You know the old adage. “You can take the X out of Y, but you can’t take the Y out of the X.”
Well, this little X left Texas in the dust almost a decade ago (and to go to Rome, no less!), and I like to think there’s little of the Lone Star State left in me. Sure, if you cut me, I’ll probably bleed Dr Pepper. And more than one of the anecdotes in my mental file of “Funny Stories to Tell at Parties” involves an armadillo. (C’mon, you know you want to hear my armadillo stories.) And fine, yes, I spent a large portion of my high school career at football games, but I was there for the marching band, and I haven’t been to a sporting event since.
Bottom line: I’m totally not a Texan. I lived there, grand total, about eight years. My southern accent is 95% gone, I haven’t worn spurs since I was knee high to a—well, to many people, since I’m the same height I was at 12. With the exception of two of my best friends, I don’t miss anything about Texas.
Except, curse you, the food. THE FOOD.
I’m obsessed with Tex-Mex, Mexican, New Mexican, Southwestern food of all types, colors, and degrees of spiciness. My stomach still growls when I think about certain breakfast burritos of my past. I drool at the scent of roasting Anaheim peppers, and I even know how to make green and red chili sauce. I own and regularly use a tortilla press. I gained ten pounds I still haven’t lost the year my husband and I lived in northern New Mexico, and I have no regrets. I would choose a pillowy, hot sopapilla dripping with honey over a donut any day of the week.
You get the idea. My attachment to Mexican food is almost unhealthy. I reject any and all Midwestern Mexican restaurants, almost out of hand. It’s tragic. They just don’t meet my standards.
So when I first moved out on my own and started venturing into cooking, one of the first cooking blogs I got addicted to was The Homesick Texan. I don’t remember how exactly I started craving soft, squishy flour tortillas—it probably had something to do with nostalgia for my midnight runs with my roommates to Taco Cabana, where we’d get tortillas and queso and eat them on the floor of our dorm room. We don’t have Taco C in the Midwest.
Excuse me while I wipe a solitary, queso-less tear from my transplanted southern cheek. *sniffle*
So when I found Lisa Fain’s recipe for flour tortillas all those years ago, it felt like a warm, delicious homecoming, and I didn’t even have to face the unbearable heat and questionable fashion choices of life in Texas. I bought her first cookbook as soon as it came out, and it’s one of the most stained, battered books in my collection—and I’m a vegetarian, mind you, so I can’t eat half the recipes in it.
Last weekend, feeling nostalgic again, I made kolaches. If you’re not from Texas or, oddly, central Europe, you may not yet know and love these delightful pastries. In a word, they’re rather like Danishes. In a sentence, they’re soft, buttery cakes with either a sweet or savory filling. But I could write more than a sentence: I could write a poem, a novel, an EPIC about kolaches and my love for them.
In a strange twist, the kolaches I ate so many early mornings in central Texas were actually made by a Korean family who had somehow landed in my small town. (Yep, Korean immigrants making the food of Czech immigrants for a Midwestern transplant. WTF?) I probably ate hundreds of their small, delicious sausage and cheese rolls, like pigs-in-blankets but infinitely more delicious. But being vegetarian now, I was more keen to try making a sweet kolache rather than one filled with greasy pork sausage.
I chose Lisa Fain’s Strawberry Cream Cheese Kolaches, a recipe you can find both online and in her first cookbook. And my goodness, was I rewarded. It’s a multi-step process: you have to make the filling beforehand and refrigerate it, mix up and knead the dough and let it rise multiple times, and you have to keep your out of control saliva glands dry long enough to keep yourself from drooling all over the individual components.
But when they baked, they filled my apartment with an amazing sweet, rich smell, and the first bite was so nostalgic (and delicious!), I could have closed my eyes and drifted away on a sea of buttery bliss. With one taste, I was fifteen, it was dark outside, and I was riding in the back of my parents’ car on the way to visit my brother in Waco.
Food more than anything can tie our senses to experiences: a whiff of scent, a nibble of food, and suddenly we’re in another place and time. I may have left Texas and my Texan life behind me, but my love for the food of the Southwest will be with me till I die. And it’s so delicious… I’m perfectly okay with that.
What food makes you nostalgic? Are there any regional cuisines that make you drool over mere photos of an entree?