I have my Ph.D. at the University of Texas at Austin. I won’t say how long ago that was; Readers may begin to doubt my official age of 39. I just want to say that it’s been a few years since I graduated.
I suppose Austin is not a cheap place to live these days. The New York Times published an article last November titled “How Austin Became One of America’s Most Affordable Cities.” I was saddened to learn that my former city is now suffering from a housing shortage.
When I lived there, Austin was a paradise for impoverished students. I made a few hundred dollars a month. Luckily I didn’t have to pay tuition; I usually had some kind of scholarship. My income came from either scholarship funds or teaching assistants.
With that income, I was able to buy basic groceries, textbooks if I absolutely had to (I found many of the books I needed to read were available at the local library), occasional gas, and pay for Tinkymobile repairs and rent at the Casa del Rio.
The Casa was a small apartment complex within walking distance to the University of Texas campus. Some of my friends also lived there, so sharing meals on the terrace around the pool was common.
Each small apartment had a sliding glass door leading to the patio. If you could visit friends, leave the curtain behind the door open. If you had to work that day or night, you closed the curtain.
It was an ideal living situation. You could have company whenever you wanted, but no one was offended if you weren’t there.
I loved having my own patio where I did container gardening, growing flowers, herbs and the occasional veg. Caring for living things is the perfect antidote to the dissertation blues.
I recently searched the internet for the Casa del Rio and was encouraged to learn that it still exists.
I was sad to find that it comes with upgrades that include state-of-the-art devices. I loved my turquoise blue vintage kitchen appliances. Although the refrigerator often had to be defrosted, you have to suffer for the beauty.
Even after paying my rent, cheap student health insurance, and other expenses, I usually had money left over to eat out at least once a week. (I wish I could say the same thing about my budget today!)
Food was cheap in Austin, as was rent. I’ve never warmed to Texas barbecue; I prefer the sweeter, more pork-oriented Tennessee barbecue.
For special occasions, my friends and I ate at Threadgill’s, a restaurant that started as an art deco gas station and morphed into an Austin institution that mixed country cuisine and music. At Threadgill’s, I tried Chicken Friend Steak for the first time. I was instantly converted to this Texas favorite.
Threadgill’s managed to survive for decades only to be shut down during the recent pandemic. His demise made headlines nationwide.
On non-special occasions, my group skipped Threadgill’s and ate at one of the many Tex-Mex joints. I fell in love with one of these migas, which I’m making this week in honor of Cinco de Mayo.
The word migas means “breadcrumbs” in Spanish. This classic poor man’s dish originated in Spain to make use of stale bread by pairing it with eggs and other convenient foods.
In Austin, instead of making leftover bread, migas were made from leftover tortillas, cut into strips and fried to give them new life. This dish is even easier if you make it like my friend Jennifer did and use leftover tortilla chips.
I asked Jennifer for her recipe and she gave it to me – although it’s one of those recipes that isn’t really a recipe. She just gave me a list of ingredients that she might or might not put in her migas.
These included three types of cheese, jalapeño and peppers, onion and cilantro or parsley.
I couldn’t find all three cheeses in my general store, so I used what I always call “store cheese,” a chunk of aged sharp cheddar sliced from a large loaf.
So my migas were a New England strain. They didn’t taste quite like the ones we ate in Texas. They were still absolutely delicious.
Feel free to play with the recipe. Jennifer always eats her migas with reheated corn tortillas that she puts butter on. You can also stuff the eggs into heated corn or flour tortillas to make an egg taco. If you love meat, stir-fry some chorizo and add it to the almost-cooked eggs.
The toppings can also be expanded. Migas go great with chopped red onions, refried beans or black olives.
3 tablespoons of butter
1/2 small onion, diced
1/2 red, yellow or orange bell pepper, cut into small pieces
1/2 jalapeño pepper, diced (optional, depending on how spicy your salsa is)
2 large local eggs
1/4 teaspoon Mexican oregano (optional: Jennifer says Mediterranean oregano won’t do. If you don’t have Mexican, just leave it out)
1/4 teaspoon cumin (whole or ground, also optional)
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 splash of water, milk or cream
1/2 cup grated lager cheese (more if you like)
1/2 cup coarsely crumbled corn tortilla chips (more if you like)
lots of salsa
a little more cheese, because life is better with cheese
a little fresh cilantro (or parsley if you don’t have cilantro)
sliced avocado (optional but good)
Melt the butter in a 10 inch nonstick skillet. Add the onion and bell pepper and sauté over medium-high heat until onion turns golden brown.
Whisk together eggs, spices (if using), salt, and liquid. Pour into the pan and fry while gently stirring. When the eggs start to scramble at the bottom, stir in the shredded cheese, then the tortilla chips.
Serve garnished with other dishes of your choice. For 1 to 2 servings, depending on your appetite and how much cheese etc. you add to the eggs.
Tinky Weisblat is the award-winning author of The Pudding Hollow Cookbook, Pulling Taffy, and Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb. Visit their TinkyCooks.com website.