By Donna Hill
For The Fort Bend Star
Go Texan Day is this Friday, March 3,officially kicking off the annual Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
Celebrants can dress western for the day or go to cook-offs involving chili, salsa, or dessert and eat all day. Of course the barbecue and chili are a big draw, but there’s always room for dessert.
So it’s safe to say there’s a lot of eating going on. Just ask T. J. Callahan, a local volunteer at the HLRS, who says when it comes to food events at the rodeo many people are on hand to judge. More than a few are over at the Dutch Oven Dessert, part of the Gold Buckle Foodie Competition. This is Callahan’s 2nd year as a judge.
“Last year, we probably tasted six or seven different desserts. They give you something to drink in between judging, and one of their choices is milk, which goes great with desserts to begin with.
Beer works more for the barbecue.
Callahan is also part of AgVenture, where visitors can learn all about agriculture, get to know nearly every species of livestock, get the latest buzz on honeybees, explore petting zoos and a milking parlor, or study horticulture.
Callahan, adding to her volunteer work as part of the Horticulture Committee, volunteers inside AgVenture at an exhibition called Seeds, near the petting zoo and the honeybees. Not just for kids, the events are for the entire family.
“Anybody of all ages can participate. We teach them about soil. It’s really a soil display. We have three different booths, and it’s really to help kids who live in apartments, have not been able to get out into the country before, never had the opportunity to plant a garden, get their fingers in the soil,” she said. “They learn what it is to grow something with their own hands.
“They get a cup, get a little spade, dig into the soil and fill up the cup with soil and we give them about two to three sunflower seeds, we put a lid on it, they take it home with them. They put in a sunny window at home, then plant it outside, water it and watch it grow into a beautiful sunflower.
“And we encourage everybody who takes the sunflowers home to find us on Facebook and post a picture of their sunflower as its growing so we can keep track of how everyone is doing with their new plant.”
A big hit with school children, but it’s open to people of all ages.
“It doesn’t matter how old you are, its always fun to grow a sunflower,” Callahan said, noting the hashtag for Facebook users posting photos is #myrodeosunflower.
She stays busy with her volunteer work at the rodeo. Yet her start came via broadcasting.
Callahan, the longtime traffic and news reporter for the Hudson and Harrigan Show on KILT FM is currently on her fourth year with the Horticultural Committee. Recalling her start at Rodeo Houston, she said, “I was out at the rodeo all the time as a member of the KILT staff. I didn’t really have the time to be on a committee then, so now that I am out of full time radio, I had more time to become involved. A friend was on the committee and they were looking for new members.
“I thought ‘OK, I don’t know a whole lot about plants’ but it sounded like fun! And it is fun, so now I got my friends to join as well. It’s a great group of people at AgVenture, with several competitions for kids from 8 to 18. There’s flower arranging, floral design, landscaping, photography. We do a lot – we’re not just sunflower seeds,” she said.
So is she a gardener or a baker? The easygoing Callahan said “Neither of them! I mean I try but that’s not my forte.”
The native Texan (from Beaumont, raised in Houston – now in Sugar land since 1991) said over the years, there have been interesting dishes served at the rodeo.
“Well, when The Gold Buckle Foodie award comes up there’s always something interesting. If you can fry it, they’ve done it. Fried Oreos, fried Snickers, fried butter. The fried butter is actually very good,” Callahan commented. “We did see a tray of scorpion pizza while judging fair food, which is brought in by the people who actually sell the food at the rodeo.”
Scorpions were not served in bits and pieces, either. “It’s a cheese pizza with whole scorpions, not tiny ones cut up hidden under the tomato sauce. They’re whole scorpions,” she said.
She’s also in a local television commercial, which started running a few weeks ago.
“I had no idea I would be in the commercial,” Callahan said. “They were filming a lot at the event I remember. A friend emailed me and asked if I was in a commercial for the rodeo. She sent me the video, and sure enough, I looked at the screen shot and yes, that’s me.”
She can be seen handing a cup with sunflower seeds to a junior master gardener.
“She was very happy to take her new plant home,” she said.
For more on the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, visit www.rodeohouston.com.