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.
By Lois M. Rodriguez
For 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.
Last yearâ€™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 canâ€™t take a Big Tex down, plus heâ€™ll have a revamped station.
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.
Iâ€™m not sure I understand the competition to come up with the next best fried thing, and Iâ€™m not here to judge, but every year, when the State Fair of Texas (Sept. 27â€“Oct. 20) announces its list of fried food offerings, my ears perk up. I am excited to know whatâ€™s being tossed into the vat next.
Recipes:Â 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 yearâ€™s winners of the State Fair of Texasâ€™ 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 yearâ€™s State Fair, Sept. 27-Oct. 20.
Of the eight standouts, the Deep Fried Cuban Roll â€“â€“ 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 â€“â€“ received Best Taste honors.
Most 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. Itâ€™s served with old-fashioned giblet brown gravy and orange cranberry sauce.
Other finalist deep-fried dishes include:
Awesome Deep Fried NutellaÂ® â€“Â Cream cheese and NutellaÂ® whipped together and spread over flaky Phyllo dough sheets, rolled up, and deep fried. Served with a drizzle of honey and shaved almonds.
Fernieâ€™s Deep Fried King Ranch CasseroleÂ â€“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.Â 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 â€œsalsafiedâ€ sour cream or cheesy queso.
Golden Fried Millionaire PieÂ â€“ 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.
Spinach Dip BitesÂ â€“ 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.
Southern Style Chicken-Fried MeatloafÂ â€“ 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.
Texas Fried FireballÂ â€“ 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.
Welcome to the Fried Food Capital of Texas! aka the State Fair of Texas.
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 youâ€™d either stumble upon the best band in the world or â€¦ â€œThey suck!â€Â Itâ€™s hard to agree on music these days, he says, after rattling off a breath-defying cache of subgenres, like â€œalternative 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 â€¦â€
His speech offered an endearing education on the history of music from his personal influences â€“ do wap, blues, gospel, Woodie Guthrie, the British Invasion â€“ 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 wasnâ€™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.Â 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 â€“ both new and legendary (What happened to all those unsigned bands of yore?).
Iâ€™m really excited about San Antonioâ€™s trio Girl in a Coma, who are signed to Joan Jettâ€™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 Austinâ€™s Quiet Company, named the 2011-2012 Best Band of the Year at the Austin Music Awards. They are touting their CD, â€œWe Are All Where We Belong.â€ 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.Â 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 Iâ€™ve tuned in to 1930s radio. Itâ€™s akin to Billie Holliday, and I find it refreshing.
I also enjoyed music that was mixed with the highly-charged atmosphere like those hosted by well-knowns. Film director Richard Linklater â€“ a native of Houston â€“ hosted a party after the screening of his new film â€œBernie,â€ which stars Jack Black, Matthew McConaughey and Shirley MacLaine.
Linklater, who founded the Austin Film Society, also brought us films like â€œSlackers,â€ â€œDazed and Confusedâ€ and â€œSchool of Rock.â€ He is a genuinely fun guy â€“ 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).
Blues great Marcia Ball ranks high on my list of performers that I admire. She didnâ€™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 andÂ key movers and shakers in the music world. â€¦ 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.
On the last evening of SXSW, I finally made it to Rachael Rayâ€™s private three-night bash on Austinâ€™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. Itâ€™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 â€¦Â the air in our lungs. I imagine weâ€™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 â€“ so full of tremendous energy and excitement (and next-to-no sleep) â€“ simply canâ€™t take in any more.
Makeshift venues and lounges that seemingly popped up over night come down just as quickly. Those remaining visitors â€“ looking a little worse for the wear â€“ 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-nameÂ 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 â€¦ 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. Weâ€™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 â€“ feel free to share a link to their website if you like â€“for a chance to win this yearâ€™s â€œAustin Music Volume 11â€ CD. Itâ€™s packed with 13 selected tracks, including 2010-2011â€™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!
Itâ€™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.
â€œWe are expecting a good wildflower crop in the Hill Country this spring,â€ says Daryl Whitworth, assistant director of the Freericksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau.Â â€œMany seeds that were dormant, especially bluebonnets, appear to have had good germination from the fall rains.â€
He adds that â€œShowers have continued from early October until now and numerous people are reporting seeing many small bluebonnet plants.â€
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.
â€œAs long as we continue to receive rain, April should bring a great display,â€ Whitworth says.
Weâ€™re keeping our fingers crossed.
To keep track of the wildflower progress, visit these sites:
Though I am no poet laureate, I couldnâ€™t resist throwing my Texas spin on â€˜Twas the Night Before Christmas.â€ I know itâ€™s been done before, but I'll share my version, nonetheless â€¦ with a few links to help you see what a great state we live in.
Happy Christmas to Y'all!
â€˜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,
The Monahans revelers surfed the sands of Christmas time,
The big cities were a beacon of bright lights Ââ€“ 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. Heâ€™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 Rudolphâ€™s bright red nose,
The excited Texans feigned sleep until they did doze.
In the still of the silent night, Santa made his way
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, yâ€™all, and to yâ€™all a good-night!"
Dia 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 â€“ possibly yourself, included â€“ have long had this as part of their own life experience. But even as a Rodriguez, it wasnâ€™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). My recent visit to the Rio Grande Valley and many of its museums, featuring Dia de los Muertos exhibits, magnified that interest in me even more.
The Day of the Dead is based on the belief that the dead come to visit their loved ones from Oct. 31-Nov. 2. In recognition of this homecoming, families and friends set out altars of offerings â€“â€“ at their gravesite or in homes â€“â€“that include a photo(s) of loved ones who have passed, along with items that represented that person and their hobbies, as well as their favorite foods, drinks and more. Toys and candy are typically placed for the children.
Along with the personal items, the altars include many universal Dia de los Muertos symbols including crosses/religious symbols, fruit, pan de muerto (breads often shaped like the skull and crossbones), marigolds (or CempazÃºchitl), sugar skulls and candles to light the way for the dead.
Calacas, or skeleton figurines, are all over these Dia de los Muertos displays. They are often seen doing joyful things, as in life. The calacas represents death as an extension of life and not something to be feared.
Most notable among the calacas is La Catrina, the well-dressed skull figure, usually in her finest gown, hat and gloves. It was explained to me recently that La Catrina mocks a wealthy woman who did nothing to help the poor. The point is being made that no matter how wealthy or privileged we may be in life, at the core â€¦ and in death, we are all bones â€¦ all the same.
Calaveras are the skulls represented in the altars - most especially, the sugar skulls. The abundance of sugar made it the perfect medium for creating the folk art that represented the departed in colorful and positive ways.
I learned a lot about some of the meanings from my dear friend Cole Ynda who, in memory of her late brother David, wrote a beautiful poem incorporating the elements of Dia de los Muertos. She explained the symbolism in her poem, Querido.
I didnâ€™t know, before that, that there was a reason the marigolds were always the flower of choice. Aside from it being noted as sacred to Mictlantecuhtli, the Aztec god of the dead, Cole put it in words that brought it more to life for me, so to speak. She said the marigolds serve as a guide, much like the candles do, because â€œthe dead can see the color and vibration of the flower.â€ In her poem she calls them â€œlos colores de la tierra, de la vidaâ€ â€“â€“ colors of the earth and of life. That just sounds so lovely to me.
A few years ago, I visited the Mexican American Culture Center in Austin during their Dia de los Muertos festivities. I joined a craft table with a bunch of children, but embraced the kid inside me and was determined to make my own sugar skull. The first sugar skull I ever decorated, I dedicated it to two â€œDâ€s â€“ my dad, Benito Cruz Rodriguez and to David, Coleâ€™s brother. I think I did an okay job. Well, the 5-year-old next to me started copying mine and you know what they say about imitation. :)
The Spanish tried to squash the ritual, calling it sacrilege, but Iâ€™m beginning to see it for the beautiful, poetic gesture that it is. Itâ€™s not a mockery of death. Itâ€™s more about coming to terms with it and its marriage to the thing we call life. Itâ€™s about remembering and continuing to embrace our loved ones, even in death.
PAN DE MUERTO
- 5 cups of flour
- 1/2 cup of sugar
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 1 tablespoon of anise seed
- 2 packets of dry yeast
- 1/2 cup of milk
- 1/2 cup of water
- 1/2 cup of butter
- 4 eggs
Mix together the sugar, salt, anise, dry yeast and only 1Â½ cups of the flour.
In a small saucepan, heat the milk, water butter.
Add the liquid mixture to the dry mixture and beat well.
Blend in the eggs and another 1 Â½ cups of flour and, once again, beat well.
Gradually mix in the remainder of the flour until you get a firm, non-sticky dough, and knead for about 10 minutes.
Let the dough rise to double itâ€™s size (about an hour) in a greased bowl.
Reshape the dough, incorporating some bone shapes on top, then let it rise for another hour. You may also make smaller individual breads and/or try different shapes with the dough.
Bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes.
After baking, you may sprinkle it with confectioner's sugar and colored sugar.