Friday, April 23, 2010

Fill 'Er Up

There's a phenomenon in Texas known as the destination gas station. In a state this vast, where highways traverse from Cypress choked swamps to bluebonnet carpeted fields to red rock crusted deserts, a gas station can't just be a source for fuel and microwaved burritos. It has to be a destination in and of itself, a place known for its kolaches, barbecue, or turkey jerky, a place you would drive miles out of your way to visit even if you didn't have anywhere else to go.

Having been to the Czech Stop in West (I always get a blueberry and cream cheese kolache, a hot chubbie, and, if I'm on my way home, a package of Czech Stop hot sausages for the grill) and Woody's Smokehouse in Centerville (the gas station/barbecue joint has locations on both the north and southbound sides of I-45, so you can hit it coming and going), I was still unprepared for the Chef Point Cafe.

First of all, I had never heard of it, even though the gourmet restaurant located in a Conoco station in Wautauga, just north of Fort Worth, has been featured on the Food Network show Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. Second, it's not only a gourmet restaurant in a gas station, it has, hands down, the best fried chicken I have ever eaten, anywhere. So why had it taken me five years to find it?

Apparently, my friends in Fort Worth don't like me all that much.

Luckily my Dallas friend Caroline had seen Guy Fieri's show, so we made a Sunday night pilgrimage to check the place out. When we arrived around 7 there was a line out the convenience store door, but it didn't take long for us to get a seat. Don't let the hype fool you: For all of its well-deserved accolades, the place is still a gas station. It's not trendy. There's no modern interior or sleek chrome styling. There's no retro hipster art or vintage diner fixtures. There's just a large open room full of slightly beat-up tables and booths to the left of the checkout counter, which is fully stocked with lottery tickets and smokes.



But the food, now that's worth traveling for. Nigerian-born chef Franson Nwaeze and his wife Paula Merrell decided to go the gas station route when Nwaeze discovered that it was easier to get a loan to finance the purchase of a stop-and-go than a restaurant. Their motto? "Fill 'er up outside, fill 'er up inside." And fill we did. In addition to the fried chicken, we tried the meatloaf and shepherd's pie, both on the Sunday Comfort Food menu. And for dessert? Melissa, who also came along for the ride, took one heaping spoonful of the hot cognac sauce pooling around the bread pudding and declared it "liquid yum." I'll be back for more. Till then, here's the recipe:

Chef Point Café Bread Pudding
Wednesday, 02 December 2009

© 2010 - Chef Point Cafe

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Mixed Grill

In my neighborhood in Oak Cliff, there's a well known family-owned restaurant called El Ranchito, or, as Cliffdwellers call it, "the Chito." For the longest time, I was scared to venture inside despite the festive exterior because a) it billed itself as a "cafe and club" on the sign, and b) there were no windows. Every time I would drive by I would speculate as to what "club" meant. Were there dance parties? Was it simply a bar? Did they even serve food? But when my hairdresser told me I had to go, I summoned up my courage, grabbed Melissa, and we headed in on a Friday night, come what may.

My fears were put to rest as soon as I saw the tortilla stand in the center of the sombrero-strewn room, where two women were churning out flour tortillas by hand. We were seated in what appeared to be a quiet alcove by the kitchen, and quickly ordered the irresistible Parillada Mexican for two. Soon we found ourselves surveying our own personal cast-iron grill covered with sizzling hunks of beef, sausage, and ribs. There was no need for conversation. Between the boundless meat and the roving bands of mariachis with full horn sections that soon squeezed into our corner, we couldn't communicate if we tried.

But out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a table of four young men across the way. They had clearly put in a long week of work, and were ready to relax. They each had a large, strawberry margarita in front of them -- yes, strawberry -- and no one seemed to be in a hurry to order food. One of them caught my eye and made a comment in Spanish, but I couldn't understand him, or hear, so I smiled and waved in the general direction of the mariachis, shrugged my shoulders, and returned to my smoking grill of meat. This time he came over to the table. I apologized, I speak only a smattering of Spanish, mostly related to food, but we hoped they were having a lovely evening. He smiled and nodded, then returned to his friends.

Next thing we knew, the waiter brought over two strawberry margaritas to our table. "We didn't order these," I shouted above the horns. The waiter smiled and gestured toward the table of men. "They sent them over with their regards," he said. We turned to their table and did the universal female nod-and-wave of appreciation that signifies, "Thanks, the gift is too kind. Do not even consider approaching further." We returned to our meal, soon finished to bursting, and the waiter came to take our check.

"Will you please put a round of drinks on our tab and deliver them to the other table after we leave?," I shouted as he stood beside me. He looked at me blankly. "We'd like to buy them a round to thank them, but I don't want you to take them to their table until after we're gone," I yelled in his ear. "Ah, yes," he said, smiling. "No problem. I'll be right back." Soon I saw our waiter heading in our direction with a tray full of pink frozen drinks. He set them down on the other table. I saw him point in our direction. I saw the men look at each other, then at the drinks, then at us. There were smiles all around. Melissa looked at me in horror. I froze.

The man who had approached our table earlier stood up and came over. He smiled and started talking rapidly to me. I shrugged my shoulders and apologized again. "Lo siento. No hablo Espanol." He unfolded a stack of bills and started peeling off twenties, one by one. "What is he doing?" I shouted at our waiter, starting to become concerned. "He's paying for the drinks you sent over," said the waiter with a grin, "and for your dinner."

The moral of the story? If only I had known how to request a mariachi song and keep my table occupied, I would have had to pay for my own dinner. Wait a minute. How about, The return should always be greater than your investment. Or a strawberry margarita in the hand is worth more than two on a neighboring table if you end up with a free meal.

Regardless, next time I'll be prepared having just read Robb Walsh's The Tex-Mex Grill and Barbacoa Cookbook, which recommends five mariachi songs to request when you need a quick diversion. My next getaway song? "Volver, Volver." I'll remember it because it's the title of my favorite Penelope Cruz movie.

Like El Ranchito, I wasn't sure what to expect looking at the outside of Walsh's cookbook, but the renowned food critic for the Houston Press and James Beard Award winner doesn't disappoint. This is my kind of cookbook. It's a little frightening (goat leg steak? venison sausage?) and very comforting (slow-simmered stews and backyard brisket). There are quick rubs, salsas, and sauces and all-day, whole-hog recipes. And on top of it all, Walsh, identifies the best taco trucks in Portland, Oregon.

Whole Foods just had the last of this season's Texas Rio Star grapefruit on sale, so I opted for Walsh's intriguing grapefruit chicken fajitas. Their simplicity and surprisingly bright flavor were an unexpected joy.


Grapefruit Chicken Fajitas

Sal Ramirez sat behind his pick-up truck grilling chicken. He had marinated two boneless skinless chicken breasts in red grapefruit juice and seasoned them with paprika and lemon pepper.

“You baste the chicken with more grapefruit juice while it’s on the grill,” he said as he demonstrated his technique. There were more grapefruit sections ready to garnish the finished chicken, which he served in slices over salad greens. “The grapefruit comes from a tree in my backyard,” Ramirez told me. He looked to be in his late sixties or early seventies, and he said he used the skinless chicken because he was watching his cholesterol.


Four 7-ounce boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons ground Mexican oregano
Juice of 2 Texas red grapefruits
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper
6 flour tortillas
Texas Red Grapefruit Salsa

Pound the chicken breasts flat between two sheets of plastic wrap. Combine the garlic, Mexican oregano, juice from 1 grapefruit, and olive oil in a mixing bowl. Add the chicken breasts to the mixture and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or overnight. Discard the marinade.

Heat the grill. Season the breasts with salt and pepper and grill over hot coals for 2 minutes on each side. Move the chicken to a cooler part of the grill. Cook for 6 to 8 minutes, basting with the juice from the second grapefruit, until cooked through. Heat the tortillas on the grill, turning often. Transfer the chicken breasts to a cutting board and slice them into long strips. Place the chicken strips on a serving platter. Bring to the table (or tailgate) with the warm tortillas, grapefruit salsa, and other condiments such as chopped lettuce or black olives. Invite your guests to make their own fajita tacos.

Texas Red Grapefruit Salsa

2 Texas red grapefruit
1 medium tomato, chopped fine
1 cup diced green, red, and yellow bell pepper in any combination.
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
3 tablespoons chopped red onion
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro leaves
Salt to taste

Supreme the grapefruit and dice the sections. Combine with the other ingredients in a medium bowl and mix well. Allow to mellow for 30 minutes in the refrigerator for the flavors to combine.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Jackalopes And Other Mythical Critters


Johnny, our production manager, is a vegan Texan. Which is sort of like a jackalope — an animal that, if it existed, I'm sure would only eat leafy greens and avoid all animal products. But Johnny certainly exists, and he's not the only one of his kind.

I met one once before at Thanksgiving dinner at a friend's home in Houston. He sat down beside me, his plate piled high with turkey and smoked brisket. I thought at first that maybe he had noticed my own rapidly dwindling plate of food and was kind enough to bring me a refill so that I wouldn't have to stand up and risk popping a button. But when he didn't start forking the meat onto my plate, I looked at him quizzically. If you haven't noticed, I wear my disdain on my sleeve and am known as a bad liar. He noticed. "Only 10 percent of my diet is meat," he said without irony, and tucked in to the bacon-seasoned green bean casserole. I wasn't sure what a 10-percenter was called, but I was pretty sure it wasn't a vegan.

I admire Johnny. He is eating healthy and setting a good example for his new son. And his own rules include exceptions for barbecue in Conroe and barbacoa in Mexico, which I have to respect. So for his birthday, I promised to make him a vegan pie. How hard could it be, I thought, to modify my peach crumble pie and get rid of the butter. Oh, how naive was I.

It started with the peaches. I have two peach trees in my backyard, but the young fruit is still green with at least a couple of months to maturity. And I ate the entire crop straight off the branch last year, so I didn't have any in my freezer. Instead, I headed to the Mexican grocery store down the street where I was pleased to find a big display of Chilean peaches. Which I'm sure are usually lovely, but when I got home after work and started to blanch and peel them, it was clear that with their pale flesh and muted scent they weren't going to be good enough for a birthday pie. But I was undeterred. I had spent last July in Edom, Texas, at Blueberry Hill Farms picking berries in 100-plus degree heat, just so I would have enough to last the year, and I still had some bags in the freezer.

Substitute fruit, check. Now on to the crust. First I tried one with flour and Crisco. No go. It felt way too soft. So I tried one with vegan margarine. Which just smelled funny. By now I was almost out of flour. And butter alternatives. But I had a jar of coconut oil, and just enough flour, if I mixed in some whole wheat, for one more try.

This time, using coconut oil cut with a bit of margarine and a dash of demerera sugar for sweetness, I ended up with a firm dough that turned out a delicious, flaky, butter-less crust. And with a little flaked coconut added to the crumble topping, the pie had a whole new flavor.

Back at the office, no one seemed to notice the lack of lard: By early afternoon, there was nothing left but a lone crumb. Was it worth it? For the most part, I'll stick to my standard butter crust. But this makes a decidedly delicious alternative.

Blueberry Coconut Crumble Pie

Fruit Filling:
5 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons flour
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
1/8 teaspoon salt

Crumble Topping:

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup demerera or maple sugar
1/3 cup old-fashioned oats
1/3 cup unsweetened flaked coconut
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup coconut oil, chilled

Coconut Oil Pie Crust:
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tablespoons demerera sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup chilled coconut oil
2 tablespoons vegan margarine,chilled
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
3-5 tablespoons ice water

Make pie crust.
Place dry ingredients in food processor and pulse 2 or 3 times to mix. Add coconut oil and margarine to the bowl of the processor and pulse just until mixture resembles coarse meal with some small pea-sized lumps.

Drizzle water and vinegar into the processor and pulse just until dough begins to hold together. Do not overwork or crust will be tough.

Gather the dough into a ball and flatten into a disk. Wrap the disk in plastic and chill for 15 minutes. Roll dough out on floured board with floured rolling pin to fit a 9-inch pie plate. Place dough in pie plate and crimp edges. Refrigerate pie crust until ready to use.

Make fruit filling. Mix filling ingredients together in a bowl and set aside.

Make crumble topping.
Mix topping ingredients together in a separate bowl, working coconut oil in with your fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal.

Assemble pie. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Remove pie crust from refrigerator and fill with fruit filling. Sprinkle crumble topping evenly across filling. Bake pie for 1 hour or until blueberries have begun to burst and juices bubble thickly.

Read A Slice of Pie by Ellise Pierce for more pie recipes and crust-making tips.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin'


A few years ago, my friend Caroline and I were visiting her father, Jim, at his lake house near Greer, South Carolina. By lake house, I mean a double-wide trailer on an Appalachian mountain pond, surrounded by a dense canopy of hemlock trees and white oaks, at the end of a long and winding dirt road. It was almost September, and it was still blazing hot.

We spent most of the day swimming in the lake, and when we returned to the trailer, Jim, an incurable Southern charmer, was quick to attend to our every need. "Can I get you anything, darlin'? Are you comfortable? Would you like another beer? A glass of wine? Can I move the fan in your direction?" I soon felt like I was at the Four Seasons with my own personal concierge. Minus the Four Seasons.

That afternoon we drove into town to pick up some groceries to cook for dinner. We stopped at a farmer's market that was still selling bushels of fresh peaches and bought a basketful. When we got back to the trailer, Jim grilled up some steaks and asparagus, then Caroline asked for something sweet. I dug around in the trailer's cupboards. There wasn't much, but I found some flour and sugar, along with a box of oatmeal and part of a stick of margarine. So I made a simple crumble with the peaches, and we ate it all straight out of the pan. "How on earth did you do that?" Jim asked in true amazement. "Ah mean, we had next to nothin' in the pantry. Ah just cannot believe that you could make that dessert out of thin ayer."

The next morning, still water-tired, I stumbled out of bed, grabbed a cup of coffee, and wandered down to the end of the dock. Jim was already at the water, enjoying the cool morning air. As soon as he saw me he stood up. "Don't you just look beautiful this mornin'?" he declared with a big smile. I looked down at my sweatpants and bare feet. "You are just a vision. I have never seen you look so lovely." I reached up to tuck my unwashed hair behind my ears and took a sip of coffee, demurely dropping my gaze. I think it was the crumble talking. But that was just fine with me.

This pie was inspired by that weekend. I pull it out when I want a pie but am feeling too lazy for two crusts. When I want all of the glory without any of the fuss.

Peach Crumble Pie

Fruit Filling:
3 pounds ripe peaches
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon Mexican vanilla extract
1/3 cup (packed) light-brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons half-and-half

Crumble Topping:

1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup butter, chilled

Pie Crust:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
2-4 tablespoons ice water

Prepare pie crust. Combine flour, salt, and sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse 2 or 3 times to combine. Add butter while pulsing, one piece at a time, until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

With the machine running, add ice water in a slow, steady stream until the dough just begins to hold together. Remove from bowl, form into a disk, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 1/2 hour.

Prepare topping. Mix dry topping ingredients together in a bowl. With your fingers, work in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Refrigerate topping until ready to use.

Prepare filling.
Using a paring knife, cut a small "X" in the bottom of each peach. Drop the peaches into a pot of boiling water for 1 minute. Remove peaches and place in a bowl to cool. When they are cool enough to touch, slip off the skins (if the skins are still hard to remove, place them back in the boiling water until they begin to loosen). Cut the peaches into 3/4-inch slices and place in a large bowl. Immediately toss with the lemon juice to prevent discoloration. Add the vanilla, brown sugar, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, half-and-half, and flour. Toss well.

Assemble pie.
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Remove pie crust dough from the refrigerator and roll out to fit a 9-inch pie plate, then fit dough into plate. Trim edge, leaving a 1/2-inch overhang, then fold overhang under and crimp decoratively. Spoon filling into pie shell. Sprinkle crumble topping evenly over filling and bake, uncovered, until crumble is browned, filling is bubbling, and peaches are tender, about 1 hour. Cool completely before serving.

Make the Dallas City Market Peach Cobbler featured in the Dallas Morning News.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Mystery Cake

The party game went like this: "Guess what fruit the dessert is made from." Everyone took a tentative bite. "Apples?" "No." Bigger bite. "Pears?" "No." "Persimmons?" "No." People were helping themselves to a second slice. "Canataloupe?" Please. "Here's a clue – the name of the fruit starts with the same letter in both its fresh and dried forms." Long pause.

"Raisins!" Sigh. "Raisins and grapes don't start with the same letter." By now the dish was empty. "Prunes!" I announced, the guessers defeated. "Are you serious? That was fantastic. It tasted like caramel. It was so moist. Make it again."

And I will.

When I first saw the recipe, I had been slightly skeptical. I mean, Ree Drummond, aka the Pioneer Woman, may call her husband the Marlboro Man and live on his working cattle ranch in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, and she may have a film coming out about her based on her blog (a countrified Julie and Julia) in which Reese Witherspoon will play Ree and Tom Cruise will play her husband, and she may have recently published her own cookbook, The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl, which has hung out on the New York Times bestseller list, but how good could her great-grandmother's prune cake really be?

Darn good, it turns out.



Iny's Prune Cake With Buttermilk Icing

Makes one 9 x 13-inch cake

I was fortunate enough to happen upon my great-grandmother Iny’s prune cake recipe a couple of years ago. It was written by her frail, small hands, and I rushed out to buy the ingredients the same day. Marlboro Man will never eat this, I thought later that day, as I mashed up the cooked prunes according to Iny’s instructions. Anything with the word prune in it, I reasoned, would be instantly marked off the list.

Marlboro Man returned from working cattle a little while later and noticed the warm cake sitting on the kitchen counter. Before I had a chance to tell him what it was, he’d cut himself a big piece and gobbled it up. Then he gobbled up another piece. Then he had more for dessert that night.


Since then, I’ve made this cake more than a dozen times, and have never let my dear husband in on the ingredients. And today, I’m tired of living that lie.

Honey, it’s me. That delicious, gooey coffee cake I make for you so often? The one you gobble up in seconds? It’s called Prune Cake. Please forgive me. Love, your wife

Ahhh. I feel so much better now.

Cake:
1 cup prunes
1½ cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk (if you don’t have any, add 1 tablespoon distilled white cup low-fat milk and stir together)

Icing:

1 cup sugar
½ cup buttermilk (see above)
4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 300ºF and butter a 9 x 13-inch baking pan.

2. Place the prunes in a small saucepan. Cover them with water. Bring to a low boil and cook until soft and mashable, about 8 minutes.

3. Drain the water and mash the prunes on a plate. It’s okay to leave little chunks behind. Gives the cake some character! I just love cakes with character.

4. Set the prunes aside and make the cake. Sift together the flour, baking soda, nutmeg, cinnamon, and allspice. Mmmm . . .smells like the holidays.

5. In a separate bowl, mix together the sugar, eggs, oil, and vanilla.

6. Combine the wet and dry ingredients and splash in the buttermilk. Stir until just combined. The mixture will be slightly lumpy.

7. Now throw in the mashed prunes. And if your honey walks in as you’re completing this step, shield the bowl with your body and stir quickly. What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him.

8. Pour into a buttered baking pan and bake at 300ºF (a low temperature) for 35 to 40 minutes. Grandma Iny was adamant: do not overbake the cake. You want it to be nice and moist.

9. When the cake has about 5 minutes left to bake, make the icing: combine the sugar, buttermilk, butter, baking soda, corn syrup, and vanilla in a medium saucepan. Stir to combine.

10. Bring to a slow boil over medium-high heat. No need to stir. Continue boiling until the icing turns a light caramel color, 5 to 7 minutes. Important: The icing should be the color of caramel, but not yet firm and sticky. It needs to be pourable.

11. Pull the cake out of the oven. Try not to faint, as it smells absolutely divine.

12. While the cake is very warm, pour the icing evenly over the top. Work fast, as it will quickly start to soak into the cake.

13. Spread to coat evenly . . . then please, do yourself a favor: lick the spatula. It’ll make you smile.

Serve immediately, or feel free to let the cake sit on the counter for a while before serving. It only gets better with age.

I just loved my Grandma Iny. Aside from being a dear lady, she’s brought many a culinary joy into my life—not the least of which is this magnificent creation. Enjoy!

Helpful Hint: Serve without revealing the fact that the cake contains prunes.

Visit the Pioneer Woman on her website for more stories and recipes.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Texas Transplant Digs In


One of my first distinct food memories is of my fifth birthday party. My mom asked me what kind of cake I wanted, and I requested what I thought of as her Famous Peppermint Stick Ice Cream Pie, a pink and green concoction of store-bought ice cream studded with hidden nuggets of crunchy candy scooped into a crushed chocolate wafer crust, covered in thick fudge, then frozen and topped high with freshly whipped cream. To me, that was way better than the other option, a Duncan Hines sheet cake baked in an aluminum pan with canned frosting spread on top. But my mom sat me down and issued a stern warning: “The other kids won’t eat it,” she said. I was undeterred. It was my birthday, the one day a year I got to choose my meal, and I wasn’t going to squander the opportunity. Besides, my mom was certainly underestimating the progressive food attitudes of my Midwestern friends.

The kids arrived, spaghetti and meatballs were eaten, the lights were dimmed. My dad carefully secured five candles in the hardened ice cream and my mom started the song. I made a wish, I blew. My mom sliced up generous portions of pie with a knife warmed under the sink tap. And, one by one, my party guests left their plates untouched and politely asked to be excused, filing quickly down the basement stairs to play on the train my mom had built out of refrigerator boxes. It may ultimately say more about my stubborn personality than my adventurous palate, but I sat upstairs with my parents and enjoyed every last bite of my slice of birthday pie.

I’m grateful for what I learned about myself in my fifth year: I will eat that. Sometimes for worse, but mostly for better. Because food should be an adventure, a surprise, a pleasure, a challenge, an expression. It should be savored and shared and experienced. It should take you out of your comfort zone and return you to your childhood. It should stop you in your tracks and make you exclaim out loud. It should make you healthier. It should make you wiser. It should change what you know of the world and of yourself.

Fast-forward several decades. Now, Ohio born and raised, I live in Texas, a land of no basements (I panicked during the first tornado warning — where to hide? The closet? The bathtub? Get in the car and drive?!), where my own Canadian border twang is a constant source of amusement and my buckeye candies, made annually for the Ohio State v. University of Texas football game, are viewed as rare oddities (“Well, bless your heart, this tastes just like a Reese cup.”). And I love everything about my new home. The weather (except this winter, when I realized I can no longer live without a snow shovel or salt). The food (there are three kinds of gravy — brown, white, and giblet). The restaurants (who knew you could get two kinds of salsa with your meal — different colors, ingredients, and hotness, temperature and flavor). And, most of all, the markets.

I am obsessed with Mexican grocery stores and farmers markets. My sister Amy, in Broomfield, Colorado, complains of paying $6/pound for chicken breasts, while I can walk out with a cart full of fresh tortillas (corn, flour, wheat, or even cactus), avocados, jicama, tomatoes, peaches, whole coconuts, spinach, fresh ham, Gulf oysters, fatty cuts of brisket, dried pintos, and every chile under the sun (fresh or dried) for less than a Ullysses S. Grant.

I discovered taco stands, elotes, and agua frescas. I gained 10 pounds on chicken fried steak alone. I learned the difference between gumbo and shrimp Creole and how to eat a crawfish. I found myself collecting pecans off of neighbor’s lawns and eating wild boar sausage. I planted a pomegranate tree. A fig tree. Two peach trees. I started putting hot sauce on my eggs.

And now, as the Managing Editor at Cowboys & Indians magazine, I get to write about food. I’m not a fancy or fastidious chef (my mother’s mantra to “clean as you go” never quite sunk in), but I am a feverish one. From preserves to tamales to Dutch oven cobblers, I’ll try it all. And I hope you’ll sit with me at the table, just for a slice.