Monthly Archives: May 2011

When a Girl Leaves Texas, She Packs Provisions

As many of you may know, Christian and I are moving to Richmond, VA in two months. I’ve come up with a list of non-perishable provisions to pack in the trunk of my car for when nostalgia for the Lone Star State sets in. Sadly, I don’t think I can fit the lady who makes fresh tortillas at H-E-B or an entire Rio Star grapefruit farm in my Passat, but I can probably squeeze in…

  1. A case of Lone Star beer
  2. A bag of masa harina and a tortilla press
  3. A case of Mexican Coke (made with real cane sugar!)
  4. Several cans of huitlachoche
  5. A giant bottle of Valentina hot sauce
  6. A bottle of Balcones True Blue Corn Whiskey
  7. A jar of Clint’s Texas Salsa
  8. A bag of El Milagro Tortilla Chips
  9. A jar of Polvo’s escabeche
  10. A bag of Curra’s Blend Oaxaca coffee

Did I leave out a quintessential Texas staple? Tell me what I’m forgetting in the “comments” section.

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Filed under Food, Texas

Smoked Ribs, a Tribute to the Zü

Christian and I don’t eat a lot of meat these days. We’re not vegetarians, but we are recovering graduate students and meat lightens our pockets more quickly than vegetables do. During my senior year of college, I lived in a vegetarian COOP called “the Zü.”  Initially, I was non-too-pleased about the idea of eating meat just once a week. (I’m from the Midwest, where the main food groups are meat and potatoes and sweet corn is considered a “vegetable.”) However, I am forever grateful to my “crunchy granola” housemates for teaching me that vegetarian food doesn’t have to taste like cardboard and leave you severely malnourished. They helped me re-imagine my dinner plate. Vegetables went from being “side dishes” flanking over-portioned hunks of animal protein, to center plate all-stars laced with flavor and accented by lesser-known proteins, like lentils, peanuts, black beans, chickpeas, yogurt, eggs, and quinoa.

Look at all us hippies!

On the rare occasion that we cooked meat at the Zü – about once a month – the meal took on ritualistic proportions. We savored every moment of the process, from prep to first bite. Meatlovers would come out of the woodwork, following the wafting scents into the kitchen.

Peeling crawfish in the Zü kitchen

In loving memory of those nights in the Zü kitchen with barbeque slow-cooking in the oven, I decided to smoke some ribs…

St. Louis-style ribs from WFM

Christian and I bought these ribs from Whole Foods Market. It was an impulse buy; we were cruising past the meat counter, and these babies caught our eye. One look at each other and there was a mutual understanding that this meat needed to be in our bellies and not behind a glass counter.

Rubbed ribs

A nice trick learned from Tyler Florence (TFlo)…Mix lime juice, water, and white vinegar, add to BBQ rub of choice to form a paste that will adhere to the ribs and create a thick, savory crust when cooked. Caution: be sure your BBQ rub isn’t overly salty. We learned that the hard way.

Cedar planks courtsey of Betty Hahn

First, I placed the ribs over soaked cedar planks to protect them from the hot coals. They cooked this way for about 30 minutes.

Smokin'

When the ribs were nearly cooked through, I threw the wet planks on top of the coals and placed the ribs on the hot grate.

We bought this grill for $25 off some grad students

I covered the grill and let the ribs smoke for another 10 minutes or so. Then I took the lid off and fed the fire, which created a good charred crust on the meat.

Deliciousness.

Isn’t that beautiful???

My first ribs

Helloooooo ribs!!!

Man eats rib.

Satisfied husband = Mission accomplished

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Filed under Dinner, Food, Nostalgia

Eating Our Way through Texas

Recently, my mom and my grandma visited Austin. We had such a fun time touring the city and of course, sampling the local cuisine…

Our first stop was The Mighty Cone trailer on South Congress Ave. I ordered a shrimp cone, but Mom and Grandma opted for the “classic” Hot and Crunchy Chicken Cones – chicken breaded in sesame seeds, almonds, chili arbol flakes, sea salt, sugar, and corn flakes, topped with mango slaw and chipotle aioli, then wrapped in a warm tortilla. While they weren’t the easiest things to eat (at one point Grandma confused the cone with the tortilla and took a bite out of both), they sure were tasty. Mom was glad to have checked the iconic food trailer off her Austin bucket list (she had wanted to try a “the chicken cone place” ever since I sent her the recipe, which was featured in Food & Wine).

Mom and Grandma enjoying their first Mighty Cone

The next day we went to Fredericksburg and shopped around. We were in awe of all the culinary novelties at Der Kuchen Laden – a kitchen store located in what was formerly the Fredericksburg Hospital (weird, right?). And then we went on a hunt for the perfect Christmas ornament for Mom’s friend Debbie. We finally settled on one, but I can’t reveal it here, just in case Debbie is reading along!

In the courtyard outside Der Kuchen Laden

For lunch, we went to Rather Sweet Bakery and Café, where Christian and I dined no less than three times on our honeymoon (yes, it’s that good). Mom and I saw Rebecca Rather – the Ina Garten of Texas – in the courtyard!

A cup of watermelon gazpacho at Rather Sweet

After touring the Japanese peace garden at the Museum of the Pacific War, we decided to give our feet a rest and get some coffee at the Java Ranch, where they “don’t dial 911″… (only in Texas!)

Don't mess with Java Ranch

Feeling a bit adventurous, we drove out to Becker Vineyards for an afternoon wine tasting. Mom tasted a Viognier for the first time, and Grandma sampled some of the lighter red grapes, like the Prairie Rotie and the Claret.

Outside the Becker Vineyard tasting room

To finish the day, we feasted at the recently-renovated Fredericksburg Herb Farm, that featured a new dining room, an expanded spa, and a B&B. It was totally different from when Christian and I had lunched there during our honeymoon, but the food was still decadent!

Housemade ciabatta with chive butter at the Herb Farm

Three Generations of Bastron women at the Herb Farm

The following day we toured the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center. It was a poor year for wildflowers, due to the fact that we’ve had very little rain. But it was still fun to tour the grounds and to “hunt” for bluebonnets.

Hunting for bluebonnets at the LadyBird Johnson Wildflower Center

Our grand finale was a southern brunch at Olivia Restaurant. Their chef, James Holmes, was recently featured in Food & Wine. Little did Mom and Grandma know that they would be dining at not one, but two Food & Wine-acclaimed Austin restaurants that week. We Bastron women have a talent for sniffing out good food, wherever we are.

Olivia Benedict: braised flatiron beef, poached farm eggs, hollandaise, biscuit

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Filed under Family, Food, Travel

10 Things I Love about My Mother

  1. She’s more stylish than I’ll ever be.– I’ve never had the privilege of peaking into a movie star’s closest, but I’m pretty sure that the next best thing is my mom’s. It’s highly likely that she has a more impressive shoe collection than Jennifer Anniston (“I never throw anything away,” she claims), and her clothes are considerably more “hip” than mine. I still call her to ask about fashion advice, wondering what to wear to an interview or to a beach wedding. She’ll frequently say things like, “They’re showing a lot of short dresses right now.” And I’m like…did she really just say that? Despite being up on the latest trends, my mom’s not showy or high brow. Her sense of style is tasteful, fun-loving, and well…just good.

    Dressed to impress!

  2. Her mac and cheese tastes like heaven. – The recipe hasn’t changed for as long as I can remember. And frankly, there isn’t really a recipe. My mom just uses whatever pasta and cheeses we have in the house at the time (of course, it’s every good cook’s job to have substantial amounts of cream and butter on hand at all times). Even with the recent mac and cheese craze going around the restaurant scene, I never order it off a menu because I am 100% certain that it will never taste as good as my mother’s. Ever. Hers is hot, gooey, fattening comfort food. When we were kids she used to make it every time my dad had to work late (he claimed to dislike mac and cheese because he had to eat it so much as a kid). Now, she makes it every time I come home for a visit, and she’ll make my dad a sandwich instead. But on occasion, I catch him sneaking a spoonful of Mom’s mac and cheese. No one can resist its power.

    MMMMMac and Cheese

  3. Her laugh is priceless. – It’s one of those amazing laughs that’s not only unique-sounding, but always genuine. I don’t even think she knows how to “pretend laugh.” Going hand-in-hand with her youthful, boisterous laugh is her love of clean jokes. I’ve never heard someone laugh so hard at some of the most innocent jokes in all my life. Sure, she likes a dirty joke every now and then, as long as it’s good. But it’s a true testament to her solid sense of humor that she can laugh wholeheartedly at the following: “So a duck walks into a drugstore, and buys some lip balm. The cashier asks, ‘Cash or credit?’ And the duck responds, ‘Just put it on my bill.'” 🙂
  4. She has a frog collection. – There’s literally a room in our house filled with frogs (not real ones, decorative ones), and miraculously, it’s not creepy. They all sort of gaze up at you from their perch on the windowsill and seem to ask, “Why am I dressed like this?” But my mom loves them. She actively shops to expand her frog collection. I love it when she finds something at a craft store and exclaims, “Oh, how cute! Look at this one!” As if we’re all going to gather around and nod eagerly in approval. What’s really cute is the fact that she thinks they’recute. Oh, and the frogs have definitely invaded the rest of the house and the yard over the years. She even has a Christmas tree dedicated completely to frog ornaments. My favorite is the light-up Santa Claus frog that sits on our doorstep welcoming (or warning?) passersby during the holiday season.

    "The Frog Lady lives here."

  5. She puts others before herself. – Whether it’s driving through blizzard conditions to a tennis match or standing in the snow during a golf meet (yes, we Minnesotans are hardcore), my mom goes to great lengths to show love and support for her kids. I’m a 26-year-old married woman, and I still receive care packages filled with snack food and family pictures on every major (and minor) holiday. Now that all her kids have moved away from the nest, she spends a lot of her time volunteering. The Legal Aid Society, the YMCA, the Zumbro Valley Medical Society, and the P.E.O. are just a few of the organizations that are lucky to have my mom’s “can do” attitude and cheery demeanor.
  6. She loves the outdoors (not to be confused with camping).– My mom typically walks once a day for about 3 miles, and on the weekends, she’ll walk even farther. I know she walks to stay fit, but she also loves the wildflowers, the fresh air, and the pretty houses. Sub-zero temps don’t stop her; that’s why God created snow boots and down coats.

    Walking on the beach in Punta Mita

  7. She’s a bookworm. – Thank goodness for whoever invented the Kindle, otherwise we’d have run out of shelf space by 2012. My mom’s a voracious reader. She burns through a book a week, and these are thick books…sans pictures. She’s even in a book club. I had always heard about those, but now I can attest to their existence because I know someone who is actually in one. You go Mom!
  8. Her chocolate chip cookies are better than your mom’s (no, really they are). – People around town ask for them by name. “Are those Mary Harper’s chocolate chip cookies? I’m on a diet, but I’ll have one if they’re Mary’s cookies.” Coaches, coworkers, neighbors, friends, teachers, roommates, and total strangers at holiday parties go ga-ga for her chocolate chip cookies. You may think you’ve had the best, but you haven’t, I assure you. People special request these for parties if they know my mom’s invited. Some coaches have even been known to act upset with my mom if she doesn’t bake a batch for a tennis match or a golf meet. “How dareshe keep all the chocolately goodness to herself?!” I get such a kick out of it because it’s not like the recipe is a big secret or anything. She shares it with anyone who asks for it, but every time someone tries to make the cookies, they never come out as good as my mom’s. I guess she’s got a special talent. I hope it’s genetic.

    She's not making cookies in this picture, but she's still a pro at work.

  9. She should have been a travel agent. – We have a virtual library of travel books and magazines that are left over from the various trips we’ve taken as a family. Each has a plethora of earmarked pages and highlighted text. No matter where we go, she always seems to find the most off-the-beaten-path, quaint, yet luxurious place to stay. My mom likes to travel in comfort, but she’s not extravagant. She’s literally the Four Seasons’ worst nightmare, because she’s an expert at finding hotels or B&B’s that are in the same exclusive area but of a much greater value than said resort.

    Mom scouting out B&B's for our wedding guests

  10. Her word is as good as gold. – One of the greatest values that my mom instilled upon me as a child was commitment. Often I would promise to spend an afternoon with a friend, but then a more exciting opportunity would come along (e.g., hanging out with a cute boy), and I’d want to cancel plans with my friend. But my mom would always say, “You made a commitment, and you must honor it. How would you feel if a friend canceled plans on you only to spend time with someone else?” The same would go for clubs or teams that I had joined. During my freshman year of college – finally free of the parental grasp – I was put to the ultimate test. My boyfriend wanted to fly me to some distant island to spend the Easter break with his family. But we would have to leave Thursday, and I would miss golf practice. It was as if I could hear the words coming from my mother’s mouth, “You made a commitment to your team.” I told my boyfriend, “Sorry, I’ve got practice.” He was flabbergasted, claiming that he skipped class to travel all the time. Needless to say, it didn’t work out between us.

What do you love about your Mother? Please share your stories in the “comments” section. Happy Mother’s Day!!!

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Filed under Family, Food, Mothers, Travel