February 26, 2013

Remembering the Alamo



As a tourist destination, the Alamo is a funny thing. It’s one of those places that everyone knows, a monumental American site like the battlefield at Gettysburg or the Statue of Liberty. If you’re going to San Antonio, by golly you ought to see it—even if you can’t remember precisely why you should.

It began as a Catholic mission, one of a string of five Spanish missions built in the 1700s along the San Antonio River. Later it was converted into a military garrison, first for Spanish soldiers and then for Mexican troops. When the region known as Texas declared independence from Mexico, fighters for the rebel cause seized control of the Alamo. On March 6, 1836, after a siege lasting 13 days, 1,500 Mexican troops stormed the rebel fortress. Virtually all of the Texans, along with a surprising number of Mexicans, died in the attack.

These days what’s left of the Alamo faces a broad downtown square called Alamo Plaza, which it shares with some benches and shade trees, the grandly historic Menger Hotel, and some of the most egregious tourist-trap rubbish on earth.

On the one hand it’s kind of awful: the candy wrappers, the ice cream shops, the Guinness World Records Museum and Ripley’s Haunted Adventure, with its promise of bone-chilling special effects. You can’t help but think, What is this? What’s this got to do with the Alamo? (more…)

February 12, 2013

A Cake for President Lincoln




It’s Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday. I baked an old-fashioned cake.

Believe me, I know that sounds geeky. But if a holiday is worth celebrating, surely it’s worth celebrating with food. Special dishes for special days—Thanksgiving turkey, Mother’s Day brunch, frankfurters on the Fourth of July—is a deeply rooted tradition, even in a nation as young and sprawling as ours. Corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day; guacamole for Cinco de Mayo.

For President Lincoln’s birthday each year, I make an election cake. (more…)