My Simple Bowl of Red
A Tale of Texas Independence

As rough and tumble as I thought I was, as maverick a spirit as I thought I possessed, the move was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life and there were moments a-plenty that I wanted to pack it up and scurry back to the comfort of the familiar, however crazy it was. Starting over can be a terrifying adventure.
Texas celebrates its independence on March 2.  I celebrate it 'most every day.  This is the story of my Texas independence.

I Am a Texan

I hitched my wagon to a star and moved to Texas fifteen almost 18 years ago with a rough and tumble ten year old tomboy and me, her mother, who thought she was also a rough and tumble thirty-something. I mean I was pretty headstrong. And I thought I could do just about anything I put my mind to, with ease. A move to Texas put an end to that notion.

It was with grudging respect that I considered Texas as a place to start over.  Having only lived in the state a few years as a young child, I never understood what I thought of as the 'arrogance of the Texan'.  You know what I'm talking about. They seemed awfully proud of their Texas, these people. They seemed to speak louder than other any other region's residents about how vastly superior Texas was in the battle of the states. I had not seen all this wonder. I had lived in Beaumont.  Well, I'm just going to leave it at that.

You ever need to start over? Throw out the white flag and admit surrender? Without going into the gory details (we'll save that for another day, maybe. A long day, maybe), the handwriting was on the proverbial wall--or billboard as it were.

I sat in my car at a particularly long red light, dizzy from the drama that was my life. I had exhausted my seemingly endless supply of Pollyanna optimism.  I recognized that there was no longer much of a bright side, a flip of a coin would find, alternately, just dim, or shady, and I really had no idea how I was going to right the ship and get back in the flow. I was swimming, upstream, getting nowhere.

That was when, looking around, that day, at that light (is this light EVER going to change?!?)  I saw a huge sign. Really. Not just a metaphorical sign.  It was a real sign and it said, with letters taller than myself:

Move to Austin.

Now. How are you going to argue against that? The billboard would absolutely SWAMP a burning bush, the sign I previously sought to confirm my plan. In reality, that was an advertisement for a now-defunct cigarette brand, but I took that sign as MY sign. I'm a sucker for signs.

Mine, of course, is not the only story of starting over in Texas; The state enjoys a long history of people just like me, who packed up everything they had, and lit out for Texas. The starry skies, wide open spaces, and independent spirit beckon to many--in fact a popular bumper sticker puts it best:  I wasn't born in Texas, but I got here as fast as I could.

And after only a short time, I came to realize that those 'arrogant Texans' had much for which to be arrogant. Texas is like a small country, where if one gets tired of the scenery, she can pack up and head a hundred miles in any direction, and find a whole new world to explore.

The move was not without it's hiccups. Moving an entire life is not an easy thing to do. The culture shock from laid-back laissez les bon temps rouler, to boisterous gitty-up & git-er-done was greater than I expected, and nearly did me in. Knowing no more than a few, all family, things were touch and go for a while. I was terribly homesick, and I spent hours upon hours writing letters to friends I'd left. Their letters in return were my lifeline. As rough and tumble as I thought I was, as maverick a spirit as I thought I possessed, the move was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life and there were moments a-plenty that I wanted to pack it up and scurry back to the comfort of the familiar, however crazy it was. Starting over can be a terrifying adventure.

Fifteen Almost 18 years later, I'm glad I stuck it out. I dug down deep and discovered a well of resolve, pulled myself up by my bootstraps, as Texans are wont to do, and set out to discover a new life, in a new land. I explored music festivals, and quirky coffee shops, and bookstores, and museums, and slowly began to fall in love. With Texas.

A friend recently discovered our correspondence from these years, and shared them with me. Reading along with my lonely letter, all those first melancholy days in beautiful Texas came flooding back. I can look back with awe at the girl who thought she was so tough, and found herself to be, in reality, pretty tender. I'm more comfortable with the complexities of that younger woman-- they've settled in, like I've settled into Texas.

There is breathtaking beauty in this state, the type of which brought tears to my eyes one day, a few months after I arrived, as I sat on the shores of  Lake Travis with my lunch, writing a letter to those beloved friends I'd left behind.
I miss you all so very much. And I miss Baton Rouge.  I miss magnolias and azaleas and levees and crawfish boils and charmingly obnoxious Tiger fans.  My heart aches with missing.  But as I sit on this shore, the sunshine on my face reflected from the water, below sandwiched between parenthetical craggy cliffs, I can't help but feel that I've found a new home. I am now, it seems, a Texan.
And as no mere afterthought:

My Simple Bowl of Red

In 1977, the Texas legislature officially proclaimed chili the official state food of Texas "in recognition of the fact that the only real 'bowl of red' is that prepared by Texans." I hope they'll give this transplant a pass.

This recipe makes one big pot of chili.  How many servings that is, of course, varies among the type of Texan you have around the table. For normal folks, I'd say around 8 servings, with leftovers.

3 lb chuck roast, boneless, trimmed (reserve trimmings)
1 cup masa harina (or corn flour, or fine ground cornmeal to substitute)
3 large onions
4 large cloves garlic, minced
1 bottle of beer (I could list some fancy brand here, but really?  Use one of that six pack you bought with which to wash this down.)
one pint beef stock, low sodium.  (I use home-canned stock, but you may substitute with low sodium stock from the grocery, which comes in 14.5 ounce cans, or 32 oz. boxes.  I would use the boxed, in a pinch, and save what I don't use to warm and drink, like my granny did.)
1 T minced fresh oregano
1t dried oregano
1 T cumin (I love cumin.  If you're not a fan, adjust this accordingly.)
Up to 1/4 cup chili powder.  (Chili powders are wildly different in terms of taste, and heat.  I make my own, by roasting and grinding my favorite chiles, but there are plenty of good store-bought alternatives.  Experiment to find your favorite, and begin by using 2 T, and adjusting to suit your taste.)
1 T cider vinegar
2t (or more) black pepper, and
kosher salt, as needed

Render fat from beef trimmings by slowly pan-roasting. Remove trimmings and add lard, bacon or other meat drippings, or cooking oil to equal 4 tablespoons.

Cut roast into 1/2 to 1 inch cube.  Alternatively, pulse in food processor to desired grind.  (don't over grind.  We're going for texture here.)  Toss to coat with masa harina.  In one tablespoon of fat, brown meat (in batches, adding fat when necessary) in a single layer in heavy-bottomed dutch oven (cast iron is our preference).  Remove and reserve each batch of meat.

Brown onions in remaining fat until translucent.  Add 1/2 cup of beer to the pot to deglaze, using a wooden spoon to scrape any bits from the bottom of the pan (cause this is just so much gooooooodness.).  Return beef to the pot, add beef stock, remaining beer, vinegar, and seasonings.  (caution:  beef stock, even low sodium, can become salty when reduced, so I reserve salting this until the very end.)  Bring to a low boil, and maintain, stirring often, for 15 minutes.  Reduce heat, and simmer 45 minutes. 

I like to refrigerate chili overnight before serving.  The seasonings are intensified, and it gives me the opportunity to skim the hardened fat that inevitably accumulates. 

Some folks are chili purists.  They top their chili with nothing, and they eat there chili with a fork.  Nothing else.  Some folks, primarily in Southeast Texas where the culinary borders are blurred with South Louisiana, eat their chili over rice.  Some folks think that's sacrilege.  Some folks eat their chili with cornbread.  Some, tortillas, some, totopos, some, saltines, some, Texas toast.  Seems each region has it's own set of 'chili rules'.  Some have no issues with garnishing, and, in fact, will provide many bowls of choice.  It's your chili--I say you get to decide.  Some garnishes may include:
cheddar cheese, queso fresca, crumbled goat, or any, cheese!
sour cream, or crema
green or yellow or white onion, chopped
cilantro, chopped
pico de gallo
sliced serrano or jalapeno peppers
lime wedges
avocado, sliced
and more.

So where's the BEANS you ask? Oh, please, keep your voice down. You'll rile the Texans. They might tell you to feel free to add beans.Just don't call it Texas chili if you do.Them's fighting words.

While rules have become a bit more flexible, and lengthy on the first weekend of November in Terlingua, there used to be but two-- "Have Fun and No Beans". Check out the Original Terlingua International Championship Chili Cookoff, and the competing Chili Appreciation Society International, both now in their 49th year and slated for November 5-7, 2015. It's a big ole party and a special kind of Texas-crazy.
"But as dinner now made its appearance, I had no leisure for further cogitation. I had made the plunge, and sink or swim, live or die, came back to me from school-boy days. Our frontier meal of beef, sauced with appetite and the grease of fried pork, and seasoned to scalding heat with red pepper, with milk to neutralize its blistering effects upon our throats, and thin Mexican cakes, called Tortillas, was brought in by the Col.'s Mexican woman."
Adventures on the Frontiers of Texas and Mexico. [The American Whig review. / Volume 2, Issue 4, October 1845]


  1. Your resiliency inspires me. Glad you are here in the lone star State.

    1. Ah, thank you Steph! Today I delivered a baby goat and it made me think all the more, of how my life would have been so different had I not moved to Texas. Wish us well-- first time mama doe isn't making this easy! lol Hope you and your family are doing well today.

  2. That chili is AMAZING! I will be making that VERY soon.

    1. Hey, thanks, Tiffanie! And thank you for stopping by. Great to see new faces around here.

  3. Oh Maggie so much of this story I can relate too. It was a huge life change for me too when I moved here. Someday I will be able to get the words out about my move, but until then, reading beautiful stories like this one help me to see that I am not alone in making this BIG BEAUTIFUL state my home too. Thank you for yet again sharing why I love you so much.

    1. I thought of you when I was writing this because of your move, here, too! You've become such a great TEXAN. Thankfully, for all of us, you've brought along warmth and love for all those you meet. Thank YOU.

  4. Loved this post - I always like getting to know people's stories. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Oh, the stories I have! lol. Thank YOU for reading!


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