• Hoop Church at Hot Mama's
  • Hoop Church class
  • Hoop Church Sundays

On Sunday afternoons at Hot Mama's Cafe on East 6th Street, a group of people gather for what they call “church.” There's no choir, pews or sermon — instead, a large amp plays dance music while men and women with big smiles greet each other while performing both simple and intricate dance moves with hula hoops.

There is a pastor; Michelle Amaranth, and ordained minister, is also jokingly called the “minister of hooping." Like a more traditional church, a sense of camaraderie and peacefulness pervades the space and newcomers are welcomed with open arms.

Hoop Church, as it's officially known, has been hosted by Hot Mama's for about two years now but existed in other spaces for at least three years prior to that. While the hooping community has been around in Austin for almost eight years, it's become more visible over the past three. CultureMap Austin's own launch party had a space for guests to try out hula hoops on the dance floor, and the City of Austin's New Year's Eve celebration featured dancers with lit up hoops entertaining the crowd at Auditorium Shores.

From fitness to circus arts to meditation to choreographed dance, the hooping community in Austin embraces a diversity of desires to pick up a hoop.

While traditional hula hooping is the foundation for this modern trend — think of all of those films of surprised housewives in the 50s slinging a hoop around their waists — this new iteration encompasses a much wider range of intents, movements and rhythms. From fitness to circus arts to meditation to choreographed dance, the hooping community in Austin embraces a diversity of desires to pick up a hoop.

Bethany Lynn Corey, a graduate student at the University of Texas who creates theatre for children under five, says she got into hooping because, “I needed some kind of artistic release and hooping offered me that. I found it to about a great community of people and that keeps me passionate about it.”

When asked why so many other people are also becoming passionate about hooping, she says, “It takes a lot of people back to their childhood in a really fun way and you're allowed to play as an adult.” Hoopers may have serious day jobs but Corey says, “When you come out hooping you may put on gaucho pants and put a flower in your hair... you have an interesting dichotomy [between a day job and hooping].”

Some adults may have embarrassing childhood memories of being forced to wrangle a cheap, flimsy hula hoop around her waist, of it falling again and again, of the sheer frustration of not being able to keep the damn thing up. For those people, the thought of seeking out a hula hoop might seem absurd. Why suffer the humiliation again?

According to hooping enthusiasts, the benefits are enough to outweigh the initial fear. On Hooping.org Genevieve Wachutak states, “There’s a particular joy in hula hooping: feeling the rhythm of the hoop pulling your body around, falling into beat with the music and letting it extend through you into the hoop. Not to mention the health benefits of hooping. It is terrific aerobic exercise, develops core strength, and increases flexibility... hula hooping is also a form of emotional and psychological therapy — as both a stress reliever and in developing a positive self-image.”

The Hooping Life, a new documentary, affirms this. One woman states, “I really think hooping saved my life,” while another woman talks about the hooping program she's set up to serve at-risk youth in her community. This sense of a shared community explains why the hoopers at Hot Mama's call it “church;” in an age of secularism, hooping provides an inclusive, joyful place where people can come together to connect.


Beginner's classes offer novices a safe and non-judgmental introduction to hoop dance. HOOPCiRCLE leads classes at both Galaxy Dance Studio and Alisa's Dance Academy, and Cedar Stevens also offers beginner's classes at the Vortex Theatre's outdoor yard. For those who would like to learn more before trying out a class, www.hooping.org offers information, videos and a how-to guide for making your own hoop.

A post-Valentine's confession: My mad crush on anger, and the way it helps usbounce back after break-ups

real talk

Now that Valentine’s Day (and all the coverage of the related emotion of love) is behind us, I’d like to talk about break-ups (and the related emotion of anger) for a minute.

You’re probably thinking, “Isn’t sadness the most common emotion associated with breaking up?”

Split-ups and sadness make a popular couple, to be sure. But while sadness has a place in the break-up process, I’m not really fan of that emotion. The problem with sadness is it has a very short shelf life when it comes to its usefulness — when it lingers too long, it becomes really counterproductive. It keeps you mired in the past. It saps your strength and drains your motivation for embarking on new projects. In short, it prevents you from getting over the break-up and moving on.

The problem with sadness is it has a very short shelf life when it comes to its usefulness — when it lingers too long, it becomes really counterproductive.

But anger is a different story.

My former hair stylist was the first person who pointed out the difference in the relative usefulness of these two emotions in the context of a break-up. A few years ago, she told me about a friend of hers who was going through a divorce. Her husband had failed to make their house payment for several months and spent down all of their savings without her knowing it. Then, right as the house of cards was collapsing around them, he up and left her and the kids. A couple of months later, I asked how her friend was doing.

“Not well. She’s still sad. She needs to get over being sad and move on to being mad; that way she can start getting things done,” she explained.

I found that assessment fascinating. And once I stopped to think about it, I was surprised at how many people I knew who had followed that pattern: Women who had experienced crippling sadness in the wake of a break-up but then later got angry, with a burst of productivity, personal growth and healing following.

The most famous example at the moment is current It Girl and Grammy hoarder Adele — her song "Rolling in the Deep" specifically and the album 21 generally demonstrate this emotional progression clearly. She went through a bad break up; at first she was crushed and her sadness kept her stuck in the past, focused on her ex. But then she got mad. And once she was mad, she harnessed that power and used it to create a body of music that swept up every Grammy award for which it was nominated.

Famous people’s stories of overcoming difficulties can be inspirational, but they're also removed from our everyday lives. I mean, of course celebrities have success stories — they’re famous, right? For that reason, it is often more empowering to hear stories of triumph on a more ordinary scale. Those stories seem less distant and in that way easier to relate to.

When it comes to people I know personally, my friend Kelly’s story of post-break-up success fueled by anger is my favorite.

Kelly had always had an interest in acting, but with three kids and a husband whose job required him to travel a lot, she never had the time to pursue it. Plus, acting was something her husband had a low regard for. Because being an actor in local theater productions was not an endeavor that would make any real money — the only measure of value he recognized — he thought it seemed like an ego trip and a pipe dream all mixed together. In other words, he viewed it as both embarrassing and a monumental waste of time.

If she had wanted to do something that could end up making decent money — say, selling real estate, or something legitimate like that — he would have been all over it. But acting? Not only could he not support an idea that foolish, he couldn’t even bring himself to hide his disdain for it.

Not surprisingly, Kelly and her husband eventually split up. It turns out, while he was away on business and she was at home with the kids, he had developed some outside interests of his own. These interests had names like Crystal and Kandi and were creative enough to compose steamy texts, but not smart enough to keep straight which nights he was out of town and which nights he was at home with Kelly and the kids.

The divorce hit Kelly hard. The kids were older, so she found she had significant chunks of time on her hands and spent the first few months adrift and forlorn. But then she got tired of being sad all the time — actually, that’s not quite right. To put it more accurately, she got mad about being sad all the time. Mad that she had put her own interests on the shelf in order to make her husband happy. Angry that while she was at home clipping coupons, helping the kids with homework and making sure everyone got three square meals a day, he was in cities like Vegas and L.A. wining and dining the likes of Crystal and Kandi with family funds. And the fact that she had spent the last few months moping around after splitting up with such a jerk made her really furious — at herself.

She recognized that she needed to do something with all of that anger — she needed a project to throw herself into in order to move on. So, she signed up for an acting class and converted all that anger into energy for her new craft. That was a critically important step.

She wasn’t doing it to show her ex. She wasn’t trying to become famous so she could then have a “booya” moment. She was doing it for her. She wanted to get over being mad at herself for putting her own interests last for so long — that is a critically important distinction.

Gasoline can either burn your house to the ground or make your car go. The same is true of anger. If it’s not handled the right way it can destroy you — but if you make it work for you and not against you, it can propel you to do incredible things.

Not surprisingly, things really took off for her. Her acting teacher connected her with an agent and, before she knew it, she was getting cast in local TV commercials. She had a new set of friends, she loved what she was doing and the money she was making from her new hobby was a nice supplement to her regular income.

She was so busy with her new project that she didn’t even notice exactly when she had stopped being angry, and being sad was such a distant memory it seemed like a whole lifetime ago. Kelly was happy. That was when she knew that the chapter of her life dedicated to her break-up was officially over.

The story could have stopped there and that would have been a happy ending all by itself. But this is one of those delicious tales that ends with both extra icing and a huge cherry on top. Kelly was cast in an ad for a local hospital and a huge photo of her smiling face was plastered on billboard located alongside a really busy highway — on the exact stretch that her ex-husband and many of his coworkers had to drive down every morning to get to his office. As they say in the movie business, “Roll the credits. That’s a wrap.”

And speaking of wraps, it seems like anger always gets a bad one. Popular psychology tells people that in order to heal you have to let go of your anger. But that advice is misleading — the thing is, anger is a lot like gasoline. Gasoline can either burn your house to the ground or make your car go. The same is true of anger. If it’s not handled the right way it can destroy you — but if you make it work for you and not against you, it can propel you to do incredible things.

If you follow the conventional wisdom and simply let go of your anger, you’re walking away from a very valuable resource — the fuel you need to get you through the break-up and beyond. It’s like throwing away a gift card for a year’s supply of free fuel.

Think of it like this: When you go through a break up, you get a gigantic “gift” basket of stuff as a consolation prize. A lot of it is shredded paper. A lot of it is crap that you won’t want to hang onto. But there are also some really valuable things in there, too. Unfortunately, you can’t just quickly eye ball the basket and cherry pick the valuable things right off the top. Some of the best things — like that gift card to Exxon — are hidden among the crap and buried under a thick layer of shredded paper. There’s no way to know that you’ve gotten all the good things out of the basket until you’ve gone through everything.

But be careful not to confuse helpful anger with her trashy and destructive cousins rage and obsession. Rage leads people to do harmful and negative things like slashing an ex’s tires or keying his car. Obsession causes stalker-type behavior, like repeatedly driving by an ex’s house or fixating on his every move. Neither rage nor obsession has any place in a healthy break-up recovery. And if you find either of these losers taking up residence in your head and you can’t quickly usher them out by yourself, you need to find a good therapist on the double.

To paraphrase one of Adele's six Grammy acceptance speeches, breaking up from a rubbish relationship is something everyone goes through. When you find yourself there, work through your sadness — but don’t get stuck there. Then, when you turn the corner from sad to mad, make sure to use your anger like a rocket ship. Pointing it at your own house would be self-destructive. Targeting it at your ex’s house would cause you to miss your chance to break out of the gravitational force field that keeps you orbiting around your past. Instead, aim it toward somewhere you’ve always wanted to go or maybe even an exciting new destination.

Remember, when you’re traveling by rocket ship, the sky’s the limit; so, blast off already and enjoy the ride.

  • I have done my fair share of dating, and after some time, I started to wonder ifmaybe dating is actually more difficult than a long distance relationship.
  • Pillow Talk: Each person puts on a ring sensor when they go to sleep at night.Once one person falls asleep, their significant other's pillow starts to glowsoftly, thanks to a flat fabric panel that goes inside the pillowcase. Here'sthe kicker. Because the panel syncs up with your S.O.'s ring, when you put yourhead on the pillow, you can hear the other person's heart beat.

Can absence really make the heart grow fonder? Don't worry, there's an app forthat: Pillow Talk, Couple Fire, Path and Find My Friends

digital love

My first exposure to long-distance relationships (LDRs) was my freshman year of college. I lived in an all-girls dormitory, which meant that more than once, I had to awkwardly tip-toe past one of my many lovelorn neighbors as they cooed in the phone to their boyfriends who were attending a different university in a faraway land.

As I walked by, I felt pity for these girls. The man they loved was hundreds, maybe thousands, of miles away. That’s tough. Additionally, this adolescent romance was probably going to end as soon as one of them locked eyes with a good-looking co-ed after one too many keg stands at the Kappa Sig house. That’s tougher.

Teen romances aside, I have always been a big anti-long-distance-relationships kind of gal. They're just not ideal. You can't see that person whenever you want. I would imagine that jealousy would be more prevalent. And “sexting” is never as good as the real thing. Period.
Which is why it is slightly shocking that I now find myself in one of these dreaded arrangements. Before you say anything, let me defend myself by saying that I tried to avoid this at all costs. I have been in relationships before where the other person moved away, and while I cared about them, I saw it as a deal breaker and wished them well on their way out. However, I have done my fair share of dating, and after some time, I started to wonder if maybe the dating part is actually more difficult than the long distance relationship part.
Hear me out. The more you date, the more you are convinced that people suck. Not all of them. Just the ones you're dating. So, when you find a guy (or gal) who doesn't suck (and is, in fact, all kinds of awesome), but he or she lives in another city, you begin to question your previously held beliefs about LDRs.
Which is what I did. And which is why I am now dating a guy who lives in Dallas. In terms of long distance, ours is really an insignificant amount of distance. I say this because I have a friend who dated a guy who lived in Asia for a year and a half. Asia. A year and a half. That’s love. Now, much like how all fairytales end, he showed up on her doorstep one day and proposed (AWW!). Point is, I could have it worse.
However, while mine is a minor case of long-distance-relationship-itis, it still kind of stinks not having my guy here all the time. We Skype. We call. We text. We email. We even tweet. As far as the gamut of communication goes, I think we’ve got it covered. And in this effort to find every way possible to stay in touch with my beau, I started to think about what else is available for people who are trying to make their long distance love last.
Like any good journalist, I did some in-depth research (Google, Wikipedia, Twitter, etc.) and found out that there are actually quite a few things out there to sustain LDR crowd. In the spirit of the season and keeping that love alive, I wanted to share my findings with my fellow long-distance lovers.
Created by Scottish designer Joanna Montgomery, Pillow Talk is a device designed for the LDR couple. Here’s how it works: Each person puts on a ring sensor when they go to sleep at night. Once one person falls asleep, their significant other's pillow starts to glow softly, thanks to a flat fabric panel that goes inside the pillowcase. Here's the kicker. Because the panel syncs up with your significant other's ring, when you put your head on the pillow, you can hear the other person's heart beat.
My immediate thought when I came across this was... bizarre. But after watching the promotional video on the website, I actually found it to be quite sweet. That being said, I can't help but laugh imaging what my boyfriend's reaction would be upon me suggesting that we try this.
Still in invite-only beta release, Couple Fire is an online application that serves as a social network just for you and your sweetie. It has a couple's dashboard where you can post questions, quizzes, friendly reminders or just sweet messages. It also has an alerts function, to remind you about important dates like birthdays and anniversaries. The online app’s creator, Emily Marshall, says that it’s basically a private Facebook, just for couples.
First of all, I’d like to point out that the app’s original name was “SnuggleCloud.” I think we can all agree the name change was a move in the right direction. However, I feel like you can do most of this stuff over all of the existing social networks. Then again, I know I don’t feel comfortable writing lovey-dovey stuff on my guy’s Facebook wall. So, I suppose I can see the value of having a personal online space for you and your partner to be as mushy as your hearts desire.
Path is a unique photo sharing app, marketed as the “smart journal that helps you share life with the ones you love.” Unlike other photo apps out there, Path gives you several sharing options. You can post both photos and videos, and you can choose whether to make them public, so all your Path friends can see, or private, meant to viewed only by those you choose. There is also a neat comment feature so that your significant other can tell you how adorable you look in that sombrero and fake moustache that you wore for your friend’s fiesta-themed birthday party.
This is one of my favorite apps of the bunch. One of the worst aspects of the LDR is not getting to experience things with your guy or gal. Path allows you to capture those moments and share them virtually with the one you love. It may not be the same as them being there, but it’s probably the next best thing.
Developed for the iPad and iPhone, Find My Friends is an app that does exactly what it says: it locates your friends, families and, of course, your significant other. Once you download the app for free from the App Store, you simply send a request to your lover. After they accept it, you can both locate each other at any time.
Yes, this is basically a GPS tracker for people that you want to stalk. Which is why I was surprised when my guy told me to download it. No, we aren’t the crazy stalker types. In fact, it was more of a joke at first. But sometimes when I'm bored, I will actually find myself using it. There are two reasons for this: 1.) I am amazed by the fact that I can track down someone's exact location; and 2.) there is a part of me that honestly just likes seeing where he is. It's weirdly comforting. Besides, it’s not stalking if he’s your boyfriend... right?
As humorous and/or ridiculous as all of these things might seem, I'm not surprised they exist. Relationships are hard and long-distance relationships are harder. So, it makes sense that people would try to develop tools, apps and online networks that could make it all a bit easier. For now, I'm content with Skype and my weird stalker app. I'm also content with my boyfriend. He is pretty great, and definitely worth all that pesky long-distance nonsense.
  • WotWentWrong's Beta version launched on Jan. 24.
    Screenshot via Wot Went Wrong
  • Audrey Melnik is trying to create a socially acceptable way to learn whathappened, improve yourself and move on.

New dating website contacts your exes to find out what went wrong: You're ratedon your kissing too

Why didn't he/she call?

You went on (what you considered) a stellar date — then waited by the phone, composed and deleted dozens of text messages and compulsively checked your email, but never heard from him or her again.

What did you do wrong? When a breakup never actually occurs, how can you move on?

Here's where WotWentWrong, a newly-launched breakup app, comes in. You can find out, in a neutral way, what exactly did go wrong, finally getting closure on a fizzled relationship.

No more sleepless nights! No more lingering questions! Set a blueprint for your future relationships!

Inspired by her own vanishing date, Australian Audrey Melnik founded and developed WotWentWrong to help others get the answers they need.

Simply fill out a few fields on the feedback form, select a request template — choose from flippant, cool, philosophical, or even historical, for relationships long past — then rate your date on kissing technique, conversation skills and more "teasers" to incentivize a response.

Your registration is complete. Cross your fingers that your ex will be sufficiently tempted by said teasers to evoke a response, and that he or she will be honest about your shortcomings.

Positive feedback accompanies the constructive (read: negative) feedback; WotWentWrong gives advice for improvement and suggests products (read: advertisements) that might help you solve your problem.

No more sleepless nights! No more lingering questions! Set a blueprint for your future relationships!

Have multiple failed relationship loose ends that need tying up? Send unlimited requests.

Want to give unsolicited feedback for someone ​you dumped, who just needs to know about that one deal breaker? Go for it.

Tell us: At a time when so many first impressions take place online, does rehashing everything online feel like a natural extension? Or is this type of disconnected feedback pushing the boundaries?

  • Nadia Latif and partner Jordan
  • Dean and Jeff Lofton
  • Julie Schwietert and Francisco Collazo with their daughter, Mariel

Why be a hater: Lovers who dislike Valentine's Day

holiday haters

The fact that Valentine's Day is upon us causes most people to have one of two opposite reactions: Totally embracing this day to celebrate love, or feeling complete disdain for what seems a forced, manufactured "holiday."

And in case you think that most people who fall into the "anti-Valentine's-Day" category are bitter singletons who don't have a significant other with whom to toast Cupid, think again. Plenty of happily-coupled people don't care about the day, or actively take a dislike to it themselves.
"While I love a grand romantic gesture, I prefer an original gesture that's inspired by our relationship rather than a commercially-manufactured idea of what's romantic," says Dean Lofton, an Austin publicist and writer who has been married to musician and composer Jeff Lofton for six years. This year on Feb. 14, Jeff will be playing a gig at Zed's while Dean stays home writing.
"Love is much bigger than what's easily picked up from romantic comedies and the simple ideas. Imagine if our culture focused on self-love the same amount of time and energy as romantic love. So many people would be happier and have more self-confidence."
"The unexpected piece of jewelry, not prompted by massive ad campaigns, means much more to me," she says. "We also think love should be consistently expressed, not reserved for just one day."
Jeff agrees: "I prefer to get my lovin' year round."
Dean is also very aware of what lessons her ten-year-old stepdaughter is learning about love. "I want to lessen the impact of the cultural focus on romantic relationships — which is often pushed as the main focus and purpose of women's lives. Love is much bigger than what's easily picked up from romantic comedies and the simple ideas. Imagine if our culture focused on self-love the same amount of time and energy as romantic love. So many people would be happier and have more self-confidence."
It's not just Americans who feel this way, either. Across the pond, Brit Nadia Latif is even more adamant. "Our relationship is personal to us — what the hell has a designated day got to do with it? It's cheesy beyond words; I can think of no less romantic evening than one spent with thirty other couples in a stressed-out restaurant decked out with love hearts. Yuk."
She and her partner, Jordan, have been together three years and have never celebrated Valentine's Day. Nadia says it was fantastic to realize their mutual dislike of the day when their first Feb. 14 together rolled around.
"It's romance for lazy people," she states bluntly.
Kat Tancock, a writer and yoga instructor in Toronto, is also no fan of forced merriment. "I'm kind of anti-Halloween and New Year's as well, and luckily my partner agrees with me for the most part. For Valentine's Day specifically, I find it annoying that we're supposed to do something romantic with each other. Only once a year?"
"It's romance for lazy people."
She also dislikes the obligatory gift-giving aspect that comes with such holidays. (A philosophy I whole-heartedly agree with — this viewpoint has led to me being labeled a Scrooge by my family, who celebrate every single holiday with gusto, but that's another story.)
"From an environmental and economical perspective, these holidays have proliferated as an excuse to spend money, which kind of drives me crazy," Kat adds. "And every year the bar seems to go higher. My style is to be more spontaneous and give gifts and do special dinners when I feel like it, rather than when the world tells me to. It's also just so cheesy, getting flowers on Valentine's Day. It doesn't make me feel any more loved — I mean, how lame is it to expect the man in your life to buy you flowers on a certain day of the year? It's not especially creative!"
Lifestyle and relationship coach Kim Evazians says that when such expectations lead to a partner feeling forced or obligated to prove his or her feelings, it can be detrimental. "Valentine's Day isn't something we avoid. It's fine and wonderful, but if someone put that effort into a totally random day the impact would be significantly greater, because it wasn't expected at all."
Some couples seem to learn this from each other. Julie Schwietert got a lesson in both love and cultural differences from her Cuban husband, Francisco Collazo. In the first year of their relationship, Julie spent holidays silently stewing over the fact that her partner apparently did not realize these days were special; that they were supposed to be observed and recognized as days set apart from every other day of the year. "They did have Valentine's Day in Cuba, didn't they?"
By the time her birthday arrived, Julie was determined that she wasn't going to let another special day go by uncelebrated. She sulked until late afternoon, hoping Francisco would ask why she was so sullen and moody. When he finally did, she was even more livid that it had taken him so long to inquire.
"Because. It's. My. Birthday," Julie responded, every word punctuated with a period for emphasis. "And you forgot."
Francisco took the opportunity to finally explain his concept of holidays. Because he treated every day as if it was special — "And he really does," Julie adds — the days that greeting card companies and calendars and governments declared as "special" held little, if any, meaning for him. "I celebrate your birth every day," Francisco told Julie; and she knew he meant it.
"Other couples may go out for a special dinner on Valentine's Day," she says. "Maybe he'll bring her roses. But why wait for February 14? Living with Francisco helped teach me that."
And in case you're wondering about me — my partner and I don't celebrate Valentine's Day either. In fact, on this one he will be more than 9,000 miles away in Cambodia. I think we'll make our own romance, in our own way — and on a day of our choosing. If you feel the same, you might check out CultureMap's Valentine's Day events for people who hate Valentine's Day.
  • Bill Elsey
    Photo by Matt McGinnis
  • Scott Ota
  • Christy A. Canterbury
    Photo by Michael Seto
  • Davis Smith

How to romance your date on Valentine’s Day with the right wine

get tipsy

Everybody wants to get laid, and Valentine’s Day is either a blessing or a curse when it comes to the pursuit of nook-nook. It’s potentially an excuse to have hot monkey sex with your partner, to bed the hottie you’ve been lusting after or to go down in flames desperately hungering for the delicious treat that you’re not getting.

The pressure is on. Expectations for action are higher than any other night of the year (except maybe senior prom).

Whether you’re in a relationship or hoping to be, it’s always helpful to pull out all the romantic stops to increase your odds of having a tawdry evening. One tried-and-true and fantastically effective aphrodisiac is to treat your sweetie to an elegant dinner. Wine is an integral part of a romantic feast and a critical element in getting cupid’s arrow to fly straight. Wine also holds the potential to turn you into a hapless mess if you aren’t comfortable ordering it — nothing kills the mood quicker than incompetence.

Wine is an integral part of a romantic feast and a critical element in getting cupid’s arrow to fly straight.

Fortunately for you, there are people trained to make you look good enough to get in the game. (Well, at least when it comes to ordering wine.) Here are tips from some top sommeliers on how to order wine competently, plus some suggested wines to help you round the bases.

Christy A. Canterbury, Master of Wine

Canterbury is a consultant to wine competitions, freelance writer and teaches at primo wine schools. She is the former National Wine Director for Smith & Wollensky Restaurant Group and Global Corporate Beverage Director for Culinary Concepts by Jean-Georges. She holds a Master of Wine, is a Certified Sommelier via Court of Master Sommeliers and is Winner of the Villa Maria Award for Outstanding Viticulture Examination Paper.

New York City-based Sommelier, Christy Canterbury, recommends doing your homework before heading you the door. “It’s a huge help to check a restaurant’s online wine list before you go! Double check that the list is current, either from the date on the web or by calling the reservationist.”

Canterbury recommends sparkling wine as a great Valentine’s Day choice, and “rosé Champagne in particular works like a charm.” Here are her suggestions for rounding the bases

  • First base: “Frankly, the goal is at least second, and Champagne should get you there! Maybe rosé sparkling wine not from Champagne is the First Base wine? You’ve got to be thinking special occasion wines after all. Bump up the quality to really swoon your date.”
  • Second base: “Rosé Champagne! Or, try an old-school Rioja Reserva from a producer like CVNE Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España or Lopez de Heredia. A cool thing about Rioja is that the wines are released later, so it looks particularly special because they are older than most wines you usually drink...as well as other wines on the wine list.”
  • By-pass third and head for home: “Red Burgundy. Pinot Noir is the ultimate svelte, graceful, sexy wine, and Red Burgundy is the best there is in the category. Splurge for a Premier Cru if you can, but there are lots of good Village-level wines out there. The 2008 and 2009 vintages are on lists now and are spectacular. Only go for the 2007s if you like really racy, lean, mineral styles of wine.”

Bill Elsey, Sommelier, Wines.com | Red Room Lounge

Elsey is a Certified Sommelier via Court of Master Sommeliers, a Certified Specialist in Spirits and a Champagne and Cork Specialist through the Society of Wine Educators and is winner of Texas’ Best Sommelier 2011 at TexSom.

Bill Elsey recommends putting Sommeliers to work to use their knowledge to your benefit. Just give them a few parameters to work within to get the best results. Start by knowing what type of wine your date likes to drink; do they prefer sweet or dry, white or red, light or full bodied, fruit forward or earth driven?

Next, tell the Sommelier how much you are willing to spend on a bottle. Elsey says, “A smooth way of handling this without coming across as cheap or as though you are trying to show off is to point to a certain wine on the list and say to the Sommelier, ‘I’m looking for something in this area,’ to signal the amount that you would like to spend.”

“Food and wine pairings are fun, and they take some of the pressure off when choosing one bottle to go with the entire meal that may have several different dishes.”

Finally, if you are completely open to suggestions, give the floor to the Sommelier and let them guide you with wine and food pairings with each course. “Food and wine pairings are fun, and they take some of the pressure off when choosing one bottle to go with the entire meal that may have several different dishes.”

Elsey suggests dry rosé Champagne for a perfect Valentine’s Day wine. In particular he suggests Marc Hébrart N.V. Premier Cru Brut Rosé, Mareuil-sur-Aÿ de la Marne NV. The pink color is perfect for Valentine’s Day and the rich and layered flavor with tremendous acidity and minerality make it extremely versatile with food. To bring you home, he advises:

  • First base: “Dry Riesling. A great way to compromise if there are sweet and dry wine drinkers on a date. All of the lemon, apple and citrus fruit that comes with Riesling without the sweet finish. Look to Australia for Pewsey Vale dry Riesling from the Eden Valley or to Austria for Emmerich Knoll Federspiel dry Riesling.”
  • Second base: “Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir is always a safe go-to for both red and white wine drinkers and Oregon is my favorite New World region for Pinot. These wines typically are fruit forward, but not overly extracted with out of balance alcohol. Look for 2008 as a stellar vintage from the Willamette Valley. Retour and Domaine Serene are two of my personal favorite producers.”
  • By-pass third and head for home: “If you want sex potential, order a wine that needs to be decanted. This adds another element to the dining experience and is sure to score you points. Look for wines that benefit from age such as: Barolo, Barbaresco, Bordeaux, and wines from the Northern Rhone. Personally, I'd go with Barbaresco. These wines show depth of flavor, are elegant and beautiful on the nose. Like a woman who has it all together – confidence, beauty, finesse, maturity. I love the Nebbiolo grape and it is fairly off the radar for most wine drinkers, so it shows you know a little something about classy wines when you order one. Look for 1996 or 1997 vintages, both great years for Piedmont. One of my all-time favorite producers is Pio Cesare.”

Scott Ota, Wine Captain and Sommelier of The Driskill Grill

Ota is a Certified Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers, and Wine Captain and Sommelier of The Driskill Grill.

Scott Ota suggests that you start the conversation by asking your date his or her preferences. The Sommelier should be able to make recommendations based on your date’s answers. Be confident, and ask questions.

"A well-structured Cabernet is classic, confident, powerful and alluring."

He agrees that you can never go wrong with bubbles Valentine’s Day and recommends an elegant and refined Blanc de Blancs Champagne — Champagne is just downright sexy. Ota’s preference is Pierre Gimonnet 1er Cru Cuis, N.V. “It’s ridiculously delicious, and you don't have to break the bank. It's premier cru, and cheaper than Veuve Clicquot! Go with quality, not the big name.” If you are looking for lovin', here are Ota’s propositions:

  • First base: “Pinot Noir is always a good choice because it is smooth and feminine, often very food-friendly and easy-drinking. For around $50 or under, I love Evening Land Blue Label Pinot Noir from Eola-Amity Hills in Willamette Valley, OR. The wine is gentle, but structured, with plenty of fresh red fruits. If you want to spend a little more, you can’t go wrong with Burgundy. Domaine Leroy Monthelie AOP Rouge 1999 is jaw-dropping good. A stunning wine that features farmer’s market fresh fruits and blooming rose petals.”
  • Second base: “Cabernet Sauvignon is a great choice. A well-structured Cabernet is classic, confident, powerful and alluring. For under $50, I’d go with Terra Valentine 2009 Cabernet from the Spring Mountain district of Napa Valley. It has bold, rich black fruits mixed with judicious oak that provides spice and chocolate. If you’re willing to splurge, I recommend the 1989 Château Beychevelle, a fourth growth Bordeaux from the commune of Saint Julien. The ‘89 vintage was stunning, and the wine gives just about everything that you could want in a great bottle of Cabernet.
  • By-pass third and head for home: A second bottle.

Davis Smithwine director at The Black Pearl Seafood and Martini Bar in Ann Arbor, MI

Davis Smith is a studying Sommelier. He also produces content for his own personal website, winestateofmind.tumblr.com, where he does video and text reviews of wine; and for FindTheBest.com, a comparison website, where he writes posts in an educational capacity. Davis’ goal is to educate and empower people so that wine is no longer intimidating. His philosophy regarding wine is simple; keep an open mind, be honest, and drink what you enjoy.

Davis Smith recommends open communication to make sure your special night goes off without a hitch. Sommeliers are required to study the wines of the world for countless hours to find a wine that’s perfect for every customer. Start by describing the kind of wine you like and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Sommeliers love curious customers.

“Moscato d’Asti is a great way to start off the evening. Slightly sparkling and slightly sweet, this Italian wine goes great with salads."

When picking a romantic wine Smith’s mind goes immediately to bubbly, sure to set the mood on Valentine’s Day; plus, it’s hard to find a bad pairing for sparkling wine, making you look like a pro. Look for Cava, a sparkling wine from Spain that is very high in quality and very low in price. You get great freshness and a wonderful savory character from Cava that is tough to find in other sparkling wines at the same price. His other proposals for wines to get ya knockin’ boots are:

  • First Base: “Moscato d’Asti is a great way to start off the evening. Slightly sparkling and slightly sweet, this Italian wine goes great with salads, generally the first thing set on the table, especially if there is a salty component to the salad. This wine has blown up in the marketplace lately and is widely available.”
  • Second Base: “Port is a great wine for after dinner. This fortified dessert wine has a boost in alcohol and is super rich, thick and delicious. A glass of this after dinner makes you feel warm on the inside and the deep dark aromas of berry, cassis and chocolate make for a nice mood setter for after you get home.”
  • By-pass third and head for home: “The wine your date likes. Talk to your date about what they like about a wine and listen very carefully. Take this into account and engage the Sommelier, asking questions that will lead the two of you to a wine that your date will love. Show them that it’s not all about you and that you’re also a good listener. That goes a long way.”

Passion Preferences

Whether you choose Champagne, Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon, wine experts agree that the surest path to passion is to listen to your date and order what they like. Now get out there and make it happen.

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6 things to know in Austin food right now: Whiskey distillery launches floating bar at "secret" lake locale

News You Can Eat

Editor’s note: We get it. It can be difficult to keep up with the fast pace of Austin’s restaurant and bar scene. We have you covered with our regular roundup of essential food news.


Getting to the bar just got harder — but way more fun. Fierce Whiskers Distillery is literally launching a new pop-up called the Stubborn Bar, floating off the shores of Town Lake. The location is a secret, but not one too closely kept; Join the mailing list to receive updates and sign up to snag a spot. The bar operates June 3-4, June 17-18, and June 24-25. Visitors' hard work will be rewarded with a chance to taste the new two-year Texas Straight Rye, which the distillery says was very hard to make, and "the first pour should go to those who are just as determined." They're also celebrating the new release on land with a performance by Neil Frances and Thebrosfresh on June 10. Tickets ($30-120) available on Eventbrite.

Carve American Grille (stylized CARVE) has been working on its second location for more than a year, and the date has been moved one last time — hopefully. Instead of opening on June 8, it'll be June 12. It's taking up residence at The Grove (2613 Perseverance Dr.), a mixed-use community covering 75 acres. Carve, sister restaurant to Perry's Steakhouse, is well-known for its creative twists on a classic steakhouse menu, which can often border on austere. So, postpone your visit, but keep Carve on your list.

Other news and notes

Even after Memorial Day, we're all ready for a Fri-yay celebration, and thankfully this week brings another day of observance: National Donut Day. The Salty is ready with a limited-edition mini French toast donut, available only on June 2. This creative donut is made with a 24-hour brioche base, filled with a "homemade French toast filling," and topped with maple treats and mascarpone whipped cream. The shop is also celebrating with a 25 percent merch discount and free delivery to Salty Rewards Members using the app or website.

For those who just can't get enough rosé at brunch, there's the Rosé Dinner at Lost Draw Cellars. On June 3, the winery will open up its new space for a rosé tasting featuring its four new releases, all from 2022. These sips will be paired with a live fire dinner of beef and chicken from Hill Country Beef and Cielito Lindo Farm, respectively, and fresh vegetables from Hat & Heart Farm. Tickets ($85) are available at williamchriswines.com.

Austin wouldn't be Austin without the endless markets, and two more are popping up on June 4. One at Bar Toti gives an excuse to visit the chic space behind one of the city's most talked-about restaurants, Este. This Mercado del Girasol celebrates the Este Garden's third anniversary, with goods by local artisans and creatives, drinks, DJ sets, and more. Three raffles benefit Casa Marianella, which supports displaced immigrants in Austin, and visitors can pick sunflowers and try signature cocktails by Bar Toti. The other establishes a new weekly event at the Hill Country Galleria: the Bee Cave Farmers Market. In addition to the usual farmers' fare (from 40 vendors), these markets will offer live music performances, starting aptly with The Hens.

Starting this week — "as soon as I buy the buttermilk," according to the chef — Radio Coffee & Beer's food truck, Shortwave Diner, will be offering monthly specials centered on fried chicken and burgers. The pending special is a sweet and very crispy tarragon chicken with maple syrup, and the rest is a mystery. The breakfast truck stands at the ready at the popular work site for freelancers and remote workers, serving daily chicken and waffles, smash burgers, and more. Follow Shortwave on Instagram to see when the new series launches.

5 tips to build stunning sand sculptures from 2023 Texas SandFest winners

Fun at the beach

As summer fast approaches, sandy vacations to coastal destinations are on the horizon for many travelers. For those with kids in tow, sandcastle-making might top the list of beach trip must-dos.

But “playing” in the sand isn’t just an activity for children, as proven by the 22 professional sand sculptors from around the world who recently competed in the 26th annual Texas SandFest, held in Port Aransas in April. The internationally recognized event, started by Port A locals in 1997, is the largest native-sand sculptor competition in the nation; nearly 70,000 people attended this year.

Competition entries featured everything from mermaids to the Grim Reaper, all intricately carved, brushed, and chiseled from sand, ocean water, and perhaps a little diluted spray glue that sculptors say helps maintain detail. The competitors work on their masterpieces during the event, allowing spectators to witness their progress from start to finish.

“I do around five international sand sculpting competitions per year. It’s always a great challenge to compete a high level,” says Benoit Dutherage, a competitive sculptor from France who also creates snow sculptures in the French Alps during the winter.

Dutherage took first place in the Duo Masters category, along with his sand sculpting partner Sue McGrew, for their work called “Wish You Were Here.” Comprised of two loving faces (one mystically cut in half), the sculpture was a tribute to Pink Floyd.

“We like to reflect human emotions in our sculptures,” he says. “It is never easy to pick an idea among the thousands of ideas we have.”

Florida resident Thomas Koet, whose sculpture called “The Prospector” won first place in the People’s Choice category, intended to create something with horses and a cowboy as an homage to Mustang Island, where the competition took place. High tides just before the event thwarted his plans.

“The high tide washed away so much of the sand, I had only enough left for a mule or a foal,” he says. “So I decided to make an old prospector with a mule.”

Thinking out of the box when it comes to carving sand is just one of several suggestions Koet has for recreational sand sculptors. (“Who says it has to be a castle?” he says.) He and other winners from the 2023 Texas SandFest say they are always happy to see novices get creative.

Here are five of the pros' top tips for producing a beachfront masterpiece.

1. Think beyond the standard sandcastle
“Design and sculpt outside of your comfort zone,” says Abe Waterman, a sculptor from Prince Edward Island, Canada, who took first place in the Solo Masters division with his sculpture, “Sleeps with Angels.” The mega sculpture featured four angels at four corners holding a blanket carrying a sleeping woman. “While this may not lead to the best sculpture results, one will improve faster by doing this.”

Waterman noted that there are different types of sand depending on location. Some are better suited for detailed work while others work well for verticality. “But something can always be sculpted regardless of the sand quality, the design just may need to be altered,” he says.

Koet recommends picking something that will fit your attention span. “You can make anything you want,” he says. “You can make a cat, a shark, a monster truck, your high school mascot, a sneaker, or a shark eating an ice cream cone.”

2. Use the right tools
Forgo the cheap tourist shop plastic bucket and shovel set. “You definitely need proper tools to get a good result: A solid shovel, a few trowels – not too big – and a wall painting brush to clean your sculpture,” says Dutherage. “You’ll also need buckets.”

Think big painter’s buckets, he says, used to make what’s essentially “sand mud” consisting of lots of water and sand. Which leads to the next tip ...

3. Create a form mold
Consider this the secret to head-turning sand sculptures. Whether it’s a 10-foot-tall wooden box with sides that come off, or a plastic bucket with the bottom cut out, a “form mold” is an open-top vessel used to hold packed sand and water to create a carve-able structure.

“It’s a very useful thing to have in order to get a solid block, and to go high,” says Dutherage. “If you are a handyman, you can build your own forms. But a quick solution is to take a bucket, no matter what size, and cut out the bottom. Then put that bucket upside down on the sand. Add a few inches of sand, some water, mix with your trowel and compact that layer. Repeat until the bucket is full. Then gently pull the bucket up and surprise! You will get a nice block of sand ready for a sandcastle full of windows, arches, and gates.”

The compacted layers of sand and water almost act as cement, creating a sturdy base for carving. Dutherage says folks can easily repeat the form mold process to create multiple bases, either side by side or stacked.

4. Use plenty of water, for the sculpture and yourself
Benoit recommends adding even more water during the sculpting process.

“Bring a plant sprayer,” he says. “Sand needs to be wet to be sculptable.”

Even rain during sand sculpture building isn’t necessarily a bad thing. “One of the biggest misconceptions is that rain will destroy a sand sculpture,” says Waterman. “While this is possible, most often it just textures the surface.”

Water is also essential for the sculptor, as staying hydrated is key during the process, Waterman adds.

Texas SandFest

Texas SandFest

"The Prospector" took first place in the 2023 Texas SandFest People's Choice category

5. Practice, Practice, Practice
“The biggest misconception is that I do anything different than anybody who does it only for the first time,” says Koet, who’s been sculpting sand for 25 years. “Sure, I bring more and bigger tools and I spend much more time shoveling the sand high and mixing it with water. But there is no magic other than years of practice.”

Waterman, who admits sand sculpting has taken over his life, competes in up to 10 contests a year and also creates sculptures for exhibits and corporate commissions.

“Tricks and tips will only get a person so far,” he says. “But ultimately practice and putting the time in will get them a whole lot further.”

Benoit agrees. “Making a sand sculpture requires a lot of work and the more you practice, the better you will get,” he says. “But first of all, you have to enjoy the fun of it.”

New Hill Country farmers market debuts in Bee Cave this month


Over 40 local farmers and makers will bring their goods to the Hill Country Galleria on Sunday, June 4 for the launch of the new Bee Cave Farmers Market. Visitors can shop at the Central Plaza Lawn from 10 am to 2 pm.

Locally-grown, fresh produce will be sold by Farmer Dave's, Citizen Mushroom, Pedernales River Farm, Persnickety Gardens, and Smyrna Farms. Gift and creative vendors include Auntie Gigi's Dog Treats, Austin Fine Jewelry, B&G Artisan Gifts, Herbal Root Collective, Luminosa Vida, Plant Lady ATX, and many more.

The farmers market doesn't just provide opportunities to shop local: Nonprofits that would like to spread the word about their cause can also find a place at the market with their free booth application.

Organizers have also dedicated an entire row of booths to young entrepreneurs looking to start their own small business, and provide any planning or decorating assistance as necessary, free of charge.

The market will also feature plenty of live music and family-friendly activities. Local bands will perform from 11 am to 2 pm every week in June. The Hens are scheduled to perform during the market's debut on June 4, and Rent Party will perform on June 11. Honeybee Jazz will bring their sultry vocals to the stage on June 18, and The Boss Jaguars will close out the month on June 25.

More information about the Bee Cave Farmer's Market can be found on their website.