New Lab Member

A beautiful Tucson sunset tonight + iPhone portrait mode + a smidge of the secret Adobe Lightroom sauce = impromptu photo shoot!

Please welcome the new member of XWC Lab, a new LAB member! Meet Lani, my new 2 year old yellow lab! Lani came to me via friend of a friend who was looking to rehome her.

She couldn’t be a more perfect dog! She’s still pretty puppy-like, has no bad habits at all, loves people, loves dogs, loves to chase the ball and bite the hose water. As I type she’s holed up in the bedroom devouring a rawhide chew. We even made a new dog friend in the neighborhood and they’re already besties.

Here’s a few more.

And here’s some derp:


Song of the day is in honor of Lani’s new name, which is Hawaiian for “Star” (I like stars ok?). Iz’s version of “In This Life”.

Baby’s first Halloween – or – have we lost our minds?

What’s up my witches. It’s Rona-ween and Lauren and I introduced baby Star to costumes and dressing for success. Hold on to your hats and prepare to loose your freakin’ mind as the cutest pics you’ve ever seen are about to hit your eyes.

Star, what do your hedge eyes see?
Thinking of spells to cast in retaliation for this torture.
She forgot the hat was on her head.
Star demanded we make this one, she was jealous of Alexander’s hat. She wanted to be just like him!
Bzzz
Sweeter than honey (vomit)

She makes modeling look easy. But as always with your insta, you only share the good ones. To give you a sense of what a photoshoot with a hedgehog looks like, here are some outtakes.

Floompf
Tears fallin’ down at the party. Saddest little baby in the room.
She hide.
The tongue! Just not in focus….

And some behind-the-scenes of the craftmanship:

Beer helps the craftsmanship.

The song of the day is Oh Klahoma by Jack Stauber. If you know you know.

‘Rona got you down? Try rocks!

This sure has been a year of hoo-DON’Ts, but for two XWCL members this weekend was full of hoo-DOs!

Lauren and I, plus our friend Zuzana, spent the weekend camping and hiking in the Chiricahua Mountains, about 2 hours east of Tucson near the NM border. Chiricahua is characterized by acres of tall rock pillars and spires, formed from the ash of an ancient volcanic eruption, cracked by uplift, and eroded by the forces of nature and time. It’s truly litho-tastic!

We scrammed outta Tucson just after the morning group meeting Friday with a car full of nonsense for a true glamping experience.

Three glampers only can fit in one car.

After roaring through the Arizona desert and hitting up the Visitors Center (must buy chotchkies!) we selected the Echo Canyon loop trail. It’s a 3 mile loop down into the canyon and among the rock spires, and was the perfect amount of time and strenousness to get the blood really going. I’ll let the pics speak for themselves.

We glamped in the Bonita Canyon campground, which was maybe the best quality campground I’ve seen at a national parks facility. The bathrooms have TP, running water, and lights, such luxury.

The next day we packed up, hit up a few more scenic views, then headed home. We hit up some really meh barbecue in a train dining car in Willcox AZ, then sat for an hour on the interstate due to a wreck outside Benson.

Leaving Tucson even for a day is such a treat these days. Being in nature almost makes you forget about the ‘rona. Almost.


For the song of the day I selected a classic in honor of spending some time in the sun this weekend.

On Central Texas and Breakfast Tacos

Central Texas, the region that encompasses Austin, San Antonio, and surrounding towns, did not invent the breakfast taco (well, at least Austin didn’t, more on that later). Breakfast tacos have been popular in the region since the 70s (source), but with the massive influx of hipsters and their penchant for brunch, niche trends, and “authenticity”, to the region in the last two decades, breakfast tacos have become part of our identity as central Texans.

I can’t overstate it enough. They are simply everywhere. And everyone has their opinions, their preferred breakfast taco purveyors, their taco of choice. I bought a Tacodeli Jess Special from the little coffee shop in the lobby of the astronomy building at UT Austin almost daily while a student there. The Royal Blue grocery downtown next to where my church met fed me pre-made tacos quite often on a Sunday morning. Rudy’s BBQ makes a mean brisket breakfast taco. Torchy’s tacos are just about everywhere in Austin, and spreading like wildfire across the nation. My favorite taco joint, Taco Joint, is a stone’s throw from the UT astro building and makes huge breakfast tacos, as does East Austin’s Juan in a Million. Just to name a few.

(Incidentally, I just learned there are 3 Rudy’s locations in Phoenix, so if anyone wants a road trip for legit good Texas bbq and breakfast tacos, hit me up!)

Anyone who has not lived in central Texas is like “What? Do you mean breakfast burritos?” No, dear reader. I do not mean breakfast burritos. In fact you’d be hard pressed to find a breakfast burrito on the menu in Austin. Meanwhile anyone who has lived in central Texas for any amount of time immediately knows what I’m talking about and resonates with this post deep within their souls. (I maintain it is not enough to simply have visited. If you’ve visited Austin and enjoyed a breakfast taco, you can probably appreciate them as a novelty, and I’m glad you got to experience them, but probably not enough to really “get it”). It is simply a part of who we are. And while if you didn’t go to high school in Texas, you can never truly be accepted as a true Texan (this is a fundamental truth in our culture), you can don the breakfast taco mantle to embrace central Texas into your identity. (Now, this does not ingratiate you to the rest of Texas, but that’s a story for another time).

What is a breakfast taco?

Well, what do you want it to be? While generally eggs and a tortilla are involved, there aren’t many rules. In fact, the eggs are even optional. Beans, steak, cheese, bacon, avocado, chicken, potatoes, salsa are all common ingredients, and various permutations of those are what you’ll find most frequently. As eggs aren’t always my favorite thing, I would frequently get chicken peppers onions and cheese from Tacodeli (the frontera taco). You don’t even have to eat them for breakfast, many places you can get an eggy delight for lunch as well. Look, there’s no rules. Just eat them and be happy.

A brief history of breakfast tacos

Tex-Mex cuisine is not the same as Mexican food (which of course isn’t really a thing because Mexico is full of diverse regional cooking styles that are unique and wonderful to explore). Tex-Mex actually originates from the Tejano people, Texas settlers of Mexican decent. It’s a uniquely Texas cuisine that is heavily influenced by Mexican roots, and American elements brought in by railroads after the Civil War. (source)

While Tex-Mex has a long rich history, breakfast tacos are a modern invention. The earliest reference is in 1975 in the Arizona Republic describing the reporter’s trip to San Antonio. In 1976 the El Paso Herald-Post held an advertisement for breakfast tacos. In 1983 Texas Monthly blurbed about breakfast tacos in Austin’s Julio’s Cafe. (source) So the exact moment and location of invention of the breakfast taco is unclear, but it’s only been around for 5 decades or so (notably invention was not in Austin, see below).

Austin taco scene tends a little hipster (you’ll find more fusion or out-there taco ideas in addition to more traditional taco fare), while San Antonio tends more authentic Mexican or Tex-Mex in their tacos. (Do they even eat tacos in Houston or Dallas? Who cares.)

2016: The Breakfast Taco Summit

In February 2016 an article appeared in Eater Austin that would change the course of history. Matthew Sedacca claimed Austin as the birthplace of the phrase “breakfast taco”. While he technically claimed Austin was the birthplace of the *phrase* breakfast taco (which is also not accurate), the widespread interpretation was that Austin was claiming to have invented the breakfast taco. The response was swift and ferocious. San Antonio took it as a personal offense, a slight against their good name. A change.org petition was filed on behalf of the people of San Antonio to expel Matthew Sedacca from Texas for his crime. An excellent quote from the petition: “Without fail, sophomoric claims of taco-superiority have been issued from Austin-based brunch-chair-experts on a nearly annual basis, threatening the harmony between the city of Austin and the cities with populations of Native Texans greater than 10%.” (Note the subtle dig on Austin of being made up of less than 10% “Native Texans”, which I, as a “Native Austinite” agree is probably accurate). In response to the petition, Austin mayor Steve Adler declared war on San Antonio. The region was in turmoil, battles were waged in print and social media. http://whoinventedbreakfasttacos.com/ was registered. Brother turned against brother, our great union threatened to come apart.

On March 10th, 2016, battle lines were crossed. San Antonio mayor Ivy Taylor journeyed to Austin to meet with Steve Adler and work out a taco truce, and proclaimed peace with the signing of the “I-35 accords”. They officially declared both city’s tacos as “delicious”, and proclaimed March 10th officially “breakfast taco day”. Adler declared: “As St. Paul admonishes us, let us not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with breakfast tacos. We will have guac in our times….  Let us break our fast with the tortilla of hope and the egg of peace.” Taylor brought tacos from her favorite SA taco spot Mittman Fine Foods, while Adler proffered tacos from ATX’s famous Juan in a Million. They were moved to make peace quickly before then-President Obama’s visit later that week, so he wouldn’t be visiting a war zone. Adler again: “Some of you may look upon these breakfast tacos and feel only hunger. I pity those people, for when I look at these breakfast tacos, I feel hope and a renewed friendship between our cities.” (source)

I told you this was serious business.

(PS – for more great Steve Adler quotes, check out his comments on sending the recipe for Kerbey Lane’s queso (another thing Austin people are passionate about) to the moon.)


Breakfast Tacos in Arizona: The Jess Special comes to my kitchen

I do proudly claim Austin as my homeland, and while I really like living in Tucson, I do sorely miss the ubiquity of breakfast tacos since moving here. Seis Kitchen in Tucson is the only place I’ve found so far that has them on the menu (happy to take recommendations if you know another place), and they are delicious. But it’s the abundance, variety, and cultural touchstone that I miss.

So today I decided to make my own facsimile of one of my favorite breakfast tacos, the Jess Special from Tacodeli. I added to it and changed a bit, because, in the words of Aunt Tabitha, that’s my business.

I started with some steak strips, seasoned with chile powder, cumin, garlic powder, salt, and oil. I also fried up some onions and poblano strips. Neither of these are part of the original Jess Special, but that’s my business.

The heart of the Jess Special is the migas. Apparently a lot of different things go by the name “migas“, but in Tex-Mex migas consist of eggs, peppers, tomatoes, onions, cheese, and the essential ingredient, crunched up tortilla chips. Pro tip: add the chips at the very end of cooking the eggs to avoid excessive sogginess. I added them a bit too soon today and they came out too soggy for my tastes.

And now for plating. Don’t forget to heat the corn tortillas over a dry skillet for a few seconds on both sides, or you will have structural integrity issues. Additional life hack, two tortillas per taco, for additional structural integrity, and also because Sprouts only had the very small size of corn tortillas in stock yesterday. That’s how to pros do.

First I laid down the steak peppers and onions, then migas. Topped with more cheese, avocado, and some Doña sauce I made. Doña sauce is a Tacodeli invention and closely kept secret, but I found a recipe online of someone trying to emulate it. It’s basically garlic, oil, salt, and a ton of jalapeños. Mine came out nicely spicy, but too much garlic, use less next time. (recipe for migas and Doña sauce)

The end result!

Quite tasty. Not exactly the same, of course. But 10/10 would eat again.


The song of the day comes from one of my very favorite Austin artists Shinyribs (a.k.a. Kevin Russel). He made a song called “Donut Taco Palace” about a chain of hole-in-the-wall donut and taco places in Austin called “Donut Taco Palace”. If you want to sing along, the chorus goes “Donut Taco Palace, Donut Taco Palace, Donut Taco Palace, Donut Taco Palace….” You get the idea.

I’m not any good at whole bean coffee.

The year is 2001, I am a fresh faced young junior at Purdue University. I did the traditional college path, straight out of high school. I distinctly remember having the thought that I didn’t want to acquire the taste for either beer or coffee, because both seemed problematic. Then I joined the Navy.

So I now absolutely blame the Navy for my love of both coffee and beer. 100% their fault. The first beer I tried and liked was literally the same week I moved to Jacksonville Florida to start my first tour on a ship. They are to blame for all my bad habits don’t at me.

Coffee onboard ship is the elixir of life. We had a coffee maker on the bridge of my first ship, and the giant tub of coffee grounds next to it was labeled “The Precious” (it was 2003, Lord of the Rings was still fresh and new). When you’re on the 0200-0700 watch, absolutely nothing is happening, your watch team is full of boring people, or they won’t shut up about World of Warcraft (true story), coffee tastes like salvation. (Incidentally, I feel the same way about Red Bull. Is it gross? Yes. Does it taste like salvation? Also yes. The aircraft carrier I was on had a Red Bull vending machine).

Thing is, coffee on ships is universally pretty bad. USS First Ship had this machine in the wardroom that didn’t even take beans, it took this brown sludge of like pre-made coffee stuff? I don’t know. But it was there and it delivered caffeine, so I drank it. (One day the supply officer was on leave, so we mutinied and threw the machine away. When he came back and noticed it was gone, he just ordered another one. A failed mutiny.). USS Second Ship tried to make things better by getting Starbucks beans for the wardroom machine (this time it did take actual ground coffee beans). But the coffee was still being made by Petty Officer Timmy who knew nothing about making coffee and didn’t care to learn. In summary, I didn’t like coffee at all until I was forced to learn, and I learned on terrible coffee.

It’s been 12 years since I left the Navy (whoa, really? dang). I still have a daily coffee habit that is very insistent (my 16 oz travel mug is my security blankee). Without my morning 16oz I can’t function, and my brain gets foggy (caffeine is a hell of a drug). But sorry to report my palette wrt coffee hasn’t improved much. I can’t quite choke down the sludge from ships anymore (although desperate times and all that…), but honestly I don’t really notice the different flavors or quality. I’m happily surprised when coffee I make tastes especially good, but also like as long as it tastes fine it gets the job done. When I stand in the coffee aisle at Safeway I shrug and grab something. But I always have to grab already ground beans, because I don’t have a coffee grinder. Because that’s one extra step in the morning and I really don’t care all that much.

The Precious

Well, dear readers, imagine my dismay when I opened a bag I bought the other day to see whole beans staring back at me. I did not pay sufficient attention at the store it seems. What am I to do? I can’t return an open bag of beans, nor can I throw it away, that’s ~$12 and perfectly good coffee. So to Amazon I go, and my new coffee grinder arrived two days later.

Unboxing.

But therein lies a problem. I know my daily number of scoops of my designated coffee spoon (a regular spoon sitting next to my Mr Coffee) for grounds to compliment the amount of water I need, thanks to 12 years of doing this every day. But how many scoops of whole beans? What is the whole beans to ground beans conversion factor? Unknown. And since I don’t care nearly enough to do any sort of research, I just shrugged and went for the faithful try-it-and-see method.

Readers, 5 scoops of whole beans is not enough. The first go round yielded undrinkable light brown water. Also did you know there are different ways to grind beans?? “Medium” was insufficient. Next try was 7 scoops ground on “Fine”. This yielded slightly darker brown water. After that I gave up for the day and drank a yerba matte I had in the fridge to get my brain to work.

Today I decided to go overboard, I tried to fail on the other end and make it too strong. I did 10 scoops of beans on “Fine”. This completely filled up the basket in my little 5 cup Mr Coffee. The result was… pretty good. I drank all of it, it didn’t taste too strong. 10 scoops seems like a lot though.

The scene of the crime. Please notice: the designated coffee spoon in it’s natural habitat; the new coffee grinder next to the well worn veteran Mr Coffee; the offending bag of Safeway brand Kona coffee whole beans; the tub of truvia sweetener because I don’t care about that either; the terribly cute hedgehog mug; the mess of coffee grounds strewn about that I can’t be bothered to clean right now.

I understand a lot of people have really strong opinions about coffee (dare I say… snobbery?). I bet a lot of you reading this are sputtering and have many things you’d like to say in reply. I understand that freshly ground coffee is supposed to taste so much better than grounds because oxidation or oils or something something something. Listen, I get it. I hear you. I believe you believe that. I believe it’s very important to you. But honestly, it just doesn’t matter to me. My coffee today was good, but was it so much better than just buying grounds and skipping the extra step in the morning? No, friends, it was not.

Maybe my coffee taste buds are broken, seared off in their youth by a thousand terrible ship-coffees. I will continue to experiment with the bag of whole beans, and maybe I’ll update you as my experiment continues. Will I buy another bag of whole beans? Maybe? Probably? I mean I have this grinder now, might as well use it. Will I also buy already-ground beans. Yes, yes I will. Nothing you can say will change that simple fact of habit and broken coffee taste buds.


The song of the day is Volcano Man from the Eurovision Netflix movie that just premiered. You’re welcome, Lauren.