Blue People, Red State - Winter 2010 travel blog

One of the many things that we love about the RV lifestyle is cooking and eating like we do at home. Restaurant eating gets expensive and you never know how much fat and salt was included as the food was prepared. Over the years we have stocked the RV kitchen with all the essential dishes, appliances and gizzmos that we need to prepare a meal. When it comes to baking I'm still struggling with the convection oven and wishing that I had a gas one, but otherwise we can eat pretty much as we do at home. At home we have a big freezer so we don't need to grocery shop as often, but the pace of life here is leisurely and the Super Walmart is nearby.

However, during our weeks at the Tropic Star, a home cooked meal has become a sometime thing. Every Saturday over 500 folks in the park gather at the clubhouse for pancakes. A volunteer crew of men begin stirring the buttermilk into the batter at 6am - late risers like us show up about 8:30. Every Tuesday about 300 of us gather on bikes to ride to three local restaurants for breakfast. We severely hamper the local traffic flow as we peddle leisurely to a variety of local spots. They are warned ahead of time that we are coming and do an amazing job of serving all the bike riders with dispatch.

There are many clubs at the Tropic Star. Most of their activities involve some expense. For example, when we play tennis, fresh balls are supplied. To help fund the activities, the organizations host meals. We've been to spaghetti lunch, taco salad lunch, sloppy joe lunch, baked potato lunch, etc. etc. Some groups are better organized and better cooks than others, but with a $5 meal, it's a wonder they raise any money at all. And as I wrote about earlier, some of the evening performances come with meals as well. And then there are the Sunday ice cream socials.

Every state hosts some sort of social event that involves eating. Some are potluck dinners; Illinois just had finger food. But when about sixty old ladies bring their best finger food to an event, you don't leave with hunger pangs. And then there are are Wednesday night potlucks. That does involve some cooking on my part since everyone brings a dish to pass, but it feels like eating out nevertheless.

While we are enjoying a meal with our neighbors here, the conversation inevitably turns to good places to eat outside the park. While many of the major chains you can find at any strip mall in America are here, there are lots of local places, TexMex in particular, that are interesting and again very affordable. Many of them look somewhat dilapidated from the outside, but when you get a recommendation, you just have to try it out. Our little RV fridge has a growing collection of styrofoam carry-out boxes full of leftovers. But we may not have an opportunity to eat them until we've left the area.

Pharr is a small town so we weren't expecting the Taste of Chicago when we joined what seemed to be everyone in Hidalgo County when we went to the Taste of Pharr. The line to get in wound around the convention center and the lines were equally long when we got inside. After some surprisingly good sushi, the next restaurant we stood in line for was out of food by the time we got to the front. And the Taste event was supposed to be open for two more hours. The attendees were remarkably congenial standing in fifteen minute lines to get a tiny plate of pasta or tacos. The only folks whom we heard complaining were Winter Texans. The highlight of the evening was little cups of ice cream from the Dairy Queen. Note to self: Skip the Taste of Pharr next time.

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