Musings about Food & the Politics of Food.

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Big Bend with The Nephew 4

Posted on June 30, 2015 by Sahar

To begin with, the Big Bend Region of Texas and New York City are two places I’ll use just about any excuse whatsoever to visit. In both places, I’ll think “I want to live here”,  “How can I convince Husband Steve to agree to move here”, and “Damn. The food is great”.  Then, I come home, get off the vacation high, and come to the realization that both of these places are escapes for me; if I lived there, I would look to escape them as well.

Of the two, of course, the escape to Big Bend is much more easily attained. For you first-timers, to go from Austin to Alpine (our first & third nights’ destination) is a roughly 400-mile jaunt via US290 to IH10 to US67 to TX118.  To get to Terlingua/Study Butte (our second night’s stay), an 83-mile drive, just take TX118 south. Well, you can take TX118 as a direct route to Terlingua/Study Butte, but we took the long way through Marathon and drove through, and explored, Big Bend National Park.

Or, as I heard someone say once, “Drive 6 hours west, turn left and drive another hour and a half south”.

By the way, for the uninitiated, Marathon is pronounced “Marath’n” and Study “Stoody”. You don’t want to sound like a rube or anything like that.


The reason Husband Steve & I decided on this trip was to have, quite possibly, the last summer with our Older Nephew.  He graduated from high school this year and is starting college in the fall.  Husband & I were trying to decide on a graduation gift and landed on a trip to Big Bend. When we told Nephew, he seemed as pleased as his 17-year-old self would let him get. In fact, he almost smiled.

Nephew has been to the Big Bend region before  – Marfa and Ft. Davis. He’s been to the lights, stayed at El Paisano, and explored the fort. He’s just not been to the park. Well, now, here was his chance. Honestly, I think the promised trip to Mexico sealed the deal.


Day 1 – Thursday, June 11.

The trip started off rather inauspiciously.

I asked Nephew when I picked him up at the airport on Wednesday if he remembered his passport so he could go to Mexico. He said he remembered the extra paperwork his mother (my sister) gave him – a letter stating Steve & I were in charge of him and her passport information – but failed to bring his passport. His quote was “Everything I told myself to remember, I forgot” (this included a book of Big Bend trails and a map I loaned him). One unplanned phone call to his no doubt exasperated mom secured an overnight delivery of Nephew’s passport.

The passport arrived before 10am on Thursday. Victory.

However, as things go with Steve & I, even though we planned on being on the road by 10, it didn’t happen until 11. We basically needed the extra time to load the SUV I rented.

The behemoth we rented. It was like driving a bus.

The behemoth we rented. It was like driving a bus.

With a quick stop in Fredericksburg for gas, restrooms, and snacks, we were really, finally, on our way.


Nephew. For someone, like his aunt, who loathes having his picture taken, we got quite a few photos. Though not always willingly on his part.


You tend to forget about those promises you made to yourself when you travel.


Nice to see the Llano River with water.


Husband Steve. Who did all of the driving out to Alpine. Whatta guy.

As we drove along IH10, I saw the opening where I could finally feel like I could breathe a little:



Starting to see mountains

Starting to see mountains

Fluffy clouds with a little sun

Fluffy clouds with a little sun.


Rain to the south.

Rain to the south.

Clear to the north

Clear to the north

I think I saw this when we stopped for gas near Ft. Stockton. Nephew really started to get excited - in his own way - at this point.

I think I saw this when we stopped for gas near Ft. Stockton. I’m not sure if this was for the state or national park. No matter; Nephew really started to get excited – in his own way – at this point.

We did run into some rain going into Alpine. It seems as if the rain has taken up permanent residence in Texas this year.

We finally made it to Alpine. It was a joyous time. And not only because we’d been driving for 7 hours.

We stayed for nights one and three at the Antelope Lodge. We’ve stayed at this old motor court before and rather enjoyed its rustic, slightly quirky charm. Plus, it’s cheap.


The blooming prickly pear at Antelope Lodge.


The blooms on whatever tree this is smelled heavenly. Remember, I’d been stuck in a car with two men for almost 7 hours. It was most certainly welcome.

Our home for nights #1 & #3: Antelope Lodge, rooms 11 & 12.

Our home for nights #1 & #3: Antelope Lodge, rooms 11 & 12. I was digging the way they had a 2×4 holding up the crossbeam.


Prickly Pear fruit – meh. Prickly Pear flowers – always beautiful.


Antelope’s courtyard.


Before we left Austin, Steve made reservations at Reata in Alpine for our one “fancy” meal while we were in this part of the country. For whatever strange reason I made up in my head, I’ve avoided eating there whenever we’ve been in Alpine. I have this thing against steak houses, I guess.

Even after this meal, I still have a thing against steakhouses. Just not this steakhouse. Or, rather, a Texas Cowboy Cuisine establishment.

I guess I was skeptical about the food overall. I tend to avoid “buzz” restaurants, and this one still has a bit of a legend buzz around it even after having been open for 20 years. I don’t consider myself overly picky or a “foodie”, but I just always had a mental block.

I suppose ANY restaurant being open for 20 years deserves some buzz. I mean, the restaurant business is a cruel one.

I was happy to be proven wrong. Our food was plentiful – as one would expect – but was also very enjoyable.  The decor was a simple, pared-down, but slightly upscale rustic. (I happened to notice bottles of Silver Creek wine in the alcove above us. I couldn’t quite see what vintage they were; but considering the cheapest bottle is $70 retail, this place is no hole-in-the-wall.) Our server, whose name I unfortunately can’t remember, was a young man studying at Sul Ross. He was a wonderful server. Attentive without hovering. That counts for a lot.


I included the highway marker just to prove I was there.


Nephew’s & Steve’s choice: Chile Relleno with Crab-Stuffed Bacon-Wrapped Jalapenos.

I’m guessing it was good, because they both finished their plates. I believe the Chile Relleno one of Reata’s signature dishes.


My dinner: Chicken Fried Steak.

My dinner was excellent. There wasn’t more breading than meat, the gravy wasn’t pasty, everything was well seasoned, and the green beans weren’t overcooked.


These Jalapeño-Cheese Grits.  That’s a dinner plate, by the way.

So… When I see grits on a dinner menu, I’m generally compelled to try them. The grits were really good. Plenty of cheese and spice. The one drawback – too salty. If the kitchen backed down a little on the salt, these would’ve been excellent. There was a lot so the guys helped me eat them.


Part of the studied upscale rustic charm. A saddle in front of a window facing onto a mural of cattle on the range.

Would I go back? Sure. It’s definitely on the list.

Alpine at night.

A little of Alpine at night.


We did a quick walk around Alpine just to work off some of dinner. Nephew told us he’d been through Alpine before but ever really got to see the town. Because it was already dark when we left the restaurant, he didn’t see too much, but we did walk up and down Holland and some of the side streets before deciding to call it a night. We wanted to get an early start on Friday.

Day one at the Park. And the trip into Mexico.


Day 2 – June 12, Friday

The day started early. 6am. Steve wanted to be on the road to the park by 7. We somehow managed to accomplish this.

While he was getting ready and loading the behemoth again, I went to get Nephew. I opened the door and saw him doing push-ups on the patio. I had to give him credit for already being far more active than I care to be that time of the morning.

And, so, off we went.


Good Morning, Alpine.

Good Morning, Alpine.

Steve & I remembered a coffee shop we rather liked the last time we stayed in Marathon.  Since it was only about 30 miles, we decided to hold off on breakfast until then.

Marathon (or Nancy’s) Coffee Shop is right there on US90 in Marathon as you’re on your way to the park.

Again, as I’ve discovered for Big Bend, the food is plentiful, very good, and reasonable. The strong coffee is a plus.


Good Morning, Marathon.


Nephew’s Breakfast: Sausage, Egg, and Cheese Biscuit. This ain’t McDonald’s.


Husband’s Breakfast: Migas. His personal favorite.

I forgot to take a picture of my breakfast because I was so focused on getting the guys’ breakfasts before they started eating. I had Pancakes with Bacon. I needed the carb and protein loading.

After a (perhaps too) leisurely breakfast and a discussion of what we were going to do that day, we finally hit the road to the park.

One of these visits I’m going to get a picture of those turkey buzzards sunning themselves.

After about an hour and a half, we finally made it to the second stop of the day, Panther Junction. Since the Persimmon Gap checkpoint was closed, we had to buy our permit there. It’s also a convenient excuse to get out of the car, stretch, and buy stuff.  I like it, too, because it is actually very well landscaped, and the restrooms are reasonably clean.

Panther Junction

Panther Junction


Panther Junction.


Panther Junction.


Panther Junction

After we finished at Panther Junction, we headed back on the main park road towards Boquillas Canyon.

Boquillas Canyon is rated a “moderate” trail. It’s not very long, but it is steep. And, on a hot day for a barely in-shape middle-aged woman like me, it was, shall we say, more on the moderate-to-difficult scale. I definitely had my moments. I used my breathlessness and knees as excuses to constantly stop and take photographs while Steve & Nephew trotted way ahead of me.




About halfway up the trail and looking into Mexico.


At the top for breath stop #2 and looking into the canyon.


Turning around to see the Rio Grande and the US side.


Steve & Nephew on the trail to the canyon. They grew impatient with me and wandered on. Can’t say I blamed them, really.


Grinding holes of the indigenous people. Seeds, roots, and likely bone were ground in these holes as an ancient mortar-and-pestle.

Slightly differernt view of Boquillas Canyon.

Slightly different view of Boquillas Canyon. A little more green.

Still slowly going down the trail.

Still slowly going down the trail.


You have to really work hard to take a bad photo here.

Once one leaves the trail and gets down to the canyon and the River, the shade is such a welcome relief and reward for hiking the trail at mid-morning.


Steve and Nephew contemplating their next moves.


Nephew’s next move? Crossing the river. It was a subversive thing for him.


I was oddly proud.


In my wanderings while the guys were doing their own thing, I managed to capture this dragonfly. It’s almost like it wanted me to take its picture.

We ended up staying in the canyon, by my estimation, for well over an hour. Nephew, Steve, and I all had our different reasons. Mine? It was out of the sun. If you’ve ever been to Big Bend, or even just in a higher elevation, you know the sun can be brutal. Especially in a west Texas summer.  Any shade is welcome. Plus, it was just so peaceful, even after another family arrived.


A place like this makes you realize how artificial borders are. US on the left, Mexico on the right, the Rio Grande as the barrier between two countries.


I wonder how many hundreds, or even thousands, of years it’s taken these silt layers to build up. Just a little more time and pressure, it’d all be shale.


Looking back at the trail we knew we’d eventually have to climb again.

Here was their reason for staying in the canyon: rock throwing contest.

The menfolk throwing rocks into the river

The menfolk throwing rocks into the river trying to hit pieces of driftwood

This fascinated me. Not sure why.

This fascinated me. Not sure why.


Looking up

With no small amount of resignation, we decided it was time to go.

With no small amount of resignation, we decided it was time to go.

Now, for the highlight of Friday’s part of the trip – going to Boquillas del Carmen.

I can still remember when there was a time where one could go freely between Texas and Mexico without worrying about needing a passport. Your driver’s license would do fine when you wanted to cross back. I myself did this numerous times – mostly for the super cheap Margaritas, booze, and tchotchkes. Plus, it was fun to go down with a bunch of friends for a road trip.

However, as we are all painfully aware, this all changed after 2001.  Now, to simply cross the river and travel essentially one mile into Mexico, you must to have a passport. The days of cheap anything are gone, too.

Steve & I went across the river about 2 months after the crossing opened in 2013. Then, the recovery had just started and it was still almost ghost-town like. We had heard that there had been some great progress in Boquillas del Carmen since then, so we were anxious to see what had happened.

Now, Nephew’s major in college is going to be Spanish. He’s already pretty fluent so we pressed him into service as our interpreter.  I don’t think he really enjoyed it – especially when we called him out for claiming that he really didn’t know any. We told him it would be a good thing if at least one of us (my Spanish is mediocre at best, Steve’s is pretty much non-existent) could speak to the locals in their native tongue rather than make them try to understand us.

It’s called cultural respect.

Boquillas Crossing

Boquillas Crossing


Welcoming one and all to Boquillas. Providing you have the right documents.


Heading to the River.

The Rio Grande. Rio Grande del Norte. Rio Bravo.

The Rio Grande. Rio Grande del Norte.

The river wasn’t as high as it was in 2013. I was fine with that. I remember the last time, the river was so high and fast, I honestly thought we’d capsize.

The method and means of crossing was the same as before. A canoe came over to take us across while Victor the Singing Man serenaded us.


Our captain. I didn’t get his name. This was his job. Rowing Gringos back and forth across the river all day. Be sure to tip your captain.


Looking down the river from the canoe.

We told Nephew that there are 4 ways of getting to town – walking, truck, horse, donkey. He said he wanted a horse because he had an image to maintain.

O… K…

Well. Guess what. No horses that day. Just donkeys. Or, in keeping with the spirit of things – burros.  Since it’s hard for me to climb on a horse, I was fine with a burro since that was what I was going to request anyway.

After paying Victor for the river crossing and tipping him for his singing (be sure to bring lots of small bills), Jesus was assigned to us as our guide for our visit. Sweet man.

So, after helping the gringa & gringos up on the burros, we were off.


The back of my burro’s head. I didn’t get its name. It followed directions well, though.




Nephew. Looking happy despite having his image blown.


Steve on his noble steed. Like the horse he rode the last time, it didn’t like following directions.


The road to Boquillas.

At the hitching post

At the hitching post

Once we got into town, we had to go through the ritual of the Mexican passport office (which was crowded) and then sought out lunch. We decided on Jose Falcon’s. When Steve & I went to Boquillas in 2013, we ate lunch at Boquillas Restaurant.

If I had to compare between the two, I’d’ve chosen to go back to Boquillas Restaurant. This isn’t to say that the food Jose Falcon’s wasn’t good (and, yes; I know the difference between Mexican and Tex-Mex), it just felt very touristy and a little dumbed-down to me. But, with a touristy town, I guess that’s to be expected. They even have a souvenir shop attached. I didn’t patronize it.

So, after settling in and buying a Jesus a Coca (he didn’t want anything to eat), we ordered lunch.

Jose Falcon's.

Jose Falcon’s.

Steve's drink of choice - the Michelada

Steve’s drink of choice – the Michelada


I was grateful to get this.


Nephew and his Coca.

The chips & salsa course

The chips & salsa course. I found the salsa a little bland, but the pickled jalapenos and guacamole were outstanding. Steve ate most of the guacamole in about 5 minutes.


Mine & Steve’s lunch: Red Cheese Enchiladas. They were very good, but nothing unforgettable.


Nephew’s lunch: Quesadilla. He actually did get more than one on the plate. I was slow with the camera.

After a lazy lunch, Jesus took us on a tour of the town. There were definitely more buildings than the last time. The town has also been electrified since March of this year. It was an international effort that is beginning to take the town out of the past and bring it into the present. Hopefully, there will be more improvements that will make the Boquillas’ residents lives better and not just give tourists another place to exploit.

As we walked around, we noticed electrical wiring, satellite dishes, more construction (including a new primary school), and a generally more optimistic atmosphere. Of course, the tourist-based economy is back in full swing. Steve bought me a small bag with a cut-out burro design from Jesus’ grandfather and I bought a little bead Ocotillo from a little boy who came up to us. The children are, admittedly, almost impossible to resist.

The main street in Boquillas

Boquillas main street. A few more buildings.

The legendary Park Bar. They painted it again. Last time I was here, it was blue.

The legendary Park Bar. They painted it again. Last time I was here, it was blue. Since we had Nephew, we didn’t go in. Next time.

Admittedly, I'm into what is now called "ruin porn". There's generally a dignity in these old buildings. I'm sure that they'll be repaired and repurposed at some point.

Admittedly, I’m into what is now called “ruin porn”. There’s generally a dignity in these old buildings. I’m sure that they’ll be repaired and repurposed at some point. Plus, I like taking pictures of doorways.

This one has at least been repainted.

This one has at least been repainted.


I know this is a tough existence, but imagine waking up to that view every day. Perhaps I’m being a entitled romantic.

The church has been rebuilt. Something the town is very proud of, and rightly so.

The church has been rebuilt. Something the town is very proud of, and rightly so.

Steve left some money in the collection box.

Steve left some money in the collection box.


I’m not very religious, but I believe sacred spaces are just that, sacred.


I can’t really describe this, except that I love it. Another abandoned building that will either be repurposed or recycled.


More homes. I didn’t get any photos, but some of the homes had bright blue satellite dishes. Creeping technology.


The solar panels Boquillas is so rightly proud of. My first thought was, why can’t the US do this on a larger scale?

After taking care of our exit paperwork back at the passport office, it was time for us to cross back to America.

We’ll be back and I can’t wait to see what’s next for Boquillas.


So, yeah. Steve snuck this one of me & Nephew. So, now I can really prove I was there. I also had one hell of a sunburn at this point.


On the way back to the river.


Nephew basically asking “why are you taking my picture? Again.” Me: “I’m trying to make memories, Dude.”

Steve with Jesus back at the corral.

Steve with Jesus back at the corral.

We landed back in Big Bend, went through passport control (a strange experience in and of itself), and decided to head to the Basin.

I think this is a Century Plant. I've never seen one quite so high.

Harvard Agave. I’ve never seen one quite so high. At least not one that was alive.


There’s that 50% chance of rain we read about.


West Texas version of Jack’s Beanstalk.


One of the things I love the most about Big Bend. The emptiness and occasional isolation. The beauty is a plus, too.


Heading to the Basin

Because we were gluttons for punishment that day, we thought we’d try the Basin Loop Trail. It’s less than 2 miles round trip and not too difficult. At least, it wouldn’t be if you hadn’t had all your strength sapped by the afternoon sun.

Starting the Basin Trail

Starting the Basin Loop Trail


Casa Grande


Looking into the Basin.


Once again, the men left me to my own devices.


I like to get a bit of sun rays or even a slight glare in the photographs. Makes things more dramatic.


Scenery like this makes me forget the tired, the bugs, and the sunburn.


It was so green. For Big Bend.


The Window. The first time I came to the park, a ranger told me this was one of the most popular spots. Every time I see it, it still strikes me with a certain amount of awe.


Indulge me. I was playing with a camera app on my phone and filtered the photograph.



It was about this time that we all three decided to turn back. We could hear thunder, the sun was beginning to get low, and we were being eaten alive by bugs. At least I was. Steve & Nephew seemed immune to them. Plus, we were really tired, filthy, and hungry.


Plants growing out of seemingly solid rock always amaze me. It’s the simple things, ya know?


Casa Grande and the incoming rain.




Ward Mountain.


it seemed like there were literal forests of Sotol all over the park this time.




Sotol at the Window.


Looking towards Casa Grande through a seeming forest of Sotol.


With the wide-angle lens.


I think this is Toll Mountain.


One last photograph of the Basin.

I could swear as we walked past one patch of rocks and underbrush, I distinctly heard a rattle. I may have been mistaken as to the source of the rattle, but I thought it best to move on. As I got further away, it stopped. If it was a rattlesnake, it did its job well.

For night #2, we decided to stay in Terlingua/Study Butte. The logic was this – after driving for 7 hours, we didn’t want to go any further than Alpine the first night. For the second night, we didn’t want to drive back to Alpine after spending all day at the southern end of the park.

So, Chisos Mining Company Motel it was.

After unpacking, resting a little, and scraping off the day, we headed to the Terlingua Trading Company for a little shopping (t-shirts, always t-shirts) and to the Starlight Theater for dinner.

When we got to the theater for dinner, we were told it would be an unknown amount of time before they had a table ready for us. So, while Steve & Nephew waited, I wandered.

Every time I see the Ghost Town there’s a little less of it, it seems. Weather, age, and, no doubt, human intervention keep the town in constant flux. Perhaps if I had on proper footwear and wasn’t so afraid of critters or cactus as it was getting slowly darker, I would’ve delved deeper into the brush and found more evidence of the dwellings. As it was, I stayed on the outskirts for the most part.

I don't know if the rusted machinery or impliments were simply left after the mine closed or have been artfully placed by the locals, but they are interesting artifacts to Terlingua's past.

I don’t know if the rusted machinery or implements were simply left after the mine closed or have been artfully placed by the locals, but they are interesting artifacts to Terlingua’s past.


Poking around the Ghost Town.


Ocotillo and a what I think is a cultivator.


Ghost Town. Looks like what would’ve been one of the larger homes.


Looking down into the brush I didn’t dare wander into in sandals.


I have to honestly say, I’ve never seen the Big Bend region so green.


Another doorway picture.

I ran out of the brush positive I saw a tarantula. (Although, now, I think it was just a figment of my imagination.)

I spied Steve and Nephew still waiting for the table, so I took a few more photos of the rusted equipment.


I’m guessing this is a grader of some sort.




Thos Ocotillo just looked like a huge spider coming out of this mass of Candelilla.




A Ford V8 that’s been sitting outside the theater for as long as I can remember.

I decided I’d better join the men. Just as I looked up, Steve was waving for me to come in. Perfect timing.

I like the Starlight Theater. It has a nice atmosphere, cold beer, and good food. Nothing spectacular, just solid, good food. Perfect after a day of tromping around the park. Sometimes, of you’re lucky, there will even be a show going on.

A slightly more artsy view of the Starlight Theater's facade.

A slightly more artsy view of the Starlight Theater’s facade.

Nephew, even though he’s a growing 17-year-old, put Steve and me to shame with his restraint when it came to eating. During the entire trip, he ate (mostly) reasonably and knew when to stop. Me and Steve? Let’s just say we like to eat. The two of us are just barely in shape (we do gym it), middle-aged, and sometimes let our appetites get the better of us. My own rationalization of the eating thing is that I’m a professional and I really need to do all the research I can. Steve goes along for support.

Very gentlemanly of him.

My Dinner: Chicken Fried Wild Boar with beer-based gravy.

My Dinner: Chicken Fried Wild Boar with beer-based gravy.

I’ve had this dish before. It’s very good. Not too much breading in comparison to the meat, excellent mashed potatoes, and the vegetables weren’t overcooked.  If memory serves, the last time I had this, it was closer to a cream gravy on top. This time, the gravy was a beer base using a beer from Big Bend Brewery. I’m not sure which one it was and I forgot to ask. But, it was just a little too much. I don’t know if this is the recipe or the cook got a little too liberal with the beer, but it was almost too strong a taste. And I like beer. I ate all of my meal because I was really hungry, but I had to mitigate the beer flavor with the potatoes and bread a lot more than I would’ve liked.


Nephew’s very reasonable dinner choice: Turkey Club.

I managed to catch this before Nephew drowned his fried in ketchup. He asked for no mayonnaise, so I think he was brought a dry sandwich. It may have had some mustard, but I don’t remember. He said, except for the dryness, it was very good.


Steve’s dinner: Filet Mignon with salad (not pictured)

Personally, I have no use for Filet Mignon. There’s a reason it’s usually wrapped in bacon. Because it doesn’t have any flavor. It’s expensive because there’s only 2 tenderloins on any given animal. But, Steve was happy, so who am I to judge. He said it was cooked just the way he liked it and he ate everything on the plate.

Just as we were tucking into dinner, the entertainment started. We literally had a front row seat.  The singer was someone who works in the kitchen at the theater who I guess they let sing for a little extra cash. He was pretty good at improvising and came up with a verse talking about Nephew’s awesome hat and the fact that he was a gentleman and took it off when he was inside.  Steve tipped him. The singer, I mean.

The rest of the trip, Nephew referred to his hat as “My Awesome Hat”.

Our entertinament for the evening.

Our entertainment for the evening.

After dinner, I asked Steve to stop at the Cemetery so we could take a look. I like to poke around cemeteries (just for historical curiosity, mind you) and Nephew had never been there, so we stopped.

There’s just something about being in a cemetery at night that helps take on a different feel and significance.

This particular cemetery is a little more haunting to me than most because of the sheer number of unknowns and young ones that are buried here. Some of the newer graves, though, helped to mitigate the feeling, though. They simply looked like some real parties going on.

Terlingua Sunset over the Cemetery

Terlingua Sunset over the Cemetery

One of the unknowns

One of the unknowns. At least to most.

One of the younger ones.

One of the younger ones. At least we know her name.



Some solid construction and loving tributes here.

Some solid construction and loving tributes here.

More graves of no doubt the mine workers.

More graves of no doubt the mine workers.



Leaving some coins in the alcove.

Leaving some coins in the alcove.

Once it became too dark to see well, we headed back to the hotel.

Nephew was a couple of buildings away from us. I wasn’t too happy about that. After some eye-rolling as I lectured him about locking up, etc., we dropped him off and said good night. And be ready to go at 7am.

Them to our room.

For what it is, The Chisos Mining Co. Hotel is pretty good. The rooms are pretty bare-bone, but if all you’re using them for is sleeping and showering, they’ll do.

Just to let you know.

Just to let you know.


Our accommodations

After we unpacked, Steve & I sat on the porch for a while and just talked, watched the lightning in the park, and looked up at the stars. A good way to end the day.

And, off to sleep.


Day 3 – Saturday, June 13

Another early morning. Steve wanted to get an earlier start than we had on Friday. At least we didn’t have as far to go to get to the park. While he packed up, I went to fetch Nephew. There he was, doing his push-ups. I was barely awake and suddenly felt old.

We saw a place the night before called Big Bend Resort & Adventures Cafe and so decided to go there for breakfast.

It was certainly what I expected. Nothing fancy, just basic breakfast. Not that I’m complaining. It was really good.

Again, Nephew put Steve & me to shame with his restraint.

Nephew's breakfast: the humble Breakfast Sandwich.

Nephew’s breakfast: the humble Breakfast Sandwich.

Nephew opted for the simple. And, he finished in 3 minutes.


My breakfast: Biscuits & Gravy.

I honestly had no idea it would be so much. It was delicious, though. The gravy was just the right consistency, not at all greasy or pasty, and had just the right amount of salt. I should’ve asked for crispier hash browns, though. I did end up giving Nephew some of my bacon.


Steve’s Breakfast: The Basic Breakfast

Compared to me, Steve had a child’s plate. He was happy. He even had some of my breakfast.

After looking over the map and showing Nephew where we were going, we headed back to the park. Our goal: Santa Elena Canyon.

Steve and I have tried twice before to go. Both times, flash floods stopped us. After the storms we saw the night before, we wondered if we’d miss out again. We listened to the in-park radio feed and didn’t hear anything about the canyon being closed, so we forged ahead.

But not before making Steve stop so I could take more photographs. I’m lucky he’s a patient man. Usually.


Ocotillo at sunrise


The green dot is a reflection of the sun off the lens.


I think this is Rattlesnake Mountain


I really don’t want to see what crawls out of this.


Good Morning, Big Bend.

After turning onto Old Maverick Road to Santa Elena Canyon, we had another 30 miles of dodging road runners, rabbits, and jack rabbits as they headed back into the grass and brush.

When we arrived, it was already crowded (for Big Bend). In fact, the only times I’ve seen so many people in the park in one place was either at Panther Junction or the Basin.


Facing Mexico at Santa Elena Canyon.

Paw prints in the sand.

Paw prints in the sand.

As walked towards the canyon, a gentleman told me that if I wanted to go into the canyon, I’d have to get my feet wet. I knew I’d have to, I just didn’t know how much.

My first glimpse of the canyon.

My first glimpse of the canyon.


In the water. Steve is just ahead, Nephew is nowhere to be seen.


I always find it amazing to think about how many millions of years it took the water to cut this canyon out.


Just before stepping onto dry land.


Indulgence filtering.

On shore.

On shore.

Now, for the climb. At least part of it has stairs.

The climb begins

The climb begins

After staying with me through the first set of photos, Steve decided to try to catch up to Nephew and leave me to my pokey self.



Turning back and realizing I've gone further than I thought.

Turning back and realizing I haven’t gone as far as I thought.




Over the hump.


I caught up with the men. Nephew was once again throwing rocks into the river.


They scootched on ahead to an outcropping and found a better rock-throwing vantage point. No. There wasn’t anyone in the river.


Looking at Mexico.

Looking back into the park

Looking back into the park


There he is.


Fossils. Reminding us that this whole area used to be under water.


Candelilla on the trail.


Ocotillo in the canyon.

Steve and I came across a group who looked familiar. It turned out it was the same family who shared Boquillas Canyon with us the day before. We had a lovely chat. We asked if they had gone to Boquillas, but they said no one had brought their passports so that was out. We told them what to expect when they do get a chance to go. I can’t recall what else they were doing on the trip. Lovely people.

We eventually made it to the end of the trail. It basically ends at the edge of the river as you head back down into the canyon.


Nephew resting in the shade at the end of the trail.

There were several other people resting at the end of the trail.  We all heard echoes coming from further down the canyon. We were wondering how they got down there and came to the conclusion they either walked down the river hugging the cliff face or rowed down in canoes or kayaks.

Me being me, I decided to take a dip into the water and see how far I could go. Not very without it getting very slippery and the mud trying to suck the boots off my feet. I got back on shore just long enough to grab my camera and very carefully wade back in.

Steve dipped a toe in but elected to stay on shore. I think he was waiting to see if I’d fall in. Nephew waded into the water with me briefly.


At the end of the trail.


The American cliff face.


Looking at Mexico.


Looking back down the canyon.

Nephew started back almost as soon as we stepped back on shore and completely ignoring me when I told him to stay where I could see him. Steve stayed with me while I reorganized and we walked back together.


Starting back.

As we walked and chatted, Steve & I decided this was our favorite trail so far. Third time was really the charm.

In the meantime, we lost Nephew. We called for him; no answer. I kept thinking that if anything happened to him that my sister would kill me. Steve calmly told me that he was fine, there was only one trail so he couldn’t get lost; basically, there was only one way for him to go. Instinctively, I knew he was right. Emotionally, I was concerned. I mean, if he’d fallen off the cliff, we definitely would’ve heard something.


Heading back. This is also about the time I realized we lost Nephew.


Lovely view. Still looking for Nephew.

We came across two men coming the opposite direction. We asked if they’d seen a teenager in a lime green shirt. They said yes; they’d passed him on the trail. I was relived but still aggravated. At least I knew he hadn’t fallen into the river off the cliff. Aggravated that he was so far ahead.


So, we get to what is essentially the highest point on the trail and look down. We see Nephew crossing the river.


Again, this brings to mind the artificiality of borders.

We finally get to the beginning of the trail again and dip back into the water and join Nephew on his next Mexico excursion. I will say here that walking around in the water felt really great.


Nephew in Mexico. Again.


In the middle of the river

Nephew wanted me to help him with an experiment. He pulled out the plastic cover for his Awesome Hat and put it on. Then, he wanted me to walk up a little ways on the mini-rapids, place the hat, brim up, in the water and see of the cover would do its job. I did; it flipped over. The experiment was partially successful. The covered part of Awesome Hat stayed dry; when it flipped over, it, of course, got wet.

I was just glad he caught the damn thing. He would’ve been upset if he lost Awesome Hat.


Where the experiment was performed.


Husband Steve. Fearless Explorer.

We finished at Santa Elena. I was glad we did because a large party of bros were about to paddle down the canyon.

Steve & I had toyed with the idea of taking Nephew to Burro Mesa. However, by the time we were done at Santa Elena combined with Friday, we were whipped and Steve was feeling a little overheated. We decided to just slowly make our way out of the park, stop occasionally to take photographs, and head back to Alpine for our final night.

Since I was the one doing the driving, I got to stop the behemoth any time I wanted.


I had to get my Ocotillo fix.


I’m not sure why, but I love Ocotillo. Especially when they’ve bloomed out. We were a little late for the blooms, sadly.


Spiny Fruited Prickly Pear.


Strawberry Pitaya


Trap Mountain


Looking over the desert


Mule Ear Peaks via telephoto lens


Mule Ear Peaks via standard lens.

Driving down Ross Maxwell Scenic Road, we came across Sam Nail Ranch. We’d never seen it before, so we stopped. It was a short, flat, easy trail with a lot more to see than any of us anticipated.

I’ve never seen so much prickly pear in one place. Ever.


This is just inside the entrance to the trail.


Sam Nail owned this ranch from 1909-1946. Since then, it’s been taken back over by nature. In a really huge way.


I wish I’d seen this when it was in bloom.


Walking the trail.


The Chisos in the distance.

One of these days, a really good wind is going to blow this over.

One of these days, a really good wind is going to blow this over.

I was honestly fascinated at the type of person who would try to ranch in a place known for frequent droughts, isolation, and rough terrain. One would have to be a tough, hearty soul.


Walking down the trail towards the back of the ranch, it suddenly became almost forest-like. I don’t know if some of these trees are native to Big Bend, but they seem to have done well.


I read somewhere this windmill still pumps water. I didn’t check.


More quite possibly non-native trees mixed in with the Mesquite.

I'm not sure if this was the old ranch house or a barn. Looking at the foundation, such as it was, it was very small.

I’m not sure if this was the old ranch house or a barn. Looking at the foundation, such as it was, it was very small.


Final look around the ranch as we went on our way.

And, after this final stop, I starting driving back to Alpine.

Goodbye, Big Bend. Until next time.

Goodbye, Big Bend. Until next time.

Going back up the road to Marathon, as anyone who’s driven 385 knows, there’s a Boarder Patrol Inspection Station about 30 miles in. I know he was joking, but Nephew said we should just speed on through, flash our high beams, or just act suspiciously so we can see what happens.

I had two thoughts on this: 1. None of those suggestions were going to fly; 2. Pretty interesting talk from someone who wants to go into law enforcement.

After the inspection, we discussed lunch options. Nephew said he wasn’t hungry, but Steve & I wanted something. Nothing big, just something. Since, seemingly, the only restaurant in town that was open was at the Gage (and we weren’t going there), we stopped at the French Grocer.

The French Grocer. A good, solid general store.

The French Grocer. A good, solid general store.

Steve & I weren’t that hungry. We were in the mood for more of a snack and drinks. We split a Turkey & Cheese Sandwich (made on premises) and chips. Nephew, for someone claiming he wasn’t hungry, ate about half the bag of chips himself.

They were very generous with the iceberg.

They were very generous with the iceberg.


There always seem to be birds nesting in the eaves.

We again came through some rain on our way back to Alpine. Very heavy rain. As I was driving through it, I thought, wow, I’ve always wanted to see a storm in Big Bend; I’m an idiot.

We checked back into the Antelope Lodge for our final night in the same rooms we had on night one. We had just managed to unpack the behemoth and get into our rooms before the rain followed us into Alpine. This time, hail was included. Plus, the temperature dropped about 20 degrees within 15 minutes.


Here it comes


Hail. At this point, Steve made me close the door.


I stepped out anyway and took another look.

While we were waiting for things to clear up, Steve heard from our friend Stewart Ramser. Stewart is the tourism director for Alpine as well as publisher of Texas Music magazine, among other things. He was in town getting ready for the Big Bend Music Festival in July and who knows what else. Stewart’s a busy man.

We had planned to meet Stewart at the Alpine Cowboys baseball game Saturday night, but the rain cancelled those plans. So, it was decided we would have dinner at one of Stewart’s favorite places in town – La Casita. A locals joint.

We were all disappointed about the game, but dinner sounded promising.


La Casita

We met Stewart at the restaurant. He had posters in hand that he wanted to post on the wall. After ordering dinner, he tried with scotch tape. They all stayed up for about 5 minutes. I think he finally managed to hang the posters after borrowing some pins from the restaurant management.

Dinner was excellent, by the way. As it usually is when you find a place off the beaten path.  In my experience, locals places are, as a rule, better than anything where tourists generally congregate.


Nephew’s Dinner: Beef Enchiladas

The beef enchiladas had ground beef. I don’t know why I was surprised. It’s certainly less expensive and easy to prepare. I’m also guessing Nephew enjoyed it; he finished his plate.


Stewart and I ordered the same thing: Chicken Enchiladas with double rice

I really liked these. The chicken was well seasoned and the verde sauce was different from anything else I’d had before.  It was almost creamy as opposed to salsa-like. It was also a milder flavor than I’m used to; not so tart or spicy.


Steve’s dinner: Deluxe Campechanas

Steve was all set to order the beef enchiladas until he saw this dish float by. The guacamole intrigued him. To me, it looked basically like a huge plate of glorified nachos.  I tried a couple of bites; it was very good. But, it was one of those meals you eat where it never seems like you make any sort of headway. He didn’t finish it. But he did give it the old college try.

After parting company with Stewart (it was great to see him), it was still relatively early. Since the ball game was out, the three of us took a drive to Marfa.


Looking down the main street at the Presidio County courthouse. The belfry would’ve been a cool place to go if the courthouse had been open.


The Chinati Foundation grounds. I like the landscaping, but minimalist art simply bores me.


Steve wanted a photo of this. Pointless. Simply pointless.

We wandered around the center of town for a while and wondering what the hell happened to the radio station, book store and the covered space by the railroad tracks. Eventually, we made it down to Planet Marfa to listen to some music and have a beer (or, a Coke in Nephew’s case).

Planet Marfa is a nice, tree-lined partially open-air space where you can just hang out and listen to some music. They have a fairly neat teepee set up with a sitting area sunk down into the floor (you have to take some stairs to go down). They have an “upstairs” up one of the trees and tables to sit around. They also have a fairly limited bar food menu.

At Planet Marfa

At Planet Marfa.  We left not long after they put the lamps on the table. The petroleum smell gave me a headache.

Marfa Sunset

Marfa Sunset

Steve, Nephew, and I chatted for a while about our plans for Sunday and just hung out. After the rain came through, it cooled everything down and cleared the air, so it was a very pleasant night.  We didn’t stay out late, though. We were all tired and knew we had a long day ahead of travel back to Austin.

So, back to Alpine and bed.


Day 4 – June 14, Sunday


None of us were in any hurry to get up and moving. But, we finally managed to conjure ourselves up, shower, and pack the behemoth. Then, I knocked on Nephew’s door. No answer. Again. No answer. After the third knock, I heard a snarky “I heard you the first time.” I answered with an equally snarky “Then you need to say something”.  Turned out he was up several hours before and fell back to sleep. So, I was apparently waking him up again.

We headed to Magoo’s Place for Breakfast. Steve & I ate there last year with my parents when they met us in Alpine. Honestly, I thought the restaurant had been open for decades. It’s been open 9 years. It’s certainly popular with locals and, I’m sure, tourists alike.

The Huevos Rancheros are some of the best I’ve ever had. Beans, excellent; eggs, cooked perfectly. Ranchero Sauce, just the right amount of spice. One drawback – they never seem to give you enough tortillas.


Steve & Nephew’s Breakfast: Huevos Rancheros with scrambled eggs


My breakfast: Huevos Rancheros with sunny-side up eggs. And, yes. I know what this looks like.



After leaving Alpine, we drove the long way home via Del Rio. We had a crazy idea that we’d cross into Cuidad Acuña for a couple of hours.

But first, a quick stop in Langtry to get out of the car and go see the Judge Roy Bean Visitors Center.  Steve & I had been here before, but we wanted to take Nephew; Roy Bean being a “lawman” and all.

For a place so remote, the visitors center is really nice.  The buildings have been lovingly restored and maintained and the story of Roy Bean, while no doubt sanitized for your protection, has been preserved via electronic diorama.  There is also an amazing cactus garden, if you are so inclined to visit. I had seen enough cactus, so I opted out this trip.


Sunflowers outside Sanderson


The original Jersey Lilly Saloon.


It certainly doesn’t look like saloons in the movies.


Indulgence filtering. Making it look old-timey.


The old billiard room.


One of the table legs.


The Jersey Lilly. Bean would hold trials of the front porch.


Looking through Judge Bean’s House.

A long view of the Langtry Opera House. Roy Bean's home.

A long view of the Langtry Opera House. Roy Bean’s home.

After we finished at the visitors center, we decided to take Nephew to the over look above the Pecos River. Steve & I stumbled on to it last year and were floored by the sheer size.

Nephew seemed impressed.


The river is 900 miles long and has been described as being up to 100 feet wide in some places. Crossing was a dicey prospect at best. This bridge wasn’t completed until the 1950’s.


Nephew taking it all in.


Looking over the Trans-Pecos.


The river wasn’t as high as I’d thought it would be. We could definitely see vegetation.

After saving a couple of centipedes from the asphalt and the possibility of being run over by the behemoth, we drove to Del Rio. Our plan was to cross into Cuidad Acuña, walk around, have lunch, shop, cross back, and drive home.

Now, I remember when there was a place to park on the American side and walk across the bridge into Acuña, just like in Laredo. However, that is no longer an option. If you don’t want to take your car, you have to park at a taxi service and they will take you across. Otherwise, you’ll have to take your car over. Since we had a rental, we couldn’t take it over even if we wanted to; we didn’t. Steve didn’t want to use a taxi service, either. So, the trip to Acuña was off.

At least there was a convenient sign stating “Final Turnaround. This is your last chance before you are in Mexico.” Or, something like that.

So, we turned around. Steve stopped at a gas station and, while he was filling up, I scouted Yelp for restaurants. We ended up at El Patio Mexican Buffet.

I haven’t been to a buffet restaurant in years. It was fun. The food was average, but it was fun.  I honestly can’t remember what Steve or I ate. Nephew, on the other hand, made himself a huge taco-burrito hybrid with beans, meat, rice, queso, and a lot of sour cream.

Nephew contemplating his buffet options.

Nephew contemplating his buffet options.


There was definitely variety


I liked the fact they had Menudo on the buffet line. I didn’t try any.


Salsa and Queso Bar.


I really should’ve eaten a salad.

As I was paying, I asked the lady behind the counter about the mystery pedestrian bridge to Acuña. She told me what I already knew, there was no longer a pedestrian bridge. I was hoping she’d give me a different answer.

So, the three of us decided it was simply time to drive back to Austin. After driving through more rain, San Antonio, and the clogged arteries of the Austin freeway system, we made it home around 6:30pm. My sister was waiting for us when we arrived. She was taking Nephew to his college orientation early the next morning, so she decided to come the night before.


It was a great trip. I’ll miss those summers with Nephew.


Luckily, we have Younger Nephew for 3 more years.










2nd Annual Viva Big Bend Food Festival: Final Dispatch 0

Posted on May 16, 2014 by Sahar

Finally. The last installment.  It’s admittedly a little later than I intended; but we’re now reaching the finish.


Day 4 – Saturday

Steve & I woke up with – surprisingly – no hangovers.  Must have been the rich food.

Alpine's Mural in a Weekend.  They completed this the last weekend of July 2013.

Alpine’s Mural in a Weekend. They completed this the last weekend of July 2013.  It was inspired by Jesus Helguera’s “Poco a Poquito”.


We soon met my parents to take a look at the Alpine Farmers Market.  It’s a rather small market.  Not much in the way of fresh produce, but there were plenty of homemade goods like preserves, goat cheese, gluten-free baked goods, and pickles.

Alpine train station

Alpine train station

At the farmers market

At the farmers market

Fresh eggs. We didn't buy any.

Fresh eggs. We didn’t buy any.

This gentleman and his granddaughters were selling all kinds of goat milk products.  I bought 2 types of chèvre. It was great.

This gentleman and his granddaughters were selling all kinds of goat milk products. I bought 2 types of chèvre. It was great.

Chocolate goat milk ice cream. It had the texture of ice milk.

Chocolate goat milk ice cream. It had the texture of ice milk.

These folks had, oh, I don't know, about 10 flavors of preserves an chutneys.  I bought the last cranberry chutney. I'm still savoring it.

These folks had, oh, I don’t know, at least 10-12 flavors of preserves and chutneys. I bought the last cranberry chutney. I’m still savoring it.

We spent about an hour at the market and then took a walk through town.  On the other side of the tracks, so to speak.

Not sure what this used to be. Almost looks like a market.

Not sure what this used to be. Almost looks like a market.

The Three Amigos. And Steve.

The Three Amigos. And Steve.

Someone's rose bush.

Someone’s rose bush.

Old buildings in old Alpine.

Old buildings in old Alpine.

Blooming cactus. I think this is a Barrel Cactus.

Blooming cactus. I think this is a Barrel Cactus.

When we went back across the tracks, Mom and I took a detour into a jewelry store that I frequent every time I go to Alpine, La Azteca Jewelry.  The couple that own the store design their own jewelry into one-of-a-kind pieces.  Beautiful stuff.  And very reasonably priced.  Mom fell in love with the store and bought herself a new ring. I bought two.

After this, we went our separate ways for a few hours.  Steve and I headed to the Big Bend Brewing Company ( for their big barbecue and music party.

Big Bend Brewing Company. Since 2012. Damn good beer.

Big Bend Brewing Company. Since 2012. Damn good beer.

I offered to work the gate for Stewart.  Steve, Mom, and Dad went on in to enjoy the food, beer, and music by the Doodlin’ Hogwallops (  Steve was kind enough to bring me a plate of barbecue, boudin, and potato salad.  The lady who helped me at the gate, Mary, was a volunteer for one of my classes last year.  I was happy to see her again.  She lives in Dripping Springs and has family near Fort Davis.  So, she comes out often.  She sure seems to know a lot of people.

Lines for the food & beer.

Lines for the food & beer.

The Doodlin' Hogwallops

The Doodlin’ Hogwallops

Enjoying the music and the food.

Mom & Dad enjoying the music, beer, and the food.

It was, from what I observed, the biggest event of the festival.  I felt great for not just the brewery, but Stewart, too.  It, to me anyway, was a very positive sign that  the festival is becoming successful and can be even bigger next year.

Cowboy on tank.

Cowboy on tank.

By about 3pm, traffic into the brewery was had slowed considerably (the event was to end at 4), so Stewart let me leave.  Mom, Dad, and Steve were off doing their own things – Dad went back to his hotel to rest; Mom and Steve to a Tito’s Vodka Infusion Class.  I took advantage of the alone time to go back to my hotel and take a quick nap.  Glorious.

Honeysuckle bush in our courtyard. It smelled heavenly.

Honeysuckle bush in our courtyard. It smelled heavenly.

I couldn't tell what flower this was, but it's lovely.

I couldn’t tell what flower this was, but it’s lovely.

Later that evening, we went to our last planned even of the festival – Dinner at the Cow Dog.  I’ve written about Cow Dog before in one of my previous Big Bend posts, but, just in case you haven’t read it, I’ll just say that those are quite honestly the best hot dogs I’ve ever had.  And, with Hogan and Moss ( providing the music, it was a wonderful ending to a fun festival.

Cow Dog!

Cow Dog!

The German: Sausage, Saurkraut, Caraway Seeeds, Mustard

The German: Bacon, Sauerkraut, Caraway Seeds, Mustard

The El Pastor: Red Onion, Pineapple, Cilantro Pesto, Lime Mayo.

The El Pastor: Red Onion, Pineapple, Cilantro Pesto, Lime Mayo.

We left the party early to head out to the McDonald Observatory for the Star Party (  Steve, Dad, and I had attended a Star Party before and the night was perfect – clear with no moon.  Unfortunately, the night we went with Mom (who’d never been to the observatory), it was overcast.  Once we arrived at the observatory, there was a bit of touch-and-go as to what they were going to do if the weather didn’t clear.  Apparently, they do have contingency plans for just these sorts of events.

Sunset at the Observatory. What I could see, anyway.

Sunset at the Observatory. What I could see, anyway.

One of the telecopes at the observatory the public is allowed to look through during the star parties.

One of the telescopes at the observatory the public is allowed to look through during the star parties. (This is a photo from 2012.)

When it was time for the Star Party to begin, we were informed that it was too overcast to go to the amphitheater  Instead, the employees directed us to the indoor theater to talk to us about what we would be seeing that night if it was clear.  Mom’s and my favorite part was when they displayed pictures from the Hubble Telescope on screen.  We later agreed that we could’ve sat there and just looked at more of those all night.

The theater where we had our opening lecture.

The theater where we had our opening lecture.

Different ways people would navigate by, and study, the stars.

Different ways people would navigate by the stars.

About 30 minutes later, it was announced that it was just clear enough to go outside and hopefully catch some of the night sky.  We all got to see Jupiter.  Mom, Dad, and Steve got to see the moon.  I opted for the telescope pointed at Mars.  However, by the time I got to that telescope, it had clouded over again.  Bummer.  We left not long afterwards.  Despite the disappointing night sky, we all had a good time.

Back to Alpine.  Then, to sleep.


Day 5 – Sunday

With the festival officially over, it was time to head back to Austin.  However, breakfast with my parents before they left for home was in order.

Somewhere in his travels around town, Dad saw a sign for Magoos.  A Tex-Mex restaurant that served Menudo.  Well, there was no way he was going to pass that up.

Dad's Menudo. It actually wasn't too unpleasant.

Dad’s Menudo. It actually wasn’t too unpleasant.

In case you don’t know what Menudo is, I’ll tell you.  It’s a rather hearty soup made with a base of chiles, broth, and beef tripe. Sometimes hominy is also added.  You garnish the soup with onion, dried oregano, and either lemon or lime.  It’s believed to be a traditional hangover cure in Mexico.  If the tripe is cleaned properly, the soup has a rather mild and slightly gamey flavor. If the tripe isn’t cleaned properly – yuk.

I did try some of Dad’s Menudo.  It was pretty good.  It didn’t taste dirty at all.  I don’t know if I would’ve eaten a whole bowl of it, though.

Mom, Steve, and I went a little more safe:  Huevos Rancheros.  They were excellent.


Mine - Sunny Side Up

Mine – Sunny Side Up

Mom's - Over Easy

Mom’s – Over Easy

Steve's - Scrambled

Steve’s – Scrambled

After breakfast and hugs good-bye, Mom & Dad headed back to north Texas while Steve & I headed back to our hotel to check out and head back to Austin.

As is our wont, we decided to take an alternate route back home as opposed to driving back on IH10.  We decided on US190 to US71.  It took us about 2 hours longer than the traditional route home, but we did get to drive through some towns that time forgot and see some new scenery.

At a rest stop in the middle of nowhere. We were switching drivers.

At a rest stop in the middle of nowhere. We were switching drivers.

At the middle-of-nowhere rest stop.

At the middle-of-nowhere rest stop.

At the middle-of-nowhere rest stop.

At the middle-of-nowhere rest stop.

Not everything out here is bucolic. Let me tell you, the gas fumes smelled awful.

Not everything out here is bucolic. Let me tell you, the gas fumes smelled awful. And lingered for miles.

While we were on US190, we passed through the towns of Girvin, McCamey Iraan, Sheffield, Ozona, El Dorado, Menard, Mason, and, finally, Llano.  Some of these towns were simply a crossroad while some were almost bustling metropolises.

Girvin, TX. This is literally the whole town.

Girvin, TX. This is literally the whole town.

Heading into Menard.

Heading into Menard.

While Steve was dozing in the passenger’s seat, I passed an old ruined fort.  I decided to turn around and check it out.  If, for no other reason than to stretch our legs.  It was Fort San Saba (Presidio de San Saba).

Fort San Angelo

Fort San Saba (Presidio de San Saba)

The original fort (presidio) was built in 1751 on the banks of the San Gabriel River.  In 1757, it was rebuilt on the banks of the San Saba River where the remains stand today.  Like many Spanish forts, it was a way to gain a foothold and hold onto conquered land, for protection, and to convert the native inhabitants to Catholicism.  The fort was abandoned after an attack by native tribes in 1772 and was basically left to the elements.  In 1936, the Texas Centennial Commission made attempts to restore the fort and, frankly, did a rather poor job of it.  Most of what they restored fell to ruin once again.  The Texas Historical Commission and the town of Menard both oversee the current restoration to see that it’s done carefully and properly.

One of the facades in what was known as the "VIP Area"

Some of the walls in what was known as the “VIP Area”

The San Saba River at the back of the fort.

The San Saba River at the back of the fort.

Prickly Pear along the front gate.

Prickly Pear along the front gate.

One we hit US71, we decided to stop at our favorite barbecue joint, Cooper’s.  For me, it’s the best.  Anywhere.

Of course, we way over bought and overindulged.  Brisket, Sausage, Pork Chops, Steak, Potato Salad, Coleslaw, Bacon-Jalapeno Mac & Cheese (a new item for them; in fact, I bought more for home), and Peach and Blackberry Cobblers.

Barbecue porn.

Barbecue porn.

What the hell, we figured.  We’ll just take it home.

Another hour driving.  And, finally, home.

Steve & I decided while it was lovely to be in our own house again and settling in with the cats, we already missed Big Bend.  It just has that kind of pull on us.

I mean, how can one resist this?

I mean, how can one resist this?

Or this?

Or this?


Just so you can get a little taste of the fun we had, here’s link to the official trailer of the Viva Big Bend Food Festival 2014 (  Yes, I’m in there.


Hope to see you all there in 2015!




2nd Annual Viva Big Bend Food Festival Daily Dispatch: Day 3 0

Posted on April 18, 2014 by Sahar

A little late. But here it is…


Friday was my busiest day and it dawned early for me. Too early.

I was up late into Thursday night starting prep for my cooking class and was exhausted by the time I fell into bed.  However, even after 16 years of teaching cooking classes, I never sleep well the night before because I tend to worry too much about everything that might go wrong.

So, long story short, I laid there in bed for another 2 hours trying in vain to go back to sleep.

Then, the alarm went off. It was time to get up and head to the Cowboy Breakfast at Fort Davis.

It was a chilly, overcast morning and perfect for a nice hearty chuck wagon breakfast.

Chuckwagon time.

Chuck wagon time.

Mr. Moreland's pantry.

Mr. Moreland’s pantry.

The chef that morning was Glenn Moreland, a champion amongst chuck wagon cooks.  And, after eating his food, I can see why. Breakfast was scrambled eggs, Dutch-oven Biscuits, and cream gravy with sausage.


Oh… Yeah…

Let's not forget the Cowboy Coffee.

Let’s not forget the Cowboy Coffee.

While we all agreed that while the eggs were very good, but nothing special, the biscuits and cream gravy were the best we’ve ever had.  And, after living in Texas for as long as Mom, Dad, Steve & I have, that’s saying something. It wasn’t greasy, flour-flavored wallpaper paste; it was a lovely, not-too-thick, flavor balanced amalgamation of sausage, flour, and milk.  There are many restauranteurs who should take cream gravy-making lessons from Mr. Moreland.

Then, there were the biscuits.  Fluffy as a new pillow.

Buscuits ready for the campfire.

Biscuits ready for the campfire.

Baking biscuits.

Baking biscuits.

And, of course, our scenery made everything go down easy.

The view from the chuck wagon.

The view from the chuck wagon.

The view at breakfast.

The view at breakfast.

After breakfast, Steve & I drove back to Alpine while my parents went with Mom’s friend Betty (we happened to run into at the breakfast) to her home and then took a trip into Marfa for lunch.

I had to get back to the hotel to prep for my class.

On Thursday night, I cut & marinated the meat for the kebabs and cooked the eggplant for the Baba Ghannouj; Friday, I did everything else.  My class was on Middle Eastern Mezze. The menu consisted of:


Ful Mudammas

Baba Ghannouj


Shish Kebabs

I taught a very similar menu last year that proved popular, so Stewart & I decided that it would work again.  And, while the prep was easy (especially since I’ve done all these recipes dozens of times), it took me about 4 hours to get everything ready to take to the hotel. So, yeah. I was just a little stressed.

Prep. Whew.

Prep. Whew.

Because I didn’t have any hard-and-fast numbers, I had no idea how much food to make.  So, I went with a triple batch of each recipe.  I figured, if nothing else, I could leave the extra food for the kitchen staff at the hotel.  Actually, my biggest fear was no one except Steve and my parents showing up.

Well, my fears were unfounded. More than 3 people showed.  By Steve’s estimation, I had 25 – 30 for my class. And, I made just enough food.

A few members of the class.

A few members of the class.

A few more students watching me behind the counter.

A few more students watching me behind the counter. I can’t remember what I was making at this point. Either hummous or baba ghannouj.

From my vantage point. And my mess.

From my vantage point. And my mess. Looking at al the food that was already on the counter, I must have been talking about the kebabs.

Stewart joining me at the end.

Stewart joining me at the end.

It was a good group.  They listened, took recipes, asked thoughtful questions, and seemed to enjoy the food.  I admit I felt a strong sense of relief.

Overall, I think the class went well.  There was just enough food for the class with a little left over for the kitchen staff. Except for the kebabs. Those were gone.

I must give credit to William Paynter, the Century Grill General Manager, who was a great help. I couldn’t be more grateful to him and his staff.

At the end of class, after Stewart & I announced the gin-and-oyster party in the Holland Loft Courtyard, I cleaned up and cleared out as quickly as possible so I could get some oysters and put my feet up for a while.  I didn’t really care about the gin drinks. Although I did have a few sips of Mom’s and Steve’s drinks.

Lots of gin.

Lots of gin and mixers.

Oysters. Lots of oysters.  I think I  had 10. I didn't want to seem greedy.

Oysters. Lots of oysters. I think I had 10. I didn’t want to seem too greedy.

The party was actually just outside Steve’s & my room, so we and my parents were able to get our food and drinks and hide out inside.  If we wanted more, we could just walk two steps out the door and partake. Since I hadn’t eaten since the breakfast, I was grateful for the snack.

We chatted for a while, I got cleaned up, and then we headed to our next event: The Tito’s Vodka Cocktail Dinner at the Granada Theater.

The whole event was, in a word, incredible.  The food was catered by the Saddle Club by Chefs Stephen and Jonathan Wood.  The cocktails were mixed by David Allen, whose book “The Tipsy Texan” was an event at the festival in itself.

The dinner started out with a “passed app” of Slow Roasted Cabrito with Avocado Mousse, and salsa on flour tortilla cups.  The cabrito was perfectly cooked – a lovely shredded melt-in-your-mouth treat. The mousse was simple and the salsa added just the right amount of heat.


The "Passed App"

The “Passed App”

The cocktail was a mason jar full of the “Little Miss” made with Tito’s (as all the cocktails were), roasted pineapple juice, lime, cinnamon/clove syrup, and bitters.  I only had a small taste of the Little Miss.  Wow.  If you weren’t careful, these could be dangerous.  They tasted almost like a spicy lemonade. (Full disclosure: I’m allergic to cinnamon. So, I only had a small taste of this cocktail and the dessert.) Mom and Steve enjoyed it.  Dad sipped.

This tasted like a slightly spicy hard lemonade.

This tasted like a slightly spicy hard lemonade.

My alternate cocktail.  Basically vodka and ginger beer.

My alternate cocktail. Basically vodka and ginger beer.

The first course was a Pork Belly Carnitas with Marinated Grilled Artichoke Bottom, Pickled Watermelon Radishes, and Bacon Creme.  (For those of you unfamiliar, carnitas is basically pork that’s been braised or roasted then pan fried.)

Wow.  All I can say is wow.  Artichokes aren’t my favorite vegetables, but I’d eat them every day if they could taste like this. The carnitas had just the right amount of flavor, richness, and textures.  And the creme; well, everything’s better with bacon.  The pickled radishes added just the right amount of contrast to the rest of the dish and cut right through the richness.

First Course

First Course

The paired cocktail was “Southern Days”.  It was made with vodka, watermelon, mint, and sugar.  A very refreshing summer-sipping-on-the-porch cocktail.



The main course was Jalapeno Rubbed Beef Tenderloin, Bacon & Pepper Jack Hominy Cassoulet, Chayote Squash, and Fire-Roasted Jalapeno Cream.

This was my favorite course, hands down.  The tenderloin was at least 4-5 ounces of Chateaubriand cut cooked to a well-rested medium rare.  While I don’t believe the tenderloin is the most flavorful cut of beef (or any animal for that matter), Chef Stephen found a way to make its grass-fed goodness shine.

I think I found a new way to make chayote squash – a vegetable I rarely use.  I should’ve asked him how he made it, but it seemed to me to be very simply pan seared.  It still had some crunch to it.

One of my favorite foods is hominy.  And by pairing it with bacon and cheese, it was moved to new hights of possibilities.

And the Bacon Creme? What do you think?

Main Course

Main Course

The paired cocktail was “Tito’s Martinez”.  Made with vodka, Carpano Antica (a sweet vermouth), Luxardo Maraschino (a cherry liqueur), and bitters, it acted as a digestif to help counteract the richness of the course.

Dad didn’t like it.  Mom & I split it.



Sadly, I didn’t get to try to much of dessert: Sopapilla Cheesecake.  It looked like a wonderful amalgamation of creaminess with a cinnamon brulee crust.  I did try a couple of bites of Dad’s portion and detected coconut as well.  However, no one else could confirm this.

Steve's dessert. I just managed to get a photo before he finished.

Steve’s dessert. I just managed to get a photo before he finished.

The final cocktail more than made up for my lack of dessert experience: the “Iceberg”.  Made with vodka and frozen Cremes de Menthe and Cacao it tasted like melted chocolate chip mint ice cream.  I was only sorry they served it to us in shot glasses.



After the meal and some well-deserved applause for Chef Stephen and his crew, we made it back to our room in a relatively straight line.

After discussing meeting up at the Farmers Market the next morning and relaxing a bit, Mom & Dad went back to their hotel.

Steve & I were in bed by 10.  We’re old.


Day 4.  Soon.















2nd Annual Viva Big Bend Food Festival Daily Dispatch: Day 2 0

Posted on April 12, 2014 by Sahar

Thursday started a bit earlier than Wednesday.  Well, truth be told, much earlier.  Not only was it Park Day, but it was also moving day.

A little background.  When we arrived at the Holland on Wednesday, we found out that the room we were originally booked for (more specifically, a loft) wouldn’t be ready for us until Thursday.  So, we were put in a regular room for Wednesday night.  The hotel would move our things the next day; but, of course, we needed to be packed up.

Fine.  Although, I kinda felt bad for the person who had to move our stuff.  It was more than the usual suitcases.  We also had a cooler and bins full of food and accoutrements needed for my class at the Holland on Friday.

After cleaning up and packing, Steve & I went to grab a quick breakfast from the hotel spread.  It was the usual variety of pastries, cereal, and granola.  I will say, though, it was certainly a step above the average hotel breakfast fare.


Part of the Holland Hotel breakfast buffet. Steve said the bacon scones were grreat.

Part of the Holland Hotel breakfast buffet. Steve said the bacon scones were great.

And what's a hotel breakfast buffet without those cute little cereal boxes?

And what’s a hotel breakfast buffet without those cute little cereal boxes?

After breakfast, we went to pick up my parents at their hotel for another sojourn to Big Bend National Park.  Steve & I have been there, oh, I think, 10 times now. Dad, a couple of times.  Mom had never been, so we decided now would be as a good a time as any to take her.  Plus, it always seems to be just a little different every time we go.

But first, a quick stop in Marathon.  Mom had to go to the post office.

Taking random photos while waiting for Mom.

Taking random photos while waiting for Mom.

Task completed, we headed down the road to the park. For those of you who haven’t been out here before, nothing is close together.  The three largest towns out here – Alpine, Marfa, Fort Davis – are all 30 minutes away from each other and the park itself is an hour from Marathon (or, as the locals call it, Marath’n).  If you factor in getting to the park headquarters (which is what the road signs measure), it’s almost 2 hours from Alpine.  But, the scenery makes the drive worth it.

Driving to the park.

Driving to the park.

If you leave early enough in the day, you will (hopefully) see the buzzards sitting on the fence posts with their wings spread warming themselves up.  They’re sinfully ugly and kinda gross birds, but they’re fun to observe.

I just caught this guy as he was flying away.

I just caught this guy as he was flying away.

If you want to take pictures of buzzards (or any carrion bird), you have to be careful.  If you startle them, their preferred method of defense is throwing up the contents of their stomach. And, since they eat already dead things, you can just imagine the smell.  Well, maybe you can’t.

Buzzards either circling breakfast or just riding the thermal waves.

Buzzards either circling breakfast or just riding the thermal waves.

On into the park.  We just hit the time between the wildflowers and the cactus blooms.  So, not much color foliage-wise, but still, as always, beautiful in its own desert way.

Chisos Mountains.

Chisos Mountains and the Chihuhuan Desert

Ocatillo in bloom.

Ocatillo in bloom.

Ocatillo bloom. Beautiful color.

Ocatillo bloom. Beautiful color.

Big sky.

Big sky.

Yucca in the desert.

Yucca in the desert.

i can only guess at the size of tarantula that's in this nest.

I can only guess at the size of tarantula that’s in this nest.

Looking up.

Looking up.

After the many stops requested by Dad & me so we could take photos, we finally made it to the park headquarters, Panther Junction.  So, we decided to eat lunch at the lodge in the park.  The Chisos Mountain Lodge.

Lunch was, in a word, dull. The food was edible but, like all places that cater to large, diverse crowds, boring.  The best part of the meal was the appetizer, Texas Toothpicks.  Basically, deep-fried onion and pickled jalapeño pieces.  They weren’t greasy and the dipping sauce – a kind of chili-mayonnaise thing – that wasn’t bad.

Texas Toothpicks.  The best part of our lunch. Good thing there were 4 of us eating.

Texas Toothpicks. The best part of our lunch. Good thing there were four of us eating.

Mom went for a BLT. She says it’s the only sandwich she eats at restaurants because it’s not too messy.  She said it was good.

Mom's BLT with fruit on the side.

Mom’s BLT with fruit on the side. Everything looked fresh.

Dad went for a burger.  He said it was dry.  The pattie definitely looked like it had been cooked immediately from its frozen state.

Dad's burger.

Dad’s burger.

Steve & I both opted for the fish tacos. Bland doesn’t even begin to describe the flavor. We liberally poured on the appetizer dipping sauce to help out. It did. Kinda. It also looked as if they tried to warm up the tortillas but waited too long to get them to the table, because by the time we got them, the tortillas were stiff and dry.

The rice and beans were good, though.

Fish Tacos. Meh.

Fish Tacos. Meh.

After lunch, we decided to take a short walk around the Basin.  We’ve made this walk before but never during the daylight hours.  So, it was nice to see the Window in its daytime glory.

The Window. The photo is nice, but seeing it in person is even better.

The Window. The photo is nice, but seeing it in person is even better.

The prickly pear budding out. We were just a few weeks too early to catch them in bloom.

The prickly pear budding out. We were just a few weeks too early to catch them in bloom.

Heading out.

Heading out.

At the south entrance.

At the south entrance.

We came in through the north entrance, as we always do, but decided to leave via the south entrance heading towards Terlingua. We wanted to stop at the General Store there and check out the ghost town.

Steve & I have been to Terlingua Ghost Town maybe 5 or 6 times at this point. Sadly, it becomes more and more dilapidated every time.  The ravages of time and humans have taken their toll.

Terlingua Ghost Town.

Terlingua Ghost Town.

Terlingua Ghost Town is in there somewhere.

Terlingua Ghost Town is in there somewhere.

Terlingua Ghost Town

Terlingua Ghost Town

We made a quick stop in the General Store for some t-shirts and Topo Chico. (For those of you who don’t know, Topo Chico is a Mexican carbonated mineral water.) Then, the 90-minute drive back to Alpine.

We dropped my parents off at their hotel and went back to ours to get the keys to our new room and clean up for the Viva Big Bend Food Festival opening night party.

Stewart had reserved a loft for Steve & me.  I needed it so I could prep for my class the next day without getting in the way of the kitchen staff at the hotel restaurant.  When we finally walked in, we were thrilled.  A nice large living area with a serviceable kitchenette and a huge bedroom area with a whirlpool tub and large bathroom.


We cleaned up and headed towards the party at the Railroad Blues, a great music venue in Alpine.  The local telecom company was giving away free fajitas and coozies with magnets. Very handy.

Dinner. Perfect.

Dinner. Perfect.

The fajitas were very good. Most of the time, the skirt steak is so undercooked, the meat is chewy.  This time the meat was cooked through and was very tender. (Although, admittedly, I don’t know what cut of meat this was.) Plus, they didn’t overdress the fajitas.  Just grilled onions, peppers, and some excellent salsa. Steve got us both seconds. After my parents arrived, he went with Dad to get food and got himself a third one.

After conversing with my parents and Stewart, Steve & I went back to the hotel to begin prep for my class.  Mission accomplished, I went to bed.


Day 3… Coming up.






















2nd Annual Viva Big Bend Food Festival Daily Dispatch: Day 1 0

Posted on April 10, 2014 by Sahar

Yes. Husband Steve & I are out in the gloriousness that is Far West Texas. Again. Honestly, it’s one of those places where I look for any excuse to go.  Like New York.

I was invited back to teach and help out at the 2nd Annual Viva Big Bend Food Festival ( by its founder, Stewart Ramser.  I gladly said yes.  Stewart’s a great guy and I certainly hope I can play at least some small part in helping this festival succeed.

But first, Steve & I, along with my parents who met us out here, had a day and a half to entertain ourselves.

On our way out from Austin, Steve & I, as is our wont, stopped in Fredericksburg for some leg stretching, lunch, and gas for the car. (As an aside, since we are now down to one household car, we decided to rent one for this trip. It’s a behemoth that I’m terrified to drive.)

We stopped for lunch at a little bakery/deli on Main Street called Java Ranch.  Steve had a club sandwich while I had a BLT.  Simple sandwiches that you have to work really hard at to screw up.  The sandwiches were good, if serviceable. Nothing of note, really.

Steve's Club Sandwich.

Steve’s Club Sandwich.



After eating, grabbing a cookie for me, an iced latte for Steve, and filling up the car, we were on our way once again.

Something about this that chases the blue meanies away.

Something about this that chases the Blue Meanies away.





Steve & I finally made it to Alpine about 6:30.  We checked into our room at the beautiful Holland Hotel (, cleaned up, changed, and headed to pick up my parents at their hotel.  We were off to Marfa to dine at one of our favorite restaurants, Cochineal (

Steve & I chose to take my parents to Cochineal because we both knew they, and especially my mom, would enjoy it.  Their food is exquisite (not a word I use lightly in reference to food), their wine list is excellent, and their cocktails are outstanding.  And the space? A quiet minimalism.

We started off with cocktails. Well, all of us except Dad.  He opted for Diet Coke.

Dad's Diet Coke.

Dad’s Diet Coke. His drink of choice.

Mom's Campari.  Do NOT try to pass off any imitations. She'll know.

Mom’s Campari. Do NOT try to pass off any imitations. She’ll know.

Steve's Gold Rush.

Steve’s Gold Rush. He said it was very bourbon-y. He drank it down, though.

My old standby. A White Russian. Honestly, it's my favorite.

My old standby. A White Russian. Honestly, it’s my favorite.

Next came the bread.  It tasted like a sourdough with a very dark hearty crust and a soft crumb.  It was served with a soft butter sprinkled with black sea salt. Lovely.

Bread and butter. The butter was soft. Those kinds of details count.

Bread and butter. The butter was soft. Those kinds of details count.

Next came the appetizers; or, as listed on the menu, small plates.  When they came to the table, my family being my family, we finished them all in less than 10 minutes.  By no means a record.

Crispy Duck with Citrus. The skin wasn't as crispy as I would have liked and the duck was a bit more done than I prefer. However, overall it was a very good effort.

Crispy Duck with Citrus. The skin wasn’t as crispy as I would have liked and the duck was a bit more done than I prefer. However, overall it had great flavors and was a very good effort.

Scalloped Oysters.  This was a kind of throwback dish.  They were baked in a cream sauce with crakers on top. The oysters weren't overcooked and the topping was wonderful. A win all around.

Scalloped Oysters. This was a kind of throwback dish. They were baked in a cream sauce with crackers on top. The oysters weren’t overcooked and the topping was wonderful. A win all around.

Vegetable Tempura.  Well, Cochineal's version, anyway. We were all excited about the red bell peppers and the fact that it wasn't the usual heavy tempura batter.  Mom & Dad especially liked the pickled onions.

Vegetable Tempura. Well, Cochineal’s version, anyway. We were all excited about the red bell peppers and the fact that it wasn’t the usual heavy tempura batter. Mom & Dad especially liked the pickled onions.

After this repast, it was on to the main entrees. Everyone was very happy with their choices.

Mom & Steve's choice: Hangar Steak with Tomato Confit and Potato Puree.

Dad’s choice: Pork Tenderloin with a Herb Sauce with Crispy Crushed New Potatoes and Asparagus. I suspect the potatoes were purple new potatoes.

Mom & Steve's choice: Hangar Steak with Tomato Confit and Potato Puree.

Mom & Steve’s choice: Hangar Steak with Tomato Confit and Potato Puree.  Mom said her steak was cooked perfectly.  Steve just ate.

My choice:  Tiger Prawns with Sorrel Sauce and Confit Romanesco. I'm not sure what the vegetables were confit in, but I'm guessing clarified butter.  The garlic in the confit was almost the best part of the dish.  And, the prawns were perfectly grilled.

My choice: Tiger Prawns with Sorrel Sauce and Confit Romanesco. I’m not sure what the vegetables were confire in, but I’m guessing clarified butter. The garlic in the confit was almost the best part of the dish. And, the prawns were perfectly grilled.

Dessert was a bit limited.  The one item Mom wanted, the Ginger Pot du Creme, was apparently an aspirational dessert and, according to our server, wasn’t good enough to actually serve to customers.  The other dessert, Creme Brûlée, was sold out.  So, that left Carrot Cake and Chocolate Souffle with a Molten Center.  You can guess which one we went with.

That's right. The Chocolate Souffle.

That’s right. The Chocolate Souffle.

The molten center. As far as I'm concerned, a molten center is just an underdone souffle.  It had great flavor, but I would have preferred a fully cooked souffle.

The molten center. As far as I’m concerned, a molten center is just an underdone souffle. It had great flavor and the crust had a slightly crispy chewiness that I liked, but I would have preferred a fully cooked souffle.

Overall, our meal was wonderful.  This was the second time Steve & I had been to Cochineal and both times have been a delight.  It’s definitely a destination restaurant; no doubt about that.  Even if you lived in the area, this would be a special occasion place.

Mom pointed out that not only was it an excellent meal, but the portions were reasonable.  She said (and I agree with this) that she would rather pay more for a good meal she can actually finish than pay less for a meal where she either stuffed herself or couldn’t finish.

After a walk around a closed and rolled-up-for-the-night-Marfa, we drove back to Alpine, dropped my parents off at their hotel, went back to ours and promptly fell asleep.

Because we knew Thursday was park day.


Next up… Day 2

















Inaugural Viva Big Bend Food Festival: Wrap-Up 0

Posted on April 30, 2013 by Sahar

Admittedly, this is coming a little later than I had planned.  With life getting in the way over the last few weeks, I haven’t had the opportunity to write a post.

Finally, the time as finally made an appearance.

The inaugural Viva Big Bend Food Festival was, as a reminder, held the first weekend of this month, April 4 – 6.  Monica Pope ( was the “celebrity” chef in residence, having brought a trainload of folks from Houston as part of a “Foodie Train”.  I only caught a passing glance of her once.  However, I understand her classes were spectacular.

Of course, I would expect no less.

For my part, I got the opportunity to meet Tiffany Harelik ( when I checked in as well as her partner in all things delicious, Maurine Winkley (  They are absolutely lovely and I sincerely hope that I get to know them both better as time goes by.  They gave me so much advice, help, and guidance that I can’t thank them enough for.

Also, I must send a huge shout-out and thank you to the mastermind behind all this, Stuart Ramser (  He invited me, answered all of my persistent questions, and gave me plenty of encouragement.


Day 1:  Thursday

Leaving Austin on time for once, Husband Steve & I enjoyed our share of Austin morning rush hour.

Austin rush hour. Sigh.

Austin rush hour. Sigh.

We started breathing a little easier once we got a little west of Ozona.

Endless black ribbon.

Endless black ribbon.

We arrived in Alpine in the early afternoon.  We stayed at Alpine’s historic Holland Hotel.  It was originally opened in 1928.  They’re in their latest incarnation, and the hotel and Alpine seem to have benefitted. Very nice.

The Holland Hotel. Alpine.

The Holland Hotel. Alpine.

My VBBFF wristband.

My VBBFF wristband.

After checking in, unpacking and resting a bit, we headed down to dinner.  The Century Grill, as is my understanding, has only been open for a few months, but they’re already well on their way to doing great things there.

My sister-in-law Kim had traveled down from Odessa to hang out with us for most of the weekend, so she joined us for dinner.  We started out with cocktails:

SIL Kim: Hibiscus Champagne Coctail

Hibiscus Champagne Cocktail

Kim had a Hibiscus Champagne Cocktail. Literally champagne (or, more likely, sparkling wine) with hibiscus petals.  Very pretty, but Kim said she didn’t taste any hibiscus until the very end.  Plus, she had little bits of dried petals floating in her drink. She wasn’t too crazy about that.

Sparkling Margarita

Sparkling Margarita

Husband Steve ordered a Sparkling Margarita.  I liked it better than my drink. So, we ended up switching.

Sparkling Pomona

Sparkling Pomona

Actually, when these two drinks were brought to our table, we thought the Pomona and Margarita were put in front of the wrong person.  If you look at the way the drinks are presented, you can see why.

Appetizers:  Fried Green Tomatoes.  Why the hell not.

Fried Green Tomaotes with Aioli

Fried Green Tomatoes with Aioli

These were excellent, by the way.  Crispy and not at all greasy.

I have to admit, I was a little skeptical, but hopeful, when it came to the entrees.  However, I was pleasantly surprised.  It really showed me how serious the kitchen is in enticing the fine dining customer to the hotel.  In fact, I had several local merchants tell me that the Century Grill has been great for the town.

Seared Tuna

Seared Tuna on Pearl CousCous, Citrus, and Fennel

Steve’s entrée was Seared Tuna.  He said it was very good.  While it looked a little overdone to me, he enjoyed it.

Pecan Crusted Chicken Fried Steak

Pecan Crusted Chicken Fried Steak

Kim went all Texas traditional on us with her choice of Chicken Fried Steak.  While I’m not really one to mess with the traditional, the pecan crust and the corn in the cream gravy worked well.  She ate the whole thing while saying the whole time, “I don”t know if I can finish this”.

Crab Ravioli with Arugula Cream Sauce

Crab Ravioli with Arugula Cream Sauce

I opted for the special that night. Crab Ravioli with Arugula Cream Sauce.  I was very happy with my choice.  For the most part.  The pasta was fresh (I don’t know if it was made in-house, but it was fresh) and the filling was crab. Just crab.  The sauce was really more like melted butter with wilted arugula and a little cream; I was fine with that.  The only things I can say is I wish the pasta was a little thinner and there was a little less salt.

Now, on to dessert:

Cajeta Cheesecake

Cajeta Cheesecake

Steve had Cajeta Cheesecake. Basically, cheesecake served in a Mason jar topped with cajeta, cream, and a strawberry.  Interesting presentation, I thought.

Chocolate Torte

Chocolate Torte

Kim had Chocolate Torte.  It was lovely.  Dark, dense, and not too sweet.  Kim loves dark chocolate, so this was perfect for her.

Sticky Toffee Pudding

Sticky Toffee Pudding

I had Sticky Toffee Pudding.  Yummy.  Not too sweet.  Nice and warm when served.  Perfectly cooked.

I’m seeing Sticky Toffee Pudding everywhere now.  I only hope it doesn’t become the Panna Cotta of 2013.


After dinner, we waddled down to the Granada Theater for the opening night party.  When we got there, many of the restaurants from the surrounding towns had tables set up and were serving samples.

Oh, well.

The eclectic crowd was pretty sizable and seemed to be enjoying the music, booze, and food.

Opening night party at the Granada Theater

Opening night party at the Granada Theater

Music supplied by the great Dale Watson

Dale Watson

Dale Watson with his amazing voice and Closer to God Hair.

It was a great party.  Had the opportunity to meet some new people and enjoy the evening.

Very long day. We turned in early.


Day 2: Friday

Alpine sunrise.

Alpine sunrise.

Breakfast was from a local bakery (whose name I didn’t note).  Husband picked up Pigs in a Blanket and a scone.

The scone was delicious, if a bit dry. And these were the most awesome Pigs in a Blanket I've ever seen.

The scone was delicious, if a bit dry. And these were the most awesome Pigs in a Blanket I’ve ever seen.


We started out the busy part of the day by heading to the grocery store in Alpine.  I brought many of the ingredients for my  classes with me from Austin, but I wanted to buy what perishables I could when I arrived.

We slowly started making our way towards Ft. Davis.  On the way out, we saw a few spots where the fires from last year left their mark.

The trees in front of the house show scars from last year's fires.

The trees show scars from last year’s fires.

Wide open spaces outside Ft. Davis.

Wide open spaces outside Ft. Davis.

Soon after, Steve, Kim & I made our way into Ft. Davis.  There were salsa and tortilla classes we wanted to attend as well as a fajita buffet lunch at Mountain Trails Lodge.

Outside Mountain Hills Lodge, Ft. Davis

Outside Mountain Hills Lodge, Ft. Davis

Our teacher was the head chef a the lodge, Patrick Camacho.

The great Patrick Camacho

The great Patrick Camacho

He gave us a quick demonstrations on flour tortilla and salsa making.  By the way, those were some of the best tortillas and salsa I’ve ever eaten.  Even better, he makes his Salsa Macho with chiles he’s grown himself.

Can’t get much fresher than that.

I must admit to not being the world’s biggest fan of fajitas.  Probably because I’ve had so many bad ones.  These were the best I’ve ever had. The meat was tender and full of flavor.  The ingredients were fresh.  All of us who took the classes (about a dozen or so) agreed that Patrick was one of the best chefs we’ve ever seen.

And, his fresh tortillas were the proverbial cherry on the cake.

Our fajita brunch. Yummy.

Our fajita brunch. Yummy.

Patrick's fresh salsas on the buffet.  OMG.

Patrick’s fresh salsas on the buffet.

My lunch. Oof.

My lunch. Oof.

Oh, yeah. There was dessert. My personal favorite cake, Tres Leches.

Tres Leches Cake. Oh. Yeah.

Tres Leches Cake. Oh. Yeah.

After a stroll around Ft. Davis to walk off lunch, I settled in at the Hotel Limpia to prepare for my first class.

Limpia Hotel. Ft. Davis, TX

Hotel Limpia, Ft. Davis, TX

(photo credit: – I somehow lost my photos of the hotel)

I taught my class in the courtyard area.  It was a beautiful, if windy, day.

I need to thank the owners of the Limpia, David & Anna Shriver, for all their help and allowing me the use of their kitchen during the evening prep for their restaurant.

I also want to thank the morning chef, Caroline, the evening chef, Isaac, and my volunteers Sue, Abby, & Mary for all their help as well.  I’m so happy I had those ladies help out. I don’t know if I could’ve done the class without them. I think I was a little overambitious with my menu.  It’s hard to become completely organized and focused in an unfamiliar kitchen. At least it is for me.

The menu was a few choice Middle Eastern specialties: Hummous, Baba Ghannouj, Ful Mudammas, Fatoush (Bread Salad), Ard Ma’Khuzbara (Artichoke & Coriander Salad), and Shish Kebebs.

I wish the class was a little larger (I had about 10 people), but they all seemed to enjoy the class and got plenty of food. Added bonus: Patrick Camacho came to my class!

After clean-up and bundling what leftovers there were for the kitchen staff, Steve, Kim, & I made our way back to Alpine.  After a shower and a nap, we headed out to Railroad Blues for some music and hot dogs.

The Cow Dog. Damn great hot dogs.

The Cow Dog. Damn great hot dogs.

OK. Not to take anything away from anyone, but we all agreed that the Cow Dog had the best hot dogs we ever ate. Mine was The German.  A beer-braised brat with sauerkraut, hot mustard, caraway seeds on a Kaiser bun. Sublime (and I’ve never used that word about hot dogs).  Steve ate 3, including one that had shoestring fries on it.

I had a nice long chat with Tiffany & Maurine about their class at the Holland and I told them about my class at the Limpia.  We were switching places the next day, so the exchange of information was invaluable.

Railroad Blues opened in 1993 ( and has long been established as one of the best live music venues in the state. And, after my first visit there, I can see why.  It’s small enough to be intimate without seeming claustrophobic and it  had that honky-tonk feel.  That night was Cory Morrow.

I’ve never seen him before, despite the fact he performs fairly frequently in Austin. Great show.

Cory Morrow Band at Railroad Blues.

Cory Morrow Band at Railroad Blues.

Stepping out for some fresh air:

Railroad Blues.

At Railroad Blues.

Good night.


Day 3: Saturday

Steve, Kim & I headed to Marfa for some breakfast and to check out the farmer’s market.

We went to Squeeze.  A restaurant I’ve wanted to try for some time.  It’s a nice small space with a lovely courtyard (it seems that most restaurants in Marfa use this same design).

Squeeze Marfa was started in 2004 by Verena Zbinden as a juice bar that slowly morphed into a sandwich and coffee shop.  She imports chocolates from her family’s chocolate business, Vollenweider, in Zürich.

They’re great, by the way.

Squeeze Marfa.

Squeeze Marfa.

We all three ordered the same thing: Ham, Egg, & Cheese Croissants.  Delicious. Just what I needed to start my day.  My only disappointment was that there was no hot chocolate on the menu. It sounds stereotypical, I know, but I would expect someone from Switzerland to have hot chocolate.

Breakfast. Squeeze Marfa.

Breakfast. Squeeze Marfa.

Oh, well.

I was disappointed in the Farmer’s Market.  I was expecting a whole lot more than I saw.  I think there was one produce seller, a few people selling homemade goods, a bookseller, and a lady selling rocks she found (Kim bought one).  Steve found someone selling homemade lemon-blueberry bread and peanut brittle, so he was happy. I did get some local honey, so I guess that was a win.

Took a quick trip to The Get Go to pick up a few items for my class at the Holland and then back to Alpine for a little personal shopping and class prep.

Alpine wall art. I had no idea Dan Blocker was from there. Silly me.

Alpine wall art. I had no idea Dan Blocker was from there. Silly me.

Once again, I must take the opportunity here to thank everyone at the Holland who helped me out: Front of the House Manager Donovan Sanchez, Head Chef Alex Costa, and kitchen staff Bret, Adrian, and Joey.  I had a great volunteer in Barbara.  She’s an ex-Austinite, so we had a lovely time commiserating.  She jumped in with both feet and I couldn’t have appreciated her help more.

Class on Saturday was Hors d’oeuvre.  And, I had a good sized crowd.  About 20.  I think they were expecting the Middle Eastern class.  But, they didn’t seem too disappointed with the menu.

Photo, by Steve, of my class at the Holland. I'm somewhere in the middle.

Photo, by Steve, of my class at the Holland. I’m somewhere in the middle.

The menu was Three Cheese Straws, Mushroom Tart, Blinis, and Crostini with Brie and Candied Walnuts.  During class, Barbara was furiously making blinis and dressing them with sour cream and caviar to serve out.  When those we ran out, we served up more blinis with my homemade cherry compote.  Everything else was prepped and ready to go before class.  Not much food was at the end.  Again, we bundled up what we could and left it for the kitchen staff and got out of their way as quickly as we could.

I thought it was a success.

Kim left us after this to drive back to Odessa, and Steve & I went back to Ft. Davis to have at Blue Mountain Bistro, the Limpia’s restaurant.

It was serviceable food. I had a pasta dish with shrimp and Steve had salmon.  None of the seafood was overcooked, the food had good flavor, and the portions were ample.  Just nothing special. We shared cheesecake for dessert.

My critique.  It’s my understanding that the Shrivers have only owned the hotel for a short time (I couldn’t find out how long) and they’re bringing the restaurant along.  Good.  But, they still have a little ways to go.  The other thing I have to say is that they really need to plan a little better for big weekends.  They were out of two things on the dinner menu and the only desserts they had available were cheesecake and carrot cake.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad they seem to be getting enough business to run out of a few things, but planning is a big part of running a restaurant.  And, the food needs to move beyond serviceable.  They need to make it special.

That being said, they certainly know their clientele much better than I do.

Off to Marfa to see the Shelly King Band.

Shelly King Band at Padres. Marfa.

Shelly King Band at Padres. Marfa.

Great show.  Amazing voice.

Got to see Stewart, Tiffany, and Maurine again.  They all looked tired.  Stewart looked happy.  I think he felt the weekend was successful.  I think so, too.

For what that’s worth.


Day 4: Sunday.

Going home.

Not feeling so funky fresh the next morning, I opted for a large cup of hot tea.  I figured I could eat when we got back to Austin.

I love old road signs. Outside Alpine.

I love old road signs. Outside Alpine.

Of course, just to stretch our legs, and &c, we stopped in Fredericksburg.  It was a lovely day (unlike when we left) and we finally decided we were hungry.

But first, we walked around the Virens Kirche in the center of town and saw the little botanical garden.  Honestly, in all the years I’ve gone there, I never noticed it.  I’m glad I finally did.

Virens Kirche. Fredericksburg

Virens Kirche. Fredericksburg

Roses. Frediercksburg.

Roses. Fredericksburg.


Finally. Home.


I had a wonderful time at the festival.  And, like I said before, it was great to be able to get in on the ground floor of something that, hopefully, will become an annual event.

I hope I’m invited back and that I also have the opportunity to see more of the classes and events.  Unfortunately, my schedule this year didn’t allow for that.  But, there’s always next year.


West Texas Sunset.

West Texas Sunset.














The Inaugural Viva Big Bend Food Festival 1

Posted on February 26, 2013 by Sahar

Dear Fellow Food Lovers –

On behalf of the inaugural Viva Big Bend Food Festival, I would like to cordially invite all of you for food, music, and beautiful scenery April 4 – 6 in Alpine, Marfa, Marathon, and Fort Davis, TX.

All of the information for the festival can be found on the festival website:

There’s more information being added every day.

And, yes. I will be teaching 2 classes during the festival. I’m excited and honored to have been chosen to help kick off what will no doubt be a successful, annual, and kick-ass food festival.

Besides the food and music, who couldn’t resist enjoying the scenery?

Chisos Basin. Big Bend.

Chisos Basin. Big Bend.

Ocatillo cactus. Big Bend.

Ocatillo cactus. Big Bend.

Granada Theater. Alpine.

Granada Theater. Alpine.

Gage Hotel. Marathon.

Gage Hotel. Marathon.

Chinati Foundation. Marfa, TX

Chinati Foundation. Marfa, TX

Telescope at McDonald Observatory. Fort Davis, TX

Telescope at McDonald Observatory. Fort Davis, TX


Of course, some of the scenery includes food (obviously)…

Dinner at Cochineal. Marfa, TX

Dinner at Cochineal. Marfa, TX

Lunch at Food Shark. Marfa, TX.

Lunch at Food Shark. Marfa, TX.

Bison Ribeye. 12 Gage Steakhouse. Marathon, TX

Bison Ribeye. 12 Gage Steakhouse. Marathon, TX


…and music:

Paula Nelson at Padres. Marfa, TX

Paula Nelson at Padres. Marfa, TX

Joe King Carasco. Padres. Marfa, TX

Joe King Carasco. Padres. Marfa, TX


So, please. Make some room in your busy schedule and join us!  It’s the ultimate getaway so close to home!








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