Thursday, May 19, 2016

My spring trip to Texas

These past few weeks, I had the opportunity to go to Texas on two trips. Between the bluebonnets and the severe storms, the season can be extreme but it’s still my favorite time to visit the state. There’s nothing like Texas in the spring.

My first visit order of business was a conference in Austin, but after I landed I decided to drive to North Texas to see my Grandma on a quick visit before I had to get busy. She told me that the bluebonnets we’d planted in the fall were in full bloom and indeed they were. It was a fine beginning.

The next day I headed back to Austin to join my fellow Texas food lovers at the annual Foodways Texas Symposium. This year’s theme was gender, so there were talks about community cookbooks, Helen Corbitt, the Chili Queens, and the Czech women who make kolaches, among other things. All of the meals were good, as you would expect at a food conference, but my favorite plate was probably the smothered pork chop served by Hoover Alexander of Hoover’s in Austin.

After the conference, I spent a few more days in the Austin area visiting friends. Some of our shared dinners were home cooked and I was so busy catching up that I forgot to take photos, but I did manage to squeeze in a few extra meals. My first one was at La Mancha. After a few days in Texas, I decided I needed some vegetables so I ordered two quesos, one with spinach and one loaded with avocados and pickled red onions.

When you’re in Texas, breakfast tacos are a must and I always love the ones at Veracruz All Natural in Austin. The make their own tortillas and their fillings are always fresh.

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Thursday, May 05, 2016

Pork tinga (tinga de puerco)

Pork tinga | Homesick Texan

It's the time of year when folks celebrate Cinco de Mayo, that popular holiday where much Mexican food is washed down with cerveza and tequila. But even though the day commemorates a Mexican victory, it has become more of a North-of-the-border fiesta with not as much attention paid to it in its native land.

Cinco de Mayo is often mistaken as Mexican Independence Day, but that happens later in the calendar on September 16. Instead, this event marks the Mexicans’ incredible triumph (lead by the Texas-born Commanding General Ignacio Seguin Zaragoza) over the French in The Battle of Puebla (where the Mexicans were outnumbered almost two to one) on, of course, May 5, 1862.

While the French continued their attempt to take over Mexico for a few more years, this accomplishment not only boosted the Mexicans’ morale but was also a key factor in thwarting Napoleon III’s attempt to aid the Confederate states in the American Civil War. In the early 1900’s, Mexican immigrants to the United States brought the celebration with them and in the 1960’s it grew in popularity as a day to honor ethnic pride. And for good reason, as the day has long symbolized the strength of the Mexican spirit.

Today, however, much of that original sentiment is lost behind the marketing. Sadly, it’s been demoted to just an excuse to sell more beer, tequila, and tortilla chips. You don’t even have to be of Mexican descent to join in the hype. In my neighborhood, for instance, the Irish pubs are also touting the day with signs and specials, and I noticed that even a French restaurant is having a Cinco de Mayo celebration. (Clearly, they either have an excellent sense of humor or have no idea what the day really means.)

Pork tinga | Homesick Texan

You’ll hear of people traveling to, say, San Antonio for Cinco de Mayo festivities, but rarely do you hear of anyone going to Mexico to celebrate the day. Why is this? Probably because in most of the country, they’re about as excited about Cinco de Mayo as we are about President’s Day. It’s not even a federal holiday there. My friends in Mexico City shrug at the mention of it; it’s just no big deal.

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Friday, April 29, 2016

Pasta primavera with asparagus, peas, mushrooms, and bacon

Pasta primavera with asparagus, peas, mushrooms, and bacon | Homesick Texan

Sometimes an unexpected trip can yield delicious results. Take this creamy springtime pasta loaded with asparagus, peas, mushrooms, and bacon. It wasn’t my original intent to make a dish with those ingredients together; I had other plans. But when I decided at the last minute to go to Houston to help my mom settle into her temporary home while they rebuild her flooded house, a hearty pasta dish seemed like the best way to use up a lot of things at once.

Actually, it wasn’t a total fluke. Fettuccine Alfredo had been on my mind since a few weeks ago some friends were chatting about how it had gone out of style. While you would think that pasta tossed with butter, cream, and cheese would always be popular, I realized it had been a while since I’d made it myself. So I whipped up a batch, but sadly after a few bites I was bored. Perhaps my friends had a point.

While the Alfredo sauce was decadent enough, it left me craving more texture and flavor. Fortunately, to the rescue came my refrigerator filled with perishable ingredients that needed to be used before I left town. I decided to make pasta primavera instead.

Pasta primavera, a close relative to fettuccine Alfredo, is also pasta tossed with a creamy sauce, but springtime vegetables are added to the mix, hence the primavera in the name, which means spring. Faced with my deadline and a bounty of fresh asparagus along with mushrooms, and peas, I felt inspired to toss them with the pasta. And indeed, they provided plenty of seasonal snap.

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