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, July 29, 2015

Donut Burgers – For the Best of Two Worlds!

On a recent trip south to the Lake Jackson/Clute area, Suzanne and I decided to try a new restaurant. After an online investigation, we chose a restaurant named Asiel’s on Mammoth Lake. Asiel is the nickname given to the 14 foot tall Columbian mammoth fossil dug up in what is now called Mammoth Lake. The word Asiel means “created by God”. Originally a commercial sand pit, the Columbian mammoth bones were discovered in May of 2003 by workers of the sand pit. Today the lake is used primary by scuba divers to practice and get certified and by triathletes to practice their open water swimming.

While the mammoth artifacts were what first caught our attention, there was another unique feature of this restaurant that made it a must see.  The Asiel’s menu features a “Donut Burger”!

Now I’ve seen quite a few things added to burgers in my many travels across Texas including cream cheese, chili, all kinds of peppers, many types of cheese and of course bacon.  But one thing I’ve never seen added to a hamburger is dessert!  Not to mention the fact that a hot fresh donut is one of my favorite desserts. So as you can imagine, the idea of a donut bacon burger was something I could not pass up. I quickly volunteered to give the heart-stopping burger a try and off to Clute we went.

Arriving at our destination on Dixie Drive North, the first promising thing we noticed was the full parking lot. People flock to good food. We felt confident we would not be disappointed. Upon entering the restaurant, we were quickly seated in a comfortable booth. Off to one front corner were the artifacts of the mammoth dig that we came to see. Out the back, we had a good view of the lake. But all I could think about was ordering the Donut Burger. The menu described it as a 1/3 pound patty with bacon and cheese surrounded by a donut on either side. (If you are really hungry, you can get a ½ lb. patty instead). I went all in, ordered the burger and threw in some Onion Rings to boot! Suzanne opted for a less heart stopping Continental Turkey Burger.

While we waited for our food, I checked out the mammoth fossils. The pictures of the dig on the wall were just as interesting as the fossils themselves. I can’t imagine mammoths roaming the Lake Jackson area at all. The native people who killed this one must have been pretty brave and hungry.  Guess they didn’t have Donut Burgers back then!

Back at the table, as I waited eagerly for the food to arrive, I couldn’t help but wonder how someone could come up with the idea of replacing the buns on a hamburger with donuts. This restaurant loves their bacon.  They devote the entire Wednesday night menu to bacon including bacon appetizers, bacon entrees, and bacon desserts. Knowing this, I tried to imagine how they may have come up with the idea of a donut bacon burger.  I can see it now, the owner and chef sitting around one morning talking about bacon.  How could we enhance the experience of eating bacon?  Why surround it with a juicy cheese burger of course.  But how can we take it one step further, they may have mused as the enjoyed their morning coffee and hot Shipley’s donuts from the shop down the street.  Then it dawns on them, to make the bacon burger better… add donuts!

     Soon, our food arrived as described. The Donut Burger was bigger than I envisioned. This is one Texas-Size Donut! The bacon and cheese looked just as desirable.  My first bite was heavenly. The sweet donut had the texture of a fresh-made donut cooked by Shipley’s (a local mainstay donut shop in Texas). The sweetness was equally contrasted by the salty, earthy flavors of hamburger, bacon and cheese. The large Sweet Onion Rings were hot and tasty in their own right. I liked the thick, fish fry style batter coating. Coaxing Suzanne into trying a little piece of the Donut Burger and onion rings brought a surprising “thumbs up” from her. She claimed her CPR certificate to be current and that my life insurance was paid up in full. I didn’t care. I ate all the food on my plate!  Thank goodness I convinced her to try a bite, I’d hate to have to admit that I ate the entire burger by myself.

     Since I am writing this story, you know that I survived the calories and cholesterol from this meal. Suzanne and I had an enjoyable relaxing lunch. Our waitress was wonderful as was the manager who checked on me after I finish my meal. So if you are out and about near Clute (like going fishing in Freeport), stop by Asiel’s Restaurant and try their Donut Burger as you see Texas Thru My Back Door!  

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