It feels good to be home. I had a red-eye flight into Houston the Monday before Thanksgiving, and got to work cooking literally right away. It was almost 1:30 a.m. by the time I’d gathered up my bags, made it through customs, and trekked to my dad’s side of town, but he was still wide awake and full of energy.
I’ll have to save the homemade yogurt-making lesson he gave me for another time. He even loaded up my childhood bread machine with a loaf of sweet potato flaxseed bread before we headed off to bed. That man is dedicated.
Homesick as I’d been, and happy as I was to be back on Tejano soil, I can’t deny that the salty air and simple life I’d left behind on the coast of Mexico were still fresh in my heart and mind.
Over the following week, I had nostalgic flashes of that crashing-wave sound, reluctantly remembered the sights and sounds of freeway traffic and back-to-back strip malls, and I unwittingly broke into Spanish a few times. I was stuck somewhere halfway between the Mex and the Tex.
Fitting, then, that on Tuesday night we all went out for dinner at my dad’s vintage Tex-Mex joint, El Real. I was so proud to see that they’d just taken home several awards, including The Houston Press Best Tex Mex Restaurant and Esquire’s Best New Restaurant list.
I dug into some queso and mushroom enchiladas, and for dessert we ordered a sampler of fresh churros and vanilla ice cream, along with tres leches cake and mini versions of the “milkshake no minors,” a Bluebell vanilla shake spiked with brandy and Kahlua.
Putting the dishes together this year seemed to be an especially poignant colliding of worlds. Stovetop-roasting the garlic, toasting the nuts, and rehydrating the chilies stirred up recent memories of my Mexican kitchen. Having orange-flesh sweet potatoes, Texas pecans, and ground thyme at my fingertips made me feel all the more at home.
The dish came out fantastic. I love the combination of the earthy, spicy ancho with the sweet, buttery potato, thick with onion and pecans and the sharp, creamy goat cheese.
As my dad pointed out, they were the only spicy things on our plates as the fam gathered to break bread that day. Who other than the recently returned Texican to add them to the mix?!