I know it sounds crazy to drink hot chocolate when the temperature is still regularly above 90 degrees. But on a recent trip to Houston, I couldn’t resist the chocolate confection—with chocolate made in-house from cocoa beans imported from Oaxaca— at Hugo’s, which serves its frothy cup with fresh, hot Mexican churros. Look for our story on Hugo’s and its terrific hot chocolate in the Drink section of the December issue. Until then, do you know of any other spots in Texas that serve amazing hot chocolate?
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Right or wrong, the Freemasons are sometimes stereotyped as a closed group, characterized by secrecy and backroom power brokering. But when you come upon the massive Memorial Masonic Grand Lodge Temple in downtown Waco, it’s hard to imagine the fraternal organization as a group of shrinking violets.
I lived in Waco for a year in the mid-2000s while working as a reporter for the Waco Tribune-Herald. The job required that I cover a lot of local ground, and although I routinely passed by the Columbia Avenue lodge, I never had reason to visit. I decided to correct that oversight earlier this month during a swing through Waco. I discovered a fascinating facility with a wealth of interesting exhibits and artifacts, especially relating to Texas history and the Masons’ place in it.
When I visited on Friday morning, Barbara Mechell, the librarian and curator for the Masonic Grand Lodge Library and Museum of Texas, took some time to show me around the lodge and its museum. The Grand Lodge of Texas is open 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays. Free tours are offered 9 a.m.-10 a.m. and 1 p.m.-2 p.m. Call 254/753-7395 for more information or to arrange tours for large groups.
I’m no expert on the Masons and wouldn’t pretend to explain what they’re about. The organization keeps secret its rituals, but also publicly contributes to charitable causes, such as the Shriners Hospital for Children in Galveston and the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children in Dallas. “Freemasonry has developed into a worldwide fraternity which is comprised of members who are men of good character, who believe in a Supreme Being, and a life after death,” reads a description in the Grand Lodge’s concourse. “Its purpose is to strengthen the character of each member by providing opportunities for fellowship, charity, education and leadership.”
The first thing you notice about the Grand Lodge Temple in Waco is its imposing limestone edifice, which bears various Masonic symbols and two large pillars topped by concrete spheres. The Grand Lodge of Texas constructed the current temple in 1949 and it serves as headquarters for the 849 local lodges throughout Texas. The building measures 134,380 square feet in area and 88 feet in eight.
I spent about an hour-and-a-half looking around the Grand Lodge with Barbara, and I could have spent another few hours studying the various exhibits. (The majority of the lodge is not air-conditioned, making non-summer months the preferable time to visit.) Throughout the building, you’ll learn about the history of Freemasonry and its roots in Texas dating to 1835. The Grand Lodge, which started out as the Republic of Texas Grand Lodge, boasted influential members from its beginning, including each of the four presidents of the Republic of Texas and 31 of the state’s governors.
In the Memorial Room, a colorful stained-glass window about 50 feet long bears the symbols of the Freemasons, such as the “all-seeing eye” that represents God and lit candles symbolic of enlightenment. The window was originally installed in the Grand Lodge temple built in Waco in 1903, and moved when the current Grand Lodge opened. The room also houses a United States flag that was flying over Hickam Field, next to Pearl Harbor, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
In the concourse area, you’ll find the pictures of past Texas Masonic grandmasters, one per year since 1837. There’s also a bronze statue of Anson Jones, the first grandmaster of the Texas Grand Lodge and last president of the Republic of Texas. Jones was one of the six Masons who met in Brazoria in March 1835 to petition the Louisiana Grand Lodge to charter a Texas lodge. He received the charter, and carried it during the Battle of San Jacinto.
The Grand Lodge’s impressive horseshoe-shaped auditorium seats 3,800 and hosts the annual state lodge convention during the first weekend of December. In the Hall of Presidents, plaques honor the 14 United States presidents that were Masons, from George Washington to Gerald Ford.
In the Republic of Texas Exhibit, the Masons display artifacts from Texas history, such as Stephen F. Austin’s 1815 dues receipt from his Masonic lodge in Missouri; a lock of Sam Houston’s hair donated by his great-grandson; small wooden crosses whittled by Houston; and a metal Masonic jewel inscribed with the date 1798 that was excavated from 12 feet below the grounds of the Alamo in 1982.
Another room in the Republic Exhibit displays portraits of the Republic of Texas presidents and Texas state governors who were Masons, the most recent being Mark White. There’s also an original playbill for the June 11, 1838, performance of The Hunchback, reportedly the first play presented after Texas gained its independence—and with President Sam Houston in attendance, no less. The year before, in 1837, Houston had presided over the organizational meeting to establish the Grand Lodge of the Republic of Texas.
The Grand Lodge’s main museum is located in the building’s basement and features a wide range of exhibits. Some of the more notable artifacts are a terra cotta cone that’s more than 4,000 years old and served an architectural purpose similar to a modern-day cornerstone in a structure in the Lower Euphrates; a plaster death mask of Napoleon made by his physician, one of only three made; and a piece of the original carpet from Alexandria Masonic Lodge No. 22 in Virginia, where George Washington was a member.
The building’s basement is also home to displays on Masonic charitable activities and a hallway that shows photographs of the 849 local Masonic lodges throughout Texas. The prevalence of the fraternal organization in towns all over the state underscores the remarkable reach and influence of the organization, which today has more than 84,000 members in the state. Given that prevalence, it’s worth a visit to the Grand Lodge to try to get an idea of what the Texas Masons are about.
When I got to thinking about the concept of sightseeing by bus in Texas, San Antonio was one of the first destinations that came to mind. Not only does San Antonio have a walkable downtown with a dense concentration of tourism sites, its intercity bus-line stops are conveniently located in the city center. Still, I wasn’t sure whether it would be practical or enjoyable to take a sightseeing trip by bus and foot. So I decided to give it a shot, purchasing a round-trip ticket between Austin and San Antonio for a 10-hour daytrip.
I opted for Megabus for my San Antonio journey. Megabus launched service in Texas last year, offering direct trips between Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and Houston. I have nothing against Greyhound, which I’ve taken in the past, but I wanted give Megabus a try. And Megabus is cheap. I bought my ticket about 19 hours in advance of my departure and paid $9.50 for the round trip.
I caught the bus on a Wednesday morning in late July in a parking lot next to Dobie Mall on the UT campus. The big blue bus, which had started its route in Dallas, arrived a few minutes late, so the travelers milled about in pockets of shade as we waited. When the bus arrived, the riders queued up, showed the attendant their tickets on their phones or printouts, and found seats on the double-decker behemoth. I took a seat on the second level, having never boarded a double-decker before. Luckily, the bus wasn’t full and I was able to occupy a pair of the narrow seats. Squeezing in next to a stranger would have been a bit uncomfortable.
The one-hour-and-ten-minute ride to San Antonio was fine, except for a slightly unsettling swaying motion, sort of like a boat at sea, that I attributed to being on the elevated second level of the bus. (I made sure to sit on the bottom level for the return trip and found it to be more comfortable). We departed Austin about 15 minutes late and arrived at the San Antonio stop—a parking lot at the corner of 4th and Broadway—at 12:25 p.m., only 10 minutes later than scheduled. The Greyhound station is also downtown, at the corner of N. St. Mary’s and East Pecan.
From the Megabus stop, I walked south on Broadway toward the Alamo. I was immediately immersed in historic downtown San Antonio, passing classic old buildings and storefronts, such as the 1917 Paris Hatters shop, the Kallison Calcasieu Building, and the stately U.S. Post Office. Within five blocks, I reached Alamo Plaza, where I made my way past amusement attractions like Ripley’s Haunted Adventure and Tomb Rider 3D and stepped into the Visitor Information Center, which sits across the street from the historic Alamo mission itself.
Along with a gift shop, the visitor center offers clean public restrooms (welcome after a bus trip) and a bounty of tourist brochures and maps, including information about local bus schedules, sightseeing tours and local attractions. Outside the limestone building, there’s a rack of bicycles available for rent as part of San Antonio’s B-cycle bike-share program. I chatted with the center’s helpful guides for a moment and headed on my way.
It being lunchtime, I walked another three blocks to Schilo’s, a German deli on Commerce Street. My Mother tells me I’d been to Schilo’s as a kid because it was a favorite of my Dad’s, but I had no recollection of the place and wanted to check it out. With carved wooden booths, a colorful tile floor, and silver pressed-tin ceiling, the 1927 institution exudes a classic German-San Antonio feel. I ordered the “Polish Neighbor,” which included a cup of tasty split-pea soup, a slice of rye bread, a creamy deviled egg, and a hearty Polish sausage on a sesame bun. For $6.70, it was a satisfying lunch.
Next I made my way back to the Alamo, where I jostled with the throngs of tourists to view artifacts such as William B. Travis’ wooden-handled straight razor and David Crockett’s worn leather wallet. Despite the crowds, it was chilling to step into the room of the old church where the women, children, and slaves waited out the 1836 assault. I also enjoyed strolling the Alamo grounds and its green lawns with palms, pecan trees, and cactus beds.
I exited the Alamo through a northern gate and crossed East Houston Street to The History Shop. This unusual little shop sells antique maps and weapons, and repairs old documents and books. The shop displays all sorts of rifles and pistols, as well as fascinating maps depicting Texas and the world in centuries past.
You can’t move around The History Shop without bumping into its biggest attraction, a 13-by-9-foot diorama of the Alamo. Historian and artist Mark Lemon built the 1/48th-scale model to represent as closely as possible the Alamo mission at the time o the 1836 battle. He built the model as part of his creation of the book, The Illustrated Alamo 1836, A Photographic Journey. Later, Phil Collins, the British rocker and noted student of Alamo history, bought the diorama and lent it for display at the shop. To animate the Alamo’s story, the shop plays Collins’ 12-minute audio presentation about the 1836 battle, along with spotlights that illuminate the location of key events during the siege.
Also worth noting in The History Shop is the window in the floor that reveals a section of the shop’s 2008 excavation project. The shop was built over the northeast corner of the Alamo battlegrounds, prompting a dig that turned up musket balls, cannon balls, horseshoes and other artifacts.
Feeling duly educated on Alamo history, I exited The History Shop back into the afternoon heat of a sweltering late July day. I decided to take shelter in Sip, a coffeehouse located further down East Houston Street. I rewarded myself for the six-block walk with an iced mocha and spent a few minutes surveying the rest of my day.
Caffeinated and refreshed, I descended to the River Walk and walked along the San Antonio River until I reached the Arneson River Theater and La Villita. I’ve perused various shops in the historic arts village over the years, and on this day I decided to check out Little Studio Gallery. The gallery, which is housed in an adobe cottage, displays the artwork of its six co-owners. The walls are a splash of color from dozens of paintings, interspersed with sculpture and jewelry.
Henry Cardenas, a painter and sculptor, greeted me at the Little Studio Gallery. He showed me his striking Southwestern oil and acrylic landscapes and described the interesting business model of the 50-year-old gallery. Six artist partners own the gallery, and when one dies or leaves, the remaining five unanimously select a new partner. The partners rotate the duty of manning the shop.
La Villita and Little Studio Gallery occupy a strategic location in San Antonio’s downtown area, Henry told me. “We capitalize on the synergy between the River Walk, the hotels, Southtown, the restaurants, and HemisFair Park,” he said. “We all mesh together, and it works for us.”
Speaking of HemisFair Park, I had hoped to visit the Institute of Texan Cultures at the park, but as I bid adieu to Henry, I discovered that it was already 5 p.m. and the museum was closed. I decided to forge ahead to HemisFair Park anyway, crossing South Alamo from La Villita and walking a path through the park to the oasis of fountains at the base of Tower of the Americas.
I was tempted to cool off with a dip, but I heeded the “no swimming” signs and bought a $5 ticket to ride to the observation deck at the top of the 750-foot Tower of the Americas. I boarded the glass-walled elevator and braced myself for the rapid, ear-popping ascent. At the top, I circled the outdoor deck to take in the spectacular panoramic view. I spent a few minutes picking out landmarks, such as the AT&T Center to the west (home of the Spurs), and the old Lone Star Brewery and Pioneer Flour Mill to the south.
Time was running out on my San Antonio daytrip, but I had my priorities and one of them was to eat some Tex-Mex before leaving the city. So I walked back across HemisFair Park to South Alamo and headed a few blocks south to Rosario’s. More than one local had recommended this trendy restaurant, which fosters a lively atmosphere with its shiny concrete floors, burgundy ceilings, and Mexican-themed pink-and-yellow walls. Big windows opening to South Alamo and South St. Mary’s illuminate the room with a pleasant natural light.
I ordered “Griselda’s Tacos Callejeros,” which were lightly grilled corn tortillas filled with diced beef fajita, refried beans, cilantro, avocado, and queso fresco ($10.25). The tangy-sweet beef and cilantro mixed nicely with the refried beans and avocado. Against my better judgment, I downed all three of the tacos. But I had paid my dues in walking that day, and I still faced a 20-minute walk back across downtown to the Megabus parking lot.
The River Walk grew more crowded in the evening as the setting sun bounced off the river’s green water and cast long shadows throughout the canyon-like promenade. Strolling families and couples filled the sidewalks, restaurant patios, and passing riverboats. I hoofed it through the crowd and climbed back up to street level at Crockett Street to walk the final few blocks to the parking lot at 4th and Broadway.
The big blue Megabus was already waiting when I arrived, 10 minutes before the scheduled departure time of 7:30 p.m. I boarded the bus and sat back in my chair, happy to rest my feet and leave the driving to someone else.
I covered a lot of ground in downtown San Antonio, but I could have walked much less and still had plenty to do and see. San Antonio offers an abundance of lodging, dining, and sightseeing opportunities within a mile or less of the Megabus and Greyhound stops, as well as links to other modes of public transportation. It all comes together to make bus travel a practical, efficient and interesting way to visit San Antonio for a tourism venture.
I recently made the short drive from Austin to Elgin, a town about 25 miles east of the city via US 290. I’d heard about a new wine bar and home décor shop on the town’s historic downtown strip, and I realized: While I frequently pass through Elgin on my way to Houston, I’d never really explored the town except to stop for barbecue at Southside Market or Meyer’s.
I won’t make that mistake again. For not only did I find the new wine bar, but I also discovered a small strip of charming antiques stores and a fascinating collection of turn-of-the-century murals painted on the interior brick walls of businesses that date to the early 1900s.
The wine bar and home décor shop is called the Owl Wine Bar & Home Goods, and when you walk in, you’ll see why: An entire wall of the shop boasts a mural of a quizzical and adorable owl, painted in 1900 to advertise cigars. Discovered a few years ago hidden beneath layers of plaster, the mural is beautifully preserved—as is one across the street advertising chewing gum, which is now a conversation piece at a bar called Quaffer’s.
The Owl’s owners, Molly Alexander and her partner Gary Leudeke, highlight their avian mascot while bringing a fresh and modern esthetic to their town’s newest gathering spot. “We wanted the Owl to be like our living room, and to extend it to the community,” says Molly. And it does feel that way. On the Wednesday I visited, the clock had barely chimed 5 p.m before the shop filled with local women eager to get started on happy hour. A nice selection of wines are complemented by a small assortment of beers, and Molly and Gary offer simple food items like cheese, hummus, dolmas, and (of course) famous Elgin sausage.
Interestingly, the building’s skylight—set deep inside an original ceiling of wooden beadboard—is original to the building. It illuminates the bar area and the Owl’s funky selection of glassware, Persian rugs, and carefully chosen knick-knacks. The back of the space opens up to a cozy patio, where Molly and Gary host occasional live music.
When I was there, a film scout came in—so the secret’s out. Go check it out.
The Owl Wine Bar & Home Goods is at 106 N. Main in Elgin. Call 512/285-3547; www.elginowl.com
You’ve heard the phrase, “Don’t try this at home.” Well, that warning may also apply to these recipes, but each year it’s hard to not be overcome with a mix of disgust, amusement and even a curious craving at the fried offerings of the Texas State Fair. For some, it’s THE reason to attend year after year.
“What will they fry next!?” Check out the September 2013 issue and also stay tuned later this month for another blog exploring the menu of this year’s State Fair, slated for Sept. 27-Oct. 20.
Til then, we’ve trolled the sources and made some adjustments, but here are a few recipes for some of the more popular State Fair items over the years.
What’s your favorite fried State Fair dish? Do you have a similar fried recipe to share? Please do! We’ll be glad to share more.
- 1 cup yellow cornmeal
- 1 cup flour
- ¼ tsp. salt
- 1/8 tsp. pepper
- ¼ tsp. sugar
- 4 tsp. baking powder
- 1 egg
- 1 ¼ cup milk
- Vegetable oil for frying
- About 16 beef hot dogs (2 packs)
- 16 wooden skewers
Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add milk and egg to the bowl and whisk well.
Insert skewers into hot dogs, then dip into the batter to cover hot dog completely.
Cook battered hot dogs in a large pot of vegetable oil until golden brown.
- 2 ounces cream cheese
- 2 sticks butter
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 cup seasoned bread crumbs
- Salt and pepper
- Vegetable oil for frying
Using an electric mixer, cream together butter, cream cheese, salt and pepper (to taste) until smooth.
Form small balls of the mixture and arrange on a parchment-paper lined pan, then freeze them.
Coat the frozen balls in flour, egg, and then breadcrumbs and freeze again.
Fry (oil at 350 degrees) balls for 10 to 15 seconds until just light golden.
- 3 eggs
- 2 cups cola
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 3 to 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Vegetable oil for deep frying
- Powdered sugar
- Cola syrup
In a large bowl, beat the eggs, and then add the cola and sugar.
Blend together the flour, baking powder and salt.
Slowly add dry ingredients to cola mixture until batter is smooth.
Fry (oil at 375 degrees) small dough balls for about 3 minutes, or until golden brown.
Dust hot coke balls with powdered sugar.
Drizzle with cola syrup.
- 1 egg
- 2/3 cup milk
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1-1/2 cups flour, sifted
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
- Vegetable oil
- Confectioners’ sugar
Combine beaten egg and milk. In a separate bowl, combine sugar, flour, salt and baking powder together. Slowly add the egg/milk mixture and beat until smooth.
Pour batter into a funnel, using finger to keep tip closed. Hold funnel over hot oil (375 degrees), remove finger and allow batter to drop into oil (about 1/4 cup of batter at a time). Build a circular funnel cake starting from the center moving outward.
Turn once, and remove from oil when golden brown.
Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar and serve warm. Additional topping suggestions include cinnamon, strawberries, chocolate sauce, etc.
You can also use the funnel cake batter to make Fried Snickers.
- Snickers candy bars
- Popsicle sticks
- Funnel cake batter (see above)
Insert popsicle sticks into Snickers bar from the bottom about half way up.
Freeze Snickers until frozen solid.
Dip frozen Snickers in the funnel cake batter.
Fry until golden brown.
Top with powdered sugar or caramel sauce if desired.
The Twinkie went away in November, but a private equity firm took over the Hostess brand after Hostess filed for bankruptcy. Twinkies are back on shelves. But, just in case, Little Debbie Cloud Cakes are apparently Twinkies’ twin. I personally, don’t like either.
- 6 Twinkies (frozen)
- 1 cup milk
- 2 tablespoons vinegar
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Strawberry Sauce (recipe follows)
- 4 cups vegetable oil
- Flour for dusting
Freeze Twinkies for several hours or overnight.
Combine milk, vinegar and oil. In a separate mixing bowl, blend flour, baking powder and salt.
Add wet ingredients into dry mixture and blend until smooth.
Dust Twinkie with flour and dip into the batter.
Place battered Twinkie into hot oil. Because the Twinkie will float, use a fryer-safe cooking utensil to keep it submerged and cooking evenly. Cook until it reaches a golden brown color.
Dust with powdered sugar. Optional: Strawberry topping.
- 1 pint of strawberries
- 1/3 cup sugar
Clean and cut strawberries in quarters.
Combine strawberries and sugar in a saucepan and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly.
There’s a new museum taking root in Lubbock.
Well, the Museum of American Agriculture isn’t brand new, but it’s expanding in a new location and remains one of the better-kept secrets among tourism activities in the Panhandle-Plains.
The Museum of American Agriculture opened in an extra building at the American Wind Power Center in 2002. In 2011, the museum moved across the street to its new 25-acre property, and in 2012, it opened a 27,000-square-foot exhibit hall.
“We want to be a learning and exposure experience for the younger generation of how their food gets to the table,” says Dan Taylor, a Ropesville farmer who serves as president of the museum’s board of directors.
Visitors can learn about a broad swath of agricultural history and technology at the museum, particularly related to farming in the Panhandle-Plains.
Educational signs explain the use of the old plows, reapers, and thrashers on display. There’s also a collection of dozens of immaculately restored vintage tractors, most of which look like they just exited the manufacturing plant in the 1930s, ’40s, or ’50s.
An exhibit on cotton farming walks visitors through the development of cotton gins. It’s interesting to see the industry’s progression from an ancient hand-powered wooden implement from India, capable of producing five pounds of finished cotton per day, to Eli Whitney’s 1793 cotton gin capable of producing 50 pounds per day, to a contemporary Lummus Corp. gin with a production capacity of 10,000 pounds of finished cotton per hour.
The museum also features an exhibit about blacksmithing. The exhibit is set in a blacksmith’s shop, and a blacksmith portrayed by a video hologram character explains his trade.
There are new facilities under development at the museum, which is currently constructing a second phase with an educational hall that will feature interactive exhibits, new offices, a gift shop, and a meeting space. Dan says the second phase is scheduled to open in April 2014. A third phase—not yet funded or scheduled—would include artifact-storage space and a classroom aimed at elementary-school children.
Dan says the museum plans for the exhibits in the second phase to be interactive and representative of modern farming practices. For example, the museum is studying the option of including an interactive harvesting machine, which would allow visitors to get in the cab of the machine and live the experience.
Dan says part of the museum’s goal is to educate visitors about an industry that most people are increasingly removed from.
“Before World War II, such a high percent of people lived on farms or in rural communities,” he says. “Today, it’s about 1.5 percent of the population that’s actually involved in the production of agriculture. Every generation is getting further away from it. There are people in Lubbock, Texas, right here in the middle of agriculture, who think milk came from the United Supermarket.”
As a kid, I briefly wanted to be an entomologist. This career choice never received full support from my parents, who probably realized that the jars of fireflies and boxes of desiccated beetles that brought me such joy one summer would eventually gather dust in the garage beside the rock polisher. And while my insect devotion was fleeting, I remain fascinated by their complicated social structures. Today, when I see a line of sugar ants making their way methodically across a wall or witness the graceful ballet of honeybees gathering pollen on a purple cenizo, I wonder: How in the world do they communicate?
So last weekend, when I was offered an opportunity to sit in on a three-hour beekeeping class hosted by the Round Rock Honey Company, I donned a decidedly non-summery outfit of long pants and cowboy boots and joined 25 other bee-curious students for a wild Saturday morning. Round Rock Honey, which maintains hives throughout the state, and also in California, offers Texas classes in Round Rock, Waco, Dallas, and Houston. If my class is typical, most students are aspiring beekeepers, with a smattering of folks like me thrown in for good measure.
Before Certified Master Beekeeper Lance Wilson got started, the conversation turned from sci-fi bee movies (1973’s drive-in classic Invasion of the Bee Girls has some devoted fans) to bee stings. Here, I learned my first bit of useful information: Copenhagen chewing tobacco, several students revealed, can reduce the pain of a bee sting.
“What?” I asked. “How does it work?”
“Just moisten a ball of it,” someone told me, “and rub it around on the sting. Works for scorpions, jellyfish, and mosquitoes, too.”
That alone would be worth the $130 price of admission. But then Lance, who received his bee education at the University of Georgia, began to reveal some of the mysteries of bee life. “You can think of a honeybee as a vegetarian wasp,” he told us, then explained that bees, wasps, and ants are in the same order (hymenoptera). He also explained the purpose of the all-white, veiled bee suit we’d don later: “It looks opposite from a bear.”
There’s no wonder that science-fiction writers turn to insects for their plotlines.
Bees, he told us, are attracted to hairiness, so the last thing you want to do while working with bees is wear a fur coat—or a fake-fur coat, for that matter. When bees are alarmed, we learned, they emit an alarm pheromone that smells a bit like rotten bananas. Then, if the bees also have a visual cue (such as someone who looks or acts like a bear), they’re likely to go into stinging mode. To obfuscate both the pheromone cue and the visual cue, beekeepers often use smoke while working the hives. And yes, there are stingless bees in South America, but they evidently have a ferocious bite.
We went over the anatomy of a bee, learning that some 80% of sensory input is read through their antennae, which can measure temperature, humidity, and even CO2 levels in the air. Too, bees are endothermic, meaning they can raise and lower their body temperatures—which comes in handy when they want to oust a queen. Lance told us that since stinging a queen bee to death is pretty inefficient (not to mention suicidal for the worker bees), so instead they surround her and crank up their body temperatures, effectively cooking her to death.
There’s no wonder that science-fiction writers turn to insects for their plotlines.
Beehive populations are mostly female—a queen bee, whose only job is to lay eggs (she produces an egg every 45 seconds), drones (the only males in the hive; typically they make up only 5-20% of the hive population), and the worker bees. Worker bees are all female, and they make all of the decisions in the hive—including who gets to be queen. Lance told us that most scientists consider a beehive to be a collective organism, a superorganism if you will, meaning that each bee acts in the interest of the colony, rather than the individual. This means that in theory, the organism can live forever.
We learned various harrowing aspects of bee procreation (after mating, for example, the drones’ abdomens explode with an audible “pop”), moved into some discussion of Africanized bees and the perils currently facing bees worldwide, then donned our bee suits for a quick car trip to see the hives.
Bundled up in a white, shapeless jumpsuit, complete with gloves and veil, I was unable to take photos or notes. Thousands of bees buzzed around us as Lance and Round Rock Honey owner Konrad Bouffard opened the hive boxes to show us the amazing industry inside, and I gained even more respect for the collaboration between bees and their keepers. And the honey—some of which we were allowed to sample straight from the combs—was delicate, complex, and nuanced with subtle flavors.
Later, as we drove back to headquarters, I chatted briefly with a fellow classmate and amateur beekeeper named Susan, whose primary reason for beekeeping surprised me. “Of course I love the honey,” she told me. “But for me, beekeeping is relaxing. It compliments my meditation and yoga. It’s oddly peaceful to work with bees. They are very orderly.”
Learn more about Round Rock Honey products and beekeeping classes at www.roundrockhoney.com.
There’s a new resource for Amarillo tourism information—and it comes from an interesting group of locals.
Students of Amarillo ISD’s North Heights Alternative School created the “Amarillo Tourism App: Where to Eat, Sleep, and Play” for travelers and residents.
“If you need something to do, you can just look it up,” says Hope Stokes, a recent high school graduate who helped develop the app.
Stokes says students worked for three years to gather information for the app. The app contains more than 360 entries for local destinations, lodging, and restaurants.
Eric Miller, director of communications for the Amarillo Convention & Visitor Council, is working with the high school students to promote the app. He says it’s a valuable resource for the local tourism industry.
It’s worth checking out the app during your next venture to Amarillo. A portion of the proceeds from the $1.99 price goes to a scholarship fund for North Heights students.
For the August 2013 print issue of Texas Highways, I wrote about a Madeira tasting, held at Austin’s Red Room speakeasy, which featured the wines of Haak Vineyards in Galveston County. Haak is the only Texas winery that makes Madeira—a richly flavored fortified wine that is usually produced on the Portuguese islands of Madeira.
Madeira was first made in the late 1700s by happy accident. Ships loaded with port embarked on the six-month voyage to the Americas, where the wine was exposed to heat and oxygen—normally wine’s arch rivals. But when buyers tasted it, they liked it and sought to duplicate the process, and hence the birth of a new spirit.
Co-founder Raymond Haak, who operates Haak Vineyards with his wife, Gladys, chatted freely about anniversary surprises, the challenges of winemaking, and life’s circuitous pathways.
“My wife, Gladys and I were celebrating our tenth wedding anniversary in 1969. We were living here in Santa Fe, Texas, and she came home from a local nursery with some grape vines. I put them in the flowerbed and didn’t think anything more about it. Spring came, they budded out, and started making a few grape clusters. I thought it might be fun to make some homemade wine. So I went out and started reading. I knew nothing about growing and tasting wine, but I like a challenge. The next year, I put in a little vineyard, maybe 30 vines.
That year, I learned that what you really want to do is pinch them back the first few years—let them spend their energy on root development. Then in a few years, you can try making some homemade wine.
The next year I thought, if 30 vines is fun, 300 vines would be more fun. I plowed up half an acre and planted. Back then, I was trying different varieties. I tried cabernet sauvignon, petite syrah, merlot, champenel. I was told they wouldn’t do well on the Gulf Coast, because we have Pierce’s Disease down here. I was stubborn and thought, ‘How would they know? They haven’t tried growing in Santa Fe.’ In a few years, though, all my vines died. The experts were right.
A few years later, I discovered a hybrid grape called blanc du bois. It was developed at the University of Florida and is resistant to Pierce’s Disease. This grape has been tremendous for us. I’ve been growing it since the mid-80s now; I was one of the first in Texas. I make seven different wines from blanc du bois. One is a port and another is a Madeira.
I am the first and the only producer in Texas to make Madeira. I produced my first one in 2006, but I didn’t have a label approved. I was told by the feds that if I didn’t have a label approved for port, Madeira, or sherry within the next two days, I couldn’t call it Madeira. I could make the same wine, but I couldn’t call it Madeira. So I really squeezed in under the wire. I was grandfathered in.
How did I arrive at making Madeira? It’s a complicated story. I had gone to a wine symposium in Tow, hosted by Ed and Susan Auler of Fall Creek Vineyards. One of the guest speakers was D.C. Flynt, a Master of Wine who lived in Louisiana. We were all told to bring samples of our wine, and that D.C. would taste them. I brought a black Spanish port, and D.C noted that it reminded him of Madeira. Had I ever thought of making Madeira?
I started doing research … how and why it was made. Then my wife and I embarked on the laborious and torturous chore of going to the islands of Madeira in Portugal to taste it. In Portugal, they make Madeira in heated cellars called estufas, the Portuguese (and Spanish) word for oven. That’s how I do it, too. My cellar heats up to about 105-110 degrees. It simulates the six-month journey to the Americas in a hull of a ship. It caramelizes the sugars, oxidizes the wine, and makes the wine practically indestructible.
You can taste our Madeira on tours of the vineyard. We’re open seven days a week, and we have tours and tastings daily. We take visitors out by the vineyards, where we grow grapes on three acres. (We buy the majority of our grapes from other growers in the state.) And we go to the cellar, where we have ten stainless-steel tanks, and we show visitors the destemmer-crusher and bladder presses, too. Then we end up at the tasting room, where, for $10 you can taste 4-5 of our wines. The tours themselves are free.”
From big-name concerts to small-town celebrations, there are plenty of places to celebrate America’s birthday Texas-style this Fourth of July. Here are my top three picks for sure-fire fun this weekend:
One of the state’s biggest Independence Day events is Houston‘s Freedom Over Texas, featuring performances by music superstars Sheryl Crow and Martina McBride, as well as children’s activities and a huge fireworks display. The event runs 4-10 p.m. in Eleanor Tinsley Park downtown. Tickets cost $8 and can be purchased online or at the gate–children age 5 and younger get in free.
Granbury‘s 39th-annual Old-Fashioned Fourth of July keeps the party going Thursday through Saturday with a full roster of family events. July 4 activities include the Hometown Parade, a decorated bike contest, a performance of the “1776 ” musical and a ranch rodeo. Then at the end of the day, look out over Lake Granbury to see a huge fireworks show that’s consistently ranked among the top 10 displays in the Southwest. The fun continues Friday and Saturday with live music, a car show, old-fashioned games and dancing.
If the summer heat is wilting your enthusiasm for outdoor celebrations, Aqua Boom in Kingsland might be an ideal destination. The city takes full advantage of its location at the confluence of the Llano and Colorado rivers at this four-day event, with water activities, a boat parade and more to help flag-waving revelers cool off. There’s also a fried-chicken dinner and patriotic concert Wednesday; three parades and water races before the fireworks at dark on Thursday; a steak cook-off Friday; and a full Saturday of barbecue and chili cook-offs, arts-and-crafts vendors, a remote-controlled aircraft show, car show, sports and games tournaments, and a concert with a street dance.
For a full list of events going on around the state, check out our Web Extra. Safe travels!