Archive for November, 2004

Local Holiday Shopping

Dillo

If you would like to avoid the the malls and chain stores during the holidays Austin is rich with great local shops, bazaars, and markets. From December 11-24 is the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar at the Austin Music Hall. The bazaar features music by local musicians such as Marcia Ball, Jimmy LaFave, and Van Wilks while you peruse one-of-a-kind pottery, jewelry, soaps, candles, paintings etc from local artists.

On December 2nd from 6pm to 10pm is First Thursday on S. Congress. Traditionally the First Thursday during the month of December is packed and many of the merchants are hosting holiday events and lots of live music and beer. Get there early to park or ride your bike–the Trans Texas Alliance hosts valet bike parking at JO’s.

Every Saturday morning is the Westlake Farmers Market open 9:30am to 1pm. Not only can you feel great about supporting local farmers (who are required to grow their own produce to attend) the market is full of holiday gift ideas.

The Austin Independent Business Alliance provides a directory of local businesses in town.

Some of my personal favorite local businesses that have unique items include:

Dr. Chocolate–best chocolate in town-try the chocolate-covered popcorn

Wardrobe–for your holiday outfit (note: they have moved to 35th street next to Dr. Chocolate)

Ecowise–non-toxic gifts, clothing, paint, and co-operative games

Tesoros Trading Company–art and crafts from 15 different countries

Bookwomen— Books by and for women

Celebration–Good selection of jewelry, rocks, musical instruments, and gifts

Cheapo–An overwhelming selection of used CD’s and DVD’s.

Toy Joy— The store is packed with pure delight–give yourself an hour for your first visit

Terra Toys–Toys from around-the-world. (note: they moved to Anderson Lane)

Things Celtic–for all your kilt-loving friends

or if you do not have time to leave the house and would like to use a local online company– Your Gift Shopper.com offers unique items such as a full line of designer Koozies including the Cow Koozie, and designer pet accessories.

My List of Favorite Gifts This Year:

Utilikilts–these are not your clan’s kilts. These are kilts for the modern man and women. Including survival kilts, party kilts and short kilts for women.

Banana GUARD— Tired of your bruised bananas? The Canadians have solved the problem. Available in 9 colors including glow!

Crazy Cat Lady Action Figure–Toy Joy may carry this great gift item too.

Swiss Memory USB— Your geek friends will love you. A Swiss Army knife with a built-in flash drive- ohhhh yeah!!

Red Swingline Stapler–Yes, the same one in Office Space. “Have you seen my stapler.”

Bubble Wrap Terrorist–Whaaaaat?

Back to baking, because it’s no longer baking

Now that the heat’s gone, indoors and out, there’s no excuse for not firing up the oven, especially because it helps warm up the house for those of us without central heating.

Despite the fact that the weather was still quite mild around Hallowe’en, the traditional Breton chocolate pound cake was produced. But there was no baking between then and this weekend.

An experiment revealed that, yes, plain pizza dough (flour, water, yeast, and a pinch of salt) also makes very good dinner rolls. In the past, we’ve always saved half of the pizza dough in the fridge and made a second batch of pizza in the next day or so. This time, the other half of the dough was formed into balls. The bottoms of the formed rolls were dipped in corn meal so that the finished items wouldn’t stick to the cookie sheet. The tops were brushed with a beaten egg and then sprinkled with lots of poppy seeds. A container of water in the oven gave the crusts a little shine and a little bit of crispness. Yum! Half were downed fresh out of the oven with some Falfurrias and half were warmed up the next morning for breakfast.

And then there’s the guilty secret of H-E-B yellow cornbread mix. My guess is that this is probably a product of the Pioneer mills in San Antonio, just custom-ground to be coarser, which is the way I like it. We can never use up the smallest package of plain, coarse-ground cornmeal while it’s fresh, so we’re so grateful for these envelopes, which don’t contain sugar.

There are other brands (Pioneer and Martha White), and white meal as well as yellow. They usually are sold at four for a dollar and are such a good way to use up milk that’s getting to that stage where you don’t really want to drink it but it’s too good to throw away. We doctor it by using slightly less milk than the package calls for and by adding chopped jalapeno and sometimes some grated sharp cheese. People who visit from other places always take some packages back with them. Sugar must never be added. It tastes best baked in a cast-iron skillet and eaten in wedges just out of the oven.

Popovers will probably make their appearance this coming weekend for the first time this season. This is the beginning of the very best time of the year in Austin.

Should we be offended?

I was in Dallas over the Thanksgiving holiday and happened to read an article about our new city hall in the Dallas Morning News (feel free to use BugMeNot to circumvent their registration).

As I read it, I became annoyed. Is it just me or does the author of the article have something against Austin? Is all of this Blue America vs. Red America stuff going to people’s heads?

Hill Country Wine Art, BBQ, and Turkey Trot

It was storming but that did not stop the bi-annual Hill Country Fine Art & Wine Trail. Highlights included the Shade Tree Potter, and Lost Creek Vineyard where we chose the La Sinfonia de Ranitas, (hot tub wine) and Spicewood Vineyards where ALL twelve of the wines we tasted were wonderful. We chose the Holiday Blush and the Semillon Reserve 2001 (a women in a bottle). Spicewood Vineyards is a must stop–you will be greeted by Reddog and two very funny wine stewards. We also ventured off the trail and stopped at Coopers BBQ (THE BEST OF THE HILL COUNTRY) for melt-in-your-mouth brisket, oh-so-good beans, and mind-blowing berry cobbler.

The next two weekends, Dec 3-5, 10-12, is the Holiday Wine Trail where you get a wine tasting and Christmas wreath ornaments. The event has already sold out but you can still visit the wineries during those days–I will be there!

On Thanksgiving morning was the annual Turkey Trot where I completed the 5 mile race in 1.5 hours (only 17 min per mile). Another upcoming race is the Zilker Park Trail of Lights at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, December 11, 2004. The course runs through Zilker Park and the awesome Trail of Lights, with more than 180,000 lights. The entry fee also includes a “Trail of Lights 5K” long sleeve t-shirt designed by a local artist. For other run/walk events go to RunTex events.

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Down the avenue

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As has come to be customary, the Chuy’s parade did not follow the published order of march. Lloyd Doggett was somewhere up front, along with Los Texas Wranglers, but soon after that, things became more disorderly. Austin’s Anderson High band Louie, Louie’d, and the Hardin-Simmons Cowboy Band was, as always, the hit of the parade.

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It was fun to watch the formation of the line up around Twelfth and Thirteenth, a complete jumble of bands, twirlers, llamas, vintage vehicles, and, of course, the Oak Farms cow, which is much, much larger than life. The Cowboy band’s director always wears a beautiful pair of boots; this year he was sporting full-quill ostrich in a handsome luggage color. The Hardin-Simmons people and the Kyle Sisters were very kindly entertaining people before the parade officially stepped off. The Kyles are to be heard quite often singing in the KVET studios live on the Sam and Bob show. We followed the Hardin-Simmons band down to Seventh Street and then walked back up to Eleventh Street, watching the rest of the parade.

It’s always easy to tell on these occasions who’s familiar with downtown Austin and who is not. The savvy people know that for this parade it’s best to come in from the east and to park in the TRS parking lot, where there’s always space and where there’s no towing on weekends.

Up the avenue

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There are so many that it’s tough to count, but there appeared to be at least 400 instrumentalists in the band, led by an honor guard and three drum majors and trailed by a mounted escort, a mule-drawn artillery piece, and a two-mule wagon, which in turn were followed by a clean-up crew carrying shovels and pavement brooms and pans, collecting manure and tossing it into two wheelbarrows pained burnt orange.

The band marched over the Congress bridge, stopped to play at Seventh Street while the entire corps of cadets went by, and then followed the cadets up to the capitol grounds.

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People were out on balconies and rooftops all along the route. The chefs and manager came out at the Stephen F. Austin hotel. Congress Avenue was designed for processions and this is one that happens only every two years. For game tickets this year is a sellers’ market.

From the bridge to the front door of the capitol is about a mile. It helps to know this when you’re trying to judge how far you’ve walked if you followed the band uphill from the river and then walked back down to the bridge.

An Austin Thanksgiving

The Tesoro Tierra free-range local turkey having been roasted earlier this week and served with all the finest in accompaniments, including the very best locally grown green beans anybody could ever wish for, today was free to be free-form, and so far it has been.

The front was raked then was edged with the hand shears. The fennel was trimmed. Three lawn-and-leaf bags were filled. It took just two people to get the floor furnace lit and on just one attempt.

The new Austin city hall already looks too tiny for its intended purpose. Two people appeared to be enjoying the free Wi-Fi out front.

At the original Threadgills there was a long line of people waiting outside. We were headed to Taj Palace. On the way, we saw that Seoul Grocery and Video Store was open. These are two of the signs from the bulletin board out front.
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Bamboo salt was available and so were raw peanuts.

Taj Palace was open and very busy. It was a disappointment that seekh kebab was not set out for the buffet. Apart from that, today’s experience was excellent without exception; this place is definitely on the upswing again. There were two soups, one lentil dish, two mixed vegetable entrees, delicious pilaf and naan, and many other excellent dishes.

At Taj Palace was a free tourist publication on food and drink, intended for the tourist population, called, oddly enough, Eat & Drink Austin. There was a nice tribute to Tesoro Tierra and the news that Jo’s Coffee plans to open a small dining establishment downtown in one of the AMLI “loft” residences, with an enlarged menu including poultry dishes made from Tesoro Tierra chicken.

Returning, we went via the eastside. In the parking lot of Disch-Falk there were many land yachts set up and there was much cooking going on. We saw several people who had walked eastward on foot seeking open convenience stores, which they had obviously found.

The City Market was open and very busy. It has a fresh consignment of pinatas and always stocks a great many of the classic multidimensional star shapes. The lime index was 12 big ones for a dollar, better than H-E-B this morning, both in price and in quality. At the City Market were The Villager and Nokoa. Tommy Wyatt, the editor and publisher of The Villager, usually distributes is annual directory of blacked-owned businesses at this time of year, but it must not be out yet. The viewing party for the United Negro College Fund Evening of Stars will be at the Doubletree on 15th Street this year. There will probably be whist and bridge tables set up.

At the Walgreen’s next to the City Market we found some of our junky telenovela magazines. People were beginning Christmas toy-shopping there.

On the way home were people sitting on their porches, putting up holiday lights, and playing volleyball and basketball. Leal’s Tires (the establishment with the handsome mural of the Aztec warrior) was open. It begins to appear that it’s like Katz’s and never closes.

Tomorrow will be the parade of Aggie cadets and the Travis Heights neighborhood art walk and studio tour. The day after that will be the Chuy’s parade with the Hardin-Simmons cowboy band and Los Texas Wranglers. It’s beginning to feel like an Austin holiday weekend. Austin is so homey when some people skip town and those of us who stick around can enjoy an Austin that seems more like Austin as it used to be: without an excess of noise and of traffic.

Fiat lux

And please let there be refrigeration too. This morning was the third time within a week that the power’s been cut off at home. Today it was from somewhere around 7 am until somewhere around 8:15.

There’s not a lot of resetting to be done. Only two items require attention, and it doesn’t really matter if they don’t get it. One is the telephone answering machine in case it’s of any great importance to know at what time a message is left. The telephone is an old-fashioned rotary phone, not a Touch Tone, underneath it all and has no extra features other than that it’s combined with an answering machine. After one too many hard knocks, the old device with mini-cassettes was replaced by an electronic machine, with a funny mechanical voice that’s much nicer than any recording that could be made. There are occasions when it is useful to know when a message was left, but there’s no urgency about resetting the time. If a battery is in the telephone, the time will be preserved. It does seem, though, that the power goes out quite frequently and for quite extended periods of time, so it never seems worth it to keep a battery in there. If a message is erased, the caller will try again.

The second item is the video cassette recorder for the television, but that’s not urgent, either. The only show ever set to be recorded is one telenovela. We can receive Univision without cable on channel 31. The current novela is Mujer de madera , which features two great male villains and one memorable female villain. The “good” people, as always, are rather boring. Because it’s a shame to miss any of the deeds of Melenas or El Perico, the recorder will be reset this evening. Since these soaps have a beginning and an end and go on for extended episodes with many, many characters if they’re popular, missing one or more shows never makes it tough to catch up with the story.

Luckily, this morning it was beginning to be what passed for light when the juice was cut. Thanks to San Antonio’s own 7- or 8-day Reed candles, stocked in quantity for the Hallowe’en, Thanksgiving, and Christmas season, there was plenty of light. The colored glass makes the pink, red, blue, and green candles less bright, so we always keep plenty of the clear, white ones around as well.

Food from the fridge was already cooking on the gas burners, so that the door didn’t need to be opened again while the power was out. This was a very good thing, because the refrigerator is almost 30 years old and no longer works at peak efficiency, to say the least.

The outage wasn’t worth calling in. It was obviously so widespread that speaking to a living being would have meant a hold of at least half an hour. Where traffic signals were out, the greatest of courtesy prevailed and vehicular traffic flowed better than it does when the lights are working. Pedestrians received some courtesy, too, for a change. This civilization on the road seems to bear out the theories expounded in an article in the December Wired magazine. It’s called “Roads Gone Wild” (Tom McNichol) but won’t be available on line until December 7. He profiles a Dutch traffic engineer who believes in removing signals and center-line markings and the like, claiming that, although it may appear that motorists will be slowed, such is not in fact the case, and that making drivers pay attention results in better vehicular flow and greater safety for all.

Enough already

The wettest November on record and I decide to get a new roof and replace some water damaged siding and eaves on my house.

Between this month and May/June of this year, we’re on track to have one of the wettest years ever. Check out this flood history while you’re waiting for the rain to stop. If the meteorologists are right, today is the last of it for a while.

I grabbed this from the National Weather Service:

National Weather Service Austin/San Antonio, TX
2:58 am CST TUE NOV 23 2004

Record monthly rainfall set at Austin/Camp Mabry.

So far this month, 12.99 inches have fallen. This makes November 2004 the wettest November on record. The previous wettest November was back in 2001 when 10.00 inches fell.

So far this year, 50.83 inches have fallen. This currently makes 2004 the 8th wettest year on record. The all-time wettest year is 1919 when 64.68 inches fell.

The wettest years ahead of 2004 follow:

1. 64.68 – 1919
2. 53.99 – 1900
3. 52.21 – 1991
4. 51.97 – 1888
5. 51.73 – 1921
6. 51.30 – 1957
7. 51.24 – 1923

These totals will increase today. Possibly increasing the rank of 2004.

I’ve been here long enough to remember the December, 1991 floods, but the rest are a little too far back for me.

Just ahead of the rain

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We flew over to Sledd’s Nursery in Clarksville, hoping that the seeds for Drummond’s phlox weren’t sold out, but they were. It was impossible, though, to resist a couple of pots of pink clyclamen. Even though it was foggy, the showiness of the color can be seen in this photo. Sledd’s is in the beautiful old Texaco station across from Jeffrey’s restaurant and next-door to Kash-Karry, now FreshPlus, locally owned. This store has one of the few remaining permissive postering bulletin boards in town. Lost pets, events, items for sale, and much, much more are to be found on this board. The one that people are always looking for, though, is that elusive garage apartment with a landlord not aware of what it could be rented for, often the widow of a deceased academic who picks and chooses her tenants by how well she likes them, not by how much they can pay. After grabbing up some items that Kash-Karry karries but hardly anyone else does, the intention was to head over to Big Red Sun to look for the elusive phlox and then to hit the reopened Carver branch library. When we saw so many people sitting on their front porches taking their entertainment from visitors there strictly for the eastside studio tour, though, we knew it would be difficult to park in the alley behind the Sun. Such was the case and so we skipped the library also and made it back just before the skies opened up yet again. One of the items picked up at Kash-Karry was a beautiful loaf of white bread from Sweetish Hill, perfect for turkey sandwiches.

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