Catch the best parties of the new Austin social season

Welcome back to the Austin social season. Some of you never went away.

But all of us can agree that catching up with old friends and making new ones — just as the summer fades a bit — is part of the Austin way of life.

These are eight late August parties I hope to attend.

Aug. 22: Burning Down the House for Millett Opera House Foundation. Austin Club. millettoperahouse.com.

Aug. 24: Chapel Restoration Celebration. Oakwood Cemetery, 1601 Navasota St. austintexas.gov/oakwoodchapel

Aug. 24: Texas 4000 for Cancer Tribute Gala. Hyatt Regency Hotel. bit.ly/tributegala.

Aug. 24:  Study Social for Literacy First. 800 Congress Ave. literacyfirst.org.

Aug. 25: Ice Ball for Big Brothers Big Sisters. Fairmont Hotel. austiniceball.org.

Aug. 25: Studio 54klift for Forklift Danceworks. forkliftdanceworks.org.

Aug. 29: The Man. The Legend. The Chick Magnet. Happy 90th Shelly Kantor, longtime regular customer and champion dancer. Donn’s Depot. donnsdebot.com

Aug. 31-Sept. 3: Splash Days for Octopus Club, Kind Clinic and OutYouth. Various locations. splashdays.com.

Best Texas books: ‘The Cedar Choppers’ by Ken Roberts

The best Texas book I’ve read of late was “The Cedar Choppers: Life on the Edge of Nothing” by Ken Roberts (Texas A&M Press). It doubles as one of the most instructive books about Austin’s history and culture.

Roberts, a former professor at Southwestern University in Georgetown, knows something about deep research. For this story about the people who once honeycombed the hills west and north of Austin, he talked to survivors and descendants. He scoured the internet for additional material and used Ancestry.com for more than just constructing family trees. He also consulted dozens of newspaper articles and books for historical context.

RELATED: Shooting heard “all over South Austin.”

Roberts grew up in Tarrytown and first encountered hard Hill Country boys on the low bridge over the Colorado River at Red Bud Trail just below Tom Miller Dam. That fraught meeting must have stuck with him. He later read feature stories and columns about “cedar choppers” — as the fiercely independent hill folk were called, not always kindly — by Mark Lisheron and John Kelso in the American-Statesman.

Roberts confirms that these mostly Scots-Irish clans, who arrived as early as the 1850s, migrated down through the Appalachian and the Ozark mountains. They grew small plots of corn for cornmeal that didn’t need milling, for corn whiskey distilled in the hollows, and to feed their roaming livestock. They hunted game and cut native ashe juniper (cedar) for use as fence posts and charcoal. Cedar remained their main cash crop for buying what they could not carve out the hills.

(You catch glimpses of this life in John Graves‘ “Goodbye to a River” and “Hard Scrabble.” And, as riparian expert Kevin Anderson reminds us, in Roy Bedichek‘s “Adventures of a Texas Naturalist.”)

In fact, during some periods, they thrived and fared better than those who tended cotton as tenant farmers on the prairies to the east. Old-growth cedar found in cool, deep canyons rose tall and straight. The red hearts were especially resistant to insects and rot. Hill Country cedar was shipped by rail all over the Southwest and towns such as Cedar Park supported multiple cedar yards, especially in the years after World War II.

The hill folk rarely took part in city activities. Some resisted the Confederate forces, others joined them.

Before Austin spread west and the life of the cedar choppers declined, the clans intermarried and helped each other out. Some also resorted to quick-tempered violence. Roberts does not stint on the crime reporting (see link above).

After reading Roberts’ book, I took a little trip to the Eanes History Center, which happened to throw an open house that weekend (it doesn’t post regular public hours). I learned much more among the old structures where the tiny, unincorporated town hosted a school that grew into the Eanes school district, long before the surrounding land became neighborhoods such as West Lake Hills, Rollingwood, Barton Creek, Rob Roy, Cuernavaca, etc.

I plan to interview Roberts later this summer. We’re not done with this subject by any means.

Flipside Austin parties before, during and after SXSW

SXSW muscles its way onto Austin’s social calendar in a couple of weeks, but you can wrestle down plenty of other options for parties before, during and after the main event.

Feb. 22: Junior League of Austin presents Austin Entertains. Fair Market.

Feb. 23: Wonders and Worries Unmasked. JW Marriott.

Feb. 28: Austin Music Awards. ACL Live.

March 1: Back on My Feet Austin Gala. JW Marriott.

March 2: Flashback for Explore Austin. The Parish.

March 3: 10th Anniversary Celebration with the Avett Brothers plus Asleep at the Wheel. Long Center.

March 7: League of Women Voters Austin State of the City Dinner. Doubletree by Hilton.

March 8: Texas Film Awards for Austin Film Society. AFS Cinema.

March 9-18: South by Southwest Festival. Various venues.

March 18: Nine Core Values Awards Luncheon for First Tee of Greater Austin. Hyatt Regency.

March 20: Nature Conservancy of Texas Austin Luncheon. JW Marriott.

March 24: Austin’s Fab Five Event for Seedling Foundation. Westin Domain.

Best loved Austin neighborhoods: Aldridge Place & Hemphill Park

We cherish these memories of strolling through Aldridge Place and its sibling district, Hemphill Park.

Originally published Dec. 16, 2010.

Terri Givens, an Associate Professor of Government at the University of Texas, was a newcomer to the neighborhood in 2010. Her family has since moved away. Julia Robertson/American-Statesman

Walking through an old Austin neighborhood with a sharp eye is like scrutinizing the tree rings of an ancient oak. One finds evidence of lean years and fat. Of rapid change and relative stasis. Of momentary crisis and long-term stability. The social trunk in the tiny, paired Aldridge Place and Hemphill Park neighborhoods – north of the University of Texas campus – is incredibly compact. Just two streets – 32nd and 33rd streets between Guadalupe Street and Speedway – make up Aldridge Place proper, according to some of its most ardent advocates.

Others, pointing to the original plat, insist on including Wheeler and Lipscomb streets, plus Hemphill Park, split down the middle by upper Waller Creek and its tree-pegged banks. A later strand – Laurel Lane – was added to the old subdivision. Notable families have lived here, behind deep, shaded front yards and a variety of provincial European and American-style façades. Golf guru Harvey Penick brought up his children here. Folklorist J. Frank Dobie owned a house at 3109 Wheeler St. The Rather clan, which produced broadcaster Dan Rather and political activist Robin Rather, lived down the way on Laurel Lane.

Late journalist and presidential press secretary George Christian Jr. was born and grew up here in the house of his father, an assistant attorney general and judge, George Christian Sr., on Wheeler Street. Regan Gammon, lifelong friend to former first lady Laura Bush, lives in a surprisingly modest house adjacent to a guest cottage. (Bush visits frequently. Follow Secret Service advice: Stay away.)

Musicians Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison raise their children here. James Galbraith of the famed scholarly family lives not far away in a multifaceted house. Add to that Texas French Bread founder Judy Willcott and arts leader Laurence Miller, along with “house whisperer” Kim Renner, academic Terri Givens, actress and musician Chris Humphrey, and Silicon Laboratories’ David Welland and his wife, Isabel, both prolific contributors to the Glimmer of Hope, Miracle and Sooch foundations. Nearby live Rick and Nancy Iverson in a 19th-century stone structure that reportedly served as a stagecoach stop. Among the gay couples are Austin social all-stars Steven Tomlinson and Eugene Sepulveda, along with Web designer Bob Atchison and oenological consultant Rob Moshein, known as the “Austin Wine Guy” – and my guide on this fine fall day.

But let’s start with the land. As with almost all Austin neighborhoods, this one is defined by higher elevations roosted above waterways. Upper Waller Creek is sometimes merely damp, thanks to this area’s many springs. Yet it drains a huge amount of land to the north and becomes a raging stream after any storm. “It takes on a crazy amount of surface water, ” says house rescuer Renner, who lives just to the creek’s east. “The rise is amazingly rapid.” The creek is also famous for its tunnels, which lead to the Texas State Hospital grounds a mile to the north. Brave neighborhood children crawled up these tunnels to what was once called the “insane asylum.” A metal floodgate now bars passage.

The ascent on both sides of the creek is not steep, but it’s unmistakable. On Wheeler, it forms a gentle curve for houses on a ridge whose properties back onto Guadalupe near Wheatsville Co-op. On the eastern side of the creek, the rise merely makes for a healthy cardio workout. Pecans, oaks and elms dominate the canopy, myrtles and other ornamentals the lower strata. The area hosts an unusual number of magnolias, trees that don’t usually thrive in Austin’s alkaline soil without help. “We almost lost that one during the last drought, ” says Renner, pointing to a double-trunked magnolia outside her spacious bungalow overlooking the park. “We nursed it back to health.”

According to neighborhood historians, the region north of what became the UT campus was first settled under a land grant to Texas President Mirabeau B. Lamar in 1840. The bluff above today’s dual neighborhood, where the Kirby Hall and the Scottish Rite Dormitory now sit, saw the first houses. Exposed to Comanche attacks during the mid-19th century, the land later supported dairy farms, general stores, schools and, eventually, residential subdivisions such as Harris Park, Hyde Park and the lesser known Grooms, Lakeview and Buddington.

On May 15, 1912, Lewis Hancock, developer of the Austin Country Club and namesake for Hancock Center, began selling tracts in Aldridge Place. Deed restrictions included a minimum sale price, no apartments, and, in line with growing segregation, no sales or rentals to African Americans unless they were live-in servants. Located so near the campus, churches, trolley lines and retail development along Guadalupe Street, Aldridge Place and Hemphill Park grew rapidly during the 1920s. “It’s residential but urban, ” says Willcott, who started Texas French Bread in the basement of her former house on 33rd Street, then opened her first store in a converted bowling alley at Guadalupe and 34th streets.

This day, our walk started on Laurel Lane at Speedway. “Aldridge Place looks down on us, ” Moshein jokes. “We’re on the wrong side of the tracks.” A pair of fanciful houses, designed by UT’s first architecture dean, Hugo Kuehne, flank the lane’s entrance. Carol McKay’s is notable for its steep, curling roofline and hidden gardens. On the other corner, Moshein and Atchison live in the old Rather house, best described as “Hollywood Spanish Colonial.” The surprise inside is a treasure trove of Czarist art, antiques and artifacts that the couple have collected for decades. It’s more than a little disconcerting to attend a party here, where Russian royalty stares down at the folks dressed in the usual casual Austin wear sipping exceptional wines.

None of the houses in this neighborhood are what one would call grand, more akin to ones found near almost any American university campus. These proud structures housed large families, until the kids grew up and the parents grew old. Then, college students moved into rentals – a point of contention for some residents – until new families, not all of them with children, fixed up the homes, now deemed historical by the so inclined. Renovators are transforming houses that had “gone hippie” during the 1960s and ’70s. “We are under huge pressure from the university, ” says former museum director Miller, who shares his current house on 33rd Street with Willcott. “To keep the neighborhood intact, you must be constantly vigilant.”

In fact, one neighborhood constant has been the number of people who have never left the area, or returned after a few years. Retired psychologist Mary Gay Maxwell has lived in three nearby houses; Clayton Sloan lived down the street from her current residence when she was a student. “I thought I was the luckiest person in the world, ” new mom Sloan says. “Living on this pretty street, walking distance to everything. Trees arched over. It’s an urban environment, but it’s very safe.” Maxwell agrees: “People never go away.” This loyalty fits neatly with the stories I heard up and down the streets from people walking their dogs, or working in their yards, or just passing by. (There seem to be as many canines as humans here, and at least one feline doesn’t seem to mind. Whirley, a dark, mottled cat, follows pedestrians up and down the streets, far away from his home on 32nd Street.)

Givens, who teaches at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, and her high-tech husband, Mike Scott, moved to Aldridge Place from the West Coast. Before they purchased their house on 32nd Street, the previous owners interviewed them carefully, and when tests were passed, gave them a party. “We realized we were not buying a house, ” Givens says. “We were buying a neighborhood.”

One reason residents might act so neighborly is the subdivision plan: All houses must face the inner streets or the park; alleys are forbidden and sidewalks are mandatory, making it a front-porch society. “We all know each other, ” Renner says, recalling regular holiday parties and a July 4 parade. “I would say (the urban plan) completely fulfills its original intentions.” The residents so treasure this life, they fought tooth and nail, as part of the larger North Campus Neighborhood Association, against the so-called “super-duplexes” and other concentrations of sometimes rowdy students who did not share their web of seemingly constant social connection. Student parking was also a sore point, until the City of Austin nixed nonresident parking during weekdays. “You couldn’t get down the street during the day, ” Moshein says. “You’d try to come home for lunch and couldn’t make it down the narrow streets for all the parked cars.”

Here, preservation is less about tax breaks and more about enduring social bonds, an argument one hears from East Austin to Old West Austin. “It was important to keep this neighborhood as it is, ” says Maxwell, who ran herd on the planning commission and Austin City Council to solve some of the destabilizing development. “This street was in decline, but it’s come back.” Gentrification and higher land prices might actually contribute to stability – at the potential price of diversity, Moshein points out – but neighborhood leaders won the battle to direct dense housing toward West Campus instead. That student-saturated neighborhood is now home to numerous midrises and ever-greater arrays of commercial life.

This leaves Aldridge Place-Hemphill Park almost completely protected. It can’t claim the same historical significance of Hyde Park, a few blocks to the north and a generation older. Yet its residents are, if anything, more intensely loyal and alert to historical distinctions (you’ll discover that if you ever mix up Hemphill Park or Aldridge Place!). “We’re not going anywhere, ” says Robert Marchant, as his children frolic on a shared swing aside his family’s humble home. “It’s paradise, ” says Scott Sloan, balancing an infant in the kitchen of his renovated bungalow. “And people are optimistic about the neighborhood. That makes it a good investment.”

As Maxwell says: “It’s a little enclave of real neighborhood experience.”

 

 

Best Texas books: Start off with ‘The Nueces River’

We’ve learned more about the Nueces River, Texas birding, a standout West Texas Congressman, the King Ranch and Texas swimming holes.

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“The Nueces River: Rio Escondido.” Margie Crisp with artwork by William B. Montgomery. Texas A&M Press. Much admired Texas artist and naturalist Margie Crisp made quite a splash with her award-winning “River of Contrasts: The Texas Colorado,” a gorgeously written and illustrated look at the long, ever-changing waterway that runs through Austin. Now she turns her attention to the Nueces River, which she calls “Rio Escondido,” apt since this stream that falls off the southern edge of the Edwards Plateau goes underground during dry seasons until it reemerges at Choke Canyon Reservoir near Three Rivers.  A team project with William B. Montgomery, this book represents an ideal marriage of words and images. One only wishes that Crisp were given several lifetimes so she could do the same for 48 more Texas rivers.

MORE TEXAS TITLES: Best recent books on Texas rivers.

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“One More Warbler: A Life with Birds” Victor Emanuel with S. Kirk Walsh. University of Texas Press. To say that Victor Emanuel is a god among naturalists is almost an understatement. The owner and operator of one of the world’s most prominent nature tour groups grew up in Houston and has lived in Austin for decades. This memoir, written in close collaboration with S. Kirk Walsh, tells not just about birding adventures, but also looks deeply into the way that habitual observation of nature changes the way we perceive the world around us. Bonus: Emanuel employs a natural literary touch, which Walsh clearly amplifies. You might have read our own profile of Emanuel. We promise a big feature interview about this book before long.

MORE TEXAS TITLES: Best Texas books to read in November 2016.

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“The Swimming Holes of Texas.” Julie Wernersbach and Carolyn Tracy. University of Texas Press. Like our much more adventurous colleague, Pam LeBlanc, we love this guide book. We had to add our tributes. It’s crucial, first, because this information was previously not readily available in such a user-friendly, physical format. Arranged by region — the Austin area counts as its own region — it fully lists addresses, phone number, websites, hours, entrance fees, park rules, camping options, amenities, and swimming opportunities, along with sharp descriptions that could only be acquired through sustained personal reporting. Funny thing: Writing this capsule, my thumb led me to the entry for Choke Canyon Reservoir (see above). Oh no you don’t! Last time we were there, alligators floated just offshore. No swimming for us.  Pam, don’t take that as a challenge!

MORE TEXAS TITLES: Best Texas books to read in December 2016.

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“A Witness to History: George H. Mahon, West Texas Congressman.” Janet M. Neugebauer. Texas Tech University Press. We must admit up front we have not made a big dent into this biography that runs almost to 600 pages with notes and index. But what we’ve read so far has impressed us enough to place it here. Mahon, a country lawyer, went to Congress in 1935 and served on the House Committee on Appropriations almost he his entire tenure of 44 years. Along the way, he acquired enormous power, which, if this book is any evidence, he used judiciously. A specialist in defense spending, his career spanned World War II, the Korean and Vietnam wars, and almost the entire Cold War. We look forward to digging deeper into this crisp volume when we have more time. A lot more time.

MORE TEXAS TITLES: Best Texas books to read in October 2016.

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“Bob and Helen Kleberg of King Ranch.” Helen Kleberg Groves. Trinity University Press. Not as many books have been published about the King Ranch as have been about Texas football, rangers, tacos or politics. But it sometimes seems that the vast, daunting South Texas empire of cattle and thorn brush holds writers in an unbreakable spell. This time, the motivation is personal, since this volume was written by Helen King Kleberg Alexander-Groves. It constitutes the memoirs of the only child of the celebrated Bob and Helen Kleberg. At first, it feels like a picture book with historical and contemporary photographs that take you directly into the world of ranching past and present. Yet don’t overlook the words, because Bill Benson has helped Groves thoroughly research and confirm the history, genealogy and other aspects of this quintessentially Texas family tale.

MORE TEXAS TITLES: Best Texas books to read in September 2016.

American Medical Association hails Sen. Kirk Watson

Locally, State Sen. Kirk Watson has received well-deserved acclaim for his hand in transforming the region’s medical ecology, which now includes the Dell Medical School, soon-to-open Dell Medical Center, area-wide Central Health and a host of other collaborative projects.

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State Sen. Kirk Watson. American-Statesman

But on Tuesday, a high-fallutin’ national group noticed, too. Nominated by the Travis County Medical Society, Watson was one of 10 recipients of the Dr. Nathan Davis Award for Outstanding Government Service from the American Medical Association. 

RELATED: How Kirk Watson wants to transform the aging Austin State Hospital.

Winners that night included a U.S. Senator, a U.S. Representative — both medical doctors — and others chosen as “government officials who go above and beyond the call of duty to improve public health,” said AMA Board Chairman Dr. Patrice A. Harris.

Aamil Sarfani aims for the Austin coffee ideal

Aamil Sarfani soaks up the burnished light at Radio Coffee & Beer, a popular hangout on Manchaca Road.

“They nailed the feel,” says the owner of Apanas Coffee & Beer, which opened at two locations in Austin during 2016. “It’s not too quiet. They offer both beer and coffee, similar to what we do. At 5 p.m., they turn the Wi-Fi off. The work day is over; time to hang out. We are too scared to do that.”

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Aamil Sarfani, owner of two Apanas coffee and beer shops in Austin, seated at Radio, one of his favorite established spots. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

He points to the lightly scuffed floors.

“No, I just love this place,” Sarfani says. “This is one of the reasons we did wood floors, too.”

RELATED: Nifty coffee shop Apanas opens at key spot on South Congress.

San Antonio-born-and-bred Sarfani, 24, grew up in an entrepreneurial Indian-American family before attending business school at Emory University in Atlanta.

In 2014, he signed up for a class that looked interesting: Social Enterprise in Nicaragua.

“We learned how businesses can do more than just profit from their revenue stream,” Sarfani says. “And the school already had partners down there.”

RELATED: Looking for Austin coffee shops near Burnet Road.

For the class, he stayed over at El Peten coffee farm on Lake Apanas, the namesake for his two Austin outlets.

“Every morning, I went down to the lake and took pictures,” he says. “I came back with really fond memories. And the owner of that farm made connections for me with other sources in Nicaragua.”

RELATED: Trying out Austin coffee shops near Upper South Lamar.

Sarfani learned that by sidestepping third parties through the direct trade model, he, as a retailer, not only could increase the farmer’s share of the revenue, he also could improve transparency and traceability of coffee bean origin and movement, something that not all “fair trade” coffee shops can do.

 

“I came back from the trip the year before senior year and expected to eventually start a business, but I didn’t expect to do so right out of college,” he says. “I had all the resources in hand. Talked to professors, created business plan. I was ready to do something that means more than making a quick buck.”

RELATED: Test these Austin coffee shops near Lower South Lamar.

Sarfani now imports two single-origin beans.

“One is natural processed, Los Piños, picked off the tree andleft in the cherry to increase its sweetness,” he says. “It’s a hard process to master, what with errors, low yield. If you do it right, the coffee comes out fantastic. The other is washed El Peten. We also have a drip coffee that’s a blend of bean from farms in the Los Robos community, and the money goes back to the town’s clinic.”

That echoes the efforts of Austin’s Farahani family, which funds Nicaraguan health care through its nonprofit Fara Coffees.

RELATED: Savor Austin coffee shops near South First Street.

Sarfani grew up “behind the register” from age 12 at his father’s gas stations and fast food restaurants. So it made sense to pitch his dad as an investor.

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Scott Jones at Apanas Coffee and Beer on South Congress Avenue. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

He opened his first coffee shop in January on Rock Rose in the Domain Northside. It’s a mid-sized spot at 1,800 square feet. There’s not a lot of competition in this giant retail district for this wide open and comfortable spot that is not surprisingly already attracting regulars.

In the fall, he opened the second Apanas in a 2,500 square-foot former sports medicine space on South Congress, where there is indeed heavy-hitting competition from Jo’s Coffee, Toms Roasting Co. and Mañana Coffee & Juice.

“We have felt that,” Sarfani admits. “I consult with my Dad. He stays out of my way, tells me what I could be doing, but lets me makes mistakes.”

RELATED: Sip from Austin coffee shops near South Congress Avenue.

Apanas also offers 20 types of draft beer, selected with the same Sarfani philosophy: “High quality in everything”

“We are lucky enough to sell handmade products,” Sarfani says. “Our beer buyer is home brewer too, so very knowledgeable.”

Food is not a focus at Apanas, but one can pick up Quack’s bakery items, Tyson’s Tacos, and Fricanos Deli sandwiches.

Sarfani did hang some modest-sized TV screens in Apanas, unusual for a coffee shop, but he insists they will never become a focal point, except perhaps during parties on game nights.

RELATED: The original 10,000 coffee shops story from 2007.

Besides Radio, Sarfani reveals some of his other preferred Austin coffee shop:

Dominican Joe: “I like what they are doing on the back end, supporting a Dominican Republic community.”

Seventh Flag: “Great community, good vibe, trying to create sense of welcome, home.”

Houndstooth: “A reputation for serving the best coffee in town, but sometimes you get the wrong barista. We are focusing on consistency.”

The 10 worst Austin parties of 2016

Whether it’s a backyard barbecue, a glittering gala, a sprawling music festival or an intimate dinner, our city loves a party.

And 2016 gave us plenty of golden chances to meet fellow Austinites and hear their stories.

Yet some of those parties … oy.

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In my head, I can count at least 10 sour outings from 2016. (You didn’t really think I was going to name and shame, did you? You haven’t been reading this column for the past 10 or so years.)

RELATED: Sharp tips from a professional party planner.

Be of good cheer, prospective hosts, you can easily avoid that sour social aftertaste by watching out for these 10 perils. Then yours won’t be one of the 10 worst of 2017.

When in doubt, follow one rule: Be kind. Don’t waste time.

  • Program started too early. Be mindful of the web of daily activities in your guests’ lives. Example: Quite a few new social spots opened in the Domain Northside this year. Virtually every one of the opening bashes started at 6 p.m. Has nobody been on our roads at that time of day? Make it 7 p.m. and maybe we’ll call it a deal.
  • Program started too late. I kid you not, more than one host in 2016 assembled guests as early as 5 p.m., yet the main event had not begun by 9 p.m. As much as I like learning about other guests, that’s a lot of chat time to fill, or a lot of time in the lobby scrolling through emails.
  • Program started on time, but lasted way too long. Oh my. Such a widespread sin. Cut off speeches. Show one really good video instead. Take the temperature of the room. If your guests are noisy and restless, there’s a reason.
  • Live auction killed the buzz. This beast devoured some of the most fabled Austin parties in 2016. Don’t get me wrong: A good, short, lively — not necessarily loud — auction can be entertaining for the 95 percent of us not bidding. Ten, maybe 15 minutes max. Instead, why not hold a very quick “fund a cause” or, better yet, a raffle? They’re coming back.
  • Too many people honored. Look, I think it’s great that this city honors its worthy citizens. But oh my: Dozens of awards followed by dozens of acceptance speeches? Even Hollywood can’t make that work, and they’ve hired the best talent on the planet.
  • Lines too long. How often I am tempted to turn around and walk back home when I see a registration line snaking out of the lobby, down the hall and even, in one case, up a grand staircase. Buffet and bar lines are to be expected, but spread the stations out and make sure that their numbers are proportionate to the size of your crowd.
  • Too many acts. Many parties engage a warm-up band, then a late-night dance band. A few appear to invite every act in town up on the stage. We love our Austin musical greats, but this is too much. Guests start to wander off.
  • Too much internal transit time. Some hosts get creative and spread a party out over several locales. This makes for something of an adventure — and certainly we can use the exercise — but tick tock.
  • Parking snarled. This one doesn’t apply very often to me, but I’ve watched the aggravation at the curb. If everyone is required to valet, and they all leave at the same time, somebody is going to wait a very long time. (Stray note: Always tip your valet handsomely. It’s not an easy job in the best of circumstances.)
  • Segregated tables. This one applies to just a few of us. When a host segregates the press to one table, we are robbed of any opportunity to engage other guests and, presumably, tell their stories. Another waste of social time.

 

Best Texas books: Rev up with ‘Miles and Miles of Texas’

This week in “Texas Titles,” we take a very long road trip, scan murals at Texas post offices, seek solutions for the Yogurt Shop Murders, take in more football and dive into a museum’s loaned artifacts.

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“Miles and Miles of Texas: 100 Years of the Texas Highway Department.” Carol Dawson with Roger Allen Polson. Texas A&M University Press.

What a great and necessary book! So much of Texana focuses on the state’s pre-industrial past. Yet Texas is a place of cities and suburbs connected to vast expanses by an intricate modern network of interstates, federal highways, state highways, farm and ranch roads, as well as county roads and city streets. Austin-based writer Carol Dawson and former TxDOT thought leader Roger Polson put together this 100-year history relying partly on the agency’s priceless photo collection, edited by Geoff Appold. We promise to dig deeper into this fine volume to produce a feature story in early 2017. Meanwhile, it makes a terrific coffee table book with as much to read as to see.

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“The Texas Post Office Murals: Art for the People.” Philip Parisi. Texas A&M University Press.

If ever a regional book demanded a second printing in paperback, this is one. The New Deal sparked an unprecedented outbreak of public art in styles readily accessible to the general public. And where else to place them during the 1930s than at government gathering places that every community patronized? Parisi, formerly of the Texas Historical Commission, first produced this marvelous guide in 2004. It provides 127 images from the 106 artworks — some gone — commissioned for 69 post offices in the state. The images celebrate Texas life and history, with an emphasis on everyday labors. On a side note, Parisi does not mention contemporaneous artist Paul Cadmus, but several of the images are rendered in his unmistakable homophile style.

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“Who Killed These Girls? Cold Case: The Yogurt Shop Murders.” Beverly Lowry. Knopf.

Here’s something to contemplate: The Austin Police Department is still working on the Yogurt Shop Murders case. Yes, still. The four girls were found naked, bound and gagged on Dec. 6, 1991. The late Corey Mitchell’s 2005 “Murdered Innocents” raked up all those terrible memories. Now, distinguished Austin journalist and fiction writer Lowry tells the ongoing tale crime, punishment, reversal and frustration. We’d love to interview the author on the subject, but we’ll have to read it more thoroughly first. That will happen.

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“Pigskin Rapture: Four Days in the Life of Texas Football.” Mac Engel and Ron Jenkins. Lone Star Books.

Recently, we wrote about Nick Eatman’s “Friday, Saturday, Sunday in Texas: A Year in the Life of Lone Star Football from High School to College to the Cowboys.” Seems like an idea that’s going around. Engel, a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, and Ron Jenkins, a DFW-based contract photographer, teamed up on this chronicle of a four-day period in autumn 2015. Again, the granddaddy of this form was H.G. Bissinger’s groundbreaking “Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream,” later morphed into a movie and one of the best TV series ever. This volume maintains a playful tone to go along with the lively photographs, which often capture what’s happening off field as well as before and after the games.

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“Seeing Texas History: The Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum.” Edited by Victoria Ramirez. The Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum. “State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda.” Steven Luckert and Susan Bachrach. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

What a matched pair: Two handsome books tied to the state’s history museum. The first lays out the artifacts borrowed by and displayed by the Bullock. The texts are minimal but essential and exacting. All is organized by periods such as “Empires,” “Struggle for Independence” and “Modern Texas.” The second books goes with an extremely powerful exhibit that includes local contributions from Austin’s Phillipson family collection. You can read more about the first book here, and more about the second book here.

More than one way to fry an avocado at Los Tres Bobos

Recently, we published a 1980s recipe for the Avocado Zapata from Los Tres Lobos, a long gone Austin eatery. We rescued it from the book “Ellie Rucker’s Almanac.” The late American-Statesman columnist often published recipes from readers’ favorite restaurant dishes.

Afterward, we heard from James Wilsford, who shares a different path to fried avocado goodness.

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Los Tres Bobos memorabilia. Contributed by lostreslobos.com.

“I enjoyed reading your column about Ellie Rucker and Los Tres Bobos.  I met Ellie Rucker since I was friends with her daughter, Allison, with whom I waited tables at the County Line on the Lake.

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Los Tres Bobos menu. Contributed by lostresbobos.com.

“However, prior to that, I was the fry cook at Los Tres Bobos that prepared the Avocado Zapata for several years and have to tell you that your recipe, although probably tasty, is not the same as we made them.

“First, instead of nuts, we used crushed peanut brittle, and we added a little cheese to the mix to help is stick together along with the egg. The meat mixture was made with cold leftover taco meat because, if you try it with hot taco meat, it will not stick together and you get an exploded avocado zapata in the fryer.

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Halloween in the 1970s at Los Tres Bobos. Contributed by lostresbobos.com.

“The avocados are formed ahead of time so that they can cool and congeal.  The wet batter used was one egg, one cup of milk and one cup of butter milk.  The dry batter was one part flour, one part Bisquik, with a little salt and a lot of black pepper.

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Los Tres Bobos in 26 Doors. Contributed by lostresbobos.com.

“It was usually double battered so as to avoid the aforementioned exploding Avocado Zapata. Your creole sauce is essentially correct. I have made this over the years for groups of friends and for parties but it makes a mess to do it like they do in the restaurant so, I usually make it for a dozen avocados which give you two dozen “zaps.”

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Ad for Los Tres Bobos. Contributed by Los Tres Bobos.com.

“Like many recipes that get printed, there are variations, either from a chef’s personal taste or a more convenient way to make something but that also accounts for why sometimes things just do not have the same zing when prepared at home and you are wondering what the small trick was that gave it that special flavor.”