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Food Matters: Spicewood woman wins cookbook contest; preserve maker is finalist in national organic food competition

Staff Writer
Austin 360
Carol Conkey has a collection of well-loved editions of 'Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book.'

Readers love their Red Plaid cookbooks

Cookbook love is a funny thing.

Our favorites are stained, burned, waterlogged, taped, torn, tattered and dingy. We hold onto them long after our better judgment suggests that they should be headed for the trash heap, rather than our pristine kitchen countertops.

Last month, we asked for pictures of your cookworn "Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book," also known as the Red Plaid. We received almost 200 online entries and more than 60 via snail mail. You also sent us stories, lots of them.

Your Red Plaids have visited as many as 30 countries. They've been passed down through three or more generations. You are big fans of duct tape, masking tape and Scotch tape.

Several books have been permanently branded by electric stovetop burners. One owner keeps her pages in a plastic zip-top bag because the red binder couldn't take the abuse. For many of you, the books are testaments to decades-long marriages that are as old as the cookbooks and just as beloved.

Our winner, who received a turkey fryer for Thanksgiving, is Carol Conkey of Spicewood. She received her first Red Plaid as a wedding shower gift in 1959.

Although her first book "bit the dust after a long and useful life," Conkey carefully taped, reinforced and salvaged her favorite recipes (including one for whole-wheat bread) and added them to the "new one," which is also darkened from old grease, battered and worn - it is after all more than 30 years old. A few of the pages have been singed from kitchen mishaps through the years. (She also has two later editions of the book on her shelf; the one with the most info on prepackaged food goes on trips with her and her husband in the motor home.)

"I treat my cookbooks much differently now," she says. "I keep them in a book holder on an entirely separate counter."

Does it work? Most of the time, she says.

Thanks, Carol and the rest of you, for sharing the love.

If you want to see the online contest submissions, go to austin360.com/go/cookbooks .

- Tara A. Trower

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No place to eat turkey? Try these local spots

If you've waited until now to make a restaurant reservation for Thanksgiving, you might find your seat is already taken. Here are five places where you can walk in without a reservation.

See the expanded list at austin360.com/forklore .

The Bakehouse Restaurant (5404 Manchaca Road. 443-5167, www.austinbakehouse.com ): An all-you-can-eat dinner with table service. Turkey, ham, squash casserole, yams, fresh breads, pumpkin pie and more. $14.95, $6.95 for 12 and younger. 10:30 a.m. to midnight.

Hoover's Cooking (2002 Manor Road. 479-5006; 13376 Research Blvd., No. 400. 335-0300, www.hooverscooking.com ): Holiday dinner includes one of six entrees - roasted turkey, Cajun pork roast, ham, jerk chicken, smoked sirloin, vegetarian - plus traditional sides. $16.99. 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Hyde Park Bar & Grill (4260 Duval St. 458-3168; 4521 West Gate Blvd. 899-2700; www.hydeparkbarandgrill.com ): A Thanksgiving dinner special includes turkey, cornbread dressing, green beans, cranberry relish, mashed potatoes, soup or salad and a soft drink. $16.95, $10.95 for 10 and younger. Vegetarian $12.95. 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Red's Porch (3508 S. Lamar Blvd. 440-7337, www.redsporch.com ): Open 5 p.m. to midnight for appetizers, burgers, sandwiches and the Longhorns-Aggies game.

Threadgill's (6416 N. Lamar Blvd. 451-5440; 301 W. Riverside Drive. 472-9304, www.threadgills.com ): Thanksgiving standards plus many of Threadgills' chicken-fried favorites and creative vegetable sides. Turkey with cornbread dressing and two vegetables is $12.95. 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.

­- M.S.

Openings, closings and coming soon

• Open: Al Forno, a New York-style pizzeria at 6301 Parmer Lane, Suite 502. 258-9898, www.alfornoaustin.com . Open for lunch and dinner daily.

• Open: BarChi, a sushi restaurant at the former site of Yu Sushi at 206 Colorado St. 382-5557.

• Open: Fried Delight Nights, a trailer serving corn dogs hand-dipped to order by Mark Alger, a former TV news producer from California. At the East Side Food Park at 2209 E. Cesar Chavez St. 287-1222.

• Closed: The Changos Taqueria location on South Lamar Boulevard. The location at 3023 Guadalupe St. is still open. www.changos.com .

- M.S., Matthew Odam

Teddy bears and turkeys for the holiday season

• H-E-B sponsors its annual Feast of Sharing on Tuesday from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Palmer Events Center, 900 Barton Springs Road. The free feast - which H-E-B says will involve 3,000 pounds of sliced turkey and 2,500 pounds of cornbread dressing, along with pie and sides - is part of the company's campaign against hunger and is open to anyone.

• Runners, walkers and costumed strutters hit the streets Thursday for the Thundercloud Subs Turkey Trot benefiting Caritas of Austin. The Trot, which starts at the Long Center (701 W. Riverside Drive), includes a five-mile run, a one-mile walk and the Stepping Stone School Kids K, with an estimated 15,000 participants. Packet pickup and race-day registration starts at 7:30 a.m., with the first races starting at 8:45 a.m. $8-$25 to race, free to watch. Registration details at www.thundercloud.com/index.php/trot .

• The Four Seasons Hotel Austin (98 San Jacinto Blvd. 685-8300, www.fourseasons.com/austin ) will host four Teddy Bear Tea events with full tea service, caroling and a visit from Santa, who will read " 'Twas the Night Before Christmas." $40 adults, $30 for children 11 and younger. Children are encouraged to bring a new, unwrapped teddy bear as a donation. From 2 to 4 p.m. Dec. 4, 5, 11, 12, 18 and 19.

- M.S.

Local fig preserve gets national recognition

Three months ago, Stephanie McClenny started her company Confituras, selling jams and preservatives at the Barton Creek Farmers Market.

Now, one of her preserves is receiving national recognition for its Texas flavor. It is also the only Texas product nominated for an award.

McClenny heard about the Good Food Awards through a Twitter post and decided to submit a number of her preserves for consideration. A panel of judges, including former Gourmet editorin chief Ruth Reichl, chose McClenny's Texas Fig Preserves as a finalist in the preserves category.

"I know it sounds cliché, but I'm just so proud to be nominated in the first place," McClenny said. "I think that we have great figs in Texas. People are surprised we grow them here, but the Central Texas climate is so similar to a Mediterranean climate."

McClenny said the flavor of her fig preserves comes from a mix of local wildflower honey, white balsamic vinegar and bay leaves. Winners of the various categories, including coffee, charcuterie, cheese, chocolate, beer, pickles and preserves, will be announced at the Good Food Awards on Jan. 14, hosted by chef and organic food activist Alice Waters.

- Layne Lynch