Musings about Food & the Politics of Food.

TartQueen's Kitchen

Chicken Fried Steak with Cream Gravy 0

Posted on August 18, 2015 by Sahar

Few foods scream “TEXAS” louder than Chicken Fried Steak. Along with Chili (The Official State Dish of Texas), few things cause more arguments amongst friends and rivals over whose is the best.

By the way, Chicken Fried Steak is the Official State Dish of Oklahoma. Go figure.

The origins of Chicken Fried Steak are a little murky, but conventional wisdom generally believes German immigrants to Texas in the early- to mid- 19th Century invented Chicken Fried Steak as a way to not only enjoy something similar to the Viennese/German dish Wienerschnitzel (traditionally a breaded and fried veal cutlet), but also to make tough cuts of beef palatable. (As we know, bovine back then weren’t the chemically enhanced behemoths we know and eat today; they were just as hardscrabble as the land and the people living on it.)

Another story is that it was accidentally invented by a short order cook in Lamesa, Texas, in 1911. When a waitress turned in an order for “chicken, fried steak”, the cook, Jimmy Don Perkins, misread it. He dipped the steak in the fried chicken batter, and a legend was born.

One of my favorite food writers, Robb Walsh, describes 3 different types of Chicken Fried Steak in his book, Texas Eats:  1) The Southern/East Texas version is dipped in egg and then flour, similar to the way Southern fried chicken is prepared; 2) Central Texas’s version is made with bread crumbs rather than flour, much like Weinerschnitzel; 3) A West Texas version that is made without dipping the meat in egg; this is related to what cowboys called pan-fried steak.

Robb Walsh also talks about the three most common ways people mess up a Chicken Fried Steak: 1) Over- or Under-seasoning  – “If you use a salty seasoned flour for the batter, the steaks end up too salty. Underseasoning is just as bad. Even the batter on a perfectly cooked steak can taste pasty if it isn’t seasoned”; 2) Too much tenderizing – The ratio of batter to meat is crucial, and it’s determined by the thickness of the meat. If you pound the meat too flat, the steak is all batter and the steak is overcooked by the time the crust is done [this also leads to the meat shrinking in the crust].” ; and, 3) Overheating the oil – To cook a Chicken Fried Steak so the crust is golden and the meat is cooked trough, it is critical to keep the temperature of the oil at around 350F.


My recipe is much like the Southern/East Texas Version. It’s what I grew up eating and the one that most people know.


A few notes:

1.  The best cut of meat for a chicken fried steak is going to be round steak. It’s a flavorful, lean, and relatively cheap cut of beef. You can buy it in the grocery already tenderized (where it may also be called “cube steak”). If you buy it un-tenderized, you’ll need to do it yourself with a tenderizing mallet. It looks like a square hammer with spikes on each end of the mallet’s head. You very likely have one in the recesses of your knife drawer.

2.  It’s best to have everything at room temperature before you start. This way, everything cooks at the same speed and there will be less chance of the meat being cooked improperly.

3.  You don’t want to have too much breading on your steak. If you have too much breading, it’ll take too long for it to cook all the way through and the steak will overcook and shrink.

4.  Correct fat temperature is important when frying. If the oil is too cool, the breading will soak up the oil and you end up with a greasy steak. If it’s too hot, the coating will burn before the meat is cooked. The fat but come to a full sizzle when you put the steaks in.  Proper frying temperatures help seal the coating and keep as much of the oil out as possible while still cooking everything evenly.

5.  This goes for overcrowding the skillet, too. Don’t do it. The oil temperature will drop too much and the steaks won’t cook properly.

6.  Purists will be appalled, but if you like, you can substitute chicken (Chicken Fried Chicken) or pork (Chicken Fried Pork) in place of the beef.

7.  Speaking of appalled purists, I genreally do my frying in an electric skillet. It’s much easier for me to control the temperature of the oil. Purists, however, will insist on using a cast iron skillet. It’s up to you.

8.  You have to have gravy. Period. There are no exceptions to this rule.



The Ingredients

Peanut Oil, Vegetable Oil, Shortening, or Lard for frying

2 c. all-purpose flour

1 tbsp. salt

1 tbsp. black pepper

1 tbsp. garlic powder

2 tsp. onion powder

1 tsp. cayenne pepper, or to taste


Clockwise from top left: salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, onion powder

1 1/2 c. buttermilk

2 large eggs

6 ea. 6 – 8 oz. tenderized round steaks


1.  Mix together the flour and spices in a large, shallow bowl or on a large plate.  Set aside.


The spices waiting to be mixed into the flour.


Done. Be sure to mix as thoroughly as possible; especially if your spices (esp. the cayenne) are a little lumpy.

Beat together the buttermilk and eggs in a large bowl.  Set aside.


Eggs and buttermilk batter. Be sure that you beat the eggs thoroughly so the whites are completely broken down and incorporated.

2.  Take each steak and dip it first in the flour and lightly coat.  Be sure to shake off any excess.


The first dip. This will help the batter adhere to the steak.

Next, dip the steak in the batter and coat completely. Take the steak out of the batter and allow the extra liquid to dip off.


Make sure the steak is completely submerged in the batter.

Dip the steak back into the flour and evenly coat all over.  You want to be sure there aren’t any wet spots.


Nicely coated.

Shake off any excess flour.  Lay the steaks out in a single layer on a rack. (This will help allow air circulation around the steaks and help keep them fairly dry.)


The steaks on a rack. If there are any wet spots, be sure to sprinkle a little flour on them.

3.  Have a 1″ depth of fat in a large skillet. Heat the fat to 375F, or until flour sprinkled in the oil immediately sizzles (but doesn’t burn) or a drop of water will make the oil pop (be careful of oil spatter).

4.  Once the oil has heated to the correct temperature, take the steaks, no more than 2 at a time, for 5 – 7 minutes total, turning once.  The temperature will immediately drop once you put in the steaks, so be sure to adjust the temperature as necessary to keep the fat at 350F.  (This is the optimal temperature to cook the steaks without making the batter soggy or overcooking the batter before the meat is done.)


Don’t overcrowd the pan. The temperature of the oil will drop too far and will result in a soggy, greasy steak.


After flipping. You only want to flip once to maintain the crust.

Take the finished steaks out of the oil and either place back on the rack to drain (my preferred method) or place on paper towels to drain.

After each batch is done, raise the heat back up to 375F before adding the next batch. Again, after adding the steaks to the fat, be sure to keep the temperature at 350F.


Well, hello.

After the steaks are done, carefully drain off all but 1/4 c. of the drippings and saving any cracklings that may be in the skillet and make the gravy.


A note on the gravy: A good gravy can enhance your Chicken Fried Steak and a bad gravy can ruin it. You want a thick, creamy texture (but not pasty), a deep flavor (there are few things worse than a lumpy, bland, pasty gravy), and just the right amount of seasoning (over-salting is a common mistake).

Making good gravy is something that takes patience and practice. If you make this recipe for the first time and are a little unsure, just serve it on the side. You’ll do better next time.


Cream Gravy

1/4 c. pan dripping (if you have some nice cracklings too, great)

1/4 c. flour

2 c. whole milk, room temperature or warm

1 tbsp. black pepper

1 tsp. salt, or to taste



The drained skillet. I left some of the browned flour in with the fat. Just be sure that anything you leave in the skillet isn’t burnt.

1.  Heat the pan drippings over medium heat (about 350F if you’re using an electric skillet).  Add the flour and make a roux.  You’re looking for something between a blonde- and peanut butter- colored roux.


Adding the flour.


Making the roux. You don’t want the roux too dark because the darker the flour, the less thickening strength it will have.

2.  Whisk in the milk and cook the gravy until it smooths out and thickens. Whisk in the salt and pepper.  Taste for seasoning.  If you want a thinner gravy, add a bit more milk.


Whisking in the milk. Be sure to whisk constantly at this point so the roux and milk are completely incorporated.


A nice, smooth, not-too-thick not-too-thin cream gravy.

3.  Serve over (or next to) the Chicken Fried Steak and whatever else is on the plate.


The classic serving suggestion: Chicken Fried Steak, Mashed Potatoes, Greens (in this case, Kale).


Now I’m hungry.




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.






















A Photographic Study of Texas State Fair Food 0

Posted on October 31, 2013 by Sahar

State fairs are as American as baseball, jazz, and SUVs.  They started out as a way for farmers and their families to have a fun day out and  to show off their best produce, livestock, foods, and handicrafts as well as a way for the surrounding communities to come together.

For me, the State Fair of Texas is a rite of passage for anyone who grew up here.  It started in 1886 in Dallas as a private venture but was sold to the city of Dallas in 1904.  It was the first state fair (beginning in 1913) to feature an auto show as a permanent exhibition.

A sweet 2014 Corvette.

A sweet 2014 Corvette at the 91st year of the car show at the Sate Fair of Texas

And, legend has it that the corn dog was invented by Carl & Neil Fletcher for the fair in 1938.

Fletcher's Corny Dogs. Always next to Big Tex near the midway. Legend has it that the Fletcher Brothers invented the corny dog in 1938.

Fletcher’s Corny Dogs. Always next to Big Tex near the midway. Legend has it that the Fletcher Brothers invented the corny dog in 1938. The queues are crazy long.

The Fair is held every year in the beautiful Fair Park.  In 1986, it was included on the National Register of Historic Places and designated a historic landmark.  The buildings in Fair Park were built for the Texas Centennial Exposition in 1936.  They’ve undergone substantial restoration over the years and the facades are back to their original Art Deco magnificence.

One of the statues at Fair Park that was sculpted for the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition.

One of the statues at Fair Park that was sculpted for the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition.

One of the Art Deco facades at Fair Park. They've undergone extensive restoration over the years.

One of the Art Deco facades at Fair Park. They’ve undergone extensive restoration over the years.



One more.

One more.


And, then, there’s Big Tex. The State Fair mascot since 1952.

Big Tex. He burned down last year due to an electrical fire. This is a new iteration of him. The video of him burning last year is on YouTube.

Big Tex. He burned down last year due to an electrical fire. But he’s back in all his glory. The video of him burning last year is on YouTube.

A slightly weird butter sculpture of Big Tex.

A slightly weird butter sculpture of Big Tex.


Of course, what state fairs are now best known for are their midway foods.  And the crazier the better.  Especially in the frialated arts.  Deep fried Coke, butter, bacon, Oreos, lemonade, candy bars, and sliders are just a few of the foods that have succumbed to batter and hot oil.  Texas is no exception. In fact, it’s led the way.

In short, it’s a day to forget the diet and cholesterol count and just indulge. Just be sure to walk everywhere.  It’ll assuage the guilt a little.

I went to the fair this year with my husband, Steve; my dad; and my nephews.  I haven’t been since Steve & I began dating – 21 years ago.  The band we saw: the Texas Tornadoes. They were supporting their first album.

Now, we didn’t get to try the deep-fried butter.  The queue was of epic proportions.

The fried butter queue. The photo doesn't do it justice. It not only stretched from the front of the stand, but wrapped around the back on both sides.

The fried butter queue. The photo doesn’t capture the craziness.  It not only stretched from the front of the stand, but wrapped around the back on both sides.

No deep-fried Coke, either.  We couldn’t find it.

The big taste-test winner was “Deep Fried Thanksgiving Dinner”.  We didn’t try that either. Basically none of us could quite bring ourselves to try it.  Not sure why.

However, we did eat our fair share of deep-fried goodies and meats in tube form.

Husband Steve with his corny dog.

Husband Steve with his corny dog.

Dad with his corny dog. It was the one thing he demanded we stop for.

Dad with his corny dog. It was the one thing he insisted we stop for.

Nephew the Younger ejoying his Sausage on a Stick. I had one, too. Nephew the Elder had a corny dog (he was too wiley for me to get a photo of him. I'm surprised I got a photo of this guy.)

Nephew the Younger enjoying his Sausage on a Stick. I had one, too. Nephew the Elder had a corny dog. (He was too wily for me to get a photo of him. I’m surprised I got a photo of this guy. Admittedly, the photo doesn’t do him justice.)

Nephew the Elder was all about the deep fried sweets. This is deep fried cheesecake. I had a bite. I liked it in spite of myself.

Nephew the Elder was all about the deep fried sweets. This is  cheesecake. I had a bite. I liked it in spite of myself.

Deep Fried Frito Pie. As a group, we enjoyed this so much we bought it twice.

Deep Fried Frito Pie. As a group, we enjoyed this so much we bought it twice.

Probably the 2nd healthiest thing eaten all day. Sausage on a bun with mustard and sauerkraut.

Probably the 2nd healthiest thing eaten all day. Sausage on a bun with mustard and sauerkraut.

Deep. Fried. Bacon.

Deep. Fried. Bacon.

Deep fried Oreos. Another thing we bought twice. Yeah. They were delicious.

Deep fried Oreos. Another thing we bought twice. Yeah. They were delicious.

Deep froed mac & cheese. This was singularly awful. Steve & I each had one bite and threw it in the garbage.

Deep fried mac & cheese. This was singularly awful. Steve & I each had one bite and threw it in the garbage.

This was the healthiest thing all day. Dad's corn on the cob. And it still had some butter on it.

This was the healthiest thing all day. Dad’s corn on the cob. And it still had some butter on it. He stopped them from dipping it in even more butter.

What Nephew the Elder had been searching for since we walked in the gate. Deep Fried Snickers. He didn't share it. Probably just as well.

What Nephew the Elder had been searching for since we walked in the gate. Deep Fried Snickers. He didn’t share it. Probably just as well.

My personal favorite. Fried Chicken Skin. Damn. It was good. I only shared because I couldn't beat the guys off with one hand.

My personal favorite. Fried Chicken Skin. Damn. It was good. I only shared because I couldn’t beat the guys off with one hand.

During and after all that eating, we did walk around the Midway.  No rides, though.  All of us, except Nephew the Younger, decided that we wouldn’t be able to make it without, well…, you know.

i think they've had this same sign at least since I was a kid.

i think they’ve had this same sign at least since I was a kid.

Yeah... There was no way we were getting on this.

Yeah… There was no way we were getting on this.

Or this.

Or this.

The darkening skies over the fair.

The darkening skies over the fair.

A few more sights from the Fair:

A group of Filipino dancers in front of the Dallas Historical Society building. The dance was about a princess lost in the forest during an earthquake. The prince comes to rescue her.

A group of Filipino dancers in front of the Dallas Historical Society building. The dance was about a princess lost in the forest during an earthquake. The prince comes to rescue her.

A kinda creepy robot at the Auto Show.

A kinda creepy robot at the Auto Show.

Cotton candy stand. 100% cotton candy.

Cotton candy stand. 100% cotton candy. My teeth hurt just looking at this.

Elsie the Cow. Almost made me sorry I eat beef. Almost.

Elsie the Cow. Almost made me sorry I eat beef. Almost.

Just a section of the wall of ribbon winners.

Just a section of the wall of ribbon winners.

Looking down the Midway.

Looking down the Midway.

The Midway.

The Midway.

A few of Dallas' finest. And their riders, too.

A few of Dallas’ finest. And their riders, too. These gentlemen were very popular photographic subjects. Hence my angle.

The famous Cotton Bowl. It has been in continuous operation since 1930. That day, Grambling State & Prairie View A&M played. I thought about buying a ticket just so I could see Grambling's band.

The famous Cotton Bowl. It has been in continuous operation since 1930. That day, Grambling State & Prairie View A&M played. I thought about buying a ticket just so I could see Grambling’s band.


I hope you all enjoyed this little journey through the State Fair of Texas.


See you soon.










Vegetarian Chili (I promise it tastes great!) 1

Posted on January 02, 2013 by Sahar

In Texas, the preferred chili is called “Bowl of Red”.  No beans.  Slightly to very  spicy.  Lots of chiles.  Beef.  Slow stewed.

Now, of course, this could be seen as sacrilegious in certain quarters, but I do have a recipe for vegetarian chili.  At one time, my husband, Steve, was vegetarian.  So, I came up with this recipe for him some time ago. (He has since returned to the dark side. He relapsed on barbecue.)

It is a recipe, if I do say so myself, even ardent chili lovers will enjoy.  Well, I’d like to think so, anyway.

I use canned pinto beans in this recipe. (If you know anything about traditional Texas chili, beans are always verboten.)  They work great and are inexpensive.  However, if you want to use different beans (i.e. black, cannellini, garbanzo, etc.) or a combination, feel free.

I admittedly have a lot of spice in this chili.  Feel free to adjust it to your taste.  And, instead of commercial chili powders, I use dried, ground chiles and spices you would normally see in mixed chili powders.  I find I can adjust the flavors much more easily.  However, if you have a chili powder blend in your pantry, feel free to use it.  However, you will have to omit and/or adjust the other spices.


Now, to the recipe.

The Ingrdients

The Ingrdients


2 tbsp. vegetable oil

1 med. onion, minced

8 cl. garlic, minced

3 tbsp. Ancho chile powder

1 1/2 tsp. Chipotle chile powder (very spicy; use less or omit if you want less spicy)

2 tbsp. paprika (if you want a smokier flavor, substitute some or all with Spanish paprika)

1 tbsp. ground cumin

1 tsp. Mexican oregano

1 bay leaf

2 tsp. brown sugar (doesn’t matter whether it’s light or dark; dark is sweeter, though)

1 tsp. salt (kosher or sea)

1 tsp. ground black pepper

1 lg. (28 oz) can chopped tomatoes (I like Muir Glen Fire Roasted)

Vegetable broth or water as needed

2 ea. 15-oz cans pinto beans, drained

2 tbsp. masa flour, mixed with 2 tbsp water or vegetable broth to make a slurry (optional)


Clockwise from top: Chipotle Chile Powder; Paprika; ground Cumin; Mexican Oregano; Ancho Chile Powder.

Clockwise from top: Chipotle Chile Powder; Paprika; ground Cumin; Mexican Oregano; Ancho Chile Powder.

Clockwise from top: kosher Salt; ground Black Pepper; Bay Leaf; Brown Sugar.

Clockwise from top: kosher Salt; ground Black Pepper; Bay Leaf; Brown Sugar.


1.  In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, heat the oil.  Add the onions and garlic and saute until the onions begin to soften, about 5 minutes.  Stir frequently.

Sauteeing the onions and garlic.

sauteing the onions and garlic.

2.  Stir in the spices and cook until the aroma begins to come up, about 1 – 2 minutes.  Stir frequently to be sure the spices don’t burn.

Cooking the spices with the garlic and onions.

Cooking the spices with the garlic and onions.

3.  Add the tomatoes and 1 cup water or vegetable broth. Mix well, cover, and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to medium-low, keep the saucepan covered, and cook for 20 minutes.  Stir frequently.

After adding the tomatoes and vegetable broth.

After adding the tomatoes and vegetable broth.

After cooking for 20 minutes.

After cooking for 20 minutes.

4.  Add the beans and cook another 20 minutes, uncovered.  The chili will begin to thicken as the beans cook.

Adding the beans.

Adding the beans.

After 20 minutes, if using, add the masa slurry.  Cook for another 5 minutes.  Taste for seasoning.

The chili after 20 minutes and adding the masa slurry.

The chili after 20 minutes and adding the masa slurry.

5.  Serve the chili with cornbread or tortillas, chopped onion, shredded cheese, and sour cream, if you like.

Chili with a little sharp cheddar.  Yummy.

Chili with a little sharp cheddar. Yummy.


And, like other chilies, this tastes even better the next day.













Points West 2

Posted on September 28, 2012 by Sahar

Finally, after much editing of photos (down to 408 from 500+), trying to remember details in the correct order, and much proofreading, I have finally finished this post.



As I wrote in my previous post, my husband Steve & I decided a couple of years ago that we wouldn’t buy each other birthday gifts anymore.  We would take little trips around Texas instead.  Much more fun and the memories would last longer.

I mean, why not?  Texas is a big state with a big personality.  There’s always something new to see.  And eat.  Even in your own backyard.

We started out on Wednesday, August 29, with a very packed car and a little distressed we were leaving about 2 hours later than we originally planned.  To be honest, it’s kind of par for the course for us.

The sun breaking through the clouds. Outside Ozona.

I-10W on the way to Roosevelt


Our first stop was a cafe in Roosevelt recommended by our friend Joe Nick Patoski.  It was at the Simon Brothers Grocery & Mercantile.  We arrived about 2 pm and were wondering if we’d found the right place.  As Steve & I wandered around the store, we finally found the cafe.  Behind a door with a tiny hand-written sign, “CAFE”.  (I’m sorry now I didn’t get  picture of that door.)

Simon Bros. Cafe. We loved the fact that the seats were old office chairs.


We tried the cheeseburgers.  On Texas Toast. We weren’t disappointed.  And the fries?  Hand-cut.  Yummy.

Yummy, yummy Simon Brothers lunch.

The little mercantile was an attraction in and of itself. I have no idea how old the groceries were and when the last time the place was cleaned.  And, I loved the fact that the post office is in the store, too.

The mercantile that time forgot.


Roosevelt Post Office in Simon Bros.


After lunch and a short walk about, we hit the road again.  Then, 3 hours later, we were finally at our destination.

Just outside Marfa.

The first hotel we stayed in was El Cosmico.  As Austinites know, it was opened by Liz Lambert in 2006, and it is one of the coolest places Steve & I have ever stayed.

It’s on the outskirts of Marfa on South Highland Ave. A wonderfully rustic, organic space. I saw 7 restored AirStream Trailers, 2 teepees, and 5 safari tents.  Plus, there are several rock circles as spaces for people to pitch their own tents.

We loved it.

El Cosmico’s lobby. A lovely space, by the way. And the only place you can get WiFi. If you need it.

No cars are allowed on the grounds. This is how you transport your luggage.

Our trailer. A 1949 Airstream. It was the only one with AC. Steve made sure we got it.

View out the front. The interior is lovely.

A view into the kitchen and bedroom. The kitchen was suprisingly well stocked and the bed was really, really comfortable.

A nod to rusticity. Our outdoor shower. At least the water was really hot. Actually, it was very refreshing in the mornings.

The El Cosmico truck with a rainbow in the distance.

Once we settled in, it was time to make a quick grocery run to pick up food for breakfast. We had heard of a small grocery, The Get Go, that was supposed to be the best gourmet grocer in West Texas.  It didn’t disappoint.

The Get Go didn’t disappoint. Especially in the beer, produce, and cheese departments.

By this point, we were ready to go and get some dinner and go to see Paula Nelson at Padres Bar. It used to be a funeral home in a former life, apparently.

Marfa Sunset.

After our first choice of restaurant was closed, we headed to the outskirts of town and found Mando’s. A hole-in-the-wall Tex-Mex place (well, more Mex than Tex).  Overall, the meal was very good.  The beans had lard, the beer was cold, and my flautas were delicious.  However, the salsa was quite bland. The only disappointment.

First meal in Marfa. Chicken Flautas. Mando’s. They were delicious.

After dinner, we lurched off to Padres to see to Paula Nelson (yes, her daddy is Willie).  She was just lovely and had a great band backing her up.  It was a great way to end a very long day.

Paula Nelson at Padres.


Day 2.  Steve woke up at 6am and told me he wanted breakfast.  I honestly thought he was joking.  Nope.  He was wide awake and wanted breakfast.

OK. Fine.

While I conjured myself out of bed (and it was a chilly morning, so it was very difficult), he went outside and started taking a few photos:

Me getting ready to make breakfast while Steve is outside taking photos.

Marfa sunrise #1

Marfa Sunrise #2


Soon, breakfast was ready.  Lox & Brie Omelets with fresh tomatoes. They were really, really good.


So, after breakfast and a shower, I promptly went back to sleep.  I’m not sure what Steve did.

Once we were both fully ready to get moving, we took a tour of the grounds of El Cosmico.

El Cosmico’s Bottle Tree

Long view of El Cosmico’s Trailers.

El Cosmico’s Teepees.

El Cosmico’s Safari Tents.

El Cosmico’s Hammock Village.

Now, off to see a bit of modern art. Prada Marfa. There’s really no point to it except as perphaps a commentary on consumerism.  Admittedly, it’s not really my thing.  But, if you’re in the area, it’s a must-see.

First, however, one must pass through Valentine.  A town with a population of 217 and the only incorporated town in Jeff Davis County. It’s best known for Prada Marfa, where the post office will do a special postmark on Valentine’s Day, and where “Cahill, US Marshall” was set.

Valentine, Texas. On our way to see Prada Marfa.

Prada Marfa.

The plaque explaining Prada Marfa.

Not long after it was completed in 2005, Prada Marfa was broken into and its contents stolen. To thwart any future attempts, all of the shoes on display are left shoes only and all the bags have had their bottoms removed.  Plus, the door is sealed (so no going inside for a closer look) and security cameras were installed.

Some people just don’t appreciate art.

Some of Prada Marfa’s contents.

The literal emptiness of Prada Marfa and its surroundings.


So, after closely observing Prada Marfa, we headed back to Marfa for lunch.

I saw this sign on the way back and made Steve turn around so I could get some pictures. I loved it.

Quite simply, the coolest old relic roadside sign I’ve ever seen. On the way back to Marfa.


So, now for lunch.  Steve & I decided to go to a place we’d been before, The Food Shark.  Popular with locals and tourists alike, it has some of the best felafel outside of the Middle East I’ve ever eaten.  My hummous is better, though.

Yeah. I said it.

They have a standard menu of Middle Eastern specialties like hummous, felafel, fatoush, and lots of fresh salads.  Their specials go fast. In fact, the day we were there, they ran out of the special, Shrimp with Soba Noodles, right before I got to the window.

If you get there during the peak lunch hour, be prepared for a wait.  So, patience is required.

Food Shark. The only food trailer in Marfa.

Steve’s lunch. The combo plate.

My lunch. Felafel.

A can of Harissa. A very popular condiment in North Africa, especially Tunisia. It’s used pretty freely at Food Shark.


After lunch, Steve & I went exploring around Marfa.  We’d been there before, so there wasn’t much new for us to see.  But, hey, we needed to work off lunch.

The predominant industry in Marfa, next to tourism. The Judd & Chinati Foundations.


Steve had been interested in going on a tour around the Chinati Foundation.  I was not.  Minimalist art simply isn’t my thing.  Honestly, I find it boring.  I told Steve he could go if he wanted, but he decided against it.

Well, maybe next time.

For those of you who don’t know who Donald Judd is or what the Chinati Foundation is all about, here’s a little background:


Donald Judd was a sculptor in New York who bagan as a painter early in his career.  By the early 1960’s he came interested in how objects (namely, boxes and stacks) interplayed with the space around them.  In 1971, he came to Marfa and rented a house to get away from the art scene he had come to hate in NYC and to use the starkness of the desert landscape to create.

In 1979, with help from the Dia Art Foundation, Judd purchased a 340 acre  tract of desert land near Marfa  which included the abandoned buildings of the former U.S. Army Fort D. A. Russell. The Chinati Foundation opened on the site in 1986 as a non-profit art foundation, dedicated to Judd and his contemporaries. The permanent collection consists of large-scale works by Judd and other artisits. Judd’s work in Marfa includes 15 outdoor works in concrete and 100 aluminum pieces housed in two renovated artillery sheds.

Originally conceived in 1977, and created in 1996, the Judd Foundation was formed in order to preserve the work and installations of Judd in Marfa, Texas and at 101 Spring Street in New York.

Donald Judd passed away in 1994 of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in NYC.  (Some information from

Outside the Chinati Foundation in Marfa

Outside the Chinati Foundation. Marfa.

Marfa itself is the county seat of Presidio County, Texas.  The town’s permanent popluation, according to the 2010 census, is 1,981. It’s nestled between the Davis Mountains and Big Bend National Park.  it was founded in the 1880’s as a railroad stop and grew expodentially through the 1920’s.  During WWII, the Marfa Army Airfield served as a training ground for pilots.  It was closed in 1945.
Marfa is probably best known not only as the home of the Judd & Chinati Foundations, but also the Marfa Lights (mysterious lights in the Mitchell Flats ouside of town. Some believe they’re UFOs. Others, atmospheric conditions cause them.)  During the filming of the movie “Giant” the cast stayed at the largest hotel in town, the El Paisano

The front facade of the Hotel El Paisano.

The lobby of the Hotel El Paisano

The hotel has a room dedicated “Giant”.  They’re very proud of their connection with that movie.

Some “Giant” memoribilia.

“Giant” on a continual loop.

The town is completely reliant on the tourism that the park, Judd & Chinati, the lights, and “Giant” fans bring.  They’ve also started a music festival that happens in late September.  It’s also home to many (overpriced) art galleries.  And a lovely little bookstore with, of course, an art gallery attached. Plus, it has one of the best public radio stations anywhere, KRTS.

Marfa Fire Station

Palace Theater, Marfa.

Presidio County Courthouse, Marfa


Dinner that night was at Cochineal (named after the little insect used to make natural red dye).  A lovely little restaurant opened in 2008 by Tom Rapp and Toshi Sakihara. It’s menu changes almost daily to keep up with what’s freshest and the whims of the chefs.  We picked a good day to go.

Once you were inside, you could be anywhere. The dining room was a very simple space. Small, but not overcrowded.  It was still a little too warm for us to sit outside, but the patio was proving popular.  It was full when we arrived.

Reservations are recommended, by the way.

Cochineal’s dining room.

So, we began with cocktails.

Cochineal’s Cocktail Menu. Just the beginning of a wonderful meal.

Moscow Mule. The classic cocktails are always the best.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo of Steve’s cocktail.  I believe he had the El Diablo. He said it was quite good.

Cochineal’s Dinner menu for August 29th, 2012.

Appetizer Time.  Cream Cheese Dip with Crab and Horseradish. Hot, slightly gooey, smooth with just enough texture  from the crab and heat from the horseradish. I’ve got to figure out how to make this.

Our appetizer. It was really, really good

Me. I had the Rack of Lamb with Truffled Potatoes and Garlic Broccolini.  The lamb was cooked perfectly medium-rare with just enough seasoning. (I find that to be a real issue with many restaturants who serve rack of lamb. Simple is best. It doesn’t need a crust.)  The potatoes were smooth without being starchy and the truffle wasn’t overpowering.  The Broccolini wasn’t reated as an afterthought, like so many vegetables are.

Sahar’s Dinner.

Steve’s dinner was Barramundi en Croute with Vegetables and Pico.  I had a little of his fish.  It was perfectly cooked.  I’ve never had Barramundi before, so the fact that it wasn’t too strong a flavor was a surprise.  Steve said that the pico and vegetables were good, too.  He must have liked it.  He ate it all.

Steve’s Dinner.

We figured as long as we were there, we’d just go for it and get dessert, too.  Yum-my.

I had a wonderful date pudding reminicent of sticky toffee pudding.  It had a caramel-bourbon sauce that had just the right balance of sweet and slightly bitter.  And the bourbon flavor wasn’t too strong.

Sahar’s dessert. Lovely. Just lovely.

Steve opted for Lemon-Lime-Basil Shortbread Cookies.  I didn’t get to try any.  He ate them too fast.

Steve’s dessert. He liked it.

After the bacchanalia of dinner, we decided to take a short walk around Marfa.  We were struck by a creche of Mary.

St. Mary’s Church. Marfa.


Back to the car. To our trailer. And to bed.

Day 3.  We checked out of El Cosmico and headed to where we would be staying for the next 3 nights, The Gage Hotel in Marathon.  But, first, we had to pass through Alpine.

Alpine is located in a wide valley in the foothills of the Davis Mountains in northwest Brewster County. The town began in the spring of 1882, when a few railroad workers and their families pitched their tents along a small spring-fed creek at the foot of what is now known as “A” Mountain.

Alpine grew very slowly until 1921. Then came the opening of Sul Ross State Normal College (now Sul Ross State University) and the construction of the first paved roads into the area. The college, along with ranching and the transcontinental railroad, made Alpine the center of activities in the Big Bend area of Texas. In the early 1940s, with the establishment of Big Bend National Park, Alpine came to be looked upon as the entrance to the park. Since the early 1960s the rapid influx of affluent retired people into the area has been an important factor in the town’s continued growth.

Alpine is the largest town in and the county seat of Brewster County with a 2010 population of 5,905. (Information from

Steve and I decided to get out and have a walk around town.  We stayed there on our last trip in 2010, but we didn’t really explore Alpine.  This time, we decided to rectify the situation.

There was a record store he wanted to see; but, it was closed.  Labor Day weekend.  In fact, we found quite a few businesses closed for the holiday.  No matter, we still had a lovely time.  Even bought some original art.

I think if I was to move anywhere else in Texas, it would be Alpine. Just enough town with open space nearby.

Granada Theater marquis. Alpine.

Our Lady of Peace Church. Alpine. I’m not a religious person, but I enjoy religious architecture.

Husband Steve with Tres Amigos. Alpine.

Back in the car to our next destination. Marathon. Or, as the locals say, Marath’n.

Road into Marathon.

Marathon is the second-largest town in Brewster County. It’s out on TX90 with a population of 433 (2010 census). The town was founded when the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railway built across what was then part of Presidio County. A crew building east from El Paso reached the townsite in March 1882. (Some information from

The main attractions of the town are the Gage Hotel and the fact that it’s only about 45 minutes away from Big Bend National Park.  It’s another town that is completely dependent on the tourist industry.

The Gage Hotel. Marathon.


I would term the Gage as upscale rustic.  The hotel itself was commissioned in 1927 by Alfred Gage, a businessman and rancher.  It was intended as a hotel and main administrative building for his 500, 000 acre ranch.  In 1978, J.P. & Mary Jon Bryan bought the Gage and returned it back to it’s original Trans-Pecos glory (from

It was very different from where we stayed for the previous 2 nights.  And, for shmoes like us, quite elegant.  Plus, it had an indoor shower.

Our room at The Gage. Upscale Rustic.

Courtyard at the Gage.

Skull art that Steve found outside the White Buffalo Bar. Gage.


We took a very short walk for lunch after we checked in.  Pizza at Guzzi’s. Decent, if utilitarian, pizza. I wasn’t expecting that.

Boneless hot wings (which as we all know are boneless, skinless breast). They were average. But we were hungry.

Sahar’s lunch. 6-inch pepperoni pizza.

Steve’s lunch. 8-inch Royale Pizza.

So, off for a quick nap before our next destination.  Big Bend National Park.

Big Bend National Park was opened on July 1, 1944.  It is The park covers 801,163 acres (1,252 sq mi)and is larger than the state of Rhode Island.  It’s the least visited of all the national parks with only about 300,000 visitors a year.  The park was named after the large bend where Texas and Mexico meet along the Rio Grande.  The park is in the Chihuahuan Desert and is surrounded by the Chisos Mountains.

It’s simply an amazing place.

I wanted to head to the Chisos Basin and the Window, the most popular spot in the park, to see the sunset.  A little corny, sure; but so worth the journey.

Big Bend is about 40 miles from Marathon.  The main ranger station is at Panther Junction about another 30 miles in.  It seems like forever to get there because there is a 45mph in the park. And, yes, they do enforce it.

The road from Marathon to Big Bend.

We made it to the Chisos Basin, finally.

While waiting for the sunset at The Window, we decided to take a hike down the Basin Trail.

Casa Grande at the Chisos Basin.

Peaks in the Chisos Basin.

Bottlebrush flowers. They smelled amazing. The whole valley was filled with them.

Early evening in the Chisos Valley

We hiked the trail about half of its 1.6 miles.  It started to get dark and we turned around.

Off to see the sunset.

Sunset at the Window.

Sunset at The Window.


After a rather encyclopedic photographic study of the sunset, we decided we were hungry and headed out the south way from the park.

After about another hour’s drive through the park and another 30 minutes outside it, we finally made it to Terlingua.  We ended up at High Sierra Grill (at the El Dorado Hotel) for a rather late dinner.

The night we were there (Friday) was surprisingly slow.  There were fewer than 10 other people when we arrived.  And most of them were drinking at the bar.

There was musical entertainment that night.  Steve felt bad the musician was only playing to so few people, so he bought 3 of his cd’s

The musical entertainment at High Sierra Grill.

One of the more interesting uses of a vending machine.

Steve had a cheeseburger. I had chicken fried steak. Not the best I’ve ever eaten, but it was most definitely above average. Certainly better than Threadgill’s.

Yeah. I said it.

My dinner. Filling. And very starchy. Note the absence of any vegetable other than the potato. Covered with cheese.


After another 90-minute drive, we were finally back in Marathon and to bed. Very late.

Day 4.

Saturday. We had made plans to get to the park early. That didn’t happen.

We started off the day by, what else, foraging for breakfast.  One of the shop owners near the hotel told us about this one place, the Burnt Biscuit Bakery.  She said they had great fried pies.  Well, that sold us.

You can’t go wrong with a good fried pie.

But, we figured we’d better go with some savory protein first.

Our breakfasts. Burnt Biscuit Bakery.

I had a sausage & cheese croissant. I’m still trying to decide if the croissant was homemade or a pre-packaged one. I’m leaning towards the latter. Steve’s biscuit was definitely made in-house, however.

The proprietress was quite friendly & chatty. I sensed that tourists had been thin on the ground lately.  She let it be known that she and her husband (the baker) were looking to sell so they could move to the Panhandle to be closer to their kids and grandkids.

I almost bit. But,  changed my mind when I decided that Steve would most likely not go for the idea.

As a reward to ourselves, we bought a couple of fried pies.  Steve had peach. I had cherry.

The shopkeeper was right.  They were delicious.

A very fresh cherry fried pie. A Texas delicacy.

Burnt Biscuit Bakery. Marathon, TX


Back in the car and back to the park.

We spent about 4 hours driving through slowly and stopping frequently to take in the sights, the fresh air, and to take lots of photos.

(I generally don’t buy souveniers. I take photographs. They last longer and its a whole lot cheaper.)

The Chihuahuan Desert & Chisos Mountains. Big Bend Nat’l Park.

Ocotillo Cactus and Creosote Bush. Big Bend Nat’l Park.

It’s really hard to take a bad photo here.

Purple Prickly Pear.

One of the best things about Big Bend. It’s not completely overrun with tourists. You feel like you can breathe.

I dare you not to look at this and not have your mind cleared out.

Chenizo. One of the few flowers still blooming in the park.

Ocotillo Cactus in the Chihuahuan Desert. Big Bend. I really fell in love with this. I’m going to try to find some here in Austin to plant in my yard.


We drove back to Terlingua to have a light dinner (well, light for West Texas) at the Starlight Theater.

A little background on Terlingua:

The name Terlingua has been applied to three different settlements in southwestern Brewster Country. The original site was a Mexican village on Terlingua Creek three miles above the confluence with the Rio Grande. With the discovery of quicksilver in that area in the mid-1880s, the Marfa and Mariposa mining camp became known as Terlingua; the original site was then referred to as Terlingua Abaja, or lower Terlingua. In 1902, in addition to the mine complex, Terlingua consisted of several temporary structures occupied by some 200 to 300 laborers, mostly Mexican. Three years later the population had increased to 1,000. Quicksilver production peaked during World WarI. By 1922 40 percent of the quicksilver mined in the United States came from Terlingua, but production began to decline steadily during the 1930s. On October 1, 1942, the Chisos Mining Company filed for bankruptcy. A successor firm ceased operations at the end of World War II when most of the population dispersed. Terlingua became a ghost town. During the late 1960s and early 1970s tourism brought new life to the village. Terlingua became famous for its annual chili cook-off and in 1967 was deemed the “Chili Capitol of the World” by the Chili Appreciation Society. In 2000, the permanent popuation of Terlingua was 277. (information from

Steve & I visited Terlingua Ghost Town on a previous trip, and we tromped around what was left of the homes and cemetary there.

Terlingua Ghost Town.

Terlingua Ghost Town

Terlingua Ghost Town

The homes in Terlingua Ghost Town where were all the workers at the 4 mines in Terlingua, mostly Mexicans. The homes were essentially mud brick with some wooden support.  Most of the roofs are now gone, but I did see some tin corregated ones. Whether they’re the original or put there by squatters, I don’t know.

The cemetary is fascinating, if not a little depressing.  Most of the graves were not only of the Mexican workers, but their families as well.  And they were all young.  I think I only saw one grave of someone over 50.  Hardscrabble living and mercury poisoning no doubt contributed to the sort life span of these folks.

Cemetary at Terlingua Ghost Town

Cemetary at Terlingua Ghost Town

We arrived in Terlingua a little early.  Since the Starlight didn’t open for dinner until 5, we had a cold beer on the porch of the Terlingua General Store.  My favorite thing: signs all over the place saying “No dogs on the porch”. There were dogs all over the porch.

Finally, the Starlight opened. We were hungry and in a hurry.  We had tickets to go to a Star Party at the McDonald Observatory. 90 minutes away.

So, yeah. We were cutting it close.


Starlight Theater, Terlingua

The late, great Clay Henry. The Beer Drinking Goat and one-time mayor of Terlingua.

We just ordered appetizers for dinner.  It was a good thing we did.  They were huge.

Steve had  Wild Boar & Venison Sausage with a Barbecue Dipping Sauce.  My dinner was Chicken-Fried Antelope with a Coors Beer Gravy.  I liked his sausage better than my antelope.  I think it’s a pretty safe bet it was farm-raised.  I was expecting a gamier, more venison-like flavor.  It just tasted like beef to me.

Chips, salsa, and guacamole. The guacamole was good. The salsa was marginal. Starlight Theater. Terlingua.

Steve’s Dinner. Venison & Wild Boar Sausage. Starlight Theater.

Sahar’s dinner: Chicken Fried Antelope

We then rushed off to the McDonald Observatory, just outside of Fort Davis.  If you haven’t been there, go.  It’s an amazing place.  We went (for the second time) to a Star Party.  For those of you who don’t know, a Star Party begins at around sunset.  One of the observatoy’s employees does a presentation at the outside ampitheater talking about what we’re going to be seeing that night.  Then, everyone gets to look through very powerful telescopes at the night sky.

That night, there was a full moon, so many of the dimmer stars weren’t visible.  But, we did get to see Saturn and a very close up & personal view of the Moon.

They also do tours of some of the larger telescopes during the day.  Next time, we’ll have to do that.

Sunset at McDonald Observatory

Some of the telescopes we looked through at the Observatory.

Full moon over McDonald Observatory


Once we saw all we could and enjoyed the cool evening, we drove back to Marfa.  Our friend Joe Nick Patoski’s wife, Chris, was playing in Joe King Carasco’s band that evening at Padres.  (You old-time Austinites will remember Joe King quite well.)

We arrived about halfway through the show.  We hadn’t seen Joe King in a while.  He hasn’t really lost any of his entertainment value. And, yes.  He still wears his crowns.  That night was a classic.

Joe King Carasco at Padres. Marfa.

A la James Brown: Joe King being helped off stage by his “doctor” and Joe Nick in his genie turban waving him good bye.


We finally got back to Marathon at 2am.  So, the plan on getting up at 5am to go back to Big Bend was out.

Day 5.  My birthday.

We finally dragged ourselves out of bed at about 9 am.

Breakfast was at the Marathon Coffee Shop.  It was delicious, and big.  We needed the big for the hike that we had coming.

Steve, as is his habit when it’s on the menu, ordered migas.  I opted for short-stack of pancakes with bacon and hash browns.

Can’t go wrong there.

Steve’s Sunday Morning Breakfast.

Sahar’s Birthday Breakfast. Part 1.

Sahar’s Birthday Breakfast. Part 2.

We packed the car with cold water, and a backpack filled with Gatorade, dried fruit and nuts, and a first aid kit. Off we went to hike Boquillas Canyon.

Boquillas Canyon is down at the tip of the Big Bend where Mexico and Texas are separated by the Rio Grande.  At one time, people were able to cross back and forth pretty freely.  However, in 2002, the crossing was closed.

But first, of course, we had about a 2-hour drive down to the canyon.  So, we stopped often to take photos. Again.

Looking over what used to be a swamp in the Ecoene Period. About 30 million years ago.

Shale. From millions of years of underwater sediment. Chihuahuan Desert.

More Ocotillo Cactus. Chihuahuan Desert.

Spiny Fruited Prickly Pear. Found only in the Chihuahuan Desert.

The far horizon is Mexico.


We finally made our way to Boquillas Canyon.  There were more people there than we had seen in our entire time in Big Bend. Maybe 20. Some were tourists like us.  Others, Mexican Nationals who apparently regularly cross the river to sell trinkets to the tourists.

I would’ve done it, too (in spite of the warnings up in the park telling us not to).  If I had brought any money.  And entertainment was provided by one gentleman singing “Guantanamera” while fishing in the river.  He really did have a great voice.


As we wee beginning the hike, I was struck by some holes in the rock.  I found a sign explaining them.  They are mortar holes cut into the rock.  The indigenous poeples of the area used the mortar holes to grind mesquite seeds, roots, and other grains for food.

Each one of the holes is about 12″ deep.  I don’t know if they were originally cut that deep, or, if over time, the holes were simply worn deeper into the rock.

Fascinating. I love history. And archaeology.

Mortar holes cut into the rock.


First, to go down into the canyon, we had to go up the front side. And with the heat being what it was that day, about 100F on the canyon floor, it was no small feat.

Heading down into Boquillas Canyon. US on the right. Mexico on the left.

Down in the Boquillas Canyon. The cliff face on the right is Mexico.

All river rock up to the cliff face on the Texas side. Shows how high the Rio Grande can get. Very.

Texas on the left. Mexico on the right. Rio Grande/Rio Bravo in the center. Boquillas Canyon

Dogweed growing in the river rock.


We were down in the canyon for a couple of hours walking around, resting in the shade. Watching the burros on the Mexico side.  We didn’t go as far as we would’ve liked because the trail because there was a point where it became very difficult to navigate.  Since my husband & I aren’t experienced hikers, we opted out of getting too adventurous.

What we scaled to go into the canyon. It was an easy trail, but with the heat. Yikes.

So, after each of us downing a full bottle of Gatorade when we got back to the car, we went to Rio Grande Village for lunch.

Rio Grande Village is basically a campground with shower and laundry facilities and a small convenience store.

So, we had a convenience store lunch:

Sunday lunch. Convenience store sandwich, chips, and Powerade.

Since we had managed to work off our rather large breakfasts, as bad as this was, we were grateful to have the food.

Just a little perspective as to where we were.


Then, we headed out to Big Bend for the last time. On this trip, anyway.

Our final look at Big Bend.


So, after going through the Boarder Crossing Checkpoint for the 3rd time, we made it back to the hotel to clean up and enjoy well-earned naps.

Dinner that night was at the 12 Gage, the hotel’s restaurant.  I can describe it no other way than that it’s basically an upscale steakhouse that takes itself a little too seriously.

It’s the big fish in a very small pond.  In fact, it basically eats all the chum.  The other restaurants in town (and there aren’t many) seem to get absolutely no business when the hotel restaurant is open.  Perhaps, when tourism is up, the other places could get the run-off customers who either couldn’t get a reservation (yes, we had to make reservations) or don’t want to pay $200 for dinner for 2.

But, we dove in anyway.

As Steve and I usually do when we go to a more expensive restaurant, we do the whole play.  Appetizers, Main Course, Desserts, maybe a snifter and/or coffee.  We figure, what the hell. We’re already spending the money and more than likely we’ll never come here again anyway.

Needless to say, we don’t do this often.

12 Gage’s menu. I could’ve worked out with this thing.

Bread with Poblano Butter. Very good. The butter was soft and the bread warm.

As always, we started off with cocktails. I don’t know if there was someone new at the bar or the recipes weren’t followed, but our drinks were very underwhelming.

My cocktail. Strawberry Mint Mojito. Meh. I tasted neither mint nor strawberry. Or even lime. Just very well-style rum.

Steve’s cocktail: Prickly Pear Margarita. I think he was shocked at the bright pink color. He drank it, but wasn’t impressed.

Things looked up when the appetizers came.

Sahar’s appetizer. Fried Green Tomatoes with Crab Remoulade. Very good. But not spectacular.

Steve’s appetizer. Shrimp  & Crab Cocktail. He said it was good. I’ll have to take his word for it.

So, on to the main course.  Since we were at a steakhouse, we ordered steaks.  His was beef.  Mine was bison.

Steve’s dinner. Ribeye Steak with Fried Potatoes and Vegetables. He said the steak was really good.

Sahar’s dinner. Bison Steak with Tomato/Leek Jam and Compound Butter. The sides are Spaetzl with Cheese and Vegetables. The steak was huge. Enough for 2 people. I could’ve done without the butter and jam on top. The spaetzl was good. The vegetables were kind of an afterthought.


Steve’s Dessert. Strawberry-Peach Pie a la Mode. He was very happy.

Sahar’s dessert. Flan. It was perfect. Creamy and dense. The best part of my meal.


We ended up with a small box of leftover steak to take back to the room.  It was Monday’s lunch.

Steve & I discussed which meal was the best of the trip. And while it was almost like comparing apples to oranges, we decided our meal at Cochineal was it.  Overall, we felt the quality was better, there was more attention paid to depth of flavor and, most important to me, the vegetables were treated with kindness; not an after thought.

This is not to say we didn’t enjoy 12 Gage.  We did.  But, it just doesn’t seem like it has to or wants to try to be something better.

And then, off to bed.

Final Day.  Monday. Check-out day.

We cheked out of the hotel. And, as we were packing the car, discovered we were taking home more than we came with.


But first, we took a quick walk around Marathon.

The French Grocer. Started in 1920 by the French Family. A very well-stocked grocery. It’s the only one around, so it’s very well stocked. In fact, we bought lunch supplies there.

Quite possibly the greatest tomao plant ever. In front of French Grocery Co., Marathon.


Then, we stumbled upon Eve’s Garden. An Organic Bed and Breakfast.  This place has to be seen to be believed. We were just standing outdise looking around and, Elaine, the caretaker/carpenter, came out and invited us in for a tour.

She said that she and the owners think that they’ll be finished in the next 2-3 years.  I will say, the place is really interesting.  They’re trying to make the building as organic/green as possible.

Eve’s Garden. Front Entrance.

Outside sitting area. Eve’s Garden.

Eve’s Garden

Interior courtyard. Eve’s Garden.

Privacy wall. Interior courtyard. Eve’s Garden.


And, then, it was time to head home.

A final shot of Marathon.


It was a 7-hour drie back to Austin.  We stopped just outside of Ozona (about where we stopped on the way out) at a rest stop and had our final meal of the trip.  Sandwiches made with the leftover steak from Sunday, chips, Peligrino, and fried pies.

Our final meal on the road.


Yeah.  We’ll be going back.


















































Building the Perfect Biscuit 4

Posted on December 18, 2011 by Sahar

I’m from the South.  Or more accurately, Texas.  One of the things we love to eat here are biscuits.  Big. flaky, slightly crispy on the outside, soft on the inside biscuits. We eat them for breakfast with cream gravy & sausage, with stew, soup, and, with a little extra jam or honey, for dessert.  They’re a magical thing.

As  a bit of background, the word “biscuit” comes from the French words, “bis cuit”, meaning “twice baked”.  These are not, however.  That is, if they’re done properly. Biscuits fall under the heading of “quick breads”.  Meaning, breads that use baking powder and/or baking soda as a leavening as opposed to yeast.

Lovely fluffy, flaky, slightly crispy on the outside, biscuits


The most common problem when folks make biscuits is that they come out rather tough.  There are several reasons for this:

  • Too much flour was used.  This happens when the flour is packed into the cup measure instead scooped (see below).  As a result, more milk must be used to get the correct consistency.  By then, the dough is too heavy to rise properly and has been overworked.
  • The dough is overworked.  This makes a tough biscuit.  You’re not making a loaf of bread.  A light touch is necessary. (Also, see above.)
  • Old baking powder was used.  Check the date on the can.  If it’s expired, throw it it out and buy fresh.
  • The shortening or lard has been over mixed into the dry ingredients.  You want to have bits of shortening or lard visible.  As they melt in the heat of the oven, the bits melt and help to make the biscuits flaky.


Now, I’ve been using a recipe that I found, in all places, Texas Monthly Magazine.  From October 1984.  It’s a wonderful recipe.  It captures all that is good in a biscuit recipe: simplicity,  love, and deliciousness.

Here’s the basic recipe:

2 c. all-purpose flour (You can use whole-wheat if you like; but why would you want to?)

1 tbsp. baking powder (Be sure not to use baking soda. Otherwise, your biscuits will taste like soap.)

1 tsp. salt (I generally use kosher.)

1 tsp. sugar (I just use white.)

1/3 c. shortening, cut into small pieces (You can also use lard.  I will confess to using butter-flavored shortening occasionally.)

1/2 c. milk, more if needed (Whole milk, please. I’ve also used buttermilk.)

1/4 c. unsalted butter, melted (Yes, this is necessary.)


The recipe instructions from Texas Monthly begin with:

“Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.  Then walk out into the backyard and take slow, deep breaths for 15 minutes, cleansing your mind of all distracting thoughts.  Remember that you are merely the instrument through which the biscuits will find expression.”

Excellent advice.


Before I get to the nuts and bolts of the recipe, a tip: be sure to have your ingredients, especially the flour, shortening or lard, and milk, cold. If you can, chill the bowl, too.  This will help keep the shortening or lard from getting too soft as you mix.

Also, I don’t find it necessary to sift the flour.  I do what is called a scoop & sweep method: Take a large spoon, aerate the flour in the container, scoop the flour into your DRY cup measure (the one that looks like a scoop) and sweep off any extra.  Do not shake or  tap the cup to pack the flour; otherwise, you’ll end up with too much flour and a heavier biscuit.  You really don’t want that.


1.  Line a heavy baking sheet with foil.  Brush the bottom of the sheet with some of the melted butter.  Set aside.

2.   In a medium bowl, mix together the dry ingredients.  (I like to use my hands for this step.  But, you can use a fork.) Add in the shortening or lard.

Ready to incorporate the shortening

3.  With either your hands, a pastry cutter, or a fork, mix the shortening into the dry ingredients.   Do not make it a homogenous mixture.  You want to have pieces of shortening in the dough.  (The pieces of shortening will melt in the oven and create the layers.)  The mixture should look shaggy.

Pastry Cutter


mixing with the pastry cutter


Mixing with a fork


Mixing with hands

4.  Add in the milk (measured in a wet measure; the one that looks like a glass with a handle).  Again, with either your hands or a fork, toss the flour and milk together until just mixed.  The dry ingredients should be moistened, but not soggy.  Add in milk, if necessary, 1 tablespoon at a time, if there are still dry ingredients in the bowl.  Try not to over mix.  Again, the dough should look slightly shaggy.  Press the dough together in a slightly flattened ball shape.

lovely, slightly shaggy, biscuit dough

5.  At this point, let the dough rest in the fridge for about 15 minutes.  Have a lightly floured surface ready.  Take the dough and either press or roll it out to a ½” – ¾” thickness.

3/4" thickness.

6.  With a biscuit cutter, cookie cutter, or anything that comes to mind, cut out your biscuits.  Carefully press the remaining dough together and cut more biscuits.  You’ll inevitably end up with an oddball biscuit.  Embrace that.  You should have 6-8 biscuits depending on the size and thickness.

7.  Place the biscuits on the baking sheet at least 1” apart and brush the tops with butter.  You don’t want the sides touching; that’s just not right.  The slightly crispy outside is necessary.



Lovely old biscuit cutters from my great-grandmother.


Biscuits before baking. Already buttered up.

8.  Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake for 12-15 minutes.  If you oven is anything like mine, you’ll have a hot spot.  Go ahead and halfway through the baking, turn the baking sheet.  You want the biscuits to be a light golden brown.

9.  Enjoy!

Lovely finished biscuits


Flaky, soft, slightly crispy biscuits. You want a slightly creamy colored inside.


A final word about ovens.  They all cook differently, so when you see an oven temperature in a recipe, it is based on the oven where the recipe was tested & developed.  You know whether your oven cooks hot, cool, or is perfectly calibrated.  So, adjust the temperature if needed to achieve biscuit success.







↑ Top