Every morning I wake up, put on my wedding ring and then put on a necklace that belonged to my grandmother, a special gift my father gave me the day before my wedding. It is a single solitaire diamond that hangs on a platinum chain. So each day I have that moment to reflect upon my marriage and reconnect with my past, my father and my grandmother who was such a huge influence in my life.
Many years ago, while visiting her at her home in San Antonio, in the house where my father was raised and where I now live part-time, my grandmother and I sat on her bed looking through old photographs. We came across a large faded photo of two little girls. One child was standing on a pedestal in a beautiful white dress with ribbons in her hair and the other was standing on the floor in a simple, slightly worn dress with straight shiny black hair and dark skin. I asked my grandmother who the two girls were and she pointed to the girl in the pretty dress and said, “That’s me!”. When I asked her who the other little girl was, she said,” that’s my sister, Beatrice”. I was confused because while my grandmother and Beatrice as adults didn’t really look alike, it had never occurred to me that they may not be blood relatives. It was then that she explained that Beatrice, a young Indian girl at the time, had been a child servant who joined the family shortly before my family moved from Mexico to the United States. Unknown to me, the practice of Mexican families hiring Indian children as caretakers and playmates for their children was common in the 1800 and early 1900s.
When the Mexican Revolution was in full tilt in 1911, and our family had to leave Mexico, they took Beatrice with them. Beatrice’s father felt that she would have a better life and be out of harms way if she left Mexico. My grandmother also told me that there was a “gift” of a fifty pound bag of flour given to Beatrice’s father by my great-grandfather for Beatrice. Surprized as I was by this information, I knew my great-grandmother raised and loved Beatrice like a daughter and that my grandmother adored her as her sister and grieved deeply when she passed away as an old woman. I had never known her as anything other than my Great-aunt Beatrice.
Beatrice lived on the original family ranch in Pleasanton, Texas. This was where my brother, sister and I would spend a few weeks of our summers. There was a tiny little house there, with miles and miles of hot dry land surrounding it. There were a few trees that had managed to tolerate the parched conditions, one just outside of the house. All of us kids would climb up into this tree and settle on a branch, sitting for hours eating cherries, throwing the pits at the adults as they walked by. Occasionally there were dust storms and twisters that would blow through suddenly. I remember the adults screaming at us to get inside. We would huddle in an interior room, listening to the smacking of the screen doors and our tin bathtub knocking around outside in the howling wind. The storm would pass and we would all pile out of the house to find tumbleweeds to roll around.
The mornings began early at the ranch, as soon as the roosters began to crow. All of the children would help milk the cows and pick up the eggs from under the hens. We would eat and then play in the fields with the cows and their calves. Beatrice’s daughter, Teresa taught us how to ride the calves until they would buck us off. We would also play hide and seek in the tall grass, amongst the cattle.
Late in the day we would take turns, two dirty kids at a time, bathing in the tin tub outside in the dusty yard. We would usually eat dinner at a wooden table outside and then go inside to sleep, all of us kids piling into whichever bed someone would let us into, at least two of us to a twin bed, as I recall.
The thing that I remember most about the food at the ranch was the way the milk and butter tasted. The taste of the butter took some getting used to as it was sweet with a strong flavor. It tasted nothing like the oily, salty stuff that we spread onto our bread at home. It didn’t even look the same as the rich yellow-gold colored ranch butter that came in big square blocks, not like the skinny rectangular sticks of pale off-white stuff that we were used to. It was fresh, unprocessed, unadulterated food at its best. Eggs, laid by the hens only hours before, with bright orangey-yellow yolks. They came with different colored shells, too. Some were brown, some white or a pale yellow and even some in soft shades of lightest pink and blue. Served with freshly made tortillas, beans and homemade cheese – it was heavenly.
It is hard to come by those flavors nowadays, however with urban farming and farmers markets on the rise, fresh organic eggs and dairy products are becoming easier to come by. There are now more than 6,000 farmers markets nationwide and the urban agriculture movement is growing with farming plots popping up in major cities including Los Angeles, Pittsburg, Philadelphia, New York, and Seattle.
My friend Helen, an artist who lives on a few acres in South Texas Hill Country, happily serves up fresh eggs, veggies and honey to her family straight from the coop, garden and bee hives just a few steps away from her front door.
In Maryland we grow herbs, tomatoes and peppers in terra-cotta pots on our deck and figs, limes, herbs, tomatoes and pecans in San Antonio. It is part of my quest to eat fresh foods that are untouched by pesticides and herbicides and to keep the memories of my rich past alive.
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
4 large corn or flour tortillas
1 cup warm refried beans
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
8 large eggs
1 1/2 cups Jack cheese
Warm oven to 275 degrees.
In a lightly oiled skillet or over a flame, toast tortillas, and then place on cookie sheet. Spread ¼ cup of beans onto each tortilla, sprinkle with a bit of cheese and set in oven to warm while you prepare eggs.
In 2 medium skillets, melt 1 tablespoon of butter each, over medium-high heat. Break 2 eggs into each skillet and fry until they begin to set, but are still clear and uncooked on top. Place two fried eggs on a bean covered tortilla, Repeat, cooking the next 2 eggs until each of the tortillas has 2 eggs on them. Crank up the oven to a high broil. Sprinkle the eggs with cheese and place under broiler to finish cooking, about 1 1/2 minutes. Place on warm plates and spoon some ranchero sauce over eggs. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve with sour cream and sliced avocado.
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 cup chopped red onions
1 scallion, green and white part sliced thinly
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
½-1 tablespoon minced jalapeno
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons red wine or balsamic vinegar
1 can diced or stewed fire roasted tomatoes
1 teaspoon sugar
In a medium pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and peppers, and cook, stirring, for 3 to 5 minutes. Add the cumin, salt, cayenne, and garlic, and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add sugar and vinegar and simmer until thickened, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the cilantro and scallions. Adjust the seasoning, to taste, and cover to keep warm.