Tag Archives: Texas

Till Death Do Us Part

A few days ago I came to visit my family on the Texas Mexico Border for Christmas. Since as long as I can remember my family has gathered here this time of year. We exchange gifts and share a few meals but in recent years another reason we gather is to visit my mother’s gravesite.

As soon as we arrive at her grave, my aunt, my mom’s sister, usually starts cleaning the site. With the help of my father they clean out all the fallen leaves and debris, and lay down bright colorful flowers. My brother places rocks on top of the headstone and I make a photograph. Always.

Under the shade of Huesache and Mesquite trees we stand quietly and remember her. It’s somber and bittersweet like the many visits we’ve made since her passing.

But it’s also a moment of reflection and clarity for me: Am I doing all I said I would? Am I making her proud? Am I being a person of integrity? Am I reaching my highest self?

It’s a touchstone place for me. I can’t think of a better way to end my year but to go there, lay down my success and my losses from the year, and exhale. I quietly whisper my dreams and hopes for the new year. This is how I say goodbye to the old and welcome the new.

As we finish out the final days of 2011 may you all find that place where you have reflection and clarity.

Thanks to all of you for all your comments, encouragement and support via this blog throughout this past year.

I wish you all a wonderful new year.

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My father at the family gravesite, Laredo, Texas /iPhone photograph

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Filed under About Penny, Encouragement, Inspiration, Texas, Texas Borderlands

Mom’s Tacos and Austin Food Trailers: My Comfort

Odd Duck Trailer, pork belly sliders

For years, I have been trying to find a crispy taco the way my mom made them when I was a kid.  Using tongs, she’d gently fold each corn tortilla in half as it fried to make the perfect taco shell. She would precisely lay each shell on a plate lined with paper towels to dry; then she would move on to the next tortilla. In advance, she’d make her famous picadillo: ground meat, diced onion, garlic, a hint of tomato and her secret weapon—a small amount of mashed potato—to make the ingredients meld and come together. The potato was her invention, or at least I thought it was. It would allow the meat to stay in place in the taco. She also would carefully dice iceberg lettuce, tomato, and onion, and grate cheddar cheese for toppings.

It was a big deal in our family when my mom made these tacos. My brother and I would hover around the kitchen watching her cook, salivating in anticipation of her filling the last taco shell so we could finally dig in.

There was an unspoken joy and love for everything that those tacos meant.

It’s hard for me to write about them without getting emotional about how special it was: the moment we sat down as a family and ate those tacos, the savory interplay of perfectly seasoned picadillo, crunchy taco shell and sharp cheese was heaven. But it was more than that. It was a first generation Mexican-American woman, who learned this recipe from her mother who learned it from her mother, and so on. It was personal history. It was love for her family and much like her using a little mashed potato in her picadillo, it was the glue that helped keep us all together. I have a lifetime of childhood memories around those tacos and they were some of the happiest times in my life.

El Naranjo, tostadas and guacamole

East Side Kings at Grackle, Ramen noodle, pork belly, poached egg, green onion and kimchee

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Filed under About Penny, Austin, Austin Food Trailers, Texas

Texas Burger Project

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Texans take their burgers seriously. Everyone has an opinion and everyone’s favorite burger is the best.
A few months ago I set out to photograph some of the best burgers in Texas and the unique places that serve them.
Pat Sharpe, food writer for Texas Monthly, inspired the idea based on an upcoming article she was working on. We met at the Counter Café in Austin for a burger and talked about burger joints she had scouted throughout the state. I went on to meet Alison Cook, food writer for the Houston Chronicle, again for burgers this time at Lankford’s Grocery in Houston. She shared her knowledge of Texas burgers and places she liked.
There were my starting points. I was not only looking for good burgers, but good atmosphere and lots of character. As I found them, each one led to another as locals recommended new places.

This photographic exploration into Texas burgers told me one thing; there is not just one great burger in Texas. There is an entire world of them and each offers something completely unique, whether it’s flame-broiled, hand packed, sauced to an extreme, on sweetened buns or topped with dozens of cheeses. There are some great one’s out there, grab your camera and go out and try them!

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Places I visited:

KinKaid’s Grocery Market- Fort Worth

Diary-Ette- Dallas

Twisted Root- Dallas

Angry Dog- Dallas

Adairs Saloon- Dallas

Club Schmidt- Dallas

Jake’s Old Fashion Hamburgers- Dalles

Keller’s Drive-In- Dallas

Burger House- Dallas

Bellaire Broiler Burger-Bellaire

Lankford’s Grocery- Houston

Sparkle Burger-Houston

Lucky Burger- Houston

Counter Café-Austin

P.Terry’s- Austin

Top Notch- Austin

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Filed under Domestic Assignments, Favorite Places, food culture, Hamburgers, Houston, Restaurants, Texas, travel

The Texas Issue


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This month Saveur’s Magazine is completely dedicated to my home state. My work on the issue found me in El Paso, Mule Show, Buffalo Gap, the Rio Grande Valley, Huntsville, Austin and Houston. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to discover more of the incredible food treasures Texas has to offer.

The best part of this assignment is that I fell in love with a larger than life West Texas rancher who makes a juicy, perfectly seared, mesquite grilled steak; two beautiful urban farmers who in a few days had me considering a second career; three families who make the best enchiladas, salpicon and choco flan I’ve ever had (Tia Clara if you are reading this lo ciento); a chef that finds the most amazing organic produce within miles of her Houston kitchen; and some gentlemen who make kick ass barbeque in a church.

How could any of that not make you very proud of where you live?

My favorite images from the assignment follow. They say everything!

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Filed under assignments, BBQ, Chefs, Domestic Assignments, Favorite Places, food culture, food history, Houston, Mexican Food, Monica Pope, Restaurants, Texas, Texas Gulf Coast, travel

Can a Photograph Make a Difference?

HoustonGangs12IMG_4642While working on a photography project on burger joints throughout Texas last week, I walked into this burger place in Bellaire, Texas, a small district inside Houston.

As I introduced myself to the owner I turned around to see a very familiar face. One I didn’t expect, “Alex…!?!” I said… in complete shock as he returned my expression.

“Whoa…!  No way…!” he replied. Stunned.

I worked on a project for Texas Monthly on Latino gangs on the south-side of Houston a few years back and spent the better part of a week with writer Skip Hollingsworth trying to get access to a members of Mara Salvatrucha, MS-13, one of the most dangerous and notorious gangs in Latin America and the entire US.

When I met Alex he was 20. He was one of the few people that gave us access into his world for a brief period of time. The few days I spent with him were interesting… to say the least.  They were filled with a mixture of anxiety and just being ready for anything. Always looking behind my back and thinking the entire time about how to create a photograph of this person that told HIS story.

Alex was deep in MS13.  Letting us into his world was a serious offense one that could cost him a lot, for himself and his family.  I didn’t take this lightly, making his portrait for the magazine would put him directly in the spotlight. We talked a long time about potential backlash and ramifications before he agreed.

I wasn’t willing to do it unless he was sure he could deal with the consequences and I still had my reservations up to the moment I made his picture.

The stories he told about his life were ones that I honestly wish I’d never heard. Hard stuff, things that make you grow up very fast and live even harder.

Seeing him this week was a first for me, I’ve never run into someone after I have made their picture, never. I know it might sound crazy but it’s just never happened. Someone like Alex isn’t someone I’d necessarily want to “accidentally” run into on the streets, either.

This crazy chance meeting was fate though.

He told me about how his life had changed after the article published. He did get some heat for allowing himself to be photographed. His family was threatened. He was threatened. Over time he watched every one of his friends disappear. Finally, he said forget it. He quit cold turkey and got a job at this burger place that I was photographing. He’s been there a month. In a few weeks he’s getting his tattoos removed.

“I changed my life, after my last friend went to prison, I said that’s it…I can’t do this anymore.”

It’s crazy how life puts us in places for certain reasons. Me seeing Alex was such a sign for me…

Realizing that in a very indirect way my image of him may have helped him truly see himself, maybe it hurt so much that it helped him get out.

Whatever it was, I was moved to see him. Touched, actually.

I asked if I could photograph him again, in his uniform. He smiled big and said yeah….

 

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Filed under About Penny, assignments, Domestic Assignments, Houston, Inspiration, Latinos, photography, Texas, travel

Tacos al pastor… you had me at hello!

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What is this delicious taco that with every bite sets off an explosion and contrast of flavors. Oh you sweet, spicy brown bundle of goodness…

This pork filled taco, which originated in Mexico City, is cooked shawarma style, on a spit called a trompo. This style of cooking was a tradition brought by Lebanese immigrants to Mexico.

The pork is marinated for a few days with chilies, cumin and various other spices. It cooks on the spit with pineapple pieces on top. The juices from the pineapple cook into the meat which tenderizes it. What ensues is a sweet spicy meat. Typically it is served in a small corn tortilla with onion,  pineapple, cilantro and a lime slice on the side.

For me, this is the defining taco of any taco truck. It takes a few extra steps to make a really good one. The extra effort is a big payoff  in flavor. In Austin there are limited places that make this taco well. Last Saturday me and a small group of friends spent the afternoon sampling different versions at various trucks throughout Austin. I had given up hope of ever finding anything decent until we stopped at La Guera. This little red trailer on South Lamar and Mary is awesome. They make a mean taco al pastor. The first bite filled my mouth with flavor, it went from sharp and tangy to sweet and then ended with a nice touch of heat. It blew me away, my mouth puckered from the lime juice, it had a perfect balance in taste. I was so happy to have stumbled upon this place. If you’re like me and you heart tacos al pastor, check out La Guera, she’s special.

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Filed under Austin, Austin Food Trailers, Mexican Food, street food, Texas