Virginia B. Wood remembers two talented and hardworking women in Austin's culinary life who have recently died and also reveals some of her recent dining discoveries.

In Memoriam

The Austin restaurant industry lost two of its most talented and hard-working women during the recent holiday season. Lydia C. Salas, matriarch of the South Austin Salas clan that operates Circle S Catering and Tex-Mex BBQ, passed away Thanksgiving day after a short bout with cancer. Lydia Salas founded Circle S Catering, providing hot lunches to several private school campuses around the city. The business eventually grew to include the family's popular drive-thru barbecue outlet at the corner of Oltorf and South First streets. Her husband, Manuel, her sons, and grandsons carry on the business in her name.

Over the New Year's weekend, hometown girl Courtney Swenson, evening chef at 34th Street Cafe, died unexpectedly. The vivacious young chef had built a solid local reputation working in such places as the former Baby Louie's and a long stint as sous chef at Hudson's on the Bend. Most recently, Courtney was experiencing success as the evening chef at 34th Street Cafe, where her creations had been included in feature stories in November issues of both Texas Monthly and the Chronicle. 34th Street Cafe owner Eddie Bernal credits Courtney's cooking skills and her warm personality with helping to build the dinner business at the busy neighborhood eatery. The Chronicle extends condolences to the family, friends, and co-workers of both these women. They will certainly be missed.

Recent Discoveries

Though the holiday season is now just a blur, there were several product discoveries that made the end-of-the-year whirlwind survivable. The fact that we had actual cold weather had me looking for hot, comforting food that could be purchased quickly, preferably at a drive-thru location. I hit the cold-weather jackpot in two different places. For a warm and very substantial meal on the go, check out the Tortilla Soup ($1.99 small, $3.49 large) at any Taco Cabana location around town. It's a large cup of very rich chicken broth chock-full of chicken chunks, onions, peppers, and tomatoes. They'll give you rice, chips, and hot sauce to add at your own discretion. Be careful -- the soup is very hot and a little on the greasy side, but very filling on a cold night. My other evening standby was fried chicken and down-home veggies from the drive-thru at Roy Henry's Famous Chicken & Waffles (1815 W. Ben White, 443-4476). Put together a Lessie B's Combo ($6.99) with two pieces of chicken and two veggie sides or a veggie combo ($3.99) with three veggies and you've got a hot, down-home meal that will really keep you moving. The black-eyed peas, spicy corn, ultra-creamy mac and cheese, and broccoli rice casserole are particular favorites when there's just no time to cook and the weather demands a meal with some substance.

Yeast rolls at my sister's Christmas dinners have been somewhat of a sore subject. Though she loves homemade rolls, she's yet to completely master the art of yeast dough and usually ends up with heavy little knots. This year, her younger son suggested a new "roll plan" and insisted she serve rolls he'd discovered in the grocery store. Served hot at Christmas dinner, they were perfect, tender, melt-in-your mouth little wonders and we couldn't stop eating them. My after-Christmas research revealed that we can get Sister Schubert's Rolls in the frozen food case at both Central Markets and the Flagship Randalls on Bee Caves Road. The Luverne, Ala., company also makes killer cinnamon rolls and sausage wraps. You can thank me later.

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Virginia B. Wood, Sept. 18, 2015

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Lydia C. Salas, Courtney Swenson, 34th Street Café, Circle S Catering, Tex-Mex BBQ, Hudson's on the Bend, Taco Cabana

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