Written by Super User
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.
When my son and daughter-in-law returned to Austin for the holidays recently, they had their priorities straight: They planned to eat as many different tacos at as many different places as possible during their 10-day visit. Their Tex-Mex cravings began soon after they moved to Columbus, Ohio, last July. And their obsession only intensified when they ordered fajitas at a local restaurant and the meat was served with pita bread!
On my second trip back to Austin from Houston's Bush Intercontinental Airport during the holidays, I decided to break up the journey with a stop in Brenham. Have you been to this little town lately, not the Brenham you pass by as you zoom along US 290 or Texas 36 on your way to somewhere else, but the real Brenham, downtown? There are so many quaint shops and boutiques on West Alamo now that it reminds me of Fredericksburg's Main Street.
When I was in Victoria a couple of weeks ago, I tried a new barbecue restaurant a friend had recommended, Big Mo's BBQ at 1301 Sam Houston Drive. It's in a former Pizza Hut not far from my old high school, though I can't say that I remember ever eating pizza there. The reality is that the pizza venue probably came and went since I graduated.
But back to Big Mo's. The friend not only recommended the restaurant, but also gave me samples of its smoked chicken and brisket, both extra lean and thinly sliced, which she had in her fridge. They were moist and delicious. I also tasted the green beans, which had a delightful, smoky flavor themselves. I'm not a fan of potato salad, so I passed on that, but my friend assured me it was good, too. After this preview, I stopped in at Big Mo's a few days later and ordered a sliced brisket sandwich. It wasn't quite as lean as the brisket I'd tried earlier, but still mighty tasty. Next time, I'll order the "Extra Lean Trim" version.
While waiting for my order, I looked around the spic-and-span dining room and studied the menu. Turns out that Big Mo's is a spin-off of a longtime area barbecue favorite called McMillan's Bar-B-Q & Catering, in Fannin, southwest of Victoria. Louis McMillan has, in effect, passed the torch to his daughter and son-in-law, Teri and David Moten, the owners of Big Mo's. My judgment: The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
On a recent trip to San Angelo, I discovered an unusual venue in the middle of downtown. During the day, The House of Fifi Dubois is a vintage furniture store, but on many Saturday nights, it transforms into what has to be its true calling: a groovy setting for listening to live music. With the lights dimmed and all those couches and tables from the 50s, 60s, and 70s arranged in a semicircle to face a wooden stage at one end, it works perfectly. A good sound system also helps. As do good musicians, such as the six female performers I heard when I was there, the San Angelo Divas, a bluesy, folk-rock group with a big sound.
The system is simple. Store owners Phyllis Cox (Fifi) and Toni Hunter place a jar near the entrance to collect money to pay the band. It's strictly BYOB, although set-ups (Cokes, Sprite, water, etc) and a few snacks are on hand. The store provides the funky atmosphere (merchandise on display ranges from lava lamps to avocado-green ice buckets), the musicians do their thing, and listeners (twenty-somethings to seniors) drift in and out from 7 to 10. A few people are inspired to dance on the sidelines, but mostly, groups of friends just sit around enjoying the music in a comfy, super-cool setting. I can't wait to go again. For details, call 325-658-3434.
Long a fun, famous gateway to the Lone Star State, Texarkana USA is a twin cities with lots of history combined with multiple modern attractions that makes for a delightful destination. Plenty to go, see, and do. Recently spent several entertaining days here researching a future feature for the magazine. Stay tuned. Thoroughly enjoyed my stay at the Mansion on Main, an historic B&B. Discovered a couple barbecue masters, Smokey Joe's Barbeque and Big Jake's Bar-B-Q, and 2 exceptional upscale dining options, The IronWood Grill and Timothy's. Don't miss 'em. My fascinating whirlwind trip included stops at Lake Wright Patman, the Regional Art Center, an interesting local piano restoration studio, old Union Station, the famous State Line Courthouse/Post Office, Bryce's Cafeteria, remodeled Tiger Stadium at Grim Park, the Ace of Clubs House, an antique auto museum, Sue & Carol's Restaurant (for breakfast & lunch), Arkansas' largest magnolia tree, the Perot Theatre, the Scott Joplin mural, and a whole lot more. Look for details in the January 2010 issue of Texas Highways. For additional information on Texarkana, check out the website; 903/792-7191.
Working for Texas Highways has many rewards, but seeing an idea morph into print that is read around the world has to be one of the greatest.
Visits with my 13-year-old niece, Kaitie, tend to be enlightening, and not just about what's going on with teenagers these days. When she comes to Austin, I always try to plan some new experiences for her and often wind up learning something new myself.
My favorite seasonal flavor of Promised Land Milk, Creamy Dreamy Orange, is back on the shelves at my neighborhood H-E-B grocery and Whole Foods Market. Hooray! It's a guaranteed summer taste sensation, a Dreamsicle shake in a bottle. I'm partial to all of Promised Land's variations: Cinnamon Vanilla, Very Berry Strawberry, Peaches & Cream, Midnight Chocolate, and more, but Creamy Dreamy Orange tops my list. Cheers to this tasty Texas dairy delight, Floresville's finest.
I've been most fortunate to catch a number of wonderful live Austin City Limits studio appearances during my 25 years in the Capitol City's Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Steve Earle, Los Lobos, Joan Baez, and Reba McEntire, among others. Last night might have been my favorite show of all.
Legendary New Orleans pianist, composer, singer, and record producer, the elegant, 71-year old Allen Toussaint, played a 2-hour set with a terrific 6-piece band that covered the entire scope of his colossal career. From "Workin' in a Coal Mine" to "What is Success"; "Fortune Teller" to "Yes We Can Can"; "Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky" to "Sneakin' Sally Through the Alley"; and "Southern Nights" to tracks from his current release, The Bright Mississippi, it was a revelation.
Throughout, Toussaint seamlessly dropped in clever samples of inspiration from an extraordinarily wide range of sources, the Louisiana piano tradition of Professor Longhair and James Booker to Chopin, Beethoven, Gershwin, Broadway, Tin Pan Alley, classic jazz, gospel, soul, funk, r&b, Steve Goodman, and Paul Simon. This masterfully musical keyboardist never failed to embellish it all with an eloquently grand gumbo of superb taste, sharp wit, and singular style.
Keep an eye on your TV Guide listings and the www.klru.org website during the 2009-2010 season to catch this remarkable performance. God bless New Orleans, and thank goodness for PBS and shows like Austin City Limits.