Caffeining up at the Fairbanks airport prior to a red-eye, I noticed the small print on my Starbuck’s napkin: “This napkin is made with 100% recycled content and a minimum of 40% post-consumer fiber.”
The last weasley part caught my attention: “post-consumer” and “fiber” can both be widely construed, and the American Heritage Dictionary confirmed that “fiber” is “a slender, elongated, threadlike object or structure.” The Dictionary of Online Etymology elaborated, saying in the 14th century fiber meant “a lobe of the liver” or “entrails.” There could be piano wire or worms in there for all we know, and “post-consumer” is equally broad. What’s the other 60% made of?
My wife was more interested in visiting Texas, where she corralled me 45 years ago, and especially Seguin, where we have fond memories of our middle daughter being born and me first running a library. Seguin’s known for other things, such as possessing three of the world’s four largest fiberglass pecans. When we resided there, the 5-foot-2 “world’s largest pecan” resided at the courthouse, but some Missouri upstarts fabricated a 12-foot-long pecan, forcing the unrelenting Seguinians to respond with the current 16-foot nut facsimile.
Our son’s Seguin daycare center is in a house with an outline of Texas floorplan, and the little town abounds with historic architecture. Many made of limecrete survive from the mid-1800s, when that construction technique proved so popular there that Seguin became known as “the Mother of Concrete Cities.”
Limecrete’s actually a type of concrete developed by Dr. John Park, a Seguin resident and booster who built about a hundred limecrete structures in Seguin between 1840-60. This was when Comanches raided all the way to the Gulf Coast, and limecrete was siege- and fire-resistant. That’s why in 1854, shortly after the Crimean War, Joshua Young built Sebastapol, a Greek Revival structure with a 5,000 gallon cistern on the roof for his widowed sister. Limecrete’s composed of 20% sand, 5% “aluminous earth” (clay composed of alum), and 65% carbonated silica (the product of “the long-term transformation of silicate rocks to carbonate rocks by weathering and sedimentation, and the transformation of carbonate rocks back into silicate rocks by metamorphism and volcanism”).
Sebastapol’s been restored since we left, and we lucked into a private tour. We also toured the new Seguin Public Library, an absolutely gorgeous and functional library that’s a true community showpiece in every respect.
Limecrete’s being reconsidered by modern builders. “Advantages of Limecrete vs. Concrete,” a recent British report, notes that limecrete has more molecular openings, providing a moisture buffer lacking in concrete. It has more thermal mass and it takes significantly less heat to produce than concrete, and it’s greater “flexural strength” makes cracking far less likely as structures shift over time.
Seguin’s Tex-Mex cooking is our benchmark for greatness, and definitely lived up to our 35-year-old memories (fried avocadoes stuffed with chicken fajitas!). At my next library job near Dallas, we noticed a sharp decline in the Tex-Mex. In “Don’t Call It Tex-Mex,” a recent nytimes.com article, the author bemoans the confusion between Tex-Mex and “Texas Mexican,” the traditional Mexican cooking of South Texas, but really good Tex-Mex joints blend the two, and much of the difference comes from the spices.
Many Spanish settlers in 18th century Texas came from the Canary Islands, according to Robb Walsh’s “Tex-Mex Cookbook: A History in Recipes and Photos.” The Canaries were settled by the Guanche, a Berber people from Morocco who brought “with them a taste for cumin in amounts that most Spaniards would find overwhelming.” These settlers loved their cumin and the “lavish use of spices” that characterize good Tex-Mex cuisine. At Casa Hill, we usually double or triple the cumin recommended in recipes, but we do the same with attractive books.
Acquiring many worthy books allows the browsing and sampling experience found in public libraries, thereby expanding the brain’s resilience and its very fiber. For that matter, basic Tex-Mex — beans, rice and chiles — provide the basic amino acids required for human survival, including excellent fiber. And I go along with Pier Luigi Loro Piana, who said, “I’m always on the quest to find the next best natural fiber.”
Greg Hill is the former director of Fairbanks North Star Borough libraries. Contact him at 479-4344.