Why Texas, or Better Yet,
by Kate Heyhoe
"Texas!? Why TEXAS?"
That's the usual response when I tell people we've just moved from California to Texas. Most of the time it comes from non-Texans (New Yorkers, especially), incredulous that anyone would voluntarily move to the Lone Star State (as if you had checked into Alcatraz for an extended stay). On occasion, though, I can almost hear Texans themselves uttering the phrase "Why Texas?", weary of the influx of Californians boasting sexy sunglasses, snazzy cars, and a barrelful of West Coast Attitude.
Those, though, who have traveled through the Texas Hill Country know it to be just lovely, with lush green rolling hills and cascading rivers, creeks, and streams. It's also home to some truly friendly folks, organic farmers, talented winemakers, sophisticated techies, and one of this country's most distinctive towns: Austin.
I was born in California but was raised in Dallas. After traveling around the world, I returned to Texas, but this time to Austin, home of the University of Texas, my alma mater. The late 70s and early 80s really set up the foundation for what Austin is today. At that time it was just starting to nurture a progressive music scene, with Willie Nelson challenging Nashville's country music traditions, and Lucille crooning from BB King's tender touch. No wonder Austin City Limits, the PBS series now about to enter its 30th year, originated here, spotlighting the finest American roots music of our time: blues, folk, jazz, tejano, bluegrass, rock, and pop, with artists ranging from Johnny Cash to David Byrne. I also remember that wonderfully outspoken gal Ann Richards and her early rise to politics, before becoming governor in 1990 (later to be beaten by George W. Bush).
Today, the entire Austin area remains a center of arts and music, and such support extends into activities ranging from eco- and animal-friendly causes, to sports (favorite son: Lance Armstrong; favorite team: Longhorns), to galleries and museums. With its vast library and research resources; the well-respected (and well endowed) University of Texas; a community college that is larger than many universities (26,000+ students); a headquarters for Dell and numerous technology companies, and the state capital all within its perimeters, Austin is, not surprisingly, one of the most literate cities in the union. Of cities larger than 200,000 (Austin's population is 656,600), it's ranked number 22 in a study done by the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Furthermore, Austin has the highest educated populous of any U.S. city, with a full 35% of adults having college degrees, more than half of these holding advanced degrees.
But what, you're probably thinking, about the food? The guy who built our fence (business name is, appropriately, The Fence Guy) is the state chili champion, our little town has its own Men's Cooking Club, and some of the country's finest barbecue and barbecue sauces hail from Texas. But dining here ain't all ribs 'n' catfish. La Fonda San Miguel is a nationally praised Mexican restaurant, and if you're a cooking aficionado, you'll recognize such Texas-based names as the Mozzarella Company (famous for its hand-made cheeses), the El Paso Chili Company (makers of fine salsas, seasonings, and condiments), chefs like Dean Fearing, Robert Del Grande, and cookbook authors like Arthur L. Meyer and Jon M. Vann, of the stunning book The Appetizer Atlas. Oh, and by the way, the food-lover's heaven-on-earth retailers, the Central Market chain and the Whole Foods chain, are based in Austin, with stores throughout Texas, and for Whole Foods, across the United States.
Though I wax on proudly and nostalgically about Austin, I don't really live there. We've settled in a lovely small town (less than 4000 population) about 45 minutes away from the capital and an hour from San Antonio. Wimberley is awash with rivers and trees and a charming artsy-craftsy community. The farmers market is small but complete: unbelievable peaches from nearby Fredericksburg, perfectly bushy greenhouse-grown butter lettuces, rainbows of cut flowers, award-winning goat cheese, free-range chickens, and even organically raised beef. What more could a food-loving Texan (or Californian) want?
Mini-Round-Up of Texas Cookbook Authors
(click on the book title for recipes)
Batter Up, Kids: Delicious Desserts by Barbara Beery
The Cheese Lover's Cookbook and Guide by Paula Lambert
Cooking Fearlessly by Jeff Blank and Jay Moore
A Cowboy in the Kitchen by Grady Spears and Robb Walsh
The El Paso Chile Company Margarita Cookbook by W. Park Kerr
Quick and Easy Southwestern Cookbook by Jane Butel
And by Kate Heyhoe:
Copyright © 2004, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created September 2004