Written by Texas Highways
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.
I'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 toÂ 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.
I stopped in at my local Barnes & Noble Saturday evening to say hello to longtime TH contributors Gary Clark and Kathy Adams Clark. The Houston-based author-photographer duo was there to sign copies of their just-released Enjoying Big Bend National Park: A Friendly Guide to Adventures for Everyone (Texas A&M University Press). Gary, a naturalist who has been visiting Big Bend for the last 30 years, wrote the text, and Kathy, who owns the photo agency KAC Productions, shot the photographs. The result: a handy reference that makes planning a trip to this far-flung park a little less overwhelming. Filled with practical information and stunning images, Enjoying Big Bend is sure to make this challenging site more popular than ever. Seeing it made me want to pack up and head for "the Texas outback" immediately.
I thought I'd adjusted to the lack of bluebonnets this year, wildflower showings around Austin have been lackluster in general, but a trip to Houston earlier this week reminded me how much I count on seeing those broad swaths of blue plastered across the roadsides each spring. The state flower was in full force along US 290, especially in the Brenham area, and after the visual famine, the dramatic displays seemed more beautiful than ever. I think I actually said "Yes!" when I saw the first gorgeous patch. It suddenly felt like spring had really sprung. For more promising wildflower drives, see "Trips to Bountiful" in the April TH.
For the July 2007 issue of TH, I wrote a story about the hour-long Hidden Kitchens Texas (HKTX) radio special that debuted on NPR a couple of years ago. Produced by The Kitchen Sisters in collaboration with KUT in Austin and narrated by Willie Nelson, the program described under-the-radar kitchens across the state, from a Dallas gas station that serves great tacos to the NASA lab in Houston that develops space food. It was fun writing about that project, and now I have an update: At a SXSW party in Austin a few nights ago, Nikki Silvia and Davia Nelson, aka The Kitchen Sisters, launched a new book based on the rollicking audio program, complete with colorful photos and recipes.
On a recent trip to Lubbock, I wasn't very enthusiastic when my friend suggested we have lunch at a new burger joint called Blue Sky Texas. I figured a burger is a burger; however, I quickly changed my tune when we went inside and I saw the menu. One of the featured items is a green chile cheeseburger. You can also get green chile-cheese fries and chile sticks (fried chiles). Yum. My taste buds were ready. These are menu items you don't find at most burger places. I went for the green chile cheeseburger, and my friend ordered something called Blue Sky "steak" and fries (two ground-chuck patties stuffed with grilled onions and jalapeños and topped with queso).
In response to November’s feature on JFK, TH reader Amy Cunningham shares her memories of November 22, 1963.
By Amy Cunningham
I was born and raised in Dallas. My grandfather’s people came to Texas in a covered wagon to farm land just east of Dallas. I’ve always felt the grounding of those roots, though my life took me to New Orleans for most of my adulthood.
In November 1963 I was just starting high school. Because Dallas school kids had permission to leave school to go downtown to watch the President's parade, my best friend and I took the city bus and stood on the curb of Elm Street – just 2 blocks from the Texas School Book Depository. Like many others, I remember it was one of those gloriously clear and sunny Texas winter days. The crowd filled the sidewalks and there was a general feeling of excitement and anticipation. Dallas at that time (like now) was a very politically conservative place – but the times were more civil and although there was political distrust of Kennedy, I saw nothing of that in the crowd there to see him.
I’ve tried many times to describe to my family and friends why it is so much a part of me. Maybe it was my age, maybe it was because I was there, maybe because it happened in my hometown, probably it was all those things and more.
In those days no one went “downtown” without dressing up a bit, and the people watching for the motorcade were in suits and dresses. We heard the police motorcycles approaching, and found that we were on the side of the street nearest to President Kennedy. When his car passed he was turned toward the other side of the street, so I only saw him from the back. But Jackie was facing us and I saw that bright pink suit, and her wide smile. It was over so quickly, but I have an indelible picture in my memory.
My father worked for the First National Bank in Dallas, just a block away. It was our plan to meet him there after the parade and he would take us home. My mother was at the Trade Mart – part of the audience waiting to hear the President’s speech. We spent a few minutes talking about how special this all was, and had just turned to walk to my father’s office when what sounded like every siren in the city beginning to wail. There an immediate feeling that something terrible had happened. The word flew up the few blocks from the grassy knoll. The President had been shot – but no one knew anything else. I remember people standing in stunned silence, people holding on to strangers, and people already beginning to cry.
By the time we reached my father’s office, the radio report was that Kennedy had been taken to Parkland Hospital. And then – that he had died. Of course we all know now that the shots were not survivable – but there was a bit of time for hope then – and then there was none.
In addition to the grief was the disbelief that this had happened in “my” city, my home. There was a feeling that what was safe and known was spinning out of control within our sight.
No one knew what to do. My memories of that first night are chaotic. My aunt and uncle were florists, so I went there for a while to help them with the deluge of orders that began to come in. By evening the grassy knoll and Dealey Plaza was covered with flowers. The same places where as a child I would play after meeting my father downtown for lunch. The churches of the city stayed open all night, and I remember how strange that looked to see the stained glass windows lit so far into the night. I also remember my family going to our church together – just to sit with friends and to pray. In addition to the grief was the disbelief that this had happened in “my” city, my home. To make it worse, I lived in Oak Cliff, and learned soon enough that Oswald had been living just a few blocks from my church, and was captured in the Texas Theater – one of my neighborhood places. And then there was Ruby. There was a feeling that what was safe and known was spinning out of control within our sight.
My memory of the next days will forever have the sound of horseshoes on cobblestones, the slow beat of drums, and of taps and rifle salutes. Although it’s common now, in times of disaster, for there to be continual TV coverage, it was new to me then. The funeral, the woman who I had seen to be so lovely in her pink suit in the Texas sunshine now veiled in black, the children not understanding what was happening, the famous people walking across the Potomac bridge, the riderless horse with boots in the stirrups, lighting of the flame, and the rocking chairs being carried out of the White House. All in black and white pictures – which still seems appropriate.
There was such a sense of sorrow that this thing that was so palpably terrible had happened in Dallas – but joined by a deep need to defend the city I was still so rooted to. I remember that when we traveled to other places – before 1963 – the usual silly question asked by strangers had to do with whether everyone in Texas/Dallas owned a horse. After 1963 those remarks were much more sinister and hurtful.
I remember that when we traveled to other places – before 1963 – the usual silly question asked by strangers had to do with whether everyone in Texas/Dallas owned a horse. After 1963 those remarks were much more sinister and hurtful.
I went on a youth choir trip to Washington DC in the summer of 1964. We visited Arlington Cemetery, where the eternal flame I had seen lit in black and white still burned, surrounded by faded caps from the service men who had carried the casket and a white picket fence. It was hard – but important – to tell people we had come there from Dallas. It felt necessary to be there. I still feel that when I visit the Kennedy grave site – like I owe that tribute.
For all the years after, November 22 has been a day I am aware of – no matter where I am or what I am doing. Like Pearl Harbor Day for my parents, like September 11 for all of us. When there are film clips on the newscasts I live those days again. I took my girls to downtown Dallas during one of our visits “home”, unaware that was a filming day for one of the assassination movies. That day they were filming the motorcade scenes. I saw the “period” motorcycles, and the black open limos go by, with another woman in a bright pink suit in the back seat. Then there was rifle fire and the cars sped away. I was immediately 15 again, with tears streaming down my face. I’ve tried many times to describe to my family and friends why it is so much a part of me. Maybe it was my age, maybe it was because I was there, maybe because it happened in my hometown, probably it was all those things and more.
History has shown us many of John Kennedy’s faults – but I remember such a feeling of promise that the country could be made a better place, that service to our country could be something my generation could do too.
The election of John Kennedy was the first that I paid any attention to. My parents were survivors of the Great Depression and WWII, and FDR Democrats to the bone. They were conflicted, though, about voting for Kennedy because of his religion. But they did and I remember watching the inauguration avidly. There was such an vivid change in the image of the presidency. Youth, culture, glamor, laughing children, poets, gifted oratory. History has shown us many of John Kennedy’s faults – but I remember such a feeling of promise that the country could be made a better place, that service to our country could be something my generation could do too. Hope for a future we could make a good one – and inspiration to do so. So his death, in such a sudden and cruel way, was a loss of all that innocence and invincibility.
LBJ actually accomplished many of the things that were part of Kennedy’s shared vision of change. But he was such a personal contrast – and there was the fact that he was so decidedly Texan. Next there was Vietnam, and Watergate, and so much more – paralleled by a loss of trust in the governance of our country.
I was asked to do an oral history for the 6th Floor Museum a few years ago. For over an hour I talked to an interviewer and a camera, sitting by a window in that infamous building, overlooking that grassy knoll. I could not talk that day without tears. I am a grown woman, with a family and a career that I love, and I still cherish those deep Texas roots. But all these years later, those memories can overwhelm me in an instant, and I am standing on that downtown Dallas curb again.
Amy Cunningham, MS, RD, LDN