Tumbleweeds: lost count in September
It’s hard to believe we have been in El Paso so long, but we arrived in August and have made Sun City our home. As we prepare for our first desert Christmas, I’ve been looking back on our time out west. We have certainly learned a lot about the self-proclaimed Mexican Food Capital of the world (a dubious claim when Mexico is presumably also in the running) but there is definitely more to discover in the next few years. While they certainly sell a lot of boots here, I haven’t seen many people wearing them, which is disappointing, given their title of Boot Capital. I have never known a city to have so many gimmicks and self-appointed honors, but so far the boot claim is the least appropriate. There is definitely an abundance of sun and more Mexican food than anyone could possibly sample in their lifetime.
If I had to bestow an honorary title on this city, it would be something like “Burrito Capital with Everything You Need”, the implication being there are things you might want that you can’t get here. The longer I live in El Paso, the more things I notice it lacks. This is a mid-sized city in the great state of Texas with blazing fast internet available even to our home on the edge of the desert, so moving here does not mean doing without the comforts of your previous home. There are plenty of chain stores and malls and grocery stores, but certain things are missing. Discovering there isn’t a Nordstrom was a particularly tough blow, as the Clinique lady at their counter in Austin assured me El Paso had a branch when they instead have Nordstrom Rack. Rack is great, but its not the same thing. No Sur la Table, no Crate and Barrel, William Sonoma, Container Store, or Pottery Barn. Ok, so these are mostly overpriced yuppie stores, but when I have a break on the weekend I like to window shop and here I’m not sure where to go.
I find myself wandering the aisles of Target. It’s less exciting than a fancy no-kids-allowed store because we go there all the time for cleaning supplies, baby food, and some pantry items. Which reminds me, while there are grocery stores a-plenty, I have to make
several stops to get everything I need. When we first arrived I resolved to start needing only the things that were available at the local grocery chain because it was bright and clean and had lots of made-in-house Mexican products like salsa, tortillas, barbacoa, chicharron, agua fresca, fresh cheeses and lots of things I can’t translate and thus haven’t gotten the nerve to order. That lasted a few weeks. After Archer turned one and started to ween and became an eating machine, I noticed the baby food at our local Vista was sparse and overpriced, and the non-dairy options were nonexistent, save for unsweetened soy milk. Plus, our store doesn’t have any pharmacy items, like baby Tylenol or cold medicine. The store is aimed at shoppers who prepare predominantly Mexican food at home, so while there is a huge display of cilantro, they don’t carry parsley at all. A massive display of peppers, both fresh and dry, but no eggplant. Watermelon is mysteriously available in December, but blueberries are rare . And where are the vegetables? Three counters of prepared foods, made to order burritos, and quesadillas, and the only vegetable is beans. Beans! Once they had potatoes that were described to me as “muy spicy” by the lady behind the counter, so I couldn’t even get them. Artichokes? Broccolini? Butternut squash? Nada.
This is the major difference between El Paso burritos and Austin burritos. People in line ahead of me get beans and meat in their tortilla and that’s it. Maybe some fiery salsa if they’re feeling wild, but three items is excessive. Meanwhile, I’m the jerk holding up the line because I don’t speak Spanish and do you have any cilantro or sauteed bell peppers and how spicy is the green salsa? Freebirds is the Austin answer to Chipotle (without the poisonous bacteria and self-loathing) and there you have your choice of vegetables and corn salsa and cilantro lime rice, among other fresh items with different textures. Here it’s stewed meat and beans, and maybe you point to the wrong salsa with all the seeds in it and end up clutching your bowels and praying for the sweet release of death. Don’t get me wrong, the magical things they do with pork in this area are absolutely delicious. It’s slow roasted, it’s smoked, it’s stewed with a rainbow of peppers. But as someone with a rich and hearty diet, I can tell you the food here is heavy. And without so much as a sprinkle of cilantro to cut the dense flavors of fatty cow face (barbacoa) and beans mashed with lard (refried beans), I need a nap after lunch. All that aside, the burritos are lovingly prepared and crazy cheap.
While the local store has an abundance of delicious, hand made items, I can’t get my whole shopping list there. So I go to Target for the teething crackers and baby food puree pouches, the Tylenol and cough drops. I leave with curtains, throw pillows, and an 8 foot Christmas tree. My Target has fresh groceries, but they are unreliable. Expired dairy, wilting produce, and on several occasions, rotten but not expired meat. This isn’t representative of the greater brand, as Target is a magical place full of everything you never knew you needed, but the one closest to me isn’t the best place for fresh food. We have a Sprouts nearby, which has all the non-dairy weirdness you can imagine and great produce and meat, as long as you don’t mind paying for those items to be coddled and massaged before you take them home. And on the other side of town we have a brand new Whole Foods if you just don’t feel like you’re spending enough on fresh wheatgrass and tumeric root at Sprouts. So yes, we have everything we need here, but it takes several stops to get it all.
Between the internet and driving all over town, there is nothing I can’t get in El Paso. Plus, I beg favors from my family when they visit, causing my sister to be thoroughly searched at the airport for bringing me a bag of berbere spice. The city itself is beautiful, with mountains, red desert, and the biggest sky I’ve ever seen. It is very family oriented,
because the majority of residents are Hispanic Catholics with a Tahoe full of children. It might seem odd, but I think of El Paso as exotic, being snuggled up against Juarez. We can drive right down to the border fence and see into another country, and our citizens are a blend of nationalities that make me feel more at home than other places I’ve lived. Everywhere we go, I see license plates from Chihuahua that belong to people who cross the border for work each day. No matter their country of origin, nearly every person I encounter speaks Spanish which I find fascinating. What this city lacks in specialty cookware, it makes up in every other way. It’s hot and dry, and now cold and dry, but it’s different, new, and interesting.
And I can finally sleep at night because an expert told me rattlesnakes don’t like the cold.