Fifty Gifts Yule Love subhed: Forget cactus-shaped fruitcakes and barbed-wire bookends. We searched far and wide and found unique Texas treats—from prickly pear soap to Concho River pearls—for everyone on your list. summary: Attention, holiday shoppers: Time's a-wasting (but help is on the way). This quirky compilation of Texas-made goodies—from mesquite dominoes to mohair throws—should have something for everyone on your list.
This holiday shopping season I decided that I wouldn't set foot in one single mall. With a touch of Texas chauvinism (and a tendency to complicate everything), I was determined to keep my money in the state. Mind you, I'm well aware of the frightening consumer landscape the phrase "Texas gifts" conjures up: mountains of barn-wood furniture, prairies of horseshoe picture frames, and thickets of stuff emblazoned with stupid slogans—like the toddler's bloomers that proclaim "I Messed With Texas" (at the state capitol gift shop, of all places). However, after logging 2,500 miles on the road and who knows how many on the Web, I can gleefully report that if you know where to look, the shopping scenery can be grand. I hope the following quirky list of fifty Texas gifts is greater than the sum of its parts. Some things are included to lure you into gift-packed museum stores, craft galleries, or small towns like Wimberley and Mason. Others—like the classes and memberships—might inspire you to think outside the material box (shopping directory, page 153). In any event, with so few shopping days left, don't you think it's high time you got started?
EAT, DRINK AND BE MERRY!
1. I took a gold box of Wiseman House chocolates ($22 for about 11/2 pounds) to a Texas Monthly editorial meeting. Big mistake: Believe me, this is one group that needs no sugar buzz. The frenzied attack on these helpless sweets—Black Forest bonbons, truffles, caramel pecan brag (like turtles)—hand-dipped by the Wenzel family of Hico convinced me they had made the cut.
Wiseman House, the northwest corner of U.S. 281 and Texas Highway 6, Hico (254-796-2565).
2. The mesquite-smoked peppered beef tenderloin from the Perini Ranch Steakhouse in Buffalo Gap ($78) can make a vegetarian fall from grace. Imagine how pleased a relative (a mother-in-law, perhaps) will be to have two pounds or more of perfectly cooked meat delivered to her doorstep, vacuum sealed and ready to devour.
Perini Ranch Steakhouse, Buffalo Gap (915-572-3339, 800-367-1721; periniranch.com).
3. When Paula Lambert returned to Texas after living in Italy, the gastronomic pleasure she missed the most was fresh mozzarella, so she started making her own back in 1982. Now her Mozzarella Cheese Company handcrafts a variety of natural cow's- and goat's-milk cheeses in a little factory near downtown Dallas. Her Texas Sampler ($40, includes shipping) features a pound each of Texas basil caciotta (like Monterey Jack), ancho chile caciotta, and scamorza (a dense mozzarella smoked over pecan shells).
Mozzarella Cheese Company, Dallas (214-741-4072, 800-798-2954; mozzco.com).
4. I'm stretching the "hecho en Tejas" parameter a bit here, but Tequila Nacional—the 100 percent blue agave love child of El Paso Chile Company founder W. Park Kerr and a small distillery in the Mexican state of Jalisco—is too smooth to ignore. You can pick up a bottle of this sipping tequila at better liquor stores or even order one off the Internet ($38.57).
Tequila Nacional, Rio Bravo Spirits, El Paso (915-533-6162; tequilanacional.com).
5. It's not only impossible to successfully ship the apple pies ($10.75) from the Deutsch Apple Pie and Coffee Shop, but it may be illegal as well, considering that the incredibly flaky crust is set to explode at any moment. Trust me: It's worth a trip to this tiny shop in Blanco to buy one (or two or twelve). I like to lie and say I made it myself.
Deutsch Apple Pie and Coffee Shop, 602 Chandler, Blanco (830-833-2882).
6. Who needs a bunch of empty beer bottles lying around the house as evidence of excessive holiday spirit? A Party Pig ($24.99), a disposable keg filled with 2.25 gallons of suds from the Real Ale Brewing Company, a Blanco microbrewery, can solve that problem. And you don't have to drink it all at one sitting: The beer stays fresh and bubbly for 45 days from the moment the Pig is tapped. No CO2 canister, no pumping, no cup o' foam. "All you have to do to drink draft beer is push the red button," says Real Ale brewmeister Brad Farbstein. "And if you can't figure out how to push the red button, you don't need to drink draft beer." Or anything else, for that matter.
Real Ale Brewing Company, Blanco (830-833-2534; realalebrewing.com); kegs available at Whole Foods and Central Market in Austin and San Antonio.
JUST FOR FUN
7. Nothing says "I love you" like the gift of an adrenaline rush. Would ten laps at Fort Worth's Texas Motor Speedway ($325), at speeds of up to 150 miles per hour, say it loud enough? Team Texas' one-day course includes a one-hour training session, after which students are strapped into the driver's seat of a Winston Cup stock car with a daring (suicidal?) instructor riding shotgun.
Team Texas High Performance Driving School, Fort Worth (940-648-1043; teamtexas.com).
8. Can't decide whether to give kayaking or fly-fishing lessons? Then combine them in a one-day "flyaking" excursion for two on the Texas coast ($375, not including transportation to the launch site near Port Aransas). Hill Country Outfitters in San Antonio will arrange the trip, which comes with all the equipment, lunch, and a knowledgeable guide who'll take you to the secret spots.
Hill Country Outfitters, 18030 U.S. 281 N., Suite 108, San Antonio (210-491-4416); and 109 E. Main, Fredericksburg (830-997-3761); hillcountryoutfitters.com.
9. There's one surefire strategy for landing Junior in the winner's circle: Buy his way in. At Retama Park, northeast of San Antonio, you can pay for the privilege of naming a race and then presenting the trophy to the winner ($150). Junior goes home with a little more