by Virginia B. Wood

The arrival of spring means a variety of things in Austin: wildflowers, new gardens, fresh produce, and restaurant openings. The rainy winter should yield a bumper crop of bluebonnets and also make it that much easier to get a good garden started. The folks at Starbucks Coffee know one component of a successful garden is a healthy compost pile and they are willing to do their part by offering spent coffee grounds to consumers free of charge. Grounds may be picked up at any of the local Starbucks outlets but they request people call ahead to reserve the grounds. Speaking of gardens, Boggy Creek Farm owners Larry Butler and Carol Sayle report that even though their market at the farm (3414 Lyons Road) doesn't reopen until the first weekend in April, the delectable fruits of their organic strawberry crop should be available at the Wednesday Whole Foods Farmer's Market by this week. A little farther down the road, the famous Poteet strawberries are ready. While you're appreciating wildflowers, look for strawberry stands at farms along Hwy16, south of San Antonio. The 50th annual Poteet Strawberry Festival happens April 12-13. Call 210/742-8144 for info.

The good news from Cafe Josie chef/owner Charlie Mayes is his new venture opened in early March to enthusiastic support from the West Sixth Street neighbors in Pecan Square Emporium. The new eatery is open for lunch 11:30am-3pm and dinner 5:30-10pm, Monday-Saturday. A Sunday brunch 11am-3pm begins this weekend, March 23. According to Mayes, some items on his brunch menu will harken back to the days when the space housed the European-style Sweetish Hill Cafe and other choices will have more of an island flair, prompting the description "Euro-Tropic." Look for Cafe Josie at Sixth and Blanco, behind the Coffee Exchange.

Sweetish Hill partisans in the Northwest Hills area no longer need to drive downtown for their French pastry fix. As of early March, cappuccino and selected Sweetish Hill breakfast pastries, breads, cookies, and cakes are available with the regular menu items at the Mangia Pizza restaurant at 8012 Mesa Drive. Breakfast hours at the Mangia NW will be 7am-10:30am on weekdays and 8am-1pm on weekends. The newly expanded West Austin Mangia location at 2401 Lake Austin Blvd. is now a full-service restaurant, serving continuously from 7am until 10pm weekdays and 8am-10:30pm on weekends. Sweetish Hill pastries won't be available at the West location.

The perfect trip for adventurers who appreciate gourmet meals prepared outdoors under shooting stars is available from Crumpets Restaurant in San Antonio and Far Flung Adventures in Terlingua. Rio Grande gourmet raft trips to afford the best viewing of the spectacular Hale-Bopp Comet are scheduled for April 11-13 and April 18-20. A fee of $600 includes wine, beverages, and major meals prepared by Crumpets chef/owner Francois Maeder, and also includes boating equipment and travel expertise from Far Flung Adventures. For reservations, contact Crumpets at 210/821-5600.

If you are so inclined, one way to usher in the new season would be to participate in the Great American Meat-Out. Inspired by the Great American Smokeout against tobacco products, the Meat-Out encourages American consumers to "kick the meat habit, at least for a day" and also to pursue more "healthful and humane alternatives to the Standard American Diet." The Meat-Out takes place today, Thursday, March 20, and is sponsored by the Farm Animal Reform Movement

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