Educating the world about Texas one Yankee at at time.

Educating the world about Texas one Yankee at a time.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving held first in Texas, circa 1598

In Texas, Thanksgiving could very well be observed with a little paella in addition to the turkey.

The first Thanksgiving in America was celebrated in Texas by Spanish explorer Juan de Oñate on April 30, 1598.

I’m not trying to take away from the one held in New England in 1621. I’m just showing you a little bit of Texas history that should not be forgotten.

A couple of little factoids about Oñate: he was born in Zacatecas, Mexico, among the first of the Oñates to be able to claim Mexican heritage. He married Isabel de Tolosa Cortes Moctezuma, granddaughter of Hernando Cortes and great-granddaughter of the Aztec Emperor Moctezuma Xocoyotzin.

Oñate came from an old Spanish family with connections in the court of King Phillip II of Spain. He was commanded by the king to colonize the upper Rio Grande valley previously explored by Francisco Vázquez de Coronado y Luján in 1540. Arriving in 1598, Oñate claimed the area at the spot where Ciudad Juárez–El Paso is now...and all of New Mexico too. April 30, 1598 was the feast day of the Ascension. In a makeshift church, the Te Deum was sung and Franciscan priests celebrated a solemn high Mass. Then “La Toma,” the formal ceremony of claiming new land, was observed. Supposedly, the Spanish army rode into formation on horseback in full armor and Oñate stepped forward to read the official proclamation.

“In the name of the most Holy Trinity…I take possession of this whole land this April 30, 1598, in honor of Our Lord Jesus Christ on this day of the Ascension of Our Lord…”

Historical accounts say that after the Thanksgiving Mass, the priests blessed a feast of fish, ducks, cranes and geese for a party of 600 Spanish soldiers and colonists. The rest of the day was spent in competitive games and theatrical entertainments.

Sounds a little like the way we observe Thanksgiving now, except for claiming chunks of land in the names of foreign kingdoms. Not much of that going on these days without some serious consequences.

All this history got me to thinking. It might be kind of fun to introduce some Spanish flavor into the tradition Thanksgiving meal. Paella is a rice dish that is actually more identified with Valencia than Spain as a whole. It’s made of white rice, green vegetables, meat, snails, beans and seasoning. It might be a pretty good complement to turkey. If snails aren’t your thing, you can do seafood paella, replacing the meat, snails, green veggies and beans with seafood.

In honor of Oñate, I’m contemplating planting a flag in my neighbor’s yard and claiming it as my own for the day with a battle of water balloons ensuing and the loser having to do yard work all next summer.

Or not.

I will certainly enjoy a feast of native fowl (turkey) and then spend the day watching competitive games (football) and theatrical entertainment (endless Christmas television specials).

I’ll invite way less than 600 guests though. One has to draw the line somewhere.

As for the paella, I’ve never made it, so we can explore this recipe together. If you make it, let me know how it goes.

Simple Paella
• Serves: 6-8
• Difficulty: Intermediate
• Preparation time: 60-90 minutes
• 1/2 pint of olive oil
• 2 cups of rice
• 5 cups of fish broth
• 1/2 lb. of shrimp
• 2 mid-sized squids, sliced
• 2 lb. of mussels or clams
• 1 green pepper, diced
• 1 red pepper
• 1 small can of peas
• 1 small onion
• 2 tomatoes
• Saffron
• 1 clove of garlic
• Parsley
• Salt


Heat half of the oil and, once warm, add the chopped onion. After 5 minutes, add diced tomatoes, without seeds and peeled. Let it braise about 5 minutes more, mashing the tomatoes with a skimmer. Drain excess oil.

In a pot, begin to cook in cold water the shells of the shrimp, reserving the tails. In another ladle cook the mussels with little water (well washed before with water and salt). As soon as the shells open up, take them away and take off the half that doesn't have the bug, reserving the other halves and straining for a very fine strainer the broth where they have cooked, as well as that of the waste of the shrimp.

Add the rest of the oil to the paella pan. Add the diced green pepper. Add the squid and the rice. Keep stirring with a wooden tablespoon, without letting it go brown. Add salt and the fish broth, hot but not boiling. Shake the paella pan so that it is broth is evenly distributed. Cook over medium heat.

Meanwhile, mash a little bit of garlic, the parsley and the saffron, with a little bit of salt, and add a couple of tablespoons of water. Sprinkle this mixture on the rice and shake the paella pan. Add the shrimp tails and when the broth has reduced to the half, add red pepper, mussels and peas.

Let it cook about 20 minutes.

Once the rice is cooked and the broth has reduced, remove the paella pan from the heat and let it set about 5 minutes.

Garnish with lemon slices.

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

You say it…how?

Years ago, when I worked as a news producer for the NBC affiliate KETK in Tyler, our weather anchor made a massive blunder on the air.

He mispronounced “Mexia” during the weather segment.

Big deal, you’re thinking. It’s simple, right? Mexia is pronounced “Mex-ee-ah.”

No, it ain’t, mis amigos.

The phones in the newsroom rang constantly for about an hour after that.

“Tell that Yankee it’s pronounced ‘Muh-HAY-uh,’” one caller said.

I can’t repeat what other callers said because what they said was more colorful than what I allow for print in this blog.

By virtue of the butchering of the city’s name, the poor fella was almost the guest of honor at a necktie party hosted by our viewers.

My friend, Heather got a public correcting for the same mistake in the newsroom of The Waco Tribune-Herald when she worked there.

“You want me to drive to ‘Mex-ee-ah’ for a story?” she said out loud.

You’d have thought she insulted somebody’s mama from the way she described the reactions of her fellow reporters.

Everything is different in Texas, including the way we pronounce the names of our towns and landmarks. I’m letting you know now so you don’t get blasted between the eyes for an innocent verbal mistake. Your logic in saying a name as it reads is not wrong. Not at all. But, bless your heart, we’ll know you’re not a Texan if you mess it up out loud and we’ll be vociferous in letting you know you boofed it big time.

To alleviate some of the confusion, here are the highlights of names that are not pronounced as they read:
Pedernales is “Purd-nallas,” Humble is “Umbul.” Boerne is “Burney,” Gruene is “Green,” New Braunfels is New “Brawn-fulls” NOT New “Brawns-full.” Even Texans get that one wrong once in awhile, so don’t feel bad if you booger it up.

The Village of Salado is “Suh-LAY-doe,” unless you’re in San Antonio and talking about the creek that runs through part of the city. Then it’s “Suh-LAH-do.”

San Jacinto is San “Juh-sinnah,” Nacogdoches is “Nacka-DOE-chus,” Waxahachie is “Wox-uh-HATCH-ee” and it’s so hard to spell that most state troopers will let you get all the way to Waco first before pulling you over and writing you a ticket.

Palestine is “Pali-STEEN” not “Pali-STYNE.” That town is in East Texas and they’ll land on you like a B-17 if you don’t say it right.

Houston is actually “YOU-stun” if you’re from Houston. If you’re not from Houston, you can say it as it reads with the “H” and everyone will know you are not from Houston which, especially in Texas, is not a bad thing at all.

Confused? Ah well…hang in there.

When in doubt about how to say a Texas town’s name, just ask, “How do you say that?” and everybody will be grateful to you for trying to get it right the first time.

At this point, I must make mention of Killeen. I want to know this: if you move away from Killeen after having been considered a resident of Killeen, does that make you a Killeen-Ex?

I love that joke. I made that up myself. Thanks for indulging me. Let’s get back on track.

Mexia has a good attitude about the whole thing. The chamber of commerce Web site at even makes light of it with the slogan, “Mexia: a great place no matter how you say it” which tells you Texans really are pretty good natured about the whole thing.

Perhaps my favorite anecdote about Mexia is the one about the two traveling salesmen who were driving along Highway 84 and arguing about the pronunciation of the town’s name. When they stopped at a Mexia restaurant, they asked the waitress, “Miss, can you tell us the name of this place?”

In true Texas fashion, she looked at the two men like they were bug nuts crazy and said, “Dairy Queen.”