Monday, August 30, 2010

a look around the 'hood


A fence near our home in Cibolo, Texas.

barbed wire fence

Is there anything more Texas than barbed wire and wild flowers?

barbed wire fence

Not far away...

drainage ditch

Sunday, August 29, 2010

rethinking the hotplate

maybe it's not sooo bad. it all depends on the scenery. Dank hotel, not nice. Your wet bar by the pool, not so bad.

it's wicked hot outside - kind of like it always is in Texas in August - so instead of straining the A/C unit with an hour of simmering spaghetti sauce, I decided to revert back to the bad old days in the hotel and cook the sauce outside.

this photo is actually from a last week, but today I'm making sauce again, with meatballs, which means an extra long cooking session. So the hotplate is back in business again.

I'm a little behind in posting because of our move to the house and unpacking and trying to get ready to teach, and oh yeah, work on my dissertation. But I think things will return to normal soon. Like around December.

Monday, August 23, 2010


Kandie and I sent the kids off to their first day of school in Texas, so we decided to celebrate that we had survived the move by going out to lunch at Garcia's (3820 Farm-To-Market Road 3009, Schertz, TX 78154).

Garcia's is on the cusp of being a really remarkable small-town restaurant. It has an odd mixture of decoration, with nice art on the walls, and mostly nicely furnished in a simple, understated style - but then it has a couple of large folding tables with chairs that look like they came out of a church basement, and boothes that have worn/torn seats. An odd kind of ambience that's not quite quirky enough to be cool.

But that's just the surface. The service was very good, with a polite and attentive wait staff.

The menu is very reasonably priced for the value conscious eater like myself - with most plates under $8.

I started to order the cilantro enchiladas, but the waitress suggested I try the special, which was one cilantro enchilada and one chipotle enchilada, with rice and beans, and tea for $6.75.


I'm really glad I did. It was excellent. Both sauces were wonderful. The cilantro sauce was creamy and cool, the chipotle sauce was smokey and mildly spicy. I would order either of them again, and recommend that you try both when you get a chance.

Backing up, the salsa was a bit plain - basically just pureed tomatoes, which I am beginning to see is a local thing I could do with out. Come on - I was some kick in my salsa. It needs to have some peppers.

Garcia's gets a thumbs up from me - we'll be going back again soon - especially since it's just around the corner from our new house.
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Saturday, August 21, 2010

the move is finally over

all thru the house

After 52 days, we moved in to our new house yesterday, officially ending our longest move ever.

el gato surveys his domain

El Gato was checking out his new domain late last night when we brought him in from the apartment. He likes all the new nooks and crannies.

paper stomping

This morning we were right back at it, ripping through the 222 boxes the movers brought in for us yesterday, trying to find all the essential things (like frying pans and vacuum cleaners) and avoiding the unnecessary stuff (last year's Halloween costumes).

Everything gets wrapped in newsprint, so we have mountains of it laying around the house. Dishpacks - extra heavy duty boxes the movers pack glass in - make for excellent consolidation points for the left over newsprint. You can stuff it full, then when it's stacked to the top, you can climb up on top and stomp and jump on it so you can pack some more in. The dishpacks are great because they can take this kind of abuse and they don't blow apart!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010



We finally made it to Tomatillos! This is one of the legendary restaurants that everyone ever stationed at Fort Sam Houston talks about when they leave. We last went to it back in '96 the day before we left San Antonio for Colorado. And good news - it's still excellent!


OK - the pic is crappy because I took it with my phone cam - but what you see before you is a chile relleno plate - after enchilladas in mole, my favorite Mexican dish. Chile relleno is a stuffed green chile - often with cheese, soemtimes with shrimp, or in this case seasoned ground beef - lightly battered and fried, then served with red sauce and cheese on top. Rice and beans on the side here. We also had a wonderful sampler plate of their appetizers.

Right on Broadway, Tomatillos is a hop and a skip out the Walters gate from Fort Sam.

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I'm a little sad we'll be moving 15 miles up the road from Downtown SATX, but we close on our house on Thursday, and the moving company FINALLY delivers our stuff Friday! Woo-hoo! Homeless no more!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

on the razor's edge

it's one of those moments - you see the traffic going by, the grassy median - and you say, I need to be a part of that.

Shot just down from the intersection of Harry Wurzbach and Rittiman. About 10 PM.

the moon's out tonight

Oh darlin'
Where have you been?
I've been longin' for you all my life

Whoa-uh-oh baby I never felt this way before
I guess it's because there's a moon out tonight

- The Capris

no, I didn't go postal and wind up in jail. this is actually a shot of the Ft. Sam post office.


Saturday, August 14, 2010

Tubing! Finally!

We tubed the Comal River today, finally!  Great time.  There were eight of us clinging together and bobbing along on the (mostly) lazy river.  No pictures 'cause I haven't bought a waterproof digital camera yet, but there would have been some good ones.  Lots of shots of hundreds of bodies laying out in various modes of relaxation.  There were a couple of chutes about 2/3 of the way through, one of which we missed and wound up going over a small dam instead.  Going over dams, even small ones, is not recommended if you are floating with small children, carrying an open container of say, beer, or if you have sun glasses on.  Our party lost two pairs of sun glasses, and one inner tube.  Thankfully no kids were lost for more than a minute.

It took about two hours to ride the river from the outfitter where we rented the tubes to the last public exit from the river.  It was a really pleasant trip and I am looking forward to doing it again - or maybe trying the Guadalupe.

And I am going to have to get a waterproof cam!

Chester's Hamburgers - SATX

We'd cruised by a couple of the Chester's locations in San Antonio, and finally made it there tonight.  It was one of those,

"Hey let's go out to eat!"

"OK - where?"

"Oh, I don't care."

"Well, I'll go wherever."

"Me, too."

"I don't have anything particular in mind."

kind of conversations.  So I finally broke the impasse with,

"Let's go to burgers or Mexican.  Or Thai.  Thai would be good.  Or anything else, for God's sake."

So we went for burgers.  Chester's Hamburgers. 

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Basic burger joint menu.  I got the chili burger with fries and a Sierra Nevada beer, which was on special.  The burger was good.  I have to admit that I generally don't care for chili burgers, but my wife's former boss had recommended Chester's, and in particular the chili burger.  I'm not sure who came up with the idea of putting chili on a burger - i.e., putting a watery concoction on an otherwise flat surface, put between two other flat surfaces.  It's not rocket science to realize that story isn't going to end well.  But nonetheless, the burger was good.  It was a real burger, and a good sized one at that - probably 1/3 pound. 

The highlight of Chester's was the large quantity of beers they had - all in bottles as far as I could tell - but a really wide selection.  I got the Sierra Nevada because it was on special and I hadn't had one in a while, but I think I might be more adventurous when we go back.

Which, I think I would do.  Go back, that is.  Quality was good, and while it was counter-service, self-help atmosphere, it had a friendly feel and the fries were good.  I have to say, for the price, I like Five Guys better.  But Five Guys doesn't have beer.  And that's a strike against them.

I'd recommend Chester's if you're in the mood for a quality burger in a relaxed atmosphere.

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

matching the heat on the outside

It's hot. Even hours after the sun goes down.

We got word we should close on our house a week from tomorrow, and the movers are coming with our stuff the next day! Things are looking up!

Kandie's nephew is coming to town tomorrow and we're looking forward to that. Going to try to go tubing this weekend on one of the rivers nearby.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

in mi barrio

mobile phone

Remember when these were mobile phones?

in mi barrio

Wandered out the gates of my gated apartment complex to take a few shots of mi barrio. We're hanging out near the corner of Rittiman and Harry Wurzbach (in case you actually know San Antonio).


in mi barrio

in mi barrio

Picante Grill

There's so many good places to eat in SA - and Broadway is a great place to go to look for one. You can shoot out the back gate and be down among some terrific restaurants in a matter of minutes. And of course if you're in San Antonio looking for food, there's no more natural kind than Tex-Mex.

I hit Broadway for lunch today with my boss. We passed up Tomatillos - a legend among former Fort Sam denizens - and headed to the Picante Grill (

The Grill was promising - the parking lot was jammed with cars, and the nice, casually decorated interior was clearly hopping. Nonetheless, we were seated quickly in a booth, and a waiter brought us fresh nacho chips and salsa in a matter of seconds. The chips were light and hot, which is an immediate plus for Tex-Mex, but the salsa was really not good. We both agreed it was as if they opened a can of tomato sauce and added a few chunks of jalapeno. That was not a good sign.

The lunch menu was reasonably priced - about $6.50 for a plate, and another $1.50 for a drink. I was excited, but a little concerned when I saw they offered enchiladas with mole sauce. Mole is unique, and easy to fail at. A true test of the quality of a Tex-Mex restaurant. I love mole. If you've never had it, I recommend ordering it at a good Mexican restaurant. And unfortunately, I don't recommend ordering it at the Picante Grill.

Mole is a chocolate-based sauce. Yuck, you might say, imagining it poured over your chicken enchiladas. If you're picturing a melted Hershey bar, I feel your pain, but you would be wrong. It's more of a baker's chocolate - just slightly sweet, but more of a rich taste that has a truly unique twist.

I've tried to make it myself a few times and failed miserably. It's a difficult recipe to master, and probably even more difficult to pull off when cooking for the masses.

Picante Grill's mole sauce was a little to whipped and light. It lacked the elegance of a good mole.  It might be unfair to judge a Tex-Mex restaurant by it's mole, as not just anyone can make it.  So I give Picante Grill a passing grade.  Not bad for a $10 lunch, but I wouldn't bring anyone there to impress them. 

Monday, August 9, 2010

the Chinese restaurant test

When I try a new Chinese restaurant, the test of whether I'm going to respect it - i.e., whether I am going to go back willingly - is whether the hot and sour soup is good. I find this is an effective signal for the rest of the menu. If a restaurant can hit that right note of flavor - it can pretty much do anything else. I might even make a motion to have the chef elevated to the Board of Governors for the Fed.

Unfortunately there aren't many Chinese restaurants that can hit that note of perfection. The best Chinese restaurant in the known universe was Panda East in Amherst, MA. I can't vouch for it's quality now, as it's been more than a decade since I last dined at it. But if you could travel back to pre-millenial Amherst, you would indeed find one of the great hot and sour soups, and by extension, one of the best Chinese restaurants ever to have existed.

Unfortunately, Asia Buffet located in a strip mall at the corner of Harry Wurzbach and Eisenhower in San Antonio is no Panda East. To start with, the hot and sour soup was the most peppery variant I've every had. Clearly someone mis-translated the measure of pepper from teaspoons to cups back in the kitchen. The General Tso's chicken tasted more like honey chicken. The fried dumplings were dried out, as were many of the other items on the buffet line. On the plus side, they did have a sushi bar, and it was no worse than what you could buy at the local grocery store.

The price wasn't bad, but it wasn't great - $9.95 for a dinner buffet, $6.95 for lunch, not including drink. Considering how much inflation we've seen on restaurant prices in the last couple of years, I guess this isn't all that unreasonable. But I won't be going back to Asia Buffet any time soon on purpose.

life and happiness

There is at least one bright spot in having come to Texas. Ready access to one of my favorite beers.

I discovered Shiner Bock back in the dimly lit pre-internet '90's when I came to San Antonio the first time.

These days you can get it up in Virginia and maybe even some places north of that. But there's nothing like knowing the bottle you're drinking came from just down the road.

Sorry my last several posts have been downers - we're just a bit exhausted from this "adventure". Keeping things in perspective - there are so many people who would gladly trade places with us, even given our less than perfect circumstances. After all, I have a really great job, we have a roof over our heads, and no one is sick or injured. So many people we have been exposed to over the last several weeks can't say that - particularly the ones we left behind at the hotel.

So I'm happy to have one of my favorite brews, and I am looking forward to touring the brewery at some point in the near future. Hefting one tonight to life and happiness, and keeping it all in perspective.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

out of the frying pan

the new temporary home

... and into the fire. Our first two days in the apartment, and apparently the blower for the AC died. It got up to 89 degrees last night in the living room before the sun finally went down.


The repair guy showed up at 9:30 this morning (Sunday) and let himself in because Kandie and I had gone to the gym and the kids were just getting up. Scared them a bit. I think he realized that it was a bad idea for him to be in here with them, so he left. But Sam texted us and we rushed home.


It seems that whatever he did is working, because it's only in the high 70's now in the apartment.

I'd really like to get to either the McNay or the San Antonio Museum of Art this week. We'll have to see which one we can manage. The kids voted thumbs down for that idea, so it will have to be just Kandie and I.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

goodbye, hotel

goodbye, hotel
Originally uploaded by Mark Bonica
parting is such sweet sorrow.

Packed the car tonight so we can quickly clear out of here tomorrow. We dropped by the apartment this evening - it looks like a mansion after a month in two rooms. The kids were so excited. It would be better if we were moving directly into our house, but at least it's bigger.

Sorry this isn't a very interesting picture, but it was a long day.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

barbed wire rolls

barbed wire rolls
Originally uploaded by Mark Bonica
We got word today that we can move into a temporary apartment - and OUT OF THE HOTEL!!! Still not home, but it will be so much better.

This is back at the "Soldier and Family Support Center" garden. It tells you a lot about Texas sensibilities that a couple rolls of rusted barbed wire are just the thing to complete a garden.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Soldier and Family Support Center Garden

The "Soldier and Family Support Center" is located across the street from our hotel, and next door to the Center for the Intrepid. I was attracted to it because I could see the windmill on the property whenever I came through the gate:


But once I got over there to take a few shots, I found a lovely desert-scaped garden


with lots of interesting plants

Prickly Pear

and even some fauna

Dragon Fly.

The windmill pumped water for a koi pond that had been placed in a large tin tub, something resembling perhaps a watering trough for cattle

koi pond

complete with lilly pads.

A peaceful sanctuary for people facing hard times.


smore production

My friend Kevin invited us to his house this evening out of pity to get us out of the hotel. We had a pleasant BBQ, and then he made a fire out on the patio and the kids made smores.


Kevin's daughter A., sporting the sunglasses she got for her birthday,


and L., her little sister.

We think we may have a house, finally. We should know for certain in a few more days.