Monday, March 21, 2011

Blankets of Bluebonnets

Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy! It’s that time of year again, all you lucky Texans! Bluebonnet time is here! Fill up your gas tank, throw the kids in the backseat, grab your camera and head to the Hill Country for blankets of bluebonnets.

On second thought, with gasoline up around $3.40 per gallon, maybe it would be better to drive the family down to Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center in South Austin. That’s what Gene and I did this past Saturday as we attended the Artists and Artisans Festival at the Wildflower Center. The featured artist, Ken Moore, was on site to answer questions about his beautiful bluebonnet paintings. Although Mr. Moore never formally studied painting, his artwork is wonderful, and it captures those feelings of spectacular awe many of us have felt while admiring the fields full of blue Texas blooms. Ken Moore’s bluebonnet paintings will be on display at the Wildflower Center through May 30th. (Top: Ken Moore’s Edge of the Hill Country #662 oil painting. Below: Ken Moore’s “Spring At Last” #694 oil painting.)

Also exhibiting at Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center is Shou Ping, paper sculpture artist. Ms. Ping takes paper that has been painted with watercolors and cuts them into pieces, creating amazingly beautiful 3-D sculptures, set behind glass, much like a painting.

The day was perfect to walk through the grounds at the Wildflower Center, where we took time for pictures by the bluebonnet field, an annual ritual in Texas. I mean, you just can’t have Spring without a bluebonnet picture!

Walking down the various paths, my nose picked up on a pungently sweet scent that I had to hunt down. It turned out to be a Texas mountain laurel bush, which I now have on my list of landscaping plants for our yard. The plaque stated the blue blooms of the Texas mountain laurel attract long-tongued butterflies. Well, that sold me! Let those short-tongued butterflies find some other place to go!

The open-air square at the Center had a number of tents set up with artisans’ wares. My favorite was the iron art, specifically the shaman yard art, based on ancient petroglyphs.

I think the shaman figure below may have been based on one of the Teletubbies. See what you think.

Anybody else doin' a double-take?!

The crowning moment during our outing was a visit to the indoor artisan gallery. Since 1987, Gene has been trying to find a men’s turquoise and gold ring. While on our various trips, we usually check whether local jewelers carry any turquoise and gold ring combinations. It’s quite rare. Even those we have found haven’t been exactly what Gene was searching for. That is until now. We happened upon Fred and Barbara Stockbauer, Goldsmiths (, who had a beautiful selection of men’s turquoise and gold rings, along with all their other exquisite jewelry.

When Gene tried this one on, we knew it was the ring he’d been looking for. The stone came from the Morenci Mine, located in Southeastern Arizona, and is a collectable turquoise since the mine is now depleted.

In every way, it was a wonderfully blue day – blue skies, blue laurel, bluebonnets and turquoise!

“If you’ve never been thrilled to the very edges of your soul by a flower in spring bloom, maybe your soul has never been in bloom.” –Audra Foveo

"Where flowers bloom so does hope." --Ladybird Johnson

“None can have a healthy love for flowers unless he loves the wild ones."--Forbes Watson

Everything’s Better with Bluebonnets On It, Y’all!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Tantalizing Trailer Treats

It was a glorious, sunny, Saturday afternoon, and we were in search of a fabulous hotdog. The traffic in Austin was beginning to build as Austinites and visitors to the Texas Music Capitol began embarking on the first weekend of the South by Southwest Music Festival, commonly referred to as “SXSW”. Gene was approaching his boiling point as we searched in vain for a fancy hotdog joint downtown. I suggested we get back to the East Side, the chilled-out area of Austin where we live. As soon as we passed under IH-35, I sensed that Gene’s stress began to dissipate.

We ditched the idea of hotdogs, and set out to find an East Austin funky food stop. The first place tried, the East Side Show Room, wasn’t open for lunch, so we kept driving down 6th Street. I nearly wet my pants as Gene hollered, “HOTDOGS!”, pointing to the left side of the street. There, peeking above a fence was a red, British double-decker bus with “cheese steaks”, “burgers” and “dogs” painted on the side.

We parked around the corner, and as we entered the East Side Drive-In, located at 6th Street and San Marcos, our eyes scanned the small semi-circle of trailers with trendy names like The Local Yolk, Ugly Banjos, Bits & Druthers, Pig Vicious and more.

We saw a small sign at the entrance directing us to fish & chips, one of Gene’s favorite dishes, at Bits & Druthers, so we quickly headed in the direction of the British flag.

Gene stepped up to the small window of the red, white and blue trailer and ordered his fish & chips. As we waited for the fish to cook, we chatted with Josh and Shannon (fancy fish fryers extraordinaire).

Friendly and full of entertaining information, these two chipper (pun intended) people explained how the owner started Bits & Druthers after learning to cook the UK staple of fish & chips while living in the land of the Queen Mother. We also learned that Bits & Druthers does not skimp on quality. The fish is fresh haddock from Quality Seafood, one of our favorite seafood stops, which I’ve previously blogged about, and the tartar sauce is homemade.

We didn’t even make it to the next trailer before I had to return to Bits & Druthers to let Josh and Shannon know that theirs was the best fish & chips we’d eaten in Austin. The fish was incredibly fresh, and the batter was…perfection! Crisp, delicious and not at all soggy or greasy. We can’t wait to go back for more!

Our next stop was Ugly Banjos, known for its homestyle cookin’. And, who could resist a name like that? It was a must-try for me!

The red trailer and colorful handwritten chalkboard menu, lined with bottle tops, boasted of several tempting treats. (Check out the Fried Oreos!)

Making a decision was difficult, but I eventually settled on the Jimmy Crack Chicken. With the anticipation of large SXSW crowds, Ugly Banjos decided to tone down their menu, which many trailer eateries were doing, but encouraged me to come back after the festival for the “cracked up” version of this soon-to-be-famous “sammich”. Even without the collard greens and hatch green chile macaroni and cheese (see the online menu), this sandwich was stand-alone genius! The buttermilk fried chicken breast contained a perfectly seasoned cornmeal crust, providing an interesting texture and awesome flavor. Served on a ciabatta bun with honey truffle butter for a tinge of sweetness, a big slice of tomato, cheese, lettuce and jalapeños, served with kettle-style potato chips, the Jimmy Crack Chicken Sammich was a lip-smackin’ delicious treat!

The co-owners, Matthew Schaefer, (right), and his sidekick, Michael Hegar (left), were enthusiastic about their food and location, as well as the décor for the trailer. Gene loved the fact that Ugly Banjos serves Dublin Dr. Pepper!

And, speaking of décor, I was immediately drawn to the cigar-smoking, mustached, yellow mascot standing outside on the counter. This commissioned piece of festive metal was made by local artist, Mike Poulson, located at Slackerville, 2209 South 1st Street, whose entertaining iron work Gene and I have seen.

Rest assured, Gene and I will be back to try every single item on the menu at Ugly Banjos!!

Yesterday, on St. Patrick’s Day, I returned to the East Side Drive-In to celebrate Tami’s birthday, a dear friend of mine. Naturally, I wanted to take her to Ugly Banjos or Bits & Druthers, but we arrived too early in the day and were too hungry to wait until noon. So, we tried our luck at The Local Yolk.

Like Ugly Banjos, the Local Yolk had trimmed down its menu, offering only a few sandwiches, but The Florence was a yummy early lunch for two gals that hadn’t eaten breakfast. The Florence consisted of a fried egg sandwich with pesto, mozzarella and tomato. Good flavor and fresh.

For some reason, just being in this cozy group of trailer eateries made me think of Roger Miller’s “King of the Road”. (Actually, Gene does have a trailer for sale.)

Tami and I ate and talked and watched all the entertaining young people. The best outfits by far, though, were two young guys enjoying SXSW in their green garb for St. Patty’s Day. The young man on the left was originally from Russia, now living in Austin, and was giving a plug for music on Thursday nights in the bar at Hotel Vegas on 6th & Comal. The fella on the right was in town for SXSW visiting from Austria. Dig those brown suede leather britches! Yodel-ay-hee-hooooo!

There are so many trailer park eateries in Austin to try that I may just have to change the name of my blog to The Texas Trailer Twang. It’s got a certain ring to it, dontcha think?

“I don't know what I did in this life to deserve all of this. I'm just a girl from a trailer park who had a dream.” –Hilary Swank

“Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.” –Harriet Van Horne

“Life itself is the proper binge.” –Julia Childs

(Note: The top picture is by Paige Bridges, a Northeast Texas artist. See her vast array of wonderful vintage trailer art.)

Support Your Local Trailer Park Eateries, Y’all!!