Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Southern Star – Texas Craft Beer Success Story

Here in Texas, we love our beer! Today there is a craft beer boom in the state and like a true Texan, I want to try them all. Suzanne and I decided to ride up to Conroe just a hop, skip and jump from Houston and check out the Southern Star Brewing Company. Southern Star began brewing beer in 2008 and is the first in Texas to sell their craft brews in cans.

We heard that on Friday evenings the brewery sets up a small market with unique items for sale, so a Friday date night was in order. When we arrived at the warehouse location, Suzanne and I were pleasantly surprised at the number of cars in the parking lot and we had to park fairly far away. From a distance, we could hear the live music that quickened our steps to the brewery.

The brewery is divided in two sections. One is the actual brewery and the other is the storage area where the hospitality room and market are located. Since we have seen many other small batch breweries, we decided to skip the brewery tour and headed straight to the hospitality room. There in the back of the warehouse was our prize, their cold beer offerings. Along the way, flanked on either side were vendors set up selling a variety of items. Working our way through this maze of vendors was quite a challenge, but I was successful in my endeavor and we eventually made it up to the bar.

Their beers were reasonably priced and we didn’t need any wooden tokens or arm bands to purchase their products. The bartenders were friendly and helpful as we made our selections. Pine Belt Pale Ale, Buried Hatchet Stout, Bombshell Blonde Ale, Red Cockaded Ale and Valkyrie are a few of the varieties available. Suzanne and I tried different brews so we could taste a greater variety of different beers.

After sampling a couple of different ales, it was time to check out the vendor’s wares. We strolled through the building looking at a unique blend of items including produce, buffalo meat, jewelry, olive oil, soaps and candles, all while drinking beer and listening to live music. What a pleasant shopping experience! I left the shopping to Suzanne and Suzanne left the beer drinking to me. We were both happy. Suzanne purchased some wonderfully scented candles and I prodded her to buy some ground buffalo meat for making hamburgers.

As our star-lit Friday night excursion ended, we were both pleased with the outcome. We had sampled some great beer, bought some superb items and had a wonderful time listening to live music. It doesn’t get any better that this. Can’t wait to see what our next outing offers us as we see Texas Thru My Back Door!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Go WEST Young Man!

So I did; to the town of West near Waco, Texas. This is normally a little country town known for its Czech population and kolaches, but it made the headlines in 2013 due to the horrendous explosion and fire at a Fertilizer Plant in town. Suzanne and I decided to make a pilgrimage to West and compare their kolaches and klobasnikys (Czech name for sausage kolaches or pig-in-a-blanket) to the ones we like in the Houston area.

Driving around town, things look to have settled down and returned to its “sleepy” status. We walked around the downtown area stopping in at various stores. One of our favorites was an antique store, Olde Czech Corner Antiques. I guess when you’re my age, antique stores are interesting because many of the items in the store are things I grew up with or remember. Of course, Suzanne is too young to know about these old things and is amazed that I can even remember that far back. It must be the effects of eating kolaches and klobasnikys all my life! Growing up with a Czech mom who made these delicacies at home all the time kinda makes me an expert in the subject. At least that’s what I tell myself as I bite off another piece of a jalapeno cheese sausage klobasniky.

Our favorite Kolache Shoppe turned out to be Slovacek’s on the outskirts of town off I-35. I don’t know if it’s the kissing pigs on their logo, or the tasty kolaches/klobasnikys, or the new clean store that makes it better than the rest but we enjoyed the experience.  Suzanne thinks I just like the little pigs. So if you like kolaches and klobasnikys as much as I do, stop in West and eat one for me, while seeing Texas Thru My Back Door!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Homestead Heritage – A Link to the Past

On a trip to the Waco area, Suzanne and I visited Homestead Heritage, a community that embraces the pioneer way of doing things. Their handcrafted Texas items are sold on the premise and through their catalog. With a walking tour of the farm, one can view craftsmen and craftswomen creating pottery vases, bowls and dinnerware sets; building wood furniture, wood carvings and other wood projects; grinding corn, wheat and oats; making yarn and creating quilts, rugs, blankets and clothes; and a forging wrought iron items such as bed frames, tables and ornate gates.

We found that the best part of the experience was watching the craftsmen at work. Suzanne was fascinated with the fiber crafts shop. Here, we watched one lady create yarn, while another worked the yarn into cloth on a loom. The ladies were friendly and willing to answer any question. I enjoyed the Gristmill. Water is channeled from a nearby well to turn a wooden waterwheel connected by gears and pulleys to a grinding wheel. Inside an adjacent room, you can purchase their products and ask questions of the workers. In the woodshop, samples of their furniture, guitars and carvings lined the walls of the building. We also toured the herb farm and pottery shop.

After finishing our tour of the craft buildings, we ventured into the General store where you can see more of their products and purchase your favorites. The two story building was stocked full of things of interest to both Suzanne and I. My favorites were the carved wildlife. These life-like carvings of wood were phenomenal! Suzanne admired the beautiful quilts.

All this walking and shopping made us thirsty and hungry. Lucky for us, on the premise is a highly regarded café. We had read about this café and its wonderful home-style foods and desserts. Having already made reservations, we couldn’t wait to eat. The food was fresh and seasonal and tasty. What more could you ask for? The staff was courteous and attentitive to our every need. This is a must do if you visit Homestead Heritage. Just remember to call for reservations beforehand as the place is packed on weekends.


Spending an afternoon at the Homestead Heritage community is a great way to spend time in Texas Thru My Back Door!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

B-52 and Conroe Art, Too!

One recent Saturday, Suzanne and I were contemplating what we might do locally for a fun day in the sun. Suzanne was thinking something artsy and I was thinking something outdoors. So we compromised and decided to do both!

First we settled on checking out the Conroe Art League exhibit in downtown historic Conroe. As someone who has driven up and down Interstate 45 north of Houston for decades, I have never slipped off the highway to see what Conroe has to offer in its downtown area. On our way to our destination, we saw lots of refurbished old buildings with old style street lighting guiding our way. Signs and billboards boasted of various venues for dining, live music, theater and shopping.

Our goal was finding the Madeley Building Gallery. With the sweet voice of our onboard map locator’s help, we headed straight to the spot. This part of Conroe was quite busy for a Saturday morning, a good sign of vitality for the historic area.  

As we pulled into a parking spot, Suzanne quickly noticed the painted benches along the walkway. We enjoyed looking at the miniature murals that covered every side and top of the benches. Eventually, we made it to the Gallery. Housed in the historic Conroe Telephone Exchange Building, the art gallery brought a breath of fresh air to the newly refurbished building. With expansive ceilings and stained wood moldings, this building provides a wonderful ambiance for the well planned out art gallery.

Walking around the gallery we looked at paintings, pottery, photography and jewelry by local artists and artisans.  Two friendly hosts eagerly provided information about the Conroe Art League and the featured artists. We were impressed with the quality art work for sale.

With Suzanne’s appetite for art quenched, it was time to quench my thirst. My choice was a new brewery out west of Conroe on Highway 105 named B-52 Brewing Company. What a great name for a brewery. With a noon to 3:30 tour/sampling event every Saturday, I couldn’t wait to wet my whistle.

The brewery is tucked back in the woods with a campground-like tone. Picnic tables with benches dotted the landscape. A food truck served great Bar-B-Q sandwiches while live music played in the background. The Brewery grounds are child and dog friendly.

My focus was on the cold fresh brewed beer. One can buy either a half-pint glass for $8 or a pint glass for $12 with three fills each. Of course, I chose the $12 pint glass with the cool B-52 plane logo like any boy of my age would! The three different brews were all good but Suzanne and I both liked the Wheat IPA. We met and talked to some nice folks out enjoying beer underneath the shade trees. Suzanne and I had such a good time that we ended up staying to the end!

Driving back home, Suzanne and I recapped our fun day with the new people we met and new things we learned. I count my lucky stars as I look back into the rearview mirror and see all the fun we had today as we bring you Texas Thru My Back Door!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Beauty of Chocolate

There’s a new indulgence in the city of Houston, handmade chocolates that are as beautiful and interesting as the young entrepreneur who makes them.  I’m never one to pass up an opportunity to try fine chocolate, so when Al agreed to go with me to check out this new addition to the Houston food scene, I jumped at the chance.  Down to the Galleria area we went to visit Cacao & Cardamom.

Walking in the door, the rich wooden shelves and shining glass cases communicated a dedication to quality as well as an atmosphere of decadence. Dazzling like diamonds in a jewelry case, the beauty of these chocolate creations immediately caught our attention. If you could sculpt chocolate into gems, this would be the result.

Annie Rupani, the chocolatier and proprietor of Cacao & Cardamom, was standing behind the counter as we surveyed her goods.  With a friendly smile and confidence in her work, she eagerly introduced us to these chocolate creations. Using spices like Szechuan peppercorn, cardamom, rose water, black sesame, ginger or sweet basil and infusing them into guava, pineapple, coconut, strawberry and blueberry combined with the finest chocolates, Annie has created unique flavors that warm your spirit while delighting your taste buds.  

So glowingly beautiful that you almost don’t want to eat them, these handmade chocolate treats are both exotic and delicious. She uses a variety of colors and shapes to create a feast for the eyes as well as the palate.  Even the packaging, which displays each creation to perfection, adds to the overall experience.

Annie’s story is as interesting as her creations.  This young lady started her love affair with creating chocolates while still in college.  During her time at Boston University, she won the Miss Pakistan World contest, interned at the United Nations, and worked in the offices of Senator Ted Poe and the Texas Governor. Annie completed her degree in anthropology and took some time off from school before continuing on with a plan to attend law school.  During this break, she studied for the LSAT 6 days a week and with her one free day created chocolate treats.  Along the way she traveled to Pakistan to do volunteer work and attended a pastry school in Malaysia where she learned even more about chocolate.

Abandoning her plans to go to law school to pursue her passion, Annie worked as a chocolatier for a chef at a private club in Houston.  Her creations received immense recognition, including awards from the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. With encouragement from these accomplishments, Annie decided to start her own business.  After success of selling chocolates over the internet for a year and a half, she opened her store front at the corner of Westheimer and Post Oak.

Following a pleasant conversation with Annie and purchasing a selection of chocolates, Al and I hurried home to try more of these chocolate gems.   We loved the blueberry lime and the garam masala pistachio flavors and are looking forward to sampling more of our treasured treats as we travel Texas Thru My Back Door!