Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Our Time in Texas

We sure know how to pack a lot into a short visit, even with both parents sick with the epizootus (I was already on antibiotics, but I think we picked up a virus at the airport because Mama and I are sick all over again--I didn't have a voice for most of the trip.)

Here's a non-sequential list of what we did:

  • boat rides:  I love a boat ride.  Always have, probably always will.  Wind in my hair, kinda bumpy--it's a great time for reflection or day dreaming.  Sis said it's like cantering on a horse; she likes boat rides, too.  She even drove some.  On our second ride, Sis saw churning water and we then saw a dolphin!  Must have been chasing up some fish.  It stayed around us for awhile, curious, surfacing so close to the boat once that it's blow hole squirt splashed my cheek.  Beautiful creature.  I couldn't get a good picture, though--it surfaced very quickly and in unpredictable places.  My back handled these boat rides much better than four years ago.  

  • driving the golf cart:  Sis and Bud had their first non-MarioKart driving lessons!  And no one was injured.
  • fishing:  Bud and Pop went fishing early one morning in the harbor, before anyone else was awake.  They caught some catfish.  On another morning, the whole crew went fishing in the harbor and each kid caught a catfish, with Bud catching the biggest one.

  • tubing:  Sis was definitely in her element.  She loves going fast and thus loved being pulled behind a motorboat on a huge tube, especially when she flew off into the bay!  Yes, she had on a life vest.  She said the best part was bouncing two feet off the surface of the water.
  • sailing:  Sis also went sailing with Gommie in the little Sunfish.  She liked it much better than her sailing lessons at Mystic because it wasn't as windy and rough.  
  • swimming:  the kiddos took to the warm, muddy water right away, even though both were stung by little jellies.  They especially liked jumping off the pier into the water.  I went into the water myself, never my favorite activity at the bay (I'm irrationally scared of Jaws, though there aren't any threatening sharks there, and I don't like jelly fish), and floated around with the kiddos.  Even with sunscreen,  I got burned a little.
  • family:  I think Gommie and the kids counted and they met 60 new people, more than half who were relatives--Gommie's siblings, her cousins, my cousins, my second cousins, my second cousins' kids . . . . It's a bit overwhelming, but the kids managed.  Though, Gommie did help by drawing out the family tree. Bud even shook everyone's hand!  Of course, our goal in going to the bay, besides their experiencing Gommie's very favorite place, was spending time with Aunt Banana and kiddos.  It was a bit strange at first for Sis and Bud because they aren't around little kids much at all.  Sis took to them well enough and even Bud did chalk art with Cousin M.  I don't know how much chance they got to talk to their aunt and uncle; it was pretty chaotic and busy the whole weekend.  I'm not sure I got to really visit with them!  I did do some art and juggling with Cousin M and played "slide the baby off the roof" of the dollhouse with Cousin B.  And I had some nice chats with my Aunt T, Aunt A, and Aunt J.  It was good to be together.  
  • fireworks:  My cousins put on a lovely fireworks show off their pier one night.  Bud and I walked down to see it close up.  I really liked the ones that explode into a giant array and then the "spray" explodes into smaller arrays.  There were also some very striking red and white fireworks.  And you could see other displays all around the bay.  Unfortunately, some of those fireworks, on another night, caught the back fields on fire.  I was already back at the hotel with Mama, but Pop, who'd driven me to the hotel, couldn't get back to the bay house because the road was closed.   Everyone was safe--there were a dozen water tanker trucks between them and the blaze, which the fire departments amazingly put out very quickly, not before it burned a few acres.  But it could've reached the boat houses and all those boats with 100-gallon gas tanks.  The kids called me in the middle and weren't scared, just wanted reassurance.  I knew they were safe with Gommie and Aunt Banana.  Still, scary and impressive.
  • Mikeska's:  Nothing like eating ribs and chopped beef sandwiches surrounded by taxidermied dead animals!  But I love their banana pudding and sweet tea.
  • Prasek's:  KOLACHES!  Fruit, sweet cheese, or sausage-filled pastries.  Best kolaches in the world.  And really good Tex Mex chocolate sheet cake, too.  The Prasek family's bay house is right next to ours and we had told one of the grandchildren how much we loved their kolaches.  Lo, and behold! Mr Mike had someone deliver 3+ dozen more kolaches to us!!!  Love that Texas hospitality.
  • Buc-ee's:  Oh, you know how I love Buc-ee's.  It's like the Texas version of the Vermont Country Store--food, souvenirs, homey, except Buc-ee's isn't quite as upscale.  But they have iced tea!  And I met a new food--the Frito Burrito!  Yep, that's right--a tortilla filled with chili, cheese, onions, refried beans, and FRITOS!!!!!!  We like their plain bean-and-cheeses and also breakfast burritos, too.  And I got a bluebonnet pillow.  I knew I wanted my Texas souvenir to have bluebonnets on it and I found the perfect throw pillow at Buc-ee's.
  • Whataburger:  Not "waterburgers," even if we pronounce it like that.  Mama spent two days asleep at the hotel where we were staying as "overflow" (Gommie and Pop's house isn't big enough to comfortably fit three families.)  I took her Whataburger a few times, once with the kids.  I love the chicken bites and creamy gravy with Texas toast (which is just thick white bread.)  And of course, iced tea!  Sis liked them, too.  Just seeing the orange-and-white stripes makes me smile (I remember the steak fingers of my childhood, but they don't have those anymore.  Or was that Dairy Queen?)
  • Food:  In addition to all of the food at restaurants, we also ate back at the bay house.  Mama and Aunt Banana had coordinated meals so we each took different nights.  We made Cowboy Supper but added cubed chicken breasts to the usual sausage; she made these great pulled pork tacos.  She also had this yummy Greek pasta salad.  Gommie brought French Dip sandwiches for the first night.
  • Palacios:  I had wanted to visit the town where my great-grandmother had lived and so Gommie, Mama, our twins, Aunt Banana, and Cousin M and I drove over one afternoon.  We had a good lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant (noodles with grilled chicken and egg rolls, shrimp and veg with noodles, somethink like a bird's nest with fried noodles, spring rolls, Vietnamese iced coffee (like Thai iced coffee, with sweetened condensed milk), and this great banana pudding.   Then we drove around to all the sights:  grandmother's house where Aunt Banana and I would spend the weekend (separately) across from the hospital, her real estate office which is still a real estate office, the restaurant Pederson's where we always went for Sunday brunch but which is now a bookstore (still has the bar and mural, though), the Texas Baptist Encampment, the shrimp boats, the piers where there used to be a pavilion for dancing, abandonned Camp Hulen which held 10,000 WWII soldiers in pup tents and where my great-grandmother was a typist and met my great-grandfather, and the old Luther Hotel, with the same screen door I remember passing through four decades ago.  It's a grande ol' dame of a hotel but has seen better days.  We saw a little white kitten there with one blue and one green eye (so probably deaf), covered in fleas but cute.  Pop almost got a new cat!  Aunt Sis and I remembered the vanilla wafers Grandma Mildred kept in the refrigerator, with their delicate and crispy brown edges, the burger place we often ate, and the shops she would take us to.  

  • pina coladas:  this is one of the popular drinks down at the bay and both kids learned how to make them!  Sis was sure to make a "virgin" pitcher for herself.  Directions, as far as they recall:  1 cup Coco Lopez, 1 cup pineapple juice, blend it with 2 cups of ice and 3 oz of rum (they don't remember.)  When I was a child, I would make bourbon and cokes for my uncle.
  • games, including Mexican train and "hand and foot" canasta:  The bay is full of game players and both kiddos got to play.  They learned a domino game called Mexican train and a card game called "hand and foot."  And both of them won.  I was really pleased to hear that they were good winners, shaking hands and thanking others for a good game.  I was even more pleased that I didn't have to play!
  • walking on the pier at night:  We went out our last night there, just for the experience of it.  I always feel like I'm walking above clouds on the pier at night.  
  • bird sightings:  This part of Texas is a birdwatcher's paradise.  I wasn't trying too hard but did notice many species I don't often see in CT, including the brown pelican, laughing gull, cattle egret, some kind of heron, snowy egret, mockingbird, Mexican eagle/caracara, gray hawk, white-winged dove, purple martins, and even baby buzzards.  I spotted my first caracara squaring off with a buzzard over some road kill.  They flew away as I drove off and the buzzard got back first.  As for the pelicans, I'm still amazed to see them everywhere; they weren't many of them at the bay when I was a child.  Now, they fly the coast every morning and evening; it's awe-inspiring.  And they really do look like dinosaurs.

  • hammock time:  Mama liked the hammock under the porch, as does Pop.

  • chalk art:  Cousin M and Bud did a great big chalk mural under the house on the concrete.
  • water balloon fight:  The cousins also had fun doing a water balloon fight.
  • birthday parties:  There was a big train birthday party for my 3-year-old nephew (I added the train tracks to the cake!)--it was funny to see him smear cake on his face!--and a pinata for our 12-year-olds.  It took awhile to smash the pinata so by the end they were not even using a blindfold; several of the cousins helped out.
  • the land:  I forget how flat it is in our part of Texas.  So flat, with views so far in the distance.  We passed huge cotton fields, corn, maize, but not as much rice as when I was a child.  There are old abandonned farm houses in some places, lots of cows, some windmills, lots of barbed wire fencing, silos in the distance, small towns of 200 people with all the businesses on main street closed, and Sis counted at least 277 horses!  It's not bluebonnet or Indian paintbrush season, but I did enjoy seeing some flowers.

  • mosquitos, high humidity, and Trump supporters:  Let's just say the bay would be a nicer place without any of these (let me revise that last one:  it was hard to believe that all my extended family (not my immediate family, i.e. parents, sister, BIL), who love us, also voted for HIM.  I'll keep the family, just dump #45.)
The only thing I didn't get to do while at the bay was honor the memory of my aunt and uncle and cousin in any way.  This was my first trip back since they'd all died and I had hoped to get a chance for some kind of quiet observance.  But I never quite figured out what that would be and there didn't seem to be a good time, with Mama and I both not feeling well.  Next time, perhaps.

Whew.  I'm tired just writing about it.  Good thing it's summer and there's not much I have to do right now.  Except laundry!


Giada De Laurentiis's Pulled Pork Tacos

                        2 teaspoons ground cumin
                        1/2 teaspoon ground coriander 
                        2 teaspoons salt 
                        1/2 teaspoon dried oregano 
                        2 pounds pork shoulder roast 
                        2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 
                        1 onion, chopped 
                        3 cloves garlic, smashed 
                        1 chipotle in adobo plus 1 teaspoon adobo sauce
                        1/2 cup beer
                        1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest (1/2 orange) 

Garnishes:  lime wedges, cheese, avocado, etc.

For the pulled pork: In a small bowl, mix together the cumin, coriander, salt and oregano. Rub the spice mixture all over the pork roast.
Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pork roast and brown on all sides, about 3 minutes per side.
Meanwhile, in a 3 1/2-quart slow cooker, combine the onion, garlic, chipotle and adobo sauce, beer, and orange zest. Add the browned roast along with any pan juices. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours or on high for 6 hours.

When the pork is cooked and fork tender, shred it using two forks. Add the shredded meat back to the slow cooker and toss with the onions and cooking juices. Keep warm in the slow cooker for people to help themselves and assemble the tacos with all the garnishes.

Aunt Banana's Greek Pasta Salad
bow tie pasta
cooked chicken, cubed
kalamata olives
tomato (optional)
bell peppers? (I can't recall)
**I saw a recipe on that includes 3 cups baby spinach
red onion
feta cheese
Greek salad dressing

Cook pasta al dente then toss with vegetables and chicken and coat with Greek salad dressing.

Aunt Banana

Milk-Can "Cowboy" Supper, Bay Version
adapted from Cook's Country

2 lbs. kielbasa, cut into big chunks about 1 1/2-2" long 
4 chicken breasts, cubed12 red potatoes, washed but unpeeled
1 small cabbage, cut into wedges and unstacked
1 1/2 cups baby carrots (oops, forgot to put this in)
1 red pepper, chunks
1 onion, cut into wedges
4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
7 ears of corn, halved
4 cups chicken broth
1/2 can beer

salt and pepper to taste

Brown the kielbasa and chicken until browned all over (about 6-8 minutes on medium high.)  Remove from pot. Layer ingredients in pot in this order, bottom to top:  red potatoes, cabbage wedges (unstacked and all spread out flat), baby carrots, onion, garlic, and corn.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper; add bay leaves and thyme.  Distribute kielbasa on top and pour in chicken broth.  Bring to boil, cover, and simmer approximately 15-20 minutes.  Add green bell pepper on top and cook 15-20 minutes more until potatoes are tender (use long skewer to test doneness.)  Remove to serving platter.  Enjoy!

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