Archive for December, 2004

Sunday on the lower Avenue

When hunger pangs struck, it wasn’t too late to catch a little music with a meal at Manuel’s. As we walked through to the inner room, the musicians (playing saxophone and a keyboard rig set at “piano”) were on an extremely Coltrane-esque “My One and Only You.” The fake-book was fat. Once conversation ensued, I don’t remember paying much attention to the music, but did hear “Desafinado” for sure. At the Peace Building, business was good in the La Pe


Nobody ever even slows down. Nobody buys the sushi. I’ve asked other people and they’ve seen nothing different. At one of the H-E-B markets closest to home there have been two recent innovations. One was the installation of the tortilla-making machine. The results are nothing special (made from a commercial mix, and mostly wheat), but they are thin and hot. People buy them. The other experiment is the installation of a little counter past the deli department and on the way to the meat and fish case. When everything’s up and running, three people stand there, elbow to elbow, making little fishy dainties. It’s as though they’re invisible. Maybe the H-E-B people were hoping to capture some business from all those newcomers to be seen south of the river, the ones with pricey vehicles to which are attached bicycle-holders for expensive bicycles. These peope don’t shop at H-E-B. When they put their recycling bins out at the curb, the paper sacks holding their newspapers are from Whole Foods or Central Market, not H-E-B. This is the H-E-B that, when it first ventured to stock a couple of dozen bottles of wine as an end-cap, had a little blackboard over the small display of bottles, on which were chalked suggestions for serving and pairings. The one never forgotten had an arrow pointing to I forget which bottles, saying “great with catfish and tamales.” And there are always customers at the truck in the parking lot selling elotes and also esquites. H-E-B is very ruthless about what goes and what stays. If that little sushi stand is still there in a couple of months, we’ll know that somebody’s buying the sushi; if it disappears, that will mean something as well. Maybe the elotero will get to come in out of the weather and take those precious square feet.

37th Street Lights

The 37th Street lights are one of the best remaining examples of Austiny Austin, in my opinion. I first saw the lights several years ago, around the time this description was written by one of the residents.

Photographs don’t adequately convey the experience of 37th street. The closest simulation I’ve found is the virtual tour of Central Texas holiday lights.

The pictures that follow were taken in Jamie Lipman’s back- and side yards. Jamie is, by all accounts I’ve read, the man responsible for starting the tradition.

Visitors should heed the advice given by Adam Rice: walk, especiallysuperimportant if you’re attempting to make the trip on a weekend. Drive down 38th (the purple line on the map below—click ‘continue reading’ for the map) and find a side street to park on. Avoid turning down Cedar on a busy night, as this is the street the cars turn down after they’ve driven through the street. Speedway, W 33 or W 32, and Grooms are the streets I’d try first. We did get lucky this year, finding a plum space on Cedar, but it was part luck and part stupidity—I’d intended to go all the way to Speedway and just turned too soon.

If you want to see the lights but can’t make the trek on foot (I can think of several cases in which this might apply), you will want to line up to drive through the street by driving north on Guadalupe and preparing to turn right on W 37th (the blue line on the map below).


Rudy’s tree lot has new signs

Hand-painted signs are a good enough reason to patronize Rudolph’s tree lot, just as they’re a good enough reason to stop by the Crestview MiniMax, where somebody still does the week’s specials in a beautiful showcard hand, using red and blue poster tempera. I didn’t manage to capture the “no dogs” sign or the “no smoking” sign, alas.

Holidays in Austin

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The Austin American-Statesman has posted some nice photos and video of Austin holiday activities.

Video: 37th Street Lights

Video: Taking a spin under the Zilker Tree

Photos: Trail of Lights

My First Tamalada

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This weekend I attended my first Tamalada, where a family gets together before Christmas to make dozens of homemade tamales. (Note: One tamal is never pronounced tah-mallee according to a posting on word pirates). So I arrived at the tamalada just when Grandma was mixing the masa in a large ceramic bowl that she brought with her from her house in San Antonio. Next a mixture of cooked and blended New Mexico chiles were added to the masa. Grandma also added lots of salt since it steams away later. On the stove was a pork rump that was shredded and mixed with jalapenos. Then it was time to assemble the tamales. On on a long table in the garage everyone sat spreading masa onto corn shucks. Grandma made sure that we did not spread the masa too high or too thick on the shucks. I found myself needing constant approval from Grandma– that I was doing really good for a first timer. Most of the men of the family seemed to vanish during this process. I was continuously supplied with Tunas Margaritas made from the purple thorny pulp of cactus. All the women at the table were laughing and telling stories. I was trying to figure out how to convince Grandma to adopt me into her wonderful family. Finally the meat was added on top of the masa and the shucks were folded to form the tamal. After a three hour steam we had a taste—yumm. But what I like most about the tamalada was how the entire family was brought together for this yearly ritual. Thanks Abuelita.

The last foreseeable turkey

Tesoro Tierra is taking a temporary break from its operations. It’s for understandable family reasons, but it’s a great loss. Next week will be the last time at the South Austin Farmers’ Market, and we’ll pick up our last turkey. The other folks who bring eggs will purchase some of Tesoro’s equipment. Scott Arbor probably won’t be back to the market until Spring is a little closer, but is beginning to send out information by e-mail. Tony from P2 Organic, of course, will be there all winter long, no matter what, every Saturday. Those poblanos were just irresistible again today. I’m practically using an entire layer of them, chopped up, in every batch of cornbread these days. Maybe I’ll make a soup of some sort and use them in that, too. Yellow split peas? Maybe while cookies are baking. Leaves of Lilac Wonder tulips made their appearance overnight. The kitchen windows were open this morning until somebody revved up a whining electric leafblower somewhere nearby. The laundry’s drying outside. There are gulf fritillaries and zebra longwing butterflies darting about. What a wonderful time of year this is here in Austin, almost wonderful enough to make a person forget about summer.

Poinsettias with a purpose

In Austin, the chances are good that your festive poinsettias originated at Marbridge Ranch. Even if you’ve never seen the garden center yourself, your poinsettia probably has. I haven’t been to Ventana del Soul since the weather changed. At that time there were houseplants from Marbridge for sale there, so I bet that now there are poinsettias. Maybe this weekend I’ll have a minute to stop by and find out. At any rate, even without trying to acquire them, already I have three Marbridge poinsettias so far this season, all red, all gifts. Marbridge is as much an Austin holiday tradition as cerveza Noche Buena and displays even more poinsettias.

The lights are bright on 37th St.

Last weekend, I was taking a walk through University Heights and happened to amble down W. 37th St. as the homeowners were festooning their homes and utility poles with decorative lights. I was impressed with the dedication, hard work and extension ladders that these homeowners put forth to offer a truly weird-as-Austin holiday lights display.

I also saw something that made me add “digital camera” to my Christmas wish-list. At the last house I passed, the poor homeowner was napping on his front lawn, under the canopy of un-lit lights and near a pile of empty light boxes. The poor guy was using his coat as both blanket and pillow. It would have made a great photo for holiday cards.

If you haven’t seen the spectacle yet, go this year. Park in the neighborhood (but don’t block my driveway!) and walk the length of the street–you won’t want to miss a thing.


I botched it last week and forgot to plug the KUT Holiday Sing-a-long. We went last year and it was a lot of fun. This year was good too, although the warm temperatures made it a little harder to get into the spirit. It was either that or the cranky screaming toddler we brought with us.

It probably doesn’t need any plugging, but Trail of Lights begins Sunday and runs until December 23rd. Last year was the first year that we missed since having kids. I’ll let you in on a little family secret. We generally avoid the long traffic lines by parking on one of the side streets by Green Mesquite, having dinner there around 6, and then walking to Zilker. It makes for a bit of trek on the way back, but I’d rather be walking than sitting in the car, especially in this weather. (For those that read this more than a week from now, it’s supposed to be 76 and sunny on Sunday. Not that I’m rubbing it in or anything.)

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