Thursday, July 31, 2014

Review: Cornucopia Popcorn (and Plum District's $15 for $30 deal)

When we moved into the Nuthaus last year, Cornucopia was right across the street, tucked into a convenient-to-us location right behind Veggie Heaven (of which James and I have grown extremely fond). However, if one did not live near the UT campus and had to drive to Cornucopia's former shop, getting there was extremely frustrating.

Back when D and I first moved here and lived in the RV, we wanted to visit Cornucopia and had never driven on Guadalupe before. We approached it from the south, turning onto Guadalupe off of MLK, and traffic was so backed up that we couldn't turn left into the parking lot. Then we realized that you can't turn left on most of the streets when you're heading north past campus. After having spent more than half an hour driving two miles, I gave up and we had to go back again a different time.

For this reason, I understand why they moved. It kind of stinks that we can't walk over anymore, especially on free sample days, but the newer location at 32nd and Red River is still here in the 'hood, and it's a lot bigger and brighter. AND it was busier when I visited today than I ever saw it here. It's actually just on the northeast side of campus now instead of the southwest side.

I love flavored popcorn, and Cornucopia does the flavors they produce well. They have some pretty standard choices, like confetti or kettle corn or cheddar, but they also create their own flavors, have a few signature recipes, and feature seasonal choices as well.

For instance, this vegan corn is made with a "secret blend" of spices, garlic, and sea salt. The garlic gives it a bite so that it almost tastes spicy, but not too much so (which I wouldn't like).

Cornucopia has four "categories" of popcorn: seasoned (including the Veggie Green Corn, Creamy Jalapeno Ranch, and Texas Chili, among others), candied (Salted Toffee, Cinnamon Toast, and Red Hots), Chocolate (S'mores, Chocolate Covered Cherry, and Birthday Cake), and Vegan (which includes any of the other three selections which are also vegan). The chocolate popcorn costs more because it actually includes a drizzling of either chocolate, white chocolate, or peanut butter, or the inclusion of mini M&Ms.

They also have these sample cups that you can see at the bottom of the picture above. With them, you can try any of the flavors they have out. Probably a good 65% or more of the stock is available for sampling, which can really help when you don't know what the difference might be between Chili Lime and Texas Chili.

There are a variety if sizes and options, and they'd actually deliver to us for $3 on an order of $30 or more. Also, on Wednesdays between 4 and 6, they have kid-sized bags for $1 (limit two, normally $2.25).

Today, we decided on a 2 gallon tin and here's why: Right now on Plum District, you can get a certificate for $30 to spend at Cornucopia for just $15. The 2 gallon tin is priced at $33. The great thing about the tins is that they can be refilled for "half price" FOR LIFE. So whenever we want to go back in and get two gallons of popcorn, it will be $16.50. There are 32 cups in two gallons of popcorn, and to purchase it in bags would cost about $23, so the tin does offer a savings on refills. And since we got the tin for $18.25 total (plus a small tip for the guy who helped us), it was even a savings the first time with the fabulous coupon!

I don't know how long the coupon will be available to buy, but you can use it online or in the store through the end of November.

I peaked into the back room. I want a bean bag chair made out of popcorn. Then I'd have the Jim Gaffigan/Cinnabon conundrum: "I don't know whether to sit on it or eat it!.. I'll sit on it AND eat it!"

Instead, we got a beautifully-decorated tin. (I also got a sticker for my computer, a refrigerator magnet, and a bumper sticker, which are all free but you can only take one.)

The popcorn is sectioned off and sealed inside of a bag both to preserve freshness and, I'm guessing, to keep the tin from getting dirty and therefore requiring washing.

Clockwise from the top left: Veggie Green Corn, Loaded Baked Potato, Pink Lemonade (a summer flavor, very tart in addition to being sweet), and Mexican Hot Chocolate (cinnamon with ancho chili and chocolate drizzle). I'm pretty sure the guy could/should have charged us extra for the chocolate flavor, but he didn't.

If you like flavored popcorn, Cornucopia's a good, local choice. And if you've ever thought about buying a tin (which I have considered for over a year), the coupon makes this the PERFECT time to invest in one!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Review: Patticake Vegan Cupcakery (with Amazon Local deal!)

This weekend, I saw a deal on Amazon Local: $10 for $20 to spend at Patticake Vegan Cupcakery.

As I'd been wanting to try them out, anyway, I took advantage of the deal. Here's something you should know up front before you purchase the voucher, though: Their special-order cupcakes only come in 2 sizes: 25 for $18 and 16 for $12. You cannot use the voucher for just 25 cupcakes and let them keep the extra $2 for their troubles. This means you'll spend at least $20 out of pocket for what on paper is $30 worth of cupcakes. Just making that part clear, because I didn't realize it when I bought the voucher, and wasn't sure I would have done it if I'd known that up front. 

Now that I've tried them, though? Let's see...

First, the description on the voucher is "bite-sized." Really, if you can consume these in one bite, you are probably a disgusting eater and you don't enjoy your food. They are at least three bites, even the tiniest of them.

As I mentioned, we ordered two different boxes.

With the 25-cupcake box, you can get up to 5 different flavors. With the 16-cupcake box, you can get up to 4 different flavors.

First of all, if you just want to try one or two, you can visit Quickie Pickie on E. 11th (and it looks pretty cool, so I think I should try them out soon). Here are the flavors we ordered.

Snickerdoodle, for Daphne: Cinnamon cake, cream cheese frosting, and cinnamon.

Margarita. It's billed as "lime and salt on white cake." I didn't taste the salt much at all (James might), but it was VERY limey and very refreshing. I am not a huge drinker, but we do live next door to Taco Cabana, where there is happy hour every day and I haven't been able to enjoy a $1.50 margarita in almost 8 months, so this was extremely enjoyable.

Pumpkin Patch: pumpkin cake with cream cheese frosting.

The Gob: Banana cake with chocolate frosting. (Bananarchy has a Gob offering, too. Yea, pop culture!)

Cookies 'n Cream: Chocolate with vanilla icing, topped with crushed Oreos.

Those were my top choices from their menu. The next four I ordered when I realized we had to get another box in order to fulfill the "spend $20" rule.

Palette Cleanser: ginger cake topped with lemon frosting. This one tasted vaguely soapy to me, but it might have just been the strong lemon scent of the icing paired with the ginger cake. I liked it, but it tasted "clean."

Chocolat et Fraises: chocolate cake with strawberry frosting.

Sweet Heat, for James: spicy dark chocolate cake, cream cheese frosting, cayenne pepper.

Horchata: cinnamon cake with cinnamon frosting.
Daphne said James probably wouldn't like this one because it's super sweet.

The cakes we sampled were moist and flavorful. The icing is generously dolloped on, and since they're not wrapped in anything airtight, the icing develops a slightly crunchy exterior. The cupcake was rich enough to be pretty filling, and 2 actually made me a little uncomfortable (if you know me, I can put away some desserts). We got the awesome Patticake reusable bag with our order (although the website says you have to order 4 boxes or else the bags are $1 a piece).

The Amazon Local deal is the perfect chance to try them out, so go for it. My pick-up at the Crown and Anchor Pub was super simple; Tram brought the cupcakes out to my van for me so I didn't even have to brave the "delightfully mild" Austin summer afternoon (95 degrees... 50% humidity).

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Review: The Cutting Room, Austin, TX

Several months ago, my daughter decided to get her first "real" hair cut... meaning, an actual style rather than just trimming up the ends as we have done her entire life until now. Both because I do mystery shopping and am often offered quicky-chain-salon jobs and because it's difficult for the cheap-o in me to justify paying more than $15 or so to have split ends chopped, we've always gone the quick and dirty route.

For this major change, though, I wanted someone who would take time, talk to Daphne, want to see her happy, and was in our neighborhood... Shopping local is a pretty big deal and one of the benefits of living as close as we do to everything. And, honestly, it's a luxury that my dear husband works very hard to afford us.

So, I called and made an appointment at The Cutting Room, which is easy walking distance from our house. Since I didn't know anyone who works there, we had no preference, and ended up with Melanie. As it turns out, she was the perfect fit for Daphne.

The Cutting Room last Christmas season.

And again on the spring day we visited.
One of the coolest things about The Cutting Room is that they have a back bathroom full of robes for you to choose from. Daphne picked out a pretty standard "hair cutting" cape, but when we went back and I got my hair cut, I picked a purple silk that looked like a kimono. I seriously wanted to bring it home. One lady in the salon when we were there the first time had on a hippy muumuu. There are literally dozens to choose from, so that's fun.

Melanie sat Daphne down, looked at her head, talked to her about what she wanted to do, and showed her the plan before moving her back to the sinks for a shampoo.
This is an Aveda concept salon, so all of the product is Aveda. And smells delicious.

After shampoo and conditioning, Melanie cut a ponytail long enough to qualify for Pantene's Pony Up! Beautiful Lengths hair donation. Locks of Love requires 10 inches, but Pantene only needs 8.

Immediately when the ponytail came off, Daphne already looked more like... Daphne. It's weird. Shorter hair suits her personality *so* much better.

Next came the cutting. So. much. cutting. Melanie was meticulous, measuring and eyeballing and working with some "fun" quirks Daphne's hair has. The end result was beautiful.

We wanted a few highlights, so Melanie put in some foils, carefully avoiding some damaged and vulnerable hair. She basically framed Daphne's face.

It's easy to enjoy the pretty view while waiting for the color to set.
While we were waiting for the processing, Melanie showed Daphne the bright colors of highlights that they can do, so Daphne could think about them in case she decided she wanted a purple or blue or something more drastic later.

In the end, Melanie was disappointed that the highlights didn't "pop" as much as she wanted them to. I thought it looked great and very natural. She asked to take an "after" picture of D to add to her Instagram portfolio, and I promised to send her a "before."

Daphne, stoically enduring the modeling preparations.

Her "before" is the top right. This style works really well for her, and she recently took to wearing a beanie most of the time, so basically she just has a bit of hair sticking out from the hat, which she loves.

Melanie didn't charge us full price for the highlights since she wasn't happy with them (even though I was), and offered to "fix" it next time we came in. We did go back two months later to get the cut evened out, but since D is wearing a hat most of the time, anyway, told the stylist not to worry about any more highlights for now. Even though it was just a maintenance trim, Daphne's clean-up took about 40 minutes. I appreciate the time and care dedicated to making clients look their best.

When D went in last time, I made an appointment for myself, as well. I needed a good trim, and I have very fine damaged hair that is in layers. Melanie did a great job with straightening everything out so that it looks healthy enough that I don't feel like I have to style it every day, so I can give it a rest.

One thing I really love is that a couple of the hair-dressers here asked about my hair color... and not one of them lectured me about coloring it at home. I've had employees at Super Cuts tell me that my hair will fall out if I don't let them professionally color it, or tell me that I'll never have healthy hair because I'm ruining it by using home color. The fact is, coloring hair at home might be worse on it than having someone custom mix and watch the process, but I cannot afford that every six weeks. I prefer not to be bawled out at the salon when all I want is to get my hair cut!

We were really pleased with everything about our visits to The Cutting Room. In fact, walking home after the initial cut, Daphne said, "I wish I could have better expressed my appreciation." So I'm expressing our appreciation by recommending The Cutting Room, and Melanie specifically. Go check them out!