Friday, October 2, 2015

A Great Father-in-Law from the Greatest Generation: A Remembrance

Bob and Jean, around their 50th anniversary

Among the sadder of life’s milestones: when your son loses his last surviving grandparent. My father-in-law, Bob Bray, passed away peacefully on October 1, two weeks shy of his 90th birthday

Bob proudly served in the US Navy as a sonarman on a destroyer escort and saw action in the Battle of Leyte Gulf and Battle of Okinawa in World War II. (He also served during the Korean War.) Our son Sean became the fourth generation of Brays to enter military service when he enlisted in the US Marine Corps.

Bob in his Navy uniform

Bob's military decorations

I could not have asked for a better father-in-law and a better grandparent for our son. Bob adored Sean. When we handed him an infant Sean in the Albuquerque airport, Bob, an otherwise fairly stoic man, began to cry. Bob’s own parents died before he met my mother-in-law, so Bob often worried he wouldn’t live to see his grandchild.

We never lived in the same town (and sometimes, not even the same country), but we worked hard to make sure Sean had quality time with his grandparents, especially after we moved back to Virginia from spending four years in Germany. Sean has fond memories of spending summers with Grandma and Grandpa. One summer, they took him to the YMCA, and he returned home knowing how to swim. Another summer, to DisneyWorld and the Kennedy Space Center (where Bob worked on the Apollo program in the 60s and 70s). And one summer, my exasperated mother enlisted my assistance in getting Bob to turn loose of Sean so she could have some time with her grandson.

In 2013, the extended Bray family met at a hacienda B&B in Albuquerque to celebrate Bob and Jean’s 50th wedding anniversary, and Bob surprised me by starting to cry (the second and last time I saw this) as he recited his renewal of vows.

From the time Sean turned 15, Bob’s first question to him (on phone calls or in person) was unfailingly, “How’s your love life?” the question only stopping when Sean became engaged to Carey in the summer of 2014. And despite failing memory in his later years, Bob absolutely knew who Carey was, never needing a reminder. (We asked him on one fall visit, “Do you remember what happens with Sean in January?” Without a pause, and with lots of enthusiasm, he replied, “Sean’s getting married!!”) 

When talking about losing loved ones, people often ask if it’s better for it to be sudden and quick or long and drawn out. Having lost both my parents fairly young (and my mother totally unexpectedly), I can tell you, they both just suck.

I’ll close with a line from the Navy theme, “Anchors Aweigh.”

      “Until we meet once more, here's wishing you a happy voyage home!”

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Over the Top Cake Shop

Just a portion of their many sprinkles and decorative candies.

Bakers, rejoice! You now have a one-stop-professional-shop for all things cake. The retail arm of Johnson Brothers Bakery Supply, Over the Top Cake Supplies stocks a full range of pans, cake boxes and bases, sprinkles in a rainbow of colors, candy-making supplies, decorations, kits, and even fondant. They opened on July 11.

Glimmer Glaze

Over the Top is the only shop in town that carries Fondx and Glimmer Glaze. A flavored glaze that comes in a wide range of colors, decorators can use Glimmer Glaze to give a cake a special sheen. They’re offering a class on Glimmer Glaze on Thursday, September 19 from 6-8pm ($40). Call the shop to register.

Just about any size and shape of cake pan you need

The friendly and helpful retail manager Chelsey Cure knows all the products in the store, and she can special-order any items not currently in stock. In addition to hands-on classes (they’re hosting a “Sugar Skulls” class tonight with one of the nation’s leading decorators), they feature demos and other presentations. “Like” them on Facebook to get all the latest details. Space is limited, so register early to ensure a spot.

They have two shelves of decoration kits and can order more.

The Taste section of the Express-News profiled Chelsey and owner Kevin Johnson in August. If you’re a digital subscriber, check it out.

A wide variety of fondant products

It’s a bit tricky to find (address below). Located along the IH-35 frontage road on the west side between Weidner and Thousand Oaks, the shop is tucked into a large warehouse complex. They have a small sign out front, but it’s easy to miss. Heading south, you’ll pass a Quality Inn, then a Yamaha boating center. The next driveway is the warehouse complex, but use the second gate and head toward the back. If you pass the Kingdom Life Church, you’ve just missed it.

Cake bases of every size and shape

We don’t bake often, but I’m glad to know that we have somewhere local that can get us the special supplies and ingredients we need when we do bake.

Over the Top Cake Supplies, 210-561-1300, 10731 IH-35 N, San Antonio, TX 78233

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Opie’s BBQ: A Texas Monthly Top 50

I'm happy to be back to Alamo A La Carte after a long sabbatical. I'm planning many more posts about food, travel, and arts, particularly in central Texas. I hope you'll join me (or rejoin me). 

Labor Day provides a great opportunity for a barbeque road trip, as long as you’re careful to check if your target joints are open on Mondays (many aren’t). So we headed to Spicewood (about an hour and a half north of San Antonio) to try Opie’s BBQ. The air was redolent with mesquite smoke as we drove up.

Judging from the number of cars, we weren’t alone. I love places that keep their meats in an indoor “pit” (like Schoepf’s and Cooper’s). They lift the lid, and you choose (if you can) from the many smoky selections. We picked out some baby backs, sausage, and brisket. We’ve heard raves about their spicy corn and tater tot casserole, so those came home too. We helped ourselves to onions, jalapenos, pickles, and sauce at the center island (bread and beans were also available; we’ll need to return on the weekend to try their butter beans).

I met head pitmaster Marco Oglesby out back. (One really has to love this job to put in the hours required, but one must have a special love to do so in the August heat.) He said they try to estimate how much meat they’ll need and get everything going hours before service. It’s not like he can cook it to order; once they’re out of product, they’re out. “We try to stay open as late as we can,” he said.

The fork-tender brisket, with its defined pronounced smoke ring, fell apart as I cut. The meat had a great body. The ribs were sweet and peppery with an intense bark, and very tender.

A bit of onion and mushroom gave the creamy tater tot casserole some texture and had just the right amount of cheese. The cream in the spicy corn helped to offset the kick from the jalapenos. The corn was fresh and crunchy, with a touch of smoke.

I highly recommend a road trip. As with most popular BBQ joints (especially those on the TM Top 50 list), the earlier you get there, the better choices you’ll have. What are your favorite BBQ joints?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Dallas Treats: Scardello and Rise No. 1

Since the Chihuly exhibit at the Dallas Arboretum (see previous post) took only one morning, we spent a pleasant day sampling some fabulous Dallas food.

Scardello Artisan Cheese @scardellocheese has won the “best cheese shop” award for the past two years from Dallas Magazine, a well-deserved honor. 

Their cheese case includes around 150 varieties from Texas, US, and around the world. The friendly staff will offer you samples of anything, and he’ll put the label next to it so you can read about what you’re trying. (If you really want to annoy him, and I did, keep taking the small piece of waxed paper and wadding it up between tastings.) They’ll cut any size you want, even off the wheel.

Labels include the cheese’s name, type of milk, its maker, and a brief description. Just tell them what you like (“funky,” “your best blue”), and they’ll make a recommendation (along with a wine pairing to complement your selection).

They host wine tastings, beer and cheese pairings, and other events throughout the month. In fact, this weekend, our local friends from Ranger Creek @rangercreek will pair their La Bestia with a Gruyere.

Grab a loaf of crusty bread, some choices from their charcuterie, and a few brownies from Oh Brownie @ohbrownie (try the gourmet sea salt and caramel) to complete your meal.

We would have eaten lunch there, but we had reservations at Rise @risesouffle, a floating-away-good soufflé restaurant on Lovers Lane.


Styled after a French bistro, the menu includes traditional French appetizers, salads, and cheese, in addition to their ethereal soufflés. Play some Scrabble on the table while you await your appetizers.

Bruce’s artichoke Andrée (served steamed with “Hedda’s family sauce”) was earthy, and the creamy sauce nicely offset the leaves. He ate all the tender inner leaves, which got tougher as he moved outward.

Soupe a l’oignon grantinée? Yes please! This onion soup had a marvelous depth of flavor from the caramelized onions and would hold up just fine in France.

Their entrée soufflés run the gamut from traditional (like my jambon and Gruyere) to the more adventurous. Bruce’s salty and garlicky esgargot soufflé arrived on a traditional escargot dish. All of them were lick-your-bowl delicious. My sister worried that my ten-year-old nephew would wolf down their shared soufflé while she took the five-year-old for a potty break.

Your server will recommend that you order your dessert in advance, since soufflés do take time (and they’re all cooked to order). Our table communally devoured (hey, we’re family) soufflés of chocolate, raspberry, and a seasonal pumpkin selection.

Remember that soufflés take time to prepare. Summon your inner Frenchman and relax and enjoy the wait.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Alamo A La Carte Bulletin: 281 Frontage Closure This Weekend!

Attention drivers! The northbound 281 frontage road will be closed between the entrance ramp from Nakoma and Country Parkway this weekend (November 9-11) while crews install a drainage culvert. The closure runs from Friday at 10pm until Monday at 5am.

Read the latest update from TxDOT on the progress of Wurzbach Pkwy.