Family Recipe

People who have recipes passed down from generations have always fascinated me.

“I have my grandma’s tomato pie recipe.”

“This strawberry cake is from my great-great grandmother.”

“I baked this bread with my great aunt and she got the recipe from her aunt’s grandma’s cousin’s sister-in-law…”

I don’t have recipes like those.

Nana in the center, her niece, Ruth, on the left, and my great-grandmother, Welita, on the right.

Nana’s tortillas were measured with her hands: several scoops of flour, shortening-tantito así –just this much, a few sprinkles of salt and pinches of baking powder. Heating water on the stove, she’d dunk a finger to test the temperature, who needs a cooking thermometer for accuracy? It’s either too hot or too cold. Agua tibia, she’d instruct, even though it looked much hotter than warm, judging from the steam rising and the bubbles just starting to form along the inside of the pot. Pouring a stream of hot water into a small well in the mound of flour, her other hand worked it quickly into a dough. A little more, the dough started coming together. The final stream, just a tad, and the dough was smooth and ready.

She pulled apart small portions of dough and rolled them into balls, covered the green Tupperware mixing bowl with a dishcloth and continued with the rest of the meal. Carne guisada. Rice. Frijoles. No recipes for those, either. She just cooked and her tastebuds guided her.

There was no Martha Stewart or Pampered Chef tortilla rolling guide for her to roll out the balls of dough. She rolled them out, perfectly, with a smooth and well worn rolling pin Papá made from some repurposed tool. Probably the handle of a broken garden hoe. Each tortilla hung over the edge of the bowl awaiting its fate on the comal.

This was the best part. As she stacked warm tortillas and wrapped them in another dishcloth, we’d snag one and smear it with butter. Folding it in half or rolling it up, we’d take a careful bite, they’re hot! These were our appetizers. No fancy snack trays or crudités.

My mom tried to translate hand measured scoops and portions into measuring cups and spoons for us to use. Since she learned from Nana at a young age, she doesn’t use conventional measuring tools either. I’ve tried to make them as well with the guidance of other people’s recipes or the assistance of “just add water” mixes. They aren’t the same. We buy them from the grocery store bakery.

Some day I’ll stop long enough to give my patience a rest and pick up the art of homemade tortilla making. I just have to pull up my sleeves, heat up some water, and scoop out handfuls of flour into a bowl.

December 7, 2021

Air Fried Marshmallows

Around Thanksgiving, my husband found a deal on an air fryer. Nothing fancy, or name-brand, just functional. I’m not a fan of extra countertop appliances besides a toaster and a coffee maker. We’re short on space in our kitchen. To avoid arguing, I gave in. He brought it home, like it was a Major Award and frrra-gee-lee. He opened the thing with the enthusiasm of The Old Man opening his leg lamp in “A Christmas Story.”

I rolled my eyes. He prepped chicken strips. We ate them, but they tasted, well, baked. My husband has a knack for chicken strips. The deep fried kind he dunks in egg wash and a seasoned flour mixture he’s concocted over the years. My kids critique restaurants on their chicken strips, the only thing they order off the menu. If they’re as good as or better than Dad’s, we add it to the list of favorites. This time, they were dry and nowhere close to what we’re accustomed to eating.

Then I opened my mouth. Not to say they tasted bad, we all knew they did, but to discuss the air fryer. I suggested he return it. You would’ve thought I took a lollipop away from a kid. Or a bone from a dog. Or Twitter from…never mind. Anyhow, I asked “What’s the difference between this and using the oven?” I should’ve kept my mouth shut. I surrendered, he found space in the pantry to store it, and we compromised. A few days later, he made chicken wings. Those were delicious.

One evening, he came home with a bag of marshmallows, a box of graham crackers, and chocolate bars. It was a nice evening for hanging out in the backyard around the fire pit. The kids prefer to stay inside glued to their devices. Unless there are s’mores. We enjoyed the evening and I didn’t balk at the kids eating more than their share or toasting extra marshmallows. We’re still in a pandemic and I might as well let them enjoy it.

I put away the extra s’mores ingredients for another evening. But where would I put them so the kids wouldn’t smell them and devour them before the next perfect night for s’mores? I found a spot for the chocolate and graham crackers, but I needed to find a different place for the marshmallows. I’ve run out of good hiding places; my kids are that good. I mean, I thought I was smart when I hid my pint of double chocolate ice cream in the bag of frozen broccoli. Until they found it.

In a rush, I put the bag of marshmallows in the cooking drawer to the air fryer. They’ll never look there. The new appliance was perfect. It was only temporary anyway. I planned to move them later.

One Saturday, my husband busted out his handy dandy air fryer to make his new favorite recipe for chicken wings. My youngest passed through the kitchen to the backyard to jump on the trampoline. My husband seasoned and prepped, whistled a jolly tune, and pre-heated his faithful companion. When my kiddo, who has a bionic nose, skipped into the house, her eyes searched the kitchen. “Ooooh, marshmallows. It smells like marshmallows. What are you making, Dad?”

I brushed her off. “Marshmallows? What do you mean it smells like marshmallows? You’re imagining things.”

“It totally smells like marshmallows,” she commented as she ran up to her room. I kept sipping my coffee, scrolling away on Instagram.

A few minutes later, I heard a few choice words from The Most Patient Man in the World, who hardly ever uses choice words. He started grumbling and slamming things, shouting “Who put marshmallows in the air fryer?”

At that moment, I remembered my clever trick. I countered, “Who the heck doesn’t open an oven–air fryer–before they turn it on?” I laughed as I explained it was a new hiding place and I forgot I put the bag there.

He held the cooking drawer with the bag of perfectly toasted marshmallows nestled inside, the plastic warped and baked into them. “It’s nonstick, it should be fine. Dump it in the trash.”

“Wait, I wanna see!” S came down to inspect the marshmallows. She wanted to eat them. We said no. The trash got them. And the chicken wings came out fine, without a trace of sticky marshmallows on them. So much for a new hiding place.