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GREETINGS TEXAS CULTURE HUBBERS!

As the newest blogger to grace the hallowed grounds of the Texas Culture Hub, I thought it fitting to introduce myself a bit, give you the lowdown on where I'm coming from (literally and figuratively speaking, folks) and tell you a little bit about the fledgling posts that I'm leading off with this week. 

First off, like many of you, I'm a tried and true Texan. I love every nook and cranny of this great state, from the Corral Theatre in Wimberly to the legendary music (and lack of air conditioning) that emanates from Gruene Hall. This big, eccentric and utterly fascinating Lone Star State has always held a special place in my heart. 

In fact, I love it so much that I've spent the last decade of my life writing about it. All of it. The good and the bad, the quirky and the mainstream. If it exudes a Texas flavor, it's a ripe subject for me to discuss, rave about and mull over. I could be grooving to the jazz and blues-infused rhythms of Lyle Lovett or chasing down chorizo-stuffed jalapeƱos...it doesn't matter. Nothing says home to me like the warm weather and Southern appeal that Texas holds. 

So, to start off my time here at the Hub, I wanted to post a couple of my past pieces to give you a sense of what interests me, what some of my posts might look like going forward, and to get your opinion. I'm kicking things off with a piece on one of my favorite subjects: FOOD. Tex-Mex, in particular. Got your attention? Good! Give it a read and let me know what you think.

Lastly, seeing as how it's that time of year again, I thought I might attempt to lure you into a trip down a foggy passageway, or through a dark hallway by taking a look at some of the most spine-tingling haunted houses that litter the metroplex during this time of year. So, gather your nerves and click on Haunted Texas if you'd like a taste of some of the creepiest goings-on around town this October.

That's all for now, my fellow Hubbers. I'm glad to be a part of the Texas Culture Hub and the Tumbleweed Textiles family, and I hope to hear more from you as I continue. Now grab a cold one and get to reading!

 - Richard Dennis

WHAT IS TEX-MEX?


Everyone is familiar with the zesty crunch of a good plate of nachos. To the uninitiated, it could seem that these simple but delectable creations have always been with us. After all, who would need to invent a nacho? Take some cheese; put it on a deep-fried chip, top it with sour cream or guacamole, and it’s finished. But where did it actually start? A quick Google search confirms officially that it all began in Piedras Negras, Mexico in the early 1940s by a man named Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya. The story goes that Anaya threw the blessed union of cheddar cheese, tostadas and jalapeno slices together (using remaining ingredients from the day) to appease some last minute lady patrons to the Victory Club restaurant where he was employed. For whatever reason, the gamble worked, the dish was a huge success, and the recipe stuck. Now, nachos are devoured in restaurants all over the world, every hour of the day. From the sloppiest ballpark concoction to the most distinct gourmet creation, nachos, like so many other dishes native to the Southwest, are standout symbols of a cuisine that has been birthed and re-birthed countless times throughout history: Tex-Mex.

When you think of Tex-Mex, many tantalizing images come to mind. Whether it’s the cheesy goodness of a plate of enchiladas and refried beans, the toasted aroma of a bowl of freshly made corn chips or even the sweet temptations of post-dinner empanadas or sopapillas, this hugely popular fare has been a mainstay of U.S. culture since before the second World War. While Texas and Mexico are the obvious inspirations, Indian influences (such as the addition of cumin) are also credited to the perfection of the recipes. Also, despite the misleading sound of its handle, Tex-Mex isn’t, strictly speaking, Mexican food at all. It’s a purely American concoction crafted on American soil; but it has been made famous by the talented Mexican chefs and culinary artists that grew up enjoying more traditional versions of these one-of-a-kind creations in their family kitchens.

In fact, Jorge Cortez, owner and operator of Mi Tierra in San Antonio’s El Mercado (or Market Square), doesn’t see this unique collaboration as any kind of who-did-what or who-gets-credit-for-what at all. He sees it as a natural progression of history and inspiration. “Tex-Mex evolved according to the tastes and influences of the country,” he states. “It stands right alongside the music, tradition, and unique artistry of the region. It’s what America is about.” One need only experience the aromatic emanations from the 24-hour Mi Tierra itself to tell you that Cortez is right on the money. It isn’t a competition, or question of authorship. The winners are the patrons.

Strictly speaking, the purely Mexican originations of Tex-Mex actually tend to lean more towards a simpler, more old-fashioned style of cooking; with the spices, time-honored recipes and much-loved ingredients getting their basis in Mexico’s customs. However, the U.S. eventually brought something decidedly different to the table. The American influences led to the “beefing” up of the spices, the sauces, the meat, and the overall heartiness of the dishes. It was this combination that led to Tex-Mex evolving into much of what it has come to look like today. Now characterized by large portions, an affinity towards beef and pork meat products, flour and corn ingredients, and an assortment of beans like black and pinto, Tex-Mex has become a beautiful amalgamation; a distinct blending of sensibilities born out of these separate cultures and turned into something wholly original. To some, it’s the perfect plate.

Mr. Cortez even wryly volunteered that he loves to tell his cooking staff the fairytale story of the Mexican and American ranchers who went to work together with their homemade lunches in tow. According to Cortez, “The Mexican rancher had a dozen enchiladas made up of simply corn tortillas and meat, while the American brought his wife’s homemade chili.” Curious, they decided to share their meals, and to their delight, enchiladas with con carne sauce were born. As any lover of Tex-Mex can attest, that particular dish has been a staple of the fare for generations.


While Tex-Mex endured some backlash because of its tradition-bending, supporters like Cortez are happy to argue that the flavors are simply a well-orchestrated symphony “originated in the markets and plazas” of the Southwest region. Starting with eager-to-please restaurateurs serving up generous portions of food to soldiers, families and the myriad of travelers and newcomers to San Antonio and the surrounding areas, and continuing right into the modern area where Tex-Mex is found in some form in many places throughout the world; the sights, sounds, and smells of this delicious cuisine are as far-reaching as the influences it draws from. At its best, Tex-Mex cooking seems to represent many of the melting-pot aspects of the country. Not much unto itself, but melded together it becomes something greater than the individual ingredients alone. Like a good plate of nachos, it’s the layers, not the individual parts that create the masterpiece.

 - Richard Dennis

Source:

Originally Posted in the San Antonio Guestbook in an article entitled, “What is Tex-Mex?”
Used with permission from Morris Publications

HAUNTED TEXAS

As the leaves begin to turn as orange as the store pumpkins, and the chills in the air become a reality, it’s time to turn our attention to that most horrifying of holidays. Whether you fancy a low-key slog through a ghostly hayride, or a pulse-pounding trip into the bowels of an eerie castle, there’s no time as frightfully delicious as Halloween. So wrap your favorite sweater just a little tighter and keep the hot chocolate close; it’s time to explore the goriest and goofiest October happenings in the Big D.

Screams
Just a short jaunt out of Dallas and into the foreboding realms of Waxahachie, this blood-curdling “Halloween Theme Park” awaits. Residing on the same grounds as Scarborough Faire, Screams offers thrill-seekers a truly rousing experience complete with themed food, haunted mazes, activities and shows, and spooky hayrides. The grounds are family friendly and range from slighter scares for the little ones to more terrifying temptations like the newly opened Castle of Darkness for the older monsters. 2511 FM 66, Waxahachie, 972-938-3247, www.screamspark.com

Thrillvania Thrill Park and the Verdun Manor
Be warned, trespassers. Touted as one of the most popular haunts in the country, this one-of-a-kind location offers a full night of scares with eight different attractions ranging from the 3D Labyrinth of Terror and the Maze of Chaos to the haunted Voodoo Bayou and of course the werewolf-themed Verdun Manor itself. There’s even a brand new 4D spooktacular this season designed to petrify even the bravest of patrons. Interstate 20 and Wilson Rd., Terrell, www.thrillvania.com

The Boneyard Haunted House
Guaranteed to leave no hair un-raised, this bone-chilling Arlington favorite has earned a national reputation as “the world’s largest haunted house” and features over 2,800 square feet of terror. Willing adventurers take an adrenaline fueled (and nearly hour long) walk through every kind of fright imaginable. Both truly visceral and all in good fun, this one isn’t for the faint of heart. 2921 E. Division St., Arlington, 817-451-2663, www.theboneyard.org

Reindeer Manor
Hold on tight, and get ready for a wild night. A DFW favorite for nearly four decades, the Haunted House at Reindeer Manor is not only an actual house, but it might actually be haunted as well. Steeped in real history going back to the early 1900’s, this frighteningly unique creep-fest prides itself on showcasing a realistic and truly unnerving experience. Ominous farmland and macabre undertones almost dare visitors to run as they make their way through the grounds’ three different haunted attractions. Our condolences. 410 Houston School Rd. Red Oak, 972-514-RATS, www.reindeermanor.com

- Richard Dennis

Source:

Originally posted in Where Magazine/Morris Publications

100 Reasons Texas Is Twice As Awesome As Any Other State

Do any of these still apply?
The Top 100 Reasons Texas Is Twice as Awesome as Your State:
1. NASA
2. World class birding. Even in the middle of Dallas at White Rock Lake.
3. Tex-Mex
4. El Capitan
5. South Padre Island (best sand castle sand in the world)
6. Molly Ivins
7. Ann Richards
8. Taco Cabana
9. Sons of Hermann Hall
10. Barton Springs, Balmorhea, Krause Springs and all the rest
11. When Katrina refugees needed places to stay, we took them in.
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12. Nolan Ryan 
13. Willie Nelson
14. Robert Earl Keen, Guy Clark, Billy Joe Shaver, Lyle Lovett and Townes Van Zandt
15. The most popular poker game in the world isn't called New York Hold 'Em, is it?
16. The Frio River
17. The Alamo Drafthouse Movie Theater
18. Bottle RocketReality Bites and Robocop were filmed here.
19. Also, GiantLogan's RunFandango and No Country for Old Men.
20. The Last Picture ShowBonnie and ClydeLonesome Dove and Dazed and Confused, too.
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Patrick Michels
21. Walker, Texas Fucking Ranger OR Chuck Norris
22. Texas high school football is Friday Night Lights.
23.In some Texas towns, you can hear native Texans speaking Spanish, German and Polish. 
24. Oh, and Czech, too
25. The Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders
26. Our school kids take a full year of Texas History. Can they name all other 49 states? Not sure but they sure as hell wouldn't bother to rank them below us in a list.
27. Chili. Real chili, with no beans and not made with chicken or other yankee bullshit.
28. That "The stars at night are big and bright..." scene in Pee Wee's Big Adventure? That shit really works in real life. And not ironically. We've seen it many times. 
29. Aggie jokes/tests. [Updated. Applause for commenter Missy!]
30. SMU Physics Dept.'s Dark Matter Research (apparently leading the field)
31. Top Tier Universities: Rice (17) and the University of Texas at Austin (45)
32. You've heard of "Texas Music," right?
33. Kris Kristofferson, the guy who wrote every song you've ever heard (pop and country)
34. Waylon Jennings, not from Texas but got here quick (Luckenbach, anybody?)[Corrected. Editor's note: Dude, we know, but apparently some of the contributors to this list haven't yet gotten their honky tonk degrees.]
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35. Tommy Lee Jones
36. Can we count Bill Moyers? Born in Hugo, OK but went to UT Austin and was press sec for LBJ. 
37. That Larry McMurtry guy with all those badass books he wrote about us.
38. Lon Tinkle, writer, literary critic and Dallas Morning News journalist who now (posthumously) pays for a lot of kids to go to school (Lon Tinkle Award at SMU, for instance)
39.The Texas Freedom Network - watchdog against radical religious conservatism
40. Dallas Mavericks! 
41. Dirk Nowitzki!
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42. Mark Cuban! 
43. Denton proving that you don't have to be a big city to have a phenomenal music scene.
44. You can sing any Emily Dickinson poem to the tune of "The Yellow Rose of Texas." 
45. More mega-churches
46. Dr. Denton Cooley performed first artificial heart transplant
47. Best state shape for cookies
48. Regional theater started here with Margo Jones in the 1940s
49. "Cowboying" is still a profession.
50. The Marfa lights and Janis Joplin still aren't fully understood by outsiders.

51. Everybody knows somebody who has a ranch.
52. Bill Hicks lived and died here.
53. We still have the moon rocks.
54. Betty Buckley was born here and still lives in Fort Worth.
55. SXSW is now cooler than the Sundance Film Festival.
56. Cheap avocados.
57. Great surfing. But we like to keep that to ourselves.
58. You can go to an opera and a rodeo and see the same people in the crowd at both.
59. No state income tax. So far, anyway.
60. We get heat, ice storms, earthquakes, tornadoes and hurricanes.
61. Lots of chupacabra sightings.
62. Frozen margaritas were invented here.
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63. The State Fair of Texas, which has changed very little in 50 years but is still the biggest, best damn state fair in the land.
64. Farrah Fawcett splashed in the NorthPark fountain and was born and raised in Corpus Christi.
65. Currently the leader in most reality shows filmed about one city/state.
66. Did we mention our State used to be a nation? Our state used to be a nation.
67. More songs written about/involving Texas than rest
68. "Everything is bigger in Texas" -- We have the most "legendary" perception from others, national and internationally.
69. More than 10 distinct ecological regions (Coastal Plains, Delta Valley, Deserts, Mountains, Hill Country, etc.)
70. UT Austin owns all the Woodward and Bernstein files from Watergate.
71. First state to successfully prosecute those nutty FLDS pedophiles.
72. Dinosaur tracks in Glen Rose
73. Texas toast.
74. Real iced tea from teabags, not that California mango crap.
75. Gruene Hall, which has a unique history all its own
76. Tubing down the Guadalupe and Comal Rivers
77. The Alamo, y'all; it's especially beautiful lit up at night
78. Joe Ely
79. UT Austin has Norman Mailer's papers, and also LBJ's
80. Fiesta in San Antonio (it's a citywide party)
81. Wes Anderson was born here
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82. The sky! And the best thunderstorms you've ever seen.
83. Larry McMurtry's Booked Up shops in Archer City
84. The Harry Ransom Center
85. Chicken fried steak
86. A state shape that makes for excellent souvenirs, aside from the aforementioned cookies
87. The Texas Rangers are nice boys.
88. Buddy Holly
89. And therefore, the very excellent Buddy Holly Center in Lubbock
90. Big Bend National Park
91. Austin City Limits (the show, not the fest)
92. East Texas Bigfoot
93. John Graves
94. Shiner and Rahr
95. Enchanted Rock
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96. Barbecue
97. Dead Armadillos Drinking Lone Star, and related folk art/crafts
98. Roy Orbison
99. Roky Erickson
100. George Jones
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