Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Great Day . . . and Dim Sum

I have been a Dim Sum fan for years. Dim Sum is Chinese for "little dumpling" and is a event originating in Southern China. Restaurants prepare a host of small, appetizer-size bites and have waiters and waitresses that push them around the room on carts. The carts stop at your table, you look at what is on the cart and choose what you want to try. Everyone drinks tea and shares, a little of this, a little of that, chatting all the while and having a fun, social experience. You will see large family tables with lazy Susan's in the middle, generations of family sharing the feast. 

Dim Sum service was more popular here in the 1980's and 1990's and you could find a variety of Asian restaurants that provided the fare on Saturday and Sundays, when you could bring a large group and enjoy hours of visiting and nibbling. Then the sushi craze hit and Dim Sum was harder to find. Our favorite place in Austin, Tien Hong, closed a couple of years ago and we have mourned its loss. Then my husband read a review about Dorothy Huang's Dim Sum tour in Austin. We were so excited! When we lived in Houston, it was Dorothy who had introduced us to most of the restaurants serving Dim Sum. I also took several of her cooking classes and learned to make hot and sour soup and pan fried dumplings (potstickers) among other dishes. So now, several times a year, Dorothy comes to Austin and conducts a similar day to introduce you to Dim Sum and then takes you to a large Asian market to educate you about products available there. After reading the review, we eagerly signed up for her next tour, which was yesterday.

Scott and I, along with our friends, Bill and Susan, made the trek from Wimberley to north Austin and joined the group at Fortune Chinese Restaurant, located on North Lamar at Braker Lane. This is a giant place which has Dim Sum cart service on Saturdays and Sundays, 10am - 3pm, and limited Dim Sum available off the menu seven days a week.

Left, waiter with Dim Sum cart, and right, groups enjoying the service.

There were about eighteen people in our group, sitting at two large tables. Dorothy flitted back and forth, ordering items for us and explaining the origins and cooking methods of each. All in all, we had about fifteen items from the over sixty items available. Just a bite or two of each item, but, by the time we were done, we were stuffed. Things like Pork and Shrimp Siu Mai, Crystal Shrimp Har Gow, Steamed Spare Ribs in Bean Sauce, BBQ Pork Steamed Bun, Shanghai Steamed Dumplings, Macau Egg Custard, Stuffed Shrimp in Eggplant, Peking Style Pan Fried Dumplings, Beef Rice Noodles, Fried Salt & Pepper Calamari and Broccoli in Oyster Sauce. 

Left, Crispy Almond Tea -- a sweet soup, flavored with tea and almond, covered with puff pastry. You break the pastry into the liquid and enjoy. It was very good if you like the flavor of almond, which I do.

Sesame balls, crunchy on the outside and filled with sweet, chewy sesame paste on the inside. This is a Dim Sum staple; they have been on the carts every time I have eaten Dim Sum.

Among those at our table were two ladies and their daughters. They were members of Austin Families with Chinese Children (FCC) who work together to make sure their adopted children learn about their Chinese heritage. 

What beautiful faces!

More beauties -- Bill, Susan and Scott.

In the same shopping center as Fortune Chinese, you will find MT Market, a large Asian grocery store. That was our next stop.  Dorothy took us around the market, explaining the vegetables and fruits and how they are prepared.

Dorothy Huang, guide and chef extraordinaire.

Here are a couple of exotic fruits we saw. I have never eaten these, but would be willing to try! The first one is Dragon Fruit and the second one is Jackfruit, about the size of a watermelon.

Here's a shot of the rice "aisle" at the market:

It was a great day. We'll be heading back to Fortune Chinese soon to try more of the items. Want to come along? The bigger the group, the more things you can try before getting too full!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Sixteen Again

Tonight I drove home from Austin by myself after attending a birthday party for one of my friends I worked with at UT. Traffic was light and I turned on XM Radio. The station is officially called "The Bridge - Classic 60's and 70's Folk Rock," but to me it is "The Soundtrack of My Teenage Years."

In the darkness I drift away. I am fourteen years old and Bread is singing "Everything I Own." I am hopelessly in love with Lee Roberts, who just wants to be "friends" with me. "I would give everything I own, give up my life, my heart, my home...just to have you back again."

Those 70's singer/songwriter boys, with their acoustic guitars, long hair and close harmonies, how I loved them -- James Taylor; Michael Murphy; Crosby, Stills & Nash (with and without Young.) They sang about me and to me, alone in my room, wearing the big, clunky headphones we used to have so I could turn it up as loud as I wanted. The sound reverberated in my head and stirred my soul. 

Back in my car I segue from Bread to Dave Loggins. "Please come to Boston for the springtime...." I know all the words, stored in the part of the brain that remembers music. I can't tell you the words but I can sing them. It is the strangest phenomenon. I hear the opening strands of Michael Murphy's "Wildfire" and smile, but I don't know the name of the song. The introduction is long, but even so, wracking my brain, I can't get the words out. But as soon as he begins to sing, my mouth opens and the words pour out, "She comes down from Yellow Mountain, on a dark flat land she rides, on a pony she named Wildfire, with a whirlwind by her side, on a cold Nebraska night."

I am nineteen years old, lying in one of the twin beds at my boyfriend's house. He is in the other bed, we both have the flu and are sick, sick, sick. He puts a Gordon Lightfoot album on and leaves the arm open, which makes the album automatically start over when it gets to the end. All day long we listen to Gord -- "Ribbon of Darkness," "Rainy Day People," "Early Morning Rain," "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald."

"Hello darkness my old friend. . . ." I am a senior in high school and have an assignment for a composition in English class. I have to write about independence and use the words from three examples of poetry, songs or short stories to illustrate my thoughts. Two of my choices are Simon and Garfunkel songs, "The Sound of Silence" and "I Am a Rock." I got an "A."

John Denver, "I had an uncle name of Matthew. He was his father's only boy. Born just south of Colby, Kansas. He was his mother's pride and joy." I loved this song so much that it became the name I would name my son. It didn't work out for me, but I gave it to my brother when his wife was expecting their second child. A boy, Matthew, now eleven years old.

I am singing harmony to "Teach Your Children Well," when I realize the traffic is picking up as I am nearing Wimberley and I need to pay attention. The soundtrack of the last hour has left me relaxed and pensive. I love this music and it touches me in a deep, essential way. It makes me realize that I need to spend more time with music, just like I used to, the days when I knew every song on the radio. I can never go back to those days, but I can log on to iTunes, load up my iPod and listen. Which is exactly what I intend to do.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Travels With My Foot, Part 2

Well now I know that you readers are as twisted as I am. I got so many requests for more photos of my foot's travels that I will concede to post a few more. But this is it (famous last words.)

My foot at the Bacardi Distillery in Puerto Rico.

On the beach at Destin, FL. My foot is partial to beaches.

Both feet in the El Yonque Rainforest in Puerto Rico. It is raining.

Scott's hand, giving my foot a rum punch in Aruba.

My foot and friends in Norfolk, VA.

My foot, riding a teeny, tiny Vespa.

My foot, gazing at the Mississippi River bridge from New Orleans to Algiers, LA.

My foot, relaxing in a hammock on Little Cayman.

OK, this is not my foot, but isn't this guy cool? He is indigenous to Little Cayman and has great feet, by the way.

My hand, on a glacier in Iceland. (I may be nuts, but I'm not crazy enough to put my foot there.)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Travels With My Foot

OK, I know what you're thinking -- "I am about to be treated to a description of Annette's podiatry problems," but you're wrong. This really is about travels with my foot. Let me explain.

About six years ago Scott and I were in Cozumel with our friends Bob and Leah. On this day Leah and I were shopping, drinking margaritas and generally having a great time taking a little break from the beach and sun. We came upon a henna tatoo artist and decided to get little bitty tatoos. I have always wanted a tatoo of a Celtic knot on my ankle and the only thing that has kept me from doing it is thinking about getting old, wrinkled and saggy with that tatoo on my foot. Leah, however, is a nurse and gets very adamant about needles and sanitation, so I don't mention the word around her. But, since this is henna, no needles and only lasts a few weeks, we decide to go for it and each of us gets a little Celtic symbol on her ankle. 

Then the fun begins. Emboldened by the tatoo, my "foot" takes on a separate personality and starts demonstrating outrageous behavior that no self-respecting, un-tatooed foot would ever think of doing. My foot was caught in several compromising circumstances and photographed more than I like. Unfortunately, the photos were in predigital days and the prints are buried somewhere that I haven't been able to find for a while, else I would show you the censored version. 

But that first experience has led to a running gag where my foot gets photographed having fun wherever we go. Take a look. (Side note: My foot is partial to red toes.)

My foot and Barb's foot gambling in Biloxi.

My foot, enjoying Barq's Root Beer in the New Orleans French Market.

My foot, sailing on a catamaran in Aruba.

My foot, breaking into the mini-bar in Vegas.

My foot has lots of fun everywhere we go. I am compiling photos and will put them together one day after I finish my novel. It will be a travel log entitled, "Travels With My Foot." Bestseller, don't you think?

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Long Lonesome Highway

This week my husband and I made an impromptu trip to Lubbock to visit his mother and sister. To be honest, I wasn't looking forward to the trip and viewed it as a duty that had to be performed. So in the spirit of "let's make the best of things," we loaded up the dogs and set out on a beautiful, sunny Monday. 

Now Lucy is a traveling dog. She loves the car and wants to come along every time I walk out the door. Not so with Ruffles. She is a home dog and experiences varying stages of anxiety every time she has to leave. We brought along a picnic lunch so we could stop at a park somewhere along the way, eat our lunch and let the dogs have a run. The City park at Mason provided just the spot we needed. 

As you can see, Lucy got a little tangled up in her leash, a problem that plagued us the whole trip, but she had a great time.  
Once you get past San Angelo, the terrain starts to flatten out a little and you begin to see the progression of the giant wind generators atop the plateaus. These things fascinate me. I didn't have a good perspective for how huge they are until one day I passed a caravan of eighteen wheel trucks and trailers transporting the pieces to assemble one of them. Each of the three arms is longer than an over-sized trailer; some as long as 130 feet. 


Enormous farms of these turbines cover the horizon as far as you can see. They have completely changed the landscape of West Texas and the Panhandle, but not necessarily in a bad way.   When I see them I think of a vast alien army, slowly but steadily marching across the land. They are absolutely quiet and, in my mind, rather beautiful.

This is the land of Lonesome Dove. The Comanche people roamed here for centuries and as my mind wanders, I can see Augustus, Woodrow and their band of cowboys, avoiding Indian attacks, moving their herd across this land, headed to Montana. 

Just north of Big Spring, we find ourselves riding atop the caprock -- the giant slab of limestone that defines the geology of the Panhandle region. This is the land of The Last Picture Show, and Tender Mercies. Flat land, big sky, whistling wind and dust as far as you can see. 

Cotton farming rules this region. At this time of year the farmers are plowing under the dead stalks of last year's crop, getting the ground ready for spring planting. We could see dust plumes in the air, signaling a tractor working miles away. 

At one point we came across a flock of sandhill cranes, searching for food in the freshly-plowed fields. I discovered that a small number of these cranes use this area as their winter territory, migrating down from Wisconsin and Canada each year. 

They were shy birds and flew away when I tried to move in for a closer photo. This makes me really want a new camera with a better zoom. 

In LaMesa, I took this shot of an old factory that had been turned into a retail shop. At some point it must have been used as an auto salvage yard, but currently is it cleaned up. The printing on the side of the car says "Old Cars."

After a little over six hours we arrived in Lubbock and after we checked into our hotel, I began to mull over the sights I'd seen that day. As always, I marvel about the diversity of Texas and how quickly things change as you move through the geological regions of this state. I also thought about the little towns we passed through -- towns where the land is completely flat, all the roads run east to west and as you turn your head from side to side, you can see the whole town. Towns where signs advertising "Gin" are not talking about liquor. Towns that are completely unappealing to me. But then I think of something I recently read that was written by Bum Phillips. He said, "Every little part of Texas feels special. Every person who ever flew the Lone Star thinks of Bandera or Victoria or Manor or wherever they call 'home' as the best little part of the best state."  So I will concede; those who live here and choose to stay here when given other choices find comfort and beauty here. And if I breathe deeply and squint my eyes, I think I could see it too. But it would have to grow on me. 

After a two day visit we headed home. As we neared the hill country I became more and more relaxed. The familiar scenery made me smile. 

But no one was as happy as Ruffles, once again, safe at home.