Thursday, March 29, 2012

Texas in the springtime

Is there anything more magnificent than Texas in the springtime? Each day, there’s something new to see as the state awakens and begins to bloom.

Like many homesick Texans, I don’t get home in the spring nearly often enough. This year, however, I was fortunate to be there for a conference. While my intent was to work, it was hard to stay focused when there was so much natural beauty all around.

My trip began with a break in Belton for this:

Then I headed to my grandma’s farm and saw this:

Along the way, I stopped in West for this:

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Mollejas tacos (sweetbread tacos)

sweetbreads tacos mollejas

Mom asked me what I’d eaten that day. I was visiting her in Houston, and she’s always amused by how much I pack into my belly in such a short amount of time. As I ran down my list, which included enchiladas, tortilla soup, chips and salsa, I mentioned I’d had sweetbread tacos.

“Sweetbread tacos?” she said. “That sounds good!” My mom has a sweet tooth, and she assumed that sweetbread meant, well, a sweet bread. When I explained to her that sweetbreads aren’t actually breads, and instead they’re the thymus glands of a cow—let’s just say she was less than enthused.

Now, this is often a common reaction from people when you mention sweetbreads. (A strange name, yes, but I reckon it’s a bit more enticing than calling them cow glands). I myself was afraid to try them until one day several of us were having a fancy French meal in New York, and my friends being far more experienced with sweetbreads than I, assured me that I would like them.

mollejas sweetbread tacos

And they were correct.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Irish cheddar and bacon soda bread

Irish cheddar and bacon soda bread

When we first moved to Houston from Dallas, one of our new neighbors greeted us with a homemade gift. “Welcome to the neighborhood!” she said. “I made you some Irish soda bread—it’s my favorite!” She then handed over a foil-wrapped package, still warm from the oven. It was a fine welcome.

After expressing gratitude, my mom and I took the bread into the kitchen. As I’d never heard of Irish soda bread, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. My first surprise was that it wasn’t green, as at that young age green was my only association with Ireland since wearing it on St. Patrick’s Day kept you from being pinched. But no, this bread instead was light brown with a craggy crust. If anything it reminded me of an oversized biscuit.

I pulled off a small piece and took a bite—it was soft and flaky with a hint of sweetness. It was so flavorful and tender I ate it unadorned, though a pat of cold butter would not have been unwelcome. It was very good—so good in fact that my mom had to warn me to stop eating it lest I ruin my appetite for dinner. Since I had never had Irish soda bread in Dallas, I wondered if it was a popular bread in Houston. The conclusion was that it wasn’t particular to Houston, just to our friendly neighbor (and Ireland, of course). But no matter its provenance, it was still a treat.

Irish bacon, Irish cheddar

Over the next few days, we ate slices from the loaf. Even after it had cooled, it was still tender and sweet. I loved that bread and when we finally reached the end of the loaf I was very disappointed. Now here’s the thing. My hope had been that we would get the Irish soda bread recipe from our new neighbor and we’d continue baking it ourselves at home. But for some reason that never happened, and then those neighbors moved away, taking their recipe with them.

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Thursday, March 01, 2012

Ruby red grapefruit and pecan sheet cake

ruby red grapefruit and pecan sheet cake

March 2 is Texas Independence Day. On this day 176 years ago, a group convened at Washington-on-the-Brazos (back then simply known as Washington) to craft a declaration of independence from Mexico. From that moment, the Republic of Texas was born.

Because of its significance to Texas history, March 2 is a state holiday, a day of recognition. Now, banks don’t close and you still have to go to work, but plenty of folks gather to say howdy, share a Texas-themed meal and talk about how much they love their home. And yes, usually at these parties there’s some eating and some dancing and maybe even some singing. It’s a wonderful thing.

There are many ways to mark the occasion. For instance, you’ll see Texas Independence Day barbecues held around a smoking pit chock full of briskets, sausage and ribs. Or you’ll see Texas Independence Day get-togethers at local community centers where pots of chili simmer on the stove and hot skillets of corn bread arrive fresh out of the oven. And picnics have long been a popular way to celebrate, with fried chicken and cold salads on hand.

ruby red grapefruit

So what do my friends and I do? Being in New York, a backyard barbecue is out of the question. Instead, we keep it inside and offer plates of chicken-fried steak smothered in cream gravy. There will also be plenty of frosty beverages and lively songs. And while it may be a challenge to two-step in a five-foot square space, it’s been known to be done.

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