Festival of Lights opens December 1
The Hidalgo Festival of Lights has become a regular Christmas season must see. With the lighting of the tree, millions of Christmas lights, illuminated nighttime parade, trolley tours, dinner and entertainment, there is plenty to do and see for everyone. The festival officially begins with the lighting of the tree on Sunday, December 1 at 7 p.m. in the front of the Hidalgo City Hall, 704 E. Ramon Ayala Drive.
This year’s theme, announced earlier this month, is Winterland. The festivities will feature Anna and Elsa and other characters from the movie Frozen.
One of the main attractions, and part of their kickoff, is the illuminated nighttime parade. The parade welcomes its visitors with a colorful and Winterland themed parade in from of the City Hall at 7 p.m. on Friday, December 6. The parade will bring spectacular performances with illuminated floats, marching bands, performers from across the Valley, and of course, Santa. After the parade, visitors will be enjoy entertainment, food, photos with Santa and more.
The trolley tours, a favorite among visitors, begin on Sunday, December 1 and continue through December 30, from 6 to 10 p.m. Visitors will have a chance to tour the three miles of over 500 illuminated displays and over five million lights for $5. The tour also has a narrated guide with holiday music.
Every evening during the festival, except December 24 and 25, the carnival court will be open from 6 to 10 p.m. Visitors can enjoy carnival rides and delicious carnival food at City Hall Plaza.
Santa’s House will be open from December 1 through 23. Santa will be in town receiving children, and adults, for laughs and pictures. He will be at the City Hall Plaza from 6 to 10 p.m.
The Hidalgo Posada with Ramon Ayala is a long-standing tradition that the Rio Grande Valley looks forward to every year. The “King of the Accordion” and Latin Grammy Award Winner, Ramon Ayala, with the City of Hidalgo, hosts a free concert on Wednesday, December 18 at 5 p.m. The event has garnered over 50 thousand in attendance. The posada begins at 5 p.m. with a ribbon cutting ceremony. The event also celebrates the over 10,000 toys that have been donated by local businesses. The toys will go to low-income children in the area.
Another event you don’t want to miss, the Holiday Artisan Market where visitors can find beautiful, unique products made by local businesses and residents. The market will be at the City Hall Plaza from 6 to 10 p.m., December 1-30.
Sponsors this year include Coca-Cola and HEB. The sponsors will be holding their own special events during the month. Every Monday in December you can meet and take a picture with the Coca-Cola Polar Bear for free. HEB will have lots of surprises for attendees at City Hall Plaza Saturday, December 21, 6 to 10 p.m.
HEB will also have their Super Glide Synthetic Ice Rink available for guests from December 11-23, 6 to 10 p.m.
On December 5-8 and December 11-17, Hidalgo Festival of Lights will offer Dinner and Entertainment packages. The packages are $13 per person. Depending on the day, meals include sautéed chicken breast, Salisbury steak or roast beef entrees. The package also includes VIP seating for the community performance and the narrated train light tour. Dinner times are 5:15 and 6:15 p.m. Call (956) 843-5311 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for reservations and more information.
Entertainment at the event includes schools, groups, city organizations such as school choirs, folkloricos, dance teams and more. Other entertainment includes Magic Valley Chorus of Sweet Adelines, rock band The Switch, character performance shows, and more.
Each night will feature talented performers. Also included in the entertainment, and what has become a tradition, is the famous Estudiantina de San Luis Potosi, who come from San Luis Potosi, Mexico to perform. They will be performing December 12-16.
Entertainment will be throughout the month at the city hall courtyard starting at 7 p.m.
For more information and a full schedule of events, visit their website online at hidalgofestivaloflights.com.
This past week one of many Toys for Tots fundraising events were held outside of 5x5 Brewing. TNT Automotive sponsored the most recent event as well as Automotive Innovation Restoration, Brick Fire Pizza, Dairy Queen, Valley Street Scene, O’Reilly, DL Lighting and Audio, and Danny’s Tire and Service. There will be another event at 5x5 Brewing on Friday, December 29.
George Rice with 5x5 Brewing and Mitch Sens with Automotive Innovation and Restoration, both say they are just happy to be able to help out with the program. They said small events like these helps get people out to donate to such a worthy cause, the entertainment, car shows, drinks and other events are just a bonus, and tends to bring more people in.
5x5 Brewing will be hosting their Black Ops Friday on December 29 with another opportunity to participate in the toy drive. The event will also have Santa, games and entertainment.
If you can’t make it to the event, they will be collecting during their business hours. The Winter Texan Times office also has a donation box for those interested in dropping something off for the children in the Valley.
Black Ops Friday will begin at 6 p.m. 5x5 Brewing is located at 801 N. Bryan Road in Mission.
Toys for Tots is run by the United States Marines to collect toys, or monetary donations, to help less fortunate children have a happy Christmas. The organization asks families to apply for the toys in October. Collections start not too long after and continue through Christmas Day.
Marines and volunteers engage local businesses and individuals within the communities to help collect new, unwrapped toys and then help distribute those gifts to less fortunate children – allowing them to experience the joy of Christmas.
Now going on for 72 years, the organization has assisted 258 million children. Last year, the program fulfilled the holiday hopes and dreams of seven million children in over 800 communities nationwide. In Harlingen, and the Valley, the program brought smiling faces to nearly 31,000 children last year.
For more information about Toys for Tots visit toysfortots.org. You can also make monetary donations online. To get in touch with the local representative, call (956) 425-9643 or (760) 717-9555.
Retama Village is hosting their 5th Annual Craft Fair and Bake Sale fundraiser from 8 am to noon on Saturday, December 7. The event will have vendors offering a wide variety of beautiful handmade arts and crafts made by residents. Attendees will find things such as paintings, wood carving, leather art, jewelry and much more.
In conjunction with the craft fair, residents will be hosting their annual bake sale for charity. All the baked goods are made by residents. There is usually a wonderful variety of pies, cakes, cookies and other delicious goodies that will be sold at their bake sale booth.
The bake sale has always been a big hit with those that visit the event – everything usually sells out.
All proceeds of the bake sale will be donated to a local charity that is chosen before hand by the co-chairs of the bake sale committee.
Residents at Retama Village conduct several fundraisers for charities throughout the year in the local community. They also do volunteer work. Most of the residents are Winter Texans, but permanent residents continue during the non-Winter Texan season.
This year, the money raised at the bake sale will be donated to Women Together/Mujeres Unidas, a non-profit community service organization whose mission is to provide shelter and support services to victims of domestic abuse. The park raised nearly $1,000 last year with their bake sale.
“We chose Woman Together because we wanted to support an organization that benefited primarily women who needed to get back on their feet, while recovering from domestic abuse,” said co-chairs of the event Dale Bruss and Coco Atkinson. “In that way, their children would receive more than just a gift to open on Christmas.”
“We are a community filled with people that try to help those who can’t help themselves,” Nedra Denison, one of the organizers.
In the past, the park has also donated to elementary schools in Mission providing necessary clothing and money. They also donate to the local food pantry and many other charities.
The park also does a lot of work with Cinderella Pet Rescue. They usually coordinate a dinner with food and auction items where all money goes directly for the care of the dogs and cats at the rescue. Many residents have volunteered at the rescue, and many have adopted their own pets.
A retired social worker, Denison says her mother told her she was always rescuing animals.
“I never stopped trying to save the world...one dog at a time.”
Join Retama Village at their clubhouse, 2204 Seagull Lane, in Mission. Call (505) 506-3558 for more information.
A Veterans Day Celebration over Boomerang Billy’s last Sunday, November 10, featured a two-plane formation flight by the Rio Grande Valley Wing of the Commemorative Air Force. The event was sponsored by Padre Island’s favorite performer, Leslie Blasing. The formation fly-over made several passes over the beachside entertainment spot.
Two passengers on the two-plane flight were Lynn Clasen and Marjorie Jacobs. The two women had participated in a fund raising drawing the previous evening. The prize was a flight over South Padre Island during Blasing’s Veterans Day Celebration.
The Rio Grande Valley Wing of the Commemorative Air Force (RGV Wing CAF) is based at the Port Isabel Cameron County Airport. The RGV Wing is one of 84 units, nationwide, of the Commemorative Air Force whose membership numbers over 11,000. The RGV Wing has seven aircraft in the hangar and has organized a walk-in museum featuring World War Two artifacts and memorabilia.
Tentative hours of operation are Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Guided tours for groups of five or more are welcome by appointment anytime by calling David Christopher at (970) 397-4604.
Weather permitting, and crew availability, one of the Museum’s planes will be flown during the tour. Plane rides are available for a $250 donation. CAF are a 501c3, not for profit organization.
The comfort food of Texas Mexican cooking is coming to the Museum of South Texas History with a special presentation featuring a book signing and cooking demonstration by Chef Adán Medrano on Friday, November 22, at 2 p.m.
Medrano will demonstrate dishes from his most recent cookbook, “Don’t Count The Tortillas—The Art Of Texas Mexican Cooking.” In his cookbook, Medrano focuses on the aesthetic aspects of cooking that universally impact identity and community, with more than 100 recipes that illustrate the modern cooking in Texas kitchens.
The cooking demonstration will feature three local dishes inspired by Medrano’s research: chacales, caldo de chayote and chipotle en adobo. At the end of the presentation, visitors will have the opportunity to sample three unique dishes. Medrano will sign copies of his cookbook, which will be available for purchase in the Museum Store.
Medrano is a food writer and chef, specializing in the indigenous foods of Texas and the Americas. Medrano spent 23 years working throughout Latin America, Europe and Asia. He returned to the US in 2010 to focus his attention on the culinary traditions of the Mexican American, Native American communities of Texas and the indigenous cooking of the Americas. He is currently President of “The Texas Indigenous Food Project.”
Medrano has lectured about food and culture at academic institutions, including the Harvard University Co-op, Northeastern University and last year was invited to Moscow by the US Ambassador to Russia, as the featured Chef for the July 4th US official celebration. Medrano has showcased his recipes at the Museum Of Fine Arts, Houston; at the California, New York and Texas campuses of the Culinary Institute of America, as well as at The Briscoe Western Art Museum, the American Book Center in Amsterdam, and the Yorkshire Dales Food and Drink Festival in Great Britain.
Admission to this program: $8 for adults; $6 for seniors (62+), students (13+) and active military; $5 for children ages 4 to 12; free for children ages 3 and under. FRIENDS of MOSTHistory are admitted free as a benefit of FRIENDship.
MOSTH is located in downtown Edinburg at 200 N. Closner Blvd. on the Hidalgo County Courthouse square. Hours of operation are from 1 p.m. – 5 p.m. Sunday and 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Tuesday–Saturday. For more information about MOSTHistory, including becoming a FRIEND, visit MOSTHistory.org, like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and find us on YouTube or call (956) 383-6911.
By Herb Moering
The perfect weather arrived just in time for Mission’s first annual Veterans Festival Parade on Saturday afternoon, November 9.
The hour and a half patriotic parade was part of the city’s Veterans Day observance, which stretched over four days, starting with a flag laying ceremony Friday afternoon at the Texas State Veteran Cemetery in Mission.
It was the parade that drew several hundred spectators along Business 83, including from Mission, flag-waving Jesse Martinez and his granddaughter Jaynee, to applaud the service veterans riding in the parade.
Among those given a ride was the grand marshal, Lt. Col. Arnulfo Esqueda, a 30-year U.S. Army veteran and a Mission native.
“It was a great honor and privilege to represent all the veterans,” he said. “I want people to appreciate the veterans. Veterans want to play a role in the community.”
Esqueda joined the military at the age of 18 in 1965 and was in the Vietnam jungles for four years as a special forces operative. The green beret was a leader of one of the six-member teams involved in top secret cross border interdiction missions. His team, among others, which included two Americans and four South Vietnam soldiers each, were attached to the secret Military Assistance Command Special Operations Group. They operated mainly along the Ho Chi Ming Trail that wound through North Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
The retired officer said the greatest fear while deep in enemy territory was being captured. He said they were on their own at night, without communication with allied forces, but by day were back in contact and had U.S. air support if needed. What was also hard to comprehend was the condemning response from the public after returning home. There was no parade for soldiers who fought in Vietnam, he noted.
When his Vietnam tour ended in 1969, he went to college and also joined the Texas National Guard as a 2nd lieutenant, which was a part time situation until 1979. Then he went on active duty with the guard. He received his lieutenant colonel rank in 1993 and finished his service in 1995.
A World War II veteran, Savas Sandoval Jr., got to ride in a Mercedes Benz classic convertible. He served in the U.S. Army in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska from 1942 until 1945. Army 1st Sgt. Victor Fonseca was among veterans riding in golf carts.
One squad of veterans walked the parade route, which began at Conway Avenue and ended at Bryan Road. The lead parade entry was the Mission Fire Department’s 1927 fire truck, followed by color guard units and a contingent of patriotic motorcyclists. The parade included floats, school marching bands and cheerleader groups, scouting units, dance squads, and Texas Citrus Fiesta royalty.
The day also included the first Veterans Cook-off that began at 9 o’clock in the morning. A total of 26 teams competed for $5,000 in cash and trophies in five categories of chicken, pork spareribs, brisket, pan de campo and citrus dessert.
There was live music and food vendors on hand as the cookers worked their magic throughout the day. Head judge for the International Barbecue Cookers Association (IBCA), Eddie Tapia, has been running cook-off competitions for 13 years, which takes him all over the Valley. He said he began with just two events his first year, but now he averages more than two per month. His wife, Judy, helps him in distributing the entries to the local volunteer taste judges.
David Santoy, who heads the South Texas BBQ team, said he recruited eight family members and friends to join him in working the cook-off, which he’s been doing for four years. He’s out about once a month on average to compete.
“I love barbecuing and hanging out,” the Mission resident said. “It’s a ‘win, win’ time.”
Andy Garza, the head cook for the Mi Pedasito Ranch team, also from Mission, said he’s been involved in cook-offs for 10 years. He currently does about five events a year as time permits.
“I love it, being in charge,” he said. “We do it for the love of barbecue.”
His wife, Blanca, said, “We enjoy it, and it’s all family members on the team.”
The first 10 placings in each event received recognition, with the top five earning cash awards and a winning plaque to each first-place team.
The Veterans Cook-off grand championship trophy went to the Cowboy Up Cooking team headed by Ralph Flores of Edinburg. His team earned the top award by winning the pan de campo division, placing third in chicken barbecue, fourth in pork spareribs and eighth in brisket.
The reserve championship belonged to Chew N the Fat squad with head cook Jason Bartimus. Also, from Edinburg, the team topped the pork spareribs category and placed fifth in brisket.
Top finishers in the other categories included BBQ Holics, taking first in the chicken category with Hector Cantu the head cook from La Feria; the Chillin N Grillin team headed by Mario Benavides from McAllen, and Bridget Gonzalez who topped the dessert division.
The festival also included an evening of entertainment with music by several bands on stage in conjunction with the 5x5 Brewery sponsors. Kids rides went on all day.
The festival salute continued on Sunday afternoon, Nov. 10, with a Cars and Stripes car show along with a chili cook-off between five veteran’s teams, with winners chosen by “people’s choice.”
Wrapping up the celebration was the Veterans Day golf tournament, The Fairway to Freedom, a 3-person scramble. The tournament, free to veterans, was played at Sharyland Municipal Golf Course. The event was featured in last week’s paper.
By Herb Moering
A hundred people went hog wild at a dinner and dance Saturday afternoon, Nov. 16, at the Texas Trails RV Resort.
This first such event, open to the public, at the resort in Pharr had customers bellying up to one of the two hog troughs outside Friendship Hall for some shredded pork loin, beef roast and sausage, along with steamed potatoes, cabbage, carrots, corn on the cob, a homemade roll and a cookie for dessert.
Dave Cole, who headed the cooking committee, said they lit up four kettles outside the hall to prepare the foods. When ready the foods were dumped into two long troughs with lines forming before each of them. He added that several women in the park prepared the vegetables for cooking the previous day.
Cole might be considered a veteran of the hog trough, frequently holding one of those affairs at his place in the park for 30 or 40 people. So, it seemed natural to park activity director Lou Dewaele to see about expanding the hog trough to include more people. They had a trial run of it this summer on the Fourth of July, with some 80 people. This time they opened it up to the public.
While the cooking was outside, the consumption was inside, along with what was to have been a street dance. Dewaele said the change was due to some concern about the weather, although it became a very pleasant, sunny day.
Once lunch was over the scene shifted to the dance floor and the Barbed Wire Band, which was fine with Jim McCubbins and his partner Carol Jarvis. The couple had come from their place at Alamo Recreational Vehicle Park for the meal, but especially for the dancing. These Winter Texans have been coming from Missouri for 10 years and dance away the season, averaging at least five nights a week.
Besides frequenting Texas Trails and their own park in Alamo, the couple also go regularly to Winter Ranch, Mission Bell and Victoria Palms for dancing. McCubbins said they love to dance and especially enjoy the country music.
The hog trough is one of many events open to the public, Dewaele said, who is in his first year as Texas Trails activity director aided by his wife, Kathe. He was an assistant activity director at Pleasant Valley Ranch in Mission in the couple’s first year in the RGV.
All the Friday evening dances are for the public, featuring the Grayrock Band, Nov. 22; Diego, Nov. 29; Curt James, Dec. 6; Regan James, Dec. 13 and South Texas Ramblers, Dec. 20. Entertainment coming up includes Razz Ma Tazz, Dec. 10; Winter Texan Orchestra, Dec. 15; Lindsey Creek Christmas Show, Dec. 17, and the Tiny Hill Orchestra, Dec. 29.
In January every Tuesday and Sunday there’s entertainment he noted, including plans in the making for a “Ladies Only Night.” The first weekend in February, the schedule calls for a Super Bowl party at the park on Owassa Road.
Is seems likely the hog trough is going to remain a popular draw, based on the smiles and comments expressed by those digging into the food.
Have you noticed? The latest thing in specialty tours are those tours that are offering destinations that feature foods from their area. The latest travel e-mail that promoted cuisine destinations featured Poland - and not just Poland, but a tour that offered time in Northern Poland to sample their cuisine followed by a visit to Southern Poland to taste their typical foods.
The United States can offer some typical foods also but dividing our country into two sections for food would be virtually impossible. For us it is much better to look at states and then break those states into regions.
Perhaps, one of the foods most typical for the state of Texas might be bar-b-que with the city of LaGrange considered the bar-b-que capitol. Recently, I heard a discussion on the differences in bar-b-que sauce. Texas bar-b-que tends to have a little chili and maybe just a touch of bourbon or beer. On the other hand, bar-b-que sauce prepared in North or South Carolina will taste a little sweet. Pecan pies or sweet potato pies also tend to have their claim to fame in East Texas and parts of Louisiana.
Our Rio Grande Valley region certainly has their very own food heritage, most of which originated in Mexico ... we call it Tex-Mex or Mex-Tex. In our region we can offer tacos, enchiladas, empanadas, tamales and on and on. My taste buds are watering just thinking of all those wonderful, delicious dishes that started in Mexico, jumped across the border, and often picked up a little Texas flavor, producing dishes that are not really Mexican nor are they really Texan.
One of the most popular is the local taco - do you want a breakfast taco prepared with a flour tortilla wrapped around eggs and potatoes, wrapped around eggs and beans, or filled with eggs and chicharrones (pig skins)? Or how about tacos for lunch with fajitas stuffed temptingly inside a doubled over, fried corn tortilla?
Another specialty of this area is the tamale - a specialty served year-round but extremely popular during the Christmas season. One of the fillings for the tamale is pork, but it could be beans or chicken or even coconut and raisins. Local families will prepare well in advance for the traditional Christmas feast and the Posada - posada translates to inn. A posada is a re-enactment of Mary and Joseph searching for a place to stay where the Christ child could be born. The mouthwatering dish often served at a Posada will not be turkey and dressing as so many might expect. In the Rio Grande Valley, the main dish will probably be tamales.
Making tamales is no small chore. First you must buy all the ingredients including the corn husks, the lard, the pork, the spices and the masa - a very, very finely ground corn flour. Because the preparing of tamales is such a labor-intensive chore, families often gather together with neighbors and have what is endearingly termed a tamalada ... the work will go a little faster if a little gossip is thrown in as the masa is spread on the corn leaf! Just image the bathtub, or a number three wash tub, filled with tepid water in which the separated com husks are soaking. Once those leaves become pliable, they are ready to be trimmed and then spread with the masa mixture followed by the prepared filling. The corn husk blanket will then be tenderly folded over and put aside to be frozen. Later those delicacies will be steamed and served for the eager guests to enjoy.
Now don't try to make tamales on your own unless you can differentiate between the right and the wrong side of the corn leaf. It does make a difference!
Even though I really enjoy a good tamale, my favorite of all the typical Mexican dishes is the empanada - similar to the fried pies my mother used to make. The Mexican version is not fried but baked - better for our health - even if the dough is prepared using lard. Favored fillings could be camote - sweet potato - or pineapple or even cajeta - a caramel tasting spread.
Although these dishes had their beginnings in Mexico and spread to Texas, these flavorful offerings can now be found all over the United States and beyond. People who grew up in this area, went away to school or to work, will always come home with a craving for a "Taste of the Valley" just as I have substituted the empanada for the fried pies my mother made. It's a taste of home!