Archive for December, 2007

A favorite freebie

It’s for this year’s Austin-pack, the one that’s going to former Austinites, Austinites-to-be, people who’ve visited and who will visit Austin, and out-of-town friends and family generally. We all make them up. Very often they must include those elusive food items that aren’t shipped commercially. And there’s the souvenir tee-shirt category. I’ve already mentioned the small-sized silk-screened radish aprons from the Farm to Market Grocery with a big 78704 as a component of the design. We often include a souvenir calendar in our gift-packs: Mexican sentimental art from Tesoros, a neighborhood historic preservation or school fund-raising one from around town, or perhaps the naked musician calendar (available for [ahem!] inspection at Wheatsville Co-op). Here’s one that’s free and very handsome. Besides, it makes an excuse to check out the Whip In convenience store, if you haven’t lately, and, since the inventory is constantly evolving, a person never knows what discovery awaits. The calendar is a very large one-sheet and will require rolling to go into a tube for mailing. The typeface is handsome and legible and the design is a variation on the many-handed deity now front and center at the Web site. The paper is of quite a heavy weight, with a wonderful tactile quality. It’s plain that a great deal of consideration went into production of this calendar and, with or without the date portion at the bottom, it will make a fine permanent display item once framed.

Spicy seasonal treat

Beyond tamales and beyond favorite spicy cookies from any number of cultures, and very rare, is the kind of old-fashioned gingerbread found this week at Sweetish Hill Bakery in the form of small, intensely flavored loaves or cakes. These are not pale, being the dark brown of old-fashioned blackstrap molasses and not the golden color of gingerbread made from the light stuff. The spices are employed liberally and are very fresh. This gingerbread is a perfect complement to milk, coffee, hot tea, or vanilla ice cream. It’s great at breakfast. It’s great for a snack. It’s a wonderful dessert. If we all buy more of this hard-to-find old-style treat, maybe it’ll be available more often. I’ve tried dozens of recipes over the years and have never found any as good as what produces Sweetish Hill’s version. This is the real thing.

Survey of the week, municipal division

The issue masquerades under the dull rubric of “charter revision.” Some think of it as examining the possibility of single-member districts. Nelson Linder has been taking the KAZI 88.7-FM radio Wakeup Call show quite frequently recently, inviting members of the city council to come and be interviewed at some length. The most recent interview that I caught was of Mike Martinez, who says he prefers to think of the issue and refer to it as “geographical distribution.”

There have been public meetings, apparently sparsely attended, with more scheduled. I don’t think there’s any lack of interest in changing the constitution of the city council; change has nearly come to pass at least once before (the local daily records the outcome of earlier efforts). The City’s Web site has a cluster of pages on charter revision. Someone has invested some effort into creating a page of resources. I particularly like the page of questions and answers, which contains some nutshell demographic and voter-turnout information and many additional fascinating factoids, all evidently rounded up in response to queries by members of the commission.

Linked recently from the home page is a brief survey. In fact, it’s very brief, and I’ve heard that only about 400 or so people have thus far responded to it. The relevance of the questions may be a bit unclear, but a large number of responders would at least show that the Austin electorate, or at least the on-line portion of it, is interested in the issue, even though in-person turnout has been low. It has often been my personal experience that public officeholders representing everyone feel obligated to respond to no individual constituent in particular. And some find it interesting that the cost of an at-large campaign is very high relative to the return in salary going to the winner of the election. Everybody concerned about Austin’s direction will have an opinion and here’s one chance to express it.

Aloft and on the wing

Speaking loudly, as those who often work with loud equipment frequently do, two guys overheard this morning from their perch high in the treetops were discussing last night and why they were “feeling puny” this morning when, in mid-sentence, one broke off: “Whoa! I didn’t know they had these in town.” He had startled and flushed a white-wing, which in turn had startled him, almost causing him to fall. Then one asked of the other, “Are you going to get you the next dove you see?” but I didn’t catch the answer to that one. White-winged doves seem to continue to displace mourning doves. Just yesterday at suppertime, a white-wing was fluttering around inside our screen pavilion. It had flown in through a partly unzipped stretch of netting but wasn’t finding its way out, although very soon thereafter it did. I’m tempted to recount more of the conversation from on high, but some of it, although highly entertaining, isn’t quite fit for polite conversation.

Lights, oddly, listed

It’s such a small-town thing, to notice when Austin’s mentioned in a national context. People in New York don’t notice and don’t care about such things; neither do people in Chicago. Even in older cities sinking in the population rankings while Houston and Las Vegas rise, nobody cares (think Boston, Baltimore, and so on). But we stll notice, and we care at least a little. Here’s one I don’t understand at all: Newsweek has a “Checklist” feature in each issue and in this one the nation is told to “Go To Austin for the annnual Trail of Lights festival.”

I confess that it’s been a long time since I’ve paid attention to the trail of lights. As someone with an interest in hand-constructed and -painted displays I always did enjoy it. The older displays, as I recall, were pretty much made up during the course of the year as time permitted by the people who worked in the parks department sign shop. They were fun to see in the daylight for their folk-art qualities, and at night they were illuminated by low spotlights and embellished with colored Christmas-tree lights. It all started as Yule fest and then eventually went on to Greater Things, under another name.

These days, it’s all a Big Deal, with restricted access, a lot of corporate sponsorship, and much, much more “sophistication.” A bit of the old style can be seen in this display, where one of the figures brandishes a partly consumed turkey leg. The ‘dillo tableau is one of the earlier examples of more elaborate ones that I remember. What I’d really like to know is how the trail of lights made its way onto a Newsweek list and from how great a distance people will travel to Austin on that recommendation.

Frozen meal-in-a-box

Our friends at H-E-B and Central Market don’t bother to restock what doesn’t sell, so I hope this item’s still in the cold case when I shop again. It had long been awaiting a food emergency that finally arrived, so I don’t know how old it is or what it cost. I’m talking about “Central Market H-E-B Taste of India All Natural Curried Lentils Punjabi Dal.” It’s marked “product of Canada” and the package also says that “this product was made from ingredients that were not grown from genetically modified seed.” Although there are red lentils listed among the ingredients, the dal, by appearance and flavor, comprises yellow split peas predominantly. There’s at least as much rice as dal, described as “cooked brown basmati rice.” The rice doesn’t taste “brown” and it does have that wonderful nutty basmati flavor. I thought I noticed quite a bit of cardamom among the dal spices, which I like. This little meal makes me want to pay more attention to other meals that may be in this line, if it still exists. This one’s marked as one serving, vegetarian, and mild (or one chile out of a possible three). Since we’re on a never-ending tour of both Central Markets and all area H-E-B stores, I don’t even remember where this item was bought, and on-line searches using various terms brought no helpful results. Anyhow, I’m hoping it’s still out there for the buying and that maybe there are companion items that are just as good. Good old down-home H. E. Butt Grocery Co., always bringing fresh and exotic surprises, making no two shopping trips duplicates!

Annals of open government

It’s not too late to respond to the survey on the City’s Web site about needed improvements to that site. It’s open through January 4. I’m thinking about answering the questionnaire again because of something discovered only today. There’s a page linking to the text of some, not all, proposed amendments to the Austin code of ordinances. Here’s a proviso on the page of links:

“This is not a complete listing of all code amendments initiated by the City Council or Planning Commission. If you do not see a code amendment listed on this website, contact the city staff person listed on the notice or agenda for information about the amendment. This website is periodically updated. For up-to-date information about an amendment, contact the city staff listed for the code amendment.”

Why the limitation? Why the secrecy? It’s not as though this material isn’t stored in electronic form for reference by select public employees. There’s a great deal of material relating to proposals that could, if enacted, affect all of us. And the descriptive language seems designed to be vague; it’s not even so specific as what’s mandated for proposed state legislation. Even with its limitations, for all those interested in the slightest in municipal government and its workings, this is a good page to bookmark. By the way, title 25 provisions concern land development, and those of title 30 deal with Austin and Travis County subdivision regulations.

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