Yes, that’s a Playboy logo in the desert.

art

On our way outta Dodge on Sunday, we drove past the now-notorious 40-foot neon Playboy logo and, er, Dodge Charger in the middle of the desert. The art installation went up quietly in June on the outskirts of Marfa, and it wasn’t long before disapproving locals filed a complaint, calling licensing and permits into question. Is it art or advertising? Stay tuned for the bunny’s fate.

The bunkhouse at the ranch

bunkhouse

After a few breezy hours in a hammock and some ping pong at Planet Marfa, the local biergarten, we hopped in the car with some new friends and headed north to the Lambert Bunkhouse on Saturday night. The family’s ranch home sits on a hill in between Marfa and Fort Davis overlooking the gorgeous expanse of verdant Jeff Davis County.

First, a demonstration on from-scratch focaccia. Dough goes into dutch oven. Dutch oven is placed atop half a dozen hot coals. Cast iron lid goes on top of dutch oven.  More hot coals are placed atop the lid. Twenty minutes later you have ready-to-eat oily onion flat bread.

Dinner:

  • Onion focaccia
  • Grilled asparagus with cherry tomato relish
  • Cesar salad
  • Gold garlic potatoes
  • Ribeye, rare, with cremini mushroom relish
  • Rack of lamb, rare, with chimichurri sauce
  • Apple & blackberry cobbler a la mode (below)

cobbler

Camp cooking 101

We met with Chef Lou and the group at 10 this morning in the kitchen of El Cosmico, where he demonstrated the particulars of poaching a chicken, how to prepare the perfect ancho chili sauce, the low-down on chicken tortilla soup, and how to trim a tenderloin down into proper fajitas. Then, we learned how to pack a cooler for camping.

Tip: Pack marinated meat well in large Ziplock bags and then submerge them in ice in the bottom half of your cooler. Top the meat with a piece of cardboard cut to size. Then, layer any dairy and produce above the cardboard barrier. The separation helps keep your highly perishable items icy cold below, and prevents your produce from wilting in transit.

lunch feast

Next, we headed outside for further demonstration on how to cook over a fire pit, where a sous chef seared the marinated fajitas. We sat under an oil pipe pergola while Chef Lou prepared Spanish rice, a chopped salad and the most divine little dessert I’ve had since my culinary adventures in Italy.

Lunch:

  • Chopped salad with black sesame seeds &toasted almonds
  • Spanish rice & pinto beans
  • Beef fajitas (rare) with bell peppers and onions
  • Grilled Texas peaches on a slice of toasted pound cake and topped with powdered sugar and whipped cream

peach pound cake

Well Alpine it is.

alpine mural

A wily roadrunner skipped across our path this morning. A charming rainbow stretched across the sky. Perhaps Mother Nature was apologizing for the Pandora’s Box of insects she unleashed upon us the night before.  I’ll take it.

Now let’s eat.

After two highly anticipated stops at two highly recommended establishments – both closed – we begun to understand the anything goes “manana” philosophy that’s ingrained in the West Texas culture. So in lieu of breakfast at Squeeze or Cochineal, we grabbed a couple of iced Vietnamese coffees at Frama and (for lack of any other options) settled for a couple breakfast tacos from Stripes. Egad! I suppose we should thank the Laredo Taco Company for their commitment to feeding the starving weekday tourists of Marfa. And with a full day on our hands until it was time to meet back at camp for dinner, we decided to take a day trip to Alpine, Texas: Est. 1882.

brewery tower

A happy accident.

First stop: Big Bend Brewing Co.  We popped in to press our luck with hours of operation and were pleasantly surprised to find the fledgling brewery is only open on weekdays.  WIN. Moreover, a friendly redheaded woman and her brewmaster boss offered us a private tour and tasting.  Yes, please!

inside brewery

As we sipped  each of the five micro brews on tap, she told us about a popular hiking spot behind Sul Ross State University, so Hancock Hill is exactly where we headed next.  After an hour and a half hike up and around the hill and its unruly mobs of fire ants, we had to stop and admire Alpine’s “Alps.” That’s me on the left in the photo below.

Tip: Maybe don’t check out a brewery tasting and then decide it’s a good idea to hike 400 feet up into the mountains sans inhaler. Just call me Lil Wheezy.

Next up: A shared lunch of piled-high brisket fries at The Saddle Club, where Mister Wonderful was delighted to discover his favorite summer brew on tap: Mexican Lager. We said goodbye to Alpine after picking up a couple of juicy snow cones at the Murphy St. Raspa Co., and headed back to base camp in the middle of a majestic West Texas downpour. Rainbows all around.

Hancock Hill