Marfa, TX : Downtown // Summer 2017

Downtown Marfa Texas // Summer 2017 Travel

When we finally reached downtown Marfa, I knew little would be open – not a ghost town, but not much open.  It was a Tuesday, and 5 oclock-ish, in August.  I’ve been told that even on weekends the stores are fickle in how they keep hours.

downtown marfa

marfa wine shop

On any day, it appears the hotels are the only businesses reliably open in the downtown area.  We passed through the lobby, shops, and bar of the El Paisano, which is an old-school, quintessentially West Texas hotel.  We perused the downstairs bookstore, lobby and bar area of the Saint George, which is a modern, overtly pretentious experience.  I recognized fewer than 5 titles in the bookstore of the Saint George, but I expect the cocktails would have been delicious, and I would have stopped at the bar, had my 7-year-old not been in tow and hyper-focused on exploration.

el paisano marfa

el paisano marfa

saint george hotel marfa

saint george hotel marfa

After 6 hours in the car that day, it felt good to walk downtown, even with most of it shuttered.  We knew there were galleries, and obscurely placed exhibits, and such, in and around Marfa, but at least in our limited experience, the town had not rallied behind any effort to easily guide visitors to these spaces.  Instead, we meandered, and I took pictures.

There was a moment early on in our meandering when I thought of a quote we keep on the wall in our kitchen, from Old Man and the Sea, of “Now is no time to think of what you do not have.  Think of what you can do with what there is“.  While Marfa is not anything close to resembling a “life in peril” situation ala Old Man and the Sea, the lens of perspective offered by the quote was one that was helpful for me that day.

I also began to notice, a few minutes into our walk, that I frequently saw my own reflection, along with my son’s and husband’s.  The angle of the sun and the weather that day turned most of the windows into mirrors, which were transparent in the spaces where our reflective images created portals into the other worlds inside.

As we walked and I saw more and more reflections, I was reminded of a spiritual practice I recently learned from listening to Professor Christena Cleveland speak on a podcast.  Cleveland described that one of the ways she engages students, and in particular those who may have very different views from her, is to consider approaching these students with an internal greeting of “the image of God in me greets the image of God in you.”  I view this as an active acknowledgement of the spirit and soul that are engaged when we converse with another person – valuing the humanity of the other.  I’ve tried to adapt this practice in many spaces, and in particular, when thinking about or talking with people who have opinions that I ardently disagree with.  It is a beautiful practice that focuses me on applying belief to action, and in particular, applying my belief, from teachings in the book of Genesis in the Bible, that I and all other human beings are God’s image bearers, connected to one another, and here to reflect God’s character throughout the earth.

The reflections in the windows visually reminded me of something I have learned since starting this spiritual practice – that when I greet others as bearing the image of God, whether we are in accord or not, I am simultaneously more aware of myself and the other person, at a soul level .  I am more aware of how much energy I am bringing into the conversation and I often times get to see into a piece of the other person’s world that was previously hidden.  I am more aware of God’s presence reflected by others.

In the stillness and quiet of Marfa, and the lack of anything that we needed to see, anywhere we needed to be, or anyone we needed to meet with, I found very needed, long moments to pray and to breath.  I reflected on what I would pass along to the next generation and what I hoped the next generation would be freed from.

As we walked along, we peered into windows of nondescript, unmarked buildings, only to find incredible works of art sitting in giant, open spaces.  In many ways, this is what I expected Marfa would be, though having traveled to many a West Texas town, I was still surprised by each discovery.

My son’s attention span started to wane after 30 minutes or so of walking.  Fortunately, we happened upon a laundromat on a side street, which seems to be open most of the time, and has a coffee/ice cream spot connected.  We stopped for a quick treat and then continued to walk.

Somewhere thereafter, my husband made up a game with my son called “look it’s art!”.  The game consisted of pointing to seemingly ordinary things, which were then magically transformed into art when viewed within the context of Marfa, and its acquired reputation as one giant curated exhibit.  We laughed a lot.

We walked past buildings that cut against the sky.  The clouds that day were surreal.  The architecture in Marfa is beautiful, and intentional.

I stopped and noticed the unique aesthetic of each of the churches we passed by – creating quiet, tranquil spaces.  I felt invited to step closer and take deeper breaths.

I stopped and took about 200 pictures of the Marfa Public Radio building, and the band waiting to perform live on air.  I reminisced about a season in life when my husband and I owned a record label.  None of the pictures I took turned out to show everything I wanted to capture about that moment, and I eventually acknowledged it not possible that a photograph alone could remember all the memories that had rushed to the surface.

Eventually, we all felt we’d seen the town.  We drove the short distance back to El Cosmico, and our teepee, for a picnic dinner, some star-gazing, and a good night’s sleep. (for more about our stay at El Cosmico:

El Cosmico

El Cosmico Teepees at Sunset


Marfa, TX : El Cosmico // Summer 2017


  • Unique camping/glamping experience
  • The teepees are not sealed – if it rains, water may drizzle in from the top, but there is a tarp provided that covers the bed
  • The bathhouse area is shared between the teepees, tents, and self-camping & the showers are communal/semi-private; trailers have private bath/shower
  • If traveling with children, consider the time of week/time of year/what happenings are scheduled, when booking
  • No restaurant on-site; restaurants and galleries in Marfa keep irregular hours

Our Experience:

My family and I recently loaded up for an end-of-summer road trip.  We started out from Austin, TX around 10 am and ended up in Marfa, TX around 4:30 pm.  As we approached Marfa, we passed through a series of late afternoon thunderstorms and wondered aloud whether we would arrive to a wet teepee at El Cosmico.  This was our first adventure to Marfa, and to El Cosmico, and I had read online that during rainstorms the interior of the teepees could be a little wet because there is not a way to close up the tops.

Upon arrival to our teepee, we were pleasantly surprised to find that a tarp placed over the queen bed had caught the light trickle from the afternoon showers. The rest of the interior was dry and quite inviting, with a stack of fresh towels, a colorful day bed, a worn-in leather love seat, and floor coverings.  Once the threat of showers passed, we removed the tarp and slept in a dry, comfortable bed.  My son slept on the day bed, which was well outside the area where rain might trickle in.  The temperature inside was cool in the evening, but not so cool that we needed to light the fire pit.

El Cosmico teepee interior
For my son, on his first camping adventure, El Cosmico provided a nice entry point to sleeping closer to the outdoors (including the occasional ant), and sleeping inside a teepee was the stuff of dreams.  The ivy-covered, shared bathhouse was also a new experience for him – we didn’t end up showering, but used the sink and toilets, which were a short walk from our teepee.  We brought along a friend’s Yeti Cooler, packed full of snacks and meals for our trip, having read online of the possibility of few or no restaurant options on a Tuesday evening in Marfa.  After exploring in town (with very few stores open), we returned to camp and spread out a meal from our cooler on the picnic table outside.  We all enjoyed sitting on the porch of our teepee to take in the sunset, moon, stars, and sunrise.  The design and pace of the grounds helped us all slowly transition into a camping mode for the week.  The moon was almost full the night of our stay, and as the moon rose between the teepees, the grounds lit up as if under a giant spotlight.

El Cosmico grounds at sunset
My son loved exploring the grounds and the freedom to run a bit.  I had some apprehensions when we booked our stay about whether the environment would be suitable for kids, knowing many friends who have visited El Cosmico for more adult-oriented getaways.  I was glad to find other families with kids on summer vacation staying at El Cosmico and a friendly attitude among all the guests and staff.  For most, it seemed like a one-night, unique experience while passing through West Texas.  For future bookings with our family, I’ll continue to check what other happenings may be booked at the same time – to consider the intended audience and consider whether to bring kids.  The grounds felt like a happy medium between a hotel and a campground; there were guests who checked-in to their teepees well after dark, which would be more difficult to do at a traditional campground, but we all slept through the night without issue, and tried to keep our noise levels low in the morning, knowing there were some around us who had arrived in the wee hours.

El Cosmico sink
The front office/gift shop includes a well-stocked, refrigerated cooler with canned and bottled drinks available for purchase.  We picked up a couple of cans of Austin Eastciders to add to our picnic dinner.  The gift shop is also filled with a selection of custom jewelry, ponchos, hats, incense, and such, along with El Cosmico branded items, and accessories geared towards camping.  My son selected an El Cosmico frisbee, a bandana with a star chart, and a solar powered lantern, all of which we used multiple times over the next week of travel.  A few friends made recommendations of “not to be missed” coffee places in Marfa proper, however we needed to get a move on in the morning, and the complimentary coffee served in the front office/commons area was more than satisfactory.

Overall, we all gave our stay at El Cosmico a thumbs up and hope to return at some point when passing through on another adventure.  The staff and grounds have a vibe and aesthetic that is in line with what we’ve experienced at other Bunkhouse Group properties, but unique in focus on a camping experience.  The guest occupancy seemed light the night we stayed, and mostly filled with families traveling during the summer, and I wonder what the shared community spaces feel like when there are more people around and on the weekends.

El Cosmico common room with flags


Group Gathering, Main Course, Recipe

Bo Ssam Miracle, aka pork candy

My favorite new group gathering recipe of 2012 is the Bo Ssam Miracle.  During my Sunday read of the New York Times, I read (and then re-read) the article about the Momofuku version of the Bo Ssam Miracle, and set out the next week to make one.  According to the article, the Momofuku version is often served as an appetizer for 6-10 people, and is priced at $200.  The New York Times also published a basic recipe for the Bo Ssam Miracle and some accompanying side sauces.

Now that I have made this recipe many times, I have discovered that the real miracle of this recipe is how something so simple to make can taste so good, and how something that costs $200 to buy in NYC, costs about $50-60 to make at home.  The first time I made the Bo Ssam, I had to buy some new ingredients for the sauces, so the total cost was a little higher.  I typically serve fruit and brie with crackers as an appetizer to the Bo Ssam and use the Bo Ssam as the main course for 6-10 people.  For 10 people, I serve more appetizers and also cook more rice, because the serving portions of meat will be smaller, but still suitable for a meal.  I am also planning to add steamed dumplings as an appetizer for the next round of Bo Ssam.

To prepare the meat portion of the Bo Ssam Miracle, one needs to find the best quality pork butt one can afford and make sure it is properly tied.  I watch for Whole Foods to put their pork butts on sale and when they do, I ask the butcher for the best cut he can give me, 9-10 pounds, tied tightly.  The ties should be tight and consistently spaced, about 1 1/2 – 2 inches apart.  If the ties look loose or are really spaced out, I ask the butcher to retie them.  In my experience, the pork butt does not cook as consistently if the ties are loose or too far apart.

Next, the pork butt needs to be seasoned and placed in the refrigerator overnight.  The New York Times recipe calls for mixing 1 cup of white sugar with 1 cup of kosher salt and rubbing the mixture all over the meat, before covering and setting in the refrigerator overnight.  The first time I made the pork butt, I used 1 cup of the Whole Foods Organic Cane Sugar mixed with 1 cup of Coarse Kosher Salt.  I packed the mixture on thick, all over the pork butt.  The resulting pork butt was amazing, but only a few members of our group, who really really (really!) love salt, were able to handle the salty exterior pieces.  The rest of us thought that there was too much salt on the outside – too high of a pucker factor.  Subsequent times that I have made the pork butt, I have used about 1/2 cup of salt and 1/2 to 3/4 cup of sugar.  The salt lovers still get some good salty pieces from the exterior of the pork butt and the pork butt is still well brined, but the overall flavor and sauces of the cooked pork butt have a more tolerable salt level.


I typically season and refrigerate the pork butt in a glass casserole dish, and then transfer the pork butt to a deep stainless roaster for cooking.  In general, I do this because my roaster takes up too much refrigerator space, but there may be some benefit to the pork butt going in the oven inside a roasting pan that is not chilled.

The initial roasting process takes about 6 hours at 300 degrees.  You have to be available to scoop the juices off the bottom of the pan and drizzle them on the pork butt, once every hour or so, after the first 3 hours.  This isn’t a slow cooker recipe that you can start in the morning and walk away from until dinner time.  The first time I made the Bo Ssam, I was following the NYT recipe exactly, and my friend and I waited excitedly for the first hour to pass, ready to drizzle the juices, just as the recipe instructed.  The first hour passed, I looked inside, and there was no juice.  Some of the packed on salt/sugar mixture had fallen off and was roasting in the bottom of the pan, but no juice.  I packed the salt back on the top of the pork butt.  What to do?  The second hour passed and still no juice.  At this point, I was considering whether we would be ordering pizza that night.  Then, the third hour passed and there was a little juice. Ah. I scooped it, still thinking about what kind of pizza I would order.  Then, the fourth hour passed and boy was there juice.  Juice. Juice. Juice.  I made up for lost time by judiciously scooping and drizzling, and forgot about pizza.  Now that I have experimented with cooking the pork butt many times, I recommend checking in on the pork butt every hour, but do not expect to start the hourly drizzling process until after the 3rd hour.  I usually drizzle enough every hour or so to wet the entire outside of the pork butt.  I have found that the more you drizzle, the saltier the pork butt.  After the first 6 hours of roasting, the pork butt is removed from the oven to sit, for up to an hour, before being rubbed with a concentrated brown sugar and salt mixture, and placed back in the oven at a high temperature to caramelize the mixture.

Here is my version of the Bo Ssam Miracle, adapted from the NYTimes version, with extra sauces and notes

Pork Butt

  • 1 whole bone-in pork butt or picnic ham (8 to 10 pounds)
  • 1/2-3/4 cup cane juice sugar
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 7 tablespoons brown sugar

1. Place the pork in a large, shallow dish. Mix the  sugar and 1/2 cup of the salt together in another bowl, then rub the mixture all over the meat. Cover it with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours, or overnight.

2. When you’re ready to cook, heat oven to 300. Remove pork from refrigerator and discard any juices. Place the pork in a roasting pan and set in the oven and cook for approximately 6 hours, or until it collapses, yielding easily to the tines of a fork. (After the first hour, baste hourly with pan juices as available.  Some pork butts may not yield any pan juices until after the 2nd or 3rd hour.) At this point, you may remove the meat from the oven and allow it to rest for up to an hour.

3.  Make all your sauces and sides.

4. When the sauces and sides are ready to serve, turn oven to 500. In a small bowl, stir together the remaining tablespoon of salt with the brown sugar. Rub this mixture all over the cooked pork. Place in oven for approximately 10 to 15 minutes, or until a dark caramel crust has developed on the meat. (Watch for caramelized bubbles to start forming across the top of the pork butt). Serve hot, with the sauces and sides.  If serving on the table, include kitchen scissors for cutting the ties, tongs for pulling the meat out, and several forks for friends to use to pull the pork off the bone.

 Sides and Sauces

Ginger-Scallion Sauce (mix all ingredients together in a bowl, add salt to taste)

  • 3 cups thinly sliced scallions, both green and white parts
  • ½ cup peeled, minced fresh ginger
  • 1-2 spoonfuls of minced ginger from a jar
  • ¼ cup neutral oil (like grapeseed)
  • 1½ teaspoons light soy sauce
  • 1  teaspoon sherry vinegar (or rice wine vinegar)
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste

Ssam Sauce (mix all ingredients together in a bowl)

  • 1 tablespoons black bean paste
  • 1/2 tablespoon chili paste or sriracha
  • 1/4 cup sherry vinegar
  • 1/4 cup neutral oil (like grapeseed)

Garlic Sauce (mix all ingredients together in a small bowl)

  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic from a jar
  • 3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon neutral oil (like grapeseed)
  • a pinch of sugar to taste
  • a pinch of salt to taste

Ginger Sauce (mix all ingredients together in a small bowl) 

  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger from a jar
  • 3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon neutral oil (like grapeseed)
  • a pinch of sugar to taste

Cucumber Sauce (mix all ingredients together in a small bowl)

  • 1 cucumber (peeled and diced into small chunks)
  • 2-3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar (or more, depending on the size of the cucumber, to cover all the cucumber)
  • pinches of sugar, salt, and pepper to taste

Mango Chutney – I use a store bought Mango Chutney, but I am planning to work on a homemade version soon.  We usually go through a whole jar of Mango Chutney each time I serve this meal. This Mango Chutney is pretty good: Stonewall Kitchen Mango Chutney, 8.5-Ounce Glass Jar.

The Lettuce:  3 heads of the biggest leafed butter lettuce available .  Pull the large leaves off the lettuce, wash and dry.   Place leaves in a large bowl for guests to choose from.

The Rice:  White rice or brown rice, on the stickier side, goes well with the Bo Ssam.

1 dozen or more fresh oysters (This is included in the NYTimes recipe.  I have not tried serving oysters yet, but I do think that the saltiness of they oysters would pair well with the Bo Ssam.

Kimchi (available in many Asian markets, and online) (This is also included in the NYTimes recipe, but I have not tried serving it yet).

Extra sauces on the table for guests to use to mix their own sauce or adjust the spice of one of the pre-mixed sauces (along with small bowls and spoons) – Soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, sriracha, black bean paste.


Preparation Schedule

I have some timing tips to share here, based on a 7:45 serving time, and my oven, which is slow to preheat, but holds temperature well.

  • 12:20 – start preheating the oven to 300 degrees
  • 12:45 – place pork butt in the oven
  • 3:45 – check on the pork butt and drizzle with juices
  • 4:45 – check on the pork butt and drizzle with juices
  • 5:45 – check on the pork butt and drizzle with juices
  • 6:00 – prep the lettuce: wash and lay out flat to dry; chop the green onions and ginger; start preparing the sauces and place sauces on the table as they are ready
  • 6:30 – prep and start the rice in the rice cooker
  • 6:45 – pull the pork butt from the oven and let sit.  drizzle with juices once or twice while sitting
  • 6:50 – start preheating oven to 500 degrees
  • 7:00 – prep the appetizers:: fruit, crackers with brie, dumplings
  • 7:20 – mix the brown sugar/salt mixture and rub on the pork butt
  • 7:25/7:30 – guests start arriving and help themselves to appetizers and drinks; also, guests can help set the table; set a plate for each guest with fork and spoon and an optional small sauce bowl for creating sauces at the table); place the soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, sriracha, and black bean paste on the table; also place the lettuce bowl, rice, and any other sides on the table.
  • 7:30 – put the pork butt back in the oven and watch for bubbles to form in the brown sugar/salt mixture
  • 7:40/45 – pull the pork butt and place it on the table, with tongs, a meat cutting knife, several forks, and some kitchen scissors and invite everyone to sit down.


As a group, we eat together without a lot of formality, and eat together often, so I allow some of the “formalities” of serving the Bo Ssam to happen at the table.  I nominate one person to cut the ties and pull them out, and then start cutting portions of the meat to pass around.  Once the pork butt is initially cut into and a few portions dispensed, the meat starts falling apart and those close to the roaster and grab portions with the forks.  If you are serving 10 people, the person with the tongs should make sure everyone gets a serving first because the meat will go quickly.

Beer and wine go well with this meal.  When I remember to buy some cold sake, it also pairs well with the meal.


Catering, Dessert, Group Gathering, Recipe

Chocolate Crumble Balls (CCB’s)

I love to add CCB’s to the menu for a large group gathering where it would be great if everyone is served dessert around the same time or where I don’t want to have to spend a lot of time scooping cartons of ice cream when it is time for dessert – and miss half the party.   I usually place one or two CCB’s per person in a bowl and top with hot fudge.  If there are any leftovers, they usually disappear from the fridge within a day or two.

Chocolate Crumble Balls (CCB’s) (adapted from the Scottish Rite Dormitory Cookbook)

  • 1 gallon of ice cream (vanilla, cookies and cream, coffee, etc.)
  • 1 box sandwich creme cookies (Oreo’s/Hydrox, Whole Foods Sandwich Cremes)(also consider adding nuts, coconut, m&m’s, or any other traditional ice cream topping)
  1. Crush the sandwich creme cookies.  If you have a food processor, throw those cookies in and pulse until ground.  If you don’t have a food processor, you can also just put the cookies in a plastic bowl, cover with wax paper, and then hit with a meat tenderizer or other hard kitchen tool, to break up.  
  2. Place the crushed sandwich creme cookies in a bowl.
  3. Set up a prep area for the CCB’s including the bowl of crushed sandwich cremes, a bowl of warm water big enough to dip your hands and the ice cream scoop into, and a storage container for the CCB’s (I like to use multiple smaller containers so that as I fill up one container, I can store it in the freezer, stop the CCB’s from melting too much).  It is nice to have a helper around who is ready to cover each container when it is full and put it in the freezer because your hands will be messy.
  4. Scoop a ball of ice cream, dip hands in the warm water and using your hands, round out the scoop.  Roll the rounded scoop of ice cream in the crushed sandwich creme cookie bowl.  Place the rolled ice cream ball in the storage container.  Cover the storage container and place in the freezer as soon as possible.
  5. To serve, place one or two CCBs in each bowl.  Drizzle with hot fudge sauce.  Add a spoon.  Leave some extra hot fudge sauce out on the counter for guests to add more.    
Dessert, Group Gathering, Recipe

Hot Fudge Sauce

I love to make homemade hot fudge a few times a year as a special treat.  This Hot Fudge Sauce is best served slightly warm or at room temperature and will keep for a long time in the fridge.  I like to make a batch to serve with ice cream for a group gathering – one batch has ~20 servings.

Hot Fudge Sauce 

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 5.33 oz evaporated milk
  • 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar (measured and then sifted, or stirred with a whisk)
  • 6 squares unsweetened chocolate
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  1. Using a double boiler (or a large skillet placed on top of a pot with boiling water – that is what I use), melt the butter and chocolate, stirring with a wooden spoon.  
  2. Add the milk and stir with the wooden spoon until combined.
  3. Using a whisk or wooden spoon, add the powdered sugar a half a cup or so at a time, stirring to combine, and whisking out any clumps.
  4. Remove from heat.  Add vanilla. Stir vigorously.
Drink, Group Gathering, Recipe, Shower

Hot Spiced Tea recipe

Hot Spiced Tea is my grandmother’s recipe.  I usually make this tea when I need a hot drink for a group, and I often make it during the first really cold weekend each fall.  I like using decaf tea, especially for showers, because more nursing mommas and mommas-to-be can partake.  I have also made the tea with half the amount of sugar, and increased the amount of juice.  Lately, I have started using 1 1/2 cups of raw sugar, and I really like the slight difference in flavor from granulated sugar.

Hot Spiced Tea

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 cups water
  • 4 cinnamon sticks
  • 5 oranges
  • 5 lemons
  • 8 cups water
  • (Lipton) ice tea bags (I recommend decaf)
  1. Make the strong tea.  Bring 8 cups of water to a boil, in a stock pot.  Turn off heat.  Steep the Lipton Ice tea bags required for 8 cups (2 quarts) of water.  Let steep for longer than directed.
  2. While the water is heating up for the strong tea, heat 4 cups of water and the 2 cups of sugar, in a smaller sauce pan, until the sugar water starts to boil.  Turn off heat.  Add cinnamon sticks to the sugar water and cover.  Let stand for at least 10 minutes, and up to 1 hour.  Remove the cinnamon sticks.
  3. Juice the 5 oranges and 5 lemons.
  4. Combine the juices and sugar water into the tea.  Keep hot, but not boiling.