Ecstasy la Carte
"Why can't our weather always be like this?" whined one of my neighbors recently. I thought the answer was obvious: If Houston had china-blue skies, brilliant sun and balmy breezes every day, then everyone would want to live here. All the fruits and nuts would emigrate from California, real estate prices would skyrocket, and the state would impose a personal income tax -- frightening thoughts.

So no more moaning. Instead, celebrate the end of this meltdown summer with one of the dozens of outdoor festivals featuring food and drink.

Oktoberfests, for example, are breaking out all over, modeled on Munich's beer-guzzling extravaganza. The German version commemorates the wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen on October 12, 1810 -- but who cares? Here, it's a handy excuse for a celebration that our temperature and humidity have both ratcheted down into the mid-'80s.

Start with a Saturday spin to the Island for Oktoberfest in Galveston on October 24; you'll find dunkel beer, sauerkraut and roast pork, sausage and red cabbage, German potato salad and a strudel booth. Crafts and live oompah music round out the experience at the First Lutheran Church (2415 Winnie Street, (409) 762-8477) from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Then on Sunday, October 25, there's a party 3 to 9 p.m. in the parking lot of the Old Heidelberg (1810 Fountainview, 781-3581). Owner Annemarie Buett offers more oompah music and hefty platters of schweinebraten, bratwurst, knackwurst and eisbein (ham hocks).

With careful planning, you can squeeze in the non-Germanic but equally smorgasbordic Taste of the Village (525-3115), also on Sunday, from 2 to 6 p.m. Buy your ticket ($25 adults or $12 for kids on the day of the event), then stroll in a civilized and self-guided fashion through more than 40 Rice Villagearea restaurants, each offering a trademark dish or drink. Participants include Antone's, benjy's, El Meson, Thai Spice, the Original Smoothie Company, Chocolates, Etc., Cookie Bouquet, the Ginger Man and the Bank Draft.

You've got all weekend to drop by the Gumbo Cookoff and Bazaar at St. Mary's Catholic Church (3006 Rosedale, 528-0571), October 2325. Cookoff chair Candy Fontenot anticipates at least 20 entrants in Saturday's headliner contest, and the Creole Kitchen will continuously dish out parishioners' specialties such as shrimp creole, maque chou and pralines. Admission is free, but proceeds from the cooking, crafts and kiddie rides will go toward enlarging St. Mary's Montessori school.

-- Margaret L. Briggs


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