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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Bluebonnets and Bees

Spring is here in Texas, and the wildflowers are, well, going wild! The rains have been good, and the temperature is pretty mild, so the plants have taken the opportunity to really show off their blooms. The bees, which I understand are declining here, are taking every opportunity to get out there and forage.

We had a nice outdoor lunch in Kathy and Rick's yard, and took advantage of the nice weather to enjoy the outdoors. Kathy works very hard to make her garden a beautiful and relaxing place to be. I couldn't help but sneak off and snap a few photos of the flowers and plants.

The bluebonnet is the State Flower of Texas, and I can understand why it was chosen. It is a very unique flower, a wild member of the lupin family, and thanks to the efforts of the late Lady Bird Johnson, grows all along the highways of Texas. It makes traveling along the busy interstate highways and major roads of this area a very pleasant experience in the early spring.

Well, there's plenty more photos and stories to tell, so I will go ahead and post this one. Jan and I have been traveling a lot in recent weeks, and there are plenty of photos to post.

Till next time, my friends!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

South by Southwest Music Festival

Last weekend Jason, Leslie and I joined John and Jennifer (Jason's aunt and uncle, and my brother and sister-in-law) for a couple of hours of pure fun and enjoyment at the annual South by Soutwest (SxSW) music festival. This wonderful music fest has been growing in popularity since it began several years ago. There have been many well-known and not-so-well-known artists who have performed here, but this was the first time that I had gotten to go. I had a good reason to this time, since John and Jennifer's daughter Jamie Blythe was to perform at the Austin Java Co. It was pretty exiting to see how it all turned out.

The Brothers Blythe
sing Cool Chameleon

The Brothers Blythe is comprised of our niece Jamie Blythe, her brother Jarod on drum box, and her sister Jessica's boyfriend Jimmy on bass. One of the songs they sang was Cool Chameleon. Listen:

The next artist to perform was a New Yorker named Nell Bryden. Nell has a bluesy, jazzy style that can be boistrous and fun in one song, and the very next song her voice will be melodious and poignant. I really enjoyed listening, and after the short set (each performer played for about a half hour or so) she handed out mini CD's of some of her songs. A very nice touch!

This is one of my favorites from Nell's set, titled Goodbye. Listen:

The last performer we got to see was a Canadian named D Trevlon. He was so determined to play at SxSW that he hitchiked all the way from Canada to Austin to be here! Pretty amazing. His voice is pretty amazing as well, in my humble opinion. His voice sounds much "older and wiser" than his age, which is 27 or so. And, he's got what I can only call a "Fistful of Dollars" whistle. I liked that best of all. It added so much to his songs, and the authenticity of the stories.

This song, Here I Am, is a real good example of both musical style and whistling ability. It's a favorite. Listen:

Unfortunately, we had to leave early to make another engagement, but I certainly enjoyed the music and I will most definitely go back again. It was a great afternoon, and I got to treat my son and daughter-in-law to a fantastic lunch at the same time!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Our Vintner's Dinner in Fredericksburg

The Cotton Gin Restaurant and Lodging

The main reason for our stay in Fredericksburg (besides my making a living) was to attend the Texas Wine Maker Vintner Dinner at the Cotton Gin Restaurant. Jan and I had stayed at this wonderful place a year or so ago, and we enjoyed the experience very much. Such a blend of "old fashioned" and "new-fangled" we hadn't been treated to since our stay at Laurel Springs cabins in Gatlinburg, TN on our honeymoon. The campus has 6 real log cabins that were moved here from Kentucky and Tennessee. Our cabin, the Rio Grande, had a perfect blend of old and new, such as a working fireplace with oak wood stacked outside the front door (it was winter when we stayed there, so the fire was both sensual and comfortable!) and a wide screen TV with cable and a DVD player. There was a jacuzzi tub in the bath area, and a large high four poster bed that was a pleasure to sleep in.

The restaurant is a masterpiece of old Texas charm and insanely delicious cooking. With a high ceiling, stained glass windows, and a huge boiler (used in cotton production I assume) over the fireplace, it's an elegant and fun place to drink wine and taste a few treats. The wines were set out in the order we were to drink them, whites in their icebuckets, and reds at room temperature. In the picture above, the woman at the "head" of the table sipping some of her wares, is Paula Williamson, the owner of
Chisolm Trail Winery, one of only three female-owned wineries in Texas. Paula is a pleasant, friendly person, and she really knows her stuff about wine!

Our first course, the soup, was
Roasted Delicata Squash Bisque with Toasted Hazelnut Creme Fraiche
and a 2005 Texas Blanc du Blanc called "High Noon"
(I am putting up a picture of the wine label, because the photo I took of the dish was almost pure white from the flash) This bisque was the tastiest soup ever, we both agreed. Light and flavorful, we could have stopped right there (but were glad we didn't have to!).

But there was more to come!

For the salad course, we were served:

Ginger Salmon Gravlox Martini with
Cucumber noodles and shredded basil
and a 2006 Texas Blanc du Blanc, "Belle Starr"

I guess you don't have to look too hard to see that it was beautifully served and as tasty a salmon salad as I have ever eaten. The wine, a little less sweet than the High Noon, was much more to our liking and added to the enjoyment of the dish. Great!

Next was the
Rosemary Roasted Bandera Quail with
Sundried Strawberry butter and
Wild Rice Pancake, with
"Lil's Red Satin" Cabernet Sauvignon

The dishes just kept getting better and better! The Red Satin wine was very smooth and tasty without the tannins that give so many wines their harshness. Paula came around to each group and told the story of each wine, and something about the label or process of making the wines. This particular wine was specially made for Valentine's Day. The atmosphere was very informal and informative. But there was still more to come!

We were getting happier and less hungry by the minute, as the servers attentively poured glass after glass of the wonderful wine selections. For the next course we had:

Hill Country Syrah Braised Lamb Shank with
Citrus Horseradish Gremolata and
Amish Butter Whipped Yukon Gold Mash, and
the 2006 "Diablo"

Jan and I disagreed a little bit about this dish. She has never been fond of lamb, and was not enthusiastic about the flavor of the meat. I thoroughly liked the dish -- and the wine, much bolder and heartier than the Red Satin, complemented the lamb to a tee. We both liked the mashed potatoes, and thought the presentation was delightful.

And who could pass up dessert? Not us! We were served:
Pistachio Crusted Triple El Rey Chocolate Terrine
with Navan Cognac Creme, along with
2001 Cabernet Sauvignon Dessert Wine

While the dessert and wine were being served, we listened to a very interesting talk about the chocolate company Chocolates El Rey, and were surprised to learn that their office was right in Fredericksburg TX! We learned all about the varieties of cacao beans, from Criollo (The King of Cacao, in danger of extinction) to Forastero (alien), a more disease resistant Amazonian cacao. We were very interested in the process the company used to turn the cacao beans into rich dark chocolate. The photo above is blurred, my apologies, but the chocolate layers were smooth and dense and made our spirits soar. Paula also told us the story of the Cabernet Dessert wine, how the grapes almost got thrown out because they looked so different (brown and wrinkled) than the other bunches. The workers kept tossing the grapes out of the machines, and Paula kept throwing them back in. The result, which reminded Jan and I of port, perfectly complemented the dark chocolate flavors. We learned that there is as much lore and history in making chocolate as there is in making wine. We enjoyed every minute of this Vintner's Dinner, and will go back as soon as we can.

See you soon, and I'll give you a "behind the scenes" look at the Houston Zoo.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Our Valentine's Day Adventure

Inn on the Creek

Well, Jan and I finally got to have our Valentine's Day adventure. I had to be in Fredericksburg TX this week on business, so we made a travel week of it and had a Wine Tasting Dinner (this will be a separate post) and a night at a B&B in Fredericksburg. Nice to have this time for ourselves, and still be able to do my job! The bed&breakfast we stayed at was Inn on the Creek, one of the many great places offered by Absolute Charm, Inc. We had not stayed with them before, but we were very pleased with every aspect of our stay there. Our Wine Tasting Dinner was at the Cotton Gin Restaurant, a wonderful restaurant and B&B combination that we have enjoyed staying at before. Again, more about that in the next post.

(the foyer)

We stayed in the Garden View Room, one of six rooms on the site. I chose this room especially for its larger size, and the view of course. As it turned out, the view of the large tree outside was better from outside the building, but it was still pretty good. It will be wonderful when spring finally gets here and the yard greens up. Our bed was fit for royalty! With the crown-like decoration over the headboard, and the massive pillows and soft mattress, it was easy to sleep there, even after a massive dinner and too much wine! The sitting area made it lots easier to get ready to go out, and was a handy storage area for the many bags and items we carried along.

Breakfast in the morning was a real "Texas treat" for us. Coffee was ready at 7:30 and was just right, not too strong not too cold not too bad! We got ready to head out while the delicious smells called us to eat long before it was ready. The dining area was large and very nicely decorated with old photos and knic-knaks all around. When all was ready we had a full table. Some folks from Houston, and a couple from Georgetown shared the great meal with us. While we waited and talked, we had a champagne glass of fruit, and a warm melt-in-your-mouth coffee cake to make the wait seem shorter. We had OJ, bacon and sausage with biscuits, and Joyce's special scrambled eggs, and string potatoes with peppers and cheese topping as a side. I really didn't want to go to work after that! But I did.

After breakfast, we packed up the car, and I went to work while Jan walked around the charming main street of Fredericksburg. The city has a reputation for being at once a shopper's paradise, and a historic city without equal in Central Texas. There is German influence everywhere, from the historic buildings and churches, to the names of the stores and restaurants. The German heritage is especially apparent in the food! There are many restaurants that specialize in german cooking, and right along side them are trendy places like The Peach Tree restaurant and Rather Sweet. A non-typical sense of humor and wordplay is evident in some of the stores and restaurants (ie. Rather Sweet above, named after the chef's last name). Places like Auer Haus (pronounced Our House) and Itz Inn (no explanation necessary) pop up almost everywhere. The city is a great place to shop and see the sights, but one can't see it all in one day. This is an extended weekend city if I ever saw one!

Before we left, we sat for a parting photo together before heading off for Kerrville and home. I can only say that we had one of the most memorable Valentine's Days ever, even though it wasn't exactly Valentine's Day when we had it. We are definitely coming back and trying more of the B&B's in Fredericksburg! I hope you get to visit here one day. You won't be disappointed. Next post is the Wine Tasting Dinner. Don't miss it!