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Tuck into Texas

(article, Liz Crain)

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America is quilted with rich culinary regions, but few have such fiercely proud fans as Texas. When Texans pack their bags and cross the state line, they often pine for Texas chow. In the blogosphere, they have a place to call home at the Homesick Texan. 

After several years of living in New York City and yearning for such Lone Star staples as Texas red chili, Dr. Pepper sweetened with cane sugar, and slow-cooked, sauce-free barbecue, Lisa Fain started blogging about the foods she missed the most.

[%image lisafain float=right credit="Photo courtesy Lisa Fain" caption="Lisa Fain"]

p(blue). Blog: Homesick Texan
Average posts per month: 5
Blogger: Lisa Fain
Age: 38
Blog place of origin: New York City

Fain’s postings aren’t just finger-lickin’ good, they’re often lick-the-cast-iron-skillet good. Her recipes range from chicken-fried steak with country gravy and Texas toast to chess pie and her favorite: refried beans. 

Fain has also recently started featuring interviews with other homesick Texans, such as Julie Powell, of The Julie/Julia Project, and Matt Armendariz, of Matt Bites.

Which homesick Texans would you most like to interview?
There are so many that it's hard to pin down, but definitely Wes Anderson, Luke and Owen Wilson, Win Butler, Dan Rather, and Dennis Quaid — perhaps because I have mild crushes on all of them. But it would be a blast seeing if they missed the same things as the rest of us do.

Is it possible to tell that your kitchen is a Texan's kitchen?
I think the two leading indicators would be my cans of Ro-Tel Tomatoes and Ranch Style Beans.


h1. Liz's favorite posts


1. Cream of the gravy crop
2. Independence and chicken fried steak
3. Homesick Texan Q&A: Julie Powell
4. Texas toast points
5. Iron pan, perfect cornbread


Although you'd also find a variety of dried chiles (including my red chile-pepper wreath), Mexican chocolate, Mexican oregano, epazote, avocado leaves, tomatillos, a variety of homemade salsas, a tortilla press, a jar of bacon grease, and bags of fresh pecans from my grandparents' farm.

Any Texas foods you don't like?
I'm not a big fan of pickled okra. Though I haven't eaten it since I was a kid and my palate is a bit more learned now, so perhaps I should give them another try.

What discoveries have you made since starting your blog?
I don't know if "discovery" is the correct term, but through blogging I've been reminded of things I'd forgotten about, such as people dropping peanuts into their bottles of Dr. Pepper, or chow-chow, a tangy green-tomato relish. 

I also recently learned that after all sweets were banned from Texas schools, there was an uproar from parents demanding the right to bring cupcakes to class on their child's birthday. So the state passed a "Safe Cupcake" amendment so this time-honored tradition would continue.

Where do you work?
I work at a magazine. And my role there has nothing to do with food, alas.

When did you start cooking?
When I was very young I savored the opportunity to help my mom and grandma bake cookies and pies, though I must admit probably more for the bowl-licking rewards than a culinary education. We also had a tiny cast-iron skillet (six inches in diameter) that I considered my personal pan due to its diminutive size. I loved to scramble eggs in it. 

In high school, I went through a processed-food binge, and it really wasn't until college, when my friends and I bought [%bookLink code=0894803417 "The New Basics Cookbook"], that I really started attempting to cook grown-up food. We went to Dallas one time in search of leeks to make a soup, and it was such a thrill seeking out this exotic ingredient. And for a brunch my senior year I successfully made a hollandaise sauce, and at that point I was sold on the magic of cooking.

Which Texan food traditions do you observe?
No beans in my chili, no sauce on my barbecue (which is always beef), and only cream gravy for my biscuits and chicken-fried steak.

Which Texas food do you most wish you could transport to New York?
Blue Bell ice cream in all its flavors would be welcome with open arms. Hill Country peaches would also make my mouth sing, but the state only allows them to be sold in Texas. And of course, every homesick Texan in New York City wishes you could buy Shiner Bock beer here. You can't have a proper barbecue without it!

[%image pintobeans float=right width=400 credit="Photo courtesy Lisa Fain" caption="Pinto beans, the central component of Fain's favorite refried beans."

Any Texan food etiquette you'd like to share?
In Texas, hospitality and generosity are highly valued. And I don't know if the things I was taught are particular to Texas, but like all rules of etiquette, these little acts are designed to make others feel welcome and respected. 

For instance, never address your elders by first name; they are always Mr. X or Mrs. X (or Ms. if they hail from a progressive family). Likewise, address those elders you don't know by name as either Ma'am or Sir. Never start eating until the host or hostess takes the first bite. 

When invited to dine at someone's home, always ask what you can bring. The finest way to compliment the cook is by both asking for seconds and the recipe. When someone comes into your home, always offer something to drink and a light nibble. And if it's near mealtime and someone unexpectedly drops by, always make room for them at the table. Likewise, if you see someone alone on a holiday, invite them to share a meal with y'all.

How often do you get to visit Texas?
I used to only make it back once a year. But this year, because of weddings, a hot-sauce festival I'll be judging, and other occasions, I may make it back a total of four times. I'm thrilled!

Will you ever move back?
I wouldn't mind having a home there, either at a Hill Country vineyard or a West Texas ranch. I also have family land in far north Texas that would be lovely to live on someday.

p(bio). Liz Crain is a writer in Portland, Oregon.

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pintobeans, l

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