Discover Pan Dulce

Pan Dulce is the bread of my youth. This Mexican sweet bread was always available in our home when I was growing up. Today, a trip to my childhood home in South Texas means a visit to the panaderia (the Spanish word for bakery) to buy pan dulce. Just looking at the trays of pan dulce in the panaderia can stir up the most wonderful childhood memories.
Pan DulceThe history of pan dulce dates back to the 16th century when the Spanish introduced wheat in Mexico. Initially, the indigenous people did not care for the bland taste of wheat. In fact, the first panaderias in Mexico were not popular at all. However, all of that changed when panaderos (bakers) adopted many of the baking techniques they learned from the French.

Soon, the panaderos added new ingredients such as corn flour, chocolate, vanilla, native fruits and vegetables, and raw sugar cane to their culinary creations — giving their breads distinctive flavors. The panaderos also created breads with playful designs and gave them names associated with their appearance.

Today, pan dulce is a tradition that is deeply ingrained in Hispanic culture. Pan dulce is enjoyed in the morning over a cup of hot coffee or cocoa or as a merienda (mid-afternoon snack). These sweet breads are enjoyed on ordinary days and holidays by people around the world. That’s because panaderias have made their way from Mexico to countries all over the planet.

When it comes to pan dulce, I have my favorites but confess that I have never been disappointed with anything I have sampled at a panaderia. If you have never visited a panaderia, I encourage you to do so. Discover pan dulce. Live adventurously. Spend a few bucks. Sample a lot. I promise that you will not be disappointed.

The photos below are of a few of my favorite Mexican sweet breads.

Conchas from the Spanish word for seashells.

Conchas, the Spanish word for seashells.

Huaraches from the Spanish word for sandals.

Huaraches, the Spanish word for sandals.

Marranitos, the Spanish word for piglets.

Marranitos, the Spanish word for piglets.

Orejas, the Spanish word for ears. Also called Elephant Ears.

Orejas, the Spanish word for ears. This pan dulce is also called Elephant Ears.

Empanada, the Spanish version of a fruit-filled turnover.

Empanada, the Spanish version of a fruit-filled turnover.

St. Agnes Church in Terlingua

The ghost town of Terlingua is located in the heart of the Chihuahuan Desert, one of the most rugged and hostile environments in Texas. The name of the town is derived from the Spanish words “tres lenguas” meaning “three tongues.” The discovery of quicksilver in the mid-1880s turned Terlingua from a sleepy little village into a town of a thousand-plus residents.St. Agnes ChurchBy 1913, Terlingua had a dependable water supply, mail delivery, somewhat reliable telephone service, a hotel, and a physician. Sometime in 1914, St. Agnes Church, also known as Chisos Mission, was established and became the focal point of the mining town. Itinerant priests held services at the church once a month and also officiated at baptisms, weddings, and funerals.St. Agnes Church InteriorChurch records indicate the priests adopted the Terlingua Cemetery. The burial ground is listed as St. Agnes Chisos Cemetery on church records but the official death records continued to list it as the Terlingua Cemetery. And although the town was segregated with Mexican families living east of the company store and Anglo families to the west, both Mexicans and Anglos were laid to rest in the same cemetery.St. Agnes Church AltarThe adobe building was constructed on a raised stone foundation on the side of a hill overlooking the town. The building has survived the ravages of time and remains an iconic symbol of the importance of faith in this remote place. The interior is completely unpretentious — offering worshipers hard wooden benches, a weathered pine floor, painted adobe walls, and a simple altar. The spiritual comfort the faithful have received here, however, more than makes up for any lack of creature comforts.St. Agnes Church ExteriorI hope to return to Terlingua to learn more about the old church and its history. Suffice it to say that St. Agnes Church has a beauty all its own. We’ll never know how many people over the years found solace, refuge, and the help they longed for inside the walls of this old church. St. Agnes Church remains as an enduring reminder that faith is important and can thrive in the harshest of places.

Terlingua Cemetery

Terlingua is one of the most fascinating places to visit in the Lone Star State. If you want to see this old mining town, then you have to adjust your compass settings to off-the-beaten-path. What remains of Terlingua is nestled between Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park in far southwest Texas.
Terlingua RuinsThe name Terlingua is derived from the Spanish words “tres” and “lenguas,” meaning “three tongues.” Some folks say three tongues refers to Native American, Spanish, and English — the three languages spoken in the early days of the region. Others insist that the name refers to the three forks of Terlingua Creek. Either way, Terlingua is a cool name that somehow fits this rugged and hard place.
Terlingua CarAt the turn of the twentieth century, Terlingua became a flourishing mining town that yielded copious amounts of mercury, called quicksilver at the time. Today, Terlingua is a ghost town — the most visited ghost town in Texas. The town still has a few residents who live among abandoned ruins slowly being reclaimed by wind and weather. Visitors will find unique lodging options, a few places to eat, art galleries, a trading company, and a whole lot of vast open spaces and endless skies.
Terlingua Cemetery SignOne of the most interesting places in Terlingua is the old cemetery that dates back to the 1900s. Workers who lost their lives in the mines, victims of the influenza epidemic of 1918, gunfighters who were seconds too slow on the draw, and early residents are all buried there. Every year in November, folks gather at the cemetery to celebrate Day of the Dead and to offer their respect to the departed.
Terlingua CrossesWalking slowly among the old graves is a sobering experience — the kind that makes you reflect on just how hard life is in this remote and rugged land. Names of the departed etched on weathered wooden crosses are no longer legible. Creosote, ocotillo, and cactus cling to life among the rocks that cover the graves. Plastic flowers and miscellaneous mementos placed on graves are the only indications that some of the dead are not yet forgotten.
Terlingua GraveThe Terlingua Cemetery is a time-capsule. Every grave holds secrets and stories that will never be told. Visitors can only speculate about the deceased and what their daily lives must have been like in days when quicksilver turned this region from a sleepy little village into a community of a couple of thousand — and eventually into a ghost town.
Terlingua Cemetery Mask Even though Terlingua is out of the way and far from just about any place in the Lone Star State, it’s definitely worth visiting. And, when in Terlingua, take a quiet and meditative stroll through the historic Terlingua Cemetery. You’ll be reminded that we are only here for a season and then we too will be laid to rest somewhere, maybe even in an old cemetery like the one in Terlingua. As for me, it doesn’t matter where you bury me as long as it’s in Texas.

Farmers Mercantile

Farmers Mercantile is a Texas time capsule — an old general store where almost 90 years of memories compete with merchandise for shelf space. You can feel the past the second you walk through the front door and step onto the old wooden slats that cover the original dirt floor. Once inside you realize that you are standing in a place like few others in the Lone Star State.
Farmers Mercantile WindowJo Harris along with her mother Lou and brother Bubba are the latest generation to run the old store located in Orange. This historic old town is situated on the West bank of the Sabine River, the waterway that separates Texas and Louisiana. The mercantile occupies a building that was originally a Buick dealership. Jo’s great grandfather bought the place in 1927 and opened his general store in April of the following year.
Farmers Mercantile FrontFive generations of the Harris family have kept the old store running. The store has weathered the Great Depression and other economic lows through the years. However, Jo explained to me that the only reason they weathered the damage of Hurricane Ike in September 2008 was because of the kindness of the community.
Farmers Mercantile HatsThe two-plus feet of flood waters dumped by Hurricane Ike rushed into the store and destroyed half a million dollars worth of merchandise. After the flood waters receded, Jo walked in to find the floors covered in inches of mud. Without any insurance to cover the cost of the damage, Jo wondered if the end of Farmers Mercantile had finally come.
Farmers Mercantile StoveAnd then, something remarkable happened. The people of the community and surrounding farms rallied to the aid of the Harris family. They told Jo and her family that they would help them clean up the mess and get things back in order because Farmers Mercantile was too important to the community. And that’s exactly what they did. Seven days later, Jo and her family opened their doors once again for business.
Farmers Mercantile ScaleToday, every shelf in the place is chock-full of the most interesting things — the kind of this-and-that kind of stuff that farming folks need. You’ll find garden supplies, seeds of every variety, corn shuckers, sausage stuffers, hand churns, straw hats, cast iron cookware, rope, saddles, wash tubs, bed bug poison, kerosene lamps, coolers, livestock feed, and much more. The store is, in fact, the oldest seller of Lone Star Feeds in Texas.
Farmers Mercantile ClockThe walls are adorned with almost ninety years worth of bric-a-brac — advertising signs, garden and farming implements, leftover automobile fan belts from the days when the Buick dealership occupied the place, assorted framed items, and other stuff. The most treasured is an old clock advertising Calumet Baking Powder. Jo’s grandfather won it in a contest after selling a full barrel of the brand’s baking powder. The clock remains exactly where her grandfather hung it on the wall.
Farmers Mercantile SeedThere is one more thing that makes Farmers Mercantile a special place to the folks of the area — and that is the customer service. I enjoyed listening to Jo answer questions about seed and fertilizer and rat poison. Jo and her family know their stuff. They can advise you about what to plant and when to plant it and even tell you how to deal with bed bugs. In the hour-plus that I spent with Jo I was impressed by her knowledge and even more by her concern for every person who walked through the door.
Farmers Mercantile PhoneThe world outside the Farmers Mercantile will continue to change. There is no doubt about it. However, in this day of constant motion and change, I find it comforting that there are still places like the Farmers Mercantile where what happens inside remains the same. Everyone who walks through the doors can expect to find the same unchanging and time-treasured values that have made this a special place.
IMG_7674Plan to visit Farmers Mercantile and to take your kids along. Jo and her family will be happy to show you around and to answer any questions about what you see on their shelves. It might surprise your kids to see a business that has survived for so long without any modern conveniences — no air conditioning in the summer and only a central stove to heat the place in the winter. It won’t take you long to discover why this place is valued by the folks around Orange and why it continues to endure.

Woman Hollering Creek

The Lone Star State has no shortage of places with interesting names. Perhaps one of the most curious is Woman Hollering Creek. This creek with the odd name runs under Interstate 10 between San Antonio and Sequin near Exit 591.
Woman Hollering Creek SignThere are a number of tales about how the creek got its name but none of them are definitive. Nevertheless, each of these tales share a chilling common denominator — a hollering or crying woman. The various stories about this distressed woman have endured for generations.

Writer Sandra Cisneros offers one explanation in her book “Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories.” Cisneros links the name of the creek to the legend of La Llorona. The term “llorona” (yo ro na) is the Spanish word for a weeping or wailing woman.

The woman in Cisneros’ story allegedly drowned her own children in a creek. According to this legend, this woman is often heard weeping at night for the children she lost. La Llorona evolved into a Hispanic version of the boogeyman. Hispanic mothers have long told their kids to stay clear of rivers and streams at night or La Llorona might get them.

Other explanations for the name of the creek are a variation on this theme. One story suggests that a distraught mother drowned her children after her husband was brutally killed by Indians. Fearing her children might suffer a similar fate, she drowned them instead. Some believe that her spirit wanders along the creek, sobbing and crying for her lost children.

While the various stories about how the creek got its name are interesting, the real story is forever lost. We’ll never know for sure why this particular creek was named Woman Hollering. We can only speculate and err on the side of heeding the advice of those Hispanic moms who warned their kids to steer clear of La Llorona’s riparian domain.
Woman Hollering CreekWhen I visited the creek, in broad daylight, I parked along the road and then walked down to the water. I bushwhacked my way a short distance along the banks of the creek. Perhaps it’s because of the name of the murky-water creek or because of my overactive imagination, but I found the place to be kind of creepy. The dark water only added to the discomforting feeling.

While I didn’t hear any distant wailing, I do understand how the name of a place can mess with your mind. That’s why I prefer Texas creeks with less creepy names — like Catfish, Big Pine, Beaver, Mulberry, or Sweetwater. So, as for me, you won’t find me anywhere near Woman Hollering Creek at night or any other time. I have no desire to meet La Llorona!

John Henry Faulk’s Christmas Story

Everybody loves a good story — a real or imaginary account that captures our imagination and transports us to another place or time. That’s what would happen every time my grandfather would tell me a story. The sound of his voice, the subtle inflection of a word, a phrase told in a rising crescendo or trailing off into a whisper. He used these tools of the storyteller to mesmerize me — to unlock the door to my soul where his stories ultimately took up residence.

A few years ago I became acquainted with another storyteller whose masterful delivery also captured my imagination. John Henry Faulk, the fourth of five children, was born in Austin in 1913 and would become one of the Lone Star State’s most beloved storytellers. He was deeply influenced by his freethinking Methodist parents who taught him to detest racism. His post-graduate thesis at the University of Texas was about the civil rights abuses faced by African-Americans.

John Henry FaulkFaulk honed his storytelling abilities while teaching English at the University of Texas and later as a Merchant Marine during the Second World War. His friend Alan Lomax, who worked at the CBS network in New York, hosted several parties during Christmas 1945 to introduce his radio broadcasting friends to Faulk’s yarn-spinning abilities. A few months later, CBS gave Faulk his own weekly radio program, providing him with the thing every storyteller craves — an audience.

Sadly, Faulk’s radio career was derailed in 1957 when he became a victim of Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunt for Communist sympathizers. The blacklisted storyteller, however, fought back. With support from famed broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow, Faulk won a libel suit against those who had tarnished his reputation. The jury, in fact, awarded him the largest libel judgement in history to that date. In 1963, Faulk chronicled his experience in his book Fear on Trial. CBS television broadcast its movie version of Faulk’s story in 1974.

In his latter years, Faulk made numerous appearances as a homespun character on the popular Hee-Haw television program. He also wrote two one-man plays — Deep in the Heart and Pear Orchard, Texas. Throughout the 1980s he was a popular speaker on college campuses, speaking often on the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment. On April 9, 1990, Faulk died of cancer in his hometown of Austin. The city of Austin later named the downtown branch of the public library in his honor.

A few years ago on a dark December night, while traveling to my hometown for Christmas, I tuned in to National Public Radio and heard a story that touched me deeply. The story was one that John Henry Faulk had recorded in 1974 for the program Voices in the Wind. NPR later rebroadcast Faulk’s story in 1994. Every year since then, NPR has rebroadcast Faulk’s heartwarming Christmas Story. This story has earned a place among my favorite Christmas stories and movies. I listen to it every year at Christmas.

Family Listening to RadioI encourage you to take a few minutes to listen to John Henry Faulk’s Christmas Story. Gather your family around and invite them to listen as well. But, be warned. Faulk’s homespun story will mesmerize you. The sound of his voice will transport you back to simpler days before Christmas came under fire. I think you will agree that the Lone Star State produced a great storyteller in John Henry Faulk and that his Christmas story should be heard by a new generation. Best wishes for the most wonderful Christmas ever.