Sunday, October 31, 2010

On a Torchy's Tacos Tirade

My husband, Gene, was commenting to our friend and bishop, Mike McCullough, that we were looking for a good place to eat breakfast tacos. Bishop McCullough insisted we try Torchy’s Tacos on South 1st Street, assuring us they had the best tacos in town, and as an added bonus, they served Dublin Dr. Pepper on tap. Being an avid fan of Dublin Dr. Pepper, which uses Imperial Pure Cane Sugar (the original Dr. Pepper formula), my husband was sold, and our first trip to Torchy’s was the very next Saturday morning. That was last August, and I enjoyed that first trip to Torchy’s so much that I have returned as often as I can.

So far, I’ve been to 3 of the 7 Torchy’s Taco locations, and the South 1st Street location is still my favorite. Like a first love, I have such wonderful memories associated with this small South Austin taco shop. What first caught my attention was the little red devil on the sign surrounded by the slogan, “Torchy’s Damn Good Tacos”. As we entered the tiny diner-like restaurant and waited our turn in line, I studied the funky atmosphere and employees. (I think it might be a pre-requisite to have a large number of body tattoos in order to work at Torchy’s.)

I was actually grateful for the wait, so I would have time to read the handwritten menu on the wall. Decisions, decisions! Being a Saturday morning, I decided on the Migas, a breakfast taco recommended by the Torchy’s associate who took our order. We went in search of a table.

Even with all the people that were there for breakfast, we had no trouble locating a table outside in the covered courtyard. I marveled at the huge, beautiful hanging baskets draping the metal awning. I still want to know where they purchased those baskets!

Shortly, a young woman delivered the open-faced migas tacos to our table. I had picked up a sampling of every type of taco sauce, salsa and pico de gallo, ready for a taste test. The real question was whether or not I would use a fork or simply fold this soft taco together for my first bite. I started with a smidgen of Torchy’s Roja sauce, the mildest of the 5 sauces, made from fire-roasted roma tomatoes, chilies, grilled onions, garlic, cilantro and lime. As I took my first bite, I was overcome with an exquisite sense of flavors. Yum!

Something crunched in my biteful of eggs that was wonderful, yet unidentifiable. What could it be, I wondered? As I picked up a menu I reread the ingredients for the Migas – scrambled eggs, green chilies, avocado, pico de gallo, shredded cheese and crisp corn tortilla strips, served on your choice of tortilla. It was the corn tortilla strips that packed the Migas with a flavorful punch and crunch!

Next, I tried the Torchy’s Tomatillo sauce on my taco – a delicious blend of 3 fire-roasted chilies, tomatillos, grilled onions, cilantro and a shot of lime. The hotness indicator showed two flames. How does one describe perfection?!! So far, this one is my favorite Torchy’s taco sauce.

I prepared my palate for the Poblano Ranch sauce – a creamy Ranch dressing, blended with serrano peppers and grilled poblano peppers. This 3-flamed sauce is my husband’s favorite.

Gene warned me about the Chipotlé sauce, a light orange creamy sauce made from Ranch dressing, smoked chipotle peppers in adobo and roasted tomatoes. As I took my bite of migas with this scrumptious sauce, my tastebuds awoke!

Lastly and most carefully, I tasted the Diablo sauce, the hottest of all Torchy’s sauces, ranked with four flames. In Spanish, “diablo” means “devil”, and once the bright orange taco sauce, crafted from fire-roasted habanero chilies, blended with vinegar, spices and tomatoes, touched my tongue, I exclaimed, “This is damn good taco sauce!” Actually, I don’t talk like that, but it was really good, although much too hot for my Gringo tongue. The heat continued to smolder in my mouth several long minutes after I had finished my fabulous breakfast. This is the only sauce of the five made by Torchy’s that is bottled and may be purchased. Of course, we had to buy a bottle!

As a result of this extraordinary experience, I set a new tantalizing goal for my visit each and every Torchy’s Taco location in Austin and to sample every single type of taco they offer! I plan to rate each taco here on my blog, so stay tuned!

Torch those Tacos, Y’all!

The History of Halloween

My husband, Gene, watched a fascinating show on The History Channel about Halloween and its origins. As he began sharing the details with me, I decided to read up on the topic myself.

As far as anyone can tell, Halloween began as a Celtic celebration called “Samhain”. In the area now known as Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France, the Celts celebrated their new year on November 1. They believed that on the eve of their new year, the boundary between the worlds of the Living and the Dead could be breached.

So, on October 31st, the Celts celebrated Samhain, to acknowledge those ghosts that had returned to the earth. It was thought that the Druids (Celtic priests) could make predictions about the future during Samhain when the otherworldly spirits were present. The Druids built huge sacred bonfires where the people gathered to sacrifice crops and animals to the Druids' lesser gods.
During the Samhain celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other's fortunes. When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires, which they had extinguished earlier that evening, from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter.

After conquering most of the Celtic territory in 43 A.D., the Romans combined two of their festivals with the Celtic celebration of Samhain. The first was Feralia, a day in late October when the Romans commemorated the passing of the dead. The second festival was a day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona is the apple and the incorporation of this celebration into Samhain probably explains the tradition of "bobbing" for apples that is practiced today on Halloween.

In the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV designated November 1st as All Saints' Day, a time to honor saints and martyrs. It is widely believed the pope was attempting to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a related, but church-sanctioned holiday. The celebration was also called All-hallows or All-hallowmas (from Middle English Alholowmesse meaning All Saints' Day) and the night before it, the night of Samhain, began to be called All-hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween.

I’ll take our candy-driven holiday of Halloween over the Celtic version any old time!

Show Me Da Candy, Y’all!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

National Candy Corn Day

As we approach the second most commercial holiday in the United States, for which Americans unbelievably spend approximately $6.3 billion annually, we must not forget one of Halloween’s iconic treats – Candy Corn. In fact, today, October 30th, is not just Halloween Eve, it is National Candy Corn Day. Yes folks, you read that right….Candy Corn has its own day. And, to support this obscure holiday, Gene and I went to the store today, specifically to buy the celebrated sweet.

I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with candy corn. I didn’t much like it as a kid, but now, as an adult, there is something comforting and familiar about munching on a candy corn kernel during this time of year.

Here’s comedian Lewis Black’s take on candy corn:
Candy corn is the only candy in the history of America that’s never been advertised. And there’s a reason. All of the candy corn that was ever made was made in 1911. And so, since nobody eats that stuff, every year there’s a ton of it left over. And the candy corn company sends the guys to the villages and they collect out of the dumpsters all the candy corn we’ve thrown away. They wash it! They wash it! I’ll never forget the first time my mother gave me candy corn. She said, “Here Lewis! This is corn that tastes like candy!” (eats it) “This tastes like crap”’ And every year since then, Halloween is returned and I, like an Alzheimer’s patient, find myself in a room, and the room has a table in it, and on the table, is a bowl of candy corn. And I look at it, as if I’ve never seen it before. “Candy corn,” I think. “Corn that tastes like candy. I can’t wait.”
Could it could be that Lewis Black needs to join the Candy Corn Lovers Anonymous Facebook page?

While candy corn is yellow, white and orange, I prefer “indian corn”, where the bottom layer is brown (chocolate flavored).

Candy Corn was invented by George Renninger and produced by the Wunderlee Candy Company in the 1880s. In 1900, the Goelitz Candy Company, now known as Jelly Belly Candy Company, started mass producing candy corn, and its recipe has remained unchanged.

The National Confectioners Association estimates that 20 million pounds (9,000 tons) of candy corn are sold annually. The top branded retailer of candy corn, Brach's, sells enough candy corn each year to circle the earth 4.25 times if the kernels were laid end to end.

While that might sound impressive, did you know that candy corn has even gone into space? Astronauts are allowed to bring special “crew preference” items when they go up in space. NASA astronaut Don Pettit chose candy corn for his five and a half month stint aboard the International Space Station. But these candy corn were more than a snack, Pettit used them for experimentation. Check out the “critical candy corn concentration” in this cool video:

I feel quite good, in fact, almost patriotic, about doing my part to uphold this little known holiday, and hope that you, too, will remember Halloween Eve from henceforth as National Candy Corn Day!

Have a Corny Kind o' Day, Y'all!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

World Series Weirdness

Here I am watching the first game of the World Series being played in AT&T Park in San Francisco. This is the first time the Texas Rangers have ever won a title, making it to the World Series. They are up against the San Francisco Giants, who last won a World Series pennant 56 years ago. The 2010 World Series should prove to be a very interesting contest indeed.

However, since the 4th inning, it seems like every other word out of my mouth has been, “Caaa-raaaap!” With the Rangers trailing the Giants 8-2, I decided instead of focusing on winning the game, I would focus on other aspects. The first thing I noticed was how adorable the 26-year old Giants’ starting pitcher, Tim Lincecum, was. Why, he’s cute enough to keep, don’t you think?

Hot diggity! Here in the top of the 6th, the Rangers have gotten two more hits, and Lincecum has been relieved. The score is now 8-4. Thought I wasn’t paying attention, eh?

The other item of interest is the neckwear worn by players of both teams. What in the world are these bizarre, ugly-looking, twisted necklaces? I’m probably one of the last people on the planet to notice them. But, in case you, too, are a very periodic baseball watcher like me, they are called Phiten necklaces. Developed in Japan, the nylon-coated titanium necklaces are intended to promote pain relief and enhance performance through improved circulation and stress reduction. For an idea of what they look like, see Elvis Andrus and his teammates below.

Bottom of the 8th inning and now the score is 11-4, Giants. ”Caaa-raaaap!”

Where was I? Oh yes…Serious, heavy duty beards seem to be one of the new Giants fashion fads. First, there was relief pitcher, Sergio Romo’s beard.

And then in the 9th inning, we got to see the infamous Brian Wilson’s beard, which looks unnaturally dark. Brian has gained quite a following with his beard.

Even the Giants fans seem to be getting into the beard fashion, wearing fake beards and promoting the slogan, “Fear the Beard”.

As I return my attention to the game, the Rangers knock in three runs during the 9th inning, but at the conclusion of this first World Series game, the Texas Rangers were no match for the San Francisco Giants on their home turf.

The final score: Giants – 11, Rangers - 7

Caaa-raaaap Y’all!

Monday, October 25, 2010

God's Glorious Angels

When I was a young woman, I had no need for other women in my life. I thought men had what I wanted, so I spent nearly all my leisure time with men. I did a spectacular job at understanding what men want in a woman, becoming a chameleon and changing myself to please the man I was with in order to obtain his love. It was my quest in life.

While I did indeed acquire a number of husbands (not all at the same time mind you – that’s an LDS joke by the way, and since I’m LDS, I can say that), I later discovered that men really did not have what I wanted. Men taught me what they wanted in a woman, but they never taught me how to be a woman. They couldn't. Only other women have helped me navigate through the University of Womanhood.

These wonderful women taught me that being a beautiful woman is an inside job, not an outside makeover. It does not matter what I wear, how I speak or how others accept me in society. What matters to me about being a woman is that I know who I am – I am a daughter of my Heavenly Father, a woman of eternal value. It matters to me that I know how important my words are as a woman. I can lift up another through kind, inspired words, or I can lash out, shout profanity and belittle those around me. It is my choice. And, I choose to exercise kindness and integrity with my words, rather than dirty my own mouth and harm the ears of others with sharp barbs, profane language and ridicule. It matters to me how I treat others - I try to treat them as I would want to be treated. Hopefully, I treat those around me as my brothers and sisters, with love and tolerance. It is an exercise I must continually work at. As a woman, I have an enormous impact upon all those who enter my sphere of influence. I must acknowledge that impact and be responsible for my words and actions. A beautiful woman is one who isn’t afraid to let her light shine on all those around her!

Recently, I had a small group of women friends over to my house. I’d felt inspired to reach out to each woman individually over the years, and then most recently, to introduce them to each other. The dynamics were delightful. We talked and laughed, empathized and ate, joked and consoled for nearly five hours that night. Several of us had experienced difficulties that day, and it was such a relief to share those thoughts and feelings within the presence of these safe and wonderful women.

From the fabulous film, “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood”:

Teensy: We'll leave you alone.
Caro: But we'll be listening from the kitchen, so talk loud.

Along my path I was taught that “a man will want to pinch my butt, but a woman will be there to save it”. I was taught to seek after women who “have what I want” and “do what they do”. How grateful I feel today that I followed the advice of the sage woman who shared that adage with me years ago. As a result, I found women who had what I wanted – sober women, women with loving families, women who had Jesus Christ as the center of their families, intelligent women, who were willing to impart of their wisdom to teach me, both spiritually and temporally, the knowledge I needed to learn. And, I remain teachable.

By being open-minded to the things God would have me know about myself and what He wants me to become, I am able to be that woman of eternal value, who can look behind me and stretch out my hand to other women, who want what I have. I am grateful to have something to give back, to help others. My failures and personal tragedies are now the tools I can use with other women as I share the joy of walking through difficult times with God at my side, and the angels He has sent to help me, the women I call my friends.

My Cup Runneth Over With Angels, Y'all!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Deliciously Argentine!

Scrumptious, tender, melt-in-your-mouth beef tenderloin with spicy chimichurri sauce, melted cheese and diced fresh tomatoes on a warm, crusty French baguette…”Where?!” you ask…Buenos Aires Café, our newest culinary discovery in East Austin.

The Buenos Aires Café was a delightful surprise, located at the corner of 6th Street and Waller, just a few blocks away from us. We stopped by last Saturday afternoon, and were immediately impressed with the modern, but comfortable décor.

Our waiter was quite friendly, and he confirmed our choice of The Lomito Beef Sandwich (voted “The Best Sandwich in Town”—The Onion) with a Spinach Salad, as well as a cup of the Soup of the Day, Asparagus Spinach Soup, and a real Caesar Salad.

Apparently we’re not the only ones who think this restaurant is tops…

"Austin Fueled by popular demand, Buenos Aires Café—Austin’s first Argentine eatery—has opened a second location, on the city’s east side. Spacious and inviting (have original hardwood floors ever looked so good?), the haunt serves up popular Argentine fare, including authentic Buenos Aires empanadas. The flaky pastries come with various fillings, including a don’t-miss carne picante, with scallions, raisins, and green olives, and a vegetarian’s dream packed with spinach, ricotta, and Parmesan. Entrées can be spotty; steer clear of the bland gnocchi and head straight for the pastel de papas, Argentina’s answer to Britain’s shepherd’s pie. Finish with a scrumptious dessert—cuatro leches cake, panqueques (dessert crepes), or flan de Buenos Aires. These are the real stars of the South American show." New and Note Worthy - Texas Monthly - 05/10/09

"The new Buenos Aires has arrived, to be sure. This avocado-green bunker on East Sixth Street shares tight company with the Good Knight and the East Side Showroom, but the original Buenos Aires Café on South First Street predates all of them, courtesy of founder Reina Morris, a native of Argentina.
Buenos Aires Café is a culinary microcosm of the Italian and Spanish immigrants who have called Argentina home, with input from the British and French as well, informing even the croissant-style flaky crusts of the carne picante (ground beef, olives and raisins) and verdura (spinach and ricotta and Parmesan cheeses) empanadas, the pair easily making a full breakfast at $2.59 each." Packed with Power - Austin American Statesman - 09/09/09

We can’t wait to go back! And, we’re told that in the evenings, an occasional couple will dance the Argentine Tango.

“Latins are tenderly enthusiastic. In Brazil they throw flowers at you. In Argentina they throw themselves.” --Marlene Dietrich

Throw Yourself into Buenos Aires Café, Y’all!!