My mother, although multi-talented, had an aversion to the kitchen and has often said that I learned to cook at an early age “out of self-defense.” When she made chicken à l'orange by smearing a chicken with powdered Tang, I quickly developed a necessary passion for creating tasty things to eat. Somewhere in the family photograph album is a picture of me at the stove, age ten, happily stirring marinara sauce.

I developed a lifelong fascination with food; good food. There was even a foray of working as a chef’s assistant at a French restaurant during my mid twenties, just for fun. I had always loved watching Julia Child and knew that Mastering the Art of French Cooking was to be revered. It wasn’t until I read her biography (long before the Julie & Julia movie) that I really became fascinated with her work. From that book, I decided to prepare her recipe for mayonnaise.

Upon tasting it, I wept. . . .

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Tuesday, August 3, 2010


It was 1967 and I was eight years old when I learned about nutmeg.

My maternal grandparents were driving me and my brother to my paternal grandmother's house from Goliad, Texas northwest to Nixon, Texas. I persuaded my grandfather into taking a back road, Highway 108 because I thought it might be more interesting than taking the usual Highway 119 to Nixon.

Along the way, we passed through the tiny community of Nopal, Texas, (pop. 25). The only thing indicating Nopal's existence was a little general store and I wanted to stop there and see it. I also had to pee really badly, so my grandfather pulled over and I hurried into the old, wooden establishment.

All the counter-tops in there was so aged and I could tell that this establishment was something out of the ordinary.

An elderly woman met me at the counter and showed me through to the outdoor privy behind the building. Having grown up in rural Texas, I was not unfamiliar with negotiating such facilities. However, the dirt pathway was tightly encroached by waist-high cacti on both sides. I carefully made my way to the little wooden booth-sized outhouse.

Upon returning to the counter, I noticed several containers of various spices on hand such as pepper, salt, garlic powder and. . .

. . . whole nutmeg.

Such a funny, cute word. After my grandmother explained what they were, I was just amazed at the fact that anyone could come to the general store in Nopal, Texas, (pop. 25) and purchase whole nutmeg if they really needed them.

Yet, my little eight-year-old mind wondered at how often the residents of such a tiny community would actually require whole nutmeg. Was there an actual need of nutmeg in a community this size? Could this population actually justify that their general store carry whole nutmeg in order for it to be profitable?

These were questions I thought of back in 1967.

Moreover . . .

If Mrs. Johnston down the road was making bread pudding and suddenly found that she was out of nutmeg with which to flavor it, could she send her 16-year-old son in an old pick-up truck to the general store with a dollar, from which he'd be able to return with the purchased nutmeg?

The answer was, a resounding, 'yes.'

Mrs. Johnston would then be able to continue her making of the bread pudding with a whole nutmeg that had, indeed, been purchased at the general store in Nopal, Texas (pop. 25).

Scritch-scritch-scritch . . . .
Scritch-scritch-scritch . . . .

I only bought a five-cent licorice stick at the counter when I was there in 1967. (I didn’t like it.) But somehow, I knew that any Mrs. Johnston would also be able to supply the residents of Nopal, Texas (pop. 25) with any baked good requiring whole, grated nutmeg if it was needed. I was just amazed with that knowledge . . .

- Epilogue -

A few years ago, I was home visiting my folks in Texas. While driving that same route, I decided to take that detour down Highway 108. I took notice as I approached the point where Nopal was.

However, the only evidence of Nopal, Texas (pop. 25), was a weather-stained, decomposing pile of gray lumber on top of a cement foundation among the weeds and mesquite trees.

If anyone in Nopal, Texas (pop. 25) requires whole nutmeg, they can order it online at Amazon.

My rental car continued on, silently ghosting past a mound of decaying lumber that used to be a general store where nutmeg and licorice sticks had once been sold.

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