Yay! A new article in Zagat’s online Buzz section waxes poetic about the dining options in our little town here in Southeast Texas:
At first glance, Tomball may seem yet another Houston suburb filled with chain stores and sprawling neighborhoods. But look closer, and the charm of small-town living is evident, particularly in Old Town Tomball. Spend a day perusing antique shops and boutiques, then explore a surprisingly diverse culinary landscape, which includes these hot spots — for quick bites to leisurely fine dining.
I’ll make my confession now: Houston is sprawling, lacking in zoning laws to protect precious historical landmarks, rampant with ugly billboards and freeways that loom like cement spaghetti in the sky – and yet, and yet – it is an amazing, diverse, rich, welcoming, smart, innovative, authentic, unpretentious, surprisingly sophisticated, heritage-laden, open place to live. I love it.
I’ve said before in this blog that I’m just a little girl from a small town in Southeast Texas who is constantly surprised by her life.
Here are some pics from that very small town on the Bolivar Peninsula, which really isn’t a town any more since Hurricane Ike obliterated almost all traces of it in 2008. I couldn’t bear to return to Gilchrist, Texas for several years after the storm, but a recent trip renewed my love for it. Regardless of how a natural disaster can savage a locale, nature itself comes back to make use of it. The birds were magnificent when we visited on a gray, overcast day in early January. Folks who are in the Houston area for the Super Bowl and have time for a day trip should give the Bolivar Peninsula a look.
The Heron and the Barges
Below, a heron watches barges churn by in the Intracoastal Waterway from the little fishing area at the end of the road where I grew up. Our little subdivision, aptly named Canal City – and the rest of Gilchrist – was sandwiched between the Gulf of Mexico and the Intracoastal canal, with Galveston Bay just behind it.
Brown Pelicans and Seagulls
Aiming to get closer for really good pics, I startled several brown pelicans and their seagull companions.
Sandpipers at Rollover Pass
On the back side of Rollover Pass in the shallow sands beside it, sandpipers search for supper.
Seagulls at Rollover Pass
Seagulls contemplate the Gulf of Mexico from a cast concrete berm at Rollover Pass.
Brown Pelicans at Rollover Pass
Brown pelicans are posing and preening on posts at the pass.
These pelicans inspired me to post a haiku a couple of weeks ago, which is included in the resource links below.
The Grill-Meister and I are both blessed to work in international environments, which fosters great relationships with colleagues from all over the world. Sometimes we are able to lure them to Glover Gardens, such as tonight, when we are having a tiny dinner party with a couple from far across the globe. It is so rewarding to learn about different cultures as we share our own. One of our two guests tonight has never been to Texas, so we’re having a very traditional steak dinner. The menu:
It is mid-morning right now and the table is set, so I’m about to get to work on the dessert. I’m breaking Ina Garten’s (the Barefoot Contessa) rule of never making anything for the first time for a dinner party, but it is early enough in the day that I can do something different if I make a mess of it.
We’re really looking forward to it! And for a look at an entirely different type of international party here at Glover Gardens and a couple of cool wintertime recipes, check out Pot Luck Perfect: In-the-Moment Lentil Soup. We had a houseful of colleagues this time last year and a rollicking good time when everyone brought a dish or drink to share.
I’ll share the results of tonight’s meal, and wish you all a happy Saturday evening.
UPDATE: the tiny dinner party was super-successful, and the dessert was rockin’! Read about it here. And I made a new friend! Read the haiku about that here.
Facebook reminded me today of an event from four years ago that still brings me joy. It’s a tale of a chili cook-off fundraiser in a tiny Texas town, two friends, five gallons of spilled chili in an SUV, dozens of very kind people and a chance meeting with the state’s governor. Just another January Saturday in Texas…
In January of 2013, my friend Theresa and I decided to enter the Round Top Chili Cookoff. It’s a great event that benefits the public library in this most picturesque of small Texas Hill Country towns. They have braggin’ rights, too: Round Top is the smallest town in Texas with a full service public library, and they aim to keep it that way (small and book-lovin’).
We started planning our cook-off participation by email, first by picking a name. It had to be something special, something that reflected our long friendship rooted in family and food and stories and support…so we chose “The Chili Bee,” a riff on the old quilting bees where ladies got together to talk and solve the mysteries of life while making beautiful quilts. We played around and created a logo and I had a sign made.
Over the next week, we negotiated over the recipe (no beans, she won), did the shopping, and then met up at my house on Friday after work to roll up our sleeves and produce the world’s best chili. We stayed up until the wee hours – chopping, sautéing, simmering, tasting and telling stories, and set out for Round Top on Saturday morning with our 5 gallons of chili in her car and the propane cooker, table, chairs and tent in mine.
Our preparations that lovely January Saturday morning included reheating the massive pot of chili and transferring it into a 5-gallon Igloo, where it would stay plenty hot during the 90-minute trip and be ready for the high noon judging. While only a quart was necessary for the judges, contestants had to bring at least 4 gallons to enter.
Well, there was a “problem-ation” on our journey. I was leading our 2-car caravan on US Highway 290 and lost Theresa at the cloverleaf intersection with Texas Highway 36. You have to take a very sudden, sharp and tight turn to stay on 290 on the outskirts of Brenham – drivers in this part of Texas will know what I’m talking about – and that little cloverleaf was our Chili Waterloo. I looked in the rearview mirror, and Theresa just wasn’t there any more. I pulled over, and called her, and called again – no answer. Finally, I could see her in the distance, and then she drove slowly by me, motioned for me to follow, and pulled into a convenience store about a mile up the road.
The Igloo wasn’t secured in the car and toppled over when Theresa careened around the cloverleaf turn…and apparently, we didn’t have the lid on tight. It was bad. Oh boy, was it bad. There was a chili explosion. It was all over her, all over the car, all over everything. Chili drops were on the rearview mirror, the headliner, in Theresa’s purse. It was a chili-apocalypse.
And imagine…5 gallons of steaming hot chili, 2 inches deep in the backseat floorboard of Theresa’s Nissan Pathfinder, and then think what would happen if you opened the door…chili pouring out all over the convenience store parking lot! It was actually an amazing sight – a volcanic flow of chili! – and I really, really wanted to take a picture, but I couldn’t because of the look on Theresa’s face. She was completely deflated, more sad about not being able to participate in the cook-off than upset about her car or her clothes. We knew the rules: you had to have four gallons to enter, and we figured there was only about 1 gallon left in our toppled Igloo. Her disappointment broke my heart, because she’d been struggling with the after-effects of chemotherapy and was finally feeling frisky again, so she really needed and deserved this open-air Texas good time we were planning.
It wasn’t about winning the cook-off. It was about living.
We called the event organizer, a marvelous woman named Betsy who is the piledriving personality behind tiny Round Top keeping its public library and the rockin’ good time that is the annual chili cook-off. Betsy wouldn’t hear of us turning back, even though we didn’t have enough chili to enter. Betsy went into Save the Day Mode, in the way that some ladies are so incredibly good at:
She said that each of the other participants would be happy to give us some of their chili, that it would be a true Chili Bee, with our entry a melting pot of all the chilis.
She said she’d have a sheriff there to meet us and ensure we got a parking spot at the front, since we were now running late.
She told us to take a back road, ’cause we’d get there quicker.
She further said that there was no need for us to stop at the local Wal-Mart for clothes for Theresa, because someone would help out with that, too, even if she had to go home and get something out of her own closet.
In other words, Betsy would not accept us turning tail and running back to Houston, licking our chili wounds.
OK! After three rolls of paper towels and five minutes wrangling the convenience store’s water hose, we were on the road again, still in two cars. Hers, all bedraggled and chili-smelling, mine still toting the rest of the gear. The back road that Betsy told us to take was Texas Farm Road 389, and it was gorgeous. I started to feel pretty good about Betsy’s Save the Day plan, Theresa’s well-deserved good time being salvaged, and the story that was evolving from our day. So I spent the rest of the drive trying to write a limerick about it in my head.
When we arrived in the tiny center of Round Top, it was clear that Betsy had sprung into action and publicized our plight: the sheriff was indeed waiting to direct us to our primo parking spot, the mayor was also there to greet us, there was a borrowed apron for Theresa to wear, and the judges were waiting to get our remnant quart of chili before starting the judging. The local radio station was broadcasting from the event and Betsy was so tickled by my limerick that she had me go on stage read it on the air.
Our chili took a tumble But we’ve no cause to grumble The town rallied ’round – it’s a heck of a town – Round Top, we’re ready to rumble!
We went around with a big plastic pitcher like Oliver Twist asking for more gruel (but with a much better reception) and collected a bit of chili from most of the other contestants, fired up our propane heater and served that Chili Bee / chili quilt concoction to lots of happy attendees. They loved it and we ran out. Everyone there knew our story because the radio station MC had made a big deal of it before we arrived. It was a wonderful, life-affirming experience and I will never forget the sense of support and community that Betsy and Round Top gave us.
But that wasn’t all! We had been joined by Theresa’s son Nick, who was going to college in not-too-far-away San Marcos, and after we ran out of chili, we closed up shop and walked across the street to Royer’s Round Top Café, a local restaurant that really is The Bomb. Especially their pies…heavenly. We laughed, we talked, we practiced and honed the story we’d be telling everyone about our day…and we realized what an incredible blessing it was to have had this remarkable experience.
And then we met the governor. It was that kind of day.
In the evening, we met up with Betsy and other Round Top locals at the Stone Cellar Winery. (The Stone Cellar bartender had been the donor of the apron that covered the huge chili stain in Theresa’s lap.) We relived the day, giggled over our new name, The Chili Spillers, reveled in the fact that the cook-off had raised a ton of money for the library (even though we didn’t win!) and figured that life would be simpler if there were more chili cook-offs and backroads and less freeways.
January 21, 2013 (email)
Thank you so much for your encouragement and support in the face of our “chili-mergency”. We had such a marvelous day in spite of our chili spill and will definitely be back next year with a crowd. You are running a delightful and fun event and it is great to know that we are doing our small part to support reading and the library. We promised to send our pictures, and the best few are attached, including the one with our famous / infamous governor. I have also included the limerick I wrote in my head as we were driving along that beautiful back road you told us to take. It has several variations (because there are so many rhymes for “umble”).
Our chili took a tumble But we’ve no cause to grumble The town rallied ’round – it’s a heck of a town – Round Top, we’re ready to rumble!
Our chili took a tumble But it didn’t cause a fumble The town rallied ’round – it’s a hell of a town – Round Top, we’re ready for your rumble!
Our chili took a tumble But we’ve no cause to grumble Round Top rallied ’round – it’s a hell of a town – Their kindness leaves us humbled
And finally, for your personal archives, here’s the 1-minute version of the day that we posted on Facebook. I think every friend we have from the Houston area will be there next year.
“The Chili Cookoff story must be told in person to get the full impact, but here’s a brief synopsis: 4 of our 5 gallons of chili spilled in the car, the Round Top folks rallied and told us to come anyway and they would share their chili so we could still enter with our one gallon that was left (the rules state that you have to bring at least 4 gallons), our story of chili disaster and perseverance was told on the radio and the mayor greeted us when we got there (late), a constable on duty at the cookoff came by and told us he had seen the results of our chili spill as we were parked on the side of the highway (he said, “I thought that was a bad place to park, but when you opened the door and the chili came out, I knew where you were headed”), everyone at the cookoff knew who we were and treated us like we were special, we met and took a picture with the governor, and made tons of new friends. Round Top is a marvelous, welcoming town, and a great place to have a good time. Are we going back next year? Heck yeah!”
Looking forward to next year – but how could it possibly top this year?
Kim and Theresa, The Chili Bee
Betsy sent an enthusiastic response (“you’re famous!”), shared our photos with the local newspaper, and they published our Posing with the Governor photo. She checked in with us at the beginning of 2014 to urge us to enter the cook-off again, but by then, Theresa was too ill.
In 2015, Betsy contacted all of the previous cook-off contestants with this beautiful note, and that’s when I found out that something else very special had happened in Round Top that day, after we’d run out of chili and started hanging out with the governor.
Feb. 7, 2015 (email)
Everyone–I wanted to share this poem that Barbara Smith sent me. We all remember how the 2013 Chili Cook Off came to a standstill when a funeral procession passed. The family was very touched, as is evidenced by a poem one of the family members wrote and shared. Yes, we are a caring community and that’s why I love living here. Please pass this on to any and all you think would have been there.
Feb. 7, 2015 (email)
Dear Betsy –
Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful poem. My friend Theresa and I participated in the cook off in 2013 as The Chili Bee, although perhaps we are best remembered as the “chili spillers”. You and the rest of Round Top’s finest were very good to us after our chili catastrophe which left a flood of 4 gallons of it in Theresa’s car. She was between chemotherapy treatments that beautiful January day, and with our remaining chili and a positive attitude, we soaked up the sunlight, the local color and a beer or two. We even met the governor in the late afternoon at Royer’s. What a great day.
That 2013 Roundtop Chili Cookoff was the last good time for Theresa and me. She battled her cancer over the next year, even while still doing some caterings with her husband and business partner. She wanted to sign us up for the 2014 Cookoff, but just felt a little too feeble. She left us for good on a beautiful day in May last year, and the memory of our adventure in Roundtop is one that I will always treasure. The poem that you sent makes it even more special. God bless small town folks, and God bless you.
The Round Top Chili Cook-off is this Saturday, January 21. If you happen to be in Texas, you might just want to stop by for a little small-town magic.
For another story about my inimitable friend Theresa, click here.
Brrr! It’s downright cold in Southeast Texas! Twenty degrees Fahrenheit this morning after a shockingly warm Christmas with highs above 80. The plants at Glover Gardens are very confused.
The Grill-Meister and I were planning to do dinner-and-a-movie last night, but the shiver factor made reconsider and we brought the outing home. I picked up a couple of ribeyes after work and the Grill-Meister “grilled” them inside using the cast iron skillet to start with a sear on each side, followed by a quick 450° turn in the oven. Yum!
It was too cold even to barbecue – and for Texas, that’s saying something.
In the middle of the dinner prep, I realized that our 2nd-year citrus crop was at risk and did a quick Google about cold tolerance. Whoops! Our two Meyer lemons and 20+ oranges would be frozen lumps of pulp by morning if the forecasted low of 24° was correct. Time to harvest, immediately! (This decision was definitely validated this morning when we awoke to 20°.) I left the Grill-Meister to his steak-searing, grabbed three flashlights, and charged into the back “40”, swaddled in warm clothing and ready to do what needed to be done.
A haiku popped into my head as I was harvesting in the bitterly cold moonlight.
Citrus adventure: frigid nighttime harvest by flashlight and moon-glow.
There will of course be some recipes posted in the near future with citrus as the star as we work our way through this bounty. Life is good.