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Written by Lois M. Rodriguez

With the onset of the Texas Panhandle's first wave of winter weather, TxDOT is ready to respond with snowplows, de-icing materials and more. Local communities have been preparing, as well.

pumpkinflaFor the past few years, I've enjoyed the opportunity to be part of Fredericksburg Food and Wine Fest's Cooking School. It's hard to explain how much I enjoy sharing a few baking tricks to let others discover their own baking skills, but I do enjoy it." It's fun to open up the inner-chef in people who think they cannot bake. 

REVISED-TEX

Last year’s State Fair of Texas cliffhanger was an electrical fire that damaged the iconic Big Tex. As the State Fair opens this year, visitors will see that you can’t take a Big Tex down, plus he’ll have a revamped station.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Sept. 18, Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell speaks about the phenomenal economic impact that 2013 SXSW Conference has had on the City of Austin. Kevin Johns of Austin's Economic Growth and Redevelopment Office shares enthusiasm over the numbers. Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell speaks about the phenomenal economic impact that 2013 SXSW Conference has had on the City of Austin. Kevin Johns of Austin's Economic Growth and Redevelopment Office shares enthusiasm over the numbers.

deepfried-blog-header

I’m not sure I understand the competition to come up with the next best fried thing, and I’m not here to judge, but every year, when the State Fair of Texas (Sept. 27–Oct. 20) announces its list of fried food offerings, my ears perk up. I am excited to know what’s being tossed into the vat next.

Recipes:  Corn dogs, fried coke, funnel cakes and more. Try these fair faves at home.

Put on your bibs and get ready to bite into this year’s winners of the State Fair of Texas’ Big Tex Choice Awards fried food contest for 2013.

On Monday, Sept. 2, eight of the 50-plus deep-fried dish entries made the final cut and will be among the food offerings at this year’s State Fair, Sept. 27-Oct. 20.

See related: Deep-fried Recipes ~ Refried Deep-Fried Blog

Cuban RollOf the eight standouts, the Deep Fried Cuban Roll –– slow-cooked pork shoulder, chopped ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and secret sauce is spread onto a slice of Swiss cheese, rolled up in pastry dough and deep-fried –– received Best Taste honors.

 

thanksgivingMost Creative nods went to the Fried Thanksgiving Dinner stuffing and diced roasted turkey rolled in a ball, dipped in southern cream corn and rolled in seasoned corn meal before being fried. It’s served with old-fashioned giblet brown gravy and orange cranberry sauce.

Other finalist deep-fried dishes include:

NutellaAwesome Deep Fried Nutella® – Cream cheese and Nutella® whipped together and spread over flaky Phyllo dough sheets, rolled up, and deep fried. Served with a drizzle of honey and shaved almonds.

 

kingranchFernie’s Deep Fried King Ranch Casserole –This stick-to-your-ribs Texas-shaped creation (complete with a proudly flying Texas flag) is melted cheese, salty, spicy, goodness that is dipped in a zesty southwestern egg wash and coated in panko bread crumbs.  Deep fried golden brown and crunchy on the outside; steamy and creamy on the inside! Served with a side of red, white, and blue tortilla chips and your choice of our homemade “salsafied” sour cream or cheesy queso.

 

milllionairGolden Fried Millionaire Pie – Sweetened, fluffy cream cheese filling is loaded with golden pineapple and Texas pecans then wrapped in a flaky pie crust and fried to a golden brown. Topped with whipped cream, toasted coconut, and candied pecans.

 

spinachSpinach Dip Bites – Creamy and delicious spinach artichoke dip bites are coated with crispy tortilla chips and flash-fried until golden brown. Bites are served with salsa for an additional kick.

  

meatloafSouthern Style Chicken-Fried Meatloaf – Homemade meatloaf slices are coated in an authentic Texas chicken-fried breading and deep fried golden brown. Served with garlic mashed potatoes, Texas cream gravy, and a ketchup/brown sugar glaze for dipping.

 

fireballTexas Fried Fireball – Pimento cheese, pickles, cayenne pepper, and bacon are rolled into a ball, dipped in buttermilk, covered with a jalapeno-infused batter and deep fried. Served with chipotle ranch for dipping.

bigtexWelcome to the Fried Food Capital of Texas! aka the State Fair of Texas.

The Boss, Bruce Springsteen, talks about his musical roots and the diversity of music today. (Photo by Danny Clinch)

With more than 2000 bands to choose from at SXSW this year, there was no way anyone could have seen even a small fraction of it all, and if Bruce Springsteen was right in his assessment during his keynote speech, the odds were 50/50 that you’d either stumble upon the best band in the world or … “They suck!”  It’s hard to agree on music these days, he says, after rattling off a breath-defying cache of subgenres, like “alternative metal, avang-garde metal, black metal, black and death metal, Christian metal, heavy metal, funk metal, glam metal, Medieval metal, indie metal, melodic death metal, metalcore, rap metal …”

His speech offered an endearing education on the history of music from his personal influences – do wap, blues, gospel, Woodie Guthrie, the British Invasion – to the plethora of sounds that have manifested since.

Having been a bit haphazard in my SXSW music picks, I know of what The Boss speaks. SXSW puts it all out there on the streets of Austin. It was easy to weed out what was or wasn’t going to be interesting, if even bearable, just by the sounds bellowing out of venues. But so much was good, even if I felt like an antique in some crowds.  I will say you can enjoy SXSW without a badge (some venues offer cover charges, too), but I appreciated the flexibility a badge afforded me - allowing me to pop in and out of venues without feeling committed to something that might not be my style.

Some of the highlights for me, though, turned out to be homegrown Texas talent – both new and legendary (What happened to all those unsigned bands of yore?).

The Heartless Bastards help give credence to Texas talent. (Photo by Lois M. Rodriguez)

I’m really excited about San Antonio’s trio Girl in a Coma, who are signed to Joan Jett’s Blackheart Records label. Sisters Phanie and Nina Diaz, along with longtime friend Jen Alva have been making strides over the past few years, but I see even bigger and better things ahead for them. Others agree. They are nominated for two Independent Music Awards for Best Independent/Alternative Rock Album and Best Independent/Alternative Rock Song. Going to keep an eye on them.

And my heart just loves listening to Austin’s Quiet Company, named the 2011-2012 Best Band of the Year at the Austin Music Awards. They are touting their CD, “We Are All Where We Belong.” Luckily, amid so many choices, they had three time slots slated to make it easy to catch them.

Kat Edmonson, who I saw in hybrid interactive-music setting for a SXSW-meets-TED conference session at the Driskill Hotel, is another favorite.  The session was touted as an "intersection between humanity and technology" that "allows us to rediscover our human connections amid the tech-enthusiasm of SXSW." With some of the boldest thinkers and most interesting minds from the SXSW community taking the stage, Edmonson set the tone with her unique, lilting voice. I feel like I’ve tuned in to 1930s radio. It’s akin to Billie Holliday, and I find it refreshing.

Richard Linklater and I at the celebratory party after the "Bernie" screening at SXSW. (Photo by Jane Wu)

I also enjoyed music that was mixed with the highly-charged atmosphere like those hosted by well-knowns. Film director Richard Linklater – a native of Houston – hosted a party after the screening of his new film “Bernie,” which stars Jack Black, Matthew McConaughey and Shirley MacLaine.

Linklater, who founded the Austin Film Society, also brought us films like “Slackers,” “Dazed and Confused” and “School of Rock.” He is a genuinely fun guy – too Texas to be "Hollywood." It was nice to be able to thank him for bringing attention to Austin and Texas as viable locations for movie making. You can't talk about filmmaking in Austin or Texas without bringing up Linklater. (See: Texas films at SXSW).

Marcia Ball and I at the MEOW Women in Music luncheon. (Photo by Dallas singer Sonya Jevette)

Blues great Marcia Ball ranks high on my list of performers that I admire. She didn’t perform for SXSW, but I was able to visit with the 5-time Grammy nominee (the latest for her album Roadside Attractions) at a SXSW-inspired luncheon for women in music. The event, hosted by Carla de Santis Black of M.E.O.W (Musicians for Equal Opportunity for Women) with assistance from Nancy Conklin of Women in Music Professional Society, included a phenomenal array of empowered women who were performers, music label reps, publicists and  key movers and shakers in the music world. … all in one room to do one thing, support each other. A beautiful thing. It was inspiring, and you could feel a push to the moment women in music are feeling right now. At the end of the event, a performer from Boston took the mic to share this was her favorite part of SXSW so far. Others echoed the sentiments.

A moment with Rachael Ray as her husband's band The Cringe sets up on stage to the right of us. (Photo by Jolene Ellis)

On the last evening of SXSW, I finally made it to Rachael Ray’s private three-night bash on Austin’s east side (she also hosted a musical showcase for the public during the day Saturday). I arrived in time to see her husband take the stage with his band, The Cringe. It’s nice to have a supportive wife, no? Ray has become a regular SXSW party host, and she was A-OK. Thanks Rae-Ray! But after about an hour, I have to admit I started to feel a bit of withdrawal. I had a hankering for more of the Texas vibe. I found it.

I think music is like the blood in our veins …  the air in our lungs. I imagine we’d wither and die without musical expression. So, THANK YOU Texas, because an event like SXSW makes me realize how incredibly blessed we are with the creative community that has been fostered within the Lone Star borders. The state is brimming with talent, and its up to all of us to support our local performers. We have a good thing going, let's help keep it thriving.

(Win a CD: See below)

Like a whirlwind weekend with a beloved old friend, there are mixed feelings as we say goodbye to South by Southwest 2012. It all comes to a stop when our film- and music-fed souls – so full of tremendous energy and excitement (and next-to-no sleep) – simply can’t take in any more.

Makeshift venues and lounges that seemingly popped up over night come down just as quickly. Those remaining visitors – looking a little worse for the wear – take in their last hoorah of Austin hospitality along South Congress for one of the breakfast hotspots or coffee bars amid a few straggling Sunday morning, non-SXSW performances and tented vendor booths.

Left are fresh memories of film premiers with celebrity-laden, red-carpet hoopla; innovative minds and ideas shared by the interactive community; and the crazy late nights of band after band after band.

Pair that with official party after party, often bringing in big-name  celebs who want a piece of the action, too, by hosting their own festivities and musical showcases.

Gone are the fashion statements that offered a magniified reflection of the diversity in the SXSW schedule. You can spot, for example, the documentary or anime film devotees against the gadget gurus and entrepreneurs. Or fans of rock, metal and every other subgenre of music, Quite frankly, you could also distinguish the Austinite from the visitor.

At the end of the day, though, when SXSW crowds have all gone home, Austin retains its quintessential dose of diverse personalities, tourists, the movie scene and celebrities … and, of course, live music.

Each year, the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau releases a CD that captures the essence of the Capital City musice scene. We’d like to give a copy to one of our readers.

WIN A CD

Tell us the name of your favorite Texas-based band or performer – feel free to share a link to their website if you like –for a chance to win this year’s “Austin Music Volume 11” CD. It’s packed with 13 selected tracks, including 2010-2011’s Band of the Year, Quiet Company, Nakia, Carrie Rodriguez, Speak, Lex Land and more.

 

Note: Please note that, thanks to spammers, all blog comments are moderated, so you won't see your response immediately. Have no fear. We will moderate all comments before choosing a winner on Friday. Thank you!

It’s sometimes difficult to know when the seasons change in Texas, but one of the most anticipated seasons is that of the wildflower. Like brushstrokes from the hands of God, this showcase of vibrant colors is a tourism attraction in itself. So, the possibility of it not coming to fruition has been a stressor of late.

The good news is that, in the midst of the drought, each drop of fall and winter rain has brought renewed hope that this year might actually yield fields of flowers, including a bumper crop of bluebonnets.

“We are expecting a good wildflower crop in the Hill Country this spring,” says Daryl Whitworth, assistant director of the Freericksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau.  “Many seeds that were dormant, especially bluebonnets, appear to have had good germination from the fall rains.”

He adds that “Showers have continued from early October until now and numerous people are reporting seeing many small bluebonnet plants.”

In fact, Whitworth says the drought has actually given us the benefit of a better view. With grasses in pastures and along roadsides so short, flowers should be much more visible.

“As long as we continue to receive rain, April should bring a great display,” Whitworth says.

We’re keeping our fingers crossed.

To keep track of the wildflower progress, visit these sites:

Though I am no poet laureate, I couldn’t resist throwing my Texas spin on ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.” I know it’s been done before, but I'll share my version, nonetheless … with a few links to help you see what a great state we live in.

Happy Christmas to Y'all!

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the state,

every Texan was stirring, they could hardly wait!

In the desert, coyotes howled a wintry song.

In the Valley, a chorus of birds sang along.

~*~

Sunbathers on the coast sported their holiday glow,

while Panhandle children danced in the snow.

The Monahans revelers surfed the sands of Christmas time,

and caroling passengers rode the Polar Express from Palestine.

~*~

The big cities were a beacon of bright lights ­– reds and greens,

and Hill Country Main streets aglow with festively-lit scenes.

Across the Lone Star state, it was very easy to see

that hearts were filled with love, and there was much felicity.

~*~

Restless, they were, in their holiday cheer,

filled with the knowledge that Christmas is near.

When what should they spy across the Comanche Moon

But a silhouette of Santa. He’d be here soon!

~*~

They raced to their beds as Santa approached,

And tried to find sleep, as they had been coached.

With much state for St. Nick to cover, led by Rudolph’s bright red nose,

The excited Texans feigned sleep until they did doze.

~*~

In the still of the silent night, Santa made his way

to every home under the Texas sky, from desert and to bay.

From canyons and subtropical climes, he didn't skip a beat,

making every stop, like clockwork, savoring each gifted treat.

~*~

Then off in the big sky he rose out of sight,

And with a cheerful belly-chuckle he shouted:

"Happy Texas Christmas, y’all, and to y’all a good-night!"

christmas-holly2ya

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 altar2Dia de los Muertos is nothing new. The ritual celebrated in Mexico and parts of the United States gets its roots from the Aztecs, and many – possibly yourself, included – have long had this as part of their own life experience. But even as a Rodriguez, it wasn't something that my family participated in. I only recently started paying closer attention to the celebration, thanks in part to a friend who passionately shared the history of it with me, and to the museums who seem to embrace it more and more by opening up space for traditional ofrendas (altar offerings).

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