Thursday, September 30, 2010

Redbud Cafe - Blanco, Texas

The Redbud Cafe , across from the Old Blanco County Courthouse, serves fresh and local, organic when they can, always crafted by artists.

Really.  Jon and Jan Brieger have been potters for over twenty years and own Brieger Pottery, the store next door.

And Jon cooks with the same sensibility of balance and beauty.  The home-made basil flatbread was made with herbs from their home garden.  And it was the perfect foil for a cilantro pesto heated by a burst of jalapeno and rich with roasted pecans.

We enjoyed more, not as much as I wanted to try, but plenty for one meal.  A delicate organic greens salad sweetened with ripe pear and pecans.  Chicken and shrimp gumbo thick with fresh okra that put me in mind of Louisiana times. 

And the Redbud has EIGHT varieties of local artisanal Real Ale brew on tap. The Brewhouse Brown made a fine match for that spicy cilantro pesto.

I'm thinking about driving to Blanco for dinner again soon...

10/12/10 -- For more on the Redbud--and better pictures--check out this at Austin Agrodolce.

Copyright 2009-2010 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The County Fair

Fall in small town Texas means two things.  High School Football, a Texas religion. And the County Fair.

The Fair starts with a parade--everybody in town is in it or watching it, except me this year (cleaning house for Mom's visit, which supercedes everything). 

After the parade, the town troops over to the fairground.  Exhibits, rodeo, local bands, cotton candy, the ferris wheel.

You have to go.  Your kids or neighbors or cousins have entered and you need to see their entries so you can tell them they're the best. 

<---------The Elvis of the chicken world.

You think your loved ones are always the best, but they're going to ask you what you thought about their rabbit, or the German Chocolate Cake that bested Grandma's Apple Cake.  And you have to be able to look 'em in the eye when you say you saw it all and nothing was as good as theirs.

The 4H kids bring the animals they've spent the last year raising, chickens, rabbits, goats, pigs and cows. Horses too.

My favorite event last year was the Under 12 steer competition.  

The young girl who won not only raised the steer, she trotted that more-than-12-times-her-weight-animal around the ring, making a figure 8, keeping the steer's hind quarters tucked and head up.  Which is better than I can say for my own posture most of the time, so I'm impressed.

My second favorite was the tractor pull.  Amazing how well the old guys go--men and machines alike.  Some have worked sixty years in tandem, testimony that good work oils the gears and joints.

County Fairs are fun in the Hill Country, but they're fun wherever you live too.  Hope you find one this fall.  And tell me about your favorite sight.

Copyright 2009-2010 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Alamo Springs Cafe

Alamo Springs Cafe sits  at the end of the road near the abandoned train tunnel.  And they make the  best burger you've never tasted, unless you've seen the bats emerge from Old Tunnel, or followed the bible on the best burgers in Texas.

You take two-lane RM 473 from Comfort and keep on goin' when it narrows to Old San Antonio Road.  Drive another nine winding miles, pass Old Tunnel parking and follow the sign to hamburger heaven.  OK, so it doesn't say that on the sign, but you'll understand after you get there.

Alamo Springs, where "Anybody is nobody" so get your own damn beer.  And musicians play soul-blues-country-rock on the patio stage weekend nights.  

Inside, the Chef grills half a pound of fine local beef and serves it on a sweet cheese and jalapeno bun, piled high with avocado, grilled onions, green chilies and blue cheese.   

I didn't say it was healthy, I said it tasted Texas-sized good.  Every now and then a person needs a little substance to go with the salad.  
And a LOT of napkins.

Denny and I split one.  He had a side of sweet potato fries, I had an organic mixed greens salad with house-made Tequila-Lime Vinaigrette.  I tasted Alamo's other made-from-scratch dressings too.  The Chipotle Ranch is crossover nirvana.

We finished with the pastry chef's pie-du-jour.  Yes, that's right, the pastry chef, doesn't every country way-station have a pastry chef? 

The night we were there it was watermelon pie.  Best, and only, watermelon pie I've ever had.  I'll admit the seasoning and raisins reminded me of mincemeat-pies-past.  Next time I'll go for the three-layer German Chocolate Cake.  Or the local-peach cobbler.  Or maybe the Key Lime Pie.

And I'll forgo the burger for grilled quail on a salad of romaine, baby corn, black olives, local tomatoes and feta cheese dressed with basil vinaigrette.  So I have more room for pie.

Copyright 2009-2010 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Monday, September 20, 2010


We went to the hill country town of Blanco last weekend, spent three days and came back three pounds heavier (each) from the hard work of sampling creative food and drink.  I know, don't say it.

So I hadn't been out front until this morning when I went out to fill the bird feeders.  

I could hear a hummingbird war somewhere.  They squeak as they duel--diving, thrusting and parrying.  But I was caught in my thoughts.  Until the nonstop war lasted minutes.  That doesn't happen.  The birds take rest breaks and usually one flies away to a patch of flowers to refuel.  

So I looked up.  Between the porch posts the air throbbed from a tiny center of iridescent green thrashing.  

I dropped the bags and ran.  It was a Ruby-throated hummingbird in a Golden Silk Orb Weaver's web, a web with the strength and flex of outer-space.

I hoped to break the strands and see the bird fly away.  But he was too trapped. I caught him as he fell swinging by a strand, and cradled him in my palm, cupping one over the other to give a dark rest.

Denny came out to help.  We pulled webbing from his feathers and feet, taking turns holding and wiping, trying for the lightest touch.  

Denny told me more than once to get past the emotion, believe we could do it, or we wouldn't.  It was hard.  This first-year male was healthy and strong, I knew he'd had a good chance of surviving the journey to come.  Now he was stuck to my palm and couldn't pull his wings from his sides.  

We held him up to the feeder to drink.  We tried.  

We fed him again and again to keep up his strength but we couldn't get all the glue off and knew the time when we were no longer helping.   At Denny's urging I took him to a low, dense shrub, freeing him on a perch, hoping he'd be able to clean himself before he ran out of energy. 

If you've ever seen a Golden Silk Orb Weaver spider (Nephila clavipes), you know it's big enough to wrap an ensnared hummingbird after it stills. 

Golden Silk Orb Weaver wrapping a captured grasshopper. 

But not today.

The hummingbird was gone from the perch the next time I peeked.  I don't know how he could have freed himself but I'm hoping, hoping.  One more tiny life to fly and breed and enrich the world.

You're hoping too. 

Copyright 2009-2010 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Old Tunnel Bat Emergence

 Photo Courtesy of Nyta Brown and Texas Parks & Wildlife Department

If you're not there when the miracle happens, you won't see it.

Last weekend, we were.  There, at the Old Tunnel near Comfort, only feet from the ravine.  When 3,000,000+ Mexican free-tailed bats streamed into the night. 
As the air cooled near sunset, a few bats rocketed from the black-hole mouth of the tunnel.  Then hundreds and thousands, until suddenly fifty thousand bats a minute streaked by in a grayish blur, wings sweeping a bat-scented breeze with a whisper-roar of flapping.   

Reaching the edge of the forest, they whirled in circles until the flow became a column rising like a living tornado above and beyond the trees into the darkening sky. 

The spectacle lasted more than half an hour.  

Walking back up the trail, we felt light, as if our minds and hearts flew too.

You can see this miracle also.  Just make the easy pilgrimage to Old Tunnel before the end of October, when the bats return to Mexico.  Or hope the future is kind and plan for next year, May-October.

PS  No one knows when the bats began roosting in the tunnel.  But they eat fifty thousand pounds of insects a night and local farmers hope they prosper. As do we.

 Copyright 2009-2010 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Dear Universe

Dear Universe,

When I said, "I want my life to encompass the unexpected,"  I did not mean the tooth I broke on a piece of popcorn, necessitating a loooong dental procedure.  

Or the leak by the chimney that sent water down the pipe to my rug in the middle of the night.  

Or the ladder that fell from the roof to my head, raising a lump and making me a temporary redhead.  

Although I am thankful that my head is hard. 

Just so we're clear, I was thinking more along the lines of butterflies or rare birds or wisps of errant stories.  Although really good chocolate would make up for a lot.


Copyright 2009-2010 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Greater Roadrunner - Geococcyx californianis

Some quiet Hill Country days, when the ear floats a tide of rustling leaves , a rising-falling oo-ooo-ooo-ooo-ooooo-ooo echoes through our patch.  

We look at each other and smile.  'Our' roadrunner bugling his fiefdom.  He patrols our neighborhood's wild areas and yards, dining on snakes and lizards, scorpions and spiders.  

The small birds fly when he comes for a drink.  They know he'll eat whatever he can catch.  Running the hills requires gas in the tank and his tank will take almost any kind.

This unlikely ground-dwelling cuckoo belongs in these arid hills.  He was here before people.  With luck, he'll survive the advance of pick-up trucks and manicured lawns; his calls a reminder of the space of the wild in our lives.

Copyright 2009-2010 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Left Brain Right Brain Conjunction

 Denny and I have been sightseeing fools lately, with more lined up.  Research for travel articles for the San Antonio newspaper.  I'm hyper about details, knowing everything, seeing everything, getting photos of everything--correction: taking every shot I can imagine of everything, the blessing/curse of digital photography.  

The pictures are the killer.  I could probably manage my anal piles of paper compiled and printed for my travel folder.  But downloading, naming, sorting, deleting, rotating, fixing, and, finally, deciding which pictures to submit, is a marathon.  

My editor probably thinks so too. I send her (at least) 12 photos with each story, knowing she'll only use 4.  The thing is, I never know which 4 she'll want.  I'm not complaining.  She's a great editor--intelligent and sensitive, gives me space to develop the material, makes few changes to the articles, and I mostly like her changes.

For Nashville, I KNEW she'd want this fabulous image.  

Elvis's gold-plated piano.  Doesn't it scream Country Music to you?  The Drama of The King.

Didn't make the cut.

I loved this one from Nashville's Parthenon.  Forty-foot-high Athena.

What, you didn't know Nashville has a full-sized replica of the Parthenon standing proud in a mid-town park?  With a giant gilt Greek goddess inside.  

But I know your first thought after you read "Nashville has a full-sized replica of the Parthenon" was--

"Of course, it makes so much sense!   Nashville being the Athens of the South."  

Or not.  I'm guessing Athena didn't say "Nashville" to my editor either.

We're gearing up now for a weekend in the Texas Hill Country and I'm exuberant about the chance to watch 1,000,000+ Mexican Freetail Bats emerge from the roost at sunset. I'm not sure what kind of bat pictures I'll come back with. Or whether the star of my picture show will end up being the best hamburger in Texas  or a music party at a vineyard.

When we get back I'll download hundreds of photographs, hopefully not the 1,256 of my last weekend trip.  As I do, I'll remind myself that critical thinking and decision-making are important to deadlines.  

And my right brain will flash images that make me feel the joy of experience again.  I'll remember as much from the pictures in my brain as the words of my notes.  And somehow it will all come together into an article about life in the Texas Hill Country.  

Copyright 2009-2010 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Hummingbird Fall Migration 2010

Ruby-throated hummingbirds began migrating through here around August 10th.  Males first.  Always. They have territory to claim.

The birds have to migrate early, they have a long way to go. Some fly nonstop more than 500 miles across the Gulf of Mexico.  

Migration is peaking now in our Texas Hill Country.  

We're filling five feeders twice a day, and smiling every time we look out the windows.

You can smile too, just click the video for a minute of winged wonder. 


Copyright 2009-2010 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Jane's Green Grilled Fish with Mango Salsa

I'm going to tell you right up front, there are no pictures of the fish after it was cooked.  I couldn't get the camera out fast enough to beat the forks to the fish.  Yes, it was that good.  

My sister Jane cooks with love, imagination and a glass of wine.  She thinks the wine makes her preparation better. I'm with her on that.  I think wine makes most things better.   

She served this fish dish when we visited her home not long ago.  The marinade came from a recipe in the local Junior League cookbook !Viva! Tradiciones.  The Mango Salsa came from Jane's salsa cookbook.  Texas kitchen shelves hold books solely for salsa, a key to Texas national cuisine.  If you're not from Texas, don't worry, you can enjoy a vicarious visit from your dinner table.

The first step in the recipe is to get fish.  Jane went to the bay-front pier for caught-that-day black drum.  You can use whatever firm-fleshed white fish is in your market.  Mahi-mahi would fit the bill.

Jane's Green Grilled Fish with Mango Salsa
4 servings

4 fresh fish fillets, 1 1/2 - 2 lbs. total
1/4 c extra-virgin olive oil
3 T fresh lemon juice
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 T fresh chopped basil
3 T minced parsley
1 T cracked black pepper

Combine all marinade ingredients and pour over fish in a glass dish.  Cover and refrigerate for one hour. Remove fish from marinade, sprinkle with kosher salt and grill over hot coals (or you can bake it at 400) until fish flakes easily.

Mango Salsa
Here's the recipe as I wrote it down...from the recipe proportions, the pre-dinner wine was even better than I remember.

Mango, jalapenos, onion, lime juice, cilantro and cumin

Combine and refrigerate.

So have a glass of wine while you cook and use your imagination.  You're smart.  The salsa  will be good and you'll create your own green fish memories.


Copyright 2009-2010 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.