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Written by Super User

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.

Thrilled to hear the Austin Symphony conducted by Peter Bay on Saturday evening at the impressive Long Center. The concert featured virtuoso Korean violinist Chee-Yun's dazzling take on Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64. After intermission found the orchestra soaring with the majestic Symphony No. 4 in E-flat Major by Anton Bruckner. Exciting performance. Superb sightlines. Wonderful acoustics. See violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg play a program of Barber with the symphony on January 15-16, 2010. For details, visit www.austinsymphony.org; 512/476-6064 or 888/4MAESTRO.
Attended the Austin Record Convention on Sunday. Terrific event for music lovers, particularly those who still appreciate vinyl LPs and 45s. Additionally, there were a considerable number of vendors from all over the U.S., Europe, and beyond, selling memorabilia like concert posters, T-shirts, banners, stage passes, ticket stubs, books, magazines, photos, autographs, and souvenir collectibles like a 20'' talking/singing James Brown replica, Beatles bobbleheads, and miniature guitars. If you're a fan of recorded music, including CDs, this is the place for you. The Austin Record Convention takes place on a weekend twice a year—once in the spring, and again in the fall. Lately, they've been held at the Crockett Center at 10601 N. Lamar. Admission is a bargain: $5—good for Saturday and Sunday. For more details, visit www.austinrecords.com; 512/288-7288.

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.

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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.

Thoroughly enjoyed a free Austin Chamber Music Festival event (splendid Mendelssohn Piano Trio concert) at downtown Austin's Central Presbyterian Church today. Excellent program of Ernest Bloch's Three Nocturnes and Johannes Brahms' masterwork, Piano Trio in B Major, Op. 8. The trio's talented musicians included violinist Peter Sirotin, cellist Fiona Thompson, and pianist Ya-Ting Chang. Festival dates run from June 19-July 11 at assorted venues throughout the city. Some concerts are free, while others have an admission fee. For more information, call 512/454-0026; www.austinchambermusic.org. Among the festival's featured performers are the Brasil Guitar Duo, the Eroica Trio, Michelle Schumann, the Jupiter String Quartet, the Wild Basin Winds, and the Turtle Island String Quartet.

200606-365I'd wanted to go to the Blanco Lavender Festival for several years, so when my daughter-in-law, an Ohio native, said she wanted to see Texas' lavender fields, a daytrip was born: We drove from Austin to Blanco on Saturday to immerse ourselves in all things lavender. Knowing it was going to be hot-hot-hot, we packed a cooler full of bottled water and made sure to take along sunscreen. We needed both.

Aside from the heat, though, we had a great time. We started at the Lavender Market, on the grounds of the Blanco County Courthouse. Mixed in with the usual festival array of arts-and-crafts booths were vendors selling lavender-themed items from sachets to smudge sticks. Both of us like scented soaps, so we honed right in on bars labeled lavender-patchouli, lavender-lemongrass, lavender-mint, and spicy lavender.

Although many of the booths were shaded, we decided after a while to get out of the heat and check out the Redbud Cafe, across the street. We weren't ready for lunch, but in order to enjoy the A/C a little longer, we opted for two glasses of lavender lemonade and shared a lavender sugar cookie and a lavender-chocolate cupcake. Our verdict: All three had a subtle lavender flavor that we liked, but we thought the sugar cookie was best.

We drifted into Brieger Pottery next door, where we found not only Jon and Jan Brieger's wonderful pottery, but a variety of artworks and gifts, including a nice selection of lavender-themed items that the shop carries year round.

Then, we hit the food tent, which featured gourmet specialties, wine, and beer, all with Texas ties. Most of the food was available for sampling, and sample we did. We tried jellies in flavors of lavender (naturally), white zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon, and peach-pecan-amaretto-jalapeno. Hey, it wasn't all about lavender. We also tasted locally produced feta cheese seasoned with roasted garlic; the cheese was preserved in olive oil, which was intriguing.

Besides sampling, we kept an eye out for a special kind of lavender tea, my daughter-in-law likes the combination of white tea leaves and lavender, and lavender-infused spices. We came up short on the tea, but we found culinary lavender, lavender-citrus sugar, and lavender-herb salt. I see some baking ahead....

From the market, we headed to the Wimberley Lavender Farm (one of the six area lavender farms on tour), where owners Neil and Karen Provost had lined up a tasting with recipes from two Terry Thompson-Anderson cookbooks, as well as miniature ponies that entertained both children and adults. Several large trees offered welcome shade. The drought has taken its toll on the farm's lavender, but we found lavender plants for sale and plenty of lavender goodies in the gift store. Best of all, we purchased a container of lavender ice cream to eat on the way home. Yum! Although the Blanco Lavender Festival is over this year, lavender usually blooms May-July, and many of the state's lavender farms welcome visitors through August.

Lavender. Good company. Daytrip. I recommend it.

Showing a friend around sometimes results in making some discoveries yourself. Such was the case when I took my Lubbock houseguest to Wimberley recently. I had visited this artsy small town before, but it had been a few years. We wandered around the square, poking into galleries and shops and soaking up the relaxed vibe. I was surprised how easy it was to get into a vacation mode, just by getting out of the city (Austin) and going to a nearby town.

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