Thursday, September 26, 2013

Right in my back yard

In Bastrop County, where I live and work--and please, local restaurateurs, forgive me for what I am about to say--it is hard to have a peak dining experience.  If you're feeling flush, you can have a lovely drive onto the Hyatt Lost Pines grounds and have a fabulous meal and incredible service at the elegantly appointed and soothingly decorated Stories.  You can venture down to the historic district, charming enough on its own with a growing abundance of galleries and terribly cute boutiques, and have an above average glass of wine and a fairly decent meal at Hasler Bros., a comfortable, solid throwback to classic steakhouses and supper clubs of the 60's and '70's.  And you can have a quick, satisfying and tasty meal at several family-owned restaurants that move tables efficiently and fill your belly, but are lackluster in terms of originality and ambience.

But, it seems, you could not seem to find that "something special" that makes a restaurant sparkle with imagination and vitality.  Not until very recently, that is, when Viejo's opened at the south end of Main Street in Bastrop.  I had heard friends talk about having been to Viejo's and they raved about it.  Being the food and wine snob discriminating eater and drinker that I am, I smilled politely.  Then I thought to myself, "Yeah, well.  I don't think so."

But honestly, I was blown away on my first visit.  The margaritas are hand mixed from fresh juices and other ingredients and served in elegant goblets or martini glasses.  I tried three different margaritas, all of them well-balanced, flavorful (the Basil Antigua and the Jalapeno Hibiscus are my two top favorites) and icy cold.  They paired beautifully with the taco menu, which offers a nice variety and generous portions for a very reasonable amount of your hard-earned cash.  Try the Tacos al Pastor and the Vera Cruz.  Ammmmmazing.

The Basil Antigua margarita at Viejo's
Other bonuses:  the tostada chips are fresh, the salsas are beautifully contrasted and delicious.  And the ceviche--deliciously and expertly balanced with the perfect amount of acid, salt and heat.  Ask for tostadas instead of the saltines that are served with it.

This small space has a lot going for it: a beautiful courtyard with a large fountain where diners can enjoy their drinks and meals outside, an inside dining space (which is a bit crowded and noisy due to the heavy furniture and lack of acoustic treatment), and a rather narrow and small but cozy bar where you can sample some pretty tasty tequilas.  The vibrant aquamarine blue of the bar walls, the mirrors and the copper-toned punched-tin hanging lights make this a fun, funky place to hang out and sip some great drinks.  The service is competent and very pleasant.  I'm not crazy about the large TV tuned in to college football in the bar, but it seems that TVs are everywhere these days.  Viejo's attracts a very young crowd, especially on weekend nights in the bar and courtyard area, where they also offer live music, and I think we all know how Texans feel about their sports.  They are fervently in relationship with their favorite teams as much as possible.

The restaurant menu is limited to mostly tacos and appetizers, but I'm in favor of that since that's what Joe Oviedo and his siblings do best.  I have seldom been able to say this about meals that I have eaten out, but you can taste the love and the family history in every bite at Viejo's.  Your tastebuds will want to fall to their knees at the altar of the Mexican soul food that the Oviedos do so well.

The bar menu at Viejo's
I'll continue to be a frequent guest at Viejo's.  You might want to consider that too.  Salud.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Cooking for my old girl

Several weeks ago, on a routine visit to the vet, I learned some sad news about my beloved Jezebel, soon to be 14 years old.  The vet told me she was in the early stages of liver failure, brought on by regular use of Vetprofen, an anti-inflammatory drug I gave her for her arthritis.  I instantly felt a stab of guilt.  I had given Jezebel Vetprofen twice a day for her symptoms, as the vet ordered, for several years.  Had I done my due diligence, I would have known that Vetprofen can be toxic and even cause life-threatening conditions in dogs.

We're a bit shy and don't like to look at the camera...

I'd been noticing some other symptoms that were apparently part of the constellation of toxicity: she was hungrier than usual, often seemed confused and was losing control of her bladder.  I would find her lying on the kitchen floor in a puddle, looking up at me with her huge brown eyes in a way that seemed to say, "I'm sorry, mommy, I didn't mean to do it.  But I just can't help it."  It was breaking my heart and I didn't know what to do to help her.

The vet offered me a solution.  I could keep Jezebel on Vetprofen and add other medications to help control the symptoms.  I could add this and that, do this, try that and perhaps things would improve.  This just wasn't acceptable to me and didn't seem to be a very high quality of life for my lovable poochie.  I knew that if I continued along the traditional veterinary track, Jezebel would continue to suffer and that perhaps her life would eventually be cut short by the continued use of Vetprofen.

I am in no way trying to be disparaging of the excellent veterinary care that Jezzie has received throughout her life at my local clinic; I am merely saying that I rejected traditional veterinary approaches and chose an alternative path.

So, on the day I learned that Jezebel's liver was failing, I got in my car with my old girl and had a good boo hoo on the way home.  Then I started researching natural remedies for liver failure in dogs.  I found some wonderful resources online, including the one website I came most heavily to rely on for help, Your Old Dog, which contains a wealth of information for pet parents of elderly and ill dogs.  After doing some reading on several sites, I ordered liquid milk thistle to help heal and support Jezebel's liver, took her off commercially prepared dog food and began cooking all her meals for her.

Yes, you read right: I am cooking all her meals for her.  Is this a lot of trouble?  It depends on how you look at it.  I cook about once every two weeks and then package the food in plastic zipper bags and store it in the freezer.  It is an extra effort and you must add the supplements called for with each recipe to get the best results.  I've also added supplements to help with Jezzie's arthritis symptoms.  But I'm happy to make this extra effort (and give up some freezer space) because I love my sweet-natured, docile doggie and want her around as long as possible.

The results?  Within three weeks of this new regimen, all of her symptoms cleared and she appears to be a happy, healthy and youthful puppy again.  I can't say enough about how much I appreciate the advice, information and assistance from all of the people who love their elderly and ill dogs and want to help others by posting their experiences and information online.

Here are the websites that I found helpful:

My Pet Articles--Vetprofen Side Effects (see this site for other articles regarding all kinds of pets with various conditions)

Responsible Pet Ownership Blog Failure Reversal Diet Disease Recipes  (we like recipe #2 the best so far)