Texas


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.

Next Page »