Nutshell Review

Ordinarily after a week of culinary adventures in another city, I'd fill a feature or a column with tales of my exploits and meals there. Here's my trip to Phoenix last week in a nutshell: Even in the poorest section of town, many people have lemon or orange trees in their yards; acres of citrus groves in the South Mountain area are being bulldozed daily to make way for gated golf-course communities; some of the more famous restaurants in Scottsdale are badly over-hyped with expensive, unremarkable food; the gigantic new downtown ballpark, which is nicknamed "The Bob," is spectacular, but attendance is down due to high prices for tickets and concessions; and all over the "Valley of the Sun," residents landscape with pollen-inducing non-native plants, including mesquite trees. I'm glad to be home.

Mail Mountain

This should be one of the busiest foodie weekends all year, judging from the mountain of mail and press releases. Tonight, April 29, 6:30-9pm, the Garden Party benefiting the Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum (445-5582) takes place at 605 Robert E. Lee Road with comestibles from several Austin eateries and an interesting silent auction ...

The annual Cinco de Mayo State Menudo Cook-off in San Marcos begins at the Hays County Civic Center at 8am Saturday morning, May 1. Gates open at 9am, there will be entertainment all day, the winners will be announced at 4:30pm, and a big concert dance will top off the festivities from 7pm 'til the wee hours. For more info, call 512/353-8482 or 800/782-7653 x232 ...

The Texas State Cake & Sugar Art Show will be held this weekend at Lanier High School (1201 Peyton Gin Rd.). Show events will take place Saturday, May 1, 10am-5pm, and Sunday, May 2, noon-3pm. Decorators of all skill levels will compete and nine categories of Sugar Art will be judged by three independent Master Decorators. Entries will be judged on decoration only and ribbons will be awarded. Janette Pfertner, of Miss Janette's (900 Rutland, 836-4826), is show chairman and has the scoop ...

Although April Fool's Day passed with no mention of porcine patties, the beloved Pandemonious Party of Potted Pork Products will ride again this year. In fact, it's this Saturday, May 1, that sees SPAMARAMA™ return to Auditorium Shores. The 21st annual celebration of SPAM® takes place from noon until 9pm, with all your favorite events featured: the SPAM® ALYMPICS, the SPAM® JAM and the all-important SPAM® Cook-off , in which both the Professional and Open divisions will be awarded points for taste and showmanship. There will be lots of activities for the kids, food and drink concessions, and proceeds will benefit United Cerebral Palsy Capital Area ...

The Capital Area Food Bank (8201 S. Congress, 282-2111) is in the midst of its annual Spirit of Sharing Food Drive, with various events running through May 9. Gifts of canned meats, fruits and vegetables, tuna, soups and stews, baby food and formula, packaged pastas, jams and jellies, personal care items, and cash are appreciated ...

Some of Austin's top chefs join hands to fight hunger at the Taste of the Nation dinner on Sunday night, May 2. The gala begins at 6:30pm at the Shoreline Grill (98 San Jacinto) with a fabulous dinner and silent auction of works by local artists. Call Jeffrey's at 477-5584 for reservations.

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