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Barton Hills Block Party

On a sultry summer night, nothing beats a backyard potluck where the focus is friends, no-fuss food (pass the brisket), family recipes, and second helpings of everything.

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When my boyfriend (at the time) Tip made martinis with jalapeño peppers and asked me to move with him to Texas, I hesitated. A New Yorker living in Montana, I’d never even visited the Lone Star State. I imagined feeling awkward, out of place. My friends from Texas knew how to flirt and use hot rollers. But the gin was cold and my boyfriend was my favorite person in the world. A few months later, we loaded up the Toyota Tacoma and headed to Austin.

We landed in Hyde Park, renting a bungalow on Harris Park Avenue, where I worked on my first novel during nights and weekends. (During the day, I worked all over town as a temp.) We celebrated at the Hyde Park Bar and Grill when Sleep Toward Heaven finally found a publisher. And when my sweet boyfriend asked me to marry him, I envisioned our life playing out between Red River and Guadalupe.

In what seems in retrospect like an instant (but which I well remember felt like a billion years), I went from being a young woman reading a novel on the grass to a plump mom in the baby pool. One night, we hired a sitter, walked to Shipe Park, and slept for two blissful hours under the trees.

It was as much a surprise to me as anyone when I drove through Barton Hills (lost on my way home from a Barton Springs swim) and fell as madly in love with a house—that happened to be for sale—as I was with my husband and sons. I lay awake thinking about its modern lines, metal roof, Jetsons kitchen, and views over the tops of trees. I didn’t know much about the neighborhood, and my lifelong frugality took a temporary leave of absence: I had to soak in that bathtub with a view of rosebushes! My best friend, Clay, promised he’d drive south of the river regularly.

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A few months later, we moved in, and every single day I count my blessings. Leaving Hyde Park was hard, but about the same time we discovered the amazing way the greenbelt winds into the Barton Hills neighborhood—we can hike to a swimming hole from our house!—we were invited to a neighborhood potluck.

Little by little, we met the residents of Rae Dell Avenue and nearby Elmglen Drive. Neighbors Terra and Roslyn took over the street and threw a block party that was just as festive and wonderful as the ones I’d known as a child in suburban New York. I met young neighbors who’d moved here from Brooklyn and a couple who’d lived in Barton Hills for 30 years.

The great thing about a Barton Hills party is that nobody’s expecting perfection (at least not at my house!). Mismatched plates work just fine, and if the linens never got ironed, so be it. On Sunday afternoons, all we want to do is spend time together, eat well, and maybe even squeeze in a great conversation while the kids run wild.

Recently, we hosted a Sunday evening potluck in our backyard. It had been a busy week: though Tip knows his way around a smoker, we decided to take it easy and order a gorgeous brisket and some sausage from La Barbecue. Tip made his mother’s famous corn timbale and Mexican beans. Neighbors brought all the fixin’s, from Tina’s kale salad to Terra’s fresh fruit. I gazed at my Texan daughter, Nora Roux, who abandoned her grandmother’s silver fork to grab slices of brisket with her hands.

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Tara had brought a homemade blueberry pie for dessert, and Sloane made a family recipe—a parfait with layers of whipped cream, angel food cake, and fruit. (The next day, I discovered that the perfect breakfast can be created by combining the two.) My son, Harrison, and his pals, Flannery and Wyatt, designed a “Gourmet S’Mores” station. The sugar was counteracted by an hour or so of jumping on the trampoline and skateboard lessons from my daredevil son, Ash, while the adults sipped wine and sat around the fire pit.

When the sparklers had all fizzled out and my children were tucked into bed, my husband and I washed dishes side by side in the kitchen. The steam trumpet sounded from the nearby trains, and I remembered listening to Lionel Richie when he sang at the Austin City Limits Music Festival, held close enough to my house that we can hear the music. Fireflies flashed outside the window. I leaned against my husband, who was warm.

I remembered being small, feeling shy and unsure of where I belonged. I would lie in bed in my nightgown and wonder if I would ever find my place in what seemed to me a large and frightening world. I wished I could go back in time and tell that little girl that someday she’d move to Texas, to the hills above Barton Creek. She’d breathe in the marshy river smell of Austin, and she’d know it was the smell of home.

Fresh Corn Timbale

Serves 8

Tip Meckel’s mother Barbara often makes this rich and delicious side dish for their family 4th of July meals at their home in Southwest Colorado, using local Olathe corn. Baking the dish in a water bath creates an incredibly creamy texture. This recipe is very versatile, feel free to add bacon bits, snipped chives, red pepper, or substitute scallions for the onion.

  • 3 cups fresh corn kernels, trimmed from the cob
  • 6 eggs
  • 4 tablespoons fresh minced parsley
  • 3 tablespoons grated onion
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2/3 cups fresh breadcrumbs
  • 2/3 cups shredded cheese (Jack, Cheddar, or a mix of both)
  • 2/3 cups heavy cream
  • Hot pepper sauce or cayenne, to taste
  • 8 grinds freshly ground pepper
  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 2-quart baking dish or charlotte mold.
  • Scrape or grate corn for 3 cups (a quick blender pulse/chop works as well.)
  • Beat the eggs and combine with the corn. Stir in the parsley, onion and salt, and then folk in the breadcrumbs, cheese, cream, and hot sauce or cayenne and pepper.
  • Pour the corn mixture into the buttered dish. Set the baking dish into larger pie dish or baking pan and add enough water to cover.
  • Bake for 30 minutes, and then decrease the temp to 325 and bake for an additional 75 minutes, until the skewer comes out clean (the top may crack, that’s OK).
  • Remove from oven and allow the dish to rest for 10-15 minutes on the counter. Tip says, “Unmold if you dare, or spoon out if you are mortal.”

Credits

Photography by Thomas Winslow

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