Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Joy is where you find it

A kitten's first Christmas tree is a thing of wonder. Hope your holidays are full of wonder too.

Copyright 2009-2013 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Cats in the Sun

Cats love a cozy nap on a cool day.
Alexa takes an afternoon snooze on the window seat in the kitchen.

Ernest ignores the pest a few feet away.

All the cats are happy.

Copyright 2009-2013 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Spaces: A Wimberley Ranch Home for a weekend or a life

Folks travel from around Texas to the eastern Hill Country town of Wimberley to forget their big-city blues in the old-time feel of the stone circle at the center of town.

Art galleries and funky shops entertain. But the real draw is living within rough limestone hills cut by clear tumbling creeks, a quiet land perfect for releasing the tension that knots at the base of the neck.

When the Farris family from Katy, TX near Houston began looking for a family getaway home, Wimberley was at the top of their list. They fell in love with the first place they saw, a spacious home clad in white-and-gold Austin limestone, sited in a grove of oaks and surrounded by 80 hilly acres, including a wet-weather creek and year-round pond behind the home.


But Darla Farris really fell in love after walking through the front doors. Inside, the architecture echoed the landscape in limestone walls and soaring ceilings complemented by woods and natural materials.

Darla decorated her home to be a place where grandkids and dogs could play, and folks could prop their boots on the coffee table without damaging her style of rustic elegance.
I shared Darla's decorating secrets in my Spaces article, which ran in the San Antonio Express-News and the Houston Chronicle.  For more about her Hill Country style plus many more photos, click the link above.

Who knows? Maybe you'll be inspired to add a little Hill Country to your home.

Copyright 2009-2013 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Winter Texans

This morning we opened the door to a rare-fog dawn.  Perfect for a quiet walk instead of the clamor of the gym.
About a third of the way around our circle a flock of American Widgeons (ducks) passed overhead, possibly newly arrived from Canada, just in front of the Arctic cold front coming this weekend.  Temperatures in the 30's are considered spring weather in Canada, the birds will feel right at home.

Another half-mile and a covey of Northern Bobwhite (quail) flushed beside the lane, our first sighting in the seven years we've lived in this old ranch territory. Looked like a family.  They must be skilled woodsmen to have survived in a country of coyotes, raccoons, foxes and other predators.  Female bobwhite photo from Wikipedia.

We didn't see any wild turkeys today.  They're fairly common here--uncomfortably so during mating season when the toms will attack anything moving in the vicinity of their hens, including people, strollers and cars. The flocks are probably keeping a low profile during a season when they star on the table.

A young Rufous Hummingbird welcomed us home. He's been hanging around since late September. Guess he didn't get the message that his kind migrates to Mexico. 

He's following in the wingbeats of past rufous hummingbirds who wintered here. For the last two winters, starting in September or October, a subadult male rufous has hung out near our feeders, leaving in mid-March as the spring migrants arrive from the south.

It may not be a bad survival choice for the birds.

We'll be colder here than Mexico but if the bird is from northern Canada or Alaska, our winter cold will be warmer than some nights on his summering grounds. There are thickets here with tree sap and  insects for dinner plus protection from elements.  Not to mention the bonus of feeders for fast energy.  

He might be safer here than flying hundreds of miles over strange territory in capricious weather finding who-knows-what for food and shelter along the way.

A 'For Sale' sign is still out in front of our house.  I'm thinking if we get an offer anytime soon we might have to add a hummingbird feeder clause to the contract. 

Copyright 2009-2013 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Hill Country Invasion

Don't be alarmed, it's almost over.  We haven't found a live one in the house since the weather turned cool. 

I'm fond of saying we never know what we'll find when we open our front door. But that wasn't true in October when the forces of the universe coalesced into an outbreak of millipedes with a side of centipedes for scare.  We didn't walk barefoot.
Millipede above.  They don't sting.  Red-headed centipede below.  Nasty sting and grow to 6" long.

It wasn't just us, either.  People talked about it in the line at the grocery store and at the mailbox as they picked up their mail. Mostly millipedes, by the dozens. Little crawlies inching along the floor from the door, creeping up the shower wall, dead and curled into a crispy coil.

I'm blaming it on the phase of the moon or a planet in retrograde or maybe the hot air from Washington D.C.  Whatever, we're glad it's over.

I hope our next invasion is butterflies.

American Snout, photo taken during American Snout invasion of 2009.

Copyright 2009-2013 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Spaces -- Mediterranean Meets Texas

From the back porch of Sandy and Gary Howard's hillside Horseshoe Bay home, they can see Lake LBJ glittering under the Texas sun.  The view reminds them of  of Italy's Amalfi coast. In fact,  Sandy says they live in the "Riviera of Texas."

I enjoy writing "Spaces" articles for the San Antonio Express-News--I learn so much every time.  

Visiting with Sandy in this Horseshoe Bay home was a lesson in how to make a home feel like an Italian coastal retreat--even if you live 250 miles from the coast.  In case that sounds good to you, here's the article: Mediterranean meets Texas.

You'll probably like it even more if you drink a glass of red wine as you read.

Copyright 2009-2013 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Walking Tours: Seven Cities Worth Exploring by Foot

Galveston's charm lies in it's tropical collision of past and present.  Photo courtesy of Galveston CVB.  

The air is soft, with a salty tang. It cleans your pipes on the way in. Palms dot wide sidewalks in front of sand-colored brick and stone buildings. You share the space with local characters, vacationers and island workers in khakis and tropical shirts.

You're ambling down The Strand in Galveston, everyone's favorite Texas island town and one of the best places in the state to explore on foot, where there's as much to see and do after dark as in daylight.

A brightly painted facade on the 1882 Greenleve, Block & Co. building on The Strand.

Most travel writers like to walk.  You catch nuance you'd miss from car, train or bus.  

Blogger and writer Irene S. Levine gathered vignettes from seven travel writers about their favorite cities to explore on foot, including mine on Galveston. Whether you're an armchair traveler or planning your next trip, check it out on Irene's blog: More Time to Travel.

But before you go, take a second here to share your favorite towns to walk. I'll wave if I see you there.

Copyright 2009-2013 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Coming Soon: Cedar Fever Season

The yellow rain starts in mid-December; a silky mist of cedar pollen floating on the wind, staining the land and sending Hill Country residents to the doctor.  The doctor may prescribe medication.  It may reduce symptoms ...but nothing completely stops head-splitting, cough-and-shiver-inducing cedar fever once you have it.  

We know why it happens.  And where--anywhere within wind-distance of Ashe or Mountain junipers. Some experts say the pollen can travel 50 miles in a good wind. 

But there may be a preventive, if you act fast.  I don't say it works or that you should take it, just that Denny and I do; and we haven't had the dreaded fever for the five years we've been making and taking the stuff we call Cedar Fever Potion. 

My friend Phoebe made a batch this year and shared with us. I was just as glad not to make it. Now that our home is 'For Sale' I'm leery of making potions that fog the rooms with a smell akin to cat-piss.  I'm pretty sure the odor wouldn't help sell the house.

If your house isn't for sale and you want to know more about making potion, click here. But we're not doctors so you're on your own with risk and all that.

Copyright 2009-2013 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Autumn in the Hill Country

The coming of Autumn in the Texas Hill Country is marked by the sound of breathing. Every living thing, having survived the desiccation of August, inhales and releases.  The breeze of collective sigh caresses hills, streams and meadows.

Esperanza in bloom, a welcome sight to migrant hummingbird stragglers.

In good years, there are autumn rains; gardens return to green and flowers sprinkle the landscape.  This was a good year--three big rains and multiple drippy days since September 4th.       

I thought you might enjoy a look; after all, happiness should be shared.

Our back "yard" has no turf but plenty of bloom.

The cardinals have eaten all the berries from the beautyberry bushes on the right and are working on the tall ones to the left now.

Out front, the dwarf barbados cherry bushes were so surprised by recent rain, the plants put on a flush of flowers to go with the berries already on the branches.

From our kitchen table, we watch cardinals snacking on berries as we eat breakfast.

Juvenile male cardinal at brunch in July. His plumage is fully red now.

The pigeon berry plants on the porch are another cardinal draw.

For the cats too, since they're dedicated bird-watchers when they're not playing.

Alexa (the pint-sized attacker) joined us in early September as an 18 ounce stray.  Denny and I were surprised when Ernest didn't eat her.  

She thinks he's the best toy.  He thinks she's a nuisance.  By the time it gets cold here they'll be sleeping together.

My schoolhouse lilies were a month late to class this year, blooming at the beginning of October.

Mother Nature keeps her own time.

We're savoring the views, more this fall than ever. We've listed our home for sale; ready for something smaller.  

But I'll treasure the sights and sounds of this place.

Copyright 2009-2013 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Monday, October 14, 2013

It doesn't get any better

We sipped a glass of wine as the sun set and told each other how lucky we are. Seventeen years and we're still good together, better together than apart.

It's also seventeen years since I was diagnosed with fast-growing breast cancer.  Denny married me 10 days after the cancer surgery, before we knew how bad it might be, or how long I would live.  

Most newlyweds don't know how long they'll live; but most don't wake up wondering if this will be their first and last Christmas together or whether they'll have a fifth anniversary.

We celebrate our anniversaries as if they were national holidays. This year we opted for an evening out at one of our favorite wineries, Driftwood Estate Winery & Vineyards

Al fresco dining with fine wine and sunset views on the most beautiful night of the year. 

Followed by dancing to music by cowboy troubadour Bret Graham

Some years back we took swing-dance lessons, immediately followed by remedial swing-dance lessons. We still swing like novices but it's so much fun we don't care.

I wore the necklace Denny gave me on our Palo Duro Canyon anniversary.

And winery owner Gary Elliott stopped by our table to congratulate us and pour a glass from his private cellar, the Driftwood Estate sold-out 2010 Lone Star Cab that took Silver, Best in Class at the 2013 Houston International Wine Competition. A treat.

After we got home, 2.1 inches of rain fell on our acre. If you're a Texan, you know rain is a rare gift.  

We had a wonderful night. The best anniversary ever. But then I always say that...

Copyright 2009-2013 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Spaces -- Stories of people and their places

A house is more than shelter--our homes are refuge, comfort, self-expression, sometimes art.  

I've begun finding and writing stories of people who've created homes that fit them, and how they did it.  I get to meet interesting folks.  And I learn something every visit.

From Sandy in Horseshoe Bay, I learned to make lemonade.  Her powder room had a leak for which tile had to be removed and she had no matching tile.  But she had imagination.  Now the bathroom floor is one of her favorite spaces.

Lory and Gary's story of creating "retopia" in a wildlife refuge was published in the San Antonio Express-News a couple of weeks ago:  A retiring life in the country.  

My stories are about Hill Country folks and homes but ideas are universal. You may find something you like so I'll post my articles here as they're published.  

And I'd love to connect if you have ideas to share.  Making our houses into homes is part of the art of life.

Copyright 2009-2013 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Friday, September 20, 2013

A Green Chile Celebration

Quick, the growing season is nearly over! Go online and order a stash of however many pounds of green chiles make you feel secure for the coming year...or gas the car for a drive to New Mexico. Green chile heaven is too good to miss.

On your way back, open my recent article in the  San Antonio Express-News, for how-to details and recipes, including braised short-ribs and green-chile polenta by innovative Chef Andrew Cooper of Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado de Santa Fe.

In the mood for something quicker? Try chile expert James Ditmore's Turquoise Trail Sliders, which will make you shiver in your seat, the taste is so good.  

And of course you'll want a tingling margarita to go with them, maybe the chile-infused La Posada de Santa Fe Caliente Margarita, recipe here.  

Or my own sweet, tart and powerful Hill Country Margarita.

You're welcome.

Copyright 2009-2013 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Hoppy Hour at Das Lokal

Hoppy Hour at Das Lokal, the taproom of New Braunfels Brewing Company, starts at five o'clock on Thursdays.  

New Braunfels Brewing Co., "a nano-brewery in historical downtown New Braunfels," makes fresh brews created with a nod to the town's German history and a dash of Texas sensibility.  No sissy beers brewed here.

Denny and I shared a couple of trio samplers on our last visit. Yes, 2x3=6. But sharing sample-sized steins made it a one-beer equivalent.  Small steins, big flavor. 

We started with three mainstays.  

In the LuftWeiss, a Pilsner described as a "clean all-malt expression of the Bavarian Hefeweizen," I liked an acidic edge that made my tongue tingle before a light banana finish. 

Next came the dark Dunkelweisen, made from grain with a dark toast that gave the brew a deep flavor and satisfying coffee finish.

The IPA Hefeweisen was our favorite of the first set, for the balance of hoppy acidity and clean finish. Hoppy enough to spark the palate but not so much it made you pucker. I could see a glass of this IPA with roasted meat or spicy nachos.

The second trio was a trip. 

Sauced Fuego is a transformed Hefeweisen with time sitting on oak, cinnamon and chipotle peppers. Fuego means fire in Spanish but the brew wasn't scorching. In fact, the tang and acidic edges made it my favorite of the night.

Black Fury was Dunkelweisen plus bourbon-barrel aging and a bit of sour. It was the only brew we didn't finish.  

Then we tasted Senor, made from Sauced Fuego plus ghost chiles.  Ghost chilies earned the name in northeastern India where folks said eating one was a path to a paler existence.

We found more heat in Senor but it wasn't as hot as pulling weeds in Texas in August and I'd drink it again without breaking a sweat.

Want your own New Braunfels beer adventure?  Look for NBBC brews at Hill Country spots such as the Phoenix Saloon or the PourHaus.

Or stop by Das Lokal taproom on Thursday, 5pm-7pm. Maybe we'll see you there:

180 W. Mill St., New Braunfels, TX 78130 
(830) 626-2739, http://nbbrewing.com

Copyright 2009-2013 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Joyce's Homemade Jalapeno Salsa

Joyce is the angel who helps care for my father. She does more than take care of Dad--she takes sweet care of Mom by cooking and helping with heavy housework.  

You can see why we're grateful to and for Joyce.

The last time I visited, Joyce taught us how she makes fresh jalapeno salsa.  Joyce's salsa puts the bottled stuff to shame and it's so easy to make we'll never buy salsa again.

The only caveat is "know what you like"--for just a little heat, use just a couple of peppers.  For a lot of heat, use a lot of peppers.  Mother and I were ambitious.  We made an 8 pepper salsa, which was about 4 peppers more than our taste buds could handle.

Here's Joyce's recipe, along with her good wishes for you.

Joyce's Jalapeno Salsa
Makes between 1 and 2 cups, depending on size of tomatoes and how many peppers you use.

2-8 fresh jalapeno peppers
2 fresh tomatoes
salt (to taste)
1 clove fresh garlic, pressed or minced (optional, but we like the flavor in our salsa)

Put the peppers & tomatoes in a 2 quart saucepan and cover with water.  Bring to a boil.  

When the tomatoes look done (skin wrinkles a bit), remove the tomatoes and slide the skin off.

Boil the peppers until the color lightens and turns an olive tint, then pour the water off.  Return the tomatoes to the pan, add salt to taste and minced garlic (if you like salsa with garlic) and mash it all together.

Pour the salsa into a clean lidded jar and store in the refrigerator.  Best if used within a week or so.

We like it with chips, on chicken, with pinto beans, over enchiladas, in fact almost any dish where you want a spark of color and hit of heat.

Copyright 2009-2013 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Delicious Dining in the Texas Hill Country

Folks travel to Comfort for fresh air and scenery, unique shops and maybe a taste of local wine.  Lucky travelers also find four eateries high on fresh-picked and made-from-scratch, with unique menus and settings--all within twenty minutes of High Street in the center of Comfort.  

Eight years ago, Brent Ault and Denise Rabalais moved to Comfort to start an interior design store.  Brent made coffee and cookies to welcome clients to the new business.  Folks liked the refreshments so much they came to sip and munch.  Pretty soon the storefront became High’s Cafe and Store, named for its High Street location. 

Today, High’s is the place to go for light-crumbed fruit muffins baked fresh every morning. Or a seasonal soup-salad-or-sandwich lunch featuring house-made breads, enjoyed outside on the vine-covered patio or next door in the airy dining space.  The menu includes favorites such as a grape-sweet and chunky chicken salad and specialties like a succulent crab cake (more crab than cake) topped with a dollop of roasted red pepper and jalapeƱo tartar sauce.  One of High’s butter-rich chocolate chip pecan cookies is big enough to be dessert for two. 

(830) 995-4995, 726 High St, Comfort, Tx 78013, highscafeandstore.com
Monday - Saturday 8 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Breakfast: 8 a.m. - 11 a.m., Lunch 11 a.m. - 4 p.m. 
Closed Wednesdays
Sunday 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Breakfast 9 a.m.-11 a.m., Lunch 11 a.m.-4 p.m.

About twenty miles away, next to the summer home of millions of Mexican freetail bats at Old Tunnel Wildlife Management Area, Mike Tangman and Cindy Dechert-Tangman welcome folks to the laid-back vibe of Alamo Springs Cafe, where “Anybody is Nobody” and diners get their own drinks from the cooler, paying on the honor system. 

Mike and Cindy fell in love at the Cafe.  Mike left a corporate career to start the eatery and Cindy told him he needed her help to get it going.  Together they created a hearty menu and down-home atmosphere drawing visitors for Texas favorites with a twist. 

You’ll be tempted to order their specialty burger—a juicy half-pound of grilled beef on a sweet cheddar and jalapeno bun piled six inches high with avocado, grilled onions, green chilies and blue cheese, but the best advice is to split it, because half is a big meal.  The menu also features lighter fare like grilled quail over a mixed romaine salad dressed in fresh basil vinaigrette.  And most folks save room for the seasonal house-made desserts.  The offerings change at the whim of the pastry chef but you might find pecan pie like Grandma’s, juicy peach cobbler from Fredericksburg fruit or a towering dark chocolate cake.

(830) 990-8004, 107 Alamo Rd., Fredericksburg, TX 78624, alamospringscafe.com
Open Today 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.

A highway sign between San Antonio and Comfort marks the I-10 exit for the town of Welfare, with a self-declared population of ten, including the goats. Thirteen years ago, Gabriele McCormick and David Lawhorn left high-pressure jobs in Houston for the quiet of the country.  David discovered a passion for history; Gaby put her passion for food into practice.  After restoring Welfare’s 1880’s grocery and post office building, they opened Welfare Cafe inside, offering finely crafted dishes amid Hill Country history.

The menu changes often for seasonal ingredients from local farms, and dishes span a range of food cultures, including German, Mexican and soul-food.  Some patrons never make it past the weekly specials, too tempted by orange-pineapple arugula salad, roasted duck breast sandwich on artisan bread, or appetizer crab cakes, sweet with crab.  Soups, salad dressings and desserts are house-made.  If you’re lucky, you’ll arrive the day the pastry chef puts out melt-in-your-mouth peach strudel.

(830) 537-3700, 223 Waring Welfare Rd., Welfare, 78006, welfaretexas.comDriving Directions 
Thursday and Friday 5 p.m. - 9 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m. - 9 p.m.

Winding up the hill at Riven Rock Ranch, visitors look out over hay fields and pastures with grazing cattle.  At the top, The Terrace Grill rises from native stone, surrounded by gardens, as if it had always been there.  

Chris and Elaine Havens purchased the ranch as a good place to live after corporate life.  They didn’t plan on opening a resort or dining destination, but the land was too beautiful not to share.  Together they built a unique ranch-resort with an elegant rustic restaurant serving distinctive local cuisine. 

Diners enter past a wood-fired oven where Chef Joseph bakes lunch pizzas from ingredients such as wild boar sausage with garlic, gorgonzola and red onion, spiked with fresh oregano and basil.  The burger is made from beef raised on the ranch.  Chicken salad changes quarterly.  In autumn the salad has sun-dried apricots and toasted pecans, served on a baked-this-morning buttery croissant or topping a crisp salad. 

Dinners feature more formal fare, including citrus pesto shrimp with orange shallot honey reduction.  House-made desserts like sweet-smooth tiramisu with a deep chocolate and roasted coffee tang offer a memorable finish.

(830) 995-4045, 390 Hermann Sons Road, Comfort, TX 
Friday- Sunday: Lunch 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p. m., Dinner 5:30 p.m.-9:00 p.m.

Riven Rock Update: The Terrace Grill at Riven Rock will close after November 17, 2013.  The ranch has been sold and will become a private family compound after that date.

Wherever you come from, the food around Comfort lives up to the name.  

Copyright 2009-2013 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.