Category Archives: Food

Soup For Life

The meat, the meat must be beef shank, preferably with bone in; it makes a much better tasting soup. Set it to cook in a large pot three-quarters full of water. You add the spices at this stage. Salt, black pepper, garlic. The amounts are not measured; taste is what matters.

You must watch it closely at first. The fat will rise and needs to be scooped out, a spoonful at a time, making the broth leaner, clearer. Then you let it simmer as life simmers, gently but persistently, bringing memories bubbling to the surface.

“Papa, when do you add the vegetables?”

“I don’t know, Mijita.”

You know he does, but you say nothing and instead turn back to the stove. The meat is soft now and curls around its round flat bone. The bone is white as white can be, the marrow nestled in its center. You poke at it with the spoon, breaking it up into pieces, allowing its juice to mix with the broth. Meanwhile, you have chopped an onion into large chunks and added it to the broth in progress. Its layers float to the top, shimmery, translucent, adding their own juice.

It is you in the kitchen this Sunday morning. Your mother is sick, a migraine keeping her abed. You feel a deep sense of desperation. You want to fill in for her, but you can’t. You are not her and your father knows you are not her. He walks through the kitchen and steps outside, leaving you to divine the next steps. You know what the soup looks like when it’s done, but not how it gets that way.

With the fat scooped out, you can step away and leave it alone for an hour, or two, being careful not to let the broth cook away to nothing. This simmering will cause the meat to shred, making it so tender you barely have to chew it.

This soup was a staple in your home. Every other Sunday the house filled with the aroma of its cooking. Your mouth waters at the thought and you are helplessly transported back in time. You see the tall clay pot sitting on the stove, flames licking its full rounded bottom, its flared top opened wide, gaping at the ceiling, its middle pinched in like a waist.

It resembles a woman’s shape and you wonder what the potter was thinking while he shaped it. It doesn’t appear to hold much, yet your mother makes sure everyone eats their fill. You can never figure out how she does that.

Once the meat has cooked through, it’s time for the potatoes. Scrub them well and slice them crosswise into thick slices, unpeeled. While they cook, chop up the rest of the vegetables, carrots, squash and cabbage.

Take a fresh corn on the cob and slice off the tip, then shuck the corn peeling back the husk to its core. With a firm grip, snap off the cornstalk. Under running water, work out the silk tucked into the rows of kernels. Score the center of the corn with a sharp knife and then break it in half and add it to your soup.

The corn was your favorite part. You looked forward to it. There seemed to be so few pieces in that pot, but your mother always made sure you got one. Those firm yellow kernels glistened sweetly as you inhaled your soup, leaving the corn for last. There was no need to salt it or add anything to it; it was perfect as it was. You ate it row by row, slowly working your way down the length of it. When all the kernels had disappeared, you siphoned out the succulent broth from within that cob, again working your way along it lengthwise, making sucking noises that made your siblings laugh.

When the potatoes are done, fish them out and place them in a covered dish. Add the rest of the vegetables and continue cooking. In approximately thirty minutes it will all be done.

There is not enough room in your deep stainless steel pot to hold all the ingredients at once. It makes no sense to you. It seems so much bigger than the clay pot of your memories. Nevertheless, you set the potatoes aside before adding the vegetables. You’re not sure when you figured out the sequence to this, if you were shown it or if it just came to you, but it matters not, now.

 

*Eat soup. It’s good for you.

**A version of this appeared on my blog, Prose and Possibilities.

Advertisements

My Mother’s Kitchen

I am always looking for my mother’s kitchen. The scents, the sounds. The tastes, the textures.  The colors, the flavors. The love she used to stretch each meal so that we were all left satiated once again. Each meal a true labor of love, whether it was a simple dish of eggs scrambled with tortilla bits, called Migas. Or a grand presentation of Mole Poblano, chicken in a spicy chocolate-based sauce.

I doubt I will ever find even a semblance of it, not even in my kitchen as my own table pales by comparison. She is cooking in heaven now and I am left with memories that propel me to keep looking so that every time I walk into a Mexican restaurant I wonder, is this it?

Chips and salsa

An occasional treat. If I eat too much corn, I notice swollen hands the next morning. RA imposing its limitations. The salsa has several health benefits, but what is salsa without chips?

wine

White Zinfandel. Something not found anywhere in my mother’s kitchen. Or my own actually. I keep Moscato around, and I found a strawberry Moscato that hits the right spot after dinner. Who needs dessert?

avocados

Guacamole. Avocados were a mainstay of my diet growing up and are a frequent part of my diet now. Avocados are loaded with vitamins and minerals, plus they are delicious plain or mixed to make guacamole.

Beef Tacos

Beef tacos. Another thing I don’t indulge in often, red meat, especially when it comes in a corn tortilla embrace. Another staple from my childhood was rice and beans, though  I gave up white rice a long time ago. The beans (B vitamins and Folic Acid) remain an important part of my diet, minus the sour cream and cheese topping. 

Pinata lanterns

We were enchanted with the star-shaped hanging lanterns. When we asked our server where we could buy some he said, “Guadalajara.” Hmm, that’s a ways away; maybe I’ll check online. 

Though this was a lovely place, the food delicious, and we received excellent service, it was not quite my mother’s kitchen. I know it no longer exists, but I can’t help wanting to find it.

***One of my favorite novels: Like Water for Chocolate, (Como Agua Para Chocolate) a luscious love story with a bonus of delectable recipes preceding each chapter, written by Laura Esquivel and translated into English by Carol Christensen and Thomas Christensen

 

Looking for Mr Goodflake

I conducted an experiment on myself. My main objective was to satisfy a childhood craving, and secondarily, to see if what I’d read was true, at least in my case.

Growing up, I never went hungry, though there wasn’t a lot to choose from in the cupboard or refrigerator. The one cereal we usually had on hand was corn flakes. Sometimes a bowl of cereal would be my breakfast, sometimes my dinner. With just a bit of milk, it hit the spot.

In my own kitchen, there lived a great assortment of cereals. Every kid had their own wish list, it seemed, though I still stuck to my favorite. But, as my nest was emptying so were the cupboards of that crunchy stuff. Soon, there was barely any cereal to be found in my home.

It was during this gradual exodus of children and foodstuffs that I became so ill I ended up having to give myself Humira injections with hands that couldn’t even close around a steering wheel. After several years of this, and seeing no improvement, I stopped. I decided I would accept the Methotrexate, and the Prednisone if needed. But, I would concentrate on exercise and I would study food.

I began keeping a notebook with lists of different foods and their benefits, or deficits, regarding inflammatory conditions. I learned that strawberries and chocolate were good for me and corn wasn’t. I avoided processed foods due to the corn syrup used in them, but my main reason for doing so was to control and maintain my weight. I still had the occasional popcorn at the movies, or the rare corn on the cob. Corn flakes, though, never entered my mind.

Then about two months ago, the craving hit. I ignored it until one day while walking through the grocery store, my cart made its way into the cereal aisle and stopped. I scanned the never-ending sea of cereal boxes looking for the corn flakes. I found them relegated to the bottom shelf; not even rating eye-level placement. I pondered for a while and then made my decision. A 12-ounce box was soon joined by a quart of 2% milk, another item that had been absent from my home for years.

After that first box, a second one followed. Instead of my usual bagel or a couple of scrambled eggs, I would shake some flakes into a bowl for breakfast. What could be easier? And if my husband wasn’t going to be home for dinner, well, there were the corn flakes. Why cook for just one?

Soon, my hands began to feel achy in the mornings. And then they began to be painful. They felt as if someone had pumped air beneath my skin. They didn’t look blown up yet, but they felt like it. Added to that, I felt stiff and achy in general.

I dumped the, by then, large-sized box of corn flakes into the trash. Within a week or so, my craving was gone and so were my overall achiness and swelling of the hands. I felt more energetic and my outlook brightened again. It always goes dark when pain and immobility first hits.

But now, I’m back to “normal” again, and I’m left wondering; was it the overdose of cornflakes?  Was it the newly added dairy to my diet? Or was it all merely coincidental with a flare? There are too many variables to come to a definite conclusion, but of one thing I’m sure: They sure did taste good.

Tequila Turkey

It’s that time again. Time to figure out what to serve on Christmas Day. I go through this every year, the pondering, the planning.

It’s the same thing every Thanksgiving; I’m always wanting to tweak the usual fare. This year I did. While visiting my son, I became acquainted with the Food Network. Seems it was always on so I watched. This particular chef caught my interest. As did her recipe for the aforementioned tequila turkey.

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/marcela-valladolid/apricot-and-tequila-glazed-turkey-recipe/index.html

The results of this recipe were in one word, scrumptious. The turkey was moist to the point that chewing was practically optional. Everyone raved. That turkey made the quickest disappearing act ever. Leftovers, what leftovers?

I debated whether to repeat this recipe for Christmas, but I’m just not in a turkey mood. After some thought and discussion we came up with an idea. The one ingredient we’ll carry over from Thanksgiving to Christmas will be the tequila. We’ll need it to make the Margaritas that will add the finishing touch to the Mexican spread we will serve.

Come to think of it, my red serape will look great as a tablecloth . . .

On the Good Ship Chocolate

I find myself needing to turn to comfort food. You know those times when life leaves you feeling drifting, listing. Times when life’s guardrail is seemingly floating too far from your grasp. In those moments, you instinctively reach for what’s near, for what can stay you and satisfy you, at least temporarily.

And what can satisfy that well within you? What can fill the void better than food?

Of all the foods that I might crave, I am instinctively drawn to the one that both fills and fulfills. Chocolate. For what else can send those sensory impulses of purest pleasure to the brain quicker than chocolate?

I don’t recall the very first time I had chocolate, but I do remember the first time I introduced my first-born to an Oreo cookie. I have the photograph of his chocolate grin stretched from ear to ear, but I don’t really need it. That bonding moment is ingrained in my brain.

When I was young, my mother would make hot chocolate for my father using the hard, dry sheets of chocolate they frequently purchased. After heating a small pan of water, she would break off and add several squares, stirring as they melted. I was never tempted to drink it, but I would sneak into the fridge and break off a little piece when she wasn’t looking. The bitterness turned sweet as it melted in my mouth.

My childhood memories include running to the neighborhood store to buy a chocolate bar whenever I had a few pennies in my pocket. After passing the time with friends, I would head back home to curl up on my single bed with my book of the moment, to savor both the story and the chocolate. The candy somehow seemed to enhance my reading experience.

Eating chocolate has always been a soothing experience. A treat that never disappoints or fails to live up to its expectations. Unless, it is the wish that it last longer. In my quest to control my illness with diet as much as possible, I have jokingly referred to chocolate as my “medicine.”

Apparently, my thinking wasn’t entirely facetious. I’ve been reading how researchers are discovering that dark chocolate may have many beneficial properties. They state it can help protect your skin, quiet coughs and may even increase blood flow to the brain making you more awake and alert. So it could be I was right; the story did become more interesting to read while eating that chocolate bar.

But, what makes chocolate worth its weight in gold to me is that it enhances my mood. How can I feel bad while eating chocolate? For that little sliver of time, my ship is righted. I can hold fast and let my stresses dissolve along with the velvety stuff in my mouth. The only thing better than eating chocolate is eating it with someone you love.