Monday, October 3, 2011

The Tex-Ecks Take on the State Fair of Texas

We moved to Texas in March and from the moment the wheels of the plane hit the runway at DFW we've been counting down the minutes until the State of Fair of Texas opened its doors.

We love fairs, everything about them: fried food in abundance, wine gardens, arts and crafts, live-stock, and watching kids on rides that would make us lose all of the fried foods and wine we've consumed.

The State Fair of Texas was a disappointment. There I said it.

We went on a Monday at mid-day, mostly because I just got my foot out of a walking cast and we wanted to avoid the crowds. We took the DART from Richardson, which was easy and let us out right at an entrance to the park.

Immediately I headed toward the animals, passing through the car pavilion which had a few classic cars -  beautiful - and lots of new models of major car brands available for folks to get up close and personal. And then we went through the Crafts and Foods pavilion where there were just a few exhibits and the store. Except the store was closed. All day. For inventory. Really? It's the morning of the third day of the fair and they are closed, for inventory.

In the crafts building there were, again, just a handful of vendors. Most of the goods were perfunctory and very little was distinct. There was more original art at the Wildflower Festival in Richardson back in May.

'The animals', I thought, 'they can't mess up the animals'. We marched determinedly toward the last pavilion. Right up into the EMPTY pens. Fresh sawdust. No animals. No pigs. No cows. No bunnies. No goats. No chickens. Not even the smell of manure to prove that at one point there had been live-stock, alive, on the premises. There was a show going on, but did it require ALL of the animals at the fair? That would be weird.

And lastly, there's the food.

I repeat, we love fried food. Fried food starts with the temptation of the aromas that reach around corners and grab you by the nose hairs, dragging you in a trance to the basket and hot oil from which emerge luscious foods. Smells of onions, meats, batters, sugar, all mixed with heat and oil and love should embrace fairgoers.

Today, no smells.  No embrace.

Here's the thing, everything we bought came out from under a heat lamp and there were no smells. No aroma of fried deliciousness, not even the aroma of fried fried stuff. We had Corny Dogs, good to taste, but super heavy later. And we had chicken fried bacon - the batter was tasty, but the bacon was sliced super thin and kinda limp all on it's own.

The one good thing, despite the lack of flirtatious sensory engagement, was the fried lemonade. A sweet cake soaked with lemonade and fried like a beignet. It was good. That's it.

So, Tex, I have to tell ya - I had hoped for better from the largest state fair of all of the states. And maybe this just wasn't your moment, but I hope you won't blame me for coming on the wrong day or at the wrong time. You've been at this for 125 years and you only have to "make it work" for less than thirty days. I wish you the best, but I won't miss you.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Tex Eck Draws the Line

Tex Eck here. K provided a fantastic account of our Austin adventure. But I need to hit the County Line BBQ a little harder. When you try a new and highly recommended BBQ place you order everything. At many BBQ joints the ribs are better than the brisket or the the pork shoulder stands out. That sort of thing. If y'all have seen the movie The Professional, to paraphrase Gary Oldman's character- EVERYTHING was awful. I could not pull the ribs apart with an F-150 tow package, the smoked sausage had the consistency of a garden hose (though water could pass through a garden hose and that sausage has yet to pass thorough Tex Eck) and the brisket you could roll into tiny balls and kick ass at playing jacks with some unfamiliar rube from the northeast.

In short, a German/Norwegian from the Northwest could knock that place down.

Site Disclaimer: The author of this post is in fact German/Norwegian.

Who used to reside in the Northwest.

Tex Ecks: Destination Austin, Texas!

With the promise of diminishing temperatures and the three day weekend celebrating Labor Day, we loaded up the mini-van and set on our first Texan road trip. Destination, Austin.

By the map we traveled south down the 75, worked our way west a tad on the 35E South, and then due south on the 35. And then just kept on going.

By the journey, we traveled from the suburbs, through the truly striking architecture of a newer down town Dallas,  through the industrial brick and mortar and rail lines of the city's history. Turning south our eyes were taken on a tour of rolling hills, roadside beef jerky and woodcarving stands, and the first cattle we've seen since the move.

We drove through Italy and Waco. Somewhere between them the the landscape making the transition from the flat green and soft browns of the mid-west, to a sparse, thirsty terrain lined with barbed wire and prickly cactus plants of the American southwest as though in an attempt to keep the determined wilderness from overtaking the modernity of concrete streaking through the land. And then we rolled into Austin, toward the Trinity River. The sight of the blue water, speckled with kayakers and canoes, was a welcome sight for these landlocked north-westerners.

Once arrived, we didn't have much of a plan. The heat decided to stick around over the weekend, so we put on our sunscreen, shades and sandals and went for a walk; escaping into watering holes along the way.

We ate pulled pork tacos at a place called Stubbs (pictured) that set the bar for food all weekend. We visited the Museum of the Weird where I found some old school horror movie postcards. Sixth street was still sleeping off the party from the night before, so no music yet.

As we were walking toward Congress Street, melting quickly in the afternoon sun, Tex declared that he had somewhere he wanted to show me.

We round the corner and first he points out the beautiful capital building several blocks to the north, embraced by businesses and buildings representing Austin's past and present. Then he guides my gaze to a marquee across the street and states, "That's it. The theatre you played."

In a past-life, post college and pre-teaching, I spent a season traveling with the Montana Repertory Theatre in one of their tours of To Kill A Mockingbird. We played three cities in Texas: College Station at A&M University, Galveston's Grand Theatre, and the Paramount in Austin. Of the approximately seventy theatres in which we performed, a handful continue to stand-out in my memory. The Paramount is one of them. Originally an old vaudeville theatre, it has a wall near the dressing rooms that has been signed by performers for nearly a century. I remember looking at all of the names: Harry Houdini, Red Skelton, Lilly Tomlin, and so many others, and being very appreciative of where I was and what I was doing.

What I didn't remember was how beautiful a theatre it is. I borrowed this picture of the inside from because it was too dark when were in it to take a good photo.

As we approached the theatre to see if we could get in, we noticed the marquee was advertising a film festival. They were showing Giant later that day and Gone With the Wind on Sunday! We bought tickets and spent the afternoon escaping from the heat watching Giant with Texans on the big screen in a theatre where I had performed almost fifteen years ago. It was a totally awesome experience.

Following the movie, we were hungry for some serious meat. We decided to check out a place Tex had heard of from a variety of folks called the County Line on the Hill. It's about twenty minutes outside of downtown Austin and the views were breath taking. We watched the sun, enormous and the color of the hot end of a cattle-brand, set behind the hills. The food was disappointing, but if you've had Tex's ribs then you know we eat awesome BBQ all the time.

Sunday we wandered around a little more, still limited by the last hundred-plus degree weekend of the summer long streak. We listened to some music, took some pictures of the decorative steer that peppered the sidewalks, watched Gone with the Wind in a full theatre, and ate seafood for dinner at McCormick and Schmick's; the conversation winding from plans for future Texas road trips and travels to a return  home where sunsets happen every day as they light up snow-capped mountains.   

The morning on Monday greeted us with the long awaited cooler air. We pointed ourselves North, toward Dallas and toward home. 

Friday, August 26, 2011

RummyKub and Rockford Files

As much as I am enjoying Texas, the hardest part of the move for me is trying to meet people. I had hoped to have some involvement with a few local schools but it's taking more time to get my stylishly sandled feet through their doors than I'd expected.

So while I am waiting for the volunteer paperwork to go through in the local districts, and for the Texas teaching certificate to be awarded, and the tens of students who would like the assistance of my tutoring skills to swarm me with e-mails, I decided to find a friend.

That sounds so easy doesn't's like when our moms used to tell us to go outside and find some friends because "Rockford Files" was about to come on and we were chasing siblings or pets around the house squealing and clanging anything that would make loud noises... And, like magic, when we went outside, there were actually kids to play with. 

As an adult, and one without a gig or kids, it's just not that easy anymore. Thank goodness for happenstance.

I walked over to the management office one afternoon and chit-chatted with the staff for a few minutes while I was picking up a package. As we were talking the subject of the heat came up - it's like rain in Seattle, always a part of the conversation. There was a shared concern for some of the elderly residents' health on these scorching days. I volunteered to be available to check in on folks they might be worried about, but couldn't get to.

Not wanting to just say "Me too! I'm lonely!" I said instead, "I am around. All day. I can help. Just call. Please." Desperation is difficult to camouflage.

Ms. A, a delightfully sweet southern lady who works in the office ponders the offer for a moment. " that you mention it, we do have a resident who I worry about. She's lonely and I think she'd just like some company every now and then. Can I give her your number?" 

The next afternoon I had a date to meet with Ms. M. We get together a few times a week and gab or play rummykub. She's an exquisite needle point artist so I imagine one day we'll knit and stitch together. We eat wafer cookies and one-up each other with stories about our grand-kids...

Wait, I don't have grandkids...

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Flier and Red Visit DFW

This past week I've had an extra bounce in my step as we've looked forward to some good friends visiting from the PNW.

I can hear you asking, "Visit Dallas in August?! With Children!! Are they CRAZY?!"

Nope - (well, maybe, in all the right ways) they are headed to the Caribbean for a week of vacation in blue skies over bluer waters and were kind enough to extend their layover here for a few days, and we are so glad they did! It was so great to lay eyes on their smiling faces and spend such quality time together.

We filled the days with lots of pool time.

Tex, the ultimate cabana boy, fixed up sandwiches and snacks and delicious beverages for us all to enjoy while staying cool in the water. The boys were so fun to hang out with as they splashed and swam and played until they grew gills. We chased torpedoes, practiced "pop-up" breathing, and laughed and laughed and laughed. One of the bunnies that lives on the property came over to check us out - making a special appearance for the boys.

In the evenings the kiddos had a sitter and we big kids went out and played. Red and Flier have been some of our favorite dinner companions for more than a decade and we were so excited to share with them a few of our favorite finds in Texas so far.

Thursday night was pizza at Urban Crust in Plano. We started with cocktails and blue cheese fries at the ice-bar on the third floor. Take that literally - the counter of the bar is covered in ice, making it a popular destination.

Then we moved downstairs and ordered everything! Mussels in a spicy broth, a meat-meat- cheese pizza for the guys and a veggie construction for Red and I. So delicious! As we ate, we caught up on life and family and friends back home and planned our adventures for Friday evening.

Originally, we'd thought it would be fun to take the kiddos to the Dallas World Aquarium and Zoo downtown Dallas, get some more pool time, and then head out for our 6:30 reservation at Nick and Sam's Steakhouse. We realized pretty quickly that we'd take the relax entirely out of the day if we tried to do it all. The kiddos were pretty clear that pool time was their priority. So back to the pool we went, lounging, playing, taking up rays and retreating to shade in the cool blue water. Tex once again treating us with delightful drinks and lunch.

Dinner at Nick and Sam's was awesome. We'd been once before and had an amazing time, but dinner with friends is so much more special. Our conversation leaned more toward the future over this meal. Where we all want to be, what we want to be doing...whimsical about everything except the idea that there will come a time when we will reside near-by each other again. And then we hugged good-bye, how quickly the time goes!

Tex and I savored the weekend, appreciating each conversation, the companionship of our guests, their friendship, our marriage, and this adventure.

Fire and Friends!

As much as the Starship Enterprise is a character in Star Trek, or Baltimore is a character in The Wire, the scorching heat is a character in our Texas experience.

It's been 55 days at temps at or above 100 degrees with one wonderful respite of rain last weekend. That Saturday morning we woke up to the sound of rain steadily tapping the window panes, the tree leaves, the thirsty grass, and the concrete. The world felt cooler, relieved, peaceful.

A barbecue was planned with friends we are getting to know down here. He's a former co-worker of Tex and she's his lovely bride, a native Texan. The phone rang - a quick call to make sure the precipitation wasn't impeding our plans. Tex assured them that he had a lot of practice making fire for the grill in the rain. Two racks of ribs, one bacon-chicken that doesn't actually have bacon, a crack-cornbread/pudding dish made by our guests, slaw, and fresh peach strudel all made for a festive feast. We ate, talked, ate some more, and watched the pilot of Firefly together.

A space western and a Texan bbq with new friends on a rainy summer Saturday equals perfection.

First Impressions

This post is a double dip of something I wrote about for a restaurant review site. As some of you know, my first trip to Dallas was under the dark cloud of Tex's dad falling ill. We decided to get out for a day, ride the DART downtown and do some sight seeing. We were told the Loon was a must, and so off we went, mindful of the present and trying to get a grasp of the future. 


We were walking past the Magnolia and Sweet Husband gestures across Lemmon and says, "See that awning? That's where we're headed."

I followed his gaze through the bright sunshine, to which my own irises had not yet adjusted. Confused I reply, "The one that says Dentistry?"  

"No, no. The green awning, to the left of that one."

"Ohhhhhh." I see it now.

 "Oh," My concern is audible.

 ".... Are you sure?"

As we pull the heavy wood door toward us I try to imagine what we will find on the other side. I conjure up images of dense smoke, mullets, and lots of empties strewn about. Not bad things, mind you, when that's the vibe you're looking for - but it wasn't, not this day, anyway.

My eyes adjusted to the dark, relieved, both as a result of a respite from the sun and surprise in discovering what appeared to be more of pub than a bar notorious for it's stiff drinks and dedicated drinkers.

We cozied up to the counter, which had a few patrons spread around it. The mid-afternoon crowd had us as the youngest by ten, maybe twenty years. No mullets.

The bartender, a chipper and attractive twenty something, welcomed us, asking what we'll have to drink. It's the middle of a hot spring afternoon and I didn't know any better so I ordered a gimlet and called the booze. Sweet husband shakes his head and smiles. The bartender laughs with her eyes and I realize I have made a rooky mistake.

This is a drinkers bar. Not the place for a drink that requires glassware with a stem.

She skillfully shakes the gin as she explains that no one has ordered a gimlet in all the time she's worked at the Loon. I'm lucky, she says, that she also works another joint on Knox/Henderson. The beverage is refreshing and perfect and I appreciate that we can chalk this up to a learning experience.

We get to chatting. I tell her it's my first day in Big D; I'm here visiting my Mister who's already relocated for his new gig. The Loon was recommended by friends who relocated here before us.

After checking out the specials board, which includes full dinners that would sound quite good if I were hungrier, we order a club sandwich to share and a side of fries. Both were tasty. I was surprised at the amount of non-fried options on the menu and tucked that tid-bit aside for a future visit.

She gives us a virtual tour of hot spots, dives, and the various neighborhoods that make up the area. She asks what I do for work and offered some tips on where to look when I move down.

We finish our food, thank the amiable wait-staff and make our way back outside.  

"I think I'm going to like it here," I say. We hold hands and greet the sun.