Texas and the place of memory


In a couple of weeks, I’ll be giving a talk on the theme of “The Place of Memory” at the University of Texas at Arlington. While I’m not sure what I will say just yet, on my recent trip home I looked for inspiration as Texas always rejuvenates and revives me.

My first order of business was to grab a bite when I had a layover at DFW. At Cousin’s, I chose this:

When I arrived in Abilene, I headed for the nearest Tex-Mex restaurant and was soon eating this:

Later, we went to dinner at Perini Ranch and it made me smile to see this:

For breakfast every morning, I had this:

And written on the walls of new Abilene restaurant Abi-Haus was an important message, which was this:

After my business was concluded in Abilene, I returned to Dallas and drove straight to Herrera’s so I could have this:

That evening, because it was Friday we went to Melissa and saw this:

The next day, in season at the McKinney farmer’s market was this:

But to balance out the vegetables, I had to try this.

When I shopped at the grocery store, I wondered why in New York they don’t offer this:

And in Farmersville, I contemplated becoming a real estate mogul after seeing this:

We sat on the front porch and discussed this year’s pecan crop while looking at this:

And finally, we celebrated my mom’s birthday. My grandma made her a chocolate pie, so the last thing I ate in Texas was this:

Since good food does indeed end in good talk, after we ate slices of pie (there was also peach), my family and I sat around the table and visited for a long time. Many happy memories were made—it was good to be back home.

  1. Thank you for this post and all of the ones before and after! It's so nice to know that I'm not the only one in this world that truly feels at peace and at home when I'm in Texas!

  2. Whoa, thanks for the heads up on the new Velveeta options! They don't have them in California either, which means I need to stock up on my Austin trip in a couple of weeks!

  3. John Paul Thompson

    Burgesa Burger! Makes me miss home.

  4. Reynaldo Ramon

    I feel the same. I've been living in Delaware for 11 years now, and a trip to Texas always rejuvenates me. It helps that more products from Texas are being sold up here now. Shiner is everywhere now. The local Food Lion now sells many varieties of Wolf Brand Chili. And the Cracker Barrel across the state line in Elkton, MD sells Big Red in glass bottles. It's the little things.

  5. NanaBread (Jeanne)

    Proud to be a fellow Texan.
    Beautiful post; beautiful memories.

  6. Anonymous

    I won a Perini Cookbook a few years ago, from a radio station at christmas in Portland,Oregon! I made some recipes and I thought I had gone to food heaven..It was difficult to get some of the ingredients but I managed to find most in Seattle at a Texas spice shop now closed dadnabit all! Oh, my living Lord your blog reminds me why I cling to my familia what there is left of my familia, I am from spanish people and many went to San Antonio years ago then to California where I was born, but not raised I still call them and visit, when I am leaving they sneak stuff into my purse, but now I cannot take them due to 9/11..dagnabbit all..when I read your blog it transports me back to California when my relatives visited and stayed with my mom and dad and stayed for days on end, when they left there was crying like they were to be executed, they always visited me when I lived there or I visited them on a greyhound bus no less and that was a long trip for me, but I loved it and miss them terribly, something about familia and Texas always makes me happy and they are happy too..Your blog is so sweet, if people knew their kin and loved them like you do and blogged about their foods they have when visiting in our country hatred would cease to exist, sitting around with foods prepared lovingly from one's familia and talking, no texting, talking, celebrating birthdays by lovingly preparing pies for the celebrant, I truly think the differences that seem to divide human beings would melt away, the troubles in peoples lives would be easy to meet and figure out, when one has their kin and love and food, what more could a person ever hope for, my late Mom and Dad used to say this when tucking me inbed at evening tide, Faith, Familia and Food meja! Not bad for any living situation..thanks for making my day brighter just by going to your blog, it truly makes me feel happy, adios sweet Lady from the great state of Texas!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. Less than a Half mile from campus, is J. Gilligan's Bar. Head there, try the kitschy irish nachos if you must, but you should not miss their chicken sandwich — the Best Chest in the West. I used to travel to Arlington once or twice a month, and that was a regular lunch. and it lives up to its name. Add on a side of onion rings and you will be in heaven.

  8. Charisse

    The main thing I miss about Texas is the food. I miss the little taco stands that I would stumble to after leaving the club at night. I LOVE Black's BBQ outside Austin. And MAN do I miss tamales. Ithaca has NOTHING even similar to Mexican food, whatsoever!!!

  9. Plum Texan

    I am so blessed as to have lived in the Houston or DFW metros for all but one year of my life…but the beauty and wistfulness of your post made me tear up as if I'd been away, too! I wish that everyone knew so deeply how wonderful our big ol' Texas is. Thank you for always being such a great ambassador!

  10. I loved every bit of this. I'm so happy you had a good visit home! I do solemnly swear to you that I never, ever take for granted the fact that I get to live here and experience all this goodness all the time.

  11. Lisa Fain

    Leslie–You are not alone!

    April–I know! Why don't they sell them everywhere?

    John Paul–It was my first time (I went to the one in Oak Cliff by the Belmont, which used to be another Mexican joint called Carnitas, I think), but it won't be my last!

    Reynaldo Ramon–That's great that you have Shiner. It's in New Jersey but not in NY yet.

    NanaBread–Proud to be a Texan, too!

  12. Lisa Fain

    Anon–Thank you for your thoughts and I agree– there's nothing like quality time with those that you love.

    JustKJ–Thank you for the tip! I look forward to checking it out!

    Charisse–Yep, I hear you!

    Plum Texan–You're welcome and thank you for the kind words!

    Stacey–I'm so glad you don't take it for granted!

  13. Hatsie Haley

    You made me miss my hometown! As an Abilenean at heart, many a night spent at Perini's, or eating creamy bowls of queso, or wolfing down as many of those burritos as possible. Thanks for your memories 🙂

  14. Lisa Fain

    Hatsie Haley–I had a great time in Abilene and can't wait to return!

  15. Abby Dumont

    Excited to hear that you'll be speaking at UTA! What's the occasion? My hubby is a student there.

  16. Anonymous

    I am so glad I read this, while living in Texas. I don't know what I would have if I was, say, still stuck in Iowa and came across this post. Cried? Screamed? Booked a flight to Hobby ASAP?

    This post shows just a sliver of what I love about Texas, and I can't imagine not having all those fine foods and Texas locales right at my fingertips.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Todd (who lives just north of the Avenue of Texas in the City of Texas [well, Texas City] in the great state of Texas!

  17. HZ in DF

    Thankfully the photo-post didn't make me weepy homesick this time. Just happy homesick. So glad you got to enjoy such great things. Oh, how I miss Texas peas (black-eyed, purple hull, you name it) here in Mexico. That and cornmeal and driving through big open spaces to little greasy spoons where the meal ends with good talk. And all the rest. (Made your Sopa de Lima yesterday, btw, mmm mmm good).

  18. Anonymous

    OMG, I studied in UT Arlington and moved out of TX in 2006. Badly wish I were there to attend your talk. Good luck!
    First time delurker.

  19. Whenever I read your posts, I get so homesick for New Mexico; gorgeous sunset, the wide open skies and ever present Organ Mountains in the background. Looking back, I think it was one of the happiest times in my life. Great food (you can't beat good old Hatch chile- the Big Jim variety), a slower pace of life and inner peace. Your recipes bring me closer to home, Lisa. Thank you.

  20. Thoroughly enjoyed this. Fun post, Lisa.

  21. Anonymous

    Who knows the vagaries of hte Velveeta market.
    We fortunately have Velveeta with jalapeno here in Florida so it's the only type I use now!

  22. Anonymous

    The Abilene burrito…Alfredo's?

  23. Nancy in NJ

    Your post brought tears to my eyes for all sorts of reasons. One being that I miss the food so very much – there's nothing even remotely similar in NJ. They call it Tex Mex, Texas BBQ, and Bowl of Red but let me tell you, it ain't. The other was seeing that big old pecan tree. I can still remember the sound of pecans falling on my grandparents roof when an October storm blew in. Then when my parents uprooted us to move east they would send us huge burlap bags of pecans every fall from the same trees to be used in fudge and pecan pies. Memory lane…

  24. Shannon from Carrollton (born and raised in Arlington!)

    So glad you're coming to visit my alma mater…and even happier to see others recommend J Gilligans as a must visit when near UTA. I do enjoy the irish nachos, but the Chad's chicken salad is my fave! Hope you have time to stop by and have a taste. Can't wait for your new cookbook – my family loves reading your current one and enjoying your recipies.

  25. Every time I go home to San Antonio for a visit, I bring an extra small suitcase that is halfway empty. Gives me enough room to bring back the necessities to Jersey City — good flour tortillas, red tortillas for enchiladas, Big Red (get the bottles — the cans once burst in flight!), Herdez salsa verde, pan dulce, frozen tamales, and on occasion, frozen chorizo.

  26. Rocky Mountain Woman

    We are fortunate to have a large Hispanic population in Utah and so have a lot of SW food. There are several bodegas that always have fresh tomatillos, peppers, etc. I love shopping there! I'm from PA, and never even saw salsa until I moved out west, but boy have I adopted it as my own…

    I can't remember the last time I had ketchup!

    Love your blog, love your attitude….



  27. Ashley @ Wishes & Dishes

    I've always wanted to visit Texas…seems like just a beautiful place

  28. Wow, you hit all of the local cities! McKinney, Melissa, Farmersville… I live in Plano. Loved your post!!

  29. Anonymous

    Whataburger! Thank you for this lovely post, Lisa.

  30. awesome, i work at UTA! i'll try to stop by during my lunch hour. too bad you won't be feeding us! 😉

  31. Sherri M

    I live in Abilene!!! Where did you eat for Tex-Mex? I don't recognize that table and I thought I'd eaten at every Tex-Mex restaurant here.:) Enjoy the blog!

  32. Cathleen

    The $2.79 three pound chub of Velveeta reminded me of my last trip to Canada. I wanted to make the cheap-o Texas dip with spiced tomatoes. I called a specialty shop in the town I was visiting and was assured the cheese is available! The cost was greater than seven dollars for a half-pound!!!

  33. Lisa Fain

    Abby–It's the Hermann's Lecture Series out of the English Department.

    Todd–Yep, it can be hard being so far.

    HZ–Well I'm glad you're happy homesick!

    Sandy–Thank you–I have to admit I'm pretty nervous.

    Jane–You're welcome. New Mexico is a beautiful place.

    Kelly–Muchas gracias!

    Anon–In NYC, we can only get the small bricks and only in the original flavor. And they cost a fortune!

    Anon–La Popular.

    Nancy–What a great memory. Pecan trees are another thing that you don't see up here. Hope you get back home soon.

    Shannon–I'm looking forward to my visit! And thank you for the kind words about my second book–I'm hard at work!

  34. Lisa Fain

    Diane–Yep, like you I always either bring an extra bag or a very big suitcase. And good to know the cans burst in flight–I had no idea!

    Rocky Mountain Woman–Thank you. I can't remember the last time I had ketchup either!

    Ashely–You must visit–soon!

    Kevin–And the Velveeta was spotted in Anna!

    Anon–You're welcome.

    Sarah–It's part of the Hermann's Lecture Series out of the English Department. I believe I speak at 1 pm, and there's a book signing at 3.

    Sherri–That was at La Popular.

    Cathleen–Yep, it's outrageous here in NYC, too. Plus, we can only get the little bricks.

  35. Margaret

    If you haven't seen "Bernie," make it a point to do so. Talk about a Texas memory!

  36. After ready that, and having spent over 25yrs living in Texas, I'm homesick all over. Miss the great food & great people passionately,

  37. Cheri (aka "The Mom Lady")

    Your post reminded me of my visits home when we lived overseas. Our love of Indian food was born of an intense desire to replicate the hot and spicy foods of Tex Mex that we missed to much in the 80s in London. Each visit home would beget some new flavor in our sensory lexicon – fajitas in the 80s, for instance. They do have a form of Mexican food in Europe now but, be it ever so (much more flavorful and authentic) humble, there's no place like home! We moved back to west Houston from England in 2005 and I have the hips to prove it! Viva la Tex Mex!

  38. There's nothing like Tex-Mex…and Texas is the only place to get it. So glad to be moving back to Texas after the first of the year. Can hardly wait!

    Gonna re-read your "5 things I love about Houston" just to savor!

  39. Anonymous

    Loved this post. The pictures made my mouth water. The chocolate pie looks just like the ones my mother used to make. And of course–football!

  40. Tommi Ferguson

    Thanks for sharing the tale of your travels and pictures of great plates. Made me equal parts hungry and homesick! Sorry I won't be able to hear your talk on place – I'm very interested in place as part of my studies, specifically its importance for older adults (my field is senior housing). I've encouraged my mother-in-law to attend Oct. 26. I hope the event goes well and that you'll post a summary or some notes afterwards. Oh, also, worth mentioning, the image of the Texas flag always makes me smile too!

  41. Judy & Bill Rouse aboard S/V BeBe

    Loved this posting! We are in Turkey and patiently (impatiently, really)anticipating our next trip to Houston in 8 weeks……where we plan to enjoy the same things you mentioned above.

  42. Sherri M

    I love La Popular! I've only had their breakfast burritos but they're my favorite!

  43. Anonymous

    just up the street from UTA is a WONDERFUL burger place called CHOP HOUSE BURGERS. It's been on Diner, DiveIn's and Dives on the FOOD NETWORK. It's a MUST DO! YUM! I've just moved to Rhode Island and AMAZED that I can't find Velvetta??? Really, I thought everyone used Velvetta. Oh well, they sell it on Amazon. Enjoy your presentation at University of Texas @ Arlington. Go Mavericks!

  44. I grew up eating Perini's! They have GREAT burgers. I know it's hard to go there and not get a steak, but if you're ever in the vicinity and craving a burger, they are amazing.

  45. From another homesick Texan, your pictures are doing me good! I miss breakfast tacos so much, and that's a good question–why don't they have Queso Blanco Velveeta up here–it doesn't even need to be regrigerated! 😉

  46. Anonymous

    Your post brought a tear to my eye and a smile to my face. We are displaced Texans living in England. You can't buy Velveeta, you can't buy jalapenos, not even a little can of green chilis! Your pictures and post look so much like my visits home. A parade of food! And being here has made me realize that it's not just the food, but the great people I share it with. It's a whole lifestyle. A whole feeling of being "home". Thanks for that!!

  47. lonestarlost

    Herrera's! I used to wonder how my dad would find all these restaurants that used to seem obscure when I was growing up in Plano the late 80s. We'd make the trip (which seemed soooo loooong-this was well before the Bush was constructed) for him to have menudo at Herrera's. We also used to make the trek up Preston Road to a little Mexican place near the water tower in downtown Frisco. Any idea what that was called? This was before the expansion in Oklahoma started. And I spy a Whataburger! I have to have a taquito the first morning when I am back in Dallas. We're in Pittsburgh now, and I can find Velveeta, but when we were in Norway I used to bring Velveeta and Rotel in my suitcase. Your site has given me comfort and recipes since 2008. Thank you so much!!!!

  48. I grew up in Coleman, Texas, a small town just south of Abilene, and my mom's chocolate pie was famous in our church! Now my grandchildren in Houston ask for that same pie. I also make her chicken spaghetti and cornbread dressing. We think of my mom every time we serve one of these dishes. Now that she is in heaven, these recipes are even more precious.

  49. Mike McGinnis

    Welcome home…..see ya

  50. Jennifer Bussey

    Where can I find info on your talk? I'm in the area and would lurve to come hear you!

  51. Love!

  52. I'm an English Grad Student at UTA with an interest in food studies and can't wait to hear from you next week. I've read the blog for years and am delighted to hear you in person.

  53. Hi, I am a PhD Candidate in History at UTA and follow your blog. Looking forward to your talk.

  54. HOME. The smell of salt in the air, and how it feels sticky when the Gulf dries on your skin. Heat so heavy it presses you flat in the sun like a bug pinned to a sample tray in a museum. Sweet tea in plastic glasses with long spoons. The two fingered wave when you pass a Ford pick up so old it looks handed down from Henry. Stenderos opening up down the endless scrub, and the sound of the dessert when it wakes up at night. People who smile at you with no provocation. HEB truck drivers who pull over to help you fix a tire. Nothing on the radio but the farm report and ranchero music because you are too far out to get anything but AM. I miss home. It's lovely here – so green it seems almost profligate, and glowing red now as the seasons change. But it's not home.

  55. anotherfoodieblogger

    Have you been to Bend yet this year to visit family? Now I am homesick for Texas! We have a family reunion scheduled for June next year in Austin, I can't wait to go eat some good ole Tex-Mex.

  56. Mark Salditch

    Texas memories of another ex-pat:
    Lake LBJ and Cooper's BBQ

    Cheese Enchiladas at Mia's in Dallas

    Chicken Fried Steak at the Gage Hotel in Marathon

    Standing in line for an hour or two at Franklin's in Austin

  57. Tommi Ferguson

    This one not for Lisa but for Elle. Thanks so much for that post. That was a wonderful description of some of the best things about living in Texas. The two fingered wave – yes! We also live in a lovely place with nice people that also just is not home.

  58. Anonymous

    Is the Grandma's chocolate pie in the photo the same one that is in your recipe index, or do I spy pecans in there? If so, would you pretty please post that recipe some time?
    Like all the others, your blogs make me hungry for the fine Texan food which does not necessarily come from a fancy restaurant. 🙂

  59. Weekend Cowgirl

    Love Perini Ranch beef! Someone sent us some and it was beyond delish!

  60. Chef Paul

    Wow! I love this site. I was blessed to live in Big D from the mid 60s until the mid 70s-most of my childhood. What memories! And today, with tragic loss of Big Tex, my thoughts are all about Dallas. I want to come home. Lake Highlands Junior High, Highland Park Cafeteria, El Fenix, First Baptist Church and…King of Barbecue in McKinney. Is it still there?

  61. As an exiled (voluntarily) Texas writer heading back there for Christmas, I'd love to see you do a column recommending (or not) various eateries at DFW airport.

  62. Dusty Lady

    Will a transcript or summary of you talk be available somewhere? The concept of "place" – how we identify it, claim it, nurture it, share it, adapt to it – and how it molds us – – these ideas have intrigued me since I was a child. I a eager to learn your thoughts and the thoughts of others about this concept.

  63. thanks for this! i'm headed to texas to visit my mom in a couple of weeks (i live in california now)… whenever i go visit, i have a few restaurants i must go to while i'm there!! sadly, my favorite mexican restaurant closed down (family owned for over 40 years), so i will have to discover a 'new' favorite in my hometown… i enjoy california mexican food, but it's just not texmex!!! robin, mission viejo, ca (formerly victoria, texas)

  64. There is that special feeling about being home, all of the memories, all of the love. It's just that much sweeter when you add some nostalgic foods into the mix, like Grandma's Chocolate Pie! This will be the first year I'm not heading home for the holidays with my family. Any thoughts on how to make it feel special and sweet, regardless?

  65. Thanks for reminding me about all the things I love about Texas. I'm overdue for a visit!

  66. DGLloyd

    I grew up in Fort Worth, and I grazed my way through the state many times. My favorite place was the ‘Old Borunda’ in Marfa, but it is now only a memory. A close second was ‘Joe T. Garcia’s’ in Fort Worth before the expansions began. I actually remember Joe before he passed away in 1953. In third place is a tie among some 300 restaurants—maybe 400 restaurants. Lisa, your writings always evoke good memories. Thank you.

  67. spoiledguineafrog

    i absolutely LOVE this blog. i cant imagine ever leaving texas, but if i did, i know this blog could be a place of comfort – as i'm sure it is for a lot of texas transplants! kudos!!

  68. I'm from California, but lived in Austin for 8 years. I love reading your blog because it brings back so many great memories! My kids beg me to make queso w/ Velveeta & Rotel and I happily oblige! And, my husband finally found Shiner at the local Bev Mo!

  69. embaker76

    I recently made a trip back home (Dallas/Plano) back in October. This was the first time I was weepy homesick while being there. Seeing your post made me smile, and I love your blog. I'll get back there one day, but like you, I've got many happy memories (and lots of family to visit!) to keep me until then.

  70. Please while in DFW area attend the Mercado Juarez restaurant. Been going to the Irving location since 10yrs old. Now they have 4-5 locations in DFW. Been living out of the big TX for 6 yrs now, and I gave up on eating 'tex-mex' places in FL/GA areas, while good, just doesn't measure up to there!!! Keep the blog going! ONE day, one day I'll return back to the big TX.

  71. Jennifer

    This looks similar to my "to do list" when we go back home (to East Texas) from Georgia, but we throw a Whataburger trip in there somewhere. 🙂

  72. A true Texan, always goes home with a list of places to eat. I love it.

  73. great post…I grew up in NYC but moved to TX about 11 years ago and can't imagine moving back there…I was there briefly on business this past summer and all I could think of while I was there was my pickup and the open road (well, semi-open here in Houston nowadays)…the food in NYC are great but..certain things you can only experience here

  74. Kimberly van Noort

    What about your visit to UTA? You go straight from DFW airport to Abiline!

  75. Lisa Fain

    Kimberly–That was another trip, not this one.

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