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Things to Do on a Rainy Day

Written by | Published January 31, 2011

Earlier this winter, my friend Chris and I decided to broaden our cultural horizons with a post-holiday trip to the Dallas Arts District. Our original plan was to visit the Nasher Sculpture Center, but the cold, drizzly weather didn’t really lend itself to walking outdoors, so our itinerary shifted to the Dallas Museum of Art.

I’m a fan of primitive and folk art, so I was happy to check out one of the traveling exhibits, African Masks: The Art of Disguise (until Feb. 13). It included lots of great sculptural costumes from around Africa. Then, knowing we couldn’t possibly see it all in a day, we attempted to choose which galleries to view. We ended up meandering through the second floor visiting modern design, early 20th-century decorative arts, into Pacific Island art and past some wonderfully detailed Japanese sculptures. We even came upon a re-created villa—fully furnished with artwork on the walls.

I like the spacious, but warm, feel of the DMA building. It offers lots of opportunities to wander through different worlds of art, and—my favorite—to watch people interact with art. Not a bad place to spend a rainy day!

On a break, we took a walk around the vicinity and were pleasantly surprised at the proximity of the Nasher and the Crow Collection of Asian Art. I see another trip or two to this area in my future.[gallery columns="4"]

Side trip: Our excursion included a quick jaunt through downtown Waxahachie to check out the Ellis County Courthouse. I’ve always wanted to see this building in real life, particularly all those face sculptures on the outside. I’m not sure if these are likenesses of the legendary Mabel or not, but they sure are expressive! If you’re curious, read about the gargoyles on the Waxahachie courthouse.

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What's Up with the Astrodome?

Written by | Published January 24, 2011

Upon its debut in 1965 as host to an exhibition game between the Houston Astros and the New York Yankees, Houston’s Astrodome—lauded by fans as the “Eighth Wonder in the World”—nabbed a spot in the record books as the world’s first multi-purpose domed stadium (not to mention the birthplace of AstroTurf). Alas, the once-regal Dome now rests in the shadow of the much-larger Reliant Stadium at Reliant Park; the Astros left the Dome for Minute Maid Park more than a decade ago.

But city leaders are debating the Astrodome’s future, and the options are numerous: Demolish it and install a green-space plaza? Keep the shell and convert it to a multi-use venue, perhaps with an attached hotel? Create a mega-venue with a planetarium and an institute devoted to engineering and mathematics? What do you think should happen with the Astrodome? We’d love to hear your thoughts and memories. (You can see the current options being considered, complete with artists’ renditions of how redevelopment might look, at http://www.reliantpark.com/feedback.)

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French Twist

Written by | Published January 20, 2011

In the past few months, I've had the good fortune to dine at a handful of French-inspired brasseries and bistros in Houston, San Antonio, and Austin. And I just got wind of a new spot—Lüke, the first Texas restaurant by New Orleans chef John Besh—that is winning raves in San Antonio for such French favorites as mussels and seafood meunière, all rendered with a Louisiana twist. Then, as I wondered whether this new infusion of French cuisine is a trend or simply a coincidence, I learned of a new spot in Austin that focuses on French pastries and those jewel-like cookies known as macarons, which are giving cupcakes a run for their money nationwide as 2011's hottest dessert treat.

Blue Sky and Green Chiles

Written by | Published January 20, 2011

On a recent trip to Lubbock, I wasn't very enthusiastic when my friend suggested we have lunch at a new burger joint called Blue Sky Texas. I figured a burger is a burger; however, I quickly changed my tune when we went inside and I saw the menu. One of the featured items is a green chile cheeseburger. You can also get green chile-cheese fries and chile sticks (fried chiles). Yum. My taste buds were ready. These are menu items you don't find at most burger places. I went for the green chile cheeseburger, and my friend ordered something called Blue Sky "steak" and fries (two ground-chuck patties stuffed with grilled onions and jalpeños and topped with queso).

And the Winners Are ...

Written by | Published January 18, 2011

In an awards ceremony at Dallas' gorgeous Winspear Opera House last Thursday, the "Texas Cultural Trust nonprofit organization that raises private money to heighten arts awareness in Texas" announced its 2011 honorees for the 2011 Texas Medal of Arts Awards, which recognizes Texas talent in film, television, literature, journalism, music, theater, media, and the visual arts.

See the Stars

Written by | Published January 13, 2011

Hockey isn’t normally on my radar, but I became a fan for an evening at a recent Texas Stars game at Cedar Park Center. The Stars went stick-to-stick with the Hamilton (Ontario) Bulldogs, but the experience went beyond the swift-paced, puck-whacking, Plexiglas-pounding action of the game. Booming music, the jumbotron’s frequent fan footage (showing lots of happy kids and the kiss-cam), a roving burger-shaped blimp dropping coupons, the Chuck-a-Puck competition, a T-shirt cannon—all further amped the excitement.

Find ticket prices and details on special deals at www.cedarparkcenter.com (remember, there’s also a parking fee). And go, Stars!

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Dancing Mobiles

Written by | Published December 29, 2010

It would be poetic, I think, if I were to effuse that I’ve been fascinated with mobiles since I was an infant gazing at one dangling above my crib. But in reality, my introduction to mobiles came in grade school, thanks to a hippie art teacher who smelled of patchouli and patiently taught her ham-handed students how to make dancing (if lopsided) sculptures from twigs, painted acorns, and twine. I thought of her this morning when I read about the Nasher Sculpture Center’s exhibition of the works of Alexander Calder (1898-1976), whose first kinetic sculptures were dubbed “mobiles” by colleague and friend Marcel Duchamp. (Interestingly, fellow experimental artist Jean Arp called Calder’s stationary artworks “stabiles.”)

The Nasher’s show, Alexander Calder and Contemporary Art: Form, Balance, Joy, runs through March 6. Along with more than 30 of Calder’s works, the exhibition also highlights seven contemporary artists who were influenced by Calder’s creative reuse of materials, hands-on production methods, and explorations of form, balance, color, and movement.

I can’t think of a more pleasant place to experience Calder’s graceful sculptures. With its spare and light-filled interior galleries and al fresco sculpture garden filled with beautiful and thought-provoking installations, the Nasher makes artworks accessible and relevant to life’s experiences. So I know that when I next make it to Dallas, and when I walk amongst the mobiles as they rotate on gossamer threads, I’ll be back in art class, surrounded by classmates with braces and awkward hairdos, assembling sculptures from garden flotsam. The weight of one acorn could throw the whole thing off-balance. Alter one variable, and the whole project shifts. Could I have known back then that a mobile could be a metaphor for life itself? For more on the Nasher, see www.nashersculpturecenter.org.

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Texas on the Small Screen

Written by | Published December 16, 2010

I’m not really a football fan. Those are fighting words, I realize, in some parts of Texas, where pigskin rivalries divide families, coworkers, and even strangers in line at the grocery store. I do look forward to the Super Bowl every year (so I’ve marked my calendar for this year’s 45th anniversary game up in Arlington on February 6), but that’s mostly because it’s my annual excuse to eat lots of Velveeta-and-Rotel queso.

So for those who know me well, it’s always a surprise that I adore the television show Friday Night Lights, that sleeper quasi-hit show that won raves from the critics but never really took off with television audiences. My non-expert opinion is that it suffers an identity crisis: Most people think of it as a sports drama, whereas truly it’s a story about relationships, and it’s perhaps one of the of the most authentic depictions of small-town Texas since Larry McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show.

It doesn’t hurt that the show is set in Austin and surrounding areas. There’s the Continental Club! Fran’s Hamburgers! The Landing Strip of all places! That megalachurch near my house! It’s fun to try to figure out where each shot was filmed.

Location-spotting: This, along with the curious charms of actor Bradley Whitford (you know, the guy who played Josh Lyman on The West Wing, and Danny Tripp on the rollicking Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip) is what drew me to the new Fox buddy-police-comedy The Good Guys, which is set in Dallas and filmed in Dallas. The plots are gossamer-thin, but Whitford plays a pratfalling rogue Texas cop with gum-smacking panache (with Tom Hanks’ son Colin as the straight-guy sidekick). Never mind; the true star of the show is Dallas—sleek office buildings and tony downtown restaurants, Fair Park in all its Art-Deco glory, rough-around-the-edges barbecue joints along Riverside (formerly Industrial)…. I wonder if Dallasites have the same fun trying to identify filming locations for The Good Guys as I do for Friday Night Lights.

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Gone to the Dogs (CMigrator copy 1)

Written by | Published November 29, 2010

A few years ago, as I swam laps at the YMCA in Austin, I came up for air to find a sickly beagle circling the pool, watching me. Somehow he had wriggled between a break in the fence and—I like to think—decided I’d make a fine new owner. First, though, I had to nurse him back to health, and for that, I have Animal Trustees of Austin (ATA) to thank.

Along with other symptoms of neglect, my rescued beagle—whom my husband and I named Oscar—had an advanced case of heartworm disease, a dangerous disease that left untreated, leads to death. Treatment is expensive and grueling, but since I eventually adopted Oscar through a rescue organization called Austin Hound Rescue, I was able to take advantage of the mightily reduced treatment cost offered by ATA.

So I’m pleased to hear that “Celebrating Paws,” a new program offered by Lake Austin Spa Resort, not only benefits spa visitors who bring their canine friends but also donates 100% of pet guest fees collected throughout 2011 to ATA.

As part of the program, animal behaviorist Dr. Patricia McConnell will speak about the documented health benefits of pet ownership—including lower blood pressure and reduced stress levels—during spa stays February 2-6 and November 2-11, 2011.

McConnell’s topics will include “The Power of Pets: What Science Has to Tell Us about Our Love for Animals,” “Are You Thinking What I’m Thinking? What’s Really Going on in a Dog’s Brain,” and “The Other End of the Leash: Understanding How to Communicate with Your Best Friend.”

Other pet experts participating in the program include dog trainer Cara Shannon, who will lead classes in manners training and etiquette and author Susannah Charleson and her dog Puzzle (both members of the Metro Area K9 Rescue in Dallas), as well as canine photographers, massage therapists, and professional dog-walkers.

I’ll be honest: Oscar wouldn’t stand for one moment for a pedicure, but a massage is another matter.

For details about canine programs at Lake Austin Spa Resort, call 800/847-5637; www.lakeaustin.com.

And now I’m curious: what’s the most indulgent thing you’ve ever done for your dog?

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Happy Thanksgiving

Written by | Published November 24, 2010

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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Finding Menil

Written by | Published November 23, 2010

MENIL MUSEUM

Hiding in Plain Sight, the Menil Collection feature in the December issue reveals one of my favorite “hideaways” from the holiday frenzy when I visit family in Houston. Luckily, my brother Louis lives within a short driving distance, making the Menil a frequent museum haunt, plus admission is free.

I look forward to strolling through the Surrealist and Modern Art sections, and also visiting some of my favorites in the collection, such as Jasper Johns’ Gray Alphabet (if you’re not familiar with this work, the title says it all) and the Sumerian statue of Eannatum, Prince of Lagash in the Antiquities room, the piece I affectionately call “Chauncey Gardner” as it bears a resemblance to the Peter Sellers character in the film Being There.

However, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that there are areas of the Menil which I’ve never explored, such as the Cy Twombly or Dan Flavin galleries, vibrantly depicted in December’s feature. On my next visit, I’ll make time to experience it. And I’ll be sure to ride the red swing on the museum grounds, another “installation” I’ve never noticed.

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The Pies of Texas are Upon You

Written by | Published November 19, 2010

I want your opinions, but first ...

In the December issue of Texas Highways, I explored a few places that serve some sweet pies - the kind that warms your heart in a way few foods can.

Clearly unable to eat my way across Texas one slice at a time, there are some places that deserve mention that were not.

For example, I received a few nice letters from readers willing to share. Rhonda Cagle of Glen Rose shared that she and her friend Jean Ford run the Pie Peddlers there. She says her pies are 100 percent homemade and absolutely delicious. I can't wait to try it, myself.

I also received a letter from Ann Arbor, Mich. from a doctor who recalled stopping at Frank's in Schulenberg, year after year, for their pies. His favorite, he says, was the coconut cream pie with "meringue at least six inches high that took me back 50 years." (Frank's: 11 North Kessler Ave. (979) 743-3555.)

Where do YOU go for your favorite slice of pie? Please share so that we can explore these places, too. email this Share on Facebook Like this at Facebook! twitter Add this anywhere

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