Texas


I haven’t posted here in a while and with the time I have on my hands right now I probably should be.

Two coincidental events came together at the start of March 2020. One was me concluding that it was time to take a break from work. After nearly 13 years at the most recent company … I needed a change. The opportunity presented itself. Timing was right.

Meanwhile, the world was being consumed by COVID-19 and it only really hit the fan here in central Texas about mid March. Good timing to be around home!

Either way, and certainly together, I have been spending a lot more time at home. And I’ve taken at least some of that time and spent it getting out on my bike(s) more. The Garmin data is pretty clear. I recently snagged the data over the last year and since the start of March, I’ve logged a lot more time in the saddle:

Because of the pandemic, almost all of these miles are very close to home though.

Observations

I’ve always ridden close to home but typically my rides would be on weekends – and certainly not during a pandemic. These days a lot of my riding is on weekdays.

Early in the pandemic there were a TON of people that were getting out on the streets! In my suburban neighborhood I have never seen so many people out running, walking, & biking.

On the one hand it was and has been great to see so many people out exercising in some way. But on the other hand … lots of people have become obstacles in a way they never were in the past.

People like to be in groups and try to ‘socially distance’ from one another so they end up walking and running in the street instead of the sidewalks – and in the place I’m trying to bike (and stay away from cars too). Even now, there are lots of people to dodge on the street. Not as many as earlier this spring though. (People are increasingly back to work – and it’s also just getting a lot hotter here as summer approaches.)

Meanwhile, kids will be kids… they have no idea what side of the street to ride on. So they are often coming at you on the wrong side of the road. And you never know if they will decide to cross to the other side right in front of you.

And since I would typically ride the neighborhoods on weekends, I had no idea how many service vehicles are around during the day! In these neighborhoods, I think I know where a lot of stimulus checks are going. People are getting new floors, new roofs, new additions, new windows, new paint, … meanwhile there are landscaping crews with trucks and trailers and mowers and blowers everywhere! Then there are the pool cleaners (or installers!). And the power-washers. I had no idea so many people power-washed driveways and rock walls. Nor had I any idea how many people would be getting completely new lawns delivered on trucks.

I’ve also learned all the different schedules for garbage pickup around the different neighborhoods. If it’s Tuesday, the streets over in Glenlake are lined with garbage bins (and the trucks that pick it all up). If it’s Wednesday, Westminster and lower Riverplace are stacked with trash bins… you get the idea.

UPS, Fedex and innumerable delivery vehicles are in and around the neighborhoods all day everyday. Not unusual at any time but with the pandemic on .. it’s noticeably higher traffic by delivery vehicles. They are everywhere.

In any case, I had no idea how busy the streets would be around here during a typical day.

Best time to ride: Sunday morning. Nobody’s mowing (at least not landscape crews), and the service vehicles are all gone. Traffic is low. People are about, but it’s mostly quiet.

I hope to keep up my riding even as the summer heat comes on here in central Texas. At this point I’ve become used to the obstacles and plan and ride accordingly.

I need to find a way to cycle somewhere more remote on a regular basis but where? … that’s still TBD.

Fall Color

Since I have posted in past years about our Austin fall color I would be remiss if I didn’t jot some notes on this year’s display.

I’m actually writing this on New Year’s Day of 2019 and back dating this post but I’m trying to catch up on my notes here. Call it a new year’s resolution.

2018 fall colors came earlier than I remember in past years. In fact, if you click thru the link above I had noted last year that we usually see our best color around the solstice in late December. That was not the case in 2018. In fact, both the photos here were taken the weekend of Thanksgiving.

The red Oak leaves were shot in Hunt, Texas. And the shot below was just in my neighborhood here in Austin.

I wasn’t the only one that noticed the display of color this year. Here’s just one reference I recall running across late in the year.

Fall generally seemed to be wetter and cooler than I remember in past years and I gotta figure that was a factor. And maybe some perfectly timed sunny days.

Sunday afternoon in the hammock

So you might think that in Texas, lots of days would be ideal for just hanging around in a hammock. I mean, we get some pretty good weather year round and plenty of sun, but the reality is that there’s really only a few times a year that I think, wow, I have to take time out and get out there and just kick back in the hammock. The temp, the breeze, the humidity … it has to be right for me to want to [ideally] snooze in the hammock.

Today was one of those days.

At mid afternoon we had temps in the low to mid 80s and a light and occasional breeze that was just about perfect.

As I lay there gazing up into the Live Oak above me I was treated to some visitors. First came the woodpecker. Hard for me to tell what kind. It was very animated and jumping from branch to branch and pecking away. It appeared to have plenty to feast upon.

Then came the hummingbird that swooped in out of nowhere. Without the motion of its arrival I would never even have noticed it. At best, it was only 2 to 3 inches tall and once it lighted, it hung out on a branch for quite some time. It was practically invisible without the movement of flight.

The other visitor I noticed was a lizard shooting up the same tree. Again, hard to tell exactly what kind but there are so many Texas Spiny Lizards around here that’s likely to be the case in this instance too.

This warm and restful moment was accompanied by the scent of Star Jasmine. (see pic) My neighbor has some planted and over the years this vining plant has taken over a rock wall nearby. There’s nothing more evocative of late April and early May for me than this scent. It blooms in places around the city and central Texas and when I catch a whiff I just have to stop for a moment. It’s imprinted on me and as memorable as Lilacs, Bluebonnets and Easter Lilies.

yellow flower
Cactus

It’s that time of year in central Texas when things bloom and as it warms up in the spring in late April and into May, the yellows and reds seem to be more prevalent.

We’ve had a pretty good display of wildflowers this year. My last post here showed the bumper crop of Bluebonnets. Since then I’ve snagged a few shots of yellow flowers. My Instagram feed has, in fact, become a bit repetitious. Lots of flowers.

The two photos posted here though were a couple I didn’t post to Instagram. Both of these were taken on walks in my neighborhood.

I have no idea what the daisy-like flower is but we had a ton of them around here for a while.

As it’s warmed some more, the Prickly Pear cacti have really started to open up. This one here I caught shortly after a recent rain.

Click the photos for larger images.

It won’t be long now and it’ll start to feel a lot more like summer and only the hardiest plants will bloom around here. Even the birds seem to go somewhere else in the summer. But the cicadas … they always return. I have yet to hear them but they’ll begin to screech soon and that’ll be a sure sign that summer is upon us.

I mentioned the Bluebonnets in the last post so I’d be remiss if I didn’t post an obligatory shot of the Bluebonnets this year. We’ve gotten rain at the right times throughout the fall and through the winter and early spring and this year we’re seeing a bumper crop of Bluebonnets and other wildflowers.

I took this one just in the last hour or so on a walk at the end of the day. As you can see by the bit of light hitting the trees in the background it was before sunset but not by much.

I liked how this shot turned out. I captured one main Bluebonnet up front and in focus while you still get some perspective of how prolific the flowers have been this spring. There wasn’t much light left but – enough.

Spring arrived here in Austin weeks ago. The Bluebonnets and enumerable other wildflowers are and have been in bloom for weeks. The Live Oak leaves are fresh and bright green again and their old leaves are being blown or have been raked into piles and carted off.

That means that hot weather will be upon us in short order. You can sense it like a freight train coming around the bend. It may not be “Summer” here yet but hot weather is just around the next corner.

It has been sultry through the weekend and into the early part of this week. The breeze has been from southeast and temps have been near 80 and while not ‘hot’, it’s just warm enough and different enough to feel uncomfortable at times – particularly when at this time of year we tend to shut off both heat and AC and just open the window(s).

So it was very pleasant today to have a front blow through with a little rain late in the afternoon. I got home in time to throw open windows and door and let the low 60s temps flow in. Wonderful!

I snapped the photo included here out the back soon after getting home. We may get some more rain overnight. The skies sure looked like it. In the mean time, you can’t beat the cool breeze coming out of the North right now. A breath of fresh air.

If you search back in this blog you’ll find that it’s pretty typical for me to go out looking for fall color at the end of the year. Here in Austin what would qualify as our autumn and winter seasons can sometimes be counted in days so if and when we have some fall color I try to take notice and capture just a bit. Fall has always been one of my favorite seasons.

Like most years, fall color peaks in Austin, TX closer to the winter solstice rather than after September concludes as it does in the more northern climes. So these pics are of course recent and just prior to Christmas.

These three photos all come from a single end of year walk and in fact were probably all within 100 yards of one another. The office complex just a couple block walk from my place has some nice trees and landscaping so as I walked through the area I snapped a few pics. (I was of course under the watchful eye of some security dude in a pickup the whole time … which is kinda weird in a way but maybe something for another post.)

My favorite of the bunch was the still bright red Oak leaf juxtaposed alongside its siblings that had already dropped to the ground. It was the only one I posted to Instagram.

I like Cedar Elms and it’s typical of them to get a lovely yellow hue before the leaves drop completely so I think I caught this one just in time.

You can get a sense of the time of day as well as the kind of filtered solstice winter light at the end the afternoon in the last of the three pics. I think this is called Maiden Grass (it’s not full enough to be Pampas Grass). I have some at my home as well. It’s one of the ornamental grasses we have planted all over this part of the world. Looks good year round. It’ll get cut back and then reappear in the spring.

As you can see by the big grin on my face in the photo below our weather in central Texas has finally felt a bit more like fall in recent weeks. And that means that I can cycle at something other than the crack of dawn (or at least pretty early in the morning) to avoid the oppressive Texas heat.

While this particular bike ride in the photo was out in the Texas hill country earlier in October we’ve generally had some pretty good weekends for cycling throughout October. While I’ve backdated this post I’m actually writing this toward the end of October on the 29th. This weekend and particularly today, the 29th, was superb for getting outdoors and cycling. I did a city ride of around 24 miles today and it was a perfect day to be out. As I write this the day finishes with mid 70s and abundant sun. You gotta love fall weather in Texas.

Out Cycling Between Burnet and Bertram, Texas

We took time out over the Memorial Day holiday weekend to head out into the Texas Hill Country to enjoy some wine tasting at a couple of really great Texas wineries.

‘Wine Country’ in this part of the world often implies just one stretch of highway 290 between Johnson City and Fredericksburg, TX. (About an hour+ west of Austin.) And indeed these two wineries were 10 minutes apart on that very stretch of road around Stonewall. That so many wineries have popped up in that area is no surprise. Fredericksburg is very popular and that stretch of road is highly trafficked. But in reality, while there are grapes growing in the area and on the estates, much if not most of the fruit in Texas wine comes from the ‘high plains’ – up near Lubbock. Soil and temp conditions are just better up there. But… nobody goes up there if they can avoid it so consequently the wine biz has set up shop in central TX. They do grow fruit in the hill country though and have for ages … but most of it used to be peaches. There are still peaches of course but now there’s a lot more vines and grapes.

This visit out that way was mainly to catch a [relative] newcomer to the area. Kuhlman Cellars has only been there a couple of years, and yet judging by the quality of the wine, you’d never know that. I was throughly impressed with the experience.

You need a reservation for a tasting at Kulhman and if same-day, you can call them. In this case though I made the reservation online the day before. That was handy. I got the “Signature Food and Wine Pairing”. It’s the way to go I think. It was a few bucks more but the food pairings were a nice addition and enhanced the experience.

The tasting was a sit-down event and just about right on time per the reservation. A sit-down tasting / pairing isn’t something I see often at hill country wineries but I really liked it. I snapped a shot of the food pairings which you can see here in this post.

We were ably guided through our tasting by Jeremy Wilson. Follow the link to his blog postings at the Kuhlman Cellars blog. By his description, his job is essentially anything that needs to get done. From planting in the vineyard to driving the forklift – but he really likes doing the tastings and explaining everything. He’s very knowledgable about the regional wines.

We were fortunate enough to also briefly meet and say hello to the winemaker Bénédicte Rhyne. She’s originally from France. Her mom was visiting from France and was there that afternoon for a tasting, which was kinda cute. Follow the link for a bio.

There were 5 wines tasted and I enjoyed each. The Sauvignon Blanc was a surprise and very nice. “Green apple, pear and gooseberry.. crisp acidity”. You’d never guess the fruit came from Ft Stockton way out in west TX.

The reds in general were lovely but the 2014 Barranca was a standout. Tasting notes: “violets, sweet baking spice, cedar cigar box and cherry, .., dark chocolate, creme fraiche and intense mineralogy”. (I’m always amazed at how wine writers come up with these descriptions.) Anyway, it was 31% Mourvedre, 30% Tempranillo, 24% Malbec and 15% Sangiovese .. and it was yummy. Pricey at $36/bottle but as things go this is pretty much a specialty item and nicely done at that so you’ll pay a little more.

The photo at the bottom of the post of the vines and grapes is, if my notes are correct, Marsanne. You can read all about this at the winery’s own blog post here.

With plenty of time left of the afternoon we decided to also take in Hilmy Cellars 10 min down the road. I had been there only once and was impressed with their wines. So, off we went.

You can see another couple photos here from Hilmy. The first is one is of their 2015 Persephone. A blend of 2/3 Viognier and 1/3 Chenin Blanc. The white wines in general at Hilmy were excellent. My fav was their 2015 100% Viognier. A bit more floral than the other two white but with enough acid not to make it cloying.

The reds were equally enjoyable but the 100% Sangiovese was my fav and is it then any surprise that we got one of those with a plan to stop by Sorellina pizza on the way back to Austin for a couple of pies? Great combo! (Sorellina is just on the Austin side of the bridge over the Pedernales river and well worth the drive out west on hwy 71 if you wanna take the time.)

The guy in the photo at the bottom is Michael at Hilmy. Didn’t catch his last name. He’s only been in the area for 3 months. He moved from California. He was very knowledgable about the wines though and as you can see, he clearly enjoys what he’s doing.

Vines and Grapes at Kuhlman Cellars, Stonewall, Texas

I created an instagram account back in 2012 and promptly didn’t actually do anything with it. It was no doubt a busy time. I didn’t really start doing anything with it until just over a year ago. Since then, I’ve posted every few days. And sometimes I post more than once a day, but rarely more than that. (Actually I think it can be irksome to find someone you follow posting more than that.)

So what changed? I’ve enjoyed photography since I was a kid, but in the last couple of years I have renewed interest and the digital cameras and editing software available these days are very good. I’ve also found it to be a fun distraction at the end of the day. I can get into rush hour traffic, or I can take to the street, get in a walk and snag a few photos along the way. Both the popularity and simplicity of the instagram app have made it interesting as well. We all have phones practically glued to us.

Below are the 2015 stats by the numbers. From virtually no posts at the end of 2014 to 246 posts as I write this. Stats courtesy of the https://squarelovin.com website.
Instagram Posts 2015
The photos you see along with this post are the ones that have turned out to be the most popular (at least by way of ‘like’ counts) during the course of the year. The bicycle shadow with leaves was the most popular. And it should also be obvious that Austin folks and myself really like the Austin skyline. We do have a beautiful city.

I’d like to keep the same pace of posting next year but time will tell. This is most definitely a hobby and then there’s the real life & job.

I had the pleasure once again of taking some time out late on a Sunday morning for the once a month ‘classes’ that are put on by Hudson’s on the Bend chef Jeff Blank and team. Always fun and as usual, the food was fantastic.

That’s chef Jeff Blank on the left. He supervises and comments along the way as his team makes all the food.

I quote ‘classes’ above only because it’s really more of a cooking demonstration. The team of chefs make everything right in front of you and tell you what they’re doing all along the way. Along the way the staff keeps you lubricated with wine as you enjoy the show. Lake Travis forms the backdrop when it’s outdoors like the day I was there.

The menu of the day varies and on this particular day it was in my opinion: awesome for the season.

We started things off with “Wild Game Chili“. This was probably some of the best tasting chili I can remember. Of course, when you see what they put in there you can see why:

  • venison
  • wild boar
  • onion
  • garlic
  • bacon
  • freshly made veal stock
  • ancho chilis
  • poblano chilis
  • + other seasonings and goodness

You can see a photo below of the big pot they made it in. It smelled as good as it tasted.

Next up after the chili came “New Orleans BBQ ‘big ass’ Shrimp“. They referred to them as ‘big ass’ shrimp because they special order them for their size. The term also reminds me of George Carlin’s quote about “jumbo shrimp”:

The term Jumbo Shrimp has always amazed me. What is a Jumbo Shrimp? I mean, it’s like Military Intelligence – the words don’t go together, man.

This dish had LOTS of butter along with garlic, and a tasty collection of spices: bay leaves, rosemary (freshly cut from the yard), oregano, basil, paprika, black pepper, cayenne.

We’re not done yet, then there was also “Espresso Rubbed Venison Backstrap with lump crab in Chipotle Bock Beer Blanc Butter“. This one was was done up in a stovetop smoker that you can also see to the right on the stove in the pic here. Smokey flavors were excellent.

And for dessert? “Brownie Bread Pudding“. Wow, this one was decadent. Chocolate chips melted down with butter, sugar, vanilla bean paste, eggs, flour. They first make up a batch of brownies with the main ingredients and then they go crazy and break it all up in a pan and add 2 quarts of heavy cream and a dozen eggs. Mix ‘er all up and bake. Holy smokes. A little of this goes a long ways.

After the demonstration everyone goes to the restaurant not too far from the demonstration at Jeff Blank’s home and the restaurant staff serves all of these great dishes up.

Don’t worry about the calories on a day like this. Just go and enjoy it.

I hadn’t been out to the Salt Lick in a long time. But, it’s the kind of place that doesn’t change that much over the years. With it being the Thanksgiving Day weekend it wasn’t like I was in need of a lot more food. I’ve been more than well fed in recent days. But with some out-of-towners saying they really wanted to go to the Salt Lick it seemed like a good day to go check it out again.

With weather wet and in the 40’s I would have figured there wasn’t a lot of folks that were interested in getting out and driving down to the Driftwood area to have a big meal of BBQ. But then of course I’d be wrong. Now as crowds go, they can be a lot larger at the Salt Lick. You can wait for hours. But arriving mid afternoon on a holiday weekend Sunday, we got in right away.

I got the baby back ribs but had the luxury of sampling some of the brisket as well as the sausage. The ribs and the brisket were very enjoyable. Wasn’t as much of a fan of the sausage. BBQ aficionados from here in central Texas can sometimes pooh-pooh the Salt Lick. It’s touristy and this or that and doesn’t measure up to some other vaunted BBQ place somewhere in TX. But they’re popular and have been for ages for a reason. It tastes good. And the service is good especially considering the throng of people they deal with routinely.

These days, they also have a wine tasting place right on the other side of the dining room where you can find Texas wines that just happen to go quite well with a plate of BBQ. We opted for a bottle of Fall Creek Tempranillo sourced from the Salt Lick vineyard. Can’t get more local than that, and it worked well with the barbecue.

Sides were potato salad, cole slaw, baked beans, jalapeños, pickles, onions and mounds of bread. I passed on the onions and bread but tried the rest. All fine if not exactly piping hot. I’m not as much of a fan of the sauces but that’s just personal taste.

All in all, can’t beat a trip out to the start of the hill country and some tasty BBQ. A nice finish to the Thanksgiving Day weekend.

With temps hovering in the low 40’s and everything looking wet and gray it wasn’t exactly an inviting day for my usual weekend pursuit of cycling so it was time to hit the trail. And since I’m routinely in search of fall color around here at this time of year it was a good opportunity to look for some colorful foliage.

Rusty Yellow

Many of the leaves this year have a kind of rusty appearance. Like the color just couldn’t quite take hold. I wonder if it’s because it’s been very wet – for Austin – this fall?

We don’t seem to get those big hillsides full of colorful trees around here so you have to get close to take in the color. Real close!

I spotted this little group of leaves shortly after getting on the trail. When I see three leaves together like this my first thought is always poison ivy but I don’t think that’s what this is. But who knows?

Wet Leaves

A bit further down the trail, I happened upon a section that was mostly leaves underfoot. The tree above was practically bare already. I really liked the colors though. This spot just off the trail hadn’t been trampled.

Red Leaves

This pretty tree was next to where the trail was covered by leaves. Loved the color. Here again though some of that rusty kind of color.

Can’t Quite Decide

The reds and greens together on these oak leaves were beautiful. But it’s like the tree couldn’t quite decide it was time to get colorful or not. Both brilliant green and brilliant red at the same time.

I think I have gotten my fall color fix in at this point but I may yet spot some more this year.

Just when I think our fall color for the year is gone I run across a bit more while out and about today. As my earlier note suggested, we can see spurts of color emerge from Oct to Christmas around here. It’s just rarely a whole lot at once. When I spot it, I admire it and if I’m lucky enough to have a camera handy I’ll snag a shot. Today was one of those days. I noticed this at the intersection of Hwy 2222 and Hwy 360 earlier this afternoon. I don’t know what kind of tree it is, but it’s one of the few species this year with brightly colored leaves. Can anyone tell me?

Fall Color

Our fall color this year in the Austin and central Texas area hasn’t been spectacular. I still hold out some hope we’ll see some bright trees between now and Christmas. The season change happens very slowly here and you might see some bit of color change as early Oct but more often now, around Thanksgiving, and up till Christmas.

It’s been pretty wet and cloudy on a regular basis here this fall. Great for filling up the lakes and creeks but doesn’t seem to do much for bright colors.

I happened by this little cluster of leaves last weekend out on the trail in my neighborhood. You take what you can get. You can find a few other pics of recent color if you paw through the Instagram photos in the righthand sidebar.

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