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Sunday, July 24, 2011


Samantha and I came to a stark realisation recently.  We enjoy 'barbecue'.  Perhaps at this point, a little translation is required.  In England, we 'barbeque'.  This means that we put meat, and other items on a grid, with a small fire underneath.  In the USA this is usually referred to as 'grilling'.  Of course, in England, we put food 'under the grill'.  When I first suggested I put something 'under the grill', Dana was rather confused.  He had visions of me going outside and putting the food under the 'barbecue'.  Barbecue in Texas is the finished item, e.g. the meat.  Sometimes it is smoked, and sometimes just 'grilled'.  Either way, the 'finished item', is very tasty.  

A couple of weeks ago, Kyle, one of our guys at work, brought in some barbecue, and had very kindly catered for everyone.  He told us to help ourselves, and we did!  I took a piece of brisket, and Samantha asked for me to pass her a piece, which I did.  She then asked for another piece.  I was amazed.  Samantha eating barbecue!  She then announced that when she had been face painting the previous weekend, (at a large 'picnic', hosted by a local celebrity electronic game producer) she had partaken of the food that was provided.  She almost whispered when she told me, 'we had barbecue', and in an even quieter voice, admitted, 'and I liked it!'  A few days later she called to say that Edward was working on somethin, and they would not be home for dinner.  She was going to get some 'take out'.  'Guess what we are having', she asked me, and after several incorrect guesses, she laughed, and said; 'Barbecue'.  She then said it was almost like being disloyal to our roots.  We were swapping things like Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding for Barbecue and Beans!
There are many 'barbecue' restaurants around.  One of our preferred haunts is a place called 'Coopers.  There are two 'Coopers' in a fairly long, but reasonable driving distance, but I have only frequented one, which was originally recommended to us, by a guest house host, in Luckenbach; the small Texas town made famous by, among others, Willie Nelson.

I was reminded of my first time to Coopers.  Some time ago, Dana and I had decided to go 'out of town', and spent the weekend in the most amazing old farm house with all the farm buildings having been converted into little chalets.  We booked at the last minute, not realising that this was a very popular site.  Of course, when we arrived, I was not particularly impressed.  We were put in the 'old smoke house'.  It was very remote, and the chalet looked like a scene from an old horror movie, with corn dolls hanging from the walls, and strange objects in among the ornaments.  However, it was spotless, and despite the fridge and coffee making facilities being in the bathroom (I suppose for water access), it was really rather 'darling'.  After my initial shock, I decided to enjoy the difference. 

Breakfast was at 9am.  Not from 9am, not until 9am, but AT 9am.  The owner and his brother, who were in their 50's, were still suffering from acute sibling rivalry. The brother was married with at least two children that we could see, and had come to help do some electrical work.  The owner was not married, and very highly strung; and according to his brother, the higher the better!  He had been a captain on a privately owned (apparently rather small - according to his brother) cruise ship, and ran the guest house with all the precision of a naval admiral.  As I said, breakfast was at 9am.  All the guests gathered outside the main building at the first bell, around 8.30, and coffee and orange juice was placed on the porch.  It was nice to meet up with the other guests, and 'wow' at those fortunate enough to stay in the larger converted out-houses, which had Jacuzzis and hot tubs.  Most of the residents were returning for another visit. 
The nine o'clock bell indicated that breakfast was served, and we walked to the long table, in single file, and waited to be asked to 'sit'.  Breakfast was delicious.  Our host was a wonderful cook, and created some amazing potato pancakes, sausages, eggs and lots of toast.  Once seated, no one rose until they had finished every last bite.  The conversation was quite lively until the discourse in the kitchen.  It would appear that the visiting brother had began to clear the pots and pans.  This was certainly not his domain and before long, the dining room was silent, apart from a few laughter snorts, which were impossible to contain.  Tranquility was restored when the female relative parted the brothers, and took over the domestic duties, sending them, crimson faced, into the dining room to clear the tables. 

On checking out, our host thanked us profusely for visiting and asked if we might think about visiting again.  We assured him that we would, despite the alternative language that was echoing down from the roof area.  It was a wonderful place, and although the entertainment was probably occasional, the venue was delightful.  We packed up and were about to leave when our host stopped us again.  He asked if we had considered where to have lunch.  'Lunch?', I asked, wondering why he would think we would possibly be hungry before mid-week, with the amount he had provided for breakfast.  'Perhaps you might try Cooper's.  Best Barbecue around!'  He told us where to go, and we felt almost obliged to try the recommended establishment. 

Fortunately, the town of Llano was on our way home.  Unfortunately, it was nearer to Luckenbach than it was to Austin, and we reached the restaurant much sooner than my digestive system would have liked.  We drove up to the front of the very busy establishment and joined the queue.  There were rows of enormous grills, all, I assumed, filled with different meat.  The man stationed at the front grill stood with a large carving knife, ready to cut.  There was brisket, rib, sausage, ribs, pork and chicken.  When it was our turn, we just pointed to the meat, and the carver moved the knife up and down until we said, 'that will do!'  The meat was slapped onto a tray, and we took it inside for another member of staff to 'wrap it'.  Once wrapped, it was placed on a clean tray, and we moved along, decided against picking additional 'sides' and went to the till, where we were given our 'plate' which was a piece of paper.  The tables are long wooden slatted tops with benches.  We found a couple of empty spaces, and sat. Some people were in groups, some alone, but it was like a school dinner hall. There were about ten rows.  Beans were complimentary, as were the pickles and jalapenos.  Loafs of sliced bread were on the table, in their cellophane packets, as they are in the supermarket.  It was a good fun experience, despite the fact that I wasn't particularly hungry.
We did return another time, with Joe, our coffee roaster.  Unfortunately, the journey is at least an hour and a half and I had one too many cups of coffee before departing.  The only thing I remember about the beautiful countryside was looking ahead, seeing the brow of a hill, climbing the hill, coming over the top, to see another stretch of road, with another hill in the distance.  No garages, no restaurants, no fast food amenities, and certainly no 'facility' stops.  Being out in the Texas bush, I did not welcome the suggesting that my only option was 'behind a tree'.  Try explaining how I got a spider bite there!  Thankfully, we did find an oasis shortly before reaching our destination.  Once again, our meal was thoroughly enjoyed and I 'went' before leaving.  There were some other 'first timers' who did not share our enthusiasm.  Visiting from New England, they thought that someone was making fun of them.  After realising that the piece of paper was actually the plate, they were confronted with uncut slabs of meat, which they found they had to cut and distribute to members of their party.  They looked horrified, as they uncovered their lunch.  It appeared they had been recommended to a few fine restaurants, but someone had recommended a traditional Texas pastime.  The remark, 'So this is Texas?' indicated that their experience was not as enjoyable as ours. 

Last Friday night, we decided to finish the week off with the Texas tradition.  Sitting at the table, Samantha and I ate our turkey and brisket, and spicy beef sausage, ate bread from the bag and barbecue beans, with pickles.  It was delicious. 

Samantha and I are coming up to our seven year anniversary, and quite enjoy being able to say, 'Yes, this is Texas!'  I am flying home next week and will not enjoy Texas barbecue for a week or two, but weather permitting, may enjoy a few burgers that have been cooked on the outside cooker.  My toast will definitely be put under the grill, but not the one outside.  In between my gourmet delights, however, I may be able to compose....another story.

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