Vegetarian Chili Rules on Taste of Austin Tuesday

Lone Star Vegetarian Chili CookoffIt’s this Sunday, it’s in Austin and it promises to once again take Texas chili traditions to a higher, vegan level.

What is it? It’s the 25th Annual Lone Star Vegetarian Chili Cook-off.  Yup, here in the land of ribs and brisket, you’ll find the longest running vegetarian chili cook-off in the U.S.

The annual celebration of all things vegan and spicy includes chili tasting, music, kids activities and more. Whole Foods is hosting beer sales on site, so you even can grab a cold one to wash down your favorite chili (or put out the fire on a particularly hot one!)

Teams of chili chefs come from all over Texas to compete for the title of best vegetarian chili in one of two categories. Chili masters can also take home a People’s Choice Award for the crowd’s favourite bowl of spicy goodness.

The cook-off started in 1989 as the brainchild of Shirley Wilkes-Johnson, with help from the  founders of the San Antonio Vegetarian Society, the South Texas Vegetarian Society (in Brazoria County, 60 miles south of Houston), the Austin Vegetarian Society, and the Vegetarian Society of Houston. For years, the event traveled around Texas, with cook-offs attracting vegetarians and open-minded omnivores from all over the Lone Star State. Finally, the annual cookoff settled in Austin, where it has grown and flourished, attracting up to a 1,000 hungry chili-lovers for the one-day event.

A quarter of a century after its founding, the cook-off is still going strong. And this year’s event promises to be one of the best. The new location in the green space adjacent to the Whole Foods on West William Cannon in South Austin offers easy access, free parking and lots of space for the cook-off, vendors, the kids’ area and the live music stage.  Admission to the event is $10 for adults or teens, $7 for children age 6-12, seniors, veterans and college students (with current college ID), and includes lots of delicious chili.

They’re also offering Family Packs for $25, good for a family of up to four (one of which must be a child age 12 or under).

If you’d like to help this all-volunteer event to be an even bigger success, you can volunteer and earn free admission and other goodies. The volunteer deadline is Friday, Nov. 8th, so be sure to sign up to lend your support to this Texas tradition.

(And yes, I do know this “Taste of Austin Tuesday” didn’t show up until Wednesday. Just blame it on The Doctor….time can be slippery sometimes!)

Zilker Botanical Gardens invite you to build a Faerie House and Garden

Zilker Botanical Gardens Faerie House WorkshopCalling all lovers of imagination and whimsy! Zilker Botanical Gardens is inviting you to design and build your very own Faerie House and Garden, in Zilker Park!

That’s what I discovered when I was playing around online, looking for cool images to pin to my Secret Garden Pinterest board. So of course, we had to head over on Sunday to check this out.  Could it be?  Could we really indulge our creativity and my love of all things Faerie and magical and build an actual space in the garden for everyone to see?  (Okay, so I’m an overgrown kid…everyone who knows me already knows that!)

Yes!  It’s true!  It turns out that I had stumbled on the very First Annual Faerie Home and Garden competition in Austin. We went to the free workshop on Sunday, and learned some Faerie lore (for instance, did you know that every time a flower blooms, a Faerie is born? News to me!)  We also got a chance to talk to the people in charge of the whole series of Faerie-focused events at Zilker Botanical Garden now through May.  (The poster for the events is below, or you can download the Fairy poster PDF to print yourself.)

Anyone can enter the competition to build their very own fairy house and garden (and yes, our family is already registered!).  The fee is $25 for families and $45 for designers and architects. In return, you get a 4′ by 4′ space to construct your own vision of a fairy dwelling.

The rules are simple. You’ll be assigned a space in the garden. You have to construct the dwelling using natural materials gathered from the designated area of the garden, or from your own home or favorite natural spots. You can build a home, add furniture (made of twigs and other natural materials faeries are likely to find, or you can create an entire faerie wonderland with multiple buildings. The choice is up to you and your family!

The masterpieces go on display in March (with setup the weekend of March 9th) , and will be in the garden until May. The deadline for registering is February 9th.  Download the forms from the Zilker site, then mail or fax in your registration and fee.

I was so excited, I’ve already gone to Michael’s to buy a little fairy figure to use as the scale for our creation! And it’s not just me. My daughter started her sketches for the furnishings, and my husband has been brainstorming design ideas to keep our creation true to fairy-lore.  This is going to be fun!

Zilker Park Faerie Homes and Gardens Poster

UPCOMING: Austin Kosher Chili Cookoff comes back for 8th year

pot of chiliYes, Texas is known for its chili…but with the pork that’s so often a part local cook-off recipes, people who choose to skip out on that particular beast for religious or health reasons have been kind of left out of the fun.  The pork meant Jews, Muslims and others couldn’t sample cook-off chili offerings.

Not so at the annual JCC Kosher Chili Cookoff! February 10th of this year  will be the 8th  year for the pork-free zone in Texas chili, held at Austin’s JCC campus.

Contestants can choose to enter the meat or the vegetarian division. And to keep everything truly Kosher, the meat division entry fee includes certified Kosher meat, as well as access to all needed cooking utensils.

According to Amy Kritzer, The Austin Jewish Outlook’s food writer,  the event was started by the grandfather of this year’s event chair Jerrod Kogut.   This year’s cook-off also includes arts and crafts, kids activities, and great food, and promises to be a full day of fun for families. 

The competition and the event are open to the public. Entry fees for a meat-chili team of 4 are $250, with meat provided.  Vegetarian teams have an entry fee of $125 (and yes, I will be there sampling those veggie chilis!)

Not ready to cook? Admission the event for everyone else is $12 for adults, $10 for students and free for kids under 4 (or over 65, for the young at heart!)

Sign your team up at the event website, or contact Jerrod for more information at KosherChiliAustin@gmail.com . Registration closes February 1st.

Austin Celtic Festival brings Ireland and Scotland Deep in the Heart of Texas

Austin Celtic Festival 2012I am cautious about Celtic fairs.  I’ve been to far too many of them that are more flea market and carnival food meets Ren Faire than a real Celtic gathering.  So I was thrilled when the Austin Celtic Festival was everything it promised.

The musicians were amazing…it was hard to believe that the small admission fee ($15 at the gate, $12 in advance online and kids under 13 free) covered the incredible music.  My personal favorites, The Tea Merchants, made me forget that I was in Texas at all.  I seriously expected to look out over rolling green hills or peat bogs instead of a slightly dry park.  Harpist Thomas (Doc) Grauzer‘s music was haunting, and the Celtic dance bands made it hard to stand still.

I loved the Viking encampment (ok, I admit it…I did think Vikings wore horned helmets!  Blame it on Hagar the Horrible!). Did you know that they typically carried a nail kit and comb?  Who knew?  Vikings were the first metrosexuals!

There were dozens of booths offering Celtic jewelry, kilts and other gifts (NOT good for my budget! It was all so tempting!), and lots of demos (sheep herding, or rather goose herding, weaving, dancing). There were also Celtic music workshops for guitar and violin players and Gaelic language classes.

But my favorite part of the whole event was the Irish storyteller Máirtín de Cógáin.  His tales had us all laughing — and had me wishing I  could meet the characters from his town back home.

This Festival is an annual gathering…2012 is its 16th year.  I can’t wait for the 17th!

Native American PowWow brings history, music, food to Austin

Native American Powwow Austin Texas via Ais4Austin.comYesterday, it was time to discover yet another new event in Austin, so we headed out for the 21st Annual Austin Powwow.

I love powwows…we used to go to the Native American Pow-Wow every year on City Island near Harrisburg, PA. when we lived there.  And we always tried to go to gatherings in Florida and in the Rockies, too.

The music, dancing and the clothing are my favorite parts, so I was thrilled to see that Austin’s Powwow was focused around those elements. The auditorium at Sunset Valley was filled with drummers, singers and dancers in dramatic traditional apparel.  As each dance was called, the music changed, the drum beat shifted, and a new group of dancers took center stage.

Austin PowWow 2012

Unlike many “shows” which focus on providing cultural demonstrations for visitors, this was clearly a gathering for members of the local and regional tribes.  Those of us who were not identifiably Native Americans were there as guests, not spectators. And that gave the whole event a different feel than more commercial, touristy “Indian events” — and one that I appreciated.

At one point, guests were invited to join in a dance, and most seemed to really enjoy the chance to be a part of the celebration.  Kids, especially little ones, loved this!

Outside, the celebration continued, with stands selling handmade flutes, beautiful drums and herbs used in healing. Yes, there were stands offering nearly identical jewelry, but the authentic craftspeople at other stands made it worth walking around, asking questions and shopping.

Austin PowWow 2012 Flutes for saleThere were also stands offering educational information about tribal history and customs.  We spent quite a bit of time at the Chickasaw table, learning about their history, stories and their new Oklahoma Chickasaw Cultural Center. A future road trip, maybe?

The event also includes a food court, with Fry Bread dominating the menus (no complaints from me!  I love Fry Bread with honey or beans and veggies, and they had both in abundance!) Austin PowWow 2012 Arrows for sale

Admission and parking were free, which makes this a great choice for families with kids. It also leaves more cash for lunch or shopping — another big plus in my book!  Pets are not permitted at the festival.

I just want to leave you with a few more images from the Festival…not my usual format, but I can’t resist.

Austin PowWow 2012 Sage

Austin PowWow 2012 Dream Catchers

Austin PowWow 2012 Cherokee Story Tellers

Pecan Street Festival v2.0

Old Pecan Street Festival Fall 2012After our over-heated experience at the Pecan Street Festival last time, we decided to try it again on a cooler day. But this time, our objective was different. Sure, we would check out the stands and booths, and the scheduled acts. And there were foods to taste — it wouldn’t an Austin event without the great food!

But what we were really there to see were the street musicians who use the Festival to display their talents to a larger audience than a typical evening on 6th Street provides. And we were not disappointed.

As we walked along, we saw singers and guitar players. People drumming on plastic pails and on wooden bars over gourds. We heard incredible a Capella groups with amazingly tight harmony, and we heard a young emo/punk group shouting out their pain.

There was jazz and rock, classic melodies and new creations. And what’s most amazing about it all, is that none of these acts were planned by the festival promoters.  They were not on the programs, and sadly, I wasn’t able to get the names of most of them (if anyone can fill in the blanks for the musicians in my photos, please do!)  But each of these acts, and the combination of all of them in one place, made the Old Pecan Street Festival something extra special.

Sure Austin has ACL (this weekend, as a matter of fact).  And then there’s SXSW. But without a single dollar for a ticket, or a fight for a parking space, a festival like this is one of the best ways to hear great Austin music, block after block.

The 4th of July is hot in Round Rock

Round Rock 4th of July and Sam Bass Shoot Out

For my first 4th of July in Texas, we headed up to Round Rock for their Frontier Days celebration. Yes, there were lots of places to choose from, but only Round Rock promised a chili pepper-eating contest and a historic shoot out!

And thankfully, it was all they promised. Randall’s sponsored the chili pepper eating contest…Ghost Peppers proved to be the highlight of the event…the faces of brave tasters were priceless! (And no, we were not among them! I love spicy, but…!)

After that we headed over to the food area for a snack before the Sam Bass Shootout. It was a great chance to learn a little bit of Texas history and chill (okay, so that’s relative on a 100+ degree day!) in the shade and watch a performance complete with some beautiful horses and impressive riding.

There were kiddie rides, vendor booths, a track-can train (seriously!) and even a unicorn in the pony ride area! It’s kid and family friendly, but dogs aren’t welcome at this normally dog-friendly park on the 4th.

Later on, there was a spectacular fireworks display, followed by an outdoor film (Captain America, this year.)

It was a great day, but some lessons were learned for next year. First, bring water. LOTS of water! And maybe a parasol, too! Vegetarians will probably want to pack a picnic…the meatless offerings were slim. Also, do NOT leave the Festival in the afternoon and plan to return later in the day for the fireworks. The wonderfully easy drive in and parking we had at noon was a nightmare at 7! Bring chairs, lunch and drinks and find a spot in the shade somewhere in the park to relax between the festival and the fireworks. The stress (and gas!) it will save you will be well worth it!