August 28, 2010

Just don’t call it a “Mexican Wedding Shirt”

We’d only been in San Antonio a couple months - not long enough to be re-indoctrinated into the sartorial limitations of the Texas summer - when the Z and I were asked by some new friends to fill two empty seats at their table… a benefit for the Museo Alameda. Apart from the Museo’s affiliation with the Smithsonian we knew next to nothing about it, but an open bar awaited, so… no brainier.

It was late August. We had negronis at the house and hopped a cap the four blocks from our apartment to the venue, arriving for cocktails on the street behind a valet line forty cars deep. Thank God we hadn’t driven. And walking was out of the question... 100% humidity in full tux and high heels (the ladies, obviously).  For an hour we stood outside, alternating between wine and water in an attempt to mitigate the effects that extreme heat has on someone wearing head-to-toe black wool.

But as I drifted in and out of heat stroke I noticed a sizeable minority of attendees who were in fact not subjected to my same level of discomfort.  The common thread: they were all wearing formal, linen Guayaberas, a shirt of questionable origin and distinctive style that does a hell of a job helping folks cope with hot weather. Ever since then I’ve been meaning get one, both for everyday as well  evening wear; the question was, “where to?”, and overwhelmingly the response was, “Dos Carolinas.” 

It took a year but we finally made it by Caroline Matthews’ Southtown studio. The process is simultaneously simple - (i) Select fabric (ii) Pick colors for stitching (iii) Select stitching pattern (iv) How many pockets? (v) Embroidery (yes, of course)... what and where? (vi) Go to the Friendly Spot for afternoon cold beers – and exhausting (by my calculation there are 647 million different combinations from which to choose). But the result, a hand-cut-San Antonio-made-custom-Guayabera, is really the manifestation of a decision well-made. That is… acting on an appreciation for quality craftsmanship and a willingness to pay for the story.

127 West Carolina Street
San Antonio, TX 78210

August 23, 2010

Pepper Paradise - Hatch Valley, NM

Texas’ crushing August heat, much like that of Scout Finch’s Maycomb - where “Men's stiff collars wilt by nine in the morning (and) ladies bathe before noon (and) after their three-o'clock naps” - sets the hurdle pretty high when it comes to outdoor activities that’ll get me out of the air conditioning. Yet year in and year out, one such activity is Central Market’s two-week Hatch Chile Festival. Fifteen years on and it’s always worth it.

Roasted chilies on a Saturday morning portend unmatched burgers on the grill that evening. I think this year I’ll try frying them (the peppers, not the burgers). Or maybe stuffing them w/ some manchego and chorizo. Hell there's even a Hatch Gelato; kitschy though it may be, I prefer my savories to my sweets so I might just give it a go simply because it's making the effort. Like bacon-flavored-chocolate. 

August 18, 2010

Play us a Song

It takes an awful lot of moxie for someone to walk up to a jukebox in a crowded bar and broadcast to all within earshot his at-that-moment musical preference. You'd hope, simply out of self-preservation, that that person had at least given some thought to the key factors one must consider prior to imposing his musical will on an unsuspecting public: style of bar, time of day, size of crowd, type of crowd, palpable vibe, weather, etc. 

But all too often, forethought is not the norm with our everyday "jukebox hero." That we've all fallen victim to this inconsiderate bastard who, with no more than a dollar in his pocket, has torpedoed a good mood, is a testament to how widespread the issue has become. So where did this slide away from common musical decency begin? In my opinion, one man's desires trumping the greater good began in 1979, the year that Sony introduced the Walkman to the world. 

Follow me here: the Walkman officially blurred the well-bifurcated line between the largely private act of enjoying bad music via-a-vis the generally public act of, say, walking to work. Prior to, poor musical taste would typically remain where it belonged... in the home; with the Walkman, however, you could now listen to all your crappy songs, offending no one but your future self, while at the same time "engaging" with others. 

The iPod obviously hyper-charged this phenomenon, virtually eliminating any restrictions that had previously been imposed by the finite space of a cassette or compact disk. This generated the have-it-all/have-it-now mindset that would soon birth the Touch Tunes jukebox, which gets us full-circle back to the original subject: the proliferation of "jukebox hero" and his general lack of musical self-awareness.  

All of this crossed my mind last weekend while sitting at the West Alabama Ice House in Houston on a steamy Saturday afternoon. For almost an hour the bartender and I traded tunes - good tunes that enabled the conversation, enabled the aura of the joint to persist - when an unnamed third party brought it all to a screeching halt with a song that deserves to never be played outside of headphones. Which song? Immaterial. But you get the point. He put in five bucks... we left within two minutes. 

It's not his fault, of course. The relatively newfound ability to pluck any song ever recorded out of the ether, coupled with the blurry line brought about by portable music gadgetry, perpetuated this great injustice of modern day bar etiquette. Choice, in the end, is a good thing. But it has its consequences. So please... give your pick some thought before dropping in those quarters. Here's a little cheat sheet to get you started for your next Saturday afternoon shindig...

1919 West Alabama
Houston 77098

August 13, 2010

Roadside Eats - Mac & Ernie's

The Z and I had been meaning to get out to Mac & Ernie's Roadside Eatery  in Tarpley for over a year, ever since accompanying our PRCR compadres at a Central Market cooking class last spring. Actually it was more of a drink wine/watch chef Naylene Dillingham-Stolzer fry quail and grill lamb chops and spin yarns about cooking excellent food in a wall-less kitchen atop a concrete slab w/ nothing but propane burners and some prep tables. 

Mac & Ernie's is famous for its lunch only cabrito burgers. This goat, in fact, is the restaurant's raison d'etre; Naylene raised them, but here in the land where beef is king she had a hard time finding a market. Thus, in 1999, the Roadside Eatery was born. 

Alas, we were there for dinner, so the cabrito burgers were not to be. But we sated ourselves handily with the mahi mahi (w/ lemon aioli and greek yogurt sauce), grilled ribeye, fried catfish (it takes some skill to make catfish not taste like bottom-feeder, and M&E performs the task w/ precision), fried scallops (they look like hushpuppies and taste like fried butter), and homemade chocolate cream pie. 

Clean living indeed. And we'll be back for lunch. 
11804 FM 470
Tarpley, TX 78883

August 10, 2010

Give me Liberty or Give me Tacos

Chilaquiles are following me. Let me explain... if you'll recall, we first met the Mexican mishmash about a month ago, in Del Rio. They popped up a week later on my neighbor's stove on Sunday morning, coupled with homemade fried potatoes.  Then they peppered my receipt from Taco Taco, and 24 hours later they landed atop my plate at the Liberty Bar. Four times in one month, though I haven't seen them since. Maybe their season is over and they've begun migrating north, alongside the Chupacabra

One thing is certain: there doesn't seem to be a standard definition for the dish, but that may just be because I'm not asking the right people. At our bi-weekly Refried Breakfast Club meeting this morning we all agreed that chilaquiles are migas without the fried tortillas. Then our waiter, the only one among us with any sort of ethnic legitimacy on the matter, said that yes, they are like migas, but with peppers and tomatoes. Which is total bullshit. 

In the end, it seems to me that chilaquiles can be whatever one interprets them to be. Like why Mona Lisa smiles. Or the broader social impact of Saved by the Bell. Or the Constitution.  Ok that last one was a joke. 
145 E. Hildebrand
San Antonio, TX 78212

Liberty Bar's take on Chilaquiles Nortenos... sauteed legumes, poblano peppers, red onion, totopos, eggs, creme fraiche and feta with corn tortillas, beans, and pico. 
Fried Egg Sandwich on homemade bread with Gruyere and South Texas-raised lamb

August 6, 2010

The Wisdom of the Summer Cocktail pt. 1

August. Already? Remember when the summer used to pass slowly? The effects of days-on-end spent doing God-knows-what. Soon I'll have to start wearing socks again. And the gin will be shelved until May. My preference for switching up one's libation of choice this time of year is well documented, though with a full month to go before Labor Day there's no sense in having the funeral prematurely. 

What follows is the inaugural entry from a guest contributor... a dispatch from a friend sweating it out in the swamp that is Washington, D.C. With some persuasion we'll be seeing routine installments from her, and others, who are scattered around, doing a little "amatouring" of their own. They have full creative license and the topics are theirs and theirs alone... so long as it's something worth sharing.

To that end, I'd like to present the first tome in a hopeful (we're looking at you, Chicago) series dedicated to the Wisdom of the Summer Cocktail. Unfiltered and unabridged, Act I... ~A 
With temperatures in our nation's capital surpassing the 100 degree mark last weekend, it is too hot to do almost anything other than waste away the afternoons lamenting about the heat and and hydrating with cool, clear, alcoholic (and thus non-hydrating) beverages.

Gin and Tonic has been my go to summer drink since, well, forever. One sip and I'm instantly taken back to the summers of my youth, when my mom would have me carry a freshly made G&T in a faded plastic UofM tumbler out to my Dad as he grilled just off the deck. I would sneak a gulp, somewhere between the laundry room and screened door, where the smell of fresh cut grass mingled with that of drying swimsuits. Ahhhhhhh. Summer in a glass.

But the heat has found me thirsting for something a little lighter for, say, lunchtime drinking, when ordering hard booze seems a little too eager. That's when I stumbled across a godsend: effervescent white wine.

No, this kind of wine doesn't lend its name to Messieurs Bartles and James, nor is it hot pink and bottled in four packs. Vinho Verde is made from young, green Portuguese grapes. It's meant to drink NOW, which is good for me as that's when I usually feel like drinking. Vinho Verde is so pale in color that it's almost clear. Yes, it has hints of grass, fruit, flowers, and just about any other white wine descriptor you can come up with - but it also has the slightest fizz, making it the crispest and most refreshing wine I have ever tasted.

I've discovered two favorites this summer and have stocked my house with both by the case. They pair perfectly with seafood, light pastas, white meat, cheeses, fruits and veggies, brunch items, fried foods, desserts, and well just about anything except for a thick, grilled, hot steak.

Opala Vinho Verde: I served Opala at a Memorial Day BBQ and heard raves from both the men and women. And since it runs about $10 a bottle, I meant it when I encouraged them to have another pour. 
Broadbent Vinho Verde: I had this at my sister's the other weekend and found it to also have a perfect summer fizz. The label, a sunburst or a gorgeous summer blossom (you pick), was drawn by the importer's niece when she was four. A bottle runs around $13 at our local, lovely wine shop, but you can order it online for under $10.
And a quick tip... Vinho Verde is rather low in alcohol at just 9%, so yes, you should have another glass.

August 4, 2010

A Sense of Place

Spent the weekend about six miles outside of Tarpley at a friend's family ranch, soaking in the tranquility, rocking on the front porch, and enjoying a nice southerly breeze on an otherwise inhospitable day. It's times like this that make me appreciate the passion that my father had for the Hill Country. He would sneak off to deer camp every chance he got. The serenity it offers can alter a mindset, though it's unique from other places I've traveled insofar as this land is a part of us. As a Texan you feel a connection to it. For we are all charged with preserving its beauty and maintaining its idyll for successive generations... family, friend, and passer-through alike (unfortunately that latter term used to be much less loaded than it is today). 

August 2, 2010

The Man with the Large Band

Of course you know who this is. But maybe you need to get re-acquainted. The Z and I caught American Routes on Sunday, coming home from a weekend in the Hill Country. I always love a good Nick Spitzer interview on a late afternoon drive, and yesterday's was with the classic Texas singer/songwriter Lyle Lovett. A little blues, a little jazz, western swing, waltz, gospel and country; the man and his Large Band can do it all. 
Like every other fan of his, I have fond memories of listening to Mr. Lovett's albums and seeing his performances. He really is in a league unto himself when it comes to class and charisma on-stage. 

Every year he played the concert series at the Wolf Trap, and every year we Texas transplants would make the pilgrimage out to Northern Virginia to see him. Sitting on a lawn, having our drinks, and enjoying a midsummer evening. But the best show I ever attended was at DAR Constitution Hall. It was an acoustic set and inexplicably ill attended, so our cheap seats quickly became great seats, courtesy of an usher either not afraid to flaunt the rules a bit, or more likely under orders to fill the empty space with whatever riff-raff he could find. 

Live in Texas was the first thing I listened to the night my brother, having just helped me move 1,500 miles away from home, hopped a plane back to Austin. I was 22 years old, alone in a new town with no friends and staring into the unknown... that album re-centered me. 

And eight years later, on my wedding night, I danced with my new wife to one of those songs.