A Year of Birthday Celebrations

Tonight at our Church Family Night we had our annual Birthday Celebration. This is where we do a potluck dinner and dessert is provided, but we get to decorate it.

Tables are set up by birthday month and you go sit with all the other people there with the same birthday month as you. Mine is February so I sat with the other Pieces tonight (except for one Aries). The kids and adults love it because we unite by birthday month to collaborate, creating awesomely decorated cakes.

Jdubs happened to be the only kid there with a March birthday so he got to decorate a cake with the help of mom. We started with a round cake that had the base layer of white frosting. Jdubs told me he wanted to make a face with green frosting.

So that’s just what we did. We mixed colors and applied icing. Then we moved on to add blue hair with sprinkles of many colors.

Happy Birthday, people born in March!

The Garden is Calling

The Garden is calling me … I received two new seed catalogs. Yea!

All kinds of organic, heirloom and hybrid varieties.

Other cool garden accessories and products…

For tonight … that’s all I got. Been burning the candle from both ends this week, but  I’ll be dreaming about the garden tonight. [Also I am having terrible writer’s block. Sometimes this is as good as it gets.]

Winter Sunset Beauty

One of the greatest things about winter is the sky. The cooler weather makes for drier and thus a clearer sky. The colder the temperature the less moisture the air can hold. That is why the large, fat snowflakes fall when the temperature is around freezing and why a cold mountain snow in February is more like tiny grains of sand.

January/February nights during the new moon are the best for viewing the constellations—I just wished I had the photography skills [and equipment] to capture the nighttime sky.

But today my handy iPhone helped me capture the beautiful sunset of the winter sky with the “fairy castle” in the distance.

Lake Eddleman, Graham, Texas.

Shopping Small

This is why I love to shop in my small hometown stores…

1. I can have lunch with my mom for $10 (for both of us).

2. I can pick out my own Christmas presents at the store and they will hold it for my dad, wrap it, then send him the bill.

3. I can pick out Christmas presents on my lunch break and come back later and they are wrapped and ready to go under the tree.

4. I can tell the Jewelers what my mom wants at a party and they will order it the next day and wrap it before I pick it up on Wednesday.

Today We Rode a Horse

Today school was out, but I had to work. I had three big deadlines bearing down on me so I worked late even on a holiday eve. Fortunately my mother was off today and took Jdubs for the day. He had a great time, as always.

Today was special because Jdubs really wanted his grandfather to take him for a horse ride.

This is Sugar ...

And that is exactly what they did.

Sugar is a good little starter horse. Very gentle. She's a borrowed horse. It's a common thing to do.

Jdubs decided that he didn’t need any help so he took the reins and took off. It was a great day indeed.

Jdubs is the 4th generation to ride this saddle.

Our legs are finally long enough to reach the stirrups.

That's one happy kid.

And that is a summary on why we live here – because we can go to our grandparents house on a Wednesday before Thanksgiving and ride our horse all by ourselves for the first time.

Fall Color in North Texas

We spent Saturday night in Fort Worth this weekend. We had a blast with good friends, sampling wine, eating delicious food. But on our way to and from the big city we got to see a lot of beautiful fall colors.

Rock Creek Bridge.

I lived in Michigan for 6 fall seasons, with some of the most beautiful fall colors you can see anywhere. But it’s got nothing on Young County.

One-eyed barn.

This old barn looks like it’s winking at you. Not a lot of fall color around it but the picture was taken in the fall.  And it’s one of my favorites so I thought I’d add it in here.

In the Rock Creek area. Love the contrast of colors.

Now all we need is a strong, gusty wind to blow all the leaves off the trees.

Oak leaves.
I have no idea what kind of tree/shrub this is, but it's bright red. Awesome.
The hydro-electric plant. AKA "the Fairy Castle"

Of course the day couldn’t be complete without a beautiful sunset over the “fairy castle.” Thanking the trusty iPhone photography capabilities.

Hometown Halloween

Halloween is one of those holidays that, as a kid, you look forward to all year long. I remember moving to a neighborhood after college and looking forward to greeting trick-or-treaters, only to find that there weren’t many kids around. And they didn’t go to a stranger’s house, even if it was next door.

Halloween moved into the category of a reason “to party” as an adult. Then I left the big city and traded my zero-lot line home for a traditional neighborhood in a small town. Now married with a kid, I live on a street where I know everyone’s name, and their dogs’ names too.

Halloween has once again become something magical and full of whimsy. All the things I remember as a child growing up in a small town. My son, John, was adamant about being Mario this year. (I’m glad we had Fox News on … that always indicates that my dad is at my house.)

Here in my little town they do it up right. There are car loads and trucks pulling trailers full of kids, decorations and an abundance of children weaving through streets and yards.

My son is trick-or-treating at the across-the-street neighbor’s house – he got homemade sugar cookies. That doesn’t happen in the city. People will think you are trying to poison their kids, even if they live across the street. These neighbors are also retired teachers that taught science and algebra to me.

And it’s on! We trick-or-treat on something I call the “miracle mile” also known as Rodgers Drive. We can walk up our alley, cut through a neighbor’s yard and walk a one-mile loop and get all the good loot.

It’s a gaggle of girls plotting their next Halloween maneuver.  How much you want to bet that this basic scene will occur many times in the years to come? I’m glad I have a boy.

There are multiple generations waiting on the door step to give out candy because there are so many kids …

Not the greatest photo, but you get the idea… there are quite literally thousands of kids that stream through this cool  neighborhood. (We actually don’t live in this neighborhood, but we’re in walking distance!)

The intersection at Randy and Rodgers Drive … I wasn’t kidding when I said cars, trucks and trailers full of kids.

After our loop we end up back at our house and answer our own front door for the second wave of kids. Halloween is something of a marvel in our town. It really is something that looks like it was staged for a movie. By the way, we live in a place where we leave our kids outside to play in the street, which seems crazy in any place other than Arcadia.

Victual Files: La Taqueria Mexicana

If you like to visit different towns to take in and experience the local culture, there’s not a better way to do it than to test out the local food. A community is defined by what they eat and how they eat together. Especially in small towns, the available food is a large part of the definition of that community itself. Anytime we travel, we try to find out where the locals eat. You’ll usually get the best food, the best value, and the heart of what makes the community so much different than others.

The food culture in Texas follows no general rules, as each local town could best identify with BBQ or homestyle cuisine or even Mexican food. In the Old Town area of Graham is home to a non-so-hidden but probably mostly unknown treasure:  La Taqueria Mexicana.

Right on 4th street, residents have probably driven by it hundreds of times without much thought at all. Those who haven’t ventured in have really done themselves a disservice, though, because in the unassuming and relatively small taco shack you’ll find a delectable meal with “authentico” written all over it.

First of all, any Mexican food place that serves menudo on Sundays is as authentic as it gets. For those who aren’t familiar with menudo, it’s a stew that’s noted for its ability to help calm the aching head and rumbling gut of a late-night Saturday spent on the bottom side of a beer bottle. It’s not for the faint of heart, though. Menudo is a spicy broth made with chilis, tons of herbs and spices, and glistens with fat that’s rendered from its main ingredient: tripas, or tripe. Specifically, menudo is made with the honeycomb reticulum tripas from a beef’s second stomach. That’s right…one of the best hangover cures in Texas and all points south is a spicy beef stomach stew. Sounds disgusting, right? It’s definitely an acquired taste, but if you appreciate real Mexican cuisine and don’t pale at the sight of offal on your plate, then give menudo a try.

I’m not here today for the menudo at Taqueria Mexicana, though. It’s the tacos. If you like tacos (and every non-insane human loves tacos), then this is the place you need to head.

When you walk in the front door, you see the kitchen behind a front counter, and off to the right you have a small dining area.

Taqueria Mexicana has a solid reputation around town as a great place for breakfast burritos (which are more like the size of what we consider to be a taco). There’s nothing wrong at all with coming here for those, because they really are outstanding. Your choices for breakfast burritos include:

Pick either egg with meat or potato with meat. You can’t go wrong with these, although I’m a big fan of the potato with chorizo and egg. A closer look at the full menu:

This is the first page but you can see that you’ve got a pretty good choice of how you want your dish. I’m here for the taquitos, or little tacos. They are served on corn tortillas, which are made fresh back in the back. If you order the burrito, you get a flour tortilla, which is also made in the back. I love either one, and depending on my mood I’ll order either or both. Specifically, I’m here for the tacos al pastor.

Tacos al pastor are made with pork over a rotisserie. The meat is cooked similarly to the way that gyro meat in greek cuisine is made. The meat is cut into small bite-sized bits with just a perfect amount of chewiness and toothiness to make you want to take as many chews as possible to extract the most flavor.

Fresh onion and cilantro highlight the spicy flavors on the tacos al pastor.

While I was there, I went ahead and picked up a handful of the brisket tacos, too. It’s a different flavor profile completely, but it’s a formidable back up to the tacos al pastor on the menu

A close-up of the tacos al pastor:

Roll this over so you have a tight cigar, and you have a compact blast of nuclear Mexican flavor. The soft chewiness of the meat, the crunchy fresh onion, and the perfume of the fresh cilantro is unbeatable.

This is the part that I love…the mouth-coating grease from the pork falls right out the back. The seasonings, a mixture of chili, cumin, and oregano, make for a finger-licking cleanup.

Those brisket tacos I was talking about? They make a great mild compliment to the spicy pork.

Laying these out, you can see the perfect amount of meat, laid perfectly into the center of the taco.  No cheese, no sour cream, no ancillary or superfluous filling to take away or confuse the flavor.

Other menu items of note:

-The gorditas are incredible. They take the same meat as the tacos and put them in a purse of masa (like the texture of a tamale, but not steamed and round like a large ravioli).

-If you think you can handle it, try the chicharrones on your taco. Those are “pig rinds”, or pork skin cut into strips. The texture is like stiff gelatin.  Unless you’ve had them before and know you like them, go ahead and hold off on those until your third or fourth trip to TM.

-The salsa (labeled as “big container of hot sauce” on the menu) is superb. They serve a single serving with each taco/burrito, but you can also buy it in bulk. It’s fresh and delicious.

-You can buy the flour tortillas by the dozen. Homemade tortillas are unbeatable anyway, but the ones at Taqueria Mexicana really are tasty.

-During the week, they have lunch specials served with rice and beans.

Authentic. Homemade. Delicious. Taqueria Mexicana in Graham, Texas.