Cooking with Myra: A Taste of West Texas, part two of our trip
May 10, 2011 at 12:10 a.m.
By Myra Starkey
Having completed our tour of the artsy town of Marfa, we headed south toward the Mexican border. There were endless miles of dusty vastness broken by plateaus and rocky hills. An occasional antelope could be seen grazing not far from the road.
We passed through the silver mining town of Shafter, now mostly a ghost town, before arriving in the border town of Presidio. We topped off the gas tank in the pick-up and went east along the Rio Grande.
This river road travels along the southern border of Big Bend Ranch State Park, a 300,000-acre tract that was purchased by the state and is mostly undeveloped. It was scenic, but because of reading all the bad press about the Mexican cartels I couldn't help thinking we might be ambushed at any moment along this desolate stretch of pavement.
The desert resort of Lajitas was the next area of civilization that we came to, followed by the unusual old mercury mining town of Terlingua, which is, of course, famous for the Terlingua International Chili Championship.
We stopped at the general store and were told that mercury mining had ceased in the 1940s. It mostly just looks like the end of the world where people might go to disappear. Bathing and shaving are not daily activities, and the locals mostly are known only by their first names and get highly suspicious if anyone asks their full names.
We met a guy named Bob (not his real name) on the porch at the store and he asked if we wanted to come over to the Family Crisis Center for a potluck dinner. We thanked him but said "no," that we were having to move along to Big Bend.
Big Bend National Park is, simply, huge! It is 800,000 acres of unspoiled Chihuahua desert, rugged mountains and canyons along the Rio Grande. We drove along the desert floor before ascending the windy road into the mountain basin where the lodge is located.
It was a pleasant afternoon, with temperatures in the 80s and extremely dry conditions. We hiked up a trail along a mountain ridge and the views were breathtaking, or maybe we were just out of shape.
We then drove back down to the area along the river but couldn't tolerate too much time out of our air conditioned vehicle because the temperature gauge was reading 109 degrees. If it is that hot in early May, I can only imagine what it must be like in July or August.
We ate that night in the restaurant of the Chisos Mountain Lodge. The food was OK, but the view was phenomenal, looking across the mountain basin and down to the desert floor several thousand feet below.
As the sun was setting, a thunderstorm was moving through in the distance with lightning and wispy curtains of rains falling to the parched land.
While we were eating, a mature gentleman came in, his younger wife tagging behind. She had on short shorts with her long blonde hair in braids. I asked Taylor their age difference and he said he thought it wasn't more than 15 years, her being about 42 and he about 57. I am not passing judgment on this situation because she looked happy enough and he certainly appeared more than content.
From his medical training, Taylor can generally guess a person's age and weight. I inquired why he thought she was that age and he said it was because she still had a little bounce in her step and not just the plod that folks get as they get older. He explained that kids spring and bounce and old people sort of lean forward and plod steadily along.
I asked him how he thought I walked and he told me somewhere in between.
I need to remember to bounce more when I walk.
The next morning, we rose early to beat the heat because we wanted to go to Santa Elena Canyon. Taylor rode his Vespa scooter and I drove the truck behind for the first part of the journey. I could tell he was really enjoying the cool desert morning air and the panoramic views.
We stopped at a road construction zone where a red light was set up with a sign that said to wait for a pilot vehicle to lead through that zone. Taylor was patiently waiting until two dudes on Harleys pulled up next to him and told him they were going on through because they were going to take the turn just ahead to Santa Elena Canyon. He followed them since that, too, was his destination. He signaled me to follow.
So now we were all breaking the law. The construction guys, rolling their eyes, waved us through and Taylor was tagging right along with the real bikers as they cruised Big Bend. He was living the dream on his scooter. They seemed to accept him and he finally peeled off from the pack as we neared our destination.
I was going to get my scooter out of the bed of the truck and ride with him for the last ten miles. He told me that he hated to stop and was torn between being with me or staying with his new tribe of fellow bikers. I can only hope he was kidding.
That afternoon, we went north back up to Alpine. It was an interesting town with a Cinco de Mayo celebration downtown with lots of food booths and a classic car show. We each had a fried spicy pepper and pork empanada that was very delicious. We then cooled our mouths with the raspa (snow cone) we shared as we strolled around the shops on main street.
That night, we ate at the Reata Restaurant, which is well known and started there in Alpine before opening its more famous location in Ft. Worth. They are best known for steaks and innovative ranch-style food. Mike Micallef has a cookbook called "Reata," and I purchased a copy at the restaurant.
I must admit that after eating a bowl of creamy cilantro and jalapeno soup, then a delicious iceberg salad and, finally, tenderloin tamales, I thought I better run back to Victoria.
If you are looking for a great cookbook filled with Texas cuisine, then pick up a copy of the "Reata" cookbook.
Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.