Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Election Day

Texas, as well you know by now, has provided Mitt Romney with the final votes necessary for the Republican nomination. Having not registered as a Republican, I have nothing to do with that. As I discovered between plastic partitions in a church community room yesterday, the Texas democrat's ballot is decidedly less interesting this primary season. Unless you take an interest in local races. There's been a lot in our news about redistricting and voter registration, which must have taken up the news cycle for looking at the candidates for Dallas County Sheriff. Happily, the Dallas Morning News offers a voter guide that allows one to compare candidates. Feel free to play along:

Now don't waste your time with race for Railroad Commissioner--however much you may want to imagine a politician wearing striped overalls, there's just one candidate running unopposed. Instead compare the responses of 64 year-old Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez to her 23 year-old challenger Charlie J. Thomas. On the question, "Have you ever been arrested or involved in any criminal proceedings or civil suits?" Valdez says only, "No." Mr Thomas, on the other hand, takes two paragraphs to explain a public intoxication charge that lead to his resignation from UTSW Police Department.

Valdez is at all times professional and concise, if a little vague for my tastes. Mr. Thomas, however, describes his "Highlights of current civic involvement/accomplishment" as follows:

Currently I have been bogged down with the current economic situation that most Americans are experiencing; High gas prices and not enough pay. I am employed at two jobs working over 52 hours a week and still struggling to support myself like most other people.

He also takes the opportunity to discuss Vitamin C at one point, and a lengthy history of Abraham Lincoln, the political leader he most admires, includes the fact, "He stood 6 feet 4 inches," and ends with the conclusion, "He was someone like a Julius Caesar for America." If you wonder why Thomas is running for office, he's got a 30 paragraph explanation for that. I'll reprint the first paragraph here:

I am running to hopefully advance to greater office and fundamentally change this country in line with the U.S. Constitution. I do believe everyone has a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Thomas Jefferson once declared that, “ In questions of power let us hear no more of trust in men, but bind them down from mischief with the chains of the constitution.” And that is what I eventually want to do.

I find his honesty genuinely refreshing, if rarely on topic. This is a man whose response to "What specific improvements would you make to jail operations to ensure that the county doesn’t repeat the inspection failures of past years?" reads, in its entirety:

I believe the current Sheriff has done a good job on passing state inspections. I want to continue some of her policies.

I think it's kind of bold to slip in a Jefferson quote in a campaign for local office, bolder still to aspire to binding people down with the chains of the constitution, but the endorsement of the opposing candidate is downright special. I don't know if Charlie Thomas explains anything bigger about the politics of a state that produced Ron Paul or Rick Perry, but he's given me a reason to read the voter's guide with closer attention, and it's hard not to appreciate that.

Monday, May 28, 2012


One of the things I admire about my neighborhood is the spirited use of white marker on car windows. You normally see the stuff advertising prices on a used car lot, though anyone trying to sell a vehicle around here makes a sign. If, however, it's Brianna's sweet sixteen or the Cougars are going to the finals or some driver/passenger has or will soon log basically any milestone/accomplishment of adolescent life, well we will break out the paint markers and go to town. Big letters, lots of exclamation marks, a circle framing where the driver's head will go and an arrow pointing to that circle with an explanation that takes up the rest of the windshield: enough writing to impair visibility and distract other motorists, but too gleeful to begrudge. Which is all to say, I knew it was graduation this weekend.

I didn't believe it, however, until a teenager in a neighboring district confirmed that after a week of standardized state testing, a few days before it was even decent to wear white shoes, Texas had released her children into the wilds of May. Having once been a schoolgirl myself, I find this news as subversive and enticing as the rumors in my Californian elementary school that, somewhere, some children got whole days off school because of snow. Dallas kids may not take off Illinois' elusive and mysterious Casimir Pulaski Day, but they seem to have everything else: both the occasional possibility of a snow day AND a school year that ends a full three weeks before my alma mater. I am, frankly, scandalized both that this is true and that they aren't shouting it from the rooftops. And I thought they were lucky to have paint markers.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Noah Puckerman

As a Californian, I would be hard pressed to tell you about famous Californians. I know my state history, in a fourth grade report kind of way, and I know there's a reason Richard Nixon's presidential library is in the Golden State. But big states don't keep track of their native sons. There is too much, there are too many to enumerate or remember. Big states, I always thought, found themselves inundated by so many points of pride they all kind of blended together into a general satisfied glow.

Not so in other places. For instance, did you know John Wayne was an Iowan? Ditto Herbert Hoover. Ashton Kutcher and Elijah Wood still are. We could go on, of course. Not forever, but a few more. Maybe enough to change how you think of Iowa.

Texas is a big state, and Dallas is a big city in itsecond biggest city in the state, in fact, and the ninth biggest city nationwide. Which is perhaps why no one brings up famous natives to bolster the overall reputation of the joint. Perhaps they should.

I have it on good authority that I may be the only person I know who still watches the TV show Glee. So it may not mean much to mention that Mark Salling, the actor who plays Noah Puckerman, was born in Dallas. Not to worry: those of us in need of a city pride shot-in-the-arm, Dallas style, need not stop there. Lance Armstrong is one of ours. Likewise, Norah Jones. Aaron Spelling. Luke and Owen Wilson. Usher. Melinda Gates and Robin Wright were both born in Dallas. Bonnie and Clyde are just from nearby, so we don't feel responsible for their hooliganism. But if you were wondering who can lay claim to the singular Vanilla Ice, it's definitely us.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Society Bakery

Salted Caramel. Pecan Praline. Boston Cream. Oreo.

We started with four cupcakes, but we could have gone on. The Key Lime was beckoning, not to mention Red Velvet. And while awards and top rankings and internet testimonials suggest the Society Bakery makes the best cupcake in Dallas, we will never know how the competition compares because we started here and now have no incentive to go anywhere else.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Little Bean

I love that my mother, who has made a career of working with three to five year olds, lives in California but her favorite children's store is here in Dallas. It's not just the circus shadow puppets or the rack of tutus in the window; it might be the small but inscrutable selection of books (get yourself a copy of "Press Here," for starters).

For me it's also the fact that the owner once left a sigh in the window that said, in the cheeriest block letters: "CLOSED EARLY--BFF IN LABOR!" It doesn't hurt that the previous owner offered yoga classes in the off hours, and I keep hoping that the new owner will decide to follow suit. I may love most of all that the store is called Little Bean. Partly I am already endeared to the word bean, a stand alone pet name or suffix of affection in my family. Partly I love that it gives the owner's sisters the opportunity to crank call the shop and, in ridiculous fake voices, ask as earnestly as possible if they can buy some big beans.

But years from now I will still remember Little Bean as the place my mother found a handmade dolly in a silver dress, the hair red like mine and her embroidered brown eyes like asterisk stars, and bought this dolly and took her home. My parents inherited my grandmother's collection of wrapping paper some years ago--brown paper with cowboy boots, 1970's bright rainbow birds and little houses, sedate blue with lighter blue wedding bells--and this year my mother unspooled the last foot and a half of Strawberry Shortcake print, a wrapping paper quite likely last used for a birthday of mine in the 1980s, to wrap this dolly for me. I can't bear to throw the paper away. And I keep the tag tied to her arm where my mother has written in a cheerful black script of her own: "When the princess was crowned, everyone said she made a lovely queen."

Friday, May 18, 2012

Fireside Pies' strawberry shortcake

The first time Dustin and I went to Fireside Pies, an estimated 45 minute wait stretched into an hour and a half. And just as we were getting ready to make a break for it, to cross Henderson for the somewhat dubious looking Uptown Deli and devour whatever it was willing to sell us, someone called our name and whisked us off to the back porch. We were pretty sure that despite our hunger, nothing we ordered would seem worth the wait. Two bites into the Texas Bibb Salad, we were convinced otherwise.

We've never had a wait since, but I'm prepared for lines around the block as diners discover the strawberry shortcake now on special. I am a sucker for bread pudding, but I am a connoisseur of the shortcake. And before Wednesday I would have told you the best strawberry shortcake anywhere is at Boccali's in Ojai, CA. I would, in fact, have given you very specific instructions: sit outside, order the homemade lemonade, split the lasagna but get your own side salad, and then shortcakes all around! The strawberries are local, the whip cream whipped there, and the biscuit-style shortcake soaks everything up. You won't want to share more than a biteful. If you find yourself in California, I still recommend you stop by. But if you want the best anywhere, come to Texas.

I have instructions for Fireside Pies, too. Share a salad, share a pie--listen to the server when she says the white pie with mushroom and arugula is even better with prosciutto. And then prepare yourself, and ask for the strawberry shortcake. There's sugar in the crust of the biscuit, in fact it tastes a smudge like cake. The berries are fresh and sweet and vibrant red. The whip cream, whipped there of course, is whipped with a lavender simple syrup, which you won't quite be able to identify until the chef comes over to see how you like it. The chef is a beautiful young woman, I would think too young to be so accomplished, but the proof is on the plate. She asks what we think. We think we should order a second one. And for the next two months, for as long as they can get the strawberries, I think we will.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The One Quilt Shop

To be fair, there used to be more. There used to be the store that specialized in batiks and the store that specialized in brights and the store that catered to Civil War reproduction quilts. There are still other fabric stores in Dallas, but if you want a quilt store, if you want a place that will recommend black batting for a dark quilt so you don't suffer the bearding of white tufts pulling through, Quilters Connection is the only bet in town. And at the edge of city limits, it's just barely that.

You might think the problem is the heat, that quilting is a pastime of places with winter weather, but the heat makes shut-ins of Dallas, too, and quilting is as good a reason as any to stay in the air conditioning. In fact, spring is the slow season here, a respite of nice weather that has people biking and gardening between the big push to finish Christmas presents and flurry of graduation gifts. Which means this is a particularly a good time to work on the big tables in the back. In fact, you're welcome to call ahead to see if there's space, and if there's not a full class, there probably is.

There are lots of nice things to say about this place, and one of these day's I hope to get up the gumption to drop by the Featherweight Club on second Tuesdays, but what intrigues me at the moment is third Saturday's Late Night Sit & Sew, an event that goes from "5:30pm until ????" Once they didn't stop until they noticed it was getting light out. It wasn't until that morning that the QC owner realized there was a donut shop next door. Happily, the donut shop opens early.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The One Farmers' Market

Is it possible there is only one farmers' market in Dallas? It's a little hard to tell because what dominates the google search results is the Dallas Farmer's Market, which sounds like the right thing, and the wares are fresh, but with the exception of the occasional honey or nut or meat stalls, you won't find anything too much more local than the pineapples with the Costa Rica tags still on them.

Which, after much hunting, leaves only one other contender. Celebration Market's Saturday morning market seems to be the only true farmer's market, even if it is basically a few house of the Celebration Market restaurant yielding up some of the parking lot between the dine-in and take-out buildings for its usual local suppliers to sell to the locals. It may be the smallest farmer's market I have ever seen. That's including the one in Keene, NH (population 22,395) that is so strict that the folks growing mushrooms in their basement have to set up in an adjacent parking lot because they are not technically local as long as they outsource some of the ingredients they bottle in their Magic Mushroom Tea. No, Keene doesn't even need the mushroom vendors to outnumber the showing of stands in Dallas.

So, how can a city of 1.2 million people have a six-stand farmers' market? Nothing against the jams or the earrings or the special Cinco de Mayo paper flowers crowding out the vegetables, and nothing against the beautiful summer squash and bell peppers and Russet potatoes I saw fit to bring home today, even if the peppers were beginning to wrinkle by evening. But seriously: how is that possible? How is it possible that if the grocery store has a local option, for instance the mushrooms I buy every week, it has to compete with the organic option because the two are never the same?

I am going to assume Dallas has only one farmers' market because it only needs one, because the one we have is so good there is no room for competition. And maybe next week, when I buy chicken and eggs, I'll come to believe it, too.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Milk & Honey

I like to think of my brain as a problem-solving sort of brain, except that once it has a task there is no calling it off, even if the problem is solved. For instance, two years ago my brother got married. Standing up as his best person, I needed something butter yellow to wear. That sounds easy enough, but I looked for months and there was nothing the right color, nothing the right cut, nothing the right mood, nothing the right size. Eventually I found myself in a yellow sleeveless shirt and black capri pants and there were lots of pictures and my brother was married and all was well. Except that I still couldn't pass a yellow thing in a store without giving it a second look. Except that my brain was still looking for the perfect yellow dress to wear to my beloved brother's wedding.

In the period of time while I was visiting Dallas but didn't live here yet, there was a jewelry store called The Shining which displayed its wears on taxidermied desert animals. The jewelry wasn't really my style, but I admired their spirit, and I brought it up whenever anyone asked me what there was of interest to be found in distant, dusty Dallas.

The Shining closed, even as I was opening the moving boxes in the new apartment, but something else has cropped up in its place. Milk & Honey is one of those rare clothing boutiques that has both snazzy new duds and a price point so reasonable it is its own conversation piece. And it is here that I find the butter-yellow summer-wedding dress I've been searching for. It is a sleeveless light cotton with a thin tie at the waist and a big butter-yellow cloth flower on the left shoulder strap. It might not actually have been formal enough for a member of the wedding party, but it was an early afternoon wedding in Southern California, and at this point I'm going to split hairs. This is a dress that makes my brain think, "We found it!" And just in time to celebrate their two-year anniversary--which, by the way, actually is the "cotton anniversary."

Resistance is Feudal

I have been asking Dustin when he will take me to Medieval Times. We have one here in Dallas right next to the freeway, and I assume we will only be able to drive past it so many times before something will snap and we will decide it is irresistible. Add that to the fact I like to eat with my hands and a billboard we regularly pass that informs us, on Medieval Times' behalf, that "Resistance is Feudal," and the idea is not so far fetched. Indeed, it seems inevitable.

And yet every time I ask Dustin if we should go to dinner and a tournament, he looks at me with raw fear. Now, Dustin likes an adjustable paper crown as much as the next guy; but while he doesn't take issue with my fourth grade girl scouts outing to the Buena Park MT, the fact that my college boyfriend chose the Chicagoland location for our first Valentine's Day has seared into Dustin's brain.

"This is different," I say, but Dustin shakes his head. He remembers that the Chicago Valentine's trip started out as an ironic gesture, too, but that it stopped being funny in the Great Hall, where someone in period dress calls you up and announces loudly to the room why you've been singled out. It was fine at first--Anthony was having a birthday, Jessica got straight A's--but then the theme changed to romance. Gill and Meredith were celebrating their 37th anniversary, Mary and Jim their 10th. Mark and Cindy just got married. Leona and Richard were there on their honeymoon. I would have been in a better mood had my boyfriend been more forthcoming. He and half of the couple we were now on a double date with had been joking about this as the most ridiculous possible date for a few weeks, but they had seemed so guileless when they told us they were planning a Valentine's surprise, that all we had to do was dress nicely and be ready to leave at six.

So when the honeymooning couple accepted their souvenir scroll, I turned to my college boyfriend and said I would leave if someone proposed. Which of course was the cue for the announcer to call up Steve and Sarah. Steve did all of the talking. Steve talked about how wonderful Sarah was, how the two months they'd known each other had been the best two months of his life, how ever since they first started chatting online he'd felt a connection. And then he got on one knee and proposed. Sarah did not actually say anything. She kind of nodded enough to make him stand up and someone opened the grand doors and we all tried to file past them without making eye contact. It didn't matter that our knight didn't win.

"Just don't propose to me there," I say, and Dustin squints his eyes as if trying to literally see how this could possibly be a good idea. But then we've already driven past the castle-style building and its big illuminated marquee, and before we even hit the interchange, the mood has passed.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Best Thing About Austin: It's not that far from Dallas

I have gotten so used to people saying the best thing about Dallas is that "it's not that far from Austin," so used to shrugging off the punchline and trying to steer the conversation to a more productive topic, that I've never though to ask what's so great about Austin, anyway. On Saturday, having only been in Austin a few house, I mention this omission to my new Austinite friends at wedding reception Table 8. Instead of telling me about Amy's Ice Cream (which I have just discovered) or the largest urban bat colony in North America (something I now can't wait to see), the Austinites say nothing about their city; they rush to the defense of Dallas.

"No, no," a handsome law associate assures me. "Dallas gets the best musicals." His girlfriend nods heartily. "The summer I interned in Dallas, we saw all sorts of stuff. Shows coming from Broadway always stop there. We've got other music here, but if you want all that cultural stuff, museums or whatever, Dallas has us beat."

I am caught totally off guard. I don't know what to say. I can hardly keep up with their sincerity, with their praise. And it occurs to me that the best thing about Austin is Austinites. And the closer Dallas gets to them, the luckier we are.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Calle Doce

Pat has been telling me about Schlitterbahn. Pat has been telling me generally about being on the water in Texas--in lakes, in waterparks, anywhere you can sit in an inner tube  and maybe tether along a second inner tube to hold your drinks. And then the subject turns to food.

"Do you like seafood?" Pat asks me.

"Who doesn't?" I reply gamely.

Well, for starters, Pat. Pat's recommendations are amazing in this regard. Do you like brisket? Pat doesn't, but she knows a place you shouldn't miss.

I actually don't have strong feelings about seafood in general, but fortunately for all of us, Pat's husband does. And after dinner on Wednesday, I have to agree: if you have even a passing interest in seafood, Calle Doce is a must. The frozen margaritas alone might be worth it, but what a shame to miss the shrimp cocktail.

Pat is a Dallas girl from way back. And even if she and Ed live outside of town now, she hasn't lost touch with things that make this city great. "Have you been to Blue Goose? You have to go to Blue Goose." "You want tamales? My mom has this lady." She is up on every festival and art faire and parade. Even her stories about the nuisances, about the neighbors that used to throw unauthorized birthday parties in their backyard when they went away for the weekend, are so good you have to be grateful for them, too.