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.
I had dinner last week with Dallas friends who had read about Austinâ€™s ever-burgeoning trailer-food trend. â€œWas this going on elsewhere?â€™ they wondered. And had I explored many of the trailersâ€™ offerings? From what I understand, I told them, itâ€™s primarily an Austin thingâ€“at least in the sense that no where else has such numbers or diversity. Take your pick around townâ€”we have everything from chocolate-covered bananas and cherry-stuffed donuts to Cuban sandwiches and vegan chili.
And while Iâ€™ve enjoyed samplings from a handful of Austinâ€™s trailers, Iâ€™ve barely made a dent. Just this past week, though, I met friends on the outside patio of Shangri-La, an unassuming cocktail bar on East Sixth Street, a few blocks east of I-35. After a drink, our group cruised across the street for takeout dinner from a group of trailer-restaurants that have joined together as â€œThe East Side Drive-In.â€ (We could have dined on picnic tables scattered across the property, but instead we brought our dinner back to Shangri-La.) A few of us savored burgers and cheesesteaks; my husband had a BLT dressed up with basil from a trailer called â€œPig Vicious,â€ and I made a culinary score with a walnut-and-cranberry-studded tuna melt, made all the more unusual with a fried egg. Delicious all around.
Coming up on November 6 from 11 to 8, many of Austinâ€™s trailers (and there are at least 50 around town these days) will participate in the first annual Gypsy Picnic Trailer Food Festival, held on Auditorium Shores. Admission is free. Live music by Junior Brown, Guy Clark, Jr., and others will set the mood, and you can sample portions of various trailer treats for $3 or less. Check out the Web site at www.gypsypicnic.com, and if you go, tell us which tasty bits you like best.
With the impending launch of Space Shuttle Discoveryâ€™s last voyage (and end of the Shuttle program in early 2011), it was about time that I finally explored Space Center Houston, if only for a couple of hours during a short visit to Bay Area Houston last week.
While I didnâ€™t have time for the in-depth NASA Tram Tour or Level 9 Tour, I was able to focus my attention on several areas of the complex: Starship Gallery, which follows the progression of the Space Race from the 1960s through Skylab, complete with some of the actual capsules and equipment; the Astronaut Gallery, a dazzling collection of spacesuits worn by men and women in space; the massive-beyond-words Saturn V spacecraft housed at Rocket Park, and even took in a â€œMeet the Astronautâ€ talk given by Michael J. Bloomfield of Shuttle Atlantis and Endeavor missions.
The vivid timelines that accompany the Starship Gallery and the Saturn V rocket brought back memories of seeing Apollo launches on (mostly black & white) televisions in elementary school. Peering into the Mercury capsule in the space-simulated display and imagining myself in that tiny crawl space gave me a claustrophobic chill. I also touched a moon rock and saw how moon artifacts were processed and analyzed. In the Astronaut Gallery, I marveled at the contrast between the enormous â€œMichelin Manâ€ bubble suit worn during the early days of the Gemini program, and the sleek blue jumpsuit worn on the Shuttle mission by Sally Ride.
Next time you find yourself in the Bay area, donâ€™t discount a trip to NASA for lack of time. Youâ€™ll be amazed at how much "space" can be compacted into two hours.
As if the gorgeous autumn weather isnâ€™t excuse enough to cruise the Hill Country ... the 20th annual Fredericksburg Food & Wine Festival takes place this Saturday on the townâ€™s Marktplatz (on the 100 block of West Main St.). Some 50 food and arts vendors and more than 20 Texas wineriesâ€”including Val Verde Winery, Fall Creek Vineyard, and Messina Hofâ€”will be on hand, along with the sweet sounds of Texas musicians like Jeff Lofton. So listen, sip, and sample to your heartâ€™s content!
Texas Highways staffers will be there, too, sharing copies of the magazine and selling some of our favorite TH products. And our own Lois Rodriguez will present her delectable Tres Leches Cake in a Grape Expectations Cooking School session at 1:15. Warning: Side effects of the spongy-creamy concoction may include prolonged euphoria. Delicioso!
Find ticket information and more fest details at www.fbgfoodandwinefest.com.
Every year around mid-October, when I receive that much-anticipated invitation to my friendsâ€™ annual Halloween costume party, I scramble around to various Austin thrift stores (and then dig through my costume bin) to see what sort of ridiculous outfit I can come up with. The stars must be in alignment this year, because I just got word that Cirque du Soleilâ€”that Canadian-based, all-human theatrical circus that highlights grace and strength, with elaborate costumes, music, and setsâ€“is bringing its new insect-themed touring show, Ovo, to Frisco and Houston in 2011. (â€œOvoâ€ means egg in Portuguese.) I canâ€™t wait! Not only do I have inspiration for an over-the-top costume (though Iâ€™ll admit execution may be tricky), but Iâ€™m firming up plans to be amazed in 2011. Iâ€™m envisioning acrobats on giant spiderwebs, suspended over the stage. I canâ€™t help it, Iâ€™m a Cirque nerd.
And speaking of Halloween, El Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), the traditional celebration of life & death embraced by many Latin American cultures, follows a few days later, on November 2. Youâ€™ll find celebrations in San Antonio and other Texas cities with prominent Hispanic populations, so seek them out if youâ€™re of the mind to embrace the cycle of life and remember loved ones who have left this mortal coil.
In Houston, Lawndale Art Center (www.lawndaleartenter.org) celebrates El Dia de los Muertos beginning this Friday, October 22, with its 23rd annual Dia de los Muertos Gala and Retablo Silent Auction. One of Lawndaleâ€™s biggest fundraisers, the gala ($45) offers attendees the opportunity to bid on small artworks (retablos) created by well-known Houston and internationally known artists. The worksâ€”both reverent and irreverentâ€” will be on display through November 6 in the Lawndale galleries. Other Lawndale events in conjunction with El Dia de los Muertos include a community ofrenda (offering), during which guests are encouraged to bring a personal item to the community altar to honor departed loved ones (October 18 through November 6); a papel picado workshop on October 28, during which guests can learn the traditional art of Mexican paper-cutting; and a Family Day Fiesta on November 6, featuring performances by Mixteco Ballet Folklorico and the Houston Grand Opera.
How will you celebrate the season?
A few years ago, after writing a story on the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, I got the gardening bug, big-time. And since the only lawnmower I owned (and still own) was a rusty push-mower, I decided to till up my water-greedy Saint Augustine grass and turn my lawn into a giant native-plant garden. And now that the plants have matured, itâ€™s a jungle of Lindheimer senna, agaves, Texas sage, butterfly bush, and dozens of other plants whose names I promised Iâ€™d never forgetâ€¦ but did. Iâ€™m not the most organized landscaper, itâ€™s true.
But in honor of the second annual Texas Native Plant Week (October 18-24), a commemoration sponsored by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, the National Wildlife Federation, and the City of Austin, Iâ€™m going to spend some time in the garden this weekend, trying to re-identify the plants that make me smile so often. They require very little care, and their blooms and foliage bring interest year-round. But what I most love about my little jungle is that it provides homes for all manner of bees, butterflies, praying mantises, toads, birds, anoles, and other interesting creatures. Never a dull moment out there.
Poke around the dedicated Web site, www.txnativeplantweek.org, to learn more about which plants and trees will do well in your part of Texas. Youâ€™ll find lists of native plant & seed providers, as well as recommended plants for any of the six regions of Texas, along with loads of other information.
In our November issue, we delve into the joys of traditional (and not-so-traditional) hot dogs, with a sidebar on New Braunfels' upcoming sausage celebrationâ€“Wurstfest-which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.The fest, which takes place October 29 through November 7, features live music and dancing fueled by lots of German sausage and beer.
And I just got word that the Wurstfest Association, the dedicated team of enthusiasts who have organized this popular event for the past half-century, will debut a 17 X 75-foot Wurstfest-themed mural on Monday, October 18, at noon. The mural, painted by local artist Brent McCarthy, is at 124 Elizabeth Street in New Braunfels, next door to the Circle Arts Theater. The unveiling party will offer a preview of the big Wurstfest bash, with live music and refreshments.
Hey, those Wurstfest folks know how to throw a party! (Practice your chicken dance now.) See www.wurstfest.com.
Little known tip: The humor and satire book events at the Texas Book Festival (this weekend, Oct. 16-17 at the Capitol) are as entertaining and hilarious as what youâ€™d expect at a comedy club minus the hefty cover charge, rude hecklers, and the two-drink minimum. And you donâ€™t even have to like books to enjoy the show.
In recent years attending the fest, Iâ€™ve been regaled with such performances from the editors of The Onion (presenting clips and quips from â€œOur Dumb World: Atlas of the Planet Earthâ€) and Amy Sedaris promoting her book (â€œI Like You: Hospitality Under the Influenceâ€) in the Cooking Tent.
I look forward to Saturdayâ€™s roster with such LOL luminaries as P.J. Oâ€™Rourke, The Onionâ€™s Jean Tisdale, and National Lampoon's Rick Meyerowitz. Thereâ€™s even a panel titled "Funny Business: Good Reads for Guys.â€
Preceding that, perhaps with equal parts style and satire, is â€œTrue Prep: Itâ€™s a Whole New Old World,â€ from the author of the '80s classic, â€œThe Official Preppy Handbook,â€ Lisa Birnbach, with noted book designer Chip Kidd.
If you go to the festival this weekend, bring your sense of humor, and maybe even a book bag. Even if youâ€™re not a book lover, you may still be overcome with laughter after hearing wild and crazy antics from the National Lampoon session.
P.S. Look for the Texas Highways booth at the festival's exhibitor tents. Some of our staff will be handing out free copies of the November issue, which includes a special subscription offer at our lowest rate. Also, Editor Charles Lohrmann will be moderating various panels, but alas, not National Lampoonâ€™s.
Hello, there! It has been awhile since my last blog, and it's good to be back!
It's Texas Wine Month, and I know what I'll be doing this evening--cracking open a bottle of vino to celebrate this and other recent toast-worthy events. In my cabinet at the moment are several new-to-me bottles from East Texas' Los Pinos Vineyard, as well as a few tried-and-true wines from Central Texas' Alamosa Cellars, so I'll have to see what sounds best when I get home.
The Texas wine biz has grown tremendously in recent years, and now contributes more than $1.3 billion to the state's economy. We're the 5th-largest producer in the United States, bested only by California, Washington, Oregon, and New York. (That last one is a surprise to me.) Currently, Texas boasts some 200 wineries, and most offer tasting rooms and tours.
I spent some time exploring the Texas Department of Agriculture's Web site (www.gotexanwine.org), and I found a lengthy (and inspiring) list of upcoming wine-focused events, including the upcoming La Dolce Vita Food and Wine Festival in Austin (Oct. 14), the Fredericksburg Food and Wine Fest (Oct. 23), the Grapevine Hallowine Trail (Oct. 30), and Addison's WineFest 2010 (Nov. 6)â€”and that's just for starters.
Cheers to autumn!
Iâ€™m not sure I understand the competition to come up with the next best fried thing, and Iâ€™m not here to judge (Iâ€™m responsible for my extra poundage â€“ no one else), but every year, when the State Fair of Texas announces its list of fried food finalists, my ears perk up. I am excited to know whatâ€™s being tossed into the vat next.
They never disappoint, at least not in terms of generating a buzz. So in case you didnâ€™t get the memo, let me share the menu.
This year, youâ€™ll get IDâ€™d if you order items like Deep-Fried Frozen Margarita or Fried Beer. Like the Fried Coke or Fried Butter before them, that just seems to defy some scientific law, but Iâ€™ll admit Iâ€™m ready for the lines to open up for a frozen margarita. While waiting in line, Iâ€™ll ponder the difference between â€œfriedâ€ and â€œdeep-fried.â€
The Deep-Fried Frozen Margarita is born of the goodness of two things â€“ margarita ingredients and funnel cake batter. They are mixed together, fried, dusted with a lemon-lime mixture and served in a salt-rimmed glass. While probably not as refreshing as the real thing, it sounds pretty good to me.
The Fried Beer is a beer-filled pretzel pocket. Iâ€™m not a fan of beer, so someone else will have to vouch for this later. I hear the beer really does pour out when you take a bite.
Again, donâ€™t forget your ID. You will get carded for these â€“ even though, Iâ€™m pretty sure the alcohol disappears somewhere in the frying process.
As a bona fide lemon addict, Iâ€™ll need to order the Fried Lemonade, a baked lemon-flavored pastry that is then fried and glazed with a mix of lemonade, powdered sugar and lemon zest. Iâ€™ll probably seek out fresh lemonade to wash this down with, and be in citrus heaven.
For chocolate lovers, there is, of course, Fried Chocolate, a white chocolate candy bar and a cherry are stuffed inside a brownie, dipped in chocolate cake batter, deep fried and topped off with powdered sugar, a cherry sauce and chocolate whipped cream. I might have called it Fried Cherry Cordial, but alas, once again they did not call for my opinion. *insert audible gasp here* Just kidding. :) Well see, though, if that shows up on the menu next year. Remember, you heard it here first! Ha! Oh boy, do I have all kinds of GREAT ideas for next year!
There also is the Deep-Fried Sâ€™mores Pop Tart, which is pretty self-explanatory. A sâ€™mores flavored Pop Tart is battered, fried and then topped with chocolate sauce and whipped cream. Iâ€™d like to put this to the test with my friend Kate who lights up her fire pit at home as often as she can to feed her sâ€™mores cravings.
For something more savory, traditional and Texan, theyâ€™re promising Texas Fried Frito Pie. Not sure how, but they are apparently able to hold together the chili, cheese and Fritos long enough to fry it. Itâ€™s a mystery to me, but the item made it as a finalist, so it can be done. Amazing what a little human will and ingenuity can achieve. Speaking of: Look for Texas Fried Caviar â€“â€“ fried and seasoned black-eyed peas. Whodathunkit? Someone thought of it.
And finally, for you health nuts â€¦ oh, wait â€¦ nevermind. This salad is fried, too. Fernieâ€™s Fried Club Salad is a spinach wrap stuffed with the goodness of diced ham, chicken, shredded lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, cheese and bacon. Sounds good, but wait, Iâ€™m not finished. Itâ€™s fried, topped with deep-fried sour dough croutons on a stick and then served on a bed of lettuce. Well, at least you can still say you had the â€œsalad,â€ if anyone asks.
So there you have it. Donâ€™t try them all in one sitting, or itâ€™ll be â€œgroanâ€ appÃ©tit instead of bon appÃ©tit. Pace yourself. Youâ€™ll have 20-something days to get it all in. The State Fair of Texas runs from Sept. 24-Oct. 17.