Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Turkey trots and funnel cakes

Since I am normally complaining about the winter weather here in Colorado, I thought I’d let everyone know that we have had some pretty nice days lately. Early spring is the most unpredictable time of year here, so I try not to get too attached to the temperatures when they soar into the 50’s, but I do love them.
Don’t think I’m joking when I say that, because when it’s in the 50’s around here and it's sunny and bright, we peel off the jackets and get outside and enjoy some of the best weather anywhere. It is about this time of year, with these mild days, that I start getting homesick for Texas.

When it feels like this back home, that means it is getting on towards festival season. I love a good local festival and Texans can throw a party like no one else.

In the part of south central Texas where I grew up, there used to be some great festivals. In Yoakum, the town where I spent my teenage years, June brought with it the Tom Tom festival. Everyone looked forward to it because not only was it a time to eat great junk food and watch parades, it also brought with it people who had graduated and moved away to find their fame and fortune elsewhere, which also made it a homecoming of sorts.

Originally, this was a celebration of the harvest of the tomato crops, but this metropolis of 5,000 eventually became a leather mecca as well, so the powers that be soon decided that a new leather festival in the fair month of February would be better than any old tomato festival in the summer. As with all great (not) ideas, the demise of Tom Tom started out subtly enough. As soon as the big tin shoe box that is known as the Community Center was built, all of the festivities were moved inside stripping this festival of all its character. No more street dance, no more main street lined with vendors selling homemade crafts and food, which really meant no more soul for the festival.

Soon thereafter, one by one, people quit making their yearly pilgrimage from their new homes to their beloved festival. Not even the curiosity of who the newly crowned Miss Yoakum would be could bring people to town. The last time I made it to the Tom Tom festival we sat around on metal chairs in the air-conditioning and watched people that I didn’t recognize mill around. It made me realize that if I wanted to do that I could go to the food court at the mall.

About 17 miles up the road from Yoakum is the town of Cuero. For years, Cuero has been Yoakum’s arch rival. This rivalry stems from the fact that they pretty much kick our asses in everything. The year I graduated high school was the first time in something like 15 years that our football team beat theirs in the annual grudge match. For this reason no self-respecting graduate of Yoakum High had any interest in going to the Cuero Turkeyfest.

I understand there’s a pretty famous turkey race where the town’s defending champion, Ruby Begonia, takes on Paycheck, another challenger from Minnesota (go figure) in a sprint down their main street. I believe that most of the festivities are then moved to the city park, which is still better than inside a tin shoe box. I heard that Food Network was there a couple of years ago filming some of the cook-offs; looks to me like they win again, because I’ve never heard anything about them visiting the Yoakum Community Center during Tom Tom.

Eighteen miles from Cuero is Victoria. Victoria has always been the jewel in the crown of this part of the country. They used to host the best of the best of gatherings, the Armadillo Festival. Back in the mid 70’s their town square consisted of rows of picturesque 19th century storefronts which housed law offices, a boutique or two and one head shop, which was incredibly progressive for a town of 40,000 people.

For one glorious weekend a year, this town square, complete with the bandstand and head shop, would turn into party heaven with a tight schedule of happenings, armadillo style. I have very fond memories of sitting on the stage of a small club listening to Willie Nelson bring down the house. Never mind that I was waaaaaay underage, this was a simpler time and everyone was in the party mood. Shortly after this memorable festival, someone from Yoakum moved over, tore down the 19th century buildings in the square and moved this pesky festival into, you got it, the community center. I haven’t been since.

I guess there still must be street festivals in Texas but I’ll be darned if I know where they are. I know that it’s hot. So what?! I know that it’s humid. So what?! Drink enough beer and everything will be alright. One of these days, when I become queen of the world, I’m going to mandate that all festivals be moved out into the street where they belong. Until then I’m just going to stay here in Colorado and boycott them (that’ll show ‘em). Besides, I have an awesome recipe for homemade funnel cakes to satisfy my junk food cravings, and now I'm sharing it with you. Personally, I think they taste best outside, sitting on a curb, just the way they were meant to be eaten.




Crispy Funnel Cakes

1 egg
2/3 cup (160ml) milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 -1/4 cups (125g) plain flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Icing sugar for dusting

Heat 2 cups cooking oil in a medium size saucepan over medium high heat.

While the oil is heating, combine the egg, milk and vanilla extract in a small bowl; whisk well.

In a medium size bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and cinnamon; stir well.

While whisking, pour egg mixture into the flour mixture and continue whisking until mixture is smooth; transfer to a container with a spout.

Test oil for proper temperature by dropping a spot of the batter into the oil. If it sizzles and floats to the top, the oil is ready.

Holding a funnel in one hand and the batter in the other, pour 1/4 of the batter at a time into the hot oil starting with the middle and working outwards in a cobweb pattern. Fry the funnel cake for approximately 2-3 minutes before carefully turning over and frying for an additional 2 minutes or until cake is golden brown and crispy. Transfer to a paper towel covered plate to drain. Dust with icing sugar while still hot. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 funnel cakes.
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