I draw on many sources for my novels from reading and research to life experience to imagination. For the Nick Sibelius series, set in Central Texas, I tend to pull from well over thirty years of living in the area. The food, music, culture, weather, spirit of the place makes up a major part of my DNA. I think it might be fun to share a little bit of that world with you every now and then.
Let’s start with food. When I’m flying into Austin, Texas for a visit (I live in Seattle now) I’m thinking of family and friends and yes, food. When I think of food I’m talking TexMex and BBQ. Now for those of you not familiar with the unique qualities of those cuisines in Austin, let me elucidate.
TexMex, as the name implies, is a fusion of Texas and Mexico. Here’s the run down. Tex Mex:
- Almost always involves lots of melted cheese
- Can in no way be confused with health food
- Requires beer
- Defines comfort food. In fact, somebody named a town in Texas comfort and I can only assume they were talking about TexMex.
I love it all. Some favorites:
Chili relleños — stuffed peppers, deep fried, covered with cheese and smothered in a red sauce, served with refried beans and mexican rice
Fish tacos — a late edition to planet TexMex, but oh so good.
Breakfast tacos — eggs mixed with your choice of sausage, bacon, chorizo (a spicy mexican pork sausage) potatoes, cheese. You can pick these up almost anywhere in Austin for breakfast. Coffee shops will have them in a heated bin, each individually wrapped in foil.
Migas — I may start an argument here, but I believe I’m on firm ground claiming migas were invented in Austin in the 80’s. We’re talking eggs, tomato, onion, jalepeño, cheese, cumin, and some broken up tortilla chips. Served with refried beans, mexican rice and a stack of handmade flour tortillas. A couple of places in Seattle attempt migas, but the foodie nation grabs hold of their sensibilities and they start putting salmon or artichoke hearts or some other thing which turns it into some kind of Northwest scrabble — not migas.
The rest of the nation seems to think BBQ can be something other than beef cooked in ways not involving prolonged low temp smoking. Here’s the thing. If you go to Texas, ask anyone who is from Texas about BBQ and they will all tell you the same thing:
- Smoked, preferally over mesquite for hours
- Good bbq does not need sauce, but it’s ok to use
- Never pig, chicken, duck, squirrel or whatever people not from Texas want to call BBQ
- Always served with pinto beans, potato salad, raw onions and dill pickles. Any other sides are, well, wrong.
- Finish with peach cobbler or banana pudding. No tortes, gelatos, or dessert aperitifs (unless you mean whiskey and a cigar)
My all time favorite BBQ joint is a place in Llano, Texas called Coopers Pit BBQ. Here’s what I love about this place. First, the barbecue is to die for. Second, you stand in line outside where the pits are smoking meat. A guy stands by an open pit filled with great big hunks of meat.
“What can do you?”
“Quarter pound brisket, two ribs.”
The guy in cowboy boots, jeans, a tee and a gimme cap grabs a big piece of brisket, lops of a chunk which he knows by experience, will be amazingly close to a quarter of a pound, then cuts two ribs from a set, plops the whole thing on a piece of butcher paper sitting on a tray. If you wanted sauce, he’s got a big pot simmered and takes a little mop, soaks it in the sauce and then mops it across your meat. Now you take your tray inside, where it’s weighed, add some sides, probably that peach cobbler that looks to good to pass up and a huge glass of iced tea, then find a seat at the communal picnic tables. Napkins are the brown paper towels on rolls at each table and you eat right off the tray. Chances are, you’ll be talking to your neighbors and eating the finest BBQ around in no time.
I don’t know what you got out of this, but I’ve gotten two things from this blog post. First, it’s a good thing I moved to Seattle a few years ago, otherwise I’d be the size of large Heifer. Second, I’m hungry.