Saturday, March 28, 2009

Pork Hash and Eggs Food p*rn

Breakfast: It's not just for, uh, breakfast* any more. Some leftover pork tenderloin inspired a dinner of hash with said swine along with mushrooms, onions and crispy potatoes, of course. All topped with poached eggs (freestyle, mind little molds around here) and a Gruyere and cheddar bechemel (thank you JEN). SMACK!

the single

the double

the wide shot

Need more? Go here.

*fortunately, I made a bit too much last night...and this morning the leftover hash breakfast-dinner was actually breakfast-breakfast.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Welcome Back, Winter!

That's right: it was a big six degrees Fahrenheit this morning. Prompting this late winter Haiku, in an attempt to find beauty in the deep freeze:

Snow stinging face now
Reluctantly heading out
Leave the bike at home

Nope, that didn't do it.....still unable to locate any charm in this recent return to winter weather.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Spring, Yellowstone Style

Evidence of spring is just about everywhere today - although spring manifests itself differently in Yellowstone. It takes road crews about 12 weeks to plow Yellowstone's roads prior to the summer season. In March a few roads open up into the interior for bicycles only. Spring in Yellowstone means little canyons of pavement carved into the snowpack.

With mild temps and a chance to catch some sunshine my friend Rick and I decided to head to Mammoth Hot Springs for a launching point for a bike ride (the main attraction) and brief ski (clearly, the side show).

The road going south from Mammoth climbs about 900 feet onto the Yellowstone plateau; therefore a good workout is guaranteed. Also guaranteed is a screaming descent on the return trip. The multi-geared mountain bike and its low gearing is my friend today.

There is something wonderful about having this park to yourself - a place that can see 3 million visitors a year. The roads are so empty in fact, that like a lizard, I decide to take a seat in the middle of the road, soaking up the sun and its effects on the blacktop. Lovely.

The aforementioned climb out of Mammoth provides a brake-heating and near pedal-free return trip back to the car. The knobby mountain bike tires out of place here sound like a Hummer going down the interstate at 80mph.

Upon returning to Rick's well-equipped minivan, we make the quick change to x-country ski gear. I briefly think about trying to pedal my bike with skis on. Briefly. The skiing is pure spring: slightly damp and granular snow and the people walking on the trail around the Mammoth terraces outnumber the skiers (us). After a mercifully short climb to the top of a hill we call it good and proceed to flail to some degree down the winding path.

After this indulgent afternoon of Yellowstone recreation we bask in the exhaustion and celebrate the day Gardiner, Montana style with fried bar food and a beer at one of the few business open during the off season.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Two Wheels, One Gear and a Spring Day

I seem to recall posting something about "carbide studs of happiness" some time ago. That was at the outset of winter. Winter is on its way out now and this means wardrobe change, machina-style:
Good-bye carbide studs of happiness, hello simple machine of lightness. I knew this bike was coming out today, I knew it last night as I was chugging home on the Surly, I knew it this morning when I fetched the paper and heard birds singing and smelled dampness - winter is in retreat and the thaw has begun.

Surprised by how little air I needed to add to the 100 psi tires, and how easily the machine gets underway, I move off almost silent down the two lane road that goes into town from my house. The ride to work is largely downhill - and delightfully fast on my 1987 Schwinn Tempo.

This particular member of my two-wheeled family was rescued from a friend's garage and altered slightly with a Cinelli saddle, flopped-and-chopped handlebars and a 42x17 fixed-gear setup. It even came with some Benotto Cello handlebar tape. The whole bike transports me not only to work, but back to 1987 - when steel ruled the road and I spent most of my free time training on and racing two-wheeled machines.

Hello soft thrum of high-psi tires on pavement. Hello near-silent machine. Hello Spring.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Wounded Bozeman Featured in New York Times

On Tuesday, the New York Times ran a story about a Montana City Wounded to its Core. The story does a good job of capturing the thin dusting of angst that has settled over downtown Bozeman.
Most business not directly affected by the recent explosion have re-opened and traffic now flows (in one direction at least) on Main Street. But the explosion and the stinking economy have ushered in an unwelcome reality that even Bozeman isn't immune to the cold reality of the "outside" world.
In our building -located directly across from the blast- office workers whose interactions were once limited to holding doors open and the occasional hello - now make formal introductions. Jars of candy and small plants have been exchanged as gifts, conversations have moved beyond "where were you" to "how are you doing"...."when are they going to put your windows back - and take down the plywood?". People are noticeably coming into work just a few minutes later in the morning. I keep my keys, wallet, cell phone and camera all together now in my bag - next to my chair. The Bozeman Daily Chronicle published a story today about acts of kindness, including an unidentified man handing out $20 bills to downtown residents and businesses.
Beyond the shell-shock, the economy has helped shutter a few business on its own. As the NYT article states so well, just a few months ago, things couldn't have looked brighter for our little town. Now several already closed businesses downtown combined with the recent destruction give this city something it hasn't seen in a long time: an edginess that suggests even optimism has its limits.
More photos from the NYT artcle, here.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Why Hummers Are Awesome...

Because in what other vehicle might you think it was a good idea to drive to Old Faithful, YNP - in the winter - when the roads aren't open to cars, only to over-snow snowmobile and snowcoach traffic?
Between the soon-to-be-extended rental and a few fees to various federal agencies, this drive to the park just got a teensy bit more expensive.
Only in a Hummer.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Is it authentic?

This question came up while dining out with friends last Friday. I guess that depends on where you come from...I'm not sure exactly where this place comes from, but I must admit I kind of liked this new restaurant. The other night we drove out to Belgrade to give the Rio Sabinas South Western Grill a try. Always willing to give any new Tex-Mex, Mexican, South Western place a go, I was psyched and ready to dig in. The beans (two posts in a row going on about beans, mind you) were very good and in my opinion were the standout among the chow: fresh cooked pintos with a serious whack of bacon to round out the flavor.

Thankfully, the chaps that run Rio Sabinas have done this once or twice with the successful Rib & Chop House restaurants in Montana and Wyoming. That said, we're clearly a long way from the border, as the chips and salsa took a long time to hit the table; but the wait proved worth it. We were presented with two kinds of salsa, a bright red tomato based salsa that was spicy and good, the second a slightly creamy avocado-based variety with a mellow kick and plenty of cilantro. The chips themselves were thin, salty and warm. Yum.

The menu is huge and varies wildly from burgers (with some creative south-western-y toppings) to lots of Tex-Mex-y items, and a few creole dishes thrown in for good measure. Okay, I guess the logo is starting to make sense now...

I had the brisket Tacos, which were good, but the brisket had been braised. Look, don't get me wrong, the meat was tender and well seasoned, but if you braise a brisket in Texas you might not want to call it Brisket...try: pot roast.

Also around the table a bowl of chile con queso is lapped up with the now flowing baskets of chips. One of the oddball dishes, but quite good in a I-need-2500-calories-right-now kind of way, was a chicken dish (bad blogger, I forgot the name) that served fried cutlets topped with a ranchero sauce and served on a bed a sauteed onions - with beans and rice - and shooter of queso for good measure. Not only did this produce leftovers - but it did so - twice. Three meals, one dish. This is great recession dining.

While I am not going to declare my search for Tex-Mex in Montana over, Rio Sabinas does present a curious and tasty new option when seeking out the requisite chips/salsa/enchilada experience; especially if you have other diners in tow who aren't on the Tex-Mex bus.

Rio Sabinas on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Tex Mex Loses a Prince: Matt Martinez, Chef, Dead at 63

If the music died with Buddy Holly, then Tex Mex likely suffered the same fate last Friday with the passing of chef and cookbook author Matt Martinez Jr. .

Matt Martinez, Jr. was the son of famed Austin restaurateur Matt Martinez. Matt Sr.'s El Rancho opened its doors in 1952 and this is where Matt Jr. began a lifetime in the kitchen. Having prepared Tex-Mex cuisine for big shots like LBJ and the lucky masses in both Austin and Dallas, Matt leaves behind a great many full and satisfied bellies with his passing.

Just last month I had the good fortune to take in some of Matt's tasty Tex-Mex chow while visiting Dallas, which I wrote about in a recent post. As I mentioned in that post, Matt's Rancho Martinez served up true Tex-Mex goodness: delicate chile rellenos garnished with Texas pecans and raisins, a riff on chile con queso known as Bob Armstrong dip (a sinful bowl of queso concealing a core of ground beef, guacamole, sour cream) tender chicken fried steaks served three ways: traditional, with cream gravy and toast (that's Texas Toast anywhere else); cowboy, with chile con carne; or my favorite - tampequena style, with a tomatillo/chile verde sauce and rice and beans.

Speaking of rice and beans - refried beans, that is..."Oh Lard, How we love thee" exclaims Martinez in his book, Matt Martinez's Culinary Frontier: A Real Texas Cookbook. He goes on to discuss the process of rendering your own pork fat and further suggests, "Cook refried beans in this lard, and you may get your first glimpse of heaven."

As for that statement, Matt got it right. As for Matt's passing, I hope you've had that first glimpse, amigo.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Plonk at Plonk

A few years ago a wine bar opened in the most unlikely of places: Bozeman, Montana. The concept was wonderful: a hip, inviting environment backed up by a solid wine list and consistently delicious food and small plates. Come to think of it, that description sucks. Plonk is, was, and hopefully will continue to be, a cool enjoyable place you never quite get enough of. As if this wasn't enough, Plonk also became a bar with some of the best hand-made cocktails outside of NYC or San Francisco.

Sitting at the Plonk bar tonight however, was a bit different. Animal species, concepts, even restaurants evolve. When Plonk first opened, it was a wine bar and a damn good one. Some time into the project, we noticed the disappearance of one of the proprietors...and the addition of hard liquor to the offerings. The wine bar became a bar with wine. Deep's okay, the commitment to quality remained despite the occasional flaky wait-person and a drift from the focus on the wine.

Hand-made cocktails with delightful and surprising concoctions of spirits, herbs, fruit - sometimes all three - were added to the already creative menu of hand-picked wines, tasty and creative small plates, all wrapped up in cool music and a chill environment that you hoped you blended into seamlessly.

Plonk is, was, and we hope will continue to be a unique and wonderful offering in this unique and wonderful place: Bozeman.

Which brings us to tonight: Plonk at Plonk. The proprietor that left Plonk some time ago has struck out and created his own wine. A wine of 100% syrah from Paso Robles. It was delicious with the perfectly medium-rare hanger steak and hand cut frites.

Tonight it was a little bit of the old Plonk at the new Plonk. Congratulations, Plonk on your new chapter...congratulations Plonk on your new release. We wish the best to you both.

Plonk on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Latte Art Update: consistently inconsistent

Regular readers of this blog may recall a certain, shall we say, fixation with decent coffee and a special attention to the details therein. How's the foam? Airy, bubbly, thin, fluffy? Appropriate to the beverage? Is that cappuccino really dry, or did they pour some damn milk in there? If this is what I worry about in life, I guess I must be doing alright.

In my own personal quest to attain mad latte skills, I've begun to bang out some pretty nice examples. Although their inconsistency clearly demonstrates that said mad latte skills have not been attained. For your review:

Latte 1

Latte 2

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

D'oh! Its about the DOUGH

As anyone that has ever made pizza at home can tell you: it's all about the crust, more specifically the dough. In my recent series of posts about our trip to Texas and New Mexico I neglected to mention the transformative pizza experience we enjoyed in San Antonio, Texas.

In town visiting family, we discovered DOUGH Pizzeria Napoletana by reading a feature in the San Antonio Express-News that profiled five local restaurants and their chefs. The article was not about DOUGH per se, but the article asked the chefs where they liked to eat and three of the five said DOUGH was one of their favorites. That was all I needed to hear. Eat where the eaters eat.

Defying its location in a plain-jane strip mall in North San Antonio, DOUGH greets its diners with a hip, yet casual dining room while the huge wood burning oven and kitchen dominate the environment. This place is clearly taking this whole pizza thing seriously. How serious? Well, they make the dough, of course. But they also make all the cheese, sausage and just about everything else. If they didn't make it in the back, it probably came from Italy. In fact, the oven did - shipped over brick by brick.

From the first whiff of the toasty-fresh-baked-garlicky-goodness that emanates from the front door, to our first bite of our appetizer of grilled mozzarella and flat bread we knew this was going to be something so much more than good.

DOUGH's pizzas are subjected to temperatures of 1,000 degrees for a mere 90 seconds; and what a difference some fire and 90 seconds can make. Not only do these pizzas look beautiful, but they deliver the perfect-pizza triple-threat of toasty aroma/crunch/chew that separates the amateurs from the pros. Damn.

Wanting to try everything on the menu, I decide to keep it pure; to let the dough, the cheese shine through - with a small amount of pork product, please. Sopresetta, thank you. This arguably stripped-down pizza spoke with a clear Italian accent and every chewy/crunchy/slightly salty bite delighted. Again, I started to think about how the pizza in front of me was going to go away...and what I might do with a leftover (as if?) slice. Breakfast...warmed slightly, with a over-easy fried egg on top. Ooohhhhhhhh......

Should you find yourself say....not in NYC or Naples, Italy, but San Antonio, Texas: get to DOUGH and eat as much as you can.

Dough Pizzeria Napoletana on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 9, 2009

Bozeman Explosion

Our office building is on Main Street, directly across from the destruction zone and several of our offices have a lovely (horrible on this day) and direct view of Main Street and the Bridger mountains in the distance.

Having arrived at the office a bit early to install some software updates on our office computers, I was lagging behind my self-imposed schedule to get the machines ready for the other early risers at the office. Going office by office, in order of who usually shows up first, I was about a third of the way through the updating of the eleven machines in our office when I was interrupted by a co-worker.

I had been in one of the front offices when simultaneously the install I was working on hung and one of the two co-workers in the building called me to the kitchen in the back. About a third of the way through the first sentence of our conversation the biggest sound/concussion/boom I had ever heard/felt rocked our building. The building shook, I jumped, light bulbs exploded, thin dust and smoke appeared and it stank. All at once.

Thinking we had just had the mother of all earthquakes, I jumped into a doorway. When the building didn't fall down....I looked at my stunned co-worker and said: WHAT THE F*%$ WAS THAT???"..."WE NEED TO GO. RIGHT NOW."

We ran downstairs and discovered lots of other stunned folks in the parking lot behind our building; most of us thinking something fell on the building from the adjacent construction site. One of the contractors on the site, said "it wasn't us, something happened across the street."

Something, indeed. Following the crowd, we ran around the corner of our block to discover that three buildings across main street had been reduced to piles of wood and bricks. It was eerily quiet and just a little dusty. No smoke, no fire. Just a pile and a bunch of stunned people standing around in a snowy, quiet and surreal Main Street. Suspecting that this was going to get worse before it got better, I suggested to my co-worker that we retrieve our belongings from our undamaged office post haste as 1) our building may not be that safe and 2) this place was likely to be closed down for a while.

We were in and out of our offices in about a minute. I resisted the urge to go to the somehow-still-intact front windows and take pictures of the mess that were three buildings a few minutes ago. Retreating to our back parking lot, smoke started to build quickly into the sky. Sirens and emergency vehicles appeared from all directions. We called other co-workers to inform them that work was pretty much off for the day, and if they wanted to know why just check out the now-huge black plume rising from downtown. Our boss saw the explosion from his sixth-story apartment about seven blocks away and said the fireball from the blast went about 500' up into the morning sky. Several of our co-workers dialed our office - knowing that a few of us were likely there only to get the endless ring as both us and our digital phone system were now definitely off-line. We called immediate relatives to inform them of the events and our safety.

After I called Jen, I wanted to leave. I went home and was amazed that the smoke plume burned prominently and clearly visible from my house for most of the morning into the early afternoon. Still somewhat dazed, I was even to shell-shocked to consider skiing at Bridger for the day, despite the powder conditions.

Now back at work and settling in I am thankful that my office is in the back of the building and I don't have to look at the destruction. I am thankful that our building was structurally upgraded in the 1980's.

It was announced today that one person was killed in the blast - amazing really considering how many people can be in downtown on any given day. In addition to a life lost in the blast, Bozeman lost a piece of its historic downtown.

After the blast:
Before from Google Street View....

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Tex Mex, New Mex, and 3200 Miles of Pavement, a Finale

Don't. Want. To. Leave.

After not quite getting our fix of Texas, the schedule demands that we head in a westerly direction on Interstate 10 from Boerne. The 70 mph speed limit becomes the 80 mph speed limit after the final Hill Country outpost of Kerrville. It is somewhere west of this point we decide that we have entered west Texas. The empty country flies by fast as we motor along at the near-legal speed of 82 mph; not to mention the mpg's really begin to suffer at these speeds, given also the headwind we are facing.

At Pecos, Texas we leave the Autobahn-like Interstate 10 and head north on the two (sometimes four) lane US 285. By lunch time we are in Carlsbad, NM. In the 1990's I had the good fortune to travel for Yellowstone Park recruiting summer workers - and one such trip brought me through Carlsbad. On these trips I often sought out the local food and/or Mexican food, sometimes they were one and the same. I remembered a decent New Mex/Tex-Mex food at a place on the main drag in Carlsbad. Rolling into town, I recognize the place by sight, the sign says: Cortez Restaurant. It's packed with your Sunday-after-church crowd along with a few other travelers like ourselves. It is the first time on this trip that I have been asked "red or green?" - a question more seeking your chile preference more likely to come up New Mexico than Texas.

Other oddities on this travel day include a run through the heart of Roswell, New Mexico. While I would have loved to have tracked down another great conspiracy-shrouded area - the infamous and alleged UFO crash site, we had Santa Fe, enchantment -and red chile- on the brain.

After 13 hours of seat time, we land at the simple and pleasant Old Santa Fe Inn. One of the main attractions for this inn was the breakfast burrito bar with fresh and local salsas and tortillas. I've often wondered out loud if burritos are nature's most perfect food. I don't know about that, but the salsas at the burrito bar were good and the rooms very pleasant, and the staff, friendly.

If we prayed at the alter of Tex-Mex food earlier on this trip in Dallas and San Antonio, today we travel to the spiritual home of New Mexican food: Santa Fe's The Shed and their legendary red sauce (or green, really) and all of the earthy-slow-burn-heat it provides. I submit the classic Shed lunch for your viewing pleasure:


There is something about the 7,000' elevation light, the terra-cotta structures, the tiny doorways of The Shed, the earthy aroma of New Mexico chiles, the warm plate of fresh blue-corn enchiladas, and the aforementioned red sauce accompanying pinto beans and posole that make this a magical experience. By the end of the meal, the heat finally starts to sink in, kind of like after sitting in a sauna for 45 minutes...the garlicy-toasted french bread is a perfect delivery vehicle for sauce-mopping the plate. Before the meal began I was already counting the minutes until I would have such a meal again. Some people make pilgrimages to the Holy Land, some go to Sedona and have herbal colonics, I go to New Mexico and The Shed and have enchiladas with red chile. I am full, I am happy and the little places under my eyes are sweaty. Amen, my brother.
Wandering the empty (off season) streets of Santa Fe, we are surrounded by art. Galleries, coffee shops, city parks, everywhere you look seems to showcase another artist, another sculptor, another photographer. Art is everywhere and we love it. On Canyon road, we spend way too much time torturing the host at the Carole LaRoche gallery and her slightly abstract, stare-right-through-you paintings of wolves; we enjoy another conversation with NinaTichava about her organic-and-yet-structured paintings of leaves. In fact, just about every gallery we entered we enjoyed the near undivided attention of artists or their reps hoping to move a little product. Fun for sure, but telling of the current economic situation. I suppose the art budget is more likely to get cut than the mortgage?

For dinners, we seek out something other than red chile. After gathering intel, on the first night we settle on Mauka and its eclectic menu, loosely fitting the Asian-fusion description. To start we had a poke spring roll with pineapple chutney and black tobiko and a opah sashimi with chicklet-sized squares of ginger/mango gelee. Dude, where am I? Having tiptoed into dinner with sashimi, I ramp up the flav-o-meter with the duck vindaloo for my main course. The perfectly-pink duck breast was sliced and presented on top of a aromatic bed of basmati rice and a delightfully spicy vindaloo sauce. Yum.

On another evening, we hit La Boca a newer (to us, at least) tapas-style restaurant - with the former chef of another Santa Fe (and tapas) institution, El Farol now doing the cooking here. The traditional tapas are great, the not so traditional Niman Ranch flank steak with a salt-caramel sauce was even better. After enjoying a late afternoon margarita at the Pink Adobe's Dragon Room lounge we step outside into the terra-cotta and blue goodness of early evening in Santa Fe and burn some up some serious memory card taking pictures of the intensifying, then fading southwestern light:

Again not having quite enough time in Santa Fe, we turn North and head for home, but not before one more stop in the quirky Northern New Mexico Town of Las Vegas and a brief stop by the Saxon Cabin. Driving by memory on the forest roads that lead to the cabin, I am struck by how familiar I am with the whole area. I was lucky enough to make several trips during my teenage years to the cabin with my sister Mary Lou and brother-in-law John and these trips likely spawned my desire to live in the mountains surrounded by pine trees and rocks.

The cabin, having had no visitors in the last nine years looked pretty good considering it's isolation; the semi-arid climate of New Mexico doing its part to preserve the structure. The cabin and the land around bring back a torrent of memories. I recognize instantly the subtle whoosh and hiss of the wind through the long-needled pine trees on the land. I seek out some of the large rocks below the cabin which produce a bit of view of the land beyond. I wish I could stay here a few days and just chill out. Maybe this fall...

Before we get back on the interstate, we make a pit stop in Las Vegas at the Spic and Span Cafe which makes great New Mexican food - and offers a full service bakery. A little too early for lunch and a little too late for breakfast, we opt for a meat empanada and a couple baseball-mitt-sized glazed doughnuts.The empanda had a bit of subtle spice to it along with a few pine nuts all wrapped up in a flaky little crust. The doughnuts - ohhh, the doughnuts - sizable and fresh were the perfect honey-brown color and when I went to retrieve one of them from the bag - yielded slightly to my grip...suggesting a seriously pillowy product. They tasted as good, if not way better, than I remember. Why I didn't get a dozen, I'll never know. Trivial diversion: Much of the 1984 film Red Dawn was filmed in and around Las Vegas - with Hermit's Peak (pictured above) visible in many scenes throughout the movie. WOLVERINES!

From here on out, it's a quick stop over in Denver with a visit to friends of the family, Wayne and Patsy Salge. After a quick tour of Wayne's studio where he creates beautiful and striking bronzes of human and animal figures, we sit down to a hearty dinner consisting of creole-style red beans and rice along with a salad with a home-made olive tapenade dressing.

Do we have to go home? Really?

Yes, but that's okay. This trip -or walkabout- as Jen put it, certainly served its purpose, not that it needed one. We escaped the six-week dry spell of Bozeman's mid-winter thaw. We saw that there is a world outside of Bozeman and outside of our usual routines. We ate very well. From Elvis impersonations to the grave of a presidential assassin and his eternal neighbor, Nick Beef, to countless aging functional and dilapidated neon signs offering everything from "cold beer" to "gas" to "Color T.V." the odd sights along the way didn't disappoint either.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Tex Mex, New Mex, and 3200 Miles of Pavement, Part 5

While the Heath Ranch land is parched after months (arguably years) of drought, the Texas Hill Country still charms with its rolling hills, limestone-lined creeks and rivers, substantial oaks and pecan trees, and the cedar scrub which seems to grow everywhere. We have been looking forward this portion of the trip for some time. We were married in a large grove of oaks below the house and I am eager to return to the site - this time almost five years after the ceremony.

We decide that we'll take the long way to the Ranch - wanting to seek out a little local wine and the dried sausage I would drive 1,600 miles to eat. In fact, that's exactly what I've done.

Texas Wine? It's true and we actually brought some home. Not as unlikely as it may seem, the phylloxera plague that threatened European wine as we know it in the 1800's was stopped thanks in part to the naturally phylloxera-resistant American grapes - which happen to grow quite well in Texas. T.V. Munson grafted American root stocks with European Vinifera with much success.

The Sistercreek Vineyards winery drips with Hill Country charm. Small, using the local construction of limestone walls and a metal roof, the tasting room houses a few cases of wine along with a couple of tables set up with the product.

Lining up with the other day-trippers, we decide that we're going to taste all eight wines offered by the vineyard: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, three Cabs, and two Muscat Canellis. The Chardonnay and Merlot both surprised us. The chardonnay had a pleasant, almost austere nose. Among the reds, the Merlot actually showed some balance and wasn't overwhelming the palate with jammy-bubble-gummy flavors many young new world reds exhibit. We leave the vineyard with a box in the car and piqued sense of curiosity about Texas wine in general.

Next stop, the unincorporated town of Comfort, Texas. We stop by the Alamo market and butcher shop to pick up some of the best dried sausage I've ever had. It has a firm texture which melts in your mouth the way a good Italian salami does. Although, this is no Italian, it's Texan all the way, the smoke tells you so. In the meat case, we also spot other hand-made goodies: blood sausage and two, TWO, kinds of head cheese. We leave with a few rings of the dried and one ring of the blood sausage and head to the ranch.

Dinner on the ranch is as delectable as I would have hoped. In addition to the recent sausage that we picked up that afternoon, we scarf down three different kinds of sausage and red cabbage, or Rotkohl, we brought with us from Kuby's deli in Dallas. Food tastes good in the 100+ year old home inside its foot-thick limestone walls. While a bit cool by local standards to eat outside, I head out shortly after dinner to take in the lingering sunset that is underway outside.

The thirteen-hour drive to Santa Fe, New Mexico looms and after the light show of the sunset shuts down, we head back to Boerne. I am especially thrilled with our little visit to the Ranch; and slightly restored by the few minutes that I spent on the screen porch listening to the wind hiss through the screens and staring out at the meadows, oak stands, and the prominent hill in the distance named Jungfrau by the Germans that settled here.

The road trip continues tomorrow as we plunge into the slightly less familiar territory of southeastern New Mexico, before heading to the all-too-enchanting destination of Santa Fe and what is the wonderfulness of northern New Mexico.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Tex Mex, New Mex, and 3200 Miles of Pavement, Part 4

Heading south from Dallas/Fort Worth, we motor to Austin for a quick family visit over lunch. The trip flies by in about three and a half hours when using the interstate 35 which connects Dallas/Fort Worth to Austin, San Antonio…and further, Mexico. Pulling off of the highway in Austin and navigating through the neighborhoods of 1920’s bungalows just north of the University of Texas I am struck by the Bozeman-ness of it all. Lots of people on bikes everywhere. The coffee shops are full. Don’t any of these people have jobs?

We stopped for lunch at Asti and I enjoyed a panino on fresh bread with spicy capicola, mozzarella, and black olive tapenade – served with a pile of chewy-crunchy in all the right ways skinny shoestring fries. The fresh bread did very well in its union of olive oil and heat – that is to say that is was browned nicely and produced a great crunch on each bite. The salty/spicy combination of spicy capicola ham and the olive tapenade made for a deliciously satisfying lunch. For desert I had a simple macchiato (which, by the way, did not contain the much written-about-on-this-blog rosetta in the foam. I suppose that I am biased whereas I feel If I can bother to work the foam in such a manner on my puny little home espresso machine, any place that claims the name “trattoria” should deliver on all things Italian, including espresso, no?). Also ordered at the table for was a Chiffon Mascarpone Cheesecake. It was every bit as light as its name would suggest. About the size of a slightly tall hockey puck and served with a few roasted grapes.

After our lunch stop in Austin we continue to plunge deeper into the Texas Hill Country where we plan to stay with Jen's family in Boerne, Texas. Boerne is a charming Hill Country Town that is a mix of old-time German residents, new money looking to escape more urban areas of Texas and Latinos. If two populations influenced this culture most is the Germans that settled this area and the Latinos that, well, also settled this area. This is evident in the more locally authentic restaurants were both German and Mexican food are represented. No kidding. One of my favorite twists of these two unlikely food cultures is a dish from the Welfare Cafe in Welfare, Texas where you can get any number of traditional schnitzels; but, you can also get Chicken Fredericksburg, which is a perfect example of worlds colliding...."Chicken breast sautéed with peaches, jalapenos and onions. Finished in a white wine cream sauce. Garnished with crumbled pecans. Served with spätzel and vegetable." Sounds weird, tastes great.

The Hill Country and nearby San Antonio present additional opportunities to sample more high-grade Tex-Mex cuisine. We make another pilgrimage of sorts to San Antonio's Alamo Cafe and enjoy simple cheese and onion enchiladas in a classic chile con carne sauce. True chile con carne should be steeped in both earthy chile flavor and beefy goodness. The enhciladas don't dissapoint in this department. Also central to any Tex-Mex meal are the fresh and readily available chips and salsa...both which appear within seconds of sitting down at the table. For extra decadence we order a side of chile con queso. Thin, yellow-y, and mildly spicy, the cheese sauce coats each chip delicately - just the right amount of creaminess, thickness and spiciness. This is Tex-Mex comfort food at its best. Also presented to diners at Alamo are containers of just-made pillowy flour tortillas. Just in case you wanted to put that queso on something else other than a chip, your lunch plate....or your face. See above photo for half-devoured Alamo Cafe lunch.

We are looking forward to our stay in the Hill Country and the visit to the site of our wedding, the Heath Ranch on the banks of the Guadalupe. That visit to the ranch and what a Comfort, Texas butcher has to offer to the world of hand-made cured meats awaits...

Aren't vacations fabulous?

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Tex Mex, New Mex, and 3200 Miles of Pavement, Part 3

"I saw miles and miles of Texas, all the stars up in the sky..."
- from the song Miles and Miles of Texas recorded by Bob Wills

That's right, once we entered the Lone Star State, we still had about seven hours of driving before reaching our destination (feel free to review town names on the previous post). In addition to some quality time with the family in Arlington, we soaked up some of the good stuff that the Dallas - Fort Worth "metroplex" has to offer. That is to say we shopped, ate and even hit a couple of museums.

Like a devout member of a faith, we made a pilgrimage to one of a few Tex-Mex alters. First up: Matt's Rancho Martinez, or Matt's. Tex-Mex is not Mexican food. It is not baja-style food, it is not Sonoran-style food, nor is it the largely flavorless glop available throughout the country dispensed by large national "Tex-Mex" chains. Tex-Mex can be gloppy, but flavorless, not so. Matt's offers Tex-Mex in a pure form. Tex-Mex, as the name implies contains both Texican and Mexican influence...cowboy food meets Mexican food. Case in point: Matt's chicken-fried steak, Tampiquena style. Oh yes. Tender fried beef covered in a spicy tomatillo sauce served with creamy refried beans, rice and a couple of fresh flour tortillas. You won't find this in Mexico, but you will find it here and you will find it tasty and good.

In Fort Worth on another afternoon, we trade eating and shopping for eating and looking at art. Again - this is a land of kooky one afternoon in Fort Worth we enjoy a juicy burger and home made fries (next door to a museum that is devoted to the Leonard's department store, which once occupied seven downtown blocks in this city), then we head over to the truly world-class Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth which is housed in a stunning structure designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando.

First, the Burger. The M&O Station Grill resides in a nondescript and newly constructed strip center that it shares with the Leonard's Museum and a screen printing shop. T-shirt with your burger? Why yes, thank you. In addition to the tasty burger (which was your classic, hand-patty thin style on a fresh bun), the fresh and thickly cut french fries were perfect. The grill's name comes from a Fort Worth Oddity: the worlds only privately owned subway. In 1963, the aforementioned seven-block mega-department store, Leonard's, constructed the M&O subway below downtown Fort Worth to shuttle shoppers from the ample off-site parking lot to the heart of the downtown and the Leonard's empire. Walk next door to the Leonard's Museum and the golden age of retail awaits your discovery. Farm supplies and fur coats? Yup. Hair Salon and automotive parts? Check. It's all right there on one of the store directories now housed in the museum. Even better, the grand-daughter of one of the Leonard's founders walks us through the exhibits. A terrific and terrifically non-sequitur afternoon so far.

Now, the art. The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth exists in a stunning setting. The concrete and glass structure is nearly surrounded, at it's base, by a reflecting pool. The soaring ceilings and smooth concrete walls provide the blank slate for a tremendous collection of modern art. The likes of Rothko, Warhol, de Kooning and other big names are represented within the warren of galleries on two floors.

On the return trip to Arlington, we forgo the interstate for a trip on Lancaster Avenue or old U.S. 80. The drive takes you through some of the forgotten areas of Fort Worth. Having once been the main east-west highway prior to the construction of the Interstate 30, the drive is a gold mine of neon hotel signs and dried-up service stations. Also along the route is a place known only to locals and Kennedy assassination conspiracy theorists: Rose Hill cemetery - the "alleged" burial place of Lee Harvey Oswald. Thanks in part to Google and a smart phone we find Oswald's exact plot in minutes. A simple granite gravestone marked only "Oswald" marks the burial site. Strangely, the plot next to Oswald's is another stone marked only "Nick Beef." Wow. This is way more road trip oddness than I could have hoped for in one afternoon. Tasty hand-made burger and fries, department-store/private subway museum, stunning architecture, sublime and wonderful modern art, a side trip by Oswald's grave and now this...Nick Beef? Go figure.

Thanks, Dallas-Fort Worth for a great couple of days.

Next we head to San Antonio and the Texas Hill Country.