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Hungry HeartWhen you’re thinking about a romantic dinner, or maybe just the romance of food in general, barbecue probably isn’t your first choice. Barbecue was originally blue collar food, or sometimes even no collar food. You don’t put filet mignon into your smoker, needless to say. You put cuts of meat that are so tough they need all day over the coals to break down and become delicious.

Even now, when barbecue has achieved a kind of cult status among regional food, you don’t think of it as something you’d fix when you want to inspire passion in your sweetie (unless it’s a passionate argument over the presence or absence of tomato-based sauce). But barbecue is also a way of life for some cooks, both professional and amateur, and it was that fact that I wanted to talk about in my eighth book set in Konigsburg, Texas: Hungry Heart.

My heroes are both passionate about ’cue. One, Harris Temple the Barbecue King, cooks barbecue professionally, selling it off his truck in downtown Konigsburg. The other, Chico Burnside, is an amateur pit master who’s come up with his own sublime recipe for pulled pork. Harris and Chico decide to join forces on a competitive barbecue team (yes, there really are competitive barbecue teams—lots of them), entering Konigsburg’s first Fourth of July barbecue cook-off.

Of course, Harris and Chico both have Significant Others who complicate things. Harris’s girlfriend is Darcy Cunningham, sous chef of the Rose restaurant, who’s a lot more skilled in professional cooking than he is. But when it comes to barbecue, Darcy’s newbie, and a sarcastic newbie at that. Chico’s true love, Andy Wells, has a barbecue background of her own, but it’s bittersweet. Andy’s ex-husband was a competitive barbecue cook and his devotion to barbecue (along with his own “winning” personality) broke up their marriage.

It’s these four people who make up the barbecue team and provide the romance. Because when you’re doing things together, even if those things involve brisket and pork loin, romance can flourish. Here’s a quick excerpt:

 

He lifted his hand, brushing the hair back from her temple with his fingertips.

Not a good idea. You shouldn’t get involved here. But all of a sudden she couldn’t exactly remember why she shouldn’t.

He leaned forward slowly, maybe giving her a chance to run. A chance she wasn’t going to take. His lips brushed hers, lightly, as his hands cupped her face. He rubbed his thumbs across her cheekbones, dark eyes watching her carefully.

The flecks of green had deepened, making his eyes even darker now. She leaned forward, placing her hands on his shoulders, bringing her mouth against his more firmly. The contact seemed to send an arrow of heat through her body, making her nipples ache, her pulse warm again.

His mouth opened against hers and she let him inside, rubbing her tongue against his, feeling it rasp against her teeth. She sucked his lower lip for a moment, nipping him lightly, hearing the catch in his breath.

His hands dropped to her breasts, cupping, then rubbing them, his palms brushing her nipples to hard points. She felt cool air against her back as he pushed her shirt up, his fingers fumbling with the catch on her bra. His lips drifted down the side of her throat, leaving a trail of heat as he did.

She pushed his shirt up, running her fingers through the slight dusting of hair across his chest, then down along the ripple of muscle over his stomach.

His hands cupped her breasts, pushing the bra aside. He leaned down, taking one nipple into his mouth, sucking, his tongue laving the aching peak.

Somewhere behind them something beeped loudly. Porky came awake with a woof.

“Shit.” His hands dropped to her hips, his forehead pressed against her breasts. “Shit. Fuck. Goddamn.”

“Timer’s beeping,” she muttered. “And Porky’s awake.”

He nodded, his forehead still resting on her collarbone.

“Fire’s ready. And you’re behind with the meat as it is.”

He raised his head to look at her. “I didn’t plan this.”

“I know.” She wasn’t entirely sure what he meant—the timing with the meat or the timing with the two of them. She brushed a hand across his cheek, pushing his hair back from his face.

“I don’t want to stop.”

“I don’t either.” She slid back a few inches, moving her hands to his shoulders. “But like you once said, barbecue waits for no man.”

“Shit,” he repeated. “Caught in my own trap.”

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I just returned from ten days in Texas, seeing family and old friends, bopping around the Hill Country, and drinking a whole lot of Texas wine. Now I love Colorado right down to its pebbles, but this trip made me remember just what it was I liked about living in Texas. I admit there are things I don’t like about Texas (chief among them the heat and humidity that had me looking like the mad woman in the attic), but there are a lot of things I love and miss. Here’s a short list.

Kick Butt Cab1. Texas wine – We watched the Texas wine industry begin to grow in the nineties, and it’s a real joy to go back and see wineries we used to visit in Quonset huts and two-room offices now sporting fancy digs and even fancier wines. Texas wine makers are really hitting their stride now, and more and more of them are switching to the hot weather grapes that are a natural for the region. Everybody’s doing a tempranillo, for example and lots of people are doing tannat and mourvèdre as well. These are big, full-bodied wines that deserve to be sipped and savored. It will take us months to finish off all the wines we brought back. I can’t wait!

2. Texas music – The hubs and I made the mistake of stopping at Lone Star Music in Gruene, which features Americana CDs almost exclusively. It was a mistake because I can’t go there without loading up, and load up I did! We also stayed at a hotel in Austin that was the headquarters of the Austin Music Project. In the lobby we walked by huge posters of Joe Ely, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Marcia Ball, Flaco Jimenez, and too many others to count. And then there are the Americana stations like KSYM in San Antonio. I even read an article in Edible Austin where the author talked about cooking risotto while listening to James McMurtry. Ah guys, how I’ve missed you.

3. Barbeque – I’m not really a barbeque snob. I’ve found good barbeque in a lot of different places, including Colorado. But Texas has turned barbeque into a way of life. Every small town you drive through has a high school football team, a Dairy Queen, and a barbeque joint, identifiable by the large black smoker at the side and the cords of wood stacked at the back. If it’s the right time of day, you can also identify it by the tantalizing smell of smoke and brisket. We had lunch at Cooper’s as we headed back toward home. Bliss.

4. HEB – Denver has three national grocery chains along with some small local markets, but it has nothing like HEB. The Texas grocery chain is unique in that it always has exactly what you need if you’re a serious cook, as well as the usual stuff like Doritos and salsa. I miss it every time I set foot in Kroger’s, thinking “Damn it, HEB would have the Swanson’s Organic Free-Range Chicken Broth I’m looking for.”

5. Mockingbirds – If you’ve never heard a mockingbird, think of it as a bird that specializes in covering other birds’ songs. And once a mockingbird gets going it’ll run through its repertoire for what seems like hours. It’s also pretty to look at and stalwart in protecting its nest. When I mentioned how much I missed mockingbirds, the hubs suggested that perhaps global warming will drive them north. Gee, one positive effect of a worldwide catastrophe.

Okay, Texas, all I can say is that I’ll be back again sometime. Not to stay, but definitely to visit. Y’all take care now.

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Okay, I don’t usually do too much personal stuff on this blog (other than my personal reading tastes ☺), but a couple of months ago I made a huge change in my personal life: My husband and I moved from Texas to Colorado. I’ve been here long enough now that I can begin to process the changes and I thought I’d talk about them here from time to time.
What do I like about my new home state? Well, given that Texas is currently experiencing temperatures over 100 degrees, while Colorado (my part of it anyway) hits highs in the low eighties, that’s a no-brainer. Yes, I know we’ll pay for it with winter cold, but that doesn’t bother me much. I kind of like cool weather. Then there’s the jaw-dropping beauty of the landscape that never gets old. And the way everybody treats physical activity as if it were just a given rather than a huge pain (I know, I know, I need to do more of it myself). What do I dislike? Well, our Home Owner’s Association just threatened to fine us over a dry spot on the lawn. I can’t help thinking what my neighbors in Texas would have done (possibly involving firearms).
What do I miss about Texas (besides friends and family, which is sort of a given)? The Hill Country. The wineries. The music. Most of all, the music. I never appreciated the ease of driving up I-35 to Gruene Hall to hear Joe Ely or the Belleville Outfit or Audrey Auld or Guy Forsythe. Or heading over to Floore’s for James McMurtry or (occasionally) Willie Nelson if you don’t mind standing up for three hours. I even remember seeing Robert Earl Keen at the place where they hold the Kerrville Folk Festival, along with Todd Snider and Trish Murphy. It doesn’t get much better. I don’t know why people in the Denver area aren’t big on Americana, but boy do I miss it.
I don’t miss Texas politics, which almost goes without saying. I hope they get rid of Governor Goodhair and let some grown-ups run the state for a while. I don’t know enough about Colorado politicians yet to know what’s up exactly, but they don’t seem to have as many nutcases to deal with.
So anyway, here I am and likely here I’ll stay—at least for a while. If Coloradoans want to talk to me about things I don’t know, I’d be glad to hear from them. If Texans want to bash me for not loving Governor Goodhair, I’m less glad but I guess I’ll put up with it. Anyway, somebody head up to Texas Hills Winery this weekend and have a glass of syrah for me.

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