Features, Podcasts

Engineer pursues passion with authentic French bakery

Nagree meets with a fellow chef to offer her advice.

Nagree meets with a fellow chef to offer her advice.

View more photos here and listen to the audio interview here.

A small, white house in the Bouldin Creek area is home to La Patisserie, a traditional French bakery. Instead of cakes and cupcakes, La Patisserie churns out delicate macarons and financiers. The rooms are bright and the entire house smells of sugar and coffee. At least a dozen press clips line the wall to the left of the front door.

The mastermind behind La Patisserie is Soraiya Nagree, 31. La Patisserie is one of three businesses that Nagree owns, the other two being The Kitchen Space, a large industrial kitchen for rent in East Austin, and Luxe Sweets, her wholesaling brand. But Nagree’s story is an unusual one because, before becoming a pastry chef, she was an engineer.

Nagree left Trinity University with a chemical engineering degree and soon started working as a urethane engineer for a bowling ball company, according to La Patisserie’s website. She worked there for about three years.

“I knew I didn’t want to be an engineer forever because I just knew that in an engineering environment I was going to work for someone, unless I did consulting, and I wasn’t good enough to do consulting, and so that was kind of the driving factor,” Nagree said.

After getting married and relocating to Austin, Nagree decided to go to culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu-Texas Culinary Academy. Halfway through, she began baking out of her home and wholesaling to a handful of people.

“It started going well, so we built a kitchen …and continued the wholesaling end of things. Then, three years ago, we found this house and knew that this was where La Patisserie needed to be. This is my little dream, I like the wholesale end, it’s good, it pays the bills… but this, I could be here every day. I love this place,” Nagree said.

The three businesses are all interconnected. Luxe Sweets sells pastries to shops all around Austin and La Patisserie is basically the retail space for that brand. All the pastries are baked in a kitchen they have reserved at The Kitchen Space.

Nagree believes the hardest part of running a business is knowing that it is not going to be an overnight success.

“You see all these people get successful…people are fascinated with the overnight success, that’s not how it happens for hardly anyone. You have to be your own accountant, janitor, marketing person, sales person, everything. You are everything, until you get to a point where you can finally hire people,” Nagree said.

Nagree currently has 15 employees including delivery drivers. One of them is Jacqueline Ha. She is a manager at La Patisserie.

“I’ve worked here about a year and a half, almost two years. I love it,” Ha said.

Nagree has two sons, ages 4 and nine months. She compares owning a business to having a child and says that the analogy is accurate because “they keep you up at night, you worry about it 24/7, you want to be with it 24/7.”

“I have poured everything into my businesses. I have slept in my car from being so exhausted but knowing that I need to continue baking, but I don’t have the energy to bake anymore… But at the end of the day, it’s mine. It’s my baby. And I couldn’t be prouder of it,” Nagree said.

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Published Work

Makeup artists give hot-weather tips

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I interviewed two makeup artists for their advice on melt-proof makeup in the Longhorn Life Summer Preview Issue 2014 on page 4!

 

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News

Author Terry Shames discusses recent book, veteran treatment at book signing

Author and UT alumna Terry Shames discussed her recent book at a signing event in Austin Monday evening. Her book, “The Last Death of Jack Harbin,” is the second installment in the Samuel Craddock Mystery series. The event was hosted by MysteryPeople, a mystery bookstore located within Bookpeople.

Scott Montgomery, crime fiction coordinator at BookPeople and founder of MysteryPeople, said that the book will be named MysteryPeople’s “Book of the Month” for February.

The story follows ex-police chief Samuel Craddock as he investigates the murder of a wounded veteran in the fictional town of Jarrett Creek, Texas. “The Last Death” has received a lot of praise since its release on January 7, including reviews from Booklist and Library Journal. The Toronto Star describes the character Samuel Craddock as “the most engaging new sleuth in American crime fiction.”

Shames grew up in Lake Jackson, Texas but now lives in Northern California. She studied English at UT and has a master’s from San Francisco State University. She is “a member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime, [and] she serves on the boards of Northern California chapters of both,” according to her website.

Shames, who once worked for the CIA, briefly spoke about prominent themes and issues brought up in her book, including guilt.

“Scott [Montgomery] mentioned that he thought there was a lot about guilt in this book. And I think he’s right. We’re all guilty of something and this book is about what people do with their guilt,” Shames said.

But to Shames, the most important issue that her work touches on is the treatment of veterans after they return from war.

“When I was in college, a guy that I knew… went off to the Vietnam War and he came back blinded and missing a leg. And that’s what has happened to this vet in [this book]. And I always remembered that, and I just felt like I needed to write about the plight of veterans in this country, how they’re not valued after they are warriors,” Shames said.

Shames is working on the third book in the series, according to her website, and she is toying with the idea of writing a prequel.

Kathy Waller, a fellow member of Sisters in Crime and attendee of the event, recommended the series.

“She’s using a Texas setting, and she is just pitch perfect in her tone and descriptions,” Waller said, “This woman knows her setting. She knows what she’s talking about.”

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Podcasts

Interview: Photographer Greg Davis

Click the link below to listen to Greg Davis’s story

https://soundcloud.com/lauren-lowe-4/interview-photographer-greg

To view or buy prints of gorgeous photos like the one below, check out Greg’s website! – www.gregdavisphotography.com

gregdavis

featured music: “I’ve Been Waiting For This” by Butch Walker

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News

Numbers show homeschooled students are extremely underrepresented at UT

The number of homeschooled students in the United States is steadily increasing and has been since the 1970s. The number of homeschooled students attending large universities, however, is not changing noticeably.

The University of Texas at Austin has a total undergraduate enrollment of more than 50,000 students. The overwhelming majority of these students attended a public or private high school, where they were given a class rank.

An applicant’s class rank is often a critical deciding factor in the admissions process, which seems to give the population of students who were home-educated a disadvantage when applying for admission.

According to National Home Education Research Institute, there were about 2 million school-age children being homeschooled in the United States in 2010. Despite there being enough homeschooled students in the nation to populate the city of Houston, homeschooled students attending college appears to not be a widespread occurrence. An Internet search for the number of homeschooled students that attend college yields little and inconclusive results.

Some homeschooled students don’t apply to four-year universities for various reasons.  Many feel that the probability of being admitted to a large school is small simply because of their academic background, but Patty Prado, Assistant Director of Admissions at UT, says this is a misconception.

“Homeschooled students at UT are not really treated that much different. There’s not a separate application, and there are not certain requirements that are different,” Prado said.

Prado, who has worked in the admissions office for 10 years, tells both ranked and unranked students that giving as much information about themselves as possible can only help them during the application process.

Prado said homeschooled students are separated into their own group for review in the beginning of the admissions process.

“This is where we take all the information that they share with us to see who comes to the top. From there, they move into the review pool with all the other students, from a ranking high school or not, to find out how they look within the major or college that they are interested in.”

UT received about 140 homeschooled applicants for the 2013-2014 year, according to Prado. Of them, roughly 40 were admitted and 20 were enrolled, hardly enough to fill a lecture hall on campus. These numbers remain fairly consistent, meaning UT has less than 100 homeschooled students that enrolled here directly. Because the application process is different for them, this number doesn’t include the homeschooled transfer students.

The applicants who were not admitted were denied for the same various reasons students from ranking high schools are denied, and there isn’t any one or two reasons that stand out among them.

“In my experience with homeschooled applicants, they are extremely bright…I’ve really enjoyed reviewing homeschooled files and being a point person for these students and their parents,” Prado said.

“I think sometimes they worry that they won’t do well in the process because we may favor a student who goes to a ranking school…but I let them know that, no, in many cases our homeschooled applicants are very strong students and they do great here.”

Prado’s biggest piece of advice for homeschooled applicants who want to attend college is to plan early, pursue academic and non-academic interests in whatever way possible, and prepare to articulate those experiences and interests.

Journalism junior Anna Daugherty was homeschooled for her entire academic life until college. Because it seemed like the easiest route, she attended a junior college for two years then transferred to UT. She originally wanted to study linguistics, and out of the few schools that offer a bachelor’s degree in linguistics in Texas, she thought UT was the best fit. Later, she decided linguistics was not for her and changed to journalism.

The reason her mother chose to do homeschooling was to give Daugherty and her siblings a more one-on-one experience.

“My mom made sure we were really involved in other stuff too. I did city theatre, I did a lot of stuff with my church and I had a part-time job,” Daugherty said.

Aside from thinking the college application process would have been less complicated, Daugherty doesn’t wish she attended a public or private school. Daugherty said she is grateful for the experience.

“I think everyone should try [to go to college]… I haven’t figured out how you would overcome not having a class rank,” Daugherty said.

“Just do whatever you have to do, even if that means going to a community college. It probably takes a little extra work but it’s worth it.”

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Features

Texas wine production flourishes in drought-ridden area

A fruity, sweet aroma fills the brightly-lit tasting room on a Saturday afternoon. A crowd of people clutch their wine glasses as they gather around the bar. On every wall, framed awards and clippings of magazine and newspaper articles are displayed. The vineyard’s pest control cat, Cotton, is asleep on an office chair in the corner.

A table in the center of the room holds various gifts: cheese plates and knives, jewelry, measuring cups, wine aerators and pastry mixes. The rustic decor, cream walls and red brick floors give an instant feeling of warmth.

James Nobles, the tasting room/office manager at Fall Creek Vineyards, rings up customers. Though he is busy, he connects with each customer as though they were the only customer in what is actually a very long line in front of the register. He quickly fills orders for cases of wine while happily holding a conversation with the patron. He is a skilled multitasker.

The vineyard was established in 1975 by Ed and Susan Auler. The first vines were planted that year and production started in 1979. Last year, they sold about 60,000 cases of wine, making Fall Creek the third largest winery in Texas.

Nobles grew up on the vineyard. His father has been the production manager for 33 years.

Fall Creek Vineyards is located in Tow, Texas, about 80 miles northwest of Austin. This area of the hill country is struggling with severe drought. Rainfall has been scarce. The water level of Lake Buchanan, which is adjacent to the vineyard, is dropping every year. The water is currently 26 feet below what it should be.

Boat ramps are completely exposed. Floating docks are resting on the ground. Rentable cabins that used to be considered “waterfront” are now at least half a mile away from the water.

According to Sherry James at Jesse James Real Estate, property values in the area have dropped five percent since 2008. Despite the buyers’ market, there are more people leaving the area than coming in.

“There are numerous homes on the market and there’s just not many selling. And it’s mostly because of the water. So we just pray for rain,” James said.

Tourism used to be a large part of the local economy, but James said there are nearly 100 small motels for sale around the lake. “A few have sold, but they have sold for less than half [of their value],” James said.

While the community grapples with issues caused by the lack of water, Fall Creek Vineyards is thriving. The ground is dry and cracked everywhere else along Lake Buchanan, yet the soil along the rows of grape vines at Fall Creek is muddy. Fall Creek doesn’t pump water from the lake; they use water from a well to water their vines.

“The drought situation in Texas hasn’t affected us… Red grapes typically love a dry climate. The drier the climate, the more it forced that vine to be strained. And so therefore you end up having a more robust red [wine],” Nobles said.

There are several wineries in the area and it is the only business that’s truly booming. The relationship among the wineries is a symbiotic one. Instead of fiercely competing, they work together and help each other.

“We’re a brotherhood. We couldn’t exist without each other,” Nobles said.

“One of the things that I think is really distinguishing us from California is the fact that when you go to California now, it’s kind of over produced…when it started about the wine. In Texas, It’s staying about the wine. And I think there’s something that’s very beautiful about that, but it’s all coming from the family network that we have.”

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Fall Creek uses water from a well to water their grapes instead of pumping from Lake Buchanan. Despite the drought, the type of grapes they grow thrive in a drier climate.

Fall Creek uses water from a well to water their grapes instead of pumping from Lake Buchanan. Despite the drought, the type of grapes they grow thrive in a drier climate.

The vineyard cat, Cotton, is responsible for pest control on the winery grounds.  Cotton lounges around the tasting room.

The vineyard cat, Cotton, is responsible for pest control on the winery grounds. Cotton lounges around the tasting room.

Local realtor Sherry James prepares for a busy Saturday afternoon at Jesse James Realty. According to James, dropping property values in the area are creating a buyers’ market.

Local realtor Sherry James prepares for a busy Saturday afternoon at Jesse James Realty. According to James, dropping property values in the area are creating a buyers’ market.

Local residents Frank and Pat Veenstra share a bottle of Fall Creek’s Cabernet Sauvignon in the courtyard adjoining the tasting room.  Fall Creek sold 60,000 cases of wine last year.

Local residents Frank and Pat Veenstra share a bottle of Fall Creek’s Cabernet Sauvignon in the courtyard adjoining the tasting room. Fall Creek sold 60,000 cases of wine last year.

James Nobles, tasting room/office manager at Fall Creek Vineyards, tallies up an order for a customer. Nobles grew up on the winery.

James Nobles, tasting room/office manager at Fall Creek Vineyards, tallies up an order for a customer. Nobles grew up on the winery.

A boat ramp at LCRA Park outside of Tow is completely exposed. Tire tracks are present where people have driven from the boat ramp to the water.

A boat ramp at LCRA Park outside of Tow is completely exposed. Tire tracks are present where people have driven from the boat ramp to the water.

This carp is one of many fish skeletons left on the beach at Black Rock Park. Lake Buchanan and Buchanan Dam is visible in the background.

This carp is one of many fish skeletons left on the beach at Black Rock Park. Lake Buchanan and Buchanan Dam is visible in the background.

The water in Lake Buchanan is 26 feet below where it should be. These structures were once floating docks and this area was filled with water.

The water in Lake Buchanan is 26 feet below where it should be. These structures were once floating docks and this area was filled with water.

The tasting room at Fall Creek Winery boasts a variety of wine-related gifts. Awards and press clips are displayed on every wall.

The tasting room at Fall Creek Winery boasts a variety of wine-related gifts. Awards and press clips are displayed on every wall.

Ed and Susan Auler established the winery in 1975. Fall Creek is now one of the largest wineries in Texas.

Ed and Susan Auler established the winery in 1975. Fall Creek is now one of the largest wineries in Texas.

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PHOTO GALLERY: Texas wine production flourishes in drought-ridden area

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