Monday, January 24, 2011

Four Pieces of Fort Worth

Last weekend we made our annual trip to the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo: pics of Emma in her first pair of cowgirl boots will be posted on Facebook soon. In some ways, Fort Worth will always be home, so I want to use this post to give a few of the reasons I think the city is one of the state's most under-appreciated.

1) Ol' South Pancake House. It's not just the Dutch Babies. I love the place for managing to be both trashy and charming, eccentric and traditional. But we would be remiss not to talk about the Dutch Babies, which are miniature German pancakes swimming in lemon juice and butter and powdered sugar. You can eat three or four if you don't get sidetracked by the rest of the menu. But there's the problem: the rest of the menu is very tempting. For years I've watched waitresses (always waitresses--as far as I know, Ol' South has never had male servers) bring out waffles, french toast, and stacks of pancakes. But I'll never know how they taste--the stomach can only hold so much, and when I'm in Fort Worth, that space is reserved for Dutch Babies.

2) Cold Fort Worth Beer. Fort Worth is the home of Lone Star and Miller Lite. I only drink either when driven to financial desperation, but that happens a lot.

3) Dickies. When I moved to Fort Worth as a middle-schooler, I noticed right away that Dickies clothes (made on West Vickery Street) were everywhere: on every janitor and bus driver in town, on the budding gangsters that rode my school bus, on the country boys that came in from Mayfield and Weatherford for the Stock Show. I didn't get the appeal. I knew they were cheap, but cheap clothes aren't usually worn with the kind of pride that Fort Worthers afforded Dickies--a pride that, to me, seemed unwarranted. The shirts were stiff, and the pant legs had a peculiar stove-pipe shape.

Then, the summer before I went away to college, I worked in a factory just south of Burleson. Those days were spent entirely in Dickies workshirts and somehow, at some point, I came to like the unfussy Dickies aesthetic. Now I get excited at Wal-Marts with large Dickies selections, and one of my favorite sartorial items is a canvas Dickies belt I bought for something like $6.

4) The Cultural District. Philip Johnson's Amon Carter Museum, Tadao Ando's Modern, and my favorite, Louis Kahn's Kimbell Art Museum. Not just good buildings--perfect buildings. Buildings that change the way you think about light and space, buildings that make you fall in love with architecture. And they're surrounded by perfect lawns, green space that stretches from the bricks of Camp Bowie Boulevard, over the Stock Show grounds, all the way south to the Botanical Gardens. When I was a teenager we lived just a few minutes away, off of Forest Park; growing up so close to these buildings, and the art inside them, and the lawns, restaurants, and coffee houses around them--all of that shaped my idea of what it means to live in a city. Frankly, it spoiled me: now I'm unsatisfied if a city doesn't offer intimacy and surprise, friendliness and beauty.

That's a start, anyway. Someday I'll have to write odes to more of Fort Worth's wonders, like Ranch Style Beans, Record Town, and Mrs. Baird's Cherry Pies.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

What I Ate Over Christmas Break

I kind of love my family's holiday food traditions. Somehow, we've managed to cobble together a series of meals that captures every element of our Texan/Southern/Scottish/Danish/Spanish family history. It starts in early December, when we get two Danish kringles delivered from a mail-order company in Racine, Wisconsin--one from my dad in Columbia, South Carolina, and one from my Great Aunt and Uncle in Atlanta. On Christmas Eve, at Hannah's house in Georgetown, Texas, we eat carne guisada and tamales: probably my favorite meal of the year. For Christmas dinner, Hannah's mom roasts an amazing beef tenderloin. On New Years, Hannah and I drink cava, not champagne, and make my grandmother's recipe for hoppin' john and collared greens (see picture).

But for this post I want to give you the recipe for our Christmas morning breakfast, aebelskiver. Aebelskiver are round Danish pancakes, cooked in a special pan that I thought, growing up, no one in the world owned except for my mom.

Until I met Hannah. You see, our fathers are both of Danish extraction, by way of the Midwest, and each of their mothers taught their non-Danish daughters-in-law (our mothers) how to make these delectable treats. The batter recipe is simple:

4 cups buttermilk
4 cups flour
1 tablespoon sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons baking soda

The trick is in cooking them thoroughly and evenly. They have to be turned at just the right moment: my Grandma Rosie taught my mom to do it with a knitting needle; Hannah's mom does just fine with a fork. But you can only learn when to turn them through experience and intuition. It will take a few tries, but when you finally get them right, eat them hot with butter and powdered sugar.