Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Mexican in me.......

I was born in Corona, California in 1964 to parent's of mostly Irish descent.  My mother's father, my grandfather, was an original settler in Corona after Prado flooded, forcing the migrants to relocate to higher ground among the citrus groves.  The population at that time was predominately Hispanic and continued to be so at the time that I was born.  My father began cutting meat at a small corner market in Corona at the age of 15 and continued to work as a butcher most of my young life.  As a child, it seemed to me that most of his fellow meat butchers were Hispanic and I remember my dad speaking Spanish to them and to his customers.  My early childhood friends were Mexican and I don't remember their mothers speaking English, it was not difficult for me to understand their language and while I was not fluent in Spanish, I could communicate with them.  Mostly though, my friends would interpret for their moms.  What I remember most about being at my friends homes were the aromas of cooking, masa cooking on the comer, beans in the pot, arroz frying........mmmm.

We moved to Riverside, California in 1971, just on the other side of Casa Blanca, a small Hispanic community.  I attended Madison Elementary school with the children from CB, they were my friends.  One of my best friends was Emilia Sotelo.  I loved being over at her house when her mom would get home from work.  Her parent's both worked at the packing houses and left at the same time in the morning, but her mom came home early to prepare dinner for the family.  It is at her house that I learned how to roll corn tortillas with a heavy iron plumbing pipe.  I saw my first goat head sitting on a platter on her kitchen table, receiving a warning from her mom along with her not to pick the eyes, they were for her hard working dad.  While playing Barbie in the living room we would begin choking on roasting chilies and sprint outside coughing with tears running down our faces and laughing at each other, I could float in the smell of the Sotelo kitchen.

When my mother had her fifth child, it became difficult to make ends meet with her being a stay at home mom and my father working at the grocery store, sometimes more than two jobs at a time.  He left the store to work in the concrete business.  He partnered with one of his best friends, Mendez, and provided for our family successfully.  During periods of rainy weather, our pantry would suffer, but we never went hungry.  We raised chickens, pigs, goats and even ate rabbits, which seemed strange to some of the neighbor kids since we lived in the city.  There were times that we went to the Mendez's or they came to our house for meals.  My mom is the Ragu Queen of Riverside!  It was a fast, cheap go-to for her to feed her large family and guests.  I always loved it better when we went to the Mendez's because his wife, who was also one of my mom's best friends, would make papas fritos con chorizo with beans and rice and tortillas.  I loved the smell of her house when she cooked.  It was easier being poor when I had the comfort of beans and rice.  

I am thinking by now that you are guessing that I have enjoyed a love affair with the Hispanic culture, language, people and food my entire life.  My son's father is Mexican, my daughter-in-law is half Mexican, making my granddaughter a leprecano too.  I raised my children on Mexican food, I have worked in a Spanish restaurant, I can have a conversation in Spanish, I once owned a little place in Rosarito Beach, Baja California, and I look forward to enjoying grandchildren from my daughter who's husband's family is from Michoacan.   I love the romantic writing of Isabelle Allende, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and especially Victor Via Senor, who lived a good portion of his life in Corona, California (I can tell you that his book, Rain of Gold is one of the best reads ever).

So today I have a crazy busy life and even on my days off, sometimes the only times that I sit is to work on projects for my blog or to blog.  But, last week while working in Lamont, near Bakersfield, I spotted a bag of hominy and my heart ached for the smell and taste of Pozole.  I used a beef chuck roast, achiote chile because it has great flavor, the hominy and tomato boullion, with onions, garlic, salt and pepper.  My home smells like my childhood, I have avocado, lemon, radishes, cilantro and fresh cheese for garnish......I almost don't mind that my day will start at 3am tomorrow.

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