This week, I'm in Austin, Texas visiting my son and daughter. I drove here, about 2,000 miles, and along the way saw corn standing in old-fashioned shocks in an Ohio field, long barge tows on the Mississippi, and newly planted rice in eastern Arkansas. Otherwise, America from the interstates is rather uninspiring, although once you reach the South, the music on the radio lets you know our country is not wholly homogenous. I heard good country in Nashville, soul and R& B in Memphis and fantastic blues in Little Rock.
Last night, we had Lou and Abby Comeau over for dinner. Abby lives on the other side of Austin, and Essex's favorite bon vivant was down here for a visit. With old-school cowboy boots and a Stetson, he looked every inch the prosperous Texas cattleman. Like me, he is enthralled with the local barbeque, particularly beef brisket, smoked over oak until it falls off the bone, salty, sweet and totally addictive.
My favorite barbeque place is in Taylor, Tx., a run-down farming and railroad town north of Austin. The restaurant is in a former basketball gym, and so smoky inside the walls and ceiling are a deep burnt umber color. It's counter service only, with butcher paper for plates and picnic tables for seating, but the beer is cold, the ribs delicious, and afterward you can shoot baskets at the far end of the room.
On Saturday, I went to Austin's farmers market to get some greens and fresh eggs. I also came home with some Texas-grown mushrooms and a couple of bottles of peppery olive oil. A woman and her son run the olive ranch, as they call it, down near the Mexican border. The countryside there is what we in verdant Essex would think of as desert, with scrubby brush, endless bleak vistas and lots of dismal grays and browns. The olives are all irrigated, of course, and their biggest problem is rattlesnakes getting into their processing plant. The snakes are being displaced by nearby oil and gas exploration, so they keep a rifle handy.
After I wear out my welcome here, my next stop will be coastal Alabama, where I'm curious to see what last summer's big oil spill did to the shrimp and oysters.