I learned to ride horses about the same time that I started cooking; around seven, I’d guess, between Brownies, ballet classes, and afternoons in the country on the back of my dad’s motorcycle.
I grew up in Denton, just north of Dallas and Fort Worth. It was a rodeo town, where horses and cattle outnumbered people by a long shot. We had one Dairy Queen, two Piggly Wigglys, and a Sonic.
Despite the small town-ness of my environment, at home, dinnertime was always a special affair. We’d have Beef Stroganoff one night; fried chicken and biscuits the next; and spaghetti and meatballs after that, complete with a red-and-white checked tablecloth and matching cloth napkins, and a candle stuck into an old Chianti bottle covered with wax from years of use.
I set the table while Mom made dessert.
Like her mother and her aunt Nora, who owned English’s Café in Huffman, Alabama, a local favorite that was known for its home cooking and especially, its desserts, she’d whirr eggs, flour and sugar into velvety cake batters with her hand-held mixer, which would brrup-brrup-brrup against the side of the bowl, in a natural, cake-making rhythm.
The music from my childhood.
Later, as if by magic, fluffy cake layers emerged from the oven, ready to be iced.
After I outgrew my Easy Bake oven, I started baking grown-up desserts, just like my mom. Making cakes, cookies, and brownies became my favorite after-school activity.
When I was 12, I got my first subscription to Gourmet.
I loved to write as much as I loved to cook.
As a freelance writer for nearly 20 years, I usually spent my mornings writing and reporting, and late afternoons in the kitchen, trying out new recipes.
It was intense work, and cooking was a way to unwind. An award-winning investigative journalist, I’ve profiled death row inmates, women guards in all-male maximum security prisons, and victims of a bungled post-911 FBI round up. I’ve walked through drug tunnels in Arizona with border patrol agents and tracked down murder clues with cold case sheriff’s deputies in Houston.
I’ve written for Newsweek, People, Texas Monthly, National Geographic Traveler, American Way, Budget Travel, Cowboys & Indians, Entrée, Cooking Light, Delta Sky, Continental Airlines, The Dallas Morning News, D magazine, D Home, and WWD.
It’s been a wild ride. Over the years, I’ve written about more subjects than there are salsa recipes. Murder. Dirty politics. Religion. Technology. Science. Healthcare. Lighter fare, too. Travel. Food. Home design. The arts.
I’ve ridden elephants in northern Thailand; practiced yoga at an ashram on the Ganges in Rishikesh, India; trekked through the Peruvian Andes; and driven through Mexico’s rich interior on a quest to find the best tequila.
The adventure that I’m most excited about is the one that I’m in the middle of right now.
I packed up my Kitchenaid mixer, two Cuisinarts, and my collection of vintage cowboy boots and moved to Paris in 2007.
The transition wasn’t easy. I was homesick. I missed the big skies of Texas. Blazing sunshine. Tex-Mex.
When I ran out of flour tortillas that I’d brought from home, I started making my own. I didn’t have a comal, so I made them on a cast iron crepiere. There wasn’t a jalapeño to be found in any of the city’s 70-plus markets, so I learned to substitute. In the Belleville neighborhood, I found super-hot Moroccan peppers; in Chinatown, Thai chiles. Cilantro, limes, and avocados were easy to find. Soon, along with tortillas, I was making fresh salsas, guacamole, and margaritas, and having parties for my friends.
Word got out among the expat community in Paris, and in 2008, Cowgirl Tacos, my catering and cooking class business, was born.
Cowgirl Chef is who I am.
It’s who I’ve always been – in the kitchen, or anywhere — in my jeans and boots.
Although my culinary roots run deep in Southern and Tex-Mex, the idea behind the “Cowgirl Chef” speaks not to a particular type of cuisine; rather, a spirit.
It’s about cooking with abandon, with a sense of adventure. Of not being afraid to try something new. Or something old in a new way.
Madeleine pans are great for cornbread, and duck fat makes the best refried beans in the world, I’ve found.
Living in Paris has inspired me to play in the kitchen like never before. By experimenting with ingredients outside of my culinary boundaries, I’ve created new dishes that honor both of the places that I now call home – Paris and Texas — that synthesize the tastes of the Mediterranean with the flavors of Texas and the South.
Black-eyed Pea Cassoulet. Peanut Butter Crème Brulee. Tex-Mexified French Onion Soup, made with Corona beer.
Wherever I am, wandering across France, Texas, or someplace in between, I’ll be looking for my next culinary adventure, and talking about it right here, in words, on video, or if you’re real lucky, both.
I’m also writing a cookbook/memoir.
Stay tuned, y’all.