Feature Article: Austin Outdoors Issue
Writer Andrea Valdez throws the ultimate Texas garden party
Vintage Rentals by Birch & Brass | Glassware by Oh! Fox Creative | Additional materials from Private Collection | Special Thanks to Weather Up
In Travels with Charley, the John Steinbeck classic chronicling the great American road trip, the writer pens a meditation on Texas that reads, in part: “For all its enormous range of space, climate, and physical appearance, and for all the internal squabbles, contentions, and strivings, Texas has a tight cohesiveness perhaps stronger than any other section of America. Rich, poor, Panhandle, Gulf, city, country, Texas is the obsession, the proper study, and the passionate possession of all Texans.”
With her new book, How to be a Texan, Austin-based writer and TexasMonthly.com editor Andrea Valdez explores this “passionate possession” with an epic, 206-page guide to all things Texan. With dozens of how-to’s including to how to bag a javelina, how to survive “cedar fever,” and how to two-step, Valdez’s book is a must-read manual for anyone looking to learn more about the wild and wonderful state.
A native Houstonian and University of Texas graduate, Valdez first left the Lone Star State in her 20s, when she moved to Chicago to attend Northwestern University’s prestigious Medill School of Journalism. “When I was there I got really homesick,” says Valdez. “My mom and dad would mail me care packages. They would send me El Milagro tortilla chips, Wolf Brand Chili… it just kind of really fortified this nostalgia and homesickness for Texas.”
In 2006, after graduating from Medill, Valdez returned home to take a fact-checker position at Texas Monthly. A year later she began a column called “The Manual” which chronicled things that every Texan should know how to do. Valdez wrote more than 40 installments of “The Manual” which in turn served as the basis of the book, which will be published in May by University of Texas Press.
On the eve of her book’s launch, Valdez invited TRIBEZA into her Windsor Park home to learn once and for all how to truly be a Texan.
How to: Texas Hospitality
There is Southern hospitality, and then there is Texan hospitality. If you’re fixin’ for a good time, grab the four most important ingredients: Fritos, chili, cold drinks and tequila.
Says Valdez: “People wanna congregate in the kitchen, they wanna have a good time, they wanna eat good food, these are things that bind us together. Texas food is kind of singular in its way; it’s really easy to build a menu around. Everyone loves Fritos, everyone loves chili, everyone loves tequila — well, everyone loves tequila until at some point they don’t.”
How to: Frito Pie
Though there are many incarnations of the famed Frito pie, keep it simple with a small bag of Fritos, a big pile of chili, and garnish to your heart’s content.
Says Valdez: “No matter if you live in Amarillo or if you live in McAllen, you have probably had Frito pie. It’s one of those things that spans all parts of the state. It’s definitely a big draw. There are other foods that probably don’t have the same kind of resonance across the state. For instance crawfish is probably East Texas, San Antonio has the puffy tacos. But the Frito pie is definitely something that everyone across Texas knows and enjoys and loves.”
How to: Bake a Proper Pecan Pie
If there is one dessert on the menu, make it this classic.
Says Valdez: “The pecan is our state nut, the pecan tree is our state tree and the pecan pie is our state pie. So it would be an oversight, to say the least, to not include it … The thing I like about the pecan pie recipe that I included in the book is that it has two tablespoons of vanilla, and I think that makes a big difference. Vanilla is one of those things where in pecan pie, I don’t think you can do too much. Go big on the vanilla.”
How to: Craft a Margarita
Three simple ingredients, one crowd-pleasing cocktail.
Says Valdez: “To me the margarita is best when it is very simple. I think a lot of people have a lot of tendency to dress it up in various ways and don’t get me wrong, I like a jalapeño hibiscus margarita as much as the next person, but I think for the true margarita it’s three simple ingredients and then salt and lime. It’s the perfect refreshment.”
How to: Play Dominoes
Sit for a spell and play this classic Texas version of dominoes.
Says Valdez: “Once you play 42, you don’t wanna play any other kind of dominoes. It’s just so fun, there’s a lot of gentle trash talk and ribbing, there’s strategy involved. It’s a partner’s game. I love playing as my husband’s partner. Usually it goes well, [though] every once in a while we do turn into a squabbling couple. But for the most part, I think we form a great alliance — a great domino alliance.”
How to: Choose a Belt Buckle
Much like hair, when it comes to belt buckles: the bigger, the better.
Says Valdez: “It is one of the best places to stamp your own personality. I feel like when you see a belt buckle it says a lot about a person. [If someone is wearing a] trophy buckle that’s really big and ostentatious, you have a sense of who that person is when they’re coming towards you … It’s just a reflection of your personality.”
How to: Big Hair
Arm yourself with a can of Aqua Net and a rat-tail comb; then make sure to tease, tease, tease and spray, spray, spray.
Says Valdez: “When it comes to big hair in Texas, there are a lot of really excellent role models to look to. There are the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders who have really perfected the big hair with movement. [They are] able to sashay with big hair and make it look effortless and glamorous. That’s really amazing. There is also Ann Richards, who would often repeat — and I’m not sure if she was the first to say it but she’s certainly one of the most famous to say it —‘the taller the hair the closer to God.’”
How to: Be a Texan
Whether you were born here, or just got here as soon as you could, there is no denying the magic of being a Texan.
Says Valdez: “I fully expect that some people will disagree with some of the things I’ve included or wish I had included other things. Just as there are 100 ways to field dress a deer, there are 100 ways to be a Texan.”
Spoken like a true Texan.
Read more from the Outdoors Issue | May 2016