Dordogne France and Anniversary Waffles

To think that Dordogne almost didn’t make it on our itinerary is a shame. Protected by its relative inaccessibility, the region of Dordogne is full of unspoiled beauty and sites unlike anywhere else in France.  Filled with prehistoric caves, rock-sculpted villages, and the best foie gras in Europe, Dordogne was an easy area to fall in love with, and the perfect place to celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary.

A near five hour drive from Amboise, we took our time getting to Dordogne, enjoying the views and stopping for a roadside picnic lunch of baguette sandwiches with pork rillettes, whole grain mustard, and cornichons, and the best market strawberries on earth for dessert.

Arriving in the region in the late afternoon, we started our Dordogne adventure with a scenic drive through the eastern part of of the area, wandering through the sleepy towns of Carennac, Loubressac, and Autoire, and pausing for a Belgian pint in the well-preserved medieval town of Martel. After our drive, we made it to our bed and breakfast nestled near the river in Castelnaud, and it was there where the true magic of our Dordogne adventure began. IMG_0224IMG_0280IMG_0227

IMG_0260IMG_0303IMG_0339Our stay at La Tour de Cause was nothing short of perfect, and it’s partially because of this inn that Dordogne will forever have a spot on our itinerary each time we visit France. Our room and the grounds were lovely, the food was impeccable, and the inn owners had a gift for making us feel right at home.

After forcing ourselves from the too comfortable beds, we’d start each day with freshly squeezed orange juice, ripe cheeses, buttery croissants, homemade jams, creamy yogurt, decadent hot chocolate, and some other French or Belgian delight perfectly prepared and served by Igor and Nico, our hosts and new friends.

We’d sit around in their stunning  kitchen long after we’d finished eating, sipping our coffee and chocolate, chatting, and finalizing plans for our day. After breakfast, we’d slowly get ready and enjoy some time on the patio, before venturing out into the countryside to explore the best sites this part of France had to offer. IMG_0717IMG_0706.jpg

IMG_0795IMG_0772On our first full day we explored the nearby town of Sarlat-la-Canéda where we shopped the stalls at the bustling Wednesday market. As one of the most important market towns since the Middle Ages, not only did the Sarlat market offer us a wonderful culinary tour of the area, but it also offered a downtown rich in architecture and history, a great introduction to this historic region.

At the market we bought cheese and cured meats, tasted walnut liqueur, and spoke to the merchants in broken French. We stocked up on foie gras and terrines, and purchased fruit, wine, and baguettes for lunch. When it started to rain, we ducked into the church to sit and pray, before heading on to the more adventurous part of our day.

Once the rain passed, we headed down the road to start our nine-mile, lazy canoe ride down the scenic Dordogne river. Paddling at a relaxed pace, we took in views of lush forests and towering limestone bluffs, and then of castles and cliff-dwelling villages.

IMG_0389churchIMG_0445IMG_0420IMG_0466IMG_0541IMG_0594Docking our boat at the foot of the first village, we stepped onto dry land to explore the beautiful town of La Roque-Gageac, a quaint little place where we later returned for our anniversary dinner. From there, we paddled on past Castelnaud, where our bed and breakfast was located, before ending our excursion with a tour of one of my favorite castles, the mighty 12th century fortress of Beynac.

Hiking to the tip top of town, we enjoyed our walk up the narrow cobblestone roads, surrounded by historic homes and rose covered buildings, before being rewarded with sweeping views of the river valley area below.

Nestled 500 feet above the Dordogne River, Château de Beynac was used as a defense fortress by the French during the Hundred Years’ War, and having been recently restored,  gave us a great glimpse into what life might have looked like in this area during that time. Much different than the newer, more luxurious palaces we saw in the Loire, the fortress of Beynac was one of the coolest châteaux we visited in France, and is perhaps one of my favorite châteaux  I’ve seen in all of Europe thus far. IMG_0671

IMG_0621IMG_0617IMG_0645IMG_0659IMG_0656IMG_0629Winding down from a fun-filled day, we made our way back to our bed and breakfast where we had one of the best meals we had during our entire stay in France. Starting with aperitifs and hors d’oeuvres on the patio, I knew right away that our decision to stay in for dinner was the right choice. Igor and Nico serve up a lovely breakfast, but it’s dinner where their talent is truly able to shine.

Gathered around the kitchen table with Igor and Nico and two other guests, we enjoyed herring crostinis with creme fraiche and fresh dill, duck pâté croquettes topped with fried parsley and lemon, sausage stuffed quail with a wine and fruit reduction, sauteed zucchini, and a melt in your mouth polenta. The wine flowed freely, the conversation never stalled, and before we knew it, we were no longer a table of strangers, but instead, a table of friends.

After dessert, more wine, and then a pot of tea, we collapsed into bed, happy and full, and never wanting to leave. france wafflescave

tree.jpgDay two of our Dordogne adventure was another special one as it was also the day of our 5th wedding anniversary. As if dinner the night before hadn’t already been perfect enough, we were greeted at breakfast that morning with cheers and music and special, anniversary waffles. With Frank Sinatra’s Love and Marriage playing in the background, we celebrated with our new friends, feeling loved, and so happy to be in France.

Though maybe not the most romantic way to celebrate an anniversary, we continued our day and our Dordogne adventure by exploring the region’s biggest attraction and touring two of the hundreds of prehistoric caves that are scattered around the area.

The first cave we visited, Lascaux II, is an exact replica of the area’s most famous cave, Lascaux. Just feet away, the original cave was closed to the public in 1963 to help preserve the art. After being discovered in 1940, changes in the environment caused by human visitors did more damage  to the art in the 15 years it was open to the public than in the estimated 17,000-20,000 prior. This cave is most famous for The Great Hall of the Bulls, a section of the cave which depicts colorful paintings of bulls, equines, and stags, as well as the largest painted animal discovered so far in cave art, a 17 foot long bull. Next we saw original and newer (though certainly not new! est. 13,000 years old…) cave art at Rouffignac, which is well known for its engravings and drawings of mammoths, bison, horses, and other large animals. Our visit to these caves was a highlight of our trip, and though maybe not romantic, was a wonderful way to celebrate our anniversary. 

After our cave excursion we enjoyed a late picnic on a quiet riverbank next to an 11th century Romanesque church, before heading back to our bed and breakfast for a nap, and then on to another memorable French meal.

While I would be happy celebrating marriage anywhere on earth with my dear hubs, our 5th wedding anniversary is definitely a day I will never forget, and it’ll take a lot to top this year’s memorable celebration. IMG_0864IMG_0844IMG_0817IMG_0849On our third and last day in Dordogne, we cracked open a bottle of Chimay before noon, and enjoyed one more chat with Igor and Nico gathered around their kitchen table. We talked politics and about our work, and most importantly, about food. I shared with them some of my favorite recipes, and walked away with some of theirs. Too quickly the bottle was empty and the hour was late, and we still had one last castle to visit before leaving for our next town. Sadly saying our goodbyes, we packed the car and went down the road to visit Château de Castelnaud-la-Chapelle before heading on our way.

I cried a bit when leaving, sad to move along so soon, but also excited for what was next to come. I read the paper Igor had given me,  a recipe for the waffles we enjoyed on our anniversary, and smiled knowing we’d forever be able to have a bit of Dordogne in our lives, wherever we may go.

My new go to waffle recipe, these are great for breakfast, dessert, or a late night snack. Though I call them anniversary waffles, they’re really just a great Belgian waffle recipe that came from some amazing Belgians in France, perfect for anniversaries, or any weekday or weekend meal. We like them best warm and very crisp, served with a smear of apricot jam, and washed down with a chilled glass of champagne.

Anniversary Waffles 

Makes 9-10 Waffles 

2 cups flour

1 cup milk

3/4 cup water

3 eggs

10.5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1.5 teaspoons dry yeast

1 tablespoon sugar

dash of vanilla (optional)

dash of salt

In a large bowl, mix together sugar, water, and yeast, then mix in all other ingredients, except for the salt. Loosely cover batter and rest in the fridge for 12 hours.

After your batter has rested, mix in a dash of salt, and cook waffles according to your waffle maker instructions. I like to cook mine on the hottest setting, allowing them to become extra crisp. Serve with powdered sugar, syrup, or my favorite, a high quality jam.

 

Road Trip Through France, Part 1

It was nearly three years ago that I first experienced France, in the city of lights, in a city I had never visited, but yet a city I already deeply loved.

I talk here about how nervous I was about our first visit to Paris. I had played it up so much in my head that the thought of it being anything less than magnificent was a scary one. Well, to my great pleasure, it was everything I had ever hoped it would be. The food was memorable, the people were lovely, the sites were breathtaking, and our overall experience was one I will never forget.

Wanting to experience this perfection all over again, for this trip abroad, instead of zipping all around Europe, we put roots down in one country and spent two weeks exploring some of the best sites and landscapes that France has to offer.

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Our trip started in the stunning Loire Valley where we spent our time château hopping and exploring the lovely town of Amboise. Arriving in Amboise we were greeted by the cold and rain, but we made the best of our first night in France, bundled up in sweaters walking around town, and dropping into a small cafe for crepes and onion soup. After a good night’s rest we started our Loire Valley adventure with pastries and hot chocolate at our lovely little inn, and set off to the first château of our journey, the 17th-century mansion of Cheverny.

Arriving mid morning on a Monday we had Cheverny mostly to ourselves. Along with a few other tourists and roughly 110 dogs, we toured this grand establishment and walked the spacious grounds. After our tour around the estate, we enjoyed a visit with the Cheverny hunting dogs, and then moved on to continue our day.

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We left the property to find picnic supplies and settled down in front of an old church to enjoy our meal. We had been in France for less than 24 hours, but already, it was just as lovely as we remembered.

From Cheverny we headed to the largest château in the Loire Valley and explored the massive palace of Chambord. Originally built as a hunting lodge, this 440-room palace has a fireplace for every day of the year and is surrounded by Europe’s largest enclosed forest park, a game preserve defined by a 20-mile long wall. 

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We spent a couple of hours wandering the grounds and exploring the château’s many empty rooms. We played around on the property’s famous spiral staircase, and then, growing tired of Chambord’s massiveness, moved on to discover my favorite château, the dreamy and romantic Château de Chenonceau. Gracefully arching over the Cher River, this 16th-century Renaissance dwelling is the kind of place I would happily call home.

As the most popular château in the Loire Valley, Chenonceau is well-known for crowds, but thanks to a chill in the air and a perfectly-timed rainstorm, we nearly had the whole place to ourselves, which only added to Chenonceau’s charm.

We were welcomed into the château by a crackling fire in the entry fireplace, and greeted in each room by stunning arrangements of flowers put together from the property’s gardens. Each room we entered not only gave us a well-preserved look back into time, but also flooded our senses with the smell of peonies, roses, and lilies. Jacob would chuckle at my excitement not for the centuries old art or architecture all around us, but instead, over the exquisite flower arrangements that adorned each room.

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Flowers aside, the architecture and history of this manor did not fail to wow me. We loved the views of the river and gardens which could be seen from almost every room, the creepy mourning room of Louise de Lorraine,  and most of all, the beautiful and historic kitchen.

Most other kitchens during this time were in a separate or semi-detached building to reduce the risk of fire, but because of its location, Chenonceau was one of the only châteaux in the 16th-century to have a kitchen within the château itself, and while that was cool and all, if I am really being honest, it was really all of the copper pots and pans and the gigantic butcher block that still has me swooning over that kitchen today…

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Once the rain cleared we checked out the gardens and took a stroll around the tourist-abandoned farm. We watched ducks and smelled more flowers, and stumbled across sections of the property that very well could have used as movie settings for The Secret Garden. 

Having had enough châteaux for one day, we headed back to Amboise where we enjoyed a bottle of local wine and a picnic before taking a bright, late-night stroll along the Loire. Hugging tight to stay warm, we watched the city lights twinkle, reminiscing about our day, and looking forward to the wonderful adventures in France still to come.

A Weekend on Padre Island

There are few things that rejuvenate me more than traveling. Whether hopping a plane for an extended trip, or packing the car for a quick weekend adventure, the level of excitement I feel over exploring a new place is always the same.

When we lived in Boston, traveling was easy. A trip to the beach was never more than an hour away, a trip to the mountains just a little more. We could be to the country in only 30 minutes, and often, our favorite adventures were had right out our own backdoor.

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Traveling in Texas hasn’t been quite as easy. Nearly four times the size of New England, Texas travel takes much more time. We have a running list of places in the state we’d love to visit, but until we have the time for 7-10 hour drives, we’ll just have to keep those trips on hold.

Bored with our frequent Hill Country visits but eager for adventure, with a forecasted 82 degree high, last weekend, we headed south to explore the Texas coast.IMG_0602

I’d longed to see the Gulf ever since moving to Texas. Only three hours from Austin, it’s a place I figured we’d visit often. Well, it only took a year and a half living in Austin to get us there, but at least we finally made it.

Though unseasonably crowded for the end of January, we were still able to find seclusion, and the relaxation we were after. Upon arriving on Saturday after a desolate drive, we ventured off road and took our car down the beach for a few miles to find ourselves a quiet spot. Tucked away next to the dunes we set up camp and spent the afternoon playing with Heidi, our beach-loving pup.

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Though Heidi deeply enjoyed the ocean, she more so loved the sand. She spent hours running and splashing, and making a mess digging holes. She chased birds and played football, and caked her face with sand. She was a mess, but hysterical, and watching her was my favorite part of the day.

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Once the sun hit the horizon, we settled in next to the fire with our dinner and mugs of wine. We stayed up late talking, watching the stars and listening to the waves. Come midnight, we finally crawled into our tent and went to bed, tired from the wine and conversation, and soothed by the sound of the wind and crashing water just feet away. IMG_9558

On Sunday we relaxed to an interesting cycle of sun and haze. One minute it would be so terribly gray that we thought surely we’d be stormed on, and the next there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. This went on for a good hour or two before the sun finally won and kept the clouds away. Soaking up the sunshine and the cool ocean breeze, we spent the remainder of our morning reading and resting, before packing up and heading on our way.

On our way out we grabbed fried fish from a seafood shack in town and enjoyed it on the beach before calling it a day. Bidding Padre Island farewell, I inhaled the ocean air one last time, already longing for my next weekend away.

A Weekend in South Haven Michigan

There’s something incredibly soothing about the faces of old friends. When life and career paths pull you so far away from those people you mesh with best, little can beat sweet reunions, where your paths cross once again, and where conversations ignite like no time has passed between you.

Two weekends ago, the hubs and I caught an early flight to Chicago, where we were greeted by Sam, the first friend we made upon moving to Boston. Coming from Michigan, Sam arrived bright and early, excited to show us around his home state. We drove north, chatting and laughing at his silly puns, as if we only saw each other just last week.

Our day started right with a delicious lunch and a pint at a southern Michigan brewery. After filling our bellies with delicacies and laughs, we continued our reunion with another round, in the beautiful, sunny 75 degree weather, playing cornhole and enjoying each other’s company. pup
The reunion quickly doubled as we welcomed friends from Wisconsin, and said hello to the newest member of their family. Cornhole and drinks continued, as we enjoyed the sun, running around in the grass with Francis, our friends Matt and Sophia’s adorably handsome son. And again, just like with Sam, it felt as nothing had changed. Our conversations still flowed just the same as they did in Boston at the local pub at 1:00 am, but this time, we just had another Von Rueden there to love.

That night, the last of our group made it to town, along with their pup who made me wish desperately  that our Heidi girl were small enough to fly. We sat outdoors wrapped in sweatshirts and blankets, chatting until late into the night. My heart was full, and the weekend had only just begun.

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Saturday morning we enjoyed coffee and donuts scrunched in on the living room couch, watching the pup and babe play. After a lazy morning, we walked to farmers market, where we picked up local treats and food for dinner that night. From there, we made our way into a little pizza shop near the water, where we ordered some pies to go, and enjoyed them together watching the boats in the marina sail by. We continued our day with naps and books on the beach, and splashed in the cool Lake Michigan waves. Time moved slow, but ever too quickly, as I savored those moments on our much needed weekend away.

That night we cooked together and ate blueberries by the handful and drank cocktails and local Michigan beer around the fire. We played games and shared stories and celebrated milestones and announcements. We reminisced about our time spent in Boston, and laughed about that things that happened that day. I cried a little when I went to bed, feeling exhausted but grateful for the weekend, and excited for the moments that were still ahead.

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Sunday was my birthday, and I celebrated the best way I knew how. I slept in and ate brunch and sipped spicy Bloody Marys as I watched the rain. We visited a cidery, and then another, and then ate a bagful of cider donuts to soak it all up. We ate Mexican food and drank margaritas and then watched the sunset from the pier. I ate birthday cake ice cream from Shermans and went to bed before midnight, feeling overwhelmed with love and grateful for such a wonderful day.

Monday, our last full day in town, we ventured into Grand Rapids where we visited Founders, a french bakery, and then had another round in a local micropub. We ate truffle frites and pickled vegetables, and again laughed until it hurt. We spent our last night together circled around the table, and then again around the fire. We stayed up way too late, enjoying the cold air, and the good company. I knew that tomorrow our trip would end, and I sure wasn’t ready.

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On Tuesday morning after saying our goodbyes, I spent the next two hours reflecting on our weekend on our drive back to Chicago. In her books, one of my favorite authors, Shauna Niequist (who ironically spends her summers in South Haven, a fact I knew but didn’t realize until long after booking our trip), discusses the importance of doing what you must to make your way to friends around the country when life spreads you far apart. Recently listening to her discuss this, I found myself in tears as I mourned over the fact that many of our closest friends are so far away. Though sad for that short moment, my pain quickly turned to joy, as I eagerly thought about how soon we’d be able to follow Shauna’s advice, and gather with dear friends in a place that she calls home. I thought about this on our drive to the airport, realizing what a beautiful time the weekend was to reconnect with familiar faces, igniting something in my soul, and satisfying my deepest longing for familiarity.

You may have noticed I’ve been absent from this blog for far to long. Part of that has been an issue with time, as I’ve struggled this year to balance work, fun, and settling into a new city. A greater reason though was inspiration. My traveler’s heart sat too still this year, and I found myself in a downward spiral. Every time I would sit to write, the words I wanted to say wouldn’t come. It wasn’t until two Saturday’s ago, when I sat with friends in Michigan around a table, that I realized that my desire was still there. I became a blogger among those friends, and it was them who reminded me that my passion for blogging never went away. It just took adventure and their familiar faces to get me there.

Until next time!

Shrove Tuesday, Pancakes, and a Very Special Birthday

Today is a special day for a couple of different reasons. For one, it’s Shrove Tuesday, meaning it’s a day for self-reflection, examination, and confession. Secondly, it’s my dear hub’s birthday, and boy, is he worth celebrating.

This morning we enjoyed banana pancakes together because they’re his favorite, and because it’s Fat Tuesday, and I will take any excuse to eat pancakes. After breakfast, I wrapped his gift and got an early start prepping for dinner. Tonight, we won’t be out for a crazy Mardi Gras/birthday celebration, but instead, we will enjoy a nice dinner together at home, relaxing, finding rest and peace, because during this lenten season, that’s just what we need.

The last six months have consisted of many changes. It was a season of transition and of adaptation. It was an exhilarating, emotional, exciting, and exhausting season. This year, for me, lent is serving as a fresh start. A beginning to the next season, a start to something new. Life finally feels a bit settled here in Austin, a little more routine, and not quite so exhausting.

I’m not sure exactly what I will be giving up this year, or if I will actually be giving up anything at all. I am still trying to figure out what I expect from this season, and am still working on my desires and goals. I long for rest, both physically and mentally, and I desire to be really intentional with my actions. I do know that much. So today, instead of of exhausting myself with worry about how I will go about that, I am choosing to find peace and rest and celebrate the man that I love. Happy birthday, my dear hubs, I am so very glad that you were born!

The-Daily-Doss---Banana-Pancakes
Banana-Walnut, Sour Cream Pancakes

yields eight 4-inch pancakes

1 large egg

1 cup sour cream

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon table salt

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

pinch of ground nutmeg

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

butter, for pan

1 large, ripe banana, chopped

1/4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted

In a large bowl, whisk together the egg, sour cream, vanilla, and sugar. In a separate bowl, whisk together the salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, flour, baking powder, and baking soda. Fold dry ingredients into wet ingredients, mixing until just combined.

Melt a pat of butter in the bottom of a large, heavy pan over medium-low heat. Ladle in 1/4 cup batter at a time, leaving 2 inches between each pancake. Sprinkle each pancake with a heaping tablespoon of chopped banana, and a heaping tablespoon of walnuts.

When the pancakes are dry around the edges and you can see bubbles forming on the top, flip each pancake and allow to cook for another 3-5 minutes on the second side. Once cooked through, remove from pan, add another pat of butter, and cook remaining batter.

Serve with powdered sugar, additional walnuts, and pure maple syrup, if desired.

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s Peach and Sour Cream Pancakes

Back to the Basics: Homemade Whipped Cream and Pie Dough

There is no dessert more classic at Thanksgiving than a pie, and no better topping for a pie than whipped cream. As many of us will soon be indulging in our favorite holiday desserts, I thought I would share a couple of recipes to help put your pies over the top.

It never fails to surprise me how many people can’t (or don’t…or won’t) make their own whipped cream. It’s one of the easiest recipes I’ve ever made and only requires ONE ingredient. It tastes much better than store bought whipped cream, and though I haven’t compared the prices, a container of heavy whipping cream is pretty cheap. If you can make a pie, I promise you, you can make homemade whipped cream.

While really, all that’s necessary is heavy whipping cream, it’s common to sprinkle in a little sugar to sweeten up the taste. Sometimes, I switch it up a bit and use maple syrup instead of sugar, or maybe add some vanilla or a splash of bourbon, but really, a classic sugar/cream whipped cream is hard to beat.

If you have a stand mixer, this is seriously the easiest recipe in the world. Just put your cream and sugar in your mixing bowl, turn your mixer on high, and in about two to three minutes, you’ll have yourself a glorious bowl of whipped cream. If you don’t have a stand mixer, a hand mixer works great as well. It might take a few minutes longer, and it’ll help if you freeze your bowl and beaters for about 15 minutes before you start, but that is still a pretty simple recipe if you ask me.

If you are whipping by hand, you rock! You deserve a big spoonful of cream (and maybe a shot of bourbon) once you are done. If you choose this route, you’ll certainly want to stick your bowl and beaters in the freezer for a few minutes before you start. It’ll help you out and cool you down while you work.

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Homemade Whipped Cream

yields 1 1/2 – 2 cups whipped cream

Ingredients 

2 tbsp sugar

1 c heavy whipping cream

Directions

Whisk together cream and sugar in a mixing bowl until soft peaks form.


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Though slightly harder and a little more work, homemade pie dough is another simple recipe that every cook should know how to make. You have to plan a bit ahead on this one as your dough needs time to chill, but if truly in a hurry, a freezer usually helps to do the trick. Most recipes will ask you to chill your dough in the refrigerator for a minimum of one hour (I recommend this as well), but I’ve been in a cinch a time or two where chilling my dough in the freezer for 30 minutes worked.

Unlike whipped cream, there’s a bit of a deeper science to creating a great pie dough, so I will let the professionals walk you through this one. For galettes and tarts, I enjoy Bon Appétit’s Basic Tart Dough, and for flaky pies, I favor Smitten Kitchen’s All Butter, Really Flaky Pie Dough all the way. If you are into graham cracker crusts, ole Deb Perelman also has a great recipe for that. It’s my favorite for cheesecakes and pumpkin pies!

As you prepare your desserts this holiday season, I encourage you to give your own whipped cream and pie crust a try. Intimated by the dough? Start small with the cream. It’ll put your dish over the top and leave your guests hungry for more. If you feel a bit nervous about making your own pie dough, Christmas is still a month away. That leaves you plenty of time to practice!

Bon appétit and happy Thanksgiving!

Mexican Meatball Soup

When we lived in Boston, good Mexican food was hard to come by. It took over a year for us to find anywhere worth driving to (it was a ways out from the city center) and it wasn’t until the night before we left town that we finally found an authentic taco joint. We craved it often and were so rarely satisfied. We missed pitchers of beer and spicy salsa with bottomless baskets of chips. We longed for Mexican white cheese dip and I always failed miserably at making my own. Each time we would head home to Arkansas, barbecue and Mexican food were always on the top of our list. We’d eat until we were miserable, but it was worth it every time.

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Now that we are in Texas, we have access to more Mexican restaurants than we could ever try in a lifetime. There are probably at least 10 trucks and restaurants just on our block, and a thousand more scattered about the city. The grocery store located just down the street greets you with colorful aguas frescas, and there are peppers there that I dare not try to identify. I love the Mexican culture that’s prominent across Texas and the delicious culinary inspiration that it brings.

This recipe comes from a new friend of mine who can cook Mexican food with the best of them. As we chatted about the weather turning cooler she made mention of one of her favorite Mexican soups. “I’d love for you to teach me how to make it,” I told her, and that is just what she did.

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Silvia, who was born in Mexico, has been eating this soup for her entire life. Her grandmother would make it when she would visit her in Tijuana, and she grew up eating her mother’s rendition in her home in Los Angeles where she grew up. Now that she’s in Texas, she cooks it for her fiancé and for lucky friends like me.

It’s a simple soup, and really, the ingredients are rather basic. Feeling a bit surprised by this, I had to ask what exactly made it Mexican. “It’s just a soup that we eat in Mexican homes,” I was told. At first, I was a little let down by this answer. I was secretly waiting for that “special ingredient,” the exotic flavor that made it truly Mexican, but as we sat down for dinner, I realized that her answer couldn’t have been anymore perfect. It’s not just the ingredients in a recipe that make it regionally authentic, it’s how you eat it and how you share it that’s important. Happy for the reminder, I finished off my last meatball, feeling glad for new friendships, and full and comforted from this tasty soup.

Like any good cook preparing a family recipe, Silvia did not measure anything out. I jotted notes as we went along, but really, they are only guesstimates. Take these notes for what they’re worth, and have fun using your imagination along the way!

¡Buen provecho!

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Mexican Meatball Soup

Serves 4

5 cups water

4 Roma tomatoes

2 garlic cloves

1 lb ground beef

2 tbsp rice

1 egg

2 tbsp fresh mint, chopped

1 tsp cumin

1 quarter of a large white or yellow onion, chopped

4 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks

2 zucchinis, cut into 1-inch chunks

1 large potato, cut into 1-inch cubes

1 tbsp olive oil

s&p

lime

tapatío hot sauce

In a large pot or dutch oven, sauté onion in olive oil until soft. Meanwhile, blend tomatoes, garlic, water, and a good pinch of salt until smooth. Poor broth into pot, add carrots, zucchini, and potatoes, and bring to a low simmer.

While your broth simmers, mix together ground beef, cumin, mint, egg, rice and salt and pepper in a large bowl. With your hands,  pack meat into 1-inch balls. Gently place into your broth.

Cover pot and simmer soup until vegetables are tender and the meat is cooked through, about 25-35 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste and more cumin if desired. Serve with lime wedges, Tapatío hot sauce, and a side of charred tortillas.