This is my third year to attend the Austin City Limits Music Festival, now in its seventh year, and I am looking forward to the predicted slightly cooler temps, as well as a stellar lineup. The always-eclectic collection of musical talent (from Vampire Weekend to Gnarls Barkley to Robert Plant & Alison Krauss to Manu Chao) suits my far-and-wide-ranging tastes. If you're going for one day or all three, here's some of my favorite tips to enhance your enjoyment and comfort. The ACL Fest site covers the basics and Austin360.com has helpful advice as well.
In February 2007, I wrote a story about Central Market's cooking classes, a piece that was a blast to research, as I learned to make several varieties of sushi and the best-ever chocolate cookie. (The secret cookie ingredient is salt, which makes the sweet taste of the chocolate even stronger). What I did not learn, however, was how to properly use a knife.
I'm always looking for roadside surprises on our frequent trips from Austin to visit family and friends in Hico and Llano. When Hico bound, we often stop to fill up at the H-E-B in Lampasas, renowned for its cheap (if that's what you can call it these days) gas. We then guzzle milkshakes and cheeseburgers alfresco a few blocks ahead at Storm's Drive-In (Elvis ate here). Down the road, on US 281 north of Hamilton, we've been known to pick up a weekend's worth of comestibles at Dutchman's Hidden Valley Country Store: smoked meats and cheeses from the deli, cinnamon rolls and other treats from the bakery, and sweets at the old-fashioned candy counter. Don't forget Dutchman's own dressings and other Texas food productsâ€”and the antiques and knickknacks for sale.
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. 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 evenings. 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 Babe'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 jalapenos, the supporting ingredients there. Plus, once you've cooked with garden-fresh garlic, store-bought never quite measures up.