Tag Archives: ZestFest

State of the Gallery: January 2018

Doom and Gloom (mostly gloom) in Dallas in JanuaryAnd the holiday season is over. Well, that’s not completely true: we can’t forget the importance of February 2, when Sid Vicious rises from his grave, looks down for his shadow, and learns if he has to wait six more weeks until spring. The decorations are down, the last of the leftovers are dispatched (unless your grandmother is like mine and wants to see if she can make turkey-flavored Jell-O out of the carcass residue left in the refrigerator), the more gothically inclined are building dinosaur skeletons with the chunks Grandma couldn’t use, and everyone in retail can get rid of that twitch from overplay of the mandatory Christmas radio station. True, you don’t want to go anywhere near a gym for the rest of the month, especially in the parking lot as everyone fights for the closest space to the door, and we’re all keeping an eye on the skies for that one falling snowflake that convinces the worst drivers on the road that they need to switch things up by driving with their buttocks. All things considered, though, things are good.

Out here at the Triffid Ranch, it’s time for introspection, renovation, negotiation, and potential amputation. We may have 295 days until that happiest holiday of the year, but the work starts now. This includes cleaning and prepping new glassware, potting new plants, scoping out new shows and new venues, and trying to limit nervous breakdowns to every other Tuesday. In other words, just like every year since the gallery first opened. The highlights:

First and foremost, the emphasis in 2018 is finishing new enclosures, and that starts with getting commissioned enclosures out now. (A friendly reminder for those who purchased Nepenthes pitcher plants at Triffid Ranch shows in the past: now’s the time to ask about upgrades to give your plants more room.) This includes getting more photos with those enclosures, in order to enter enclosures in regional and national art shows and inform local media outlets of those shows. Right now, everything is being kept on a winter lighting schedule to encourage growth later, but when the timers switch to spring hours in March, the fun really begins. It’s not just a matter of viewing Nepenthes blooms, but trying some luck with pollinating flowers in order to develop a few new hybrids.

On the subject of shows, it’s no surprise that the first big Triffid Ranch show of the year is All-Con on St. Patrick’s Day weekend. The surprise was discovering the new venue for the 2018 event. For years, All-Con ran at the increasingly cramped Crowne Plaza hotel, but size limitations required a move to a larger venue. Two years ago, it moved to a much larger space with a bit of a parking problem: hotel management promised to augment its tiny parking area with access to the parking garages of the office buildings around it, which was a surprise to the owners of said office buildings. A majority of attendees discovering that parking options consisted of a muddy field across from the hotel wasn’t enough to kill the convention, and last year’s All-Con returned to the Crowne Plaza, which was now charging for parking when it wasn’t hosting meth labs. This year, though, All-Con moves to a MUCH larger venue, the Hotel InterContinental in Addison, right along Dallas North Tollway.

Why is this such a big deal? Well, for starters, the InterContinental, formerly the Grand Kempinski, is a legacy of Dallas’s great oil and development boom of the 1980s, back from the days when it was the tallest building in the area. Because the old Grand Kempinski was intended to compete for convention and conference business with the Anatole and Fairmont hotels near downtown, this meant having an absolutely gigantic ballroom on the second floor and an equally expansive ground floor atrium. This means that instead of fighting crowds in the artist’s alley section to get to the main dealer’s room, we have room to stretch out. Even better, this is one hotel where the promise of “multiple restaurants within walking distance” is quite actually true, and more than just a McDonald’s or Jack In The Box. (The hotel is just off Addison’s impressive Restaurant Row, which includes pubs, novelty venues such as the world-famous Magic Time Machine, and even a Whole Foods within a ten-minute walk.) A convention with food options other than the hotel restaurant and a convenience store? The mind boggles.

For vendors, the situation gets even better. The Hotel Intercontinental features two large entrances, big enough to allow two-way traffic while loading and unloading, and a large elevator sits right by the escalator leading to the second floor. (Those familiar with the absolute mess at the Crowne Royal can understand why this is a big deal.) With most of the club and Artist Alley tables on the ground floor, all groups involved won’t be fighting for room, especially close to opening hours. Parking is voluminous, and the loading lanes are big enough for small aircraft. Miss this one at your peril, because with the convention running during Spring Break for most of the high schools and colleges in the greater Dallas area, we’re going to see crowds at sizes we could have only dream about seeing at previous shows…and they’ll all have elbow room.

Not that All-Con and Texas Frightmare Weekend are the only shows outside of the gallery for 2018: these are just the only ones that can be discussed at the moment. Right now, the greater Dallas area has an excess of riches as far as art shows are concerned, and while the Deep Ellum Arts Fest isn’t an option this year, a lot of other events are going on at the same time. Right now, it’s all about confirmation, as well as making sure that schedules don’t conflict. Keep checking back for more details.

With the carnivores, the biggest change in the Triffid Ranch involves an expansion into Mexican butterworts and terrestrial bladderworts, two traditionally neglected groups of carnivorous plant. As mentioned before, this is just a continuation of plans set for last year before the gallery move, but with the advantage of many of the new species of butterwort exploding with new plantlets over the winter. Even better, both butterworts and bladderworts are now big and sassy enough to bloom in spring, adding an extra angle to the planned Manchester United Flower Show showing in April. Again, details as the date gets closer.

In hot pepper news, it’s time to start the new year’s first batch of pepper seedlings, and it’s time to make an admission. Namely, Carolina Reaper peppers are the Venus flytraps of the Capsicum world. Want to thrill me? start a discussion on comparing the colors and flavors of Black Pearl and Numex Halloween peppers both ripe and green. Compare the dishes best using Uba Tubas versus Trinidad Scorpions. Share a flavor combination for salsa with Bhut Jolokias that works even better than mango. (This may not be possible, but I’m always open to argument.) Carolina Reapers, though, are a one-trick pony. They grow to an impressive size in cultivation, but nothing about their foliage nor their shape distinguishes them from other peppers. The fruit, ripe or green, is only marginally more interesting than a standard green bell pepper, and once you get past the “you’ll pee fire!” heat, they taste like tomb dust. Aside from the subjective and often dubious Scoville Scale ranking, the Carolina Reaper has precious little distinction in growth, flavor, or idiosyncrasy. But what’s the one pepper EVERYONE asks if I’m growing? Ah well.

And if this is a roundabout way of hyping up the ZestFest 2018 spicy foods convention (https://zestfest.net/) at the Irving Convention Center at the end of January, so be it. ZestFest has a grand supply of salsa and barbecue sauce vendors pushing “no pepper is too hot for ME to eat!” neural overloads, but its main emphasis is on flavor, and the danger isn’t in not finding anything that tempts enough to buy a case or two. The danger is in not bringing a basket with wheels, because it WILL fill up by the time you reach the end, and all of those glass bottles and jars are heavy.

In any case, it’s time to get back to the linen mines. The plants won’t water themselves, and one of the new enclosure elements requires lots and lots of tumbled glass shards for the proper effect. Pictures will follow: I promise.

Things to do in Dallas when you’re dead

A quick note due to various obligations, but let’s just say that the next few weeks promise a reprieve from winter blues if you live in the Dallas area. And if you don’t, what’s stopping you from moving in?

Anyway, the first item of business involves livening up the winter diet, and there’s no better way than with items spicy enough to peel the enamel off your teeth in big floppy strips. This is why we have ZestFest at the Irving Convention Center this weekend. Aside from haranguing the crew at Defcon Sauces for Habby Horse sauce in 55-gallon drums (it just doesn’t last long enough in my house in any smaller container), it’s time to see what new plants and new condiments are due from the Chile Pepper Institute at New Mexico State University. Anybody who’d develop the “NuMex Halloween” deserves some additional consideration.

Secondly, the first Triffid Ranch show of the season is scheduled for ConDFW on the weekend of February 17 through the 19th, so of course a show of equal interest runs at the same time. Namely, the big ReptiCon Dallas reptile and amphibian show in Ennis. The only thing I can say is that while ReptiCon Dallas promises venomous reptiles on display, ConDFW has the works of famed palaeoartist William Stout on display. The only wise option, of course, is to come out to both. (We have the same conflict between a show at All-Con the weekend of March 16 and the big Fort Worth Orchid Society sale at the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens, so this is par for the course.)

Thirdly, I don’t have any particular details until after 4:00 Central Standard Time on January 26, but I should soon enough for a new event at the Dallas Arboretum. Just don’t let the Czarina know, unless you like hearing her squeal like a little girl. I imagine a lot of other people will do so as well, once they hear the news.

And lastly, it features a new hotel, with much easier access to DFW Airport. A new lineup of guests. A HUGE new dealer’s room. If you don’t get your tickets to Texas Frightmare Weekend, you’re going to miss out, and not just on new Triffid Ranch specials. Carnivorous plants and horror conventions go together like vanilla orchids and cacao, and I just might have a few examples of both this year. Get your hotel space now, or forever hold your peace.

Plans for the new year

Time to change perspectives ever-so-slightly. I know that you’re currently caught in the horrible Mad Max/Dawn of the Dead mashup known as “the shopping season.” Most friends in the Northern Hemisphere already want to shiv me for mentioning that we Texans have only three more months to wait before we can plant tomatoes and peppers outside without fear of frost. Friends in the Southern Hemisphere are too busy screaming about the air they breathe bursting into flame to care. Either way, we need to talk about plans for next year.

I know, I know. It’s not even the winter solstice yet, and already that lunatic at the Triffid Ranch is talking about plans for 2012. Be thankful for this, kids, because I could do something really bloggy and pathetic, such as put up multiple pictures of my cats. Go ahead and ask “How many times did I knock up your little brother to make you do that?”, because you’ll be crying it before I’m done. If you’re really obnoxious, I’ll make you read through the archives first.

To start, January in Texas isn’t as mindnumbingly awful as it could be. We rarely get snow, and we even rarely go below freezing for most of the month. The one absolute of the month is that everything goes brown. Brown trees, brown grass, brown skies, brown note. Actually, things are so brown that you pray for a good sustained brown note, just to keep from boring yourself to death. Combine that with weekend entertainment options that usually circle Dallas Cowboys games…yeah, a lot of particularly earthy (and therefore brown to brownish) words get used to describe January out here.

That’s why you need a good dose of color. Thankfully for us all, that hits the weekend of January 27, when ZestFest 2012 starts up at the Irving Convention Center. When I first moved to North Texas in the tail-end of the Seventies, the only two tourist attractions in Irving were Texas Stadium and the Frito-Lay plant on the southeast side of the city, but That Changed with one of the largest conglomerations of spicy foods in the US. Prefer real flavor over heat? Not an issue. Want spicy combinations that shouldn’t exist on this planet? Yep. Enjoy the spectacle of grown adults eating items that peel the enamel off their teeth in big floppy strips? ZestFest is even better than the State Fair of Texas. The Triffid Ranch won’t have a booth out there, but we will be there to stock up, especially on DefCon Sauces‘s next atrocities.

Three weeks later, it’s time for the reptile and amphibian enthusiasts to have their fun. The North American Reptile Breeders Conference swings around to Arlington on the weekend of February 11, with its seemingly infinite range of animals, habitats, and food items. Again, the Triffid Ranch won’t have a presence this year (although that will probably change in 2013), but don’t use that as an excuse not to attend. The best part? This year’s show is just before Valentine’s Day, and considering how I do my best to treat the Czarina with orchids, maybe she might reciprocate with a true display of her love.

A week after this, the show season starts, and this year it’s starting with ConDFW XI in Dallas. The flytraps and Sarracenia should still be in proper winter dormancy for another month, so it’s time to focus on tropical pitcher plants, sundews, and triggerplants and arrangements containing same. This is a new show for the Czarina and myself, and another opportunity to prove that February isn’t anywhere near as brown as January.

Starting March 16, the theme is “End of the World”. You could see firsthand what happens when you give MBAs and coke spoons to chimpanzees, or you could hit up All-Con 2012. After all, it’s not a real end-of-the-world celebration without triffids, and All-Con should have a much lower quotient of fratboy vomit.

Finally, spring should be a celebration of renewal and rebirth. Ladybugs devouring aphids on rose bushes. Tomato hornworms infested with exoparasitic wasps, or dragged off and buried in underground warrens by other wasps. Robin and mockingbird hatchlings demonstrating their dinosaurian heritage. That’s why I’m passing on word now that the original 750 rooms for this year’s Texas Frightmare Weekend at DFW Airport are already booked, and the hotel just opened up another 750. Considering the crowd and the venue, is it bad form to state “We have such sights to show you,” or is that just an appropriate promise for those seeking exotic flora?

Finally, you’d think I’d learn after last spring’s fiasco, but the gardening writing bug implanted eggs in my viscera, and they’re currently trying to burrow out to pupate. I make no promises as to final outcome, but I’ve already volunteered my services at the new online magazine Carpe Nocturne. We shall see. Considering how badly I miss the long-dead goth magazine Carpe Noctem, I have hopes for additional bits of fun involving Texas Frightmare Weekend this year.