This morning the Dallas Morning News ran a story that sent shivers down my spine, followed by increased itching and irrational bed stripping and mattress searching. Specifically, they discuss an uptick in bed bug sightings (attacks) in North Texas.
This November will mark the two year anniversary of one of the most horrifying things that has ever happened to my person and my husband’s person. We’d made a quick three day weekend jaunt to Amarillo to visit family and stayed in a relatively nice hotel. The morning we were to check out of our hotel, I spied tiny bloody smears on our bed sheets. Screaming and panic set in as I stripped the sheets from the bed and discovered the mattress seams teeming with vile bed bugs. Fat, sassy and full of self-satisfaction and our blood.
After living in New York City, home to profoundly prolific bedbug infestations, I knew exactly what I was dealing with. After being convinced by my husband that self-immolating was not going to be an option, we crammed our clothes and suitcase in a large black trash bag, hit up a local target for two cheap outfits, took a very long shower, changed into the new duds and crammed the remaining in another trash bag. We felt disgusting the entire drive back to Dallas.
Two days later, my husband was covered in large, flat welts. His arms and legs covered in bed bug bites. I was bite free, or so I thought. My bites didn’t manifest themselves for another 5 full days, and when they did, they were on my face, neck, torso, arms, hands, legs and feet. Apparently I was the more delicious of the two. It was hell…and comic fodder for our co-workers.
Thankfully, keeping our suitcase in the sun, wrapped in a black trash bag and in the back of our car for two weeks suffocated any blood-sucking critters we might’ve carried back with us and our home remained bed bug free. And while that was a bit inconvenient, it certainly wasn’t the inconvenience of an infestation: they’re pesticide resistant, can survive months without eating, will hitchhike on anything and anyone, and often involve a dog to pinpoint infestations. And unless you want to professionally clean, vacuum and steam your mattress or couch, I hope you either have a Weir’s charge account…or enough money in savings to cover new furniture.
I guess what I’m trying to tell you folks in a very long-winded way is this: You do NOT want bedbugs, Texas. DO NOT WANT.
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So yesterday I headed north with my dad to pay a visit to a few of my favorite things, including my super spunky 95-year-old granny. As we crossed the Red River, we were both shocked and surprised to see the Red River deluged with ice, we stopped in the 10 degree weather to snap a few photos, while we both mused that we’d never in our lifetimes seen it full of ice.
Word of caution though, when traipsing about a large overpass, be wary of 18-wheelers as they can and will blow about 50 pounds of dirt and grit into your face. And it hurts. A lot.
As for the rest of the favorite things mentioned above, we paid a visit to Doug’s Peach Orchard for the Best Darn Catfish in the Universe. After that we headed back south to hit up the Diamond B Dairy for the most delicious milk you’ve ever tasted and the Fried Pie Shop for a box full of pineapple, apple, blackberry, coconut cream and peach fried pies.
Like many guys in their late thirties to early forties I am a geek. Not so much a SciFi geek – but I can name specific Star Trek episodes by name – but rather a BritCom geek. British comedies from the Two Ronnies, The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, Fawlty Towers and anything Monty Python. I am THAT guy who can and will quote verbatim entire passages from ‘The Meaning Of Life’ and ‘The Life of Brian,’ so when I was driving north on Preston the other day, I just had to stop at a place called The Holy Grail.
As everyone knows, the original Holy Grail was the mythical chalice or cup that was supposed to have been used by Jesus at the last supper. Legend was the cup had mystical powers and through out the Middle Ages the quest to find it and many other icons of Christianity were behind The Crusades, wars and became part of the stories of the Knights of Templar and ingrained into folklore throughout Europe.
The period of romantic knights, Robin Hood, and great quests are the inspiration behind the Holy Grail Pub. “I have always been a fan of that period and have been reading stories of Crusades and the Grail for years,” explains Brian Rudolph, owner of the Holy Grail Pub in Plano. “It is not really a Monty Python reference, but I was a huge fan and watched it all the time when I was younger.”
After spending 14 years in the business of brew and food, Brian and his wife Christi managed to take their shot at opening a gourmet tap. Christi’s background as a real estate analyst came in very handy in choosing a location. “We searched from Addison to Southlake and when this location was being built we had to grab it,” says Brian, “Christi looked at everything from drive by traffic to demographics to even the simple fact that in Plano we can stay open until two while a mile up the road in Frisco they have to close at midnight.”
If it sounds like Brian is not your average mom and pop operator you’re right. After working his way around Austin’s famed 6th Street as a bartender and manager, he decided he needed a little more understanding of the business aspect. He went to work for Bennigan’s and got a trial by fire understanding of business structure and processes.
“I wanted to understand the business better and the corporate world does some things very well, some things not so well. Getting a handle on why things are done in certain ways and understanding corporate structure was a great education.” Brian continues, “The big problem right now is it is so expensive for a mom and pop operation to get off the ground. Look at the cost of real-estate in a suburb like Frisco, to put a stand alone structure anyplace close to where the other big box retail is located and you are looking at a 2 million dollar investment just to get the doors open. That is a lot for a small operation to carry.”
Brian and Christi moved to Dallas a couple of years ago to continue their own quest for the Grail. He landed at the Old Monk and says the operators there were great inspirations to him to keep moving towards the dream of his own place.
Finding their Preston Road location as the developers began backfilling an area just north of Headquarters was a bit of a stroke of luck as the external façade is more of a Tudor old English style than the more common Spanish Colonial influenced developments up and down the street. The Grail concept fit right in. And one of the things about being a hands on owner is you end up getting them dirty, especially when you are building your bar. With hammer and paint brush Brian did almost all of the finish out himself, “What it would have cost me to get a contractor in here to do all the work I did would have been as much as a full year’s salary for a regular employee.”
The Bar is as expected: dark wood paneling, Crusade inspired banners, rustic beams and the stone accent wall bring the look and feel of an old English or Irish tavern. “When Christi and I were traveling in England and Ireland we would walk into places like this and we were amazed at the sense of community we felt there,” explains Brian.
A feeling of community is also something the duo is trying to achieve with the Grail, “With all the companies that are based around this area like Nokia, Pepsi, and Cadbury, there are a lot of people who have traveled all over the world, they come in and tell me about a beer they tried in Norway or something they tried when they were in Scotland. We try and bring in what we can, and I’m pretty happy with the selection we have, but we are always looking at what works,” he continues. With over 120 beers on hand and 28 taps offering a broad spectrum of Texas craft brews like Franconia from McKinney to Fireman #4 and others.
“When we first opened, one of our craft brews from Europe outsold Bud Light 3 to 1,” says Brian. That brew was from Weihenstephan, the world’s oldest existing brewery established in 1060 in the Bavarian town of Freising, “I guess there was a pent up demand in the area.”
Taking a big step into the bar business in the middle of a recession can take faith, guts or both, but one of the key ingredients was still missing, the food. Brian continues, “One thing about a recession is there are some amazingly talented people out there looking. We placed an ad for a chef to develop our menu and we had over 60 highly qualified candidates.” The weeding down of the selection brought forth their ideal candidate.
After years at Club Med, The Libertine and Wolfgang Puck’s 560, the man who would help develop their specialized, but limited choices was found, “We brought it down to only a couple and Shimmy understood what we wanted to do and had some fantastic ideas, too.” Brian is a bit of a geek when it comes to sustainable agriculture and produce, so it was important to have someone who wanted to embrace the same concepts and create unique dishes.
“A lot of places have 50 or 60 items on their menu but only do 4 or 5 well, others are kind of throwaways, so we limited our selection to 23 items, all are done exceptionally well,” says Brian. The obvious pride Brian takes in doing things the proper way is obvious from the selection.
Fried Goat Cheese, spiced and flavored with infused fennel, dipped in a light batter and served on a tomato jelly topped with fresh shaved veggies are just the start. The batter is light and fluffy – almost pastry-like in its consistency – and is also used for the traditional Fish and Chips.
The fish is fresh North Atlantic Cod with hand cut fries dusted with sea salt. Again the golden crispy batter caught my attention, as it didn’t taste like any other British batter I have ever tried. Shimmy explained that instead of basing his batter with flour like most kitchens do, he uses a maize base mixed with Shiner beer, which gives almost a Tempura texture to the batter.
For those not on a seafood kick, a generous Pork and Beans plate made from kitchen crafted, slow cooked beans are topped with a stack of slow roasted pork ribs glistening in a Guinness reduction that gives a molasses texture and taste to the soft meat. Topping the pile of ribs are candied jalapeño slices prepared in-house.
About the only thing they don’t prepare themselves are the bangers – or sausages – because they just don’t have the equipment to stuff their own sausage links, yet. Brian has that on his to do list for next year, “We are also constantly evaluating our beer selection and seeing what else we can find.”
The Grail is one of those places you love to find, the personal dream of someone dedicated to quality food, beverages and service. Judging from the way they have approached and executed the first restaurant of their own I am willing to bet the North Texas food scene is going to see a lot more of Brian and Christi.
And, even without the direct Monty Python reference, if you stop by they might be able to tell you the average air speed velocity of an unladen sparrow….
The Holy Grail Pub
8240 Preston Road
Since October, my mom has been raving about a dairy some 20 minutes or so from where she lives in Sunset, Texas. Now, remember, this is the same mom who raves about that icky, metallic, leafy sweetner, Stevia. The mom that eats weird, slimy, ancient Mayan seeds soaked in water. The mom that owns and consumes more vitamin, homeopathic and herbal supplements in one day than your average health food store stocks in its lifetime. Frankly, the only thing that makes me NOT question her long Texas lineage is the mere fact that she has fried chicken for dinner every Sunday and will always cook me chicken fried rib eyes on demand along with fried okra, mashed potatoes, blackeyed peas and pan gravy, of course.
Last Saturday I found myself up on the farm at Sunset for some post-Thanksgiving family time. I wasn’t there 30 minutes when my mom started in about the milk again. “It’s the best milk ever. It’s raw, unpasteurized,” she said, “it’s so much healthier for you.” Harumph. But every good mom knows her child’s many weaknesses, so she continued, “There’s at least four inches of cream that floats on the top.” SOLD!!! She opened the fridge, violently shook the milk jug and poured me a cold glass. It was love at first sip. Cold, creamy, rich and so delicious I’d actually steal it from a baby. After a second glass, I demanded to meet the man behind the milk called Diamond B Cattle Company CREAMLINE.
After a pretty drive, rife with white tail and other critters, we pulled up to Clifford and Cheryl Buchanan’s Diamond B Cattle Company. I didn’t know what to fawn and squee over first: the young jersey calves, the coterie of kitties, or the simple, green beauty of gently sloped hills dotted with cattle. I didn’t have to choose, fortunately, for there was Clifford Buchanan, busting through the dairy’s door, calling out to my mother by name and quick with a smile, shaking my hand. Within 10 seconds I’d decided that Clifford, regardless of how damn good his milk was, was ‘good people.’
It was late in the day, near dusk and close to the day’s second milking, but Clifford was generous with his time and volunteered not only a tour of the dairy, but his story, too. In 1980, Clifford, a third generation farmer, found himself sick of his corporate job in Arlington, Texas. Longing for farming, he and wife Cheryl purchased a farm just outside of Decatur. The scrappy duo operated a small cattle farm and showed state and national champion Jersey cows, including Reserve Champions, Grand Champions and even a National Futurity winner. For 26 years it was a labor of love and their passion, but sadly external circumstances – the farm was losing $300 a day – forced Clifford and Cheryl into retirement and into auctioning off all but a handful of their most prized Jerseys. Both found themselves working “real jobs” once again. But early this year, 60-year-old Clifford Buchanan said to hell with it, bit the bullet, and, with the encouragement of a South Texas farming family, started up a tiny dairy simply because he wanted to. And though Clifford Buchanan only had two cows in the beginning of 2009, he set to work remodeling a barn on his property and turning it into the Diamond B Cattle Ranch CREAMLINE Dairy.
The dairy, with the help of a small Decatur newspaper advertisement, opened to the public on September of this year. Little did Clifford and Cheryl know that there’s been growing interest in slow food, urban farming, and more importantly the Buy Local, Eat Local movement. They just wanted to, “sell a quality product at an affordable price.” They wanted to sell 75 to 100 gallons of their grass fed Jersey, Grade A, unpasteurized, raw milk. But they didn’t. They sold 362 gallons. Within their first 30 days of business, they wondered, was this a fluke? October saw people driving in from McKinney, Fort Worth and beyond and sales increased that month over 50% – 570 gallons to be exact. Clifford was going to need some more cows, so he added 13 more. It was a wise investment. Last month, November 2009, saw Diamond B Cattle Company CREAMLINE sales skyrocket to a whopping 990 gallons of milk. Word of mouth traveled fast. Clifford says of his customers, “The most surprising thing about all of this isn’t the milk’s popularity. I know the milk’s good. It’s the attitude of the customers. They are the most appreciative, gracious, thankful people I’ve ever met.”
The Jerseys – or The Girls as I like to call them – are some of the happiest, healthiest cows I’ve ever laid eyes on. Opting for numbered collars, the girls are unbranded, spending their days grazing, lowing, chewing cud in the evening and being highly affectionate and curious about cameras.
They’re milked twice a day and the milk, which comes out at 102 degrees, is put directly into a large bulk tank which makes very quick work of chilling the butter fat rich milk down to 37 degrees. Within the tank is an agitator which runs intermittently and ensures that, when the milk is placed in either quart or gallon containers, there’s an even distribution of cream within the milk. A sticker gets slapped on the containers and they go straight into the fridge. And folks, that’s the entire process for raw milk and it’s a far cry from what happens to the milk you find on your grocer’s shelves.
Buchanan says other reactions to the milk that have surprised him are the life changing stories he’s hearing from local doctors and customers. “I’m not saying my milk works miracles, but it’s helping people. There was one woman who hadn’t been able to drink milk for decades, and now she comes once a week from McKinney. There’s another young family from Saginaw that buys ten gallons a week. I have another lady that buys it for religious reasons. It’s astounding. I’m amazed.” Raw milk enthusiasts will tell you modern day pasteurization, homogenization and standardization practices can hide dirty milk, kills the beneficial vitamins, proteins, enzymes and bacteria found in milk. Meanwhile, doctors on the pro-raw milk wagon – including 6 doctors and a couple of nutritionists in the area – actually prescribe raw milk for myriad health issues, from behavioral issues, cardiac and skeletal problems, skin disorders, obesity and even those with lactose intolerance. Yup, people that are lactose intolerant can actually and quite easily digest raw milk. It’s also a pretty political issue, too. It is illegal to buy raw milk in 24 states and only ten states allow for its retail sale. And while that’s all well and good, I like raw milk because it – and I’m repeating myself – is so creamy, so rich and so delicious, I’d actually steal it from a baby.
I’ve gone through two trips and two gallons and three quarts of Clifford’s CREAMLINE milk in six days. It’s that good. And if you want some from yourself, I’ll tell you that this milk is worth the two hours round trip drive I have to make from Dallas. Wanna know what to expect, here’s the lowdown:
Open 7 days a week, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Walk through the front door of the dairy and open the refrigerator door. A gallon is five bucks, a quart three. If you need more than ten gallons, some of Clifford’s customers buy 20 to 40 gallons, you need to call ahead and make arrangements with him first. As Clifford puts it, “My local customers come first. They need the milk and I’ve got to make sure I have it for them.”
The directions, as best as I can give them to you, are as follows: Head to Decatur on 287, go west on 380 towards Bridgeport for a piece. Turn left at Seven Wires and go down the road until the stop sign. Go right at the stop sign. Right after you pass a young pecan orchard, veer to the left and the dairy is at the second house on the right. They were simple enough to follow for this semi-country girl and I was able to find the Diamond B Cattle Company with ease, but if you’re more of a city person, I suggest you call Clifford for a little help if you get lost.
And for the record, when you meet Clifford Buchanan for the first time, he’ll shake your hand, but be prepared for a hug when you leave. For as grateful as his customers are for his milk, Clifford’s just as thankful for them.
Diamond B Cattle Company Dairy
This Friday marks the For Legged Fashion: Canine Meets Couture event in Dallas. The event raises money to create grants which are awarded to North Texas non- profit animal agencies focusing on on rescue, care, adoption, education and the reduction of overpopulation. The evening’s festivities will find attendees nibbling and tippling at the event’s cocktail reception, experiencing a four legged fashion show of the finest in canine couture, and perusing and participating in not one but two auctions featuring clothing, housing and more by the likes of Todd Oldham and HKS Architects to name a few.
Though it was only last week that I found out about Fashion Group International of Dallas’ Four Legged Fashion: Canine Meets Couture, Frank, the face of the event, was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule for an interview with The Squawker. Don’t forget, tickets are still available for the event and if you plan to attend, please stop by to shake hands with Frank, he’ll be hosting a meet and greet during the cocktail reception.
Hi, Frank. Thanks for taking time out of your schedule to talk with me. How’re you doing this week?
I’m great! Every week is the best week. I just came back from a long walk through the city of Plano called a “Walk for Values”. We walked to promote great ideas like love and peace, which I am all for. The little kids really enjoyed petting my velvet soft ears. I had to represent the 4 leggeds.
Could you tell me about where you live?
I keep a humble home in the suburbs, it is very quiet and relaxing. I have several good sleeping spots and a nice green space to trot around in. I do a great job keeping the birds out of my moms garden. My guests tell me that my style is very eclectic, and both 2 and 4 legged friends really enjoy coming over.
I understand you’re a rescue, is that something you’re comfortable telling me about?
Of course, I don’t mind talking about my journey. I think that is one of the reasons I am here, to tell people about rescue and help. I was abandoned as a puppy, and was hit by a car. My back end was pretty messed up. Through a network of wonderful people I found my way to a hospital and they took me in. I spent 4 months there healing and getting my strength back, I had to have multiple surgeries. When I was at the hospital as a pup I kept the workers on their toes. My back end was immobilized but I would drag myself around with my front paws. That is how I got the nickname “Frank the Tank”. I even have a line of Frank the Tank t-shirts.
From the hospital I went to this group who showed me about living in a house and helped me find my forever home. I fell in love with my foster family and knew that was where I wanted to stay. They felt the same way and adopted me. They don’t mind at all that my leg is a bit short and doesn’t bend. Mom says it gives me character.
How long have you lived with your new family?
Over three years. I was 7 months when we met. I just turned 4 and had the best birthday party in my backyard, with organic pup-cake and all my pals and 2 cousins.
How do you spend your days and weekends?
During the week I’m usually with my mom while she works in her office. Some times I go on jobs with her, or hang at doggy day care. We try to walk in the woods and explore nature often, and also have play dates with my best pal Sandy. She lived with us for a while when she was homeless but now has this great pad in Uptown. She taught me to not be afraid of the water and we swim together.
Do you have any favorite things, toys or treats?
First of all, I love a good towel dry and will spin between anyone’s legs for one. Not crazy about the bath, but love, love, love, the dry. Also, a good massage really sets me up! Especially on my repaired hip and leg. Mom says I’m a bit of a love-hound, but I think therapy is key to a healthy long life.
Anyone who scratches me behind the ears is a friend for life. I love meeting people.
Occasionally I like a good squeaker. They just bring out the pup in me, until I rip them to shreds and snuff the squeak of course. Since I was once a starving boy I’m mostly interested in treats. I love those chicken jerky strips! And of course I eat my veggies everyday, I love apples and carrots, green beans, and tomatoes.
Do you have any favorite local animal organizations or charities?
I have always tried to promote rescue in general and of course am involved in the group that saved me. I have recently signed on to be the face of Four Legged Fashion. Their website has all of the details, but they are raising money to create something called a fund, which animal rescue groups can get money from. So it will help save more guys like me. I love that! I’m really not one for stardom but FLF is really a great cause, and the deal is pretty sweet I have to say. I have to go on these personal appearances, have my picture taken, wear some clothes, and meet people. In return I get lots of pets and treats, car rides and outings. I’m not crazy about the clothes, but it is fashion, so I roll with it.
Can you tell us a bit about your people?
I have 2 moms and they are just great. They take me everywhere, even on vacation with my cousins in the summer. We take in needy dogs sometimes and I’m a great foster brother. I teach them the ropes, about being a family pet and living in a real house. I have great friends and family. My grandmother gave me a rubber chicken for Christmas. It rocked!
Any final thoughts?
Everyday is the best day yet. On days that my repaired leg is sore I hop, and if I get tired I plop down for a rest. I’m so happy to be here and be alive! I know the odds aren’t good for homeless animals and I was one of the lucky ones . Too many of us never find real homes. Rescue is like recycling, we all need to do it. And kids, eat your veggies and go outside and PLAY!