A couple of Thursdays ago, I awoke early to a thudding sound just outside my window - which was odd, because I generally sleep on the second floor. I cracked one eye enough to see dim grey light - the kind that comes just before sunrise. Some part of me remembered it was my 56th birthday, but for a moment, further details were foggy.
Then I remembered. I was in Santa Fe - attending a writers' workshop led by my longtime writing mentor Natalie Goldberg and my dear friend, recent James Beard award winner for food writing, Bill Addison. That thudding sound? Well - that was snow sliding wet and heavy off the roof onto the veranda where it plopped in a pile and slowly melted in the 35 degree morning air. No wonder I couldn't quite place my surroundings.
The theme for the workshop was food writing. It was conducted in the manner of all of Natalie's workshops, which are grounded in her long practice of Zen Buddhism, and utilize meditation as a way to quiet the mind, allowing space for a deepened experience of writing practice.
Our group of...more
Some summers, in the dead heat of July, my dad and I would load up the station wagon and drive seven long hours to East Texas. As the trip would drag on, I'd pull the fold-out map from its place behind the visor and check off towns as they went by - Huntsville, Jasper - markers to measure our progress. Despite the 70mph speed limit, the ride seemed endless. Bored, I would clamor over the seat and into the back to forage the styrofoam ice chest for snacks, before climbing back over to sit (unbelted) in the passenger seat, where I'd try not to fidget.
Late in the day we would arrive on the shores of Toledo Bend, the enormous reservoir that delineates the southern half of the Texas/Louisiana border. We would pitch our canvas army surplus tent, fold out cots, and unroll cotton sleeping bags. Dad would sit out under the towering pines with my godfather (better known to me as "Uncle Juggy") who had driven up from Beaumont. On folding lawn chairs, with their legs stretched out in front of them, they would drink cans of Schlitz or Falstaff and reminisce...more
Wednesday mornings, you can usually find me huddled with Whitney at Table 20 (the 2-top closest to the parking lot door) going over our promotional efforts, including what I might write for the week's email. This week, Whitney had a pretty good suggestion - chronicling the journey of a single croissant all the way through the production process. In truth, I have been pleased with their quality lately, so the idea stuck.
This set me thinking about the old days, when I first learned to make croissants from scratch back in late 1981 or early 1982. I have vague memories of sidling up to the butcher block counter and slicing up whole sticks of butter; of mom showing me how to lay the sliced butter flat on a piece of hand mixed dough, then how to fold it in on top of itself, roll it back out and repeat the motion three to four times.
We used these very small French rolling pins (solid pieces of wood that tapered a bit at the ends) and worked with very small batches of dough that only made about a dozen croissants each. Once the dough was...more
Like I mentioned in my last email, our restaurant usually has a relatively quiet SXSW experience as we're situated away from the festival's primary tourist corridors. The bakery, on the other hand, catches a full-on dose of SXSW insanity, sending out pastries, breads, muffins, buns, you name it, not only to our regular wholesale accounts, but to caterers and out of town operations to feed the industry and convention hoards that flood downtown this time each year.
As such, it seems like an ideal moment to pull back the curtain and introduce one of the folks who is largely unseen at TFB but whose critical work keeps our wheels on, so to speak: Dennis Day, referred to around the shop as Fleet Commander of Texas French Bread.
Dennis has been known to wear driving gloves, crocodile leather boots, and vintage Star Wars tees. His superhero-like stealth allows him to dart around the bakery between the hours of midnight and nine am, organizing and packing bread products. In the very early hours of the morning, with recognizable style and sharp wits...more
Every year about this time I send out the same email. SXSW WOO HOO! (Giant eye roll.)
Look people, hang tough. We can get through this.
For those of you staying in town and braving the barbarian hordes over the next couple of weeks - yes, we are open. We have plenty of parking. You don't have to go downtown. You don't have to deal with the even-more-inane-than-usual traffic.
Really. You can just come hang out with us. We'll prepare a lovely meal for you. Think of this email as a personal invitation, along with a hug and a soothing mental margarita (we don't sell margaritas, but mental merlot didn't really have quite the ring). The point is - we've got you covered.
Speaking of adult beverages, I'm overdue in making a couple of suggestions about what to drink next time you're at TFB. Ok, admittedly that mostly involves me writing down the three or four things that wine director Betty Cole has gotten me really excited about lately. With that in mind, here are some wines that I think are showing exceptionally well and that you...more
I need to talk about our new Chef. Yep. You heard that here first - new Chef. You know him, you love him - his name is Josh Williams.
A few months ago, in the wake of Chef Kenny's departure for greener pastures, Josh Williams stalwartly volunteered to step up, not specifically as Chef at the time, but rather as kitchen manager - a title generally reserved for some sweaty dude in a dirty apron. This thankless job typically involves ordering produce, posting work schedules, cleaning the walk-in cooler, and getting bitched at for anything and everything that goes wrong - you know, keeping tabs on the dirty details while the creative types with the tweezers poking out of their starched chef's coats take all the credit.
Previously, Josh served as the jack-of-all-trades mainstay on our management team. He was instrumental in building our coffee program, and he's been money when it comes to making sure we avoid shortcuts, and stay focused on bringing in the best of everything - ingredients, equipment, people, you name it.
Last week was an emotional overload for me and many folks I know. But in truth, the entire year has felt rather stunningly charged and I've found it very difficult to write at all. The riff that I usually employ for this column involves weaving current events in with the comings and goings at Texas French Bread in a way that I hope comes across as lighthearted or even a bit silly, but that eventually winds its way around to a message illustrating our core values of inclusiveness and community. This year, it seems that everything has taken on a kind of political third rail quality that doesn't have much to offer in the lighthearted silliness department.
I've always believed that politics are about the art of the possible. As adults in a free country, we have little choice other than to face up to difficult challenges, choosing among wildly imperfect options with no guarantees of success. Anyone talking about simple and obvious right answers to such hard questions has either never held a position of leadership and responsibility, or they're...more
I'm writing today to provide some additional details regarding our upcoming prix fixe dinner with Jester King Brewery, which is this Monday, October 24, at 6:30 pm.
But as I sit here today pondering the connections between bread and beer - brewing and bakery fermentation - it occurs to me that I really say far too little in these emails about our bakery and the folks on our overnight crew who produce a staggering variety of high quality bread and pastries. They do amazing work at crazy hours of the night, 365 nights a year.
Please forgive the non sequitur. Anyway - where was I again? Oh yeah, next Monday night we're overjoyed to be doing a special dinner featuring...more
Late July. I borrow the beat up brown Suburban from Laurence, load up The Tessa and her friend Dottie the Labradoodle (instagram's dottielange), and Ilana and I head northeast. Ilana and Dottie are bound for Northampton, MA, where they grew up. Tess and I are making for the coast of Maine where Laurence and Judy have summered in recent years.
Two weeks in, the bright colors, daily venue changes, and fresh experiences of the trip begin to seem almost normal - not the break from routine realities of daily life that they actually are. And a host of fresh, sensory memories try to arrange themselves into something of a pattern...
Long hours on the road. Tessa snores away, wedged between my bicycle, the two cases of wine Betty chose for my trip, the galvanized garbage pail filled...more
photograph above from Domaine de la Tournelle website
If you came by to see us last week you may have noticed that someone's missing - that's right y'all, Murph Willcott actually took a vacation.
The day before he left, as I packed up a box (okay, two boxes) of wine for him to bring along, Murph reminded me that his last proper vacation was over three years ago, when he went to France for a writer's retreat. He was sort of wide-eyed, disbelieving, as if the notion that he could actually leave town again for a while was a surreal proposition. I reminded him, it's only a few weeks. He's on the road now, headed up to meet his family on the East coast with Tessa in tow, stopping off at adorable farm-to-table restaurants with interesting wine lists and dog friendly patios (... sounds familiar) along the way.
To ease our current woe in missing the big guy, we're eagerly anticipating the return of our beloved manager/handyman/barista/grill cook Josh, who's been wining and dining in Jura and cycling through the forests of Alsace...more