All My Favorite Foods Live In Texas

We spent the last day of 2018 on the lake. There’s my eldest, Eva, and the three Strama girls.

Oh man, I got so stir crazy after vowing not to go anywhere in December that I made an impromptu trip to Austin mainly so I could separate my family. No school meant we were nearly murdering one another.* Eva came with me, Isa and Luna stayed in Cali.

Things that brought me joy during this trip:

— Breakfast tacos
— Lunch tacos
— Dinner tacos
— Central Market flour tortillas
— Torchy’s green chile queso with the magic avocado middle
— Friend Virginia’s gumbo (she’s a Louisianan) and fried chicken at the welcome home party she hosted at her house, featuring old pals sitting around, snarking.

— Lawrence left NPR playing on his sound system when I walked in to stay at his empty house. <grin>

— Morning coffee run by boat, on Lake Austin. (My good pals the Stramas live on the lake.) This way my eight-year-old goddaughter, Marion Cass, could show me her deft wakeboarding skills. She is the coolest. She’s now replying to things by saying, “Yeah, girl” in a “yeah girl get it” type of encouraging way and I love it so hard.

— My eldest daughter immediately becoming tight with the Strama’s second-born, Kate. They got so close, so fast that they both had their first ever sleepover on New Year’s Eve, which meant I had free babysitting!

— Friend Jimmy’s tapas and killer paella. Jimmy and Skyler hosted New Year’s Eve at their new compound in Westlake and he did the cooking, which meant a Spanish feast. Jimmy trained in the kitchens of somewhere-in-Spain and in Charleston, SC and he loves cooking for me because I love to eat so much. There’s plenty of evidence of our shared gluttony from over the years.

No animals were harmed in the making of this post, but I did get smacked in the wrist by one of those horns and it left a mark.

— Going “full country” in rural Texas. BFF Justin‘s Aunt and Uncle bought much of the town of Fayetteville, including a big farm, where they raise cattle (and so many cute new calves), a pair of donkeys named Ben and Jerry and rent out adorable cabins. We rode around in John Deere’s like we knew what we were doing.

— A late night P Terry’s run because P Terry’s has the best veggie burger, hands-down, and I’d spent the earlier part of the day hanging out with majestic longhorns, so I wasn’t about to eat a Whataburger.

— Sausage, jalapeno and cheese kolaches! Aforementioned farm is conveniently located behind Hruska’s, which anyone who’s spent any time driving between Houston and Austin knows well because its kolaches are on the level of Little Czech Stop’s in West, Texas, which anyone who drives between Waco and Dallas knows well.

Yeah…. so, I’ve spent most of this post rambling about food. #sorrynotsorry

“You come to Austin and people give you their houses and electric cars, cook delicious food for you and deliver beer on demand — it’s not a bad racket,” Justin said, after showing up with said beer.

*Speaking of near murder, I got back to Austin after living abroad for a few years, and half the couples we used to go on holidays with had split up, which was news to me. “This is a clear sign we’re in middle age,” Friend Mark said. “Also, I don’t go to second weddings.”

Repatriation

First fireworks show in Houston, after my first American baseball game in four years. Credit: Scott McKenney

I live in Southern California now, which feels like I’m in a semi-permanent state of vacation. I have already consumed a green juice from a juicebot, taken the ubiquitous electric scooters of West LA for a ride, taken a Megaformer class (Pilates on steroids) and gotten an excellent tan. Next I need some Botox and I will be all settled in! (Just kidding about the Botox, I spoke to my Korean dermatologist about that — since Seoul is the plastic surgery capital of the world, natch — and he said do not start fillers too early because they won’t work when you need them later.)

We live in West LA so the beach is a ten minute walk from here. And you can just go, anytime. Because the girls are not in school yet, feeling sand between our toes and splashing around in the Pacific is something that we do almost every day.

I am very happy to have graham crackers back in my life, as I didn’t realize how much I missed them until they returned to me. I write this as I eat Salt & Straw ice cream from the Venice location, using honey lavender ice cream as a vector for graham crackers.

Five days after we landed in LA I left for Houston, where the Asian American Journalists Association gathered for its annual convention and I promptly caught the rare August cold. After I parked it for seven hours at a Lupe Tortilla the first night so that I could see various friends who came by and eat flour tortillas and queso for the entire duration, I lost my voice the first morning there and found myself hopelessly jet-lagged the entire time. But the reunions were rad! Not just AAJA pals but also my old Texas buddies, some of whom hosted a little happy hour for me on Thursday and we caught up and gossiped and talked politics just like the good ol’ days. On Friday my lawyer friend Brian arranged for me to see the Astros from his firm’s seats behind home plate and let me just say, those seats were adequate. The best part was the buffet before and during the game for season ticket holders, which consisted of meat, a side of meat and some more meat. Plus all-you-can-eat ice cream and candy! Fireworks every Friday meant I got an all American show after the Astros fell (again) to the Mariners.

Back in LA now.

Surf lessons, next.

Sunset

Texas sunset just outside Fort Davis.

For the second time in three months, a distant friend has died by suicide. Both outsized personalities are being mourned by their outsized communities. First, in November, the Houston super-lawyer and Democratic donor Steve Mostyn left us at age 46. This week I learned designer and writer Dean Allen, who was just in his early 50’s, left too. They were from different countries — Texas and Canada — but in their self-possession and their wit and their size, remarkably similar. They were both “magnificent bastards.”

On Steve, longtime Texas journalist Davey Joe Montgomery wrote the obit for The New York Times. His friends, meanwhile, rather than make too many public statements, are part of a big group text chain wherein they send one another photos of sunsets that Steve would have loved. Steve was prolific but he always seemed like he still lived in East Texas. My memories of Steve are watching him in court, confront opposing counsel with his size and his smarts. He had cool comebacks most of the time, but when his temper flared it erupted. In 2010, he bought controversial full-page newspaper ads against Rick Perry during Perry’s gubernatorial re-election race against former Houston Mayor Bill White. That led me to sit-down with Steve for an interview at his home in Houston. But the timing was tricky. Steve was on hella painkillers after a near fatal accident on his ranch. (He flipped his four-wheeler and it pinned him.) I remember him being more lethargic than usual but still displaying his trademark quick intellect. He was generous with his time and with his stuff. Unlike other political donors, access wasn’t difficult with him. He was easy to text or call for an interview or background. When a group of us did July 4th in Marfa one year, Steve wasn’t there but he let us onto his giant ranch near the Marfa Lights Observatory to hang out.

For Dean, his friend Om captures him movingly, and so did Jason Kotkke. (Update: Friend Matt, without whom I wouldn’t have met Dean, just shared this remembrance.)

I hung with Dean only once and didn’t know him in his prolific blogging days. We shared an email back-and-forth for the better part of last year which I enjoyed so much because he gave such good email. I knew immediately that I would like him when he criticized a book by calling it “just a series of podcast notes.” HA! Succinct burn. And he would know, he was a big podcast listener! He said he listened to FOUR pods a day, which has to put him on the top end of listenership, right? In one of his final emails to me, he said we would have to hang out again, “if only so I get to do the Glen Weldon impersonation I’ve been honing.” (That’s a reference to one of the hosts of the Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast, in case you’re not a supergeek.) Dean was culturally literate about what seemed like everything, asked biting questions and never held back his opinions. And why should he have? He was usually right.

“After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to life up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.” -Charlotte the spider, in Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White

Steve, Dean; we are all lesser without you and your friendship. Thank you for helping so many people in your short lives. I wish you peace, wherever you are.

What to Eat And Drink in San Antonio: Your Recommendations

God, it’s so hard to be away from Texas. I miss it so much. The only state my 1.5 year old daughter can identify on a map is Texas, a testament to how obsessively we harp on and on about a state where Eva’s never lived.

I certainly don’t make it back enough to get a regular dose of the drinking and eating that made my experience in Texas so delicious. Things are getting desperate. As HeyElise readers know, it wasn’t that long ago I went home to Austin for a few hours and consumed 4,000 calories in 30 minutes.

Austin, Dallas and Houston were my homes. I even lived in Waco for gloomy nine months. But San Antonio, for all its charms, I’ve only visited. One time I ran the city’s marathon. It was miserable.

So I called upon you all to help come up with recommendations for the great eating/drinking available in one of Texas’ most underrated cities. I love the Tex Mex at Rosario’s, and drinking fancy cocktails at Hotel Havana, Liz Lambert’s relatively-new joint. Here’s what you had to suggest for my editor Uri, who is headed there tomorrow:

Breakfast (which mainly consists of breakfast tacos)
Taco Haven
Get the Torres Special – beans/cheese/bacon/guac or the Dos-A-Rita
Las Palapas

Tacos:
Tito’s Tacos
Taco Taco Cafe

Cocktails/Drinks:
Friendly Spot
Feast
The Esquire

TexMex:
La Gloria
Mi Tierra
Los Barrios
Guajilo’s
Acenar

Pizza:
Dough

Burgers:
Madrid’s
Chesters

Bakery:
Guenther House for enormous, delicious sticky buns al fresco.

The Hole

Decided to title this post “The Hole” since it is both the multimedia room where I stow myself away and the vortex in the time-space continuum many of us at The Texas Tribune have disappeared into as we make our final push toward next Tuesday’s launch. Whoa. Next Tuesday is November 3rd. Conceptually, it’s tough to wrap my exhausted and excited mind around.

It’s a significant date because it’s launch day… the unveiling of the first iteration of what will be many versions of The Texas Tribune.  The goal is a rich, satisfying site full of context – which our founder will explain much, much better on day one.

I’ve never worked on a campaign. But a lot of commenters on our Facebook site have made that comparison. I guess we’re working for a cause (public service, the reason why we wanted to be journos in the first place) and toward a certain drop dead date (the aforementioned November 3rd), but perhaps the most apt similarities are the frenetic pace, sleeplessness of staff and piling up of food containers everywhere.  I took a picture of a typical end-of-a-working-weekend trash pile yesterday, but decided it was too gross to put up, even in this personal blog space.

I haven’t seen or talked to many of my closest friends in the past few weeks. So I’m really sorry, and I miss you. Also, a huge thank you to the friends who have already supported or are planning to support The Tribune in one way or another. This is a non-profit organization dependent on support from ‘viewers like you’, so it means a lot. Until we can come up for air, I’ll make better use of this cyberhole to communicate. Much, much more to come.