Saturday, November 12, 2011

Chocolate Distraction

It's been a little quiet of late for me on the blog front and with good reason.  It's a simple matter of time management.  I could manage all that I wish to endeavor if only the day was 128 hours long, and I required a mere 15 minutes of sleep.

Focus is in short supply often times with me.  Unless the subject matter is engaging enough to flip the tables into Hyper-Focus which is what has taken place this summer and fall.  It's not the first time this has happened too me.

As a Sophomore in high school I became hyper-focused on girls.

As a businessman I became hyper-focused on golfing.

As a aspiring foodie I became hyper-focused on ultra fine Tequila.

Now as an accomplished home cook/foodie/google researcher I've become hyper-focused on making fine hand crafted chocolate.  We roast, winnow, refine, conch, temper and mold our own chocolate now. Just buying chocolate isn't be good enough for me anymore.  I had to know how its done and then do it myself.

A thirst for knowledge foodie coupled with a desire to focus on a craft can lead to some ambitious endeavors.  With Michelle's enthusiastic blessing Foodie Spot time has been transferred into Tejas Chocolate time.  What started as making something personal for our friends and family has now blossomed into a start up business.

I bought some gadgets-made some shade tree mechanic gadgets-bought some cocoa beans-made some chocolate.    Thought is was pretty decent.  Some of the homers thought so too.  You can learn more about our process here.

Then twitter reached out.

I registered @tejaschocolate and within a week people in Texas wanted to know what the heck I was doing. @kitchenincubator was the first to connect.  She wants locally made chocolate for their various catering clients.  And just like that Tejas Chocolate was getting more questions, encouragement and interest.

There are some well established artisan beans to bar makers around the country but apparently not one found in Texas.  The businessman/foodie in me sensed opportunity and that's what the heck is eating up my time.  Research, trial, and ERROR, and details that challenge my Big Picture mentality.  But the art of manufacturing chocolate from single origin cacao snapped me into a hyper-focus not seen around these parts before.  There is an inner spirit pulling me deeper and deeper into the mysteries of making chocolate.  The growing regions, the cacao varieties, the plight of the farmers, the subtle flavors of beans, and the craft of producing something so rich all have me mentally engaged.

Tejas Chocolate has also inspired me to renew and broaden my connection with the roots of Texas.  There couldn't be a better name for us.  Tejas is the Spanish spelling of "Taysha" which was learned from the Caddo Indians.  Tejas means friends & allies and ultimately defined what Texas means today.

What started out as a chocolate project for our friends and allies is now becoming an attempt to build a small business around a fine chocolate and brand.

Who knew.

If you would like to follow our progress you can find us at:

twitter @tejaschocolate

We are getting close to our first official release.  We just delivered an order from a Houston law firm for 60 bars for their office party.  The first time money will flow to me from a law firm instead of the other way around.

If that isn't sign I don't know what is.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

nine one one eleven

Sunday Michelle and I, armed with free tickets from our pal Dennis Tam, went the Houston Texans football game.  For many good reasons we were excited to attend the game.  There was to be a special ten year 9-11 remembrance coordinated by the NFL.  Texans had announced their Liberty White Out game for the occasion. It was a glorious day.  There is a buzz about the Texans in Houston.  We looked very much forward to the day.
"Liberty White Out" ready Michelle

We decided it would be fun to park downtown and catch the lite rail out to Reliant Park.  Parking is mostly free downtown on Sunday.  For $2.50 I bought two Metro Rail tickets and off we went.  By the second stop, the train was standing room only.  Lots of Liberty White Out Texans headed to the game.  Things were buzzing alright.

On the fourth stop a dark complected Latino man in plain clothes walked on pulling a wire basket cart with a large black worn sample brief case.  The fake leather was faded and ripped in places.  One latch was broken.  A pad lock rested open on the bottom of the basket. The wheels had broken spokes and rubber coming loose.  It looked like a pull cart a homeless person found in a dumpster.

This man parked his cart in the aisle right next to me and walked about 6 feet away to hold a pole.  He chatted with a Latino woman until she got off at the next stop.  I watched this man intently.  One hand on the pole, one hand in his pocket.  Some other Texans fans also looked at the case on the cart and then around the cabin of the train.

I'm considering asking this man about his case.  I'm watching him.  He is aware that I am watching him.  The man strikes up a conversation which I cannot hear with a seated Texans fan that is unaware this man has a cart with a black case 6 or 8 feet behind.  The conversation looks friendly enough.  The man does not appear to be anxious and is seemingly harmless.  He looks away when he sees me looking at him.  It occurs too me just how easy it would be to cart a bomb onto this train and blow it to smithereens with all the people in it.  I hate this thought.

Who, in their right mind, walks into a standing room only train with a old cart carrying a worn out black case on the ten year anniversary of 9-11.  It was starting to piss me off.  I'm pissed because I'm thinking about all this stuff.  I'm pissed at this man for not being a little more aware of what he was doing.  Leaving a case half unattended on a crowded train was not cool at all.

Just as curiosity, anger, and fear was about to overwhelm me into making a scene the train stopped and the man left with his cart.  Had he made one move out that door without that cart I was going to tackle him hard.  I was ready.

Michelle and I were relieved to see him get off. About one million and one thoughts had been rolling through our minds.  Eye contact, expressions with other passengers confirmed we were not alone.  Considering the day it was I reckon we all were a little more sensitive to unthinkable possibilities.  We also refused to let this fear keep us from our day's plans.

The whole thing wore off once we headed on foot to the stadium.  The home crowd was gathering for football and reflection.  And playful harassment of Colt fans.  Nothing picks the spirit up like razzing Colt fans.
Using a little girl as a shield...that is weak!
Once in the stadium, and with beverage in hand we found our seats.

Before the players were introduced, several members of NYPD and FDNY came out of the Texans tunnel.  A goose bump tingling standing O rained down on them.  The Texans defensive starters were introduced.  The crowd was is in a full roar.  The building was buzzing.  The announcer turned our attention to the big screen and Robert De Niro spoke of 9-11.  When the sweet sound of a bugle filled the giant space with Taps 80,000 football fans went silent.  So silent it was loud.  Simulcast video of other stadiums around the country scrolled on the big screen.  For a few moments 300 million Americans remembered what is important.

It was a moving experience.

I was glad we were there.  I was proud at how we all paid our respects.  I was happy the Texans played so well.  I felt fortunate to take the ride back downtown on the train.  I felt back to normal when a lady in a Colts shirt said she was offended by a Metro employee celebrating the beat down the Texans put on the Colts.

I was grateful it was an otherwise normal Sunday in the early fall.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

nine one one

On September 11, 2001 a 13 year old girl, 14 year old boy, and a 17 year old girl settled down at school ready to start the day's studies. It was just another day until they picked up on vibes from whispers and confused expressions of teachers and important school folks letting on that something was happening. There was enough non verbal communication to confirm the sixth sense we all posses that things were out of sorts. Out of sorts in a deeper way than we've experienced before. 
My three teenagers started the process, like we all did that day, of comprehending what was taking place. Hearing the first descriptions, seeing for their own eyes on TV, and reconciling emotions hard for anyone to understand was just the beginning.
Thinking about what others are thinking about was starting to get the best of me. I was 1600 miles from home in Baltimore, MD trying to with utter futility place a call home. "All circuits are busy" is a recording permantley burned into my memory of 9-11.
Mercifully I got a ringing sound and mercifully someone answered. Knowing that dad was somewhere on the East Coast, the question I got was "where are you exactly" from a wife wishing I was home. With as comforting voice as I could muster I assured all at home that I was safe and would find a way to get there as soon as possible. 
Two fellow peddlers and I jammed into a rented Ford Escape and headed home. 1600 miles gives three men ample time to digest, speculate, and contemplate events so profound. Events so profound that ten years later the three of us still wonder if we understand what happened and how it affects our nation today. From that ride back home I remember more than anything the hours of complete silence. Three extroverted sales types with nothing else to say. 
The three of us in complete determination to not let terrorists change our lives did what most road weary Americans would do. We checked into a motel and efficiently sought after a damn drink. By the evenings end George Bush had no idea how much he needed us, or how sound our advice was. My two friends and I had worked it all out. We just needed the trigger. 
Rolling into our airport in Houston to collect our cars from the parking lot was as sobering as anything I've experienced. An International airport in the fourth largest city in the country completely void of traffic, people, and moving air planes.
Finally back at home, after hugs of relief and confusion, I couldn't get enough of the images in the news. I felt so completely connected to people I didn't know. For the lady I saw run as the tower collapsed I wanted to hold her. For the person falling from the building I wanted to catch him. The firemen made me feel like my dad did on a stormy night when I was a kid. I wanted to be there with them all and tell them face to face I'm sorry and thank you.
I miss the mood of America in the months after.  I miss walking into a grocery store making eye contact with a stranger and knowing instantly we were on the same page.  No words were needed.  The strength of the common thread binding us all is a feeling I long for.
Remember everything.  Remember the tragic changes in lives.  All of our lives.  Remember we have more in common than we remember.  When politicians and talking heads remind us of our differences remember how united we were in the aftermath of 9-11.
Honor those that fell, saved, and protected by remembering we are Americans indivisible with liberty and justice for all. 
One nation under God.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy Father's Day

Fathers day for me is about BBQ, The US Open, and telling dads how cool they are.  My son Austin is planning to take the BBQ chores off my plate today.  He claims he's got a smoked pork rib recipe nailed.  Says he also has knack for making a great BBQ sauce.  I'm taking him up on his offer and plan to offer as much free advice as he can stand.

Then I'll offer a little more advice.

My dad was real good at watching US Opens.  Cooking, not so much.  But he was great at offering free advice on many topics.  Public speaking, fishing, and gardening were his specialties.  He did them all well and had the patience to teach.

When I need a little extra shot of patience I think of his unbelievable tolerance of just about anything.

That's dad dressed for success at the beginning of his career with Catalina.  I was about 6 weeks old.

Happy Father's Day dad.  Happy Father's Day to all the dads.

Cheers! Scott

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


There is no dish better suited to be topped with a fresh Pico De Gallo than a fajita taco.  Fajita meat is made with a cut called skirt steak.  It's typically a lower cost cut that is thin with a lot of connective tissue which makes it tough unless properly prepared and served.  A skirt steak is big on flavor, and with some simple techniques it can be tender as well.  It's all about the marinade, the rest, and the proper slice.

There are two cuts of skirt steak - outside and inside.  Inside is much more commonly found and is lower in cost. Outside skirt steak is the "real fajita" meat and costs more.  I don't find it at our market very often.  Rob Walsh wrote about this a couple of years ago.  The Japanese pay a premium for it and our fine government charges them no tariff, so off our outside skirt steak goes.

Juan Soto, owner of La Parranda, a local Tex-Mex place on Stuebner Airline has offered to sell me an outside cut. They are the only Tex-Mex place I know on the north side of Houston that uses outside skirt steak for their fajitas. Every time I get ready to take him up on that offer I just end up eating theirs because its wonderful.  They make a great hand made corn tortilla too!

Beef flavor should be the star in fajitas.  I don't mind some spice, but I don't care for it when it tastes like an over seasoned montage of something else.  I like beef.

I simply salt and pepper the meat and squeeze a generous amount of lime over the skirt steak.  Cover it or place it in an air tight bag and remove as much air as you can.  Let this sit on the counter for at least an hour.

The acid in the lime juice starts to break down the tough stuff. The beginning of tender tasty beef happiness. Some folks take off that thin membrane you see there in the picture.  I say screw that, its bringing some flavor to party. Trim it later when its done IMO.

I've never seen a Mexican grill any meat with out some green onions.  Never.  And its for good reason. Grilling green onion adds aroma that is hard to resist.  Skirt steak is absolutely best cooked over mesquite charcoal or wood. The char and light smoke are the final flavors needed for a real fajita taco.

On wonderfully hot coals sear each side for 5 - 6 minutes depending on just how hot you have this fire.  Flip it just once.  Skirt steak is a thin cut so I'm not necessarily looking for the medium rare pink center.  Once you've grilled the skirt steak immediately wrap it tightly in aluminum foil.  What is happening now is the meat will begin to slowly cool and rest.  Resting is very important for all grilled beef.  The high heat pushes the fat juices to the center compressing them.  Resting allows the juices to redistribute throughout the cut making for a moist piece of beef.

This grilled skirt steak can rest wrapped in foil for as long as 20 minutes and still be hot to the touch.  While your skirt steak is relaxing, grill some onion and bell pepper to use with your fajita taco.  Might as well char up a Serrano pepper for those looking for some heat.

This next best thing you can do for tender pieces of skirt steak is to be sure to slice it across the grain. Skirt steak is long and skinny.  It's tempting to just slice it cross ways from one end to the other, but that is actually with the grain and makes for tougher eating.  Cut the skirt steak in to 2" - 3" sections and slice down what once was the long side.  Now your cutting against the grain for a tender slice.

Wrong direction:

Here is an image from The Tasty Kitchen blog where she has it right.  I was too busy making tacos to snap a photo of mine.  That and my fingers were dripping with beef juices and I didn't want to smeg my camera.


Cutting across the grain makes a massive difference in a skirt steak.  Really really important.

Toast up some tortillas on a comal for your taco.  Corn is my favorite, but you mostly find flour tortillas at the Tex-Mex joints.  I have noticed that most taco trucks serve corn tortillas interestingly enough.  

For me its best topped with Pico De Gallo.  Michelle likes some sour cream and cheese.  What ever tips your taco. Again, no photo.  By now I had pico de gallo stuck to my thumbs.  Sorry.

Making tacos sure is fun.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Pico De Gallo by The Frio River

A fresh Pico De Gallo is a handy dish to have around.  Its simple and versatile.  When the summer tomatoes start showing up at the local market or in your garden Pico is just that much better.  I like the randomness of the chopped pieces; as well as, the variations of spice and flavor.  A fresh batch doesn't last long around our house.

This is our outdoor kitchen at our family camp on the Frio River.  Fixin food is comforting here.  Food tastes better here. The secret ingredient is the aroma of the river.  It has a soothing effect on the soul.  Food made with a relaxed soul is good for the digestion.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Few Words For This Wednesday

After my Grandad Franklin passed away Granny Pat got this chair and table as his memorial.  Grandad would sit on this bluff and watch the river for hours.  He would know every square inch of the bluff across the river.  He would also know at what time certain fish would swim by.  I think he spent time here to ponder lots of things.  Things like how lucky the family is the have such a place to enjoy.

When I see that chair looking over the river I think of Grandad and all that graced our camp and my life.