Sometimes it’s hard to remember when my life didn’t involve hikes past ancient oak trees and armadillos, a menagerie of animals (goats, sheep, horses, chickens, three dogs and two cats), a bedroom lined with cowboy boots and a subscription to Backyard Poultry. But once upon a time I enjoyed a much different life. Before moving to Texas five years ago, I spent a decade in New York. I wore wrap dresses and high heels, and I didn’t even own a cat. Then, the stars aligned and an unexpected door opened: My husband and I were offered a job to cook on a 5,300-acre guest ranch in Texas Hill Country. And that’s when the real fun began.
I traded in stilettos for cowboy boots, taxicabs for a pickup, and we bought horses, saddles and cowboy hats. The transition was surreal at first, but we settled into ranch life with surprising swiftness.
My rustic surroundings began to influence the food I cooked. In New York, I had worked as a food and travel writer, so I spent most of my time behind a laptop—not a range. The last time I’d cooked full time was the two years I’d spent in Europe, mostly at a chateau in the south of France and an agriturismo (farmhouse bed and breakfast) in Tuscany.
When I got to Texas, I melded my passion for all things Mediterranean with fresh local fare and cooking traditions from south-central Texas. I paired a Mexican-inspired vegetable sauté of onions, zucchini, roasted poblanos and corn with a slather goat cheese to create a taco filling. I braised chicken thighs with plenty of sweet onions, tomatoes, ground chiles and smoked Spanish paprika. Being just two hours from the Mexican border, I learned delicious Tex-Mex preparations like Queso Flameado (go to relishmag.com for recipe), a irresistible bake of white cheese and chorizo. I played with campfire flavors: bourbon spilled into batches of brownies. These days we divide our time between Austin and our own ranch in the Nueces Canyon. I miss New York now and then, but the truth is I’ve gotten awfully attached to freshly made tortillas, cowgirl ensembles and traveling the lonely back roads with my three dogs in the back seat. Besides, where would my ruminants graze?
—By Paula Disbrowe, the author of Cowgirl Cuisine (Harper Collins, 2007).