Tuscany in Texas

In June Husband and I went to the Texas hill country to buy peaches from our favorite grower, Gold Orchards, and to check out some wineries.  The Gold Orchards store is basically a small roadside stand in the tiny town of Stonewall on highway 290 between Johnson City and Fredericksburg.

There are about ten wineries located on this 36-mile stretch of highway called Wine Road , but the one that caught my attention was Grape Creek Vineyards with a sign that proclaimed, “Tuscany in Texas.”   Tuscany is on my list of places to visit, but each year there seems to be some reason why we can’t take that trip to visit our friends in Tuscany at their olive farm, Podere Boggioli.   This might be as close to Italy as I would get this year.  With a little wine perhaps it really would seem like Italy!

Entrance to Grape Creek Vineyards-Photo from their web site

The entrance with its bell tower sets the mood as the gravel road leads upward between Chenin Blanc vineyard toward the Tuscany-style villa that serves as the tasting room and gift shop.  It did not disappoint.

Thinking Tuscany…not Texas

The villa did indeed reflect old world architecture with its tiled roof and beams, stonework, landscape and obligatory fountain.  Even Italian music quietly playing added to the ambiance.  As we got out of the car a limo pulled up and out tumbled several excited and well-dressed ladies.  Now that is the way to tour wineries!

Inside we browsed the wine-related items and a generous selection of crackers, cheeses and nibbles.  We missed the Barrel Tasting Cellar Tour that included a tour of the winemaking  facilities and barrel cellar.  Instead we settled for tasting six wines and chose from white, red, sweet and semi-sweet and port.  We bought three bottles:  2011 Viognier, 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah Texas and a port.

OK, so maybe those working in the tasting room spoke with a Texas twang instead of  in Italian and I was really not in Tuscany.  Still this small yet elegant winery with a bed and breakfast is worth checking out if you are in the area.

The Crone in Faux Tuscany

Husband in Faux Tuscany

From Johnson City you see gently rolling hills, peach orchards and pass the entrance to the Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic Site that is worth the stop.  The self-guided tour is free and takes you by the graves of President Johnson and Lady Bird Johnson.

At the end of the road is Fredericksburg which offers history, shopping and good food.  We had lunch at Fredericksburg Brewing Company and enjoyed sampling excellent ale.

Our last stop  Gold Orchards was to buy a half-bushel of peaches for peach cobblers.   I use a recipe from “Aunt Pearl’s Cookbook, A Man’s Cooking” by Joe Sears.  Maybe I’ll share it in another post!  Cheers!

Books and Bibelots….



Rather Outspoken: My Life in the News

One commentator call this Dan Rather’s “last hurrah” and at eighty years old it just might be.  His chronicling of the news should be quite a history as he covered everything from the Vietnam war to Iraq and Afghanistan; at home he reported on elections and hurricanes.  I was rather sad (pun unintended) to see him step down from CBS in 2004 for his reporting on George W. Bush’s time in the Texas Air National Guard.  From what I read in an interview Rather thinks he was correct in his statements about the Bush’s record and I suspect he will address that in his book.  I have read his book, “I Remember” that tells of his early years growing up in the Heights neighborhood of Houston and how he got started in journalism.  I think I will read this one. 



I confess that I have never read one of his novels, and I am a little guilty and ashamed to have ignored such a prolific writer.  I saw the movie “Cujo” and regretted it.  Yet I did see “Needful Things” and deemed it tolorable.  I did start one of his books – can’t even remember the title – but soon abandoned it.  It is part of his Dark Tower fantasy sagas and I don’t read fantasy.  Sorry, Mr. King, I will pass on this one but I know it will do well as usual.


I saw an interview with the author of this one on Fareed Zakaria GPS on CNN.   It appears current to today’s economics and political debates so I probably should read it. Some havedescribed it as “balm for the 1%” and “a defense of the rich.”   However, there seems to be plenty of discussions and controversy about the 1% in this election year.  Since I am not in the 1% yet I think I will pass on reading this one.    

                          “THE BOOK WHISPERER” by Donalyn Miller                                                 

The title of this one caught my attention.  This book was written by a teacher and appears to be more of a guide for teachers on how to  encourage children to love to read.  All teachers should do that.  When my daughter and son were small I joined a children’s book club (yes, that dates me) for them.  I still have all of their children’s books and read those to my grandson when he was small.  Today we still share a love for books and give each other books for gifts.  I even give books as gifts for newborns.  Maybe I did something right!  I may not have the opportunity to read this one but I hope many teachers do.



This is the fifth and final volume of Caro’s series, “The Years of Lyndon Johnson.”   Long ago I read one of Caro’s earlier volumes on LBJ but I can’t remember which one.  I think I passed it on to my daughter.  Having lived through the Johnson years I know it will be informative.  With all of the bickering and power struggles in Washington  in an election year, I am not sure I am ready to read this one.  Perhaps I will save it for another year.

“Extra Virginity:  The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil” by Tom Mueller

This book I found on the Tin Man’s blog.  He read it and deemed it “marvelous and a must  for anyone who likes to cook.”   Recently I have been using extra virgin olive more and more.  A friend has an olive farm in Tuscany and last year I purchased six bottles of his liquid Italian sunshine.  It was outstanding!  (I confess to adding  his olive oil to a bowl of red beans and rice but I would never tell him!)  Last year I wrote a post called “Crude Oil vs. Olive Oil” that was about the production of olive oil in Texas.  Yes, most definitely I will read this one!

“Death Comes to Pemberly” by P.D. James

This one I have already read as I was able to pick it up at the local library book sale in hardcover for $1.00.  I have read all of the novels of P.D. James and was excited when I saw that she had a new mystery out as I needed a London fix.  Her novels are generally set in and around London in modern ties, but this one borrows from Jane Austin’s “Price and Prejudice.”  James takes up the lives Austin’s characters a few years after “Pride and Prejudice” ends and throws in a murder in typical James style.  I did get my British fix but it was a 19th century fix.  I also enjoyed her book, “Time to Be in Ernest:  A Fragment of Autobiography” that was a memoir in the form for a personal diary.  P. D. James will celebrate her 92nd birthday in August of this year.

“You Have No Idea” by Vanessa Williams & Helen Williams

Often a celebrity will write about  how he or she was treated unfairly by a parent.  Remember “Mommy Dearest”?  Here is a celebrity teaming up with her mother to tell all about childhood secrets, beauty pagents, lost love and Hollywood glitz.  One has to  admire the comeback Vanessa Williams has made since she gave up her Miss America title when her photos for Penthouse surfaced.  Instead of slinking off to oblivion, she launched a career as a singer and actress.  Probably her best know role was in the television series Desperate Housewives.  I wish them literary succes but I  don’t think I will be reading this one.

Right now I am reading “A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare” by James Shapiro.

Next from my stack of books to read will be “Growing Up a Sullen Baptist and Other Lies” by Robert Flynn. 

Crude Oil vs. Olive Oil

Texas Olive Ranch

Texas is better known for its crude oil than for its olive oil, but a small olive industry is growing in South Texas.   Recently on the local PBS station, KEDT-TV, a documentary was aired as part of its annual fund-raiser.  It was called “Texas Olive Trails.”  Check out this website to view a trailer.

Here is a quote from the site:

Sun, stone, drought, silence and solitude: these are the five ingredients that, according to Italian folk traditions, create the ideal habitat for the Olive Tree.”

The area is also on the same geographical parallel as the Mediterranean.  A large aquifer is found beneath the area stretching for many miles.  OK…maybe it doesn’t look quite like Tuscany.

The olives will be harvested in September.  I have not tried any before, but I intend to check out the 2011 Texas Olive Ranch products when they are available in my local grocery store – perhaps the Rattlesnake Pepper & Chipotle,  Mesquite or Sweet Basil.  For now check them out on their website .  http://texasoliveranch.com/index.html  They all appear to be extra virgin – always better.

In January I bought oil from a friend who has an olive farm in Tuscany and will post something about that later.  Hint:  it was excellent!