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Cooking With Myra:

May 3, 2011 at 12:03 a.m.

Avocado Shrimp Salsa

By Myra Starkey

Editor's note: This is Part I of a two-part series. Part II will be Big Bend and Alpine with a recipe from the Reata Restaurant.

When I looked at the odometer on the pickup as we neared Victoria, I noticed we had tallied close to 1,600 miles in the past five days. Taylor had planned this driving vacation to West Texas and Big Bend National Park about a month ago. We hauled our two Vespa scooters in the back off the truck, so we could off load them and ride whenever the opportunity arose.

On Wednesday afternoon, we left the clinic early, loaded up and headed west. At San Antonio, we took I-10 and began the long journey. The farther we drove, the drier and more barren it got. There were rocky hills and rocky valleys and cedar trees and finally, the land flattened. There were no more cedar trees, just rocks and scrubby bushes for as far as the eye could see. For what the scenery lacked in greenery, it made up for it in views of wide open skies and broad vistas of mesas and mountains.

Our first pit stop was Ozona, and we eased out of the dry land into what seemed like a desert oasis on the interstate. What God had left parched, man had watered and manicured into a town of beautiful, landscaped houses along tree lined streets and parks. Perhaps the Almighty had denied those folks in West Texas rain, but had more than made up for it in vast oil reserves beneath the surface, so Ozona was like the other towns we visited in its understated prosperity. Before oil came along, these people were ranchers in this hard, unforgiving land, and it bred into them honesty and diligence and a willingness to work. We got back on the road for another two hours and found a place for the night in Fort Stockton.

The next morning, we woke at the crack of dawn for the short drive to our first destination in Marfa. Actually, we were up early because Taylor automatically wakes up at 6:40 a.m., even on vacation.

Marfa is basically a town where people either ranch, work for the Border Patrol or are employed in the tourist or art industry. Marfa was discovered in the 1970s by a modern artist from New York City, named Donald Judd. He thought the wide open spaces would stimulate his creativity, and using O.P.M. (other peoples' money) from a wealthy foundation, he bought a defunct Army base and numerous buildings in this small town and turned the place into an off-the-map, modern-art Mecca.

One of the most interesting places we visited was the old Army base, which is now called the Chinati Foundation. We went on a tour and basically saw two pieces of art. The first was a series of large, concrete boxes of various shapes and configurations, oriented in different directions in a line stretching about a thousand yards.

We asked the meaning of the project and were told it was something about how the artist made a bunch of concrete boxes and put them in this line in the field.

Then, we went into these two large, warehouse-type buildings with huge windows along the sides, and here, Judd had made 100 boxes of aluminum about 4 feet by 4 feet by 7 feet that were all the exact same size on the outside, but none exactly alike in that the panels were oriented in different ways. It is sort of hard to explain, so you would probably just need to drive to Marfa and see it.

We asked what the purpose or meaning of this was, and the tour guide just sort of shrugged. It wasn't that he wasn't educated about art. He had just graduated from college and had majored in art and sculpture. He was working there in an internship. He told us that he was working on a series of small sculptures that he was creating out of Tic-Tacs and matchsticks. Taylor and I both nodded, reassuringly.

Marfa has numerous attractions. Back in town, we did go to a very good exhibition of New Orleans art at a place named the Ballroom Gallery. There were guys who were selling gourmet tacos and salads out of this old trailer by the railroad tracks. It is called The Food Shark, and they have been featured in the magazine Bon Appetit.

We ate at two other restaurants, Maiya's and Cochineal. Both had excellent food and had been started by people from New York City who had apparently wanted to escape the rat race.

We spent the night at a beautiful Spanish-Southwest style hotel named the Paisano. It was built in 1930 and was where James Dean, Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor stayed in 1955 when they were filming the movie, "Giant," on a nearby ranch.

No visit to Marfa would be complete without a trip to see the Marfa Mystery Lights. If you go about 10 miles out of town toward Alpine, there is a roadside park, and you stand there in the pitch black and look to the south across the desert. There are these orbs of yellowish-white light about the size of a very large star that appears and disappears just above the horizon here and there. It is really strange. This was first seen by the early settlers more than 100 years ago, and no scientific explanation has ever been found. It is still a mystery.

The next day, we turned south toward Big Bend, and that will be Part II, continued next week.

With summer fast approaching and the outside temperature heating up, salsa is a great appetizer, which keeps you away from the stove. This is a healthy recipe from the Taste of Home magazine. Next week, I will be helping out with the Taste of Home cooking school hosted by the Victoria Advocate. Stop by the booth and say hello. I hope to see you there.

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

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