Chicken and Dumplings or Chicken ‘n Dumplins

Growing up in Nebraska I always loved chicken and dumplings.  My dumpling world was limited to the ones Mom made, however.  If I recall correctly, these were dumplings made with Bisquick.  They were delicious and a personal favorite but they are considerably different than the ones you’ll find on order in Texas.  Mom’s were pillowy spoonfulls as opposed to the traditional wide Texas strips.

My Texas experience with dumplings began at the Paris Coffee Shop.  Fridays were the special day of the week when Paris served wall-to-wall patrons with delicious helpings of chicken ‘n dumplins on cafeteria style trays along with traditional Texas sides like steamed okra.  It was a pilgrimage for many of us.  Comfort food after ill advised nights out or breaks from study sessions.  (Oh, who am I kidding, the latter probably never happened.)

So, imagine my delight when my wife-to-be brought me home to Houston during a break in the semester only to introduce me to her Gramma, in the kitchen, preparing a delicious pot of chicken and dumplins.  Mrs. NH’s family was serious about this dinner.  My future father in law even had his own dumpling bowl.  I’ll admit, I was a bit taken back by the seriousness of the whole ritual.  Dedicated dumplin bowls?

Yet, as soon as I took my first bite of these dumplins, I realized exactly what all the fuss was about.  I wanted this recipe in my family.  Marriage seemed like a pretty good way to lock it in.

So imagine my glee last Saturday night.  I was in the NH kitchen to witness the first mother-daughter joint dumplin cookoff.  Mrs. NH passed down the recipe and technique to Little NH just as her Gramma did before she passed away.  I have to say, love must be a major component in this recipe.  Because with both generations of NH girls in on the cooking, they tasted better than they ever have.  And that’s saying something.

Oh, and a note on the spelling of “dumplin”; I was informed at my first meal with the family of my wife to be that dropping the G was the correct pronunciation.  You think I’d argue and risk getting a second helping?

I have to say, it’s great to have family traditions like this especially when all I have to do is eat the finished product.  With any luck, my girls will pass this tradition down to my grandkids some day.  Time to get me a dumplin bowl.

Texas Time

“Are you bored yet?”

That’s the question I get from, well, pretty much everyone who isn’t around me here in Houston.  The answer is, “No, not yet.”

Not at all.

Between the doctor’s appointments, sojourns to the grocery store, post office and whatnot, I’ve actually been keeping up with what’s going on in the office.  I’ve been fortunate enough to see friends from all over.  Sometimes in the same day.  Did I mention the grocery stores?

Oh, and then there are the wineries, museums, the zoo, brewery and ice cream factory that we’ve managed to visit.  Life’s good here in Texas.

Now, if we could just get this baby thing underway…

Shiner Brewery Tour – Shiner, TX

On the road between Houston and Austin and have an hour or two to spare?  Set the cruise to 74 on some back roads and hit the Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner, Texas.  Any old GPS (or map) will get you there and it will be worth your visit.

I’ve visited a few breweries in my time and almost no one gets it as right as Shiner does.  It was a quick, informative, free and tasty tour.  On the beer trivia front, it was interesting to learn that Shiner has the capacity to bottle almost 500,000 bottles of beer a day.  Not to mention, it brews everything from a “Light” to a “Bohemian Black” and can switch its bottling line from style to style in about 20 minutes.  How’s that for old world beer and German engineering brought to small town Texas?

Finally, our gracious tour guide Anne, made it clear that some of the old world is still in this delicious Shiner brew.  The hops.  Yes, the hops come from “Germany and the Czech Republic”.  When we queried our hostess on pinpointing the actual home of the hops, she demurred.

All that and a secret recipe, to boot.

Merry Christmas from Texas!

We made it, we made it, we made it!  Flying through Amsterdam was a breeze and the flight to Houston was complete with generous wine service, movies in the headrest of the seat in front and all in our party had a really great flight.  We arrived to see Gigi, aunts, uncles and cousins and got a decent night’s sleep.

I got up this morning and set up Gigi’s new wifi router and now I feel right at home.  Merry Christmas to all of my faithful readers.  We’re looking forward to seeing some of you soon in person and we’ll be on skype with the rest of you!

Merry Chrismas!

Cranky Frank’s BBQ – Fredericksburg, TX

I love to cook.  Part of the reason for that is the fact that I love to eat.  What’s more, I really like to eat good stuff.  So, Mrs. NH and I have put our cooking skills to use over the past 5 or so years in order to recreate the flavors from the US that we miss eating.  However, there’s one flavor that we haven’t been able to completely master in our Prague apartment.  That’s barbecue.  We’ve tried and even had some good success with ribs cooked in dark Czech beer and the legendary Coca-Cola brisket.  They hold our cravings at bay.  Well, I should say they did until this last trip to Texas.  Then, darnit, my folks took us to Cranky Frank’s and ruined everything.

Cranky Frank’s, quite simply, is the best Texas BBQ I have ever had.  No, I’m not the biggest Q expert on the planet but I do know the good stuff when I have it.  On our last swing through Texas, we hit the aforementioned Frank’s (Fredericksburg), Rudy’s (Austin), Strack Farms (Spring), and Salt Lick (Dripping Springs).  All had something to love, but honestly, Cranky Frank’s kicked the butt of all of them.

I ate there several years back when it was still Ken Hall BBQ and it wasn’t as good.  This time, it was superlative.  Tender, moist and succulently salty ribs.  Pull apart brisket laced with just enough fat to equal tons of flavor.  And the right “bang” of vinegar in the potato salad to stand up to Frank’s signature sauces.  Smokey beans with a nice, silky texture.  Wow, wow, wow.  It so hurts to write this post from over 3000 miles away.  I topped all of those flavors off with a Lone Star beer (criminally underrated brew, by the way) and haven’t stopped talking about the meal since then.  To add to it, I brought a Cranky Frank’s bumper sticker to a Welshman named Frank who works down the hall from my office.  Lo and behold, he’d been to Fredericksburg but sadly for him, not to Frank’s.

No, that meal hasn’t left my mind since I took the first bite off of those beautifully smoked ribs.  It’s the gold standard of Texas BBQ as far as this blogger is concerned.  The fact that it’s something we can’t replicate at home makes it all the more legendary – and that makes me cranky.

The Dog Ate My Homework

Hi, there.  Good to see you again.  I’ve been out on a bit of a winter break, I guess.  I have tons of reasons why I haven’t blogged in ages.  In classic blogger fashion, I’ll offer myself as the center of the universe and tell you why I haven’t blogged in such a long while:

1) I was traveling seeing friends and family in Texas.  I was eating, drinking and celebrating too much to find time to blog.

2) Since I’ve been back, all of that eating and drinking has caught up to me.  I have constant heartburn and cooking up new recipes has taken a back seat of late.

3) I have totally revamped all computers in my home as well as my wireless network.  That has eaten up all my free time after work.

4) Work has been fast and furious since my return and I’ve written a lot of BS there so I don’t feel much need to write further BS to you when I return home.

However, with all those excuses now behind me and my fist clutching a bottle of Zantac, I realize that I’m full of new blog posts just itching to be published.  I have loads of thoughts and impressions on Texas people, food and music as well as everything that goes with getting into the 21st Century world of Windows 7 all across the house.  There are even some politics that interest me these days from Ukraine to Massachusetts.  And, now that I see people are using Google translate to translate my blog from English to Russian, it’s good to see that my brilliance is going around the world.

Take heart, dear readers.  I’m NotHemingway and the 2010 fun is about to begin!

Adios, Texas!

The end of my first trip to Texas in three years is nigh and I am sipping one of my last American beers in the Houston airport.  Thanks to Google, I’m on free wi-fi and get to catch up on some mind numbing web surfing and prepare for the 12 hour flight ahead.

This has been an incredible trip.  Sitting in Prague, only glued into the Internet and a smattering of US news, one can get the impression that America has seen its last best days.  Being here, in person, amongst Texans, I get a completely different impression.  Yes, times are hard.  Some are faring better than others in these dicey economic times but most are getting by or will be in short measure.  The quality of life here continues to be one of the highest and most egalitarian that I have seen anywhere in the world.  And, if your idea of good living is great music, pretty country, succulent BBQ and incredible Tex-Mex, then everyone here is living like a king.

The American dream continues to roll on, meaning different things to different people.  Many are oblivious to what is happening outside their towns, and contrary to popular thought, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  It hasn’t been many generations since man has had reason to worry about what is going on in other places other than the 20 city blocks that they frequent.  Kind of hard to blame them, isn’t it?

Typically, trips like these leave me conflicted.  This one is no different.  Family and friends are in abundance here and I miss and love each one of them.  But we’ve also made a really good life over in the Czech Republic.  We’ve been blessed with great friends, days that are always interesting and unpredictable and the chance of a lifetime.  Luckily, Mrs. NH and I agree that we’re not quite ready for the end of this chapter abroad.

That being said, there’s no place in the world like this great state.  It has everything that is great about this country. The best thing is, as we mess around abroad, Texas just seems to keep on keepin’ on and get better on the way.  So, if this Russian analyst is, in fact, correct, at least I can still be a Texan.

Deep in the Heart of Texas or Texas Deep in the Heart

We’ve been bouncing from town to town, house to house, party to party, concert to concert and Tex-Mex to BBQ since I arrived in the great state of Texas.  We’ve spent lots of time with old friends and even more time with family that we haven’t seen in years.  I’ll admit, I’ve found myself wondering why we live in the Czech Republic when life here is so good, easy and friends and family are so close.  Of course, I’ve just decided to concentrate more on tacos, margaritas and all of the great music in this state instead of worrying about the mysteries of life.

I’ve already gotten too deep here.  Time for a margarita.  Happy New Year.