If you haven't seen the Texas pageant in Palo Duro Canyon State Park, it offers an unexpected opportunity to relax. Not to take anything away from the pageant itself, because the performances are entertaining and memorable, but IÂ have to admit, the action on stage took a back seat to my enjoyment of the dramatic setting (pun definitely intended). I had the chance to make a presentation to the Midwest Travel Writers Association, and host Eric Miller ferried the group on the 30-minute drive to enjoy the performance. We enjoyed a clear evening enhanced by a cool breeze coursing through the open-air amphitheater, so the heat of the summer day was forgotten. In fact, it was cool enough that a cup of coffee was a perfect warm-up. And even a jolt of caffeine couldn't nudge me out of my serene mood. As the warm colors of the canyon walls cooled with the fading daylight faded, the sky transformed itself into a starry black blanket. I don't know if anyone else saw the shooting star (I half expected a gasp from the audience) but it seemed like it completed its bright arc right on cue.
Experience now tells me that no building can contain the legendary persona of Willie Nelson. I say this in spite of the fact that, when photographer Griff Smith and I idled backstage of the new Night Life Theater in Carl's Corner on I35E just north of Hillsboro, the space seemed big enough to handle most any event.
No one enjoys working like Tony Bennett does. The American music icon drew an amazingly diverse crowd to San Antonio's Municipal Auditorium not long ago — all ages seem mesmerized by his beaming, exuberant, stage presence that radiates the pleasure he takes in the crowd and in performing.
On a recent visit to Houston, I had dim sum with my daughter and my siblings at Yum Yum Cha Cafe in Rice Village (2435 Times Blvd., 713-527-8455, no web site). Dim sum, sometimes called "Chinese tapas," are bite-size dumplings, buns or tofu filled with meat, seafood or vegetables. Houston's Chinese food aficionados know that most of the city's dim sum restaurants are clustered in the southwest area's Chinatown, so Yum Yum Cha, nestled near the Museum District in the 610 Loop, is a rare find. Even better, Yum Yum Cha also serves dim sum on weekdays and most eveningsâ€” traditionally, this diminutive treat is only served during weekend brunch-time.
This past weekend, my husband and I made the trek up I-35 to visit relatives in Oklahoma, and we made several worthwhile stops along the way to break up the drive. I had been curious about the growing "Babe's Chicken Dinner House" Texas franchise, and a billboard enticed us to stop at the Sanger location—in the historic downtown area—for a late lunch. Downtown Sanger, where 1880s buildings speak of the town's glory days as a cattle-shipping hub on the Santa Fe Railroad, is experiencing a construction boom of sorts, but Babeâ€™s was closed for a midday siesta. I poked my head into a candle-and-jewelry shop to ask for a dining recommendation, something local, something interesting.
I have visited the Glen Rose area dozens of times over the years, but had never stopped at Dinosaur Valley State Park. But with a five-year-old rock hound/fossil fan in the family, we just couldn't pass up the park last weekend.
A few years ago, I joined a group that conducts surveys on the lower Colorado River. I joined partly to acquire volunteer hours for my Master Naturalist certification, but mostly because it combines birding and being near (and in) water—two of my favorite pasttimes.
It seems I have a lot to learn when it comes to the fine art of pit-mastering.
Last evening, I attempted to make Dr Pepper Barbecued Chicken, a recipe from John de Mers' forthcoming book Follow the Smoke: 14,783 Miles of Great Texas Barbecue (Bright Sky Press). Dr Pepper enjoys a long tradition in Texas, having been invented around 1885 at Castle's Old Corner Drug Store in Waco. Over the years, the drink has been advertised as an aphrodisiac—It makes old men young, and restores vim, vigor, and vitality—and as a stimulant; "Tonic, Brain Food, and Exhilarant!"
Whenever I have a rare burst of Saturday morning energy (and a craving for homemade soup or a special salad or stir-fry), I head over to Sunset Valley Farmers Market, just outside of Austin in Sunset Valley. Summer happens to be an especially favorite time for me to go, despite temps hovering close to 90 degrees by 11-ish, when I usually arrive there. Despite not getting there at the opening hour of 9 a.m., I can still find excellent selection. You see, I love making gazpacho, and there's no place or time of year better to find homegrown, organic tomatoes—the key ingredient—than the farmers' markets. I can also find fresh homegrown cucumber, onion, garlic and jalapenosâ€”the supporting ingredients there. Plus, once you've cooked with garden-fresh garlic, store-bought never quite measures up.
I recently enjoyed a fabulous weekend eat-athon in historic downtown Marble Falls—from tasty tapas and vino (and fun people-watching in a window seat) at The Falls Bistro & Wine Cellar, to the Shrimp and Grits at Patton's on Main, to the lip-smackin' (four-napkin) Big Chief Burger on a kaiser roll at the R Bar & Grill. (The grill is great for lunch and dinner, but it's also a fine alternative for an inexpensive breakfast if the lines are long at the town's justly popular Blue Bonnet Cafe.) Between meals, I indulged in browsing the galleries and shops along downtown's six-block stretch, including the toy and kitchen boutiques at Old Oak Square, and the home furnishings at Canyon Trails and Attitudes With Style. In nearby Buchanan Dam, I made my usual stop at Sam's Dam Ranch—at the intersection of FM 1431 and Texas 29—for plants, pottery, and the painted metal pigs and roosters from Mexico that have begun to take over my kitchen.
I've been giving my trusty Weber kettle grill a workout lately, and this past Sunday, I tried my hand at making the perfect sirloin steak—seared and slightly salty on the outside, pink in the middle, and tender and toothsome at the same time. While I prepared the grill, I remembered our June 1997 story on Tom Perini's restaurant in Buffalo Gap, a popular place called the Perini Ranch Steakhouse, which has won kudos for its meat as well as its pecan-studded (and whiskey-laced) bread pudding. I remembered that we had published Tom's recipe for his foolproof steak rub, and I searched for "Perini" on our Web site, www.texashighways.com. His steak rub recipe came right up.
4th of July fireworks displays never cease to give me a rush of excitement and ooh-and-ahh wonder. Despite the crowds and heat, I viewed this year's spectacle from the Ann Richards/Congress Avenue bridge in Austin over Auditorium Shores. I fully expected the usual teeming crush of humanity, and was not disappointed.