Christmas in Boerne

Christmas Time in Boerne – Dickens on Main

by Celia Hayes

I love those celebratory events fielded by small to medium-sized towns and suburbs in Texas; when everyone pulls together for that once-a-year holiday extravaganza; New Braunfels for the Weihnachtsmarkt, Christmas on the Square in Goliad, and going the full Griswold with Christmas lights in Windcrest, and now Dickens on Main in Beautiful and Historic Downtown Boerne. For the first two Friday and Saturday evenings in Boerne, they block off several blocks of Main Street in downtown, decorate all the storefronts with extravagant lights and ornaments, set up a stage for a performance of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and costumed carolers. We took it into our heads to check it out.

And oh, what fun – live performers, two coaches giving rides up and down Main Street, a good few food carts to supplement the half-dozen restaurants … and all the stores along that stretch of Main open until 10PM, which must in some way be a strike back against those big-box stores opening in the wee hours on Friday morning. And there was more – Santa, of course, set up in a fairy-light wonderland, vendors selling roast corn … and we had even heard there would be roasted chestnuts available! Well, everyone knows about chestnuts roasting on an open fire, but darned few people who know the Christmas carol have even tasted them. We have – they were almost our favorite winter street food in Greece, where vendors would set up little charcoal braziers on the sidewalk and sell six large chestnuts or eight small in a little paper cone for 50 drachmas. Alas, it seemed that the roast nut vendor had run out on Saturday night, so we had to content ourselves with walking up and down the street, looking at the lights and dodging being run down at very slow speed by the horses pulling the open coaches.

The street got progressively more crowded as the evening went on, but it was all a happy and family-friendly kind of crowd – especially around the petting zoo set up in the town square. The goats were pretty pesky about getting fed, the little white piglets didn’t seem to be enjoying it a bit, the hens and ducks were kind of sullenly uncooperative, and the one little donkey wasn’t supposed to be given the goat food anyway, so he munched on hay and contemplated the infinite. This didn’t seem to matter to the kids; I am certain that most of them have rarely gotten up close to farm animals. (That was another nice thing about living in Greece when my daughter was small; even if we lived in suburban Athens, sheep, goats, rabbits, chickens and donkeys were everywhere. There was even a herd of sheep which went up to the hills every day, on the street going past the house that her baby-sitter lived in.)

I think the big draw for the kids – other than Santa himself – was the ice sculpture. Two of them set up in front of an appreciate audience to carve … something … out of two 300lb blocks of clear ice. Chisels and smaller tools were in play, of course – but the most fun was when they used chain-saws, and the spray of ice shot out and showered the kids. The sculpture turned out to be Santa waving from the top of a chimney, set on a fireplace… with a real fire burning in it.

For brief intervals, they fired up snow-making machines, and it really looked like flakes of snow floating down. But it wasn’t edible, so – not advisable to try and catch one your tongue. I don’t know but the only way to better it would be to import one of those huge snow-making machines, and cover the whole street and fronts of the buildings with snow. Dickens on Main runs again Friday and Saturday, December 6th and 7th.

 

MERRY CHRISTMAS and Christmas Cookies Too

Once More, Decking the Halls with Feeling

by Celia Hayes

With one thing and another, my daughter and I haven’t really felt all Christmassy the last couple of years. Well, we went though the motions, but without much enthusiasm; the wholly sudden and unexpected death of my father the day after Christmas 2010 put a pall over the holiday generally, and being close to broke as a joke usually didn’t help. One year we had all the Christmas presents boxed and ready to go – but couldn’t afford to mail them until the following year. But this year, we’re doing OK – and felt like we should uphold the honor of our street in Spring Creek Forest by putting out the strings of icicle lights on the house and a bit of the expected seasonal jazz. No, we didn’t do the Full Griswald – just a modest string of white icicle lights across the front and side … but we did get adventurous enough to decorate the bay tree.

The bay-laurel tree is a 25-foot tall, classically-shaped-like-a-Christmas-tree and evergreen specimen that I originally bought (IIRC) as a small sapling in a 4-inch pot at the San Antonio Herb Fair. It went into an increasingly larger series of pots until I finally put it into the ground at the front of my property as part of my ‘Greek Garden’ – that is, plantings that reminded me of Greece. The bay tree flourished after a year or two – ensuring that I have never actually had to purchase dried bay leaves in the supermarket, and neither have any of my neighbors who know what it is. (And I have actually had people come to my door and ask if they can take cuttings from it.) So, we strung it around with garlands, and hung it with outsized ornaments…Although the top third of it is relatively undecorated; the ground underneath the tree is uneven, and our ladder is only an 8-foot one. I did have an idea for an invention to help in moving the strings of lights and garlands up higher – a tall pole with a Y-shaped bracket on the end. I’d have a shallower bracket on the other end, to place the strings of Christmas lights around the house eaves. Some years ago we installed cup-hooks every three or four feet along the fascia board; all we needed to do to hang lights was to un-reel them and thread the string of lights through the cup-hooks. Having my pole-and-bracket invention would let us put up the lights without the need of a ladder – much safer that way.

This year we circled around to doing cookies for those friends and neighbors. Tins from the Dollar Tree, lined with waxed paper and one of our old family favorites from the 1975 edition of Joy of Cooking – Pecan Angel Slices

Pecan Angel Slices

  • Cream together until well-blended: ½ cup butter and ¼ cup sugar
  • Beat in well: 1 egg and ½ teasp vanilla
  • Combine and add to the above: 1 ¼ cup sifted flour and 1/8 teasp salt
  • Pat dough evenly into a greased 9×12 inch pan
  • Bake at 350° for fifteen minutes
  • Remove from oven.

Combine: 2 beaten eggs, 1 ½ cup brown sugar, ½ cup flaked cocoanut, 1 cup chopped pecans, 2 Tbsp. flour, ½ teasp double acting baking powder, ½ teasp salt and 1 teasp vanilla. Pour over cookie layer and return to oven for 25 minutes

Combine 1 ½ cup sifted confectioner’s sugar with sufficient lemon juice to make a smooth, runny glaze. Pour over warm cookie/pecan/coconut layer and allow to set.

When cool, cut into bars or squares. Bon appetite – and Merry Christmas!

Is Winter Ever Going to Get Here

Winter Coming – Really?

by Celia Hayes

Well, one brief brush with overnight temperatures in the thirties – we even let the ‘H’ part of the new HVAC system out for a romp for a couple of nights running – and everyone was convinced that winter in South Texas had well and truly arrived. We’ve gone off Daylight Savings Time, Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and there is just about a months worth of shopping days until Christmas – and still the afternoon highs are in the 80s? All I can think to do at this point is to ask if someone couldn’t invite Al Gore to come to town to make a speech about global warming, for unseasonable blizzards, rain and cold temperatures invariably follow him as a cloud of dirt follows the Peanuts character of Pigpen.

In an attempt to make winter really happen, I fixed one of my favorite soup recipes, which I found years ago in Nava Atlas’ Vegetariana. Adding sliced kielbasa sausage to it takes off some of the onus of being vegetarian – and anyway, it is purely delicious. One time I settled down to make it and discovered that I was out of brown rice – but not to fear, I had wheat-berries instead. So wheat berries instead of rice – and it was all good. It might also have been just as good using wild rice instead. Another time I only had Rotel tomatoes with chilies – and that substitution worked so well I have used Rote with chilies ever since when I make it at home.

Winter Lentil & Brown Rice Soup

  • Combine in a large pot:
1/2 Cup dried lentils, washed and picked over
1/3-1/2 Cup brown rice (or wheat-berries, which is just as good)
2 TBSp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 TBSp soy sauce
2 Bay leaves
3 Cups water, or which is much better, 3 Cups vegetable broth
Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer over low heat for 7 to 10 minutes. Then add:
2 additional cups water or broth
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 medium carrots, thinly sliced
1 large celery stalk, finely chopped
Handful of finely chopped celery leaves
1 14-oz can chopped tomatoes with liquid (Or Rotel tomatoes with chili peppers, which is even better!)
1/2 Cup tomato sauce or tomato juice
1/4 cup dry red wine or sherry
1 Teasp dried basil
1 Teasp paprika
1/2 Teasp dried marjoram
1/2 Teasp dried thyme
Salt and pepper to taste.
  • Cover and simmer for half an hour or so, until lentils and rice are done.

(It is especially splendid when made with the Ro-Tel tomatoes & chilis, and a rich home-made vegetable broth…. plus you can take the onus of being vegetarian off it by adding about half a pound of kielbasa or other smoked sausage, sliced into rounds, towards the end of the cooking time, and serving it with a little grated cheddar cheese on top.)

This last time, my daughter made up a batch of Red Lobster cheddar biscuits to go with – absolutely sublime, especially made with extra-sharp cheddar cheese. She bought the box of cheddar biscuit mix at Sams’ Club, but it’s available on Amazon. Is winter here yet? Anyone seen any snowflakes?

Gypsy Market Vendor

The Moveable Market

by Celia Hayes

My daughter and I are moving a little deeper into the world of the gypsy entrepreneur market these days. I mean, I have been dabbling around the edges for good few years as an independent author, once I realized that there was more to be made – and a lot less ego-death involved – by taking a table at a craft fair, like the New Braunfels Christmas Market, or in Miss Ruby’s Author Corral at Goliad’s Christmas on the Square. But this – like strictly book events, like the West Texas Book and Music Festival in Abilene – involved only a table and a chair. I usually had to bring along some tablecloths, some informational flyers, postcards and my business card, and maybe something eye-catching to adorn the table.

Going hard-core and getting a whole booth at something like the Boerne Market Days meant going much, much farther. My daughter has started a little business making various origami ornaments, flowers and jewelry, and this year we decided to partner together. It helps to have two people doing this kind of event, by the way – you can spell each other, make jaunts to other venders, go to the bathroom – and setting up and breaking down the booth or table is much, much easier. Many vendors, like us, have a day job, or several day jobs. They create on their own time, and bring it to the local market circuit on the weekends.

If we keep it up, we will have to purchase our own folding tables, and pop-up canopy – the nice kind, with the zip-up panel walls which can be attached for shelter, shade and some degree of security. This time, we rented from the management of the Boerne Market Days – but the people who regularly have a spot at the various markets own their own, which will make some more things to stuff into the Montero. A couple of good-sized banners to advertise our two little enterprises are also in our future. I don’t think we’ll go as far as a friend did, when she was selling at faraway craft shows. She and her husband went in their travel trailer; where they slept and cooked their own meals rather than lay out for motel rooms and restaurant meals. The name of the game is to break rather more than even; if the costs of participating in a market; table fee, gas, lodgings, food and your stock – all come up to more than you’ll make from sales, then you are doing it wrong.

We already have a lot of other necessary impedimenta – like a collection of sturdy covered plastic tubs in various sizes to store and transport our stock in, which can be fitted into the back of the Montero in a kind of three-dimensional game of Tetris. We saw quite a few venders with varied collections of tubs. We already have some necessary display hardware; metal and wooden stands for propping up books to display them, a rack for showing off pairs of earrings, some baskets and a magnetic board to show off the origami in. Many of the gypsy venders also have tall mesh stands, panels or folding screens to hang items on, or to attach narrow shelves for a wall display.

We already had a cash box, and receipt books – but for this time out we obtained a handy little gadget which only became available in the last year or so; a card reader which attaches to my daughter’s cell phone so that we could process credit card payments. This is enormously helpful to us and many other gypsy entrepreneurs, who previously could only handle check or cash payments. It’s the new old game again – small businesses run from a home or a farm, and selling at temporary markets.

Old Town Helotes

Raising Heck in Helotes

by Celia Hayes

We ventured on a weekend outing to Helotes this last August for an art showing at a very pleasant little country venue, The Gardens in Old Town… which to our relief, turned out to be an indoors event. Frankly, mid-August in South Texas is just not one of those good times to be roaming around in the outdoors for very long. We prowled the art show, admired many of the paintings exhibited – a good few of which I would have bought for my own pleasure. I think that we were early enough in the day and the impromptu gallery was not so crowed that many of the artists had leisure and enthusiasm enough to talk to us as well. Ah, how well we know this routine; sitting by the table o’ stuff, waiting to strike up a conversation with anyone slowing by, in their drift through the room! I think most people visiting Helotes that weekend must have been at the art show, for the other little shops in old downtown Helotes were pretty empty.

We hadn’t been to Helotes in a while, and so when we had made a leisurely circuit, and the place became too crowded for my daughter’s taste, we roamed around the little bit that there is of Historic Old Helotes; mostly antique shops set up on old homes, barns and what we were told had been a grocery store at about the turn of the last century. Yes, time was when Helotes, twenty miles and a good day’s journey on horseback from San Antonio, was a separate and lively little town on the main road to Bandera. It was farming country, at first – the name comes from ‘elote’ – Spanish for corn on the cob. The eastern Apache tribe farmed along the waterways in that part of the Hill Country in the earliest times, growing corn for themselves until the Comanche roared down from the north and made it too dangerous. Like much of the Hill Country, Helotes was settled by German and European immigrants, and in the days after the Civil War, served as an assembly point for herds of cattle heading north to the railheads in Kansas, a feeder route to the great Chisholm Trail. It was a rather lively little town back then; there are two books about historical Helotes by local author Cynthia Leal Massey.

Now, of course, having turned into a suburban bedroom slipper of San Antonio, it is a much more sedate place, but still a very pleasant one, barely four or five miles outside the 1604 Loop. A clue as to how very quietly upscale Helotes has become is that the flagship HEB-Plus store – the largest store in the HEB chain was opened last year on Bandera Road, just inside the Loop. The store parking lot has nearly 1,200 parking spaces – and the store itself seems as large as a gargantuan aircraft hangar. 183,000 square feet of grocery and retail space; we walked in and my daughter said, “Wow!” Even though the parking lot was nearly full, the store itself didn’t feel crowded at all. We only came in for three things – which did seem rather a waste, considering the sheer variety of items in stock.

Sauerkraut

Good Stuff Preserved – Sauerkraut

by Celia Hayes

I swear, I had never really eaten sauerkraut in any form when I was growing up. Why Mom never had a go at making it herself is a bit of a mystery, since the basic ingredients are cheap and plentiful, the process pretty simple and the results quite tasty. Likely this was because our own ethnic background is English and Scots-Irish, and it’s just not one of those things. Cabbage being a sturdy green vegetable and well-adapted to the frozen northern hemispheres, it’s a mainstay in peasant cooking from Germany, through Eastern Europe and Russia – and even into Korea, where they make a high-octane variety spiced with garlic and hot red peppers known as kimchi. But the ordinary sauerkraut is the simplest to make at home; basically, it’s thinly-sliced fresh cabbage and Ball pickling salt.

At some point a couple of years ago, we were buying a brand of pickles or marinated artichoke hearts at Sam’s Club which came packaged in massive glass jars, which hold 6-quarts to two gallons. I saved out two of them to store bulk foods in, although they had to go through the dishwasher several times to entirely remove the smell of pickle brine. They’re perfect for fermenting the shredded cabbage in the first step.

Trim of the outer leaves of four heads of cabbage, quarter the heads and cut out the solid core, then either thinly sliver the quarters, or cut into eights and run through a food processor fitted out with a slicing blade, or a mandolin – or even an old-fashioned sauerkraut slicer. It was customary back when to make massive quantities of kraut at a time – a friend of mine in Fredericksburg recently an old-fashioned 5-gallon crock which would ferment enough to feed a small army. I have a huge metal mixing bowl made for restaurant use, so the shreds of cabbage from four heads fill it rather nicely, but you may have to process it one or two heads at a time. Mix the shreds of cabbage with ¾ cup of pickling salt, kneading it gently, as the salt dissolves and the cabbage begins to give up liquid. Let sit for a few minutes and then pack it tightly into the jars until just to within an inch of the top. One of the cabbages I used this week was rather large – so the cabbage shreds filled both big jars and then a quart canning jar. One of the big jars also had two teaspoons of caraway seed added, for extra flavor.

There should be enough brine from the salted cabbage to cover – if not, mix 1 ½ Tablespoons of salt in hot water, allow to cool, and top the jars with the additional brine. The cabbage has to be below the level of the brine. Another recipe I saw for this recommended cutting a cabbage leaf to size, and using it as a topper, to keep the cabbage shreds underneath – or just use a smaller jar filled with weights to keep the cabbage submerged. Cover the tops of the jars with cheesecloth held on with a rubber band, and let sit and ferment in a sheltered cupboard for 3-6 weeks, removing the scum which forms every day or so. When it’s ready, either refrigerate it and eat fresh, or empty the sauerkraut into a big pan and bring to a gentle simmer – not a boil. Pack it into clean hot canning jars, leaving about half an inch of head-space, seal and process in boiling water; 15 minutes for pint jars, 20 for quarts. We have finally finished off the sauerkraut that I did last summer – so time to pickle again!

The Grandest Villa

Downtown San Antonio the Villa Finale in King Willaim

by Celia Hayes

We walked through the part of the Riverwalk which runs from the Blue Star Art Complex up through King William last weekend, marveling at all the lovely period houses lining quiet, tree-lined streets. Although right next door to each other and very nearly of the same vintage, King William and Southtown have completely different sensibilities. The old Southtown houses are smaller, closer together, and many of them are more given over to commercial and artistic enterprises. While King William neighborhood does have a number of smaller bungalows and cottages lining the streets, it is the mansions and extensive gardens which set it apart; and one of the most splendid (after the Steves Homestead) is the Villa Finale – the home of the conservationist who put King William on the map as far as historical districts go.

The area was San Antonio’s first extensive up-scale suburb, beginning around the mid-19th century, when well-to-do German merchants and industrialists like C.H. Guenther, of the Pioneer Flour Mill began building stately mansions on what had been the outlaying farmlands attached to Mission San Antonio de Valero and Mission Conception. That first glorious heyday lasted until well into the 1920s, when the well-to-do began being drawn into newer developments in Alamo Heights and Terrell Hills, on rising land to the north of downtown. Many of the stately mansions became boarding houses, or broken up into apartments, and the area gently – or precipitously –decayed.

The credit for reviving the neighborhood and kick-starting restoration of many of the historic mansions and residences is usually given to Walter Mathis; a descendent of several local notables, including John W. Smith, last messenger from the Alamo and later Mayor of San Antonio. After service as an Army Air Corps combat pilot during WWII, he turned to investment banking, civic good works and collecting art and memorabilia. Late in the 1960s, he bought the house presently known as the Villa Finale and spent several years in research and meticulous repair; a splendid Italianate pile with a three-story square tower at one side. He filled the house with fine furniture, art and the results of his own enthusiastic collecting, lovingly landscaped the grounds … and then turned to other houses in the neighborhood, purchasing at least fourteen other houses and either restoring them entirely or in part, before re-selling – often on very favorable terms – to friends and acquaintances who could carry on the restoration. His efforts kick-started establishment of King William area as a National Historical District – and since then, of course, much are envied those homeowners who were either lucky enough to inherit property in the area, or who were perspicuous enough to acquire it for a song, way back then.

The Villa sits on King William Street and backs on the leg of the Riverwalk which runs through King William. The garden features a gazebo and a long wall separating it from the mansion next door – adorned with inset relief carvings. At this time of year the plantings are plain but serviceable; nothing spectacular or elaborate; just well-tended native plants or native-adapted plants and trees. There is a charge for visiting the house itself, but none for visiting the grounds and garden.

Along the King William Reach

King William – San Antonio

by Celia Hayes

We had reason to go downtown the weekend before last; we were baffled of our intent to park in the big lot opposite the federal building on Durango/Cesar Chavez. It is most usually free and only a short walk into Exposition Park, the Alamo Plaza and La Villita from there, but the beer festival in Exposition Park baffled us of that intent, and so we parked in the structure at Commerce and North Presa. At $12 for three hours we decided to make a day of it, and do something daring and reckless so that my daughter could cross it off her bucket list. She has always wanted to go in and eat at Schilo’s Delicatessen, but every time before, we were defeated by a wait for a table 45 minutes long, or a tight schedule, or something. We had often looked longingly into the amazing period interior; yes, this is what these old turn-of-the-last century places looked like; tall ceiling (covered with stamped tin) high windows, a multi-colored tile floor made of those nickel-sized hexagonal tiles, old wooden pastry cases and booths with a hat-and-coat hook on the end of every bench. There was a time when every chop-house, delicatessen or restaurant looked just like this.

We had our chance this last Saturday; Schilos was about three-quarters full. Another cause for amazement is that the prices are extremely affordable, especially considered for downtown, and competitive with the McDonalds’ just across the street. Third thing – the staff are friendly and attentive. My daughter went all-out and had one of their signature sandwiches – a Reuben, while I tried out the patty-melt, which came with a very generous helping of potato chips. Almost too generous; the couple at the table next to us had two small children with them, and I considered offering them the chips to keep the kinds distracted while their order was being prepared. We tried out the home-made root beer, which was absolutely perfect; not too sweet and not to fizzy, and came in an ice-cold mug. At the very end of our sandwiches, the waitress suggested dessert, which we hardly ever eat – but she talked up the pumpkin cheesecake, a new offering. (Their other popular dessert seems to be bread pudding.) We split a piece – and like the root-beer – it was perfect. Not to sweet, but perfectly flavored – and we were going to be walking it off, anyway.

Walking it off – that meant a meander along the Riverwalk. This time, we parked at the Blue Star Arts complex and walked back towards King William. The cool fall weather was just perfect for this excursion; not a cloud in the sky, the grass still summer-green, and those trees given to dropping leaves not dropping them as yet. I am still marveling at how close everything actually is in San Antonio, and how very close a residential neighborhood can be to an industrial one – like the Pioneer Flour mill is to King William. My daughter loves the old Victorian cottages and mansions, although we could neither of us afford to live in one yet – and I am not quite certain that I would want to, knowing what I know about antique plumbing, peculiarities of electrification and nonexistent HVAC systems. I suppose the ideal solution would be a modern house with all of that, but built to 19th century plans. We did see one house under construction where this was being tried, but it didn’t look quite right to us. The porches weren’t deep enough, and the windows and porch columns themselves weren’t quite there. And that was my weekend – yours?

Quarry Farmers and Ranchers Market

The Quarry Farmers and Ranchers Market

by Celia Hayes

It’s one of my habits – established when we lived in Athens in the early 1980s – going to the local street or farmer’s market. It was the custom of the country that every neighborhood had a day of the week, when a three or four-block length of one of the main streets in the suburb would be blocked off, and the local vendors and farmers would set up two rows of booths and sell to the community, beginning just before dawn and continuing through midday. It was usually seasonal fruits and vegetables, and each little booth pretty much specialized in one item – lemons, or artichokes on long stalks, or potatoes with patches of the damp soil they had been grown in still clinging to them. There was an egg-vendor, who sold the eggs in cones made up of newspaper, and a storekeeper with a larger trailer who had a variety of dried beans and macaroni, and often a crate of live snails, rustling and clicking their shells together. All was absolutely fresh, straight from the farm and cheaper than cheap.

I’ve always hoped that our farmer’s markets here could duplicate that experience; and the goods are fresh and straight from the farm, but alas, not as inexpensive as they were in Greece. The farmer’s markets here do have their advantages though; the one held every Sunday morning save Easter in the parking lot of the Quarry Market is a perfect example; as half the venders seem to do the traditional fruits and vegetables, the other half a wide assortment of prepared gourmet foods. [Curious though, I didn’t find the Quarry Market on the GoTexan Farmers Market list. (They probably should be listed.)] Cheese and chocolates and pies, oh, my! Imagine a pie made with fruit or nuts from Nanette Watson’s Frio Farm, with their own eggs, butter churned by Nanette herself, and with her very own home-brewed flavoring extracts. That is a piece of pie that it is a delight to savor.

We cruised the two rows of booths – threatened rain didn’t seem to hamper turnout at all, though there were some vendors on the Quarry Market Farmer’s Market list who didn’t seem to be there because of it. Most everyone had samples on offer – and scrumptious they were. La Panadaria’s chocolate bread was absolutely scrumptious, and the chocolate samples from High Street Chocolate were out of this world. Peggy at High Street (she lives in Comfort, of course) is adventurous with flavoring, too – she has one flavor of chocolate, called Spicy Aztec which features … well, red pepper, among others. That is a chocolate with an interesting burn, which sneaks up on you. My favorite is a thin expresso-flavored chocolate, which I believe would be absolutely divine as the chocolate element in gourmet chocolate-chip ice cream … and if Peggy could work with Nanette at Frio Farm, and combine home-made ice-cream from Frio Farm’s eggs, cream and vanilla … I believe they would have something which would make Ben and Jerry’s finest taste like something from Tasty-Freeze.

The final booth that we visited was – I think – the Lemonade Company, purveyors of fresh-squeezed lemonade and orange juice. The scent of the oranges teased me from three booths away. There is nothing so evocative to someone who grew up in Southern California as the scent of fresh oranges and lemons – and the sublime flavor of the juice freshly squeezed. Nothing like it in the world, and it has spoiled me ever since for supermarket orange juice. And that was my Sunday morning – yours?

Mission Reach

River Fun Down the Mission Reach

by Celia Hayes

It is one of those grand civic plans to extend the Riverwalk from downtown towards the north and south – especially to the south to connect up all the ancient missions once established on the banks of the San Antonio River. The original section of the Riverwalk, which together with the Alamo itself is San Antonio’s primary claim to touristic fame, was just the very beginning. After all, San Antonio was established where it was because of the river… and for a long while in the last century, the river itself – aside from the landscaped stretch in downtown – was little better than a storm drain, running through industrial areas or at the back of commercial establishments.

But the Riverwalk extension to the north – the Museum Reach has now gone almost as far as Breckenridge Park. Some time ago we walked it from the Pearl Brewery well into downtown – and this last weekend we hiked a length of the new Mission Reach, between the Riverside Golf Course and Padre Park. It had just opened with some ceremony and celebration the day before, but Saturday was hot and presumably crowded, and Sunday was not. We went venturing, armed with a map of the new reach and were most pleasantly surprised. The Riverside Golf Course is most astonishingly upscale, green and manicured. All the new park pavilions along the way were newer than brand spanking new, the finished trail was wide and beautifully finished, every turn of the trail with a pleasing aspect was furnished with an assortment of benches and picnic tables positioned for best effect. There are not so many trees shading the path, though – although there are some groves of tall pecan trees off on either side. The pecan trees along the river provided sustenance to the Indians from the earliest days; I wish there were more of them, but as one of the ladies whom we talked to said – it’s still a work in progress.

It is all very new, though – and although there were enough people venturing on it – by foot, bicycle and kayak, there were not as many as we thought would have been there if the Mission Reach was more well-known, and if the various establishments on either side were more orientated towards it. If this was Europe, my daughter ventured – there would have been families picnicking at every table, and children playing on the various greenswards. Men would have been trying their luck at fishing in the river – and contra the warning signs here and there, there would have been people swimming and wading in it. There would have been ice cream vendors on bicycles towing little coolers after them, selling cold drinks and ice cream cones to all. Commercial establishments with an eye towards the view would have had outdoor dining areas looking toward the riverbanks – and those people sufficiently fortunate to have houses with back yards overlooking it would be building their gardens with an eye towards the view. A couple of mobile home parks that we spotted would also have made their Riverwalk-Mission Reach location a major feature of their appeal. Very likely the rejuvenation of the old Hot Wells Resort will play into this. The old tourist cabins on the ground – overgrown in thickets of small trees – are as ruinous as ever, but looking through the fence at the edge of the main property, we could see that work is being done. There is even a new roof on part of the old bathhouse building.

We walked more than four miles today – and consequently are pleasantly exhausted and somewhat sunburned. That was my weekend – yours?