Texas Food Blog – Part 1 – Houston and the Hill Country

Thomas Wolfe said that you can’t go home again. I think he’s right. The Houston I knew as a child is long gone. In its place is a bustling metropolis full of near-constant highway construction.

Photobucket

Photobucket

The house I grew up in still looks the same, minus a few rose bushes. The door is still red, a point of rebellion for my parents in a neighborhood with somewhat draconian deed restrictions. More and more small ranch houses have been replaced by ticky-tacky McMansions, so large that they take up all but a few square feet of the lot they are on. I can never understand that…not wanting a yard of some kind. A lot of people in my neighborhood seem to prefer a stark concrete slab in place of grass or gardens. I mean, who on earth would want to actually tend a GARDEN these days, after all. Vegetables? Fruit? Christ…they sell that shit at the grocery store….all shiny…no worm holes…no bugs…no life.

Houston is almost unrecognizable to me…and to my husband…as evidenced by the fact that we got lost repeatedly this trip. We both grew up here, for God’s sake. I was there for nearly 25 years..my husband longer. At one point, we were leaving Humble after visiting Uncle John and Auntie Tiffany and somehow ended up by the San Jacinto Monument (EAST)…instead of where we wanted to be (WEST).

Photobucket

Sure, the humidity is still there…as are the mosquitoes, as dense as a plague of locusts and the roaches, as big as cats. Every time I go back to visit my family, I search high and low for the Houston I knew as a child…the Houston that pretty much ended at Katy and dissolved into cow pastures with rusted, tin roof shelters. Those cow pastures still exist but you have to go way past Columbus to find them now.

A few great restaurants are gone, namely “La Jaliscience” on Studemont, which everyone just referred to as The Taqueria. It was open until 4am…a great place to fill your gut with spicy Mexican food after a night of drinking too much Shiner Bock. (In a town that completely shut down at 2am, it was much loved among my fellow drunks.) Sean misses “Felix” on Westheimer. There was an extremely cantankerous and senile waiter there called Frank, since passed away, who was only friendly towards him:

Photobucket

Thankfully, though, some of my favorite restaurants still remain. I always have to stop by
Treebeards in old Market Square in downtown Houston. I’ve talked about Treebeards before. See my Treebeards blog from a few years ago. I adore their red beans and rice and their spicy mustard greens studded with sweet, succulent shrimp. It’s a must-visit every time we’re in town. This was Maggie’s inaugural visit, so our niece Brigid and our friend James (aka Jimmy Pineapple) made the trip down for lunch.

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

We were only in Houston for a few short days at first. Ever since Sean’s family moved up to the Austin area, we’ve been making the 3-hour trip back and forth every visit.

Now, I have been accused (unfairly) in the past of being a food snob. I’m not, I swear. I love all food. I can appreciate any food that is lovingly prepared. It doesn’t have to be fancy. I also have a certain nostalgia for Texas fast food restaurants that don’t exist here in California such as Whataburger,
Taco Cabana and Sonic. (Yes, there is a Sonic near Disneyland but that’s like an hour away….far too long of a journey for a Frito Pie. Plus…the transcendent Frito Pie is probably only a Texas thing.) My husband usually wants to make the trip to and from Austin as quickly as possible, so we usually hit the drive-thrus to eat…which is one of the many reasons why I tend to have an extra 10 pounds to lose when I return to LA. This trip was no different. First stop: Sonic. One of the novel things about Sonic is its quaint carhop service. Just pull up to the menu, and a carhop will skate up to your window to take your order. My usual order? The ultra-healthy, mega-delicious, afore-mentioned Frito Pie and tater tots. I love me a good tot. (Especially when I fry them here at home in duck fat.)

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

No trip between Austin and Houston is complete without a potty stop at the Weikel’s Bakery, formerly the Bon Ton, in La Grange for Kolaches:

Photobucket

By Kolaches, I mean Klobasnek or Klobasniky, Czech for Pigs-in-the-blanket. (Czech and German people settled here in the Hill Country of Texas in the mid-1800’s.) Klobasniky is the proper term, but the name Kolache is used incorrectly and interchangeably in Houston for the sweet pastries as well as the savory, sausage and cheese-stuffed pastry, probably because no one can pronounce Klobasniky. They both share the same sweet, yeasty pastry, which I think is especially delicious wrapped around a local, spicy jalapeño sausage. Sweet and salty always gets me. The sweet Kolaches:

Photobucket

The savory kolaches (klobasniky):

Photobucket

Well, we loaded up on both styles of Kolaches as well as all sorts of fun Texas treats such as locally made pralines, candied jalapeño’s and German chocolate cake and then we headed north to Georgetown to visit Sean’s folks. A large portion of Sean’s extended Irish family was converging at the Shannon house to witness the coming of Maggie. The youngest of the 8-kid Shannon clan had produced a baby finally. It was a reason to gather, eat and celebrate!

Maggie and her Paw-Paw Shannon:

Photobucket

Maggie with Mee-Maw and Uncle Pat:

Photobucket

Maggie’s cousin Audrey was sooo excited to welcome her to the family:

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Maggie fell deeply and immediately in love with her cousin Sean T (aka Pizza Sean):

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Auntie Ann and Auntie Cynthia got in some quality Maggie time too:

Photobucket

Photobucket

Then we sat down to a big country dinner of hickory-smoked brisket, macaroni and cheese, and of course, Quad for dessert. Quad is a four-layer dessert that Mee-Maw (aka Big Shirl) makes with a nut crust, cream cheese/whipped cream, chocolate pudding and whipped cream top. I have never made it as successfully as she does it. Big Shirl has some secret-squirrel way of making it heavenly.

Photobucket

Photobucket

If we were ever to move back to Texas, I don’t think I could ever move back to Houston, but I could move to the Hill Country, preferably near Lake Austin. One night, we went to the The Ski Shores Waterfront Cafe to see our friends Stephen Doster
and Bill Carter play an acoustic set right out on the dock. God, that was the quintessential Austin night: The breeze off the lake blowing through my hair…the mineral smell of the water in my nostrils..as if I had wiped out while water skiing and held on to the handle a little too long…the slippery wet condensation on the ice cold beer dripping on my bare legs…lime and salt on my tongue…the bacon cheeseburger with jalapeños so spicy on my lips…..the ski boat wakes splashing up through the dock and soaking my bare toes…the crackle of the order speaker as it drowned out the band…oh wait…I bet Stephen and Bill could’ve done without that part. Yes, I could live around there, definitely….especially if Stephen and Bill were playing the soundtrack:

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Alas, it was hard to go back to Houston after that. Not that we didn’t want to see my family, but Tropical Storm Edouard was out in the Gulf of Mexico on a trajectory that would bring the eye straight through the Houston area. There was concern that it would turn into a hurricane, so the whole town was shutting down in preparation…the schools were closed….there was talk of the airports closing and Sean was due to fly out early the next day to get back to work. People were leaving Houston and heading to Austin to escape the storm and we were heading straight into it…with a 7-month old baby.

You sure couldn’t tell it was coming from the looks of the weather. It was a gorgeous day, if a bit hot, as we drove south. The wide Texas sky was dotted with fluffy white clouds. The one-stoplight towns seemed to shimmer in the heat. The hills were all green and rolling. The tin roofs were rusted…

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

When we returned there was a hushed feeling of impending doom hanging over the city. The air was moist and hot and seemed elelctrically charged. This is the city that took on a lot of the Katrina refugees in 2005 and dealt with Rita a few months later. Houston does not monkey around with hurricanes now. Shit closes down. But since Edouard wasn’t expected to be anything worse than a Category 1 hurricane at its strongest, it just made Houstonians want to party. If people weren’t at grocery stores buying water or boarding up their windows, they were out at restaurants and bars getting loaded. They knew damn well that if this storm turned ugly, they were going to be stuck in close quarters with family, no power and canned food for days, possibly. If that isn’t a reason to drink, I don’t know what is.

Sean and I were no different. We met up with some family at a Tex-Mex restaurant called
Lupe Tortilla. Lupe Tortilla is a wonderful concept if you have a kid. They actively seek out kid business but it’s not a Chuckie-Cheese. It’s an adult restaurant that just happens to have a kick-ass sandpit playground for the kids and tables all around for the parents to hang out and eat great Tex-Mex food and drink strong Margaritas.

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

I have a great love for Tex-Mex food. I get chicken quesadillas a lot in Texas. There is something very comforting about the simplicity of them. Not that I don’t love things like carnitas and such but in Texas, it’s all about the quesadilla for me. I get more authentic Mexican food here in LA. Tex-Mex is something else. Flour tortillas are more prevalent than corn. The chips are super thin and shatter in your mouth whereas the tortilla chips here in LA have a tendency to be a little more coarse and thick. They have Chili con Queso, which doesn’t seem to have crossed the Texas border at all, as when I ask for it here in LA, people look at me blankly and say: “You want CHEESE?” Yeah…melted cheese…preferably Velveeta with Rotel Tomatoes mixed in. Queso here in LA is invariably Queso Fundido, which is real cheese that is melted in the manner of a fondue. You’ve really got to go with Velveeta for the chile-con-queso in Texas. It is ubiquitous at every Tex-Mex restaurant there.

After hearing the airports might close or have delays, Sean rescheduled his flight for the day after. We ended up hitting yet another Tex-Mex place with our friends Dogman of the band
The Hightailers, his wife Carie and their son Akira. As it turned out, the big hurricane Edouard never was. Not only did it go in to the Northeast of us but it never really strengthened. It just rained most of the day and then the sun peeked through in the evening. The streets didn’t even flood and they almost always do in a bad storm. When we were kids, we used to get excited when our street became a lake when the sewers backed up. We used to swim in it. Can you imagine? We were basically swimming in shit. Of course, we used to follow the mosquito trucks all the time too. It’s a miracle we survived past the age of 10.

Dogman and Sean:

Photobucket

Carie and Maggie:

Photobucket

Maggie to Akira: “Hey, where’d you get your Dylan shirt? I’ve got 3!”

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Maggie ‘done wore herself out’ hunkering down in a Mexican restaurant and riding out Tropical Storm Edouard:

Photobucket

The worst part of Tropical Storm Edouard, by my father’s standards, was that they closed the pool and he didn’t get to have his afternoon swim. I am so thankful that it was all nothing. I still remembered riding out Hurricane Alicia, a Category 3 hurricane that hit Houston head-on in August of 1983, when I was just about to start my sophomore year of high school. My father was out of town and my mom barricaded us in a windowless hallway all night. The winds were howling and the house seemed to be heaving great intakes of breath throughout the night. It was pretty terrifying. I kept expecting to be lifted into the clouds like Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz”.

Photobucket

INTERMISSION

Mee-Maw’s (Big Shirl’s) QUAD:

1st Layer:
1 Cup Flour
1 Stick Butter
1 Cup Chopped Nuts

Blend and bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees.

2nd Layer
8 oz Cream Cheese
1 Cup Powdered Sugar
1 Cup Cool Whip

Blend together and spread on crust.

3rd Layer
3 small pkgs chocolate instant pudding
Mix with 3 Cups of Milk
Spread on top of cream cheese mixture

4th Layer
Spread remaining Cool Whip on top of Chocolate pudding.

Advertisements

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: