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Lots to enjoy in the Lamar County seat of Paris. This northeast Texas community is proud of its Eiffel Tower replica at the Love Civic Center, the historical museum in Heritage Park, the Sam Bell Maxey State Historic Site, the Plaza Theatre, the Paris Municipal Band's summer concert series at the Grecian Peristyle in Bywaters Park, Culbertson Fountain, the 1914 Santa Fe/Frisco Union Station Railroad Depot, the tree-lined Trail de Paris, July 17th's annual Tour de Paris bicycle event, and the city's new Trolley de Paris (see photo), among many other attractions. For additional information on this Red River Valley destination, call 800/727-4789;


The border is beautiful, indeed. Miss Texas, Kelsey Elizabeth Moore, and Miss New Mexico, Rosanne Aguilar, both students at the University of Texas at El Paso, will be contestants for the Miss USA title this Sunday May 16 in Las Vegas at the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino. Moore is a UTEP sophomore volleyball team member from El Paso majoring in general studies. Aguilar, from Las Cruces, is a UTEP senior majoring in biology. Congratulations to both of these young ladies and good luck to them in this weekend's competition. The winner of Sunday's event represents the U.S. in the 2010 Miss Universe Pageant.

Thrilled to finally see and hear Michael Ramos' band Charanga Cakewalk at Austin City Hall's outdoor Live from the Plaza series over the lunch hour today. Their music is a seductive, original recipe of Cuba, Colombia, and TexMex, with some Steve Jordan-style accordion and Augustus Pablo-style melodica by Ramos swirled into the mix. Guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards combined with congas, other assorted percussive elements, and Ramos' lead on several instruments merged cumbia, samba, son, cha cha cha, norteno, and merengue, and got the crowd happily swaying on a warm humid day downtown very near Lady Bird/Town Lake. Fittingly, for the upcoming Mother's Day weekend, Ramos dedicated the last songs of the set to both his wife and mom, including a touching original called "Gloria."

Photo by Greg QuinnPhoto by Greg Quinn

Enjoyed the wonderful spring weather by taking in #1 Texas vs. Oklahoma State Big 12 baseball at UT's impressive UFCU Disch-Falk Field in Austin and a Southland Conference baseball game between Texas State and Northwestern State on campus in San Marcos at the Bobcats' very nice new stadium complex. The biggest hit may have been discovering Herbert's Taco Hut on Riverside Drive in San Marcos. Primo Tex Mex! Herbert's Special of 1 crispy taco, 1 bean and cheese chalupa, and 1 enchilada (beef, cheese, or chicken), along with rice, beans, guacamole, and tortillas is a culinary classic. Superb melon agua fresca. Terrific tres leches cake (see Lois M. Rodriguez' TH Taste feature on pastel de tres leches in the new May issue of Texas Highways). And check out Herbert's house special strawberry margarita (pictured at left).

cinnamonrollsciscoHead for Cisco (between Abilene and Fort Worth) and the Cisco College campus later this month, April 23-25, for the Cisco Folklife Festival. Activities include a Lions Club barbecue dinner, the Cisco College fine arts department's spring concert, a golf scramble at the Cisco Country Club, sidewalk art, pioneer demonstrations, live music, arts & crafts, a tractor pull, car show, and lots of great food, including the festival's famous cinnamon rolls (at right). For more information, call the chamber of commerce at 254/442-2537;

I’m hardly a wine connoisseur—during blind tastings in the past, I've invariably preferred the least expensive wines—but when friends suggested we meet Sunday afternoon for drinks at Crú, a wine bar in Austin’s Domain shopping center, I was up for the experience. I figured at the very least it would offer a quiet place to talk. I’ve grown tired of trying to communicate, much less connect, in noisy restaurants and clubs.  

And I was right—the atmosphere was definitely conducive to conversation. One of my friends commented that the wine bar looked a little like a library, with the floor-to-ceiling custom wine shelving on one wall. Oversize wine labels and elegant light sconces graced another. We sat at a comfortable table for four, and although the place was full, I don’t even remember the neighboring diners. We had enough quiet to hear ourselves talk and enough space to avoid overhearing others’ conversations.

We shared a bottle of Grenache recommended by our server, who was quite knowledgeable. She fended my wine-savvy friends’ questions admirably, explaining that this particular wine was not fruity, nor was it too dry, either. She described it as “having a lot of earth.” Given my track record with choosing wines, I won’t attempt to describe the taste, but one of my companions said, “It has a slightly fruity start, with complex layers of flavor, and a smooth, slightly drier finish.”

Crú offers full dinner and dessert menus, as well as a “sharing menu,” a concept that seems to be catching on in many restaurants. Crú's version  includes stone-fired pizzas and cheese flights, but we settled on shrimp potstickers and three-cheese fondue with white truffle oil. The fondue was flanked with apples, pears, green beans, carrots, and rustic bread. Both appetizers were delicious, and neither was overly filling (especially when shared with four people).

The knowledgeable staff came through again after our meal, when one of the cooks in our group wanted to know what cheeses were in the fondue. Our server graciously fetched the chef, who came to our table and reeled off the ingredients: fontina, Gruyère, and Gorgonzola, and, of course, white truffle oil. When the same friend asked about the sauce on the potstickers, he practically gave her the recipe from memory. The kitchen staff here knows what it’s doing.

Fondue always fires a conversation, but I think the sharing-menu concept overall does the same thing. It also allows you to try a variety of items, while saving money and calories. Count me a fan.

It’s becoming a familiar scenario: A friend comes in from out of town, and I discover a new Austin restaurant. Usually, it’s just a matter of my wanting to try a place I’d heard about and good timing. Recently, though, when my friend Candy was here for a convention, she came armed with her own recommendation. Of course, this particular friend knows Austin better than I do (although she lives in Victoria now), so it didn’t surprise me. What’s more, she’s a foodie, so I figured her choice would be a good bet.

weiner02One of the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile fleet landed near our magazine offices recently and created quite a buzz. When it drives by, or pulls up and parks, the vehicle elicits warm, fuzzy, happy smiles like no other. It also made me hungry for a Chicago-style hot dog. Do you relish hot dogs as much as I do? Where's your favorite Texas hot dog stop? A ballpark? A drive-in? Let us know. And pass the mustard.
Enjoyed Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Dave Mason over the weekend at the One World Theatre, a nouveau Italianate villa/concert venue in the hills of southwest Austin. The venerable singer/songwriter/guitarist still delivers the goods and produced an excellent show ably assisted by his crackerjack 4-piece band. Mason's vast catalog of memorable tunes were in evidence--Feelin' Alright, World in Changes, Shouldn't Have Took More Than You Gave, and many more, as well as compelling compositions from his latest recording, 26 Letters-12 Notes.
Two hundred years ago, Polish-French composer Frederic Francois Chopin, the "poet of the piano," was born. In honor of his bicentennial, Tarleton State University's Langdon Center in Granbury will present A Chopin Festival at the United Methodist Church in Acton, February 27-March 1. Highlights of the 3-performance program include Chopin's Cello Sonata, Grande Polonaise Brillante, Fantaisie-Impromptu, Nocturne in C minor, Ballade in G minor, Scherzo No. 2 in B flat, and other noted selections from this classical music master. For reservations and additional information, call 817/279-1164.

[caption align="alignright" width="200" caption="Photo by Alice Liles"]

Photo by Alice Liles[/caption]

A few weeks ago, while visiting friends at their lake house in Kingsland, I finally went to see the American bald eagle nest off Texas 29, between Burnet and Llano, that has been in the news in recent years. (My friend Alice Liles supplied the photo, which she took of the nest last year.)

There were already a few cars parked beside the road when we arrived at the site. One of them belonged to an accountant from Brenham, who had set up two tripods, one with a camera and the other with a spotting scope. Wearing a heavy coat and wool cap to ward off the cold wind, he had obviously been there a while. He invited us to take a look through the scope, and filled us in on the latest activity in the nest. He said at present the two eaglets were visible in the nest.

I looked through the scope, and sure enough, I could see the backs of two little heads peeking up above the nest. Not much to see at that point, but still, two mounds of fluff in a nest of twigs and branches. A squirrel running around the edge of the nest and under it made it easy to tell that this was one huge treetop construction. Several of the spectators made jokes about the squirrel not being very smart, considering the parents could come back at any time and make a meal of him. But maybe he was smarter than we thought, and eagles intent on feeding their young aren't looking for squirrels.

Alice and I took turns looking through the scope with the other spectators and a few new arrivals. The accountant welcomed one and all and proved quite knowledgeable about birds and the history of the nest. He said he'd spent a lot of time watching the eagles over the years; he had a notebook full of photographs that he'd taken to prove it. I figured he was setting us up to buy some of his photos, which were quite good, but no, they weren't for sale. He took them just for his own and others' enjoyment.

Later, as I was looking through the scope, I saw one of the parents swoop in and land on the side of the nest. What a dramatic arrival! It caused a mild commotion among the group, all of whom wanted a glimpse of the majestic creature. Thanks to the spotting scope, everyone had a chance to see him. (And yes, the accountant thought he was a male.)

As we huddled around the scope, waiting for our next turn, we visited with our companions. It turned out that there were several schoolteachers in the bunch, and a couple of people figured out that they had gone to Stephen F. Austin State University together a few decades ago. I couldn't help but think about the unusual nature of this gathering—total strangers connecting on the side of a road as they enjoyed watching a family of birds.

By the way, the accountant/roadside birder told us that the eagles would probably stay around until at least April or May. If you haven’t made it to the viewing yet, it’s worth a trip.

Having just made my annual end-of-January trip to southeast Texas, I can report that despite any prognostications from Punxsutawney Phil, the signs of spring’s approach are visible in at least parts of the Lone Star State. I didn’t see any wildflowers except for dandelions and henbit, but peach trees are beginning to bud and lettuce is harvest-ready in backyard gardens. Best of all, bluebonnet seedlings are popping up in pastures and along roadsides.

I know, we’ve got at least a month of winter left and probably some nasty weather ahead, but I love the anticipation of February. It doesn’t hurt that we’re now working on our annual wildflower story in the April issue—22 pages that spotlight four wildflower drives in different parts of Texas. My prediction: If you don’t already have wildflower fever, you will by the time that issue arrives, in early March. Anticipate it, and be ready to take a drive.

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