The Mid-Atlantic Stop on the Sierra Nevada Beer Camp Across America Tour

Sierra Nevada’s Beer Camp Across America 2014 is an innovative new event that is happening nationwide this summer. It is a celebration put in motion by Sierra Nevada but what makes it special is that it’s for the entire craft beer community. The Beer Camp will begin on July 19th in Chico, CA, and pass through five other cities before culminating in Mills River, NC, where Sierra Nevada is opening their second facility this year {congratulations!}.

Sierra Nevada Beer Camp

Beer Camp Across America


Sierra Nevada has given all breweries an open invitation to showcase their craft at each Beer Camp location. In the Mid-Atlantic stop held at Penn Treaty Park in Philadelphia, local breweries will have the opportunity to pour beer beside breweries like Ninkasi, 3 Floyds, Ballast Point, and Firestone Walker. Proceeds from the Mid-Atlantic stop will go to Brewers of PA, an organization that exists to support the craft beer community in Pennsylvania and stay abreast of laws that affect the industry.


We have a saying in this industry that the craft brewing community is 99% asshole free.” – Sam Calagione, Dogfish Head Brewery

Every Beer Camp location will offer five hours of beer sampling, entertainment provided by the March Fourth Marching Band, a commemorative sample glass, and a collection of food vendors (note: food is not included in the cost of your ticket).

There are 12 breweries creating collaboration beers with Sierra Nevada and they will be released in 12-packs, an adventurous and bold undertaking. These beers will be available at every Beer Camp stop as well as being packaged for resale. This is a video about the collaboration and it brought tears to my eyes to watch it and hear the passion and love that this industry has for its art and for each other. Please watch it and share with your friends!

Sierra Nevada had its start like many other breweries, right at home. It is always an inspiration to see homebrewers taste success through their art.

What Mid-Atlantic breweries will you see in Philadelphia?

This festival is open to any and all breweries in PA, Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, DC, and New Jersey. If you’re a brewery and not representing yourself at this festival, why not!? I’m happy to see these local breweries among those who will be pouring at Philly’s Beer Camp:

Spring House Brewing Company

South County Brewing Company

Tröegs Brewing Company

Victory Brewing Company

Lancaster Brewing Company

Liquid Hero Brewing Company

St. Boniface Brewing Company


What other details should you know?

Beer Camp Across America
Photo courtesy of Sierra Nevada

The date for the Mid-Atlantic stop is Saturday, August 2nd, 2014 and runs from 12pm-5pm. 

This is a 21+ event, for obvious reasons. No one under the age of 21 will be admitted, even if it’s a fresh wee one snuggled close to you in a carrier. Leave your pets at home because no one wants feathers or fur in their beer (plus they’re just not allowed at the festival).

Tickets will cost you $65 unless you’re entering as a DD, in which case you’ll pay $30. An ID will be required at the door to verify your age. There is a nominal fee that is charged for your online ticket purchase ($2.95 for the full entry with beer and $1.90 for the DD entry) and you’ll get your tickets in the email you provide. Tickets are non-refundable. 

Use the hashtag #beercamptour for this event.

You can travel along with the Beer Camp! I couldn’t handle it but maybe you can. Tickets for that cost $400.

Penn Treaty Park is located at 1341 North Delaware Ave in Philadelphia. 


Head to the Beer Camp Across America website for more information on the Mid-Atlantic and all the other stops.

I would love to make it to the Beer Camp experience. How about you?

Texas Border Sides: Frijoles de Olla and Calabacitas con Crema

Whenever I travel somewhere new, I enjoy recreating foods in my own kitchen that are common to or inspired by that location. A trip to Dublin inspires me to make lamb stew. Going to San Francisco has me craving cioppino. If I take a trip to any ocean destination, I have to make about half a dozen seafood dishes when I return home. After our recent travels to Texas, I’ve been making many border-style meals. 

Texas Border Sides: Frijoles de Ollas and Calabacitas con Crema
Irish lamb stew over colcannon

I love traveling and eating local foods is one of the experiences I enjoy best in any new or revisited place. Even foods like chicken pot pie differ greatly from region to region and those differences help shape one’s perception of that area.

These easy recipes make excellent side dishes for a summer cookout. The Frijoles de Olla, or pot beans, can be served two ways per the recipe below and they also create a base for all kinds of dips using ingredients like tomatoes, jalapeños, cream cheese, or salsa.

Texas Border Sides: Frijoles de Ollas and Calabacitas con Crema
My son makes an appearance!

The Calabacitos con Crema is a zucchini and roasted green chile dish finished with crema. The beauty of crema is that it doesn’t curdle or separate when cooked and the flavor and texture is like a thick and tangy heavy cream.

Both of these recipes will require some work the day before making but those steps will take you less than five minutes, I promise. When you actually get around to starting the dishes it’ll only take you about 30 minutes each of active work, if that.

Texas Border Sides: Frijoles de Ollas and Calabacitas con Crema
A mixed plate at Guero’s Taco Bar in Austin, TX

These beans remind me of ones we had at Guero’s Taco Bar in Austin. I can’t wait to get back to Austin just to eat more food.

Texas Border Sides: Frijoles de Ollas and Calabacitas con Crema
There are just a few ingredients in the frijoles de olla.

Serve the frijoles de olla straight out of the pot – although I think they taste better when they sit for a day or more in the refrigerator – or serve them mashed in a refried fashion (frijoles refrito).

Texas Border Sides: Frijoles de Ollas and Calabacitas con Crema
Frijoles de olla can be used to make frijoles refritos, or refried beans.

Eat them in a warm corn tortilla or use tortilla chips to scoop them into your mouth. If you’re like me, you’ll just eat it with a spoon when no one is looking. Either style of beans tastes excellent with some melted cheese and sour cream stirred in.

Texas Border Sides: Frijoles de Ollas and Calabacitas con Crema
Frijoles de olla served in a corn tortilla with pickled jalapeño and cheese.
Frijoles de Olla, Two Ways
This easy recipe for pot beans is full of flavor and takes minimal active work to make. Serve it two ways, straight from the pot or refried.
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  1. 1 lb. dried pinto beans, sorted and rinsed
  2. Water to cover
  3. 1/2 lb. bacon, sliced into 1/2" strips
  4. 1 medium onion, diced
  5. 3 dried red chiles, rinsed, stems and seeds removed, and chopped
  6. 4 garlic cloves, minced
  7. 2 tsp. salt, or to taste
  1. The night before making frijoles de olla, rinse the dried pinto beans and remove any stones or other foreign objects that you may find. Place the beans in a bowl and cover with several inches of water. Cover the bowl and set on the counter overnight.
  2. When you're ready to start the beans, drain the soaked beans and give them a quick rinse under cold water.
  3. Place the beans in a stockpot and cover with 2" water. Stir in the bacon, onion, chiles, and garlic but not the salt. Don't add the salt yet! Bring the combination in the pot to a boil and then lower the temperature to a gentle simmer. Partially cover the pot and cook for 2 hours, giving it a stir every now and then.
  4. Now stir in the salt and simmer for another hour or so until the liquid has thickened.
  5. Add more salt as needed to the finished beans.
  6. Serve right away or refrigerate for later use.
  1. To make frijoles refritos, or refried beans, heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a saucepan over medium and add one cup of frijoles de olla. Mash the beans with a potato masher or whatever else you have that can crush them, and simmer a couple minutes until the beans have become thick. Then add another cup of beans and repeat the mashing and simmering process. If you want to make a larger amount of frijoles refritos, just add more olive oil at the beginning. Always mash one cup of beans at a time. Once you've added and mashed all you want to make, stir while cooking for a few minutes until creamy and thick. Adjust seasonings as needed. Grab a spoon and enjoy.
Adapted from The El Paso Chile Company's Texas Border Cookbook
Adapted from The El Paso Chile Company's Texas Border Cookbook
Fine Craft Living
Texas Border Sides: Frijoles de Ollas and Calabacitas con Crema
Calabacitas con crema

The calabacitas con crema is a spicy and vibrant vegetarian dish that works well as a side but we’re having it for dinner tonight served in tortillas with shredded cheese. Zucchini is such a versatile vegetable, don’t you think? I think this recipe would taste great mixed with pasta and sprinkled with cheese. There are so many ways to reinvent these simple dishes. What other ideas do you have?

Texas Border Sides: Frijoles de Ollas and Calabacitas con Crema
Calabacitas con crema

Both of these Texas Border side recipes are perfect options for #meatlessmonday meals, as long as you omit the bacon from the frijoles de olla. 

Calabacitas con Crema
This is a quick and spicy vegetarian side dish, perfect for any cookout as a side dish or served in warmed tortillas as a taco meal.
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  1. 3 green chiles
  2. 3 T. butter
  3. 1/2 medium onion, diced
  4. 3 garlic cloves, minced
  5. 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  6. 2 medium zucchini, trimmed, cut in half, and sliced into 1/2" thick pieces
  7. 1/2 tsp. salt
  8. 1/2 c. crema (see note)
  1. First you'll need to roast the peppers. Line a baking sheet with foil and place oven rack about 6" from broiler. Broil peppers on high for several minutes, turning occasionally and keeping a close eye on them. Remove the peppers when they are charred evenly and put them into a bowl, covering with a plate for 15 minutes until they cool enough to touch. Rub away the charred pepper skin, remove stem and seeds, and chop. DO NOT do anything else until you wash your hands thoroughly.
  2. Melt butter over medium heat in a large skillet. Add onions, garlic, salt, and oregano, stirring occasionally for five minutes. Add the zucchini and cook while stirring for four minutes. Add the chiles and cook for another four minutes or until zucchini is soft and cooked through. Stir in the crema and lower the heat to lowest setting, cover and cook for five minutes for the sauce to thicken.
  3. Season to taste.
  1. Whenever you're cutting hot chiles, make sure to wash your hands well after you're done handling them before touching your eyes, nose, or any other sensitive spot. Believe me. It doesn't feel good.
  2. Make your crema the day before by thoroughly mixing 1 tablespoon of plain yogurt in 1 cup of heavy cream. Cover loosely with cloth or a paper towel and let set out at room temperature for 12 hours. Put the crema in the refrigerator after 12 hours and let cool. It will thicken the longer it is in the refrigerator. You can purchase it or crème fraîche as a substitute in most stores but it's so simple to make that you should do so.
Adapted from The El Paso Chile Company's Texas Border Cookbook
Adapted from The El Paso Chile Company's Texas Border Cookbook
Fine Craft Living
 Do you have a favorite regional style of cooking that you recreate at home?


Jester King Brewery, Where Every Beer is Funky and Wild

The day was bright and sunny with big puffy fair-weather clouds overhead that slid across a washed out Texas sky. This ranch land was the stuff of my dreams: patches of shading trees dotting a somewhat rolling landscape covered in an multicolored array of wildflowers. I’m sure I caught sight of zebras at one ranch we passed on the short drive out of Austin and into Texas Hill Country. It added to the magic I felt as soon as we exited the city and entered the wild.

Jester King Brewery, Where the Beer is Always Funky and Wild

We have been lucky enough to receive Jester King beer a few times in beer trades and having the opportunity to visit their brewery was a treat because their beer is not only finely crafted, it is uniquely their own. Their traditional farmhouse ales are brewed using wild yeasts captured and cultivated right on their 4-acre plot of ranch. While everything they create is done in the lambic-style, all is region-specific to Austin. Wild yeast in Austin is different than wild yeast in San Francisco and is different than wild yeast in Belgium. Yeast is everywhere, all around us, always hungry and searching for sugars to consume. In that respect, all yeasts are similar, but they differ from place to place in subtle ways. By using wild yeast, their own well water, and local grains, Jester King Brewery has created a product that is intrinsic to their own little corner of Texas Hill Country.

Every beer at Jester King is funky and wild.

Jester King Brewery was founded in 2010 by two brothers. The building in which they brew was once a machine shop and now houses a 30 bbl, or ~900 gallon, brewhouse. They are currently in the middle of an expansion and are excited about the future and their ability to create even more magic with the addition of a 30 bbl cool ship. A coolship looks like a giant shallow brownie pan and is used to hold the wort as it cools and becomes inoculated with the wild yeast in the air.

Jester King Brewery, Where the Beer is Always Funky and Wild

The word coolship is an English version of koelschip, a Dutch word for this type of vessel. 

For their barrel-aged beers, Jester King uses a cool ship to cool the wort and become inoculated with wild yeast before racking it straight to a barrel after 24 hours. Some of their beers are fermented in stainless tanks but the same wild yeast that inoculates the cool ship wort is used to inoculate the beer in the stainless tanks. When they first started brewing, they set wort on the roof to attract and harvest wild yeasts. They sent that off to a laboratory where they were able to determine exactly what wild yeasts were present on the property and from there they were able to replicate and cultivate the native yeast composition. 

Jester King doesn’t use a brite tank to condition their ales like many other commercial breweries. A brite tank is the place where the process of refining and clarifying the product of yeast and other large particulates continues after primary fermentation. It is also used for carbonation, and storage before kegging or bottling. Some breweries serve beer on tap directly from the brite tank.

The process from start to finish on some beers at Jester King takes two to six months or more. Their goal is quality and one phrase I heard several times by our knowledgeable tour guide was that they use “sensory analysis” to determine when a beer is ready. They’re on the yeast and beer’s timetable, not their own.  

Bottles are conditioned at least one month. Barrels that once held mezcal and wine are used to age beer and some get blended or reintroduced to fruits for additional dryness as the yeasties receive another serving of sugar. Something I always wonder is how often infection occurs when using wild yeasts in previously-used barrels. Our tour guide addressed that question.

Jester King Brewery, Where the Beer is Always Funky and Wild

“Barreled beer is aged at least a year before we perform a sensory analysis on its progress. About 10% of barrels may be infected and in that case we dump the beer,” at this point there was an audible gasp from the tour group, “and leave the barrels exposed to the air to give them time to get rid of the bad bacteria.”

Barrels provide a happy environment for oxygen-scavenging bugs.

Barrel-aged beer is conditioned for a period of time ranging between three to five years. The brewers at Jester King are like mad scientists, mixing and blending these beers and tasting and mixing some more until the farmhouse potions are just right. I envy their job, don’t you?

Everything at Jester King is done by hand – the bottling, capping, labeling – it’s all a labor of love.

What can you expect when visiting Jester King Brewery?

Jester King is open and airy, with many picnic tables set along the slope behind the brewery and the adjacent building housing Stanley’s Farmhouse Pizza shop. Guests can play cornhole, take part in a free brewery tour (author’s note: always take the brewery tour), order pizza and have it delivered to your picnic table, and sample the many beverages that are offered at Jester King. I enjoyed being able to purchase small quantities of each beer, allowing me to try more varieties than if I had a full pint of just one or two.

Not only can you purchase samples of ale Jester King ale, there is an impressively curated selection of other regional beer, mead, wine, kombucha, and even cold-brewed coffee. You’ll also find many rare beers from all around the world.

This is a dog-friendly environment, as we found most places in Austin, and there were at least half a dozen hounds hanging out with their owners. 

Buy a bottle or several while you’re at Jester King. Take one home for a beer-loving friend. There are also shirts available for purchase in both men’s and women’s sizes and styles. I got a shirt for La Vie en Rose, a farmhouse ale refermented with raspberries.

Visiting Jester King Brewery is a must when traveling to Austin, whether you’re into beer or not. It is located only about 15 minutes outside the city but feels like a completely different type of world. 

It’s the type of world I could definitely make home.

You can find Jester King brewery on the web, on Facebook, and on Twitter.


Photo Essay of the Weirdly Wonderful “Uncommon Objects” in Austin, Texas

South Congress in Austin, Texas, is home to a collection of vibrant art galleries, boutiques resplendent with vintage boots and Mom jeans cut off to a 90s-lovin’ length, happening eateries, and open-air markets. 

I’ll go more in-depth on the sights and sounds of South Congress in a later post.

This post is a photo essay of Uncommon Objects, located right in the South Congress mix. Interestingly enough, I didn’t notice the big sign on the door telling patrons that photography is not permitted.

Or did I?

Uncommon Objects is a curio shop full of unusual taxidermy, antlers and bones, medical equipment, creepy dolls, and a thousand other truly uncommon objects. There are over twenty sellers who have curated this gallery of antique amazingness and everyone is bound to find something they want to take home. I can’t think of a better Austin souvenir than a javelina, you know?

All photos were taken on my iPhone 5C using the Hipstamatic app and have not been altered in any way.

(click on the smaller gallery photographs to see them full-size)

Photo Essay of the Weirdly Wonderful "Uncommon Objects" in Austin, Texas

Photo Essay of the Weirdly Wonderful "Uncommon Objects" in Austin, Texas

Photo Essay of the Weirdly Wonderful "Uncommon Objects" in Austin, Texas

Photo Essay of the Weirdly Wonderful "Uncommon Objects" in Austin, Texas

Photo Essay of the Weirdly Wonderful "Uncommon Objects" in Austin, Texas

Photo Essay of the Weirdly Wonderful "Uncommon Objects" in Austin, Texas

Photo Essay of the Weirdly Wonderful "Uncommon Objects" in Austin, Texas

Photo Essay of the Weirdly Wonderful "Uncommon Objects" in Austin, Texas

Photo Essay of the Weirdly Wonderful "Uncommon Objects" in Austin, Texas

If you find yourself on South Congress, stop by Uncommon Objects but don’t tell them who sent you. Then they’ll know I took photographs of their business and put them online. I won’t ever be allowed on South Congress again. It was a fun and interesting store, a feast for the eyes!

Uncommon Objects is open daily and you can find them in the following places online:






{Disclaimer: I honestly didn’t notice the sign telling me to not photograph the store. I’m not that much of a rebel. Sorry, Uncommon Objects!}

Quick and Easy Mocha Frosting, Perfect for Cakes and Spoons

I received the The Big Book of BBQ: Recipes and Revelations from the Barbecue Belt {affiliate link} as a Christmas gift from my parents. I’m pretty sure they got it for me so they could reap the benefits, seeing as I cook for them often or send leftovers home with them when they visit.

What a role reversal! Isn’t it usually parents who send food home with their kids?

So far I’ve made about half a dozen recipes and all of them have been outstanding. The bacon-wrapped barbecue chicken kebabs are another favorite in our house.

One of the recent highlights was this mocha frosting, used to top a chocolate marble sheet cake for a Memorial Day party. The cake turned out disappointingly dry but with this amazing frosting, who cares? It’s smooth and velvety, rich but not overly-sweet, and complex from the cocoa (I used Hershey’s Special Dark) and coffee.

Mocha Frosting, Perfect for Cakes and Spoons

This frosting is tempting enough to eat with a spoon. Or with your finger. I made small sandwich cookies for the kids using Nilla wafers and a smear of mocha frosting in between. I can also picture this on dessert crepes with freshly whipped cream and some raspberries.

I have a few leftover slices of chocolate marble sheet cake with mocha frosting that I plan on chopping up and folding into homemade vanilla ice cream this week. That seems like a smart thing to do with dry cake and tasty frosting.

This is an outstanding frosting recipe that I’ll make over and over. It’s quick and easy to make, smooth and lump-less, and delicious.

If I was pairing this with a beer, I’d probably choose a Founder’s Breakfast Stout or Brasserie Ellezelloise La Biere des Collines Hercule Stout.

Quick and Easy Mocha Frosting, Perfect for Cakes and Spoons

Quick and Easy Mocha Frosting
This quick and easy mocha frosting recipe is rich but not overly-sweet and perfect on cakes, cupcakes, and your spoon.
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Prep Time
15 min
Prep Time
15 min
  1. 3 cups powdered sugar
  2. 2/3 cups Hershey's Special Dark Cocoa
  3. 3 tablespoons strong coffee
  4. 2 teaspoons vanilla
  5. 1/2 cup butter, softened
  6. 4 tablespoons half and half
  1. In a medium bowl, stir together the powdered sugar and cocoa until it's fully incorporated. In a separate small bowl, mix together the coffee and vanilla.
  2. In a stand-mixer or with a hand mixer, beat the softened butter on medium speed until it has lightened a bit in color and is creamy. Starting with the cocoa mixture, add a small amount to the butter and beat on low speed until it is fully incorporated. Add a splash of the coffee mixture to the butter and beat until it is fully incorporated. Alternate between the cocoa mixture and coffee mixture until it has all been combined, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed.
  3. Add the half and half, one tablespoon at a time and mix until combined.
  1. Recipe is attributed to "Big Book of BBQ".
Adapted from Big Book of BBQ
Adapted from Big Book of BBQ
Fine Craft Living
 Disclaimer: this post contains an affiliate link and has been labeled as such for full transparency. 

Where to Eat on “the Circle” in Waco, TX: Rudy’s and Whataburger

Waco, TX, is a convenient near-halfway point when traveling on I-35 from Dallas to Austin. Rudy’s and Whataburger are located around what is sometimes appropriately called The Circle, a large roundabout with an open star-struck center and various restaurants and other buildings like mechanic shops,  all refusing to give up on  the glories of yesteryear.

Rudy’s was our first stop at The Circle. We saw signs for miles, teasing us with their “Country Store and Bar-B-Q”, and when we finally arrived we knew there was no other option. First meal in Texas at a Texan BBQ joint?

Yes, please.

More, please.

The first thing I noticed at Rudy’s wasn’t the gift shop with various branded sauces and rubs and it wasn’t the prolific collection of antique-looking signs and memorabilia on every wall.

It was the scent.

The scent of wood-smoked meats mouthwateringly and lasciviously wrapped its insistent tendrils around my face and made a home inside my nose-place.

The hostess inside the front doors must have seen the awe in my face as I froze in my tracks because she smiled and said, “Is this your first time at Rudy’s?”

I couldn’t respond. Didn’t respond.

“Yes, it’s our first time,” my husband responded, coming to my rescue.

“Great! Welcome! You can head up to the line,” she pointed toward the far right corner of the restaurant, “and choose what you’d like to order from the posted menus. Feel free to grab a beer or soda in the coolers and I hope you enjoy.”

“Thank you so much,” I mumbled with a small smile.

I broke my gaze from the food/menu/bottles/amazingness at the ordering line and saw colorful flags hanging from the ceiling, a main dining section with long picnic-style family tables, and perimeter tables in a sunroom-style setting.

All the while, the scent.

The queue wasn’t long when we arrived — there were quite a few cars parked in the drive-thru line outside {yes they have a drive-thru} — but the line went quickly. Choosing just a couple of items from the menu was challenging but we settled on 1/2 lb. of moist brisket, 1/2 lb. of smoked turkey, the standard sides of white sliced bread, jalapeños, raw onion slivers, pickles, and sauces, and a sweet tea and Squirt.

The Squirt was for me.

Where to Eat on "the Circle" in Waco, TX: Rudy's and Whataburger

In all? The best BBQ of our trip.

{Author’s note: we did not make it to The Salt Lick or Franklin Barbecue on this trip} 

After reading other reviews floating around the internet, the Waco location of Rudy’s seems to be particularly good. I haven’t eaten at any others but I’m going to concur.

On the trip back to Dallas and the airport and home, we stopped at The Circle again, this time for a roughly estimated breakfast. It was about 9:30am-ish and we were kind of taco’d out from two meals at Guero’s Taco Bar in Austin (more details on them in another post) so we didn’t want a gas station breakfast taco.

That is a thing.

After seeing a bazillion billboards for Whataburgers and passing at least half that many right off I-35, I put my backseat driving to use and suggested we check out Whataburger. It seemed like a local Texan deal, we’d never even heard of it before, and according to their billboards, their burgers were postcard-worthy.

Were they?

The atmosphere at Whataburger is old-school fast food/diner, with Dr. Pepper tables and antique Dr. Pepper bottles on display. We went up and placed an order at the counter like at any other fast food joint but we were given a plastic placard with our order number on it to set on our table.

And they served it to our table. What kind of fast food is this?!

I ordered a #4 meal, the jalapeño and cheese Whataburger, and added bacon. The girl taking my order changed my order to the #5 meal, the bacon and cheese Whataburger, and added jalapeños. I have no clue if that worked out in my favor. They should be the same, right? I didn’t care.

I was hangry at this point.

I took my massive styrofoam cup that must have held at least 3 gallons of liquid and filled it with sweet tea sans ice (I dislike ice machines…gross), sat down at our table and only waited a couple minutes before our food was delivered.

Am I the only person who always chooses the wrong size lid for my cup every single time?

When I unwrapped my sandwich, I was amazed at how huge it was. How could I possibly eat all of that?

I couldn’t, not ever.

Where to Eat on "the Circle" in Waco, TX: Rudy's and Whataburger
Before …

Still, the burger was pretty good and had a flame-grilled flavor, although it was a flat patty. The toppings were abundant and satisfying, the bun was warm and supple, and overall, the half-burger I ate was extremely enjoyable.

Where to Eat on "the Circle" in Waco, TX: Rudy's and Whataburger
… and after.

The fries? I was not a fan of the fries. Dense, hard, and sliced too thinly for my taste. I also noted that everything seemed overly salty but that could just be that I don’t eat at fast food restaurants often.

The meal was served with recyclable mini-tubs of ketchup and spicy ketchup.

Both establishments were clean, friendly, and convenient for our I-35 route. I would absolutely stop at both of them again, next time skipping fries at Whataburger. If you find yourself in Waco or are just passing through, make sure to check out these two Texas gems on The Circle.

Have you been to either of these chain restaurants? What are your thoughts on them? 

Welcome to Texas, and Observations

If you read my last post, you know we barely made it to Texas. The most important fact of that whole post, one of the longest I’ve probably ever written on here, is that we did actually make it.

Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) was crowded, hectic, and the Terminal E bathrooms were disgusting. Other than that we didn’t have any issues coming or going. On departure, we were delayed twice but that wasn’t any issue since we had a direct flight with no connection to worry about. The Fly Bar in Terminal E serves a few craft beers so that’s good to take note if you’re flying with one of several airlines like Spirit, who we were with. I can’t vouch for their food and the beer was expensive but at least it was craft.

The rental car building at DFW is accessible by a 15-minute shuttle bus ride that, for us, was barely organized chaos. There was a gentleman with a cast on his leg and crutches cradled under his arms who nearly got crushed in the rear doors when the driver closed them while he was getting off the bus at his terminal. Can you imagine?

“Yeah, honey, I’m at the hospital,” doubly injured guy in smart khaki shorts says. “No, I wasn’t in an accident. Well, not really. I was getting out of the shuttle bus at the airport and the driver, he actually closed the door on me.”

“What do you mean, he closed the door on you?” (s)he asks with worry in his/her voice.

“Just that. He closed the door on me. Now my other leg is broken and I haven’t the foggiest how I’ll manage all my luggage with two broken legs!”

I imagine that saying things like “foggiest” is something that dapper young gents wearing smart khakis might say.

Or me. I say it all the time.

The intercom on the shuttle was commandeered by what I think was an authentic Australian. He sure sounded like the real deal and he was quite the jokester.

“So, guys and gals, how about a little knock-knock joke, yeah?”

Silence from the rest of the bus.

“Okay then, tough crowd today, eh? Some of you must have had rough flights then. How about another joke, then. So, there’s this guy and he walks into a bar. You know what he said?”



A few quiet laughs before … silence.

“So, I’m here in Dallas for a wedding this weekend. Is anyone else going to a wedding this weekend?”

It turns out that Kevin (Australian airport shuttle bus tour guide) and Nancy (random woman standing right behind him in the standing-room only shuttle bus, are going to the same wedding.

The same exact wedding.


Welcome to Texas, and Observations

We arrive at the rental car facility, which is a large building with a statue of steers greeting everyone as they walk through the front doors. I was impressed with the welcome. Thank you, DFW. It appealed to this East Coast girl’s idea of the Wild West. Checking in with Alamo was painless, we got our vehicle (a mid-size sedan), took our chances and didn’t take out any extra insurance, and drove into miles and miles and more miles of construction and traffic.

Welcome to Texas, and Observations

Welcome to Texas, and Observations

Driving out of DFW at rush hour on a Thursday was no joke. Traffic was heavy, traffic patterns were all confubbled and the map function on my iPhone was no help because of all the road changes and construction. We saw at least two accidents and passed a few points of interest like a circus-like tent, a Miller plant, a strip club that apparently changed ownership at some point because both establishment names were visible on the sign, and two mega-churches within 1/4 mile of each other.

Welcome to Texas, and Observations

Welcome to Texas, and Observations

Welcome to Texas, and Observations

Welcome to Texas, and Observations

Those churches? They mean business. I mean, they are a business. I don’t get how two churches that huge can exist so closely to each other. One was Baptist and the other sounded like it was non-denominational.

The billboards in Texas are quite different than those here in the Susquehanna Valley in Pennsylvania. Here you find mostly business ads on billboards, hospital ads, and beer ads. It seemed as if most of the billboards in Texas were for DWI lawyers, a few for suing sexual abusers, and drink ads for things like Bud Light Clamato.

It’s okay if you threw up in your mouth a little bit. I did too.

Also of interest was the Real Gun Show, which is bigger and better than the regular gun shows that we have around here, I bet. We saw a ton of churches right along the highway, like the Shephard’s Valley Cowboy Church. I really want to go there to see what it’s like. How does a cowboy worshipping God look compared to a real estate broker or engineer?

I need to know.

There are a ton of Texas Roadhouse, Hooters, Chili’s, Czech bakeries (what’s with all the Czech bakeries, Texas people?), and cars that squeeze into impossibly tight spaces on the highway.

Welcome to Texas, and Observations

Turn signals are apparently optional in Texas. Construction vehicles churn up large dust clouds because it has been so dry.

Welcome to Texas, and Observations


Once you’re past Fort Worth on I-35 South, the buildings clear out and all along either side of the road are tidy ranches with a few dilapidated ranches fit in between them. Strip clubs and porn shops are easy to find if you are so inclined and, what with their bricked in windows, are probably a prime spot to find yourself in the event of a zombie apocalypse. On a beautiful note, wildflowers abound and in between the highways there are carpets of red flowers interwoven with vibrant yellows and blues. The sky is big, so much bigger than I’m used to here in PA, and the colors look as if they marched right off of a Maxfield Parrish painting. There are gently rolling hills interrupting flat land with large rolled bales of hay or straw, some covered in white plastic, looking like a giant child tossed a bag full of marshmallows on his front lawn.

Welcome to Texas, and Observations

It takes about 3.5 hours to get from DFW to Austin if you stop along the way for a bite to eat. We stopped in Waco and chose a place called Rudy’s for dinner.

Rudy’s was amazing.

I’ll tell you all about Rudy’s in Waco, Texas, and also about Whataburger soon. You do know I love talking about food.

In all, Texas welcomed us warmly and I felt at home immediately. One thing I love about travel is observing and comparing sights, sounds, and smells with what I am used to at home in the Susquehanna Valley. As Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

Well said, sir. Well said.

I think we all need to travel more, what say you?

I have several other posts in the pipeline for this Texas series, like Jester King Brewery, Austin Psych Fest, HausBar Farms & Guesthouse, restaurants, and a photo essay of Austin. What would you like to read about next?


Traveling to Texas, or a Comedy of Errors

“Road closed. Well, that’s just [expletive] great.”

(Author’s note: there are several expletives removed from my actual journaling from our day of travel. Feel free to use your imagination. If you know a suitable expletive, I probably said it.)

Looking back, that first road closure sign was an omen of the day of travel ahead. This particular trip to the airport from York County to Philadelphia International Airport was riddled with hiccups, stress, and anxiety. More than once I forced myself to stop wringing my hands, slow my breathing, and relax.

At least, it was stressful for me. As much as I purport to go with the flow, I am actually pretty high-strung at times. Back in the good ol’ days filled with soul-soothing buzzes from certain herbal remedies, I could have cared less. I mean, whatever, man.

These days are more white-knuckled than the days of yore.

My husband stayed pretty even-tempered and optimistic which I’m sure helped me considerably, although at the time it was pretty [expletive] annoying. Misery does love company.

We had our route planned, cutting through the picturesque southern part of the counties and with the all-seeing and all-knowing GPS on our phones, it’s hard to get lost these days, even if you are actually trying to do so. What we weren’t thinking about was the 5 or so inches of rain that cleansed the land — for a short time, at least — in the 24 hours prior to our departure.

(By Jocelyn Augustino (This image is from the FEMA Photo Library.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Road closed.

Road closed.

Road [expletive] closed.

We hit at least four of them and had to loop our way way South before finding a path back up to where we should have been too many minutes earlier. GPS is great and all but it sure didn’t help us account for where all the low-lying roads were still covered with water the color of a Yoo-hoo milk product.

You ever drink that stuff? I’m more of a Perrydell chocolate milk fan.

I’m one of those people who hates to be late for anything. Appointments, play dates, dinner parties, flights … being early means being on time. All of these closed roads meant that being “on time” might quickly evolve into being late.

“We’re not going to make it in time,” I said, as I twisted the pink tassle at the end of my necklace between worried fingers.

“We’ll be fine. Just relax and read the map, tell me what direction to go. You’re the navigator,” my husband said in a tone doing its very best to convey confidence.

Okay, good. I’m the navigator. I’m good at this. When we took road trips growing up, I’d often sit in the front seat and be the navigator because (no offense, Mom!) I can read maps better than she can. The lists that directions give on my iPhone? I rarely even use them because I prefer just using the map.

In a previous life I was actually a cartographer. True story, I think.

The Brandywine area in Pennsylvania sure is a looker but I hope next time it’s a leisurely trip in which I can appreciate her virtues.

Namely, wine.

We finally made it to the Expresspark lot outside the airport, which was so far off the beaten track I was sure we must have made a wrong turn. That would have been the navigator’s fault, of course. To my hugely perceptible relief, it was indeed there and we parked. We removed our bodies from the car and we collected our suitcase and backpack from the trunk and we closed and locked the doors with a bag of leftover bagels with cream cheese inside.

Protip: Don’t let bags of half-eaten bagels with cream cheese sit inside your closed car for any amount of time but especially not for a week. 

The affable older gentleman who was our shuttle van driver handed us an Expresspark business card, conveniently naming the area of the huge massive lot we were in as “extended lot runway side”. I looked at the clock. 10:50am.

“We should be okay since our flight isn’t until 12:15. Hopefully there isn’t a line at security,” I say, still fretting like it’s my job.

“We’ll be fine. Just relax.” My husband motioned with his hands to calm down, which had the opposite effect.

When the driver got out to help another woman into the shuttle, my heart did anything but slow down. She slowly stepped out of her car, fixed her hair in the car’s reflection, pursed her lips a bit like she just put on lipstick, and sauntered over to the passenger side of the shuttle van.

Yeah, she sauntered. I know I wasn’t reading anything into her walking style.

He warmly gave her the same welcome as he did for us, handing her a card and putting the van into gear and slowly moving forward.

Until he stopped, probably fifteen feet down the parking lot. You’ve got to be [expletive] kidding!

On the other side of the parking aisle, still driving around trying to find a parking spot, is another vehicle. Our thoughtful driver puts the van into park, opens the door and motions the driver of the lost-looking vehicle to park and yells out, “I’ll wait for ya!”

My husband, finally showing signs of stress-fraying around the edges says, “Sir, we really need to get to the airport as soon as possible. We have a flight that is leaving soon.”

“Sure, sure, of course.”

And we proceeded to wait for what felt like half of an eternity for the other passengers to get into the van.

Then we start moving, like actual driving, and made it nearly through the labyrinth of parked vehicles of every make and color imaginable, before he stops to let another couple of people in at the exit gate. I do get it, I do. It’s his job to shuttle people from this lot to the airport departure terminals all day long. More people piled into his van each time means fewer times he has to trek back and forth.

But still. Remember above where I told you I can be high-strung?

Checking our bag at Terminal A with Spirit Airlines was easy breezy. In fact, it was probably one of the best customer service experiences I’ve had when traveling by air – both coming and going. Well done, Spirit! I’ll fly with you again! We head up to security and get shuffled into the right-hand lane which has about 30 or so people in a barely moving line instead of getting put into the left-hand lane which had about 8 people in it. The airport worker didn’t ask to see our boarding pass, they just told us to get into the right lane. There were no signs indicating the difference between lines. After several minutes of moving about 10 feet or so, I went back to the worker (who was deep in conversation about some dinner party or something) and asked, “May we please move into this shorter line?”

I flashed my most winning smile.

Which didn’t work.

“You’re in the right lane,” she said with a shooing motion of her hand as she broke eye contact with me and got back into conversation with her friend.

Red-faced and agitated, I walked back to my spot in line. “I was just [expletive] dismissed by her. Just like that. No [expletive] we’re in the right lane. I want to be in the left lane.”

I pull out my phone and look at the time. 11:14am.

At this point, my heart is beating loudly inside my head.

We finally make it through to security and that process was time-consuming, too. It took sheer willpower to not look at the time obsessively. It doesn’t pay to look too nervous around TSA workers, you know?

I made it to the bins. Boots, Kindle, glasses & boarding pass in one. Bag on the rollers. I even managed a small smile at an agent as I stepped into the full body scanners, making sure to suck my gut in as much as I could and ignore all the articles I’ve read about what they actually see. Did you enjoy that shot of all my extra weight, you guys?

We made it to A14 with just enough time to have a quick bathroom break before boarding right away.

So. We made it. Huzzah! But too close for comfort for this woman. We wouldn’t have wanted to be much later. I glanced at the time as we stepped onto the plane and it was 11:56am. 17 minutes to spare before taking off.

“We are on the plane. I repeat, we made it.”

Thus ends the adventures of flooded roads en route to a flight to Dallas, Texas. Our trip did certainly improve and other than severe allergies, was outstanding and inspirational. From our stay at HausBar Farms and Guesthouse (more on them soon!) to the three-day Austin Psych Fest (more on that soon, too!), Austin was one of the most restive and exciting trips I’ve been on in awhile. I have so much to write about and share with you.

I promise I’ll include more photos in the other posts in my Texas series. I wasn’t even thinking about photos during all of this.

(Author’s second –and I promise the last– note: the featured image above? The one behind the post title? It’s not from this trip. There’s no corn growing right now. But it shows rain so it fits.)

Celebrating all that is finely crafted in life.