This years winner of Texas Monthly magazine’s annual competition for the best barbecue in Texas was Snow’s in Lexington TX- a hitherto unknown joint run by Kerry Bexley and pitmaster Tootsie Tomanetz. Before opening Snow’s Bexley worked as a rodeo clown, a prison guard, an auctioneer, and in business uniforms as a realtor and shopkeeper. Miss Tootsie, seventy-five years young, came to Snow’s as a schoolteacher. From 1966 through 1976 she worked as pitmaster at the City Meat Market barbecue in Giddings TX; and in 1976 – and for the next twenty years – she and her husband started their own Saturday barbecue at Lexington’s meat market. Snow’s was opened in 2003 and immediately became a smash hit, drawing crowds of ranchers who come into Lexington on Saturdays for the weekly livestock auction.

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Texas hill country is renowned for its barbecues, which feature a meat, meat, and more meat cuisine characteristic of the Germans and Czechs who settled this region. Snow’s is housed in a small, dark red building, inside walls stained by smoke, which barely has room for six tables and a counter. A few more tables are placed outside, near the cast iron smokers known as pits. For $8.45 a pound the customer chooses what meats he or she would like, ranging from brisket, which Texas Monthly magazine hailed as “soft and sweet as cookie dough”, pork ribs and pork butt, sausage, or chicken. The meats are served by Kerry in black aprons smoke-colored from soot, with a few slices of Wonder-type white bread and free beans; and there are side dishes of cole slaw and potato salad made by Mrs. Patschke available. Miss Tootsie gets to work at midnight and fires up the pits. The meat is slow-cooked for seven hours and served au jus – no sauce permitted (although sauces are available at tables for philistines and the profane).

Lines start forming early outside the restaurant, which opens at 8:00 am and closes when the meat is sold out which is usually long before noon since the Texas Monthly award was announced. Locals complain that they can’t get served for all the BBQ gourmets who show up from the far corners of the state. Since winning the award Snow’s has trebled its Saturday morning offering from three hundred to a thousand pounds of meat, which sometimes makes Kerrywp-admin and Miss Tootsie feel overwhelmed, and sorry that the Texas Monthly tasters ever found the place. They have added three new brisket pits and hired some extra help to cook and serve. Kerry is planning to expand the business into mail order to keep up with all the demand. Snow’s offers T-shirts and pocket aprons imprinted with their logo and the motto, “Smoking the good stuff.” In spite of the handicaps of suddenly being catapulted to fame, when Kerry and Miss Tootsie – who had been content to cook barbecue for thirty years without any particular fanfare or recognition – heard that they had received the Texas Monthly award, they sat down in each other’s arms and bawled and bawled.

Ranchers in cowboy togs and gourmets in now flock to Lexington TX on Saturday mornings for the best BBQ in the state. Kerry and Miss Tootsie in their black aprons, joined by new employees in their provide a true taste of back country Texas

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The Beach is one of Toronto’s most dog-friendly neighbourhoods, and as Maria and I were strolling along the south side of Queen Street all of a sudden I saw a sign on the other side: “Btablogy & Fitz – For You And Your Dog”. I pulled Maria over and suggested that we go visit this place. We walked into a really hip boutique that has everything a dog owner could ever want: from shampoos and conditioners to grooming tools to freshly baked treats and toys and even practical items such as beds, bowls and blankets – Bark and Fitz has it all, and owner Kelly Cole showed us around. Kelly is a Beacher who is very proud of her connection with this neighbourhood, and was very curious about the Beach Photo Exhibition and promised her support for this event.

We also headed into Living Lighting in the Beach, a place where Maria had bought some Murano glass lamps recently. Living Lighting features a wide range of interior and exterior lighting, ceiling fans, track and recessed lighting as well as electric fireplaces. The store is packed full of unique lighting options, and I saw various types of lamp designs that I had never seen anywhere else. In addition to the contemporary designs we also had a look at the Tiffany lamp display at the front of the store. Maria had a chance to catch up with the owner Norton Abramson again, who had assisted her on her recent purchase.

Last but not least we decided to pay a visit to Overkill, a popular beach volleyball retailer. Toronto is Canada’s beach volleyball mecca, and Woodbine Beach is the location of hundreds of beach volleyball nets that are busy with enthusiastic athletes from early spring until late fall. As a volleyball player myself I figured I’d like to pop in and say hello to the crew at Overkill, one of Canada’s most well-known volleyball outfitters.

Maria and I entered the store and three enthusiastic young staff members welcomed us. Overkill carries everything for the serious beach volleyball athlete, from t-shirts to sweatshirts, hoodys, sweat pants and yoga pants to visors, hats and cool beach flip flops. Maria and I were quite enchanted by the ergonomically designed beach sandals; they looked amazingly comfortable yet sturdy. The crew at Overkill was very excited about the Beach event and said they would help spread the word about the Photo exhibition. Maria recognized the last name of one of the employees and started chatting with the young man. Apparently his grandmother hails from the same town as Maria and the two ladies actually know each other quite well.

After our outings, both Maria and I realized w

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hat a small world this is, even in a big city like Toronto. Now I understand why one of Maria’s favourite pastimes is to go shopping along Queen Street. The variety of merchandise, the friendly merchants and the personal connections make this a truly special shopping experience.

It was great to have a chance to meet Maria Minna. All too often, we feel that our local politicians are not approachable or do not share the same interests as we do. After talking to Maria, it is evident that she listens to the concerns of people and is always ready to help.

Maria is an active advocate for social justice. In Ottawa, her work with women’s rights, minority rights, environmental issues, and homelessness is commended by colleagues of all political stripes. She lobbied hard for the Child Tax Credit, and continues to fight for a National Childcare Program, a National Poverty Strategy, improves health care, pay equity and EI reform to better suit Canadian families.

Although Maria has ruffled a few feathers in Ottawa, she certainly vows t