Cooking with Myra: Spice mixes make barbecuing quick, easy

Aug. 30, 2011 at 3:30 a.m.

By Myra Starkey

I am not exactly sure why some people are spontaneous and others like order and planning. I believe those who can change plans in an instant are born that way, and consequently, very irritating to those of us who like to look at our calendar and know what we are going to do on any given day. I fall in the latter category, while Taylor is spontaneous. I am sure that God knew exactly what he intended during his matchmaking. Sometimes spontaneity keeps life interesting.

I start my week by looking at my calendar on Sunday evenings. Thankfully, it is not as crowded as it once was when our three children were at home, and I was juggling several sports, lessons and tutoring times, all occurring in hour intervals after school. Nowadays, we usually spend our days working at the clinic and our nights together watching videos, reading and relaxing, or maybe catching up on household projects.

Occasionally, we entertain friends at home or go to a movie, but we try to get our needed rest, so we won't be too tired the next day. After a hard week of work, weekends seem like a great reward. I like to rest, work in the yard and occasionally sleep late. Taylor looks forward to weekends as a time to do something different, and many of these opportunities present themselves in the spur of the moment.

Last week, my friend, Laura, called to say they were going to their lake house and asked if we might be interested in joining them. I said "yes" trying to be spontaneous and knowing Taylor would love to spend a day in that beautiful setting. Their house is on one of those small lakes between Gonzales and Seguin, where the Guadalupe has been dammed up.

Laura and Doug have been some of our best friends over the past 20 years. They live in Shiner, but we still see them often. Since we know them so well, there is an easy familiarity when we are together. We are not trying to impress each other. If we have something to talk about, we do, and if we don't, then we may just sit around and read or cook or go on a walk. I don't think we feel like we have to get stressed about entertaining each other. We just enjoy each others' company.

We arrived late Friday, unpacked our bags and got ready for dinner. The Belmont Social Club is minutes from their house, and we were looking forward to the experience. Belmont is an old town that has no more reason to exist other than it is where two roads crossed, but really that is probably how lots of towns got their start. It just sort of sputtered out somewhere along the way. But there were lots of cars parked around this restaurant, so we knew it was bound to be good.

The establishment is an old barbecue restaurant, where the original owner barbecued indoors, so the building's ceiling is coated with soot. It was wall-to-wall tables with a two-girl band playing old country tunes at one end. The small dance floor had a few older couples swirling to the polka between cold beers, while the rest of the patrons chewed on ribs and barbecue chicken. The main fare was, of course, barbecue and chicken fried steak, and no one left with an empty stomach.

The next morning, we put the boat in the water and went in search of lotus plants, which Taylor hoped to harvest for our backyard pond. These plants have beautiful flowers with huge green leaves and are expensive if bought in a nursery, so it's great if you can find them growing wild. The lake was calm and as we sped along, hundreds of white cattle egrets flew across the water and back again to the tops of the trees lining the bank.

We arrived at the lotus location, which was in a small tributary off the main lake. The leaves hovered about 2 feet above the water, accompanied by large pink-and-white blossoms. We leaned over the boat's edge to see if we could pull them up, tubers and all.

After tugging and straining and no success, Taylor convinced Doug to get into the water with a shovel. He promptly sunk about 12 inches into the muck and then proceeded to try to pull some of the plants from the extremely muddy bottom. Doug was chest deep in water.

The harvest was more difficult than we anticipated. Soon, all of us were leaning over the edge of the boat tugging on the slender stalks and pulling with all our might. The stalks mainly just snapped off with no roots attached. I imagined there must be a complex system of roots imbedded deeply in the river bottom intertwined and therefore impossible to uproot.

I pulled up a tire sized leaf which I held over my head like an umbrella as the temperature had now reached about 103 degrees. Doug was the only smart one who had braved the water, and although he was covered in river muck, algae and hyacinth leaves, he was at least cool. We finally left with several plant parts, a bunch of pods, and a couple of rapidly wilting blooms.

I imagine this will be one of those ill-fated adventures we will laugh about when we are old.

We cleaned up and decided to drive into Luling for lunch. On the way, we stopped at Tiny Texas Houses, which is a business located on Interstate 10. The owner specializes in building small structures made from reclaimed wood and architectural objects. He also owns the large architectural antiques store in Gonzales so has a large supply of parts.

The little houses are only about 200 to 300 square feet, but show great creativity in their construction and use of this minimal space. The antique floors, windows and doors make them works of art.

We had managed to work up a good appetite, which made us ready for more barbecue, so we drove a few more miles to downtown Luling to the famous City Market.

The line was 30 or 40 people deep, which meant the food was really good or they were selling something illegal. After about 30 minutes, we had our prized barbecue and sat down to ribs, brisket and sausage. The sauce is served in a small bottle similar to what Tabasco comes in, but is tangy and only slightly spicy. Yum! The food was delicious and worth a trip back, even if we would have to stand in a long line.

Our day was lots of fun and mostly just spontaneous, hanging out with old friends who didn't care much what we did. I was happy that it involved some good food.

I was still full when I arrived home on Sunday. I could think of nothing I wanted to eat. I did, however, begin to dream up some spice combinations for barbecuing.

It is hot outside, unbearable at times, but I can think of nothing more delicious than to sit down at a table with friends and eat some old-fashioned, well-seasoned barbecue.

Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901, or email



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