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Being a barista is a challenging job, no doubt—cups and saucers moving quickly, steaming liquids all about, multiple orders to remember. Randy Stephenson, a vocational teacher at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, is currently transforming his students into the big, bad baristas of tomorrow.
“Everyone thought it was a crazy idea,” says Stephenson. “But guess how many people have been hurt or burnt since we started? Only one: me.”
The idea began brewing years ago when Stephenson and local coffee hero R.C. Beall of Texas Coffee Traders discussed a potential collaboration. The necessary start-up funds weren’t available at the time, but they recently materialized thanks to new government grants. Now, with the fancy equipment in place and proper training and coffee-bean backing by Texas Coffee Traders, the school’s own café class is up and running. From start to finish—scooping, grinding, brewing, lining up espresso shots, steaming, stirring, pouring and cleaning—these kids do it all, with the use of very deliberate and mindful tactual and auditory skills.
By C. Jeanette Tyson
Illustrations by Matthew Lynaugh
Aunt Frances said to pull one from the bottom, so I did—dove through the murky syrup, hooked one with my fork and ate it straight from the jar. Crisp as a cotton sheet snapping on a summer line, just-this-side-of-cloyingly sweet…good…though not exactly the pickled watermelon rinds I remembered from my youth. I said this out loud.
When Hugh and Sarah Fitzsimons of Shape Ranch decided to switch from raising Hereford cattle to bison, Hugh thought it was important to educate himself. The initial lesson in “bisonry,” however, quite literally left a bad taste in his mouth.
“I’d never tasted bison, so I bought one and had it killed at a slaughterhouse,” he says. “I took a bite and spit it out.”
By Jeremy Walther
Photography by Kelly West
A common frustration for gardeners is lack of control. The books say it won’t happen, but we do get late-April freezes in Central Texas. We also get 13 inches of rain in one weekend, followed by months of nothing: a combination that garden pests and disease vectors live for. Hail, wind, squirrels, La Niña—nature puts on a plunder parade every year that’s especially painful for new gardeners.
Did you know there are at least 16 Texas distillers with products available on liquor store shelves? You might know of a number of vodkas and rums, but the variety extends to gin, bourbon, corn whiskey, single-malt whiskey, orange and lemon liqueurs and even an agave spirit.
Producers of these products have experienced heartwarming local support along with hard knocks competing in the world of Big Distilling. With astounding growth over the last five years and no end in sight, Texas spirits producers have elected to band together to form the Texas Distilled Spirits Association.
“We felt the time was right to establish Texas spirits as its own brand to be marketed in its own right,” says Paula Angerstein, founder of Paula’s Texas Spirits. “We are all little guys compared to the national brands, and we shouldn’t waste energy competing with each other. We needed to pull together to grow the market for Texas spirits as a whole—then we all win.”
In March of 2006, I got a call from Lewis Dickson, a prominent Houston defense attorney. He wanted me to taste the La Cruz de Comal and Dickson wines he was making in Central Texas.
“I met you a couple of years ago when my winemaker, Tony Coturri, and I came to your restaurant for lunch,” he said. He had a fantastic old-Houston twang that made the word wine come out wahn.
In the morning, before the heat sets in, Hugh Fitzsimmons drives his truck down rutted wheel tracks, looking for signs of his bison herd. He’s in no hurry, though his ranch is vast.
“Thirteen thousand acres,” he says. “More than I deserve.” Five miles per hour is slow enough to notice the richness in the endless grass, and Hugh likes to point out the details. Whip snake. Roadrunner. Jack rabbit. Mesquite. A 1920s-era windmill, revolving slowly.
By Lucinda Hutson
Photography by Lucinda Hutson
She’s sassy, spirited and full of flavor. Some call her names and say she has a split personality. Some adore her while some abhor her. And like any larger-than-life personality, she has the potential to overwhelm, if you let her. Can you guess this herb?
I call her la reina de la cocina—Mexico’s queen of the kitchen—and she adds a fresh, pungent burst of flavor as a seasoning or garnish.
By Jim Long
Is a rose an herb? Most people would say no, believing herbs to be merely parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme and a few others. However, if you visit India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkey or neighboring countries in the region, you’ll find the rose firmly planted in the list of important culinary seasoning plants. In fact, the rose is so important that the International Herb Association (IHA) has designated it the official herb of the year for 2012, and the Herb Society of America will be promoting the rose throughout 2012 as well.
By Dorsey Barger
Photography by Dorsey Barger
When I first saw the non-flag-making Betsy Ross on PBS’s Central Texas Gardener, I was transfixed by her strong face and woman-cattle-rancher disposition. She smiled as if she knew a secret and might even share it with you, but she also looked tough as hell, a bit as if the hairstyle and earrings she wore were intended for this television appearance alone. As she talked of her journey from chemical-spraying rancher to loving nurturer of underground protozoa and fungi, I thought, “oh my God, I have got to meet this woman.”
By Bernadette Noll
Cooking is my recreation. When home alone, I can cook all day for my family of six, with all four burners and the oven going. I love to linger over prep and listen to the radio or meditate in the rare silence. When my mom visits, she marvels at my ease. “I don’t know where you picked that up,” she’ll laugh, and we both know I didn’t learn the joy of cooking from her. My job of cooking for four, or even six, must seem a breeze compared to the responsibility of cooking for a family of 11! Yes, I’m the eighth of nine children.
Shane Bordeau and Jim Sampson were happy enough at their high-tech gigs—toiling away by day, then throwing back Mexican beers by night when they wanted to chill. But then, flying in the face of this dismal economy, the company they worked for was purchased by a mammoth entity. Enter the freedom to dream a big dream buoyed by the dough to pursue it. At the time of the buyout, Bordeau and Sampson had already been experimenting for years with home brewing. Now, their imaginations revved—what if they opened a microbrewery focused on a variation of the style of beer they preferred? Why not throw their sombreros into the growing ring of Austin area small-operation beer crafters?
By Jim Long
Creative chefs are always on the lookout for unique and unusual herbs and plants to complement and flavor their dishes. Here are a few gastronomic darlings that have recently moved to the forefront. Consider adding them to your herb garden or purchasing them locally and experimenting with some exciting, cutting-edge flavor sensations.
Photography by Skip Connett
Green Gate Farms owner Erin Flynn has the sort of grace, elegance and beauty that isn’t immediately associated with backbreaking fieldwork and hog slop. Yet farming and raising animals have long been in her blood. Flynn—who operates the farm with husband Skip Connett—hails from a hardworking East Texas farm family. And though at one time she thought she’d left the farm life behind to pursue, with great passion, a city-centric life, a simple request from her husband found her tumbling back toward her roots.
By Jeremy Walther
Photography by Jenna Noel
Our poor dirt. In just a few hundred years, the once-fertile crust of Central Texas has been eroded, depleted, abused and completely taken for granted. Shortsighted farming and grazing practices have stripped nutrients and soil life without replenishing it, leaving scarred, lifeless earth behind.
Now—due in part to the destruction of soil—mounting global issues are placing more pressure than ever on food production and air, water and energy resources.
By Deborah Madison from her forthcoming book, Vegetable Literacy
Photography (above) by Carole Topalian and (below) by Carole Ann Sayle
Sorrel and rhubarb are among the first edibles to appear in the spring, though what month that might be depends on where you live and your own particular climate. Their timing is one reason to consider them together, but another is that they are related as members of the family Polygonaceae, a word that means having many (poly) knees or joints (goni). The more common name is knotweed because of nodes, or joints, that reside on the stems of many family members.
By Cecilia Nasti
In the cool early summer of my tender eighth year, a quartet of rabbits from a nearby field ended up invited to supper. The hapless hares wouldn’t have found their way onto the menu had my maternal grandparents remained in California instead of traveling to Batavia, Illinois, for a monthlong stay. Eating from the land—including the occasional harvest of game for the table—was very much the norm for my mother’s people. Not so for me.
Excerpts from a new book by Pamela Walker
Photography by Linda Walsh
Published by Texas A&M University Press • 800-826-8911 • tamupress.com
By Dick Pierce
Dear Permie Pro,
Q: Now that it’s spring, we’re cleaning up our yard. We have a lot of leaves, and we’d like to compost to reduce our family’s contribution to the landfill. The catalogs and nurseries are full of devices—some quite expensive—to make compost. Do we really need one of these? And if so, which is the best? —Composter Wannabe
I’ve wanted to comment on this for years to set the record straight as to what you do and don’t need in order to compost.
First, let’s look at what compost is and how to make it. Dead leaves, brown grass and shredded paper are known as “browns” and contain mostly carbon. Kitchen scraps, fruit peels and green grass contain a lot of nitrogen—they’re called “greens.”