I remember to throw an orange into my backpack. Most times not.

So in my attempts to balance a healthy lifestyle with my overcommitted, stressful, sleep-deprived reality, I’ve been trying out breakfast foods that are high-protein that don’t take forever to make. Eggs are always an option, but a beezy can’t live on eggs alone (thus saith the Lord). My go-to breakfast has become a tofu scramble. If you’re weary about tofu but like eggs, this is a good recipe to try–the tofu takes on the flavor of the spices and vegetables without the skeevy wet texture of scrambled eggs. Also, it’s vegan (cruelty-free!). Tofu scrambles also re-heat a lot better than eggs, so it’s great if you, say, have a physics test this week and can’t afford to cook longer than the 45 seconds it takes to stand next to a microwave.

Tofu Scramble. Serves 2-3.

1 block of tofu (I think 14 oz.?), drained and pressed
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 an onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
1/2 a zucchini, chopped
a handful of sliced mushrooms
1-2 c. chopped greens (spinach works great)
Spices: I used 1 tsp. cumin, 1 tsp. chili powder, 1 tsp. chipotle powder, and 1 tsp. turmeric, as well as salt and pepper. Combine in a small bowl.

Heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Saute veggies for 3-4 minutes. Add the mushrooms and tofu, crumbling the tofu with your hands. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the spices and greens, then cook for another 3 minutes.

Posted in breakfast, entree, gluten-free, vegan, vegetable, vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

local brew fest and black star co-op

I’m just going to start out by saying that this post is about an event that happened a month and a half ago. I’m really busy. My life is twelve kinds of crazy right now. I just moved into a new (really awesome) place, I’m trying to balance school and work, and my life has been consumed by Plan II Physics. I barely have time to sit down anymore… but I do try to sit down at least once a week, and when I do, it’s usually with a beer.

That’s why I was super pumped to get a pass to Austin’s Local Brew Fest at Black Star Co-op. About 15 local breweries (beer, kombucha, and cider) were there, as well as Red Rabbit Bakery, Pure Luck Dairy, and Wheatsville with delicious snackies.

My hands-down favorite beer at the festival was Real Ale’s coffee porter. It’s brewed with coffee from a local roaster, and the coffee flavor is notable but not overbearing. It’s also not too heavy, which is wonderful.

The runner up was Black Star’s Recalcitrant Dockhand, another malty, dark beer. This was the only Black Star beer I tried, but I’m definitely coming back soon. Black Star is both a pub and a brewery, and the atmosphere is super laid-back and relaxing. Their food looks delicious as well.

Of the food offered, Pure Luck chevre was easily the best thing I tasted. That should come as no surprise; I love Pure Luck, and I would gladly eat anything covered in goat cheese.

When I was in New York (recap to come), I noticed that the bars didn’t offer as many local craft brews. I really love that the greater Austin area has a strong craft brew community. Both of the beerfests I’ve been to have been incredibly fun; the brewers are always super friendly and happy to answer questions. I don’t always buy local, but with so many great breweries so close, drinking local is a must for Austinites.

Posted in advice, beverage, photos | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments