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Written by Lori Moffatt

With the Thanksgiving holiday approaching, I’m wrapping up loose ends at the office while occasionally daydreaming about tomorrow’s feast. I’m particularly excited about Brussels sprouts, of all things—I bought one of those gorgeous branches of sprouts, still attached to the stalk like something out of a Dr. Seuss story–and I’m planning to roast them until they are sweet and delicious. Not a traditional Pilgrim dish, I’m sure—nor did Brussels sprouts appear at the feast we Texans dub the “real” First Thanksgiving—a meal celebrated near present-day El Paso in 1598, when Spanish explorer Juan de Onate and his expedition gave thanks for surviving their journey across the Chihuahuan desert.

But as much as tomorrow’s meal is linked to traditional foods—turkey, cranberries in some guise, stuffing, pecan & pumpkin pies—I always enjoy learning which dishes Americans with foreign backgrounds bring to the table. A friend with Cuban relatives, for example, will have a Cuban turkey (pavo) at their table—seasoned, she says, with garlic, cumin, oregano, and lime juice. I’d love to learn which variations you’ll bring to your celebration of thanks.

As most of you know, when it comes to food, I’ll try most things at least once. Fried grasshoppers? Bring them. Tongue tacos? Yes, please, with extra cilantro. The promise of culinary exploration is one reason I like to visit Houston, especially when I have the opportunity to explore cuisines I know little about. I recently had the good fortune of exploring the menu at one of Houston’s most authentic Korean restaurants—Nam Gang Korean (at 1411 Gessner at Long Point; 713/467-8801)—with Houston friends, one of whom spent considerable time working (and eating) in Seoul a few years ago.

It was a Tuesday night, and we heard there was a tech convention in town nearby. That might explain the crowd: The place was packed with Korean businessmen, who—almost without exception—were drinking copious amounts of the alcoholic sweet-potato beverage called “Soju.” We ordered some ourselves, along with a stunning array of raw meats and vegetables, which we cooked ourselves, to our liking, over a charcoal fire in the center of our table. Korean meals last for hours, and ours did, too. Great fun, and a novel approach to dinner that I hope to repeat soon.

And so this morning, as I think about this particular meal, and others—and the friends and loved ones with whom I share life’s vicissitudes—I’m feeling thankful. Have a lovely holiday tomorrow.

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I had dinner last week with Dallas friends who had read about Austin’s ever-burgeoning trailer-food trend. “Was this going on elsewhere?’ they wondered. And had I explored many of the trailers’ offerings? From what I understand, I told them, it’s primarily an Austin thing–at least in the sense that no where else has such numbers or diversity. Take your pick around town—we have everything from chocolate-covered bananas and cherry-stuffed donuts to Cuban sandwiches and vegan chili.

And while I’ve enjoyed samplings from a handful of Austin’s trailers, I’ve barely made a dent. Just this past week, though, I met friends on the outside patio of Shangri-La, an unassuming cocktail bar on East Sixth Street, a few blocks east of I-35. After a drink, our group cruised across the street for takeout dinner from a group of trailer-restaurants that have joined together as “The East Side Drive-In.” (We could have dined on picnic tables scattered across the property, but instead we brought our dinner back to Shangri-La.) A few of us savored burgers and cheesesteaks; my husband had a BLT dressed up with basil from a trailer called “Pig Vicious,” and I made a culinary score with a walnut-and-cranberry-studded tuna melt, made all the more unusual with a fried egg. Delicious all around.

Coming up on November 6 from 11 to 8, many of Austin’s trailers (and there are at least 50 around town these days) will participate in the first annual Gypsy Picnic Trailer Food Festival, held on Auditorium Shores. Admission is free. Live music by Junior Brown, Guy Clark, Jr., and others will set the mood, and you can sample portions of various trailer treats for $3 or less. Check out the Web site at www.gypsypicnic.com, and if you go, tell us which tasty bits you like best.

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Every year around mid-October, when I receive that much-anticipated invitation to my friends’ annual Halloween costume party, I scramble around to various Austin thrift stores (and then dig through my costume bin) to see what sort of ridiculous outfit I can come up with. The stars must be in alignment this year, because I just got word that Cirque du Soleil—that Canadian-based, all-human theatrical circus that highlights grace and strength, with elaborate costumes, music, and sets–is bringing its new insect-themed touring show, Ovo, to Frisco and Houston in 2011. (“Ovo” means egg in Portuguese.) I can’t wait! Not only do I have inspiration for an over-the-top costume (though I’ll admit execution may be tricky), but I’m firming up plans to be amazed in 2011. I’m envisioning acrobats on giant spiderwebs, suspended over the stage. I can’t help it, I’m a Cirque nerd.

And speaking of Halloween, El Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), the traditional celebration of life & death embraced by many Latin American cultures, follows a few days later, on November 2. You’ll find celebrations in San Antonio and other Texas cities with prominent Hispanic populations, so seek them out if you’re of the mind to embrace the cycle of life and remember loved ones who have left this mortal coil.

In Houston, Lawndale Art Center (www.lawndaleartenter.org) celebrates El Dia de los Muertos beginning this Friday, October 22, with its 23rd annual Dia de los Muertos Gala and Retablo Silent Auction. One of Lawndale’s biggest fundraisers, the gala ($45) offers attendees the opportunity to bid on small artworks (retablos) created by well-known Houston and internationally known artists. The works—both reverent and irreverent— will be on display through November 6 in the Lawndale galleries. Other Lawndale events in conjunction with El Dia de los Muertos include a community ofrenda (offering), during which guests are encouraged to bring a personal item to the community altar to honor departed loved ones (October 18 through November 6); a papel picado workshop on October 28, during which guests can learn the traditional art of Mexican paper-cutting; and a Family Day Fiesta on November 6, featuring performances by Mixteco Ballet Folklorico and the Houston Grand Opera.

How will you celebrate the season?

A few years ago, after writing a story on the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, I got the gardening bug, big-time. And since the only lawnmower I owned (and still own) was a rusty push-mower, I decided to till up my water-greedy Saint Augustine grass and turn my lawn into a giant native-plant garden. And now that the plants have matured, it’s a jungle of Lindheimer senna, agaves, Texas sage, butterfly bush, and dozens of other plants whose names I promised I’d never forget… but did. I’m not the most organized landscaper, it’s true.

But in honor of the second annual Texas Native Plant Week (October 18-24), a commemoration sponsored by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, the National Wildlife Federation, and the City of Austin, I’m going to spend some time in the garden this weekend, trying to re-identify the plants that make me smile so often. They require very little care, and their blooms and foliage bring interest year-round. But what I most love about my little jungle is that it provides homes for all manner of bees, butterflies, praying mantises, toads, birds, anoles, and other interesting creatures. Never a dull moment out there.

Poke around the dedicated Web site, www.txnativeplantweek.org, to learn more about which plants and trees will do well in your part of Texas. You’ll find lists of native plant & seed providers, as well as recommended plants for any of the six regions of Texas, along with loads of other information.

In our November issue, we delve into the joys of traditional (and not-so-traditional) hot dogs, with a sidebar on New Braunfels' upcoming sausage celebration–Wurstfest-which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.The fest, which takes place October 29 through November 7, features live music and dancing fueled by lots of German sausage and beer.

And I just got word that the Wurstfest Association, the dedicated team of enthusiasts who have organized this popular event for the past half-century, will debut a 17 X 75-foot Wurstfest-themed mural on Monday, October 18, at noon. The mural, painted by local artist Brent McCarthy, is at 124 Elizabeth Street in New Braunfels, next door to the Circle Arts Theater. The unveiling party will offer a preview of the big Wurstfest bash, with live music and refreshments.

Hey, those Wurstfest folks know how to throw a party! (Practice your chicken dance now.) See www.wurstfest.com.

Hello, there! It has been awhile since my last blog, and it's good to be back!

It's Texas Wine Month, and I know what I'll be doing this evening--cracking open a bottle of vino to celebrate this and other recent toast-worthy events. In my cabinet at the moment are several new-to-me bottles from East Texas' Los Pinos Vineyard, as well as a few tried-and-true wines from Central Texas' Alamosa Cellars, so I'll have to see what sounds best when I get home.

The Texas wine biz has grown tremendously in recent years, and now contributes more than $1.3 billion to the state's economy. We're the 5th-largest producer in the United States, bested only by California, Washington, Oregon, and New York. (That last one is a surprise to me.) Currently, Texas boasts some 200 wineries, and most offer tasting rooms and tours.

I spent some time exploring the Texas Department of Agriculture's Web site (www.gotexanwine.org), and I found a lengthy (and inspiring) list of upcoming wine-focused events, including the upcoming La Dolce Vita Food and Wine Festival in Austin (Oct. 14), the Fredericksburg Food and Wine Fest (Oct. 23), the Grapevine Hallowine Trail (Oct. 30), and Addison's WineFest 2010 (Nov. 6)—and that's just for starters.

Cheers to autumn!

Now that Texas Highways' July story on Austin has hit the stands, I'm reminded that one of my favorite ‘restaurant rows’ in town is an admittedly unattractive stretch of Lamar Boulevard north of 183, where you can find dozens of interesting restaurants serving Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, Pakistani, and Indian fare.

I give a solid thumbs-up to a City Weekend in Dallas. I'd heard a lot about the new developments in downtown and the nearby Arts District, so I decided to investigate this past weekend. My husband, Randy, and I booked a room at the beautiful new Joule Hotel, a few steps away from the original Neiman Marcus, on Main Street. Downtown Dallas, with its gargoyle-festooned buildings that date to the early 1900s, is still primarily a financial district, but that's gradually changing. Restaurants, clubs, and hotels are drawing more nighttime visitors downtown, imbuing the streets with fresh energy.

A few months ago, I joined a group of my girlfriends at the Blanton Museum of Art for one of the museum's monthly "Third Thursday" programs. We enjoyed the opening of a new exhibit, a stroll through the museum's permanent collection, and live music in the foyer, but the main draw for us was the opportunity to take a yoga class in one of the galleries, surrounded by beautiful paintings. The refined ambiance lent a whole new energy to our poses, and we were able to view the works from a new perspective. I mean this quite literally, as we were standing on our heads at least once during the class.

We're starting to put together the April issue, and one story about sustainable travel especially holds my interest. The author makes the point that people in general are growing more aware of lessening their impact on the environment when they travel, and she provides suggestions on restaurants that source their food locally, hotels that make an effort to be energy-efficient, and destinations that focus on conservation. It's a topic I suspect we'll revisit from time to time, especially since most places don't expect us to relinquish any of our creature comforts. In most cases, after all, conservation is about efficiency.

I just received word that the Texas Department of Agriculture's wine-marketing folks are celebrating the 1st anniversary of its popular "Winery Passport" promotion with additional incentives for wine travelers.

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