Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Umlauf Sculpture Garden of Austin, Texas

Not far from the rapidly beating heart of Austin lies a quiet and serene park that mesmerizes your senses in every way possible. Whether you walk around the garden and marvel over every sculpture with museum eyes or sit and listen to the Texas native birds sing over the muffled sounds of waterfall and streams, one can only assume this shady garden of Texas native plants is that oasis of tranquil harmony you have been seeking.

The four acre xeriscape garden and museum is located at 605 Robert E. Lee Road near Barton Springs and was transformed into a sculpture garden by the city of Austin in 1991. The many pieces of bronze and stone sculptures were donated by 20th century American sculptor, Charles Umluaf.  To ensure a complete sensory experience, each bronze sculpture is washed and waxed for gentle touching which is of course especially important for the visually impaired guest.

With a cool breeze on a warm day to sharpen your senses, try relaxing on a secluded bench while reading your favorite book or sitting back and watching others traverse the pebbled paths and marvel at the beautiful and intriguing sculptures.  While we were there, we even witnessed a small wedding party enjoying the beauty of the park along with the beauty of the loving couple just wed.

While I thought this would be a quick, short stop on our tour of Austin this day, it turned out to be our favorite and lasted many hours.  We sat at our chosen bench location and enjoyed the scenery while talking about our favorite topics of the day as time slipped away and the clouds dashed across the sky. Before we knew it, our bodies reminded us it was time to have some dinner. Strolling out of the park, I am reminded of just how beautiful Texas is as we see Texas Thru My Back Door!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Biker's Heaven – Anderson, Texas

Weekends are made for fun, not work. Suzanne and I took a little trip out northwest of Houston to the sleepy little town of Anderson. Traveling the backroads from Highway 249 on a cool summer morning is shear pleasure. With tall pine trees glittering with the morning dew in the sunlight and rolling hills to rock you like a lullaby, you can relax and enjoy a ride through the peaceful countryside.  It is less than an hour from Tomball and well worth the trip. 

Originally known as Fanthrop, the town was renamed Anderson for the last vice president of the Republic of Texas and it is the county seat of Grimes County. In Anderson, the Grimes County Courthouse stands out as a stunning architectural achievement in an otherwise nondescript town center.  But don’t let that stop you from cruising the antique and collectible shops in town. Who knows what treasure you might find while rummaging through old discarded stuff of yesteryear? The business owners are friendly, talkative and willing to deal if you find that perfect thing.  Our favorite was the Courthouse Antiques shop because of its very large collection of books and music in addition to the furniture and other collectibles found in all the shops we visited.

After all that antiquing and reminiscing about those things we grew up with that are now considered “antiques”, it was time to grab some grub. Our next stop turned out to be the best part of the trip. Just a few miles out of Anderson on FM 244 is a biker bar and grill with great food and cold beer called Yankee’s Tavern & Grill. I’m sure many of you bikers already know about this place. Don’t worry, if you drive up in a car they won’t kick you out!  It’s a great place to stretch your legs out and enjoy a cold one. 

This rustic joint sits on 8 acres of open space.  The atmosphere is casual and laid-back with lots of friendly people. Suzanne and I tried their ½ lb. cheeseburger on homemade jalapeno buns with some fried pickles on the side. Everything was fantastic! Yankee’s is a great place to sit back, people watch and relax. Well, eventually every good time must come to an end. We jumped back into our car, turned on our favorite music and headed home. Hope to see you again as we traverse the backroads, while enjoying Texas Thru My Back Door!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Texas Saké Company

Saké made in Texas you ask? That’s right. Japan might be the world’s most well-known producer of sake, but a little known start-up company in Austin called (what else) “Texas Saké Company” is out to change that fact. Suzanne and I made the trek to Austin just to lean about this unique business and see how saké is made in the great state of Texas. So put on your Sherlock Holmes style deerstalker and grab your magnifying glass while we investigate this new phenomenon called Texas Saké.

Our first task was to navigate the Austin traffic to find our destination. The directions given on their website were quite accurate, yet a little misleading. It is on 5501 N. Lamar Blvd. directly behind the Book Woman, but for clarity, it is on the backside of a large multi-business building. Our initial tour through the parking lot of this set of businesses did not yield a clue to the location of our destination, but with the eagle eyes of an experienced detective, I spotted what appeared to be an alleyway behind the main building. As luck would have it, the large words “Texas Saké Company” painted on the back of the metal building complex gave away the location like a bald man’s cheap toupee. We slipped our car into a nondescript parking spot, away from the building, and plotted our next move.  

We were early. My watch indicated 5 pm and their website said they open for business at 5:30 pm. What should we do? Just stake out the place and wait for something to happen or barge right in and start asking questions. Suzanne and I decided to move in immediately and catch them off guard. As we approached the front of the building, we noticed the bright red front door was wide open, but no one was in sight.

Without hesitation, I took the lead and burst through the open door with my camera ready to find a friendly young lady preparing for the day’s opening. Surprised by our untimely entry, she quickly stopped her preparations and invited us to sit and enjoy some saké. While she spoke, I continued to scan our surroundings, taking in the ambiance and shooting pictures. Finally, in Sherlock Holmes fashion, I told her we would like to see the saké production for ourselves to make sure it is truly “Made In Texas”. With a huge smile, she welcomed my challenge.

Clues were everywhere. Three large fermenting tanks stood in the production area. Next to them were three finishing fermenters/clarifiers. Along the back wall was a bottling system for manual production. Deducing that this was the real deal, Suzanne and I started asking questions. How is saké made? Where do you get the rice? What percent of polishing is needed to make a quality product? How long does it take to make saké? What is the alcohol content? Our Toji host quickly explained the simple process in detail from start to finish. 

After our Toji host answered all our questions, she offered some free samples of their saké.  Suzanne and I agreed to the tasting. Heck, it was free! The first offering was a clear Junmai saké. It had a very clean, crisp flavor. The next offering was a Junmai Nagori, a cloudy drink with the same clean flavor, but with a little more sweetness. The cloudiness and sweetness comes from the tiny bits of rice in the unfiltered drink. We were impressed. You can drink it straight up, make into a cocktail drink, or use in cooking. Suzanne and I bought a bottle of each to try at home. We also got to taste their undiluted saké; which is the most flavorful and the highest alcoholic content of their drinks. They hope to get a Texas Distiller’s License soon so they can sell it by the bottle.

Our investigation was complete. You don’t have to be a Sherlock Holmes to know that The Texas Saké Company is on to something good and tasty. We left out all the answers to our questions on this blog so that you can be your own detective and investigate The Texas Saké Company for yourself. For those of you in the Austin area, Texas Saké will soon be available in local Whole Foods stores. Try something new! Suzanne and I wish them all the best of luck in their entrepreneur enterprise as we see Texas Thru My Back Door!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Yellow Brick Road Winery

On a cool, crisp, sundrenched Saturday afternoon Suzanne and I stumbled upon a winery in a most unlikely spot in Texas. Situated on the southern outskirts of Sealy, south of I-10 and east of Texas 36, The Yellow Brick Road Winery has risen from an old, overgrown farm estate to become a popular new destination in the Sealy area.  This piano winery will surprise you with both high quality wines and remarkable entertainment.

Upon entering the tasting room, we first met Gerry Math, one of the co-owners.  With a friendly smile and engaging demeanor, he offered up an array of their wines and explained the winery’s history. While listening to Gerry’s fascinating story about how he and his partner, Denyce Treybig, started the winery, I soaked up the unique ambiance of the place. The interior of what was once a 1940’s era farmhouse has been transformed into a smartly designed tasting room with comfortable seating and a modern flair.  A black piano and beautiful cello stood in one corner of the room creating an invitation to stay for a while.

After a few wine tastings, Gerry ushered us over to the piano area and offered to play a few pieces. Once we heard the first melodic masterpiece he composed, we knew we were in for a treat. You see, Gerry is a four time Academy Award winning composer with 14 Academy nominations. His first piece was a classic from the movie Titanic. Then he played a piece from The Last of the Mohicans. Next, he impressed us with his violin talents. Suzanne and I were astounded! To be able to enjoy what seemed like a personal, up-close concert was amazing. With a sparkle in his eyes, Gerry continued the same fun loving attitude while he shared his musical gifts and wine with us. Through sharing his musical resume’ we learned that he composed music for Terms of Endearment, Forest Gump, Legends of the Fall, and Black Swan. He also performed in the orchestra for Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserable on Broadway.  In years past, he toured Europe and even performed in the Royal Albert Hall in London for one of the Queen’s birthday celebrations.  He recently completed music for Avatar 2 and he is currently working on music for an upcoming History Channel documentary on the evolution of musical styles.

Soon, the notes from his melodies drifted out into the countryside and lured other music lovers in from the mythical Yellow Brick Road outside to enjoy his wine offerings and music. Gerry entertained all of us with music and humor for hours. What an enjoyable afternoon!  A bit later, we were able to meet his partner Denyce, the vintner. She was as delightful to speak to as was Gerry. Her exuberance about the winery was quite evident. Suzanne and I learned more about their wines and future dreams for the winery.  Denyce’s ideas to make “The Yellow Brick Road” a destination for performing arts and great wine seems to be just what the Sealy area needs.

Since finding new wines was our original objective, I should share a couple of our favorites. Suzanne loved the Yellow Brick Road Red Wine vintage 2013 with its aged oak notes.  My favorite was the imported Sangue Di Giuda Dell’Oltrepo Pavese, an Italian light, sweet sparkling red wine.  I am sure Suzanne and I will be back soon to taste their new and old offerings and who knows, we might even stay for a little musical R&R. We hope you will make the Yellow Brick Road a Texas destination, too. As we left the winery with a couple of our favorite wines and smiles on our faces, we couldn’t believe how lucky we were to have found this wonderful oasis while seeing Texas Thru My Back Door!