Viva Terlingua!

Marfa, Terlingua, Texas

After Austin we had a decision to make. The path to the right led north, to Dallas via the big slide at Waco (seriously, watch the video and tell me that isn’t tempting?). The left path, on the other hand, stretched far far into the West Texan desert.

Fans of Robert Frost that we are, we took the road less travelled by and headed west, to Marfa. Marfa is a well established community of artists who have chosen to remove themselves from the bustle of city life in favour of sweeping views of nothing. We were starving (as usual) when we got to town and couldn’t check into our tent for a few hours, so drove around aimlessly until we happened to stumble upon Capri Kitchen. Tucked away in a gorgeous courtyard, this tiny kitchen was churning out delicious plates for just a few hours every day. We settled on the kale salad – lovingly massaged raw kale with just the right amount of lemon, pecorino and garlic croutons, and fantastically crispy and sweet corn cakes with slow roasted tomatoes. Both plates were practically licked clean.

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Corn cakes with roasted tomatoes and a sauce that was delicious and cheesy but that’s as far as I remember, and raw kale salad, from Capri Kitchen

We were staying in an RV park and campsite called El Cosmico, in possibly the fanciest tent I have ever not had to put up. Marfa’s most famous attraction is actually not in Marfa at all, rather a 45 minute drive away just outside Valentine. Prada Marfa, an art installation disguised as a Prada storefront, was built in 2005. Six days later it was swiftly broken into but, not being a real store, the thieves only made off with 14 right shoes. Now it sits lonely in the desert, gathering cobwebs, feeling like a simultaneous critique and homage to the consumerism it represents.

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Prada, Mustang and George.

Obligatory ‘Mustang in front of fake Prada’ photos taken, we drove back to Marfa to explore the town itself. Honestly after weeks of ever present southern charm, I have to admit that I was slightly underwhelmed by Marfa. It wasn’t so much that people were unfriendly (in fact everyone we met at El Cosmico was utterly lovely), it was more that the locals were quite dismissive. Maybe we were just two more not particularly artistically knowledgable tourists trampling through their town, but we felt the least welcome we had for weeks. We spent a while wandering round town, peering into galleries and looking for somewhere to eat. There were about ten places in the whole town to choose from, all of which seemed to be open for a different two days a week. We eventually stumbled across Cochineal, which our guidebook assured us was shut that day but seemed to have humans inside. They immediately presented us with bowl of homemade hummus which which hummed with delicately balanced spice. George had sushi, which was apparently remarkably delicious, especially considering how far we were from a sea of any variety. I ate a perfectly cooked piece of fish on a bed of mashed sweet potato and asparagus, all drowned in brown butter. After a lovely yet strangely sterile dinner experience, we both wanted a drink. We stumbled across the Lost Horse Saloon; a proper characterful Texan dive. A whiskey and a Lone Star later in the back yard later, staring at the real Texan stars, Marfa made a last minute sprint towards growing on me.

Lost Horse Saloon

The Lost Horse Saloon

As if Marfa wasn’t remote enough, we decided to further continue our retreat from society by venturing south four hours to Terlingua. Just outside the Big Bend national park, basically on the Mexican border, Terlingua was a thriving mining town a hundred years ago. Now the population has shrunk to just 48 at last count, and is largely a ghost town. We were staying in an adobe dome about an hour out of ‘town’. Built by a wonderful human named Trevor, the dome is completely off grid – all of its power is generated daily by solar panels. A solar fridge, rainwater tap, gas stove and composting toilet were all the amenities for miles and it was completely glorious. After stocking up on supplies at the nearest store, Needful Things, a twenty minute drive away, we made a remarkably impressive lunch of fresh corn tacos and with all the fixings. We hadn’t really managed to cook anything since staying with Mary in Atlanta right at the start of the trip, and it felt so good to just sit and eat a simple meal, prepared ourselves, with no one else around instagramming their lunch or stressing over how much to tip the waiter. Right there, in that hut, with nothing but tin shacks and the odd goat for miles around, I finally felt reconnected to food as nothing but fuel and simple pleasure.

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The Dome, Terlingua, TX

The next morning, we woke up at 5am to go climb a mountain, obviously. If we thought navigating the dirt roads to the dome in daylight was tough, then doing it in the pre dawn dark was a different ball game entirely. We eventually found our way to the main road and an hour later, just as the sun started to break over the horizon, we entered the Big Bend national park. As cliched as it is, there are no words to describe quite how breathtaking the mountains were in the early morning light. We were the only ones on the road as it swept through the landscape. We found the trailhead for the Old Mine trail and parked up, noting the bear proof lockers by the side of the road and suddenly wondering if we had bitten of more than we could chew. This feeling was heightened when another pair of walkers turned up in full hiking gear and I looked down at my trainers and the shorts that I’d slept in feeling like the kid who forgot her gym kit. Nevertheless, we set out ahead of the others, purposely striding past the sign warning of recent mountain lion sightings (apparently you should pick up all small children and under no circumstances run away. Seems legit). One brief freak out over potential bear/lion droppings in our path, and a few miles of clambering over rocks later, we broke through the tree line and found ourselves momentarily on top of the world. The sun was still low in the sky and cast long shadows in the valleys below us, only heightening the feeling of being on some sort of Avatar inspired floating mountain. The idea that we were still in the same country as the food trucks of Austin, the cowboy hats of Nashville and New York in all its eccentricities felt mildly ludicrous. And we hadn’t even needed hiking boots to get there.

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The Lost Mine Trail, Big Bend, TX

On the way home, we bathed in some hot springs on the banks of the Rio Grande. The surprisingly non Grande river acts as the natural border between Mexico and the US – we could have easily waded over to hang out with the Mexican donkey grazing on the opposite bank. We didn’t though because, you know, US border patrol are terrifying.

That evening we decided to brave the thunder storms gathering on every mountain and head into town for dinner. The Starlight Theatre was our destination; originally an open air movie theatre in the 1930s, it was brought back to life (and given a roof) in 1991. It was everything we could have dreamed of in a Texan saloon bar, from the ageing cowboy with a guitar in the corner singing country songs, to the stuffed goat drinking a beer in the back. Side note – It turns out the stuffed goat was actually the first Mayor of the next-door town. We met his living successor later that night and had the honour of feeding him beer ourselves. Long story.

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The Starlight Theatre, Terlingua, TX

No sooner had we sat down and ordered a beer, two brave young men approached our table and asked if we’d like to dance. The dance floor didn’t look like it had seen any action in quite some time so it seemed rude to refuse. Dancing with Luis and Victor, it emerged they were in Terlingua on the Texan equivalent of a lad’s holiday (Magaluf this was not) and were still in high school! Our food arrived and was surprisingly great; blackened salmon on a bed of greens with a great cucumber dill dressing. A few more beers in (us, not them, drinking laws and all..) and we found ourselves bundling into cars for an after party at their hotel. Just before we left, we asked for the check only to be presented with a note saying that out bill had been taken care of by our new friend Victor! Who could have guessed that the craziest night of our trip wouldn’t be in bars of New Orleans or the Nashville strip but at a golf resort in the West Texan desert?! The whole night was a bit of a blur but definitely featured a meeting with the town mayor (the aforementioned goat), coolers filled with beer, belly flops into the pool, and an eventual visit by the Sheriff to shut the whole thing down (a real human one this time).

The next morning, we reluctantly packed up the car, bid farewell to our dome away from home, and turned north. It felt like we had been in Texas forever yet had barely scratched the surface. We had run out of time though, and New Mexico was calling.

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See ya, Texas


 

Written by Laura.

What I’m saying now.

What I’m seeing now.

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And P.S. if this is Austin, I still love you

Austin, Texas

Although the previous week through Mississippi and Louisiana had been a lot fun, we both felt that it was time to set down our forks full of catfish/crawfish/deep-fried everything, and find ourselves a bit of innovative, interesting, fresh food to really get excited about.

After having dropped Neil at New Orleans airport, we drove for 7 hours to Houston (thanks to a very long traffic jam in Louisiana swamp territory), and rolled into our motel at around 11pm.  Waking up at the crack of dawn for a much needed barre workout and virtuous lunch (wait for the next Bitches be Balanced post), we then jumped back in the car and drove the relatively short 2.5 hours to Austin.  We were greeted at our Airbnb by two kittens (for all of you who thought that Laura was a cat-hating emotional stone – think again), and a cute mouse in a tank which, after I had exclaimed “ahhhhh cute pet mouse”, found out that it was actually the pet snake’s dinner.

With huge cravings for food that hadn’t been within 100 metres of a deep fryer, we headed off to Elizabeth Street Cafe, a seriously cute Vietnamese cafe and French patisserie in South Austin.  Deciding to have a dry evening, we sipped on delicious housemade vinegar sodas (watermelon and thai basil for Laura, celery for me) which were slightly sweet and incredibly refreshing.  We shortly tucked into a little appetiser of rice paper rolls stuffed with ginger marinated tofu, radish, thai basil and serrano chilli, with 3 different dipping sauces (the peanut definitely coming out on top).  We followed this up by splitting a pho (noodles in broth) and bún (rice vermicelli salad bowl).  Our pho had the addition of white miso and came crammed with cauliflower, bok choy and toasted seaweed; it was absolutely delicious.  It’s always easy to forget how filling and comforting something so simple can be.  However the star of the show was definitely the bún, which came piled high with roasted mushrooms, grilled tofu, herbs upon herbs, perfectly julienned veggies and vegan nuoc cham (a perfectly balanced sweet, sour, salty, savoury and spicy Vietnamese dipping sauce) to drench it in.  We had to switch from our chopsticks to spoons to scoop up all the last scraps from the bottom of the bowl.  IMG_1713

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Elizabeth Street Cafe: Vegan Bún (l) and Pho (r)

Even though I could have happily fallen straight to sleep with my belly full of noodles, we drove over to Sweet Ritual, a vegan ice cream store inside the JuiceLand in Hyde Park, in honour of it being National Ice Cream Day.  I opted for a mint chocolate chip with spirulina for added greenness, whereas Laura went for a scoop of both salted caramel and toasted coconut.  A great introduction to what was about to be my best four days of the trip so far.

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Sweet Rituals: Mint Chocolate Chip (l); Salted Caramel & Toasted Coconut (r)

The next day after barre & breakfast, we donned our bathing suits and headed over to Barton Springs, an outdoor pool fed from natural springs in the heart of the city.  After a couple hours sunning ourselves and cooling off in the bracing waters (Laura got yelled for taking her rubber ring in with her), we drove around the corner (because we’re that American now) to Casa De Luz, a health academy cum yoga studio cum cafe, heavily focused on community.  Over their fixed price macrobiotic lunch we attempted to practice our best mindful eating skills that we learnt at NGI, and left very proud of ourselves for having had the most virtuous morning.

This was quickly ruined by the lovely Michael at By George (a gorgeous boutique in South Austin), who offered us a beer from the ice bucket which was built into the cashier desk (FYI Austin Beerworks‘ American IPA is now my favourite ale).  He sent us in the direction of Launderette, a trendy restaurant in East Austin, located in a renovated Launderette and gas station.  With a bottle of Gruner Veltliner sitting chilling in a gorgeous marble cooler on our gorgeous marble table, we poured over the menu which had one of the most overwhelmingly delicious vegetables section I’ve ever seen.  After sending back the server countless times while we made up our minds, we settled on Pei Mussles in white wine and chilli, parsnips with apple butter, mustard seeds and salsa, and grilled broccolini with a romesco pepper sauce and almonds.  I just looked over their menu again and nearly dribbled on my laptop.  Laura then finished off with a cheddar apple pie with salted beer caramel, clothbound cheddar and sage ice cream.  The barman whipped me up an espresso martini so it wasn’t too shabby my side of the table either.

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Wah gimme

Following a heavy night drinking with Laura’s friend JD (who also happened to be in Austin that night) and feeling incredibly sorry for ourselves, we made our way over to Clarksville (having removed the parking fine off our window), to Josephine House, a stylish yet casual restaurant set in an adorable clapboard cottage.  The menu is split into two sections; ‘On the Marble Counter’: a selection of breads, cheeses, pastries and salads that are sitting out in the dining room (how I wished my kitchen looked all the time), and “From the Kitchen”: food made to order by the chefs.  Having downed the most delicious and incredibly strong cold-brew coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice, we settled on splitting the avocado toast with a fried egg, hot sauce and lime zest on sourdough (yes, Instagram is full of avocado toast BUT THIS ONE WAS REALLY GOOD), and the ‘Josephine Rice Bowl’ (black rice, poached farm egg, roasted local vegetables, avocado, radish & salsa verde) which, hungover or not, was bloody delicious, and due to it not being dissimilar to what I would normally make myself for lunch when I have the time it was a real home from home.

Josephine HouseOther notable meals we had in Austin that, quite frankly, I’m too full to write about:

Magnolia Cafe | Serving some of the best comfort food 24 hours a day.  Super friendly staff.  The fish tacos are a must.

Torchy’s Tacos | Taco truck that helped start the booming food truck movement in Austin.  Try the deep fried avocado.

Lick | Ice cream shop serving the best vegan Ice cream I’ve ever had (coconut and avocado curd, uhhhh HELLO).  Also serves huge range of incredibly inventive dairy-laden flavours that Laura assures me are amazing.

Wild Wood Bakehouse | 100% gluten-free bakery with cafe.  The cookies are to die for.

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Written by George.

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