Saturday, November 23, 2019

Texas, October, 2019
Decided to visit Texas for the great country music and barbecue!!  Took a United basic flight which only allows you one carry on.  So, I HAD to check my roller bag and pay $30 to check it.  Also with the basic flight you have no seat choice and are the last to board.  Might NOT do that again!!!

Arrived in Austin about 5:30 p.m. and walked across the street to the Fox Rental Car – very convenient!  Used the GPS which I always bring to find my airbnb which was on the south side, a lovely studio and parking spot all to myself.  After unpacking I drove to Rainey Street for dinner at Emmer & Rye.  The street was filled with bars and discos with people dancing and music everywhere.  I was fortunate to find a parking spot which is not always the case…

Sat at a nice little upright table and had my first taste of Texas, red curry Johnny cakes with crème fraiche and peppers, chicken w/acorn squash and corn sauce and a little apple crumb tart with red wine ice cream.  It was delicious!  Decided to wait on the music until the following night.

Drove to Mozart’s Bakery on Lady Bird Lake in the morning for a blueberry bran muffin and great coffee.  A fabulous bakery with delicious pastries, outstanding coffee and great atmosphere to which I returned every morning.  Found a parking spot near lady bird lake and realized it was Sunday and parking is free everywhere.  Yes!!!  Walked around the lake for an hour and then wandered up Congress Avenue, the main street of town.

Visited the O Henry House where he lived for three years and where he wrote some great stories.  He was charged with embezzlement and had to flee the country for a few years but

after serving a prison sentence all turned out well for him.  Decided to visit the Blanton Museum of Art but first stopped at their little café for pumpkin bread and hot tea.  The museum was filled with an extensive art collection which I thoroughly enjoyed.  Walked back to my car and returned to my airbnb to regroup before heading to dinner at Barley Swine.  Had blackened redfish with couscous and acorn squash and tres leches with white chocolate.  Very nicely prepared.  Drove to the Elephant Room for jazz and parked where I had parked earlier because I knew my way from there.  Sat at a table with another guy near the front and the music was really good.  No cover charge and no requirement to buy a drink.  That worked for me!!!

Mozart’s in the morning and I parked on Gibson Street in South Congress for free until 5 p.m.  A bit of a walk to the Capitol but I didn’t have to worry about moving the car.  Took a guided tour of the Capitol building and learned about the many men and women who had served there and then wandered the grounds looking at the memorials and statues to different people and for different events…Walked down to 2nd avenue for a delicious barbecue lunch at Lambert’s.  I had their tacos with brisket but the meat was so tender and delicious I skipped the tortillas and concentrated on the brisket and the salad that came with it.  Finished up with a rich chocolate peanut caramel pie with ice cream.

Drove over to the modern art museum but although it was closed for the day the sculpture gardens of Laguna Gloria nearby were open.  I enjoyed wandering along the lake and into the park to see all the interesting sculptures standing throughout the grounds.  Drove back to the airbnb to regroup and then headed out to Garrison in the Fairmont Hotel for dinner.  Self parking in the hotel garage and into a lovely restaurant that felt like you were in someone’s home, complete with porch!  Food was beautifully prepared and excellent.  I had the seared octopus with pumpkin seeds, mole sauce and acorn squash puree and finished with brulee lemon tart – as if I really needed more food after my barbecue lunch!!!

It was Monday night Bluegrass at the Radio on Manchaca and I really enjoyed the group.  We sat outside on benches and two banjos, a guitar and a fiddle played until 11 p.m.  It was grand!!!

Muffin and coffee at Mozart’s and a rainy day.  Very changeable weather which I wasn’t expecting.  Parked on Gibson and walked up Congress Avenue to the LBJ Library which was very interesting.  Before I visited the museum, I stopped at the Cathedral built by Ellsworth Peters which I forgot to go into when I visited the museum.  A beautiful little space with three blown glass windows and some black and white marble “pictures” on the walls.

The LBJ Library was all about the life of LBJ before, during and after his presidency and keyed in on what he had accomplished during his term of office.  There was also a special Motown exhibit of country western and rock music which was also really interesting.  Stopped by the Blanton Café again and had some tea and the brownie I had picked up at Mozart’s.

Since it was raining I just headed back to the airbnb to plan the next part of my trip.  About 6:30 p.m. I drove to the Broken Spoke music hall nearby and listened to honky tonk music for about an hour.  One lady played the accordion and piano like you wouldn’t believe; although her voice left something to be desired…Dinner at Ushiko on N. Lamar was fabulous!  Decided to compose my own tasting menu so started with eggplant tempura crisps and the waitress brought me some of their signature Brussels sprouts to try (excellent!!!), kanpachi crudo with amberjack fish, poblano and Asian pear, hot short rib with butternut squash puree and maitake mushrooms and milk cereal with chocolate mousse which a table nearby sent over to me “just because” which was very sweet.  I stopped by their table after dinner to thank them…

Muffin at Mozart’s and then drove to the botanical gardens even though it was raining.  The gardens were beautiful, especially the Japanese gardens but it was a bit tough to enjoy the beauty for the rain…Drove to Johnson City where I visited LBJ’s childhood home and learned a bit about his growing up years.  On to Fredericksburg where I stayed in an airbnb walking distance from the great main street of town.  Stopped for a hot tea and the ginger cookie from Mozart’s and then drove up to the Enchanted Rock Park where I checked in and walked the very lovely path to the rocks.  It was rainy and the path wasn’t marked very well and it was getting late so once I saw the rock I turned back.

Airbnb was cozy and warm and the host was out of town.  Lucky for me!  His cat wanted in so kept me company while I was there.  Drove a ways out of town to Cabernet Grill for dinner.  Great food!  Had a thick and creamy butternut squash soup, wild arugula salad with pecans, goat cheese and diced beets and a triple chocolate mousse cake that was moist and ever so good…

Found a cute bakery called Twisted Sisters for blueberry coffeecake in the morning and then walked up Main Street to the Pioneer Museum with housed several old buildings moved there from other locations, i.e. blacksmith shop, Sunday house, school, etc.  It was a great outside museum and showed how one used to live.  As it was very cold and I had not brought a jacket with me (big mistake!!!), I found a cute little jacket that kept me warm the rest of the trip. 

Drove the Willow City loop recommended in my Moon guidebook and it was a lovely drive.  I saw a few deer and beautiful landscape which would have been evenly lovelier if the leaves were changing.  Stopped at a little café called Emma and Ollie and had a creamy butternut squash soup and molasses cookie for lunch before driving on to Kerrville.  Found my airbnb a ways from town but a very nice little studio and then had dinner at Rails near the train depot.  It was a charming place and my grilled salmon salad with walnuts and goat cheese was the perfect dinner especially as it was followed by flourless chocolate cake which was divine.

Drove into town in the morning to PAX Coffee and had banana bread and nice coffee.  Walked along the creek nearby in the park which was a good way to start the day.  Spent about an hour in the Western Museum with its fabulous collection of bronze statues and paintings done by Texas artists.  Also some beautiful furniture made with Texas pine or maple trees. 

Back into town for lunch at Francisco, i.e. a cup of pumpkin soup and two pecan crusted fish tacos and then I drove out to Stonehenge II, a replica of Stonehenge as well as replicas of Easter-island statues.   On out to the Coming King Sculpture Prayer Garden where there is a 77 foot tall empty cross located up on a hill with excellent views of the city.  A nice place for some solitude time…

Drove into Bandera on S16 which was a beautiful drive and stayed at an airbnb where I had the whole top floor to myself.  Stopped in town and found Chikin Coop where live music would be playing until 11 p.m.  Drove out to the Backyard Bistro in Pipe Creek which was a local hangout with good food.  Had some crab cakes with red pepper sauce and chocolate pecan cake from a side board of bundt cakes!!!  Spent about an hour listening to country western music at the Chikin Coop later that night and meet some Texas ladies who had come in on their harley davidsons!!!  Music was great with drums, guitars and great songs.  People were dancing and having a great time.

Had a muffin at Cavangaugh Coffee on Main but it wasn’t that great… Drove to Lost Maples State Park in Vanderpool but it was a Saturday and there were no spots available.  I didn’t realize you needed to reserve ahead online…Instead I drove back into Bandera and found a very nice trail in the Hill Country State Park.
On to Boerne about 3:00 p.m. and arrived at the Moon Bakery just in time to have broccoli quiche and a ginger cookie before they closed their doors to guests arriving a few minutes after me.  Wandered down the Hauptstrasse of the very cute little town of Boerne before heading on to San Antonio.

My GPS lead me to a very sweet guesthouse on the southside with easy parking on the street.  Walked downtown to Bliss, a bustling restaurant with great food.  Had grilled octopus, a glass of wine and a chocolate dessert with popped corn – all delicious.  Am looking forward to the river walk!

Decided to go to Bakery Lorraine in the pearl area and it was a great choice!!!  Easy parking all day and the bakery was fabulous!!  Had a butternut squash muffin and rich strong coffee and then walked the river walk for about an hour which was gorgeous.  Drove over to Mission Jose founded in 1720 and took a guided tour and learned about the American Indians who lived in these missions run by the Franciscans.  Heard a Sunday service where the mariachi band played and it was very moving…Also stopped by Mission Juan with its unique architecture and rich fields.

Returned to Bakery Lorraine for a nice kale and barley salad and got hooked on their delicious ginger cookies.  Walked across the river to the Art Museum and really enjoyed the exhibits especially the Victorian Radicals with its excellent British art.  Wish I had allowed more time…Walked the river walk to downtown to see where the Alamo would be and then drove out to Savor Bistro for a very disappointing dinner…A new restaurant, quite chic, but the main chef was not working the night I was there and there were no other customers so my dinner was uninspiring…

After another delicious butternut squash muffin at Bakery Lorraine, I walked the river walk to the Alamo, which was originally Mission San Antonio de Valero, founded in 1718.  There was a very good video explaining all the history of the battle for independence which went on there, etc. Walked to La Villita Historic Arts Village area with its cute shops and local artist community and then to the San Fernando Cathedral founded in 1731 and the oldest standing church building in Texas.  Stopped by the Governor’s Palace but it was closed so I will see it another time. 

Lunch at Bakery Lorraine was a delicious egg salad on toasted bread with a ginger cookie.  Stopped by the Mission Espada, the oldest of the East Texas missions and then to Mission Conception which looks essentially as it did in the mid-1700s and was very impressive.

Drove to Biga on the Banks for dinner downtown and it was a challenge finding a parking spot!!!  Great restaurant, elegant and classy.  Had a fabulous dinner, i.e. arugula salad with smoked beets and goat cheese, scallops w/habernero sauce on grits and pineapple chutney and a trio of little desserts, i.e. toffee pudding, bourbon crème brulee and chocolate mousse.  How could it get any better than that!!!

Bakery Lorraine for coffee and a muffin and then walked along the river walk to the governor’s palace downtown.  It is a beautiful colonial style home built in the 17th century, very simple but elegantly decorated with period furnishings. It represents the last visual remnants of the Presidio San Antonio de Bejar.  Walked back along the river walk to the King William neighborhood of historic homes near the San Antonio River.  Took a guided tour of the Villa Finale, the last home of local preservationist, Walter Nodd Mathis who was instrumental in the revitalization of the historic King William neighborhood and was a prodigious collector of fine and decorative art.  His 12,000 piece collection is everywhere to be seen in this exquisite mansion.  On down the street to the Steves Homestead Mansion owned at one time by Edward Steves, founder of the Steves Lumber Company still in operation today.  Took a quick peek into the Guenther House, once owned by Erhard Guenther, founder of the Pioneer Flour Mills.  It is now a museum as well as a restaurant located on the river.

Had read about the opening in October of Ruby City, a contemporary art center envisioned in 2007 by the late collector, philanthropist and artist Linda Pace but did not have time to visit.  It presents works of more than 900 paintings, sculptures, etc. and also includes Chris Park, a public green space named in memory of Pace’s son…

Walked back along the river walk taking a different route which passed by lots of outdoor cafes.  Returned to Bakery Lorraine for lunch and then drove to the historic town of Gruene where I stayed at the Gruene River Inn.  Wandered around the little quaint town, had grilled tuna salad and chocolate pecan pie at the famous Gristmill Restaurant and then enjoyed some country western music in the old Gruene Hall nearby. 

The breakfast at the Inn was rather dismal so I walked into town and had banana bread with excellent coffee at the Gruene Street Café.  Drove into nearby New Braunfels where I walked to Landa Park and along the lake.  Visited the Texas Furniture Museum and the docent was very enthusiastic so I spent almost two hours there.  The unique furniture was in an old house and had been made by the German immigrants who came to Texas almost 100 years ago.

Stopped at Uwe Bakery in town for a quick German pastry and then drove the Devil’s Backbone route to Wimberly, a lovely route.  My airbnb was a sweet little studio in the center of town so I could walk to the Leaning Pear where I had a curried butternut squash pizza with lemon ricotta/Anaheim chiles and a chili spiced chocolate terrine with pomegranate seeds. 

Walked to Sugar Shack near the Leaning Pear for coffee and a delicious pecan sticky bun in the morning and sat outside as it started to rain!!  Wandered a bit in the nearby Nature Preserve and then in and out of the art galleries and shops on River Road 12.  Stopped by the Texas Glass Works on my way out of town and enjoyed the demonstration of glass blowing and the beautiful items made in house.

On my way back to Austin, I stopped at the famous Salt Lick in Driftwood for legendary mouthwatering barbecue.  The parking lot is enormous as is the inside but as it was a rainy day and off season there was plenty of room and the service was fast.  My pork rib and brisket with some burnt ends were tender and moist with great flavor.  All plates include cole slaw, beans and potato salad.  Soooo delicious.  Finished with chocolate pecan pie and ice cream and then I was on my way back to Austin.  Keep in mind it is a “cash only” establishment!

Easily found my airbnb, this time in a nice spacious room with private bath in an art décor home with a delightful hostess.  A bit farther from town than last time but no problem getting around.  Drove to Holly Street to a restaurant called Launderette and it was fabulous!!  Easy parking and a funky little place filled to the brim with people and great fun.  Had grilled octopus with potatoes and paprika and a creamy chocolate dessert with “sunchokes”.  One of my favorite restaurants so far.  Stopped by the Broken Spoke and into the dance hall to hear the music and see everyone dancing and having a great time.

Tried a different muffin at Mozart’s, parked in my favorite spot and walked around Lady Bird Lake for about an hour.  Walked up to the Bullock Texas State History Museum and enjoyed the “Becoming Texas” exhibition with its journey through more than 16,000 years of Texas history starting with the early American Indians.  La Salle’s 300-year-old ship, La Belle, excavated off the Texas coast was on display which was fun to see.

Walked over to the Governor’s Mansion nearby where I had booked a tour for 2:30 p.m.  What I didn’t know was you are not allowed to bring even a purse inside.  Luckily a nice couple took my backpack to their car for me while we were on the tour…

This premier historic home has served as the official residence of Texas governors and their families since 1856 and is a lovely mansion.  It houses countless valuables including Sam Houston’s mahogany four poster bed and numerous pieces of valuable art and antique furniture.  Thankfully all of these items were removed and in storage when the building was targeted by arson in June 2008 and sustained major damage.

Walked down to Starbucks and had hot tea and a cookie from Mozart’s and then returned to the airbnb to regroup before dining at Lenoir on south 1st street.  Had to wait awhile for my table as the restaurant is quite small but watched some of the plates come out of the kitchen so knew what I wanted by the time I was seated.  Opted for the prix fixe menu which started with one hush puppy, shrimp tempura wrapped in greens w/grilled summer squash, fish with curry sauce and greens, blue polenta w/tempura wild mushrooms and quinoa, guinua hen with tiny butternut squash cakes and almond cake with passion fruit curd and blue cheese – a fabulous meal and my last dinner in Texas.

Walked around the corner to Congress Avenue and to Continental Club for music.  Listened to one band and watched it dismantle and another come on which was even better.  A bit more rock than country but good nevertheless.

Check out of my airbnb in the morning and had a final muffin at Mozart’s, a walk around the lady bird lake and then stopped at Mozart’s for lemon tart and tea.  Returned the car at the airport and caught my flight to SFO.  Had an hour stopover where I picked up an egg salad sandwich and got to SNA about 7:30 p.m.  I look forward to returning to San Antonio one day soon!

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Potato and Cremini Mushroom Soup
2 - 3 Tbsp. butter
8 oz. potato, peeled and cut into dice
1 onion, peeled and cut into dice
1 large leek (white part only), thinly sliced
8 oz. cremini mushroom, sliced
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh oregano
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh Italian parsley
4C chicken stock
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2C cream
2 small red potatoes, roasted and cut into cubes
1 Tbsp. Italian parsley

Heat the butter in a pan over low heat and add the potatoes and onion.  Sauté until golden.  Add the leek and mushrooms and sauté 2 or 3 minutes more.  Add the herbs and chicken stock and simmer 10 to 15 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.  Season with salt and pepper.

Puree in a blender or food processor until smooth and return to the pan.  Heat the soup, add the cream, divide among bowls and top each with the roast potato cubes and one tablespoon parsley.  Serve warm.
MAKES:  6 servings