"I cannot sleep unless I am surrounded by books."

Borges

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Rainy Day Reading, Contemplating and Cooking

It rained all last night and off and on throughout the day. The grandkids and I were cheated out of our walk but we're happy to have the rain here in sometimes too sunny California. My Grandma Lupe's long-standing tradition was always to make either caldo de rez (beef and vegetable soup) or caldo de pollo (chicken soup) on the first rainy day. It's a great tradition and I've done a darned good job in keeping it. My children always knew the first rainy day meant soup and some kind of baking and now my grandchildren are learning. Traditions are important to me.

It's Saturday. If it had been a Saturday when I was growing up, I'd have been lying under piles of blankets smelling the morning baking my grandmother was doing, smelling chiles roasting, hearing my grandfather banging out tortillas with his big rolling pin. If I had been at my mom's it would have been cartoons, cold cereal and a blanket on the couch. In my house now, Saturdays mean the grandkids are here. Cartoons? Once in a great while. I do work in animation... But mostly, Saturdays - rainy ones mean cuddling on the bean bags and reading stories. Today we read the first chapter of The Wind in the Willows. Isn't that a great book?

After reading, we piled into the car at the first break in the rain and headed to the Mexican market to get groceries for soup. I meant to do chicken but ended up wanting beef instead. I had a great time teaching my granddaughter Jasmine how to pick out the right vegetables. We had so much fun smelling herbs, squeezing lemons, looking at tomatoes, discussing chiles and laughing at the funny sounds of words in Spanish, English and Nahuatl. Words like loroco, flor de calabaza, tomatl, tomate, tomato. She has a good sense of what we need and she's only four. She knows that we want the juiciest, darkest red tomatoes for salsa, the firmer Romas for Spanish rice and things like salad. She knows the difference between the smell of oregano and thyme, can tell you what we use it for and that spearmint tea will take away a tummy ache. She's steeped in tradition and in her culture and that makes me happy to know that things like my grandmother's recipes won't be lost.

We bought chamorros de rez (beef shanks), soup bones, loroco, mexican squash, chayote or chayotl squash, squash flowers, fresh thyme, fresh oregano, chiles of four different varieties, lemons, new potatoes white and purple, tomatoes, carrots, white Mexican corn on the cob, celery, cabbage, cilantro, garlic and onions. We bought fresh Mexican white cheese (queso fresco) that crumbly mild almost ricotta-like wheel of cheese that is my favorite and Monterey Jack. We also bought huge pink and white marshmallows and a big pumpkin.

At home again, we set the soup bones and chamorros to mingle with fresh thyme, cilantro, oregano, a head of garlic and two quartered onions in boiling salted water while we read more about our friends Toad, Mole and the rest. I got in some crocheting while the grandkids napped and thought about next weeks Poetry Friday (yikes I'm hosting), Robert's Snow and the upcoming Cybil Awards. I have the honor of featuring four illustrators on both Cuentecitos and AmoXcalli for Robert's Snow - Blogging for A Cure organized by Jules and Eisha of Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Those two are the most organized people I've run into in a while! I also have the honor of being a panelist again for graphic novels with the 2007 Cybil Awards. I'm going to be a busy girl!

Several hours later, we had a great beefy stock going. We pulled out the herbs, garlic, meat and bones and strained out the stock. We then added quarted potatoes in their skins and the carrots chopped into chunks. We let that get halfway done, then added chopped celery, chunks of chayote squash and fresh Mexican white corn on the cob and while that was cooking we sliced into paper thin wheels, the zucchini and Mexican squash which we carefully laid on top to steam along with a quartered cabbage. We put the lid on the pot and let that simmer for five minutes just long enough for the cabbage to wilt and change color.

I had made fresh roasted salsa earlier along with squash flower and loroco quesadillas and Spanish rice. We cut quesadillas into little crispy triangles oozing the mix of cheeses with little green and yellow flowers cascading out and arranged those on a plate with a little bowl of salsa in the middle. I stirred the meat back into the soup and served it out into each bowl making sure everyone got an ear of corn. The traditional way is to scoop out a spoonful of rice in the middle of the bowl then serve the soup right over it. We sat down to squeeze lemon over the hot soup and rice, nibbled quesadillas along with the soup and most of us scooped the salsa right into the soup as well. For dessert I had made hot Mexican chocolate with cinnamon covered by the huge marshmallows in pink and white and the fresh pumpkin empanadas that are my son Albert's favorites. My grandchildren are sleeping now full of stories, food and tradition.

Aren't rainy days wonderful?

4 comments:

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

I am so hungry now after reading your food descriptions. I really appreciate food descriptions in books-- Wind in the Willows is one of my favorites for food lists.

Gina MarySol Ruiz said...

Brian Jacques has great ones too in his Redwall.

Kelly Fineman said...

Gina -- I'll stop back to look for the Poetry Friday post, but here's my link for today (as I'll be out for a while): http://kellyrfineman.livejournal.com/237874.html

I'm in with Amy Lowell.

TadMack said...

THIS makes me HUNGRY. I love rainy California days, and hope to drag some of the lovely California traditions of freshly made tortilla soup into this chilly Scotland landscape. Lovely post... makes me homesick.