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

A Plan for Spontaneity

My Nana could never keep a surprise. She managed to accidentally slip regarding surprise parties, gifts, events, pretty much anything she was asked to save for later. Most of us inherited her trait, which is why I decided not to say anything to anyone. Then I kept second-guessing myself. Responsible me, who sometimes over-worries, tried to keep it a pure, untainted surprise. Tried being the operative word.

Nosotros

I knew a few weeks ago, Uncle Danny would be visiting Texas. I looked at flights and compared availability with my work schedule. Nothing worked, a given in education. I could get there, but I couldn’t get back home if I flew, the best option compared to an eight hour drive plus pit stops. Three summers have come and gone since we were all together. He’d been back to Texas, but living so far from my hometown, I usually miss out on non-summer visits.

All day Friday, between classes, I mulled around the idea. If I leave right after school-impossible since I had nothing packed-and drive four hours, I can get a hotel and leave early for the second half of the trip. If I go to bed by 9:00-impossible since I decided to make homemade pizza for dinner-I can leave at 4:00 a.m. and still be there at noon-ish. Or maybe I won’t go. I’m accustomed to missing out. This is what I get for choosing to live so far away from family. I’ll catch up with pictures. There’s always Face Time. No big deal.

But it is a big deal. With everything the past year and a half has dumped on us, why not? I decided to go to bed early, despite the tedious dinner I planned on cooking. I wasn’t in bed by 9:00, but I instructed my youngest to pack a bag and get ready for bed. We were on the road by 5:30 the next morning. I turned on my tracking app and kissed the hubster goodbye.

My niece, first place winner in her mountain bike race under 18 age division. 18 miles in the heat!

No one back home knew we were on our way. I got a feel for the family gathering on Saturday after I called my mom. Driving too fast without getting caught and skipping our regular pit stops made the drive seem quicker. Until I was about an hour and a half away, I was doing well with the surprise. However, I wanted to be certain to catch everyone. We have a way of changing plans on whim and I didn’t want to wind up missing them in case they decided to leave early or go visit someone.

One sister, who is always late to everything, (I’m the other one) called me while she was on the road as well. I let her know what we were up to in case anything changed. I tapped into my inner-Nana and “ruined” the surprise. Sensible me said it was for safety purposes. What if something happened on the road?

We arrived at noon-ish, 12:14, actually. I messaged the Keeper of the Secret. The plan was to call, then get on Face Time to say hello to everyone.

I called my mom and without skipping a beat, she said “Where are you? Don’t tell me you’re parked out front.”

What in the world? Did the Keeper of the Secret leak it out?

“Yeah, I wish!” I make small talk and walk towards the entrance to the outdoor patio where everyone has gathered for lunch. Mom shrieks when she sees us and this is the start to one of the most joyful, low-key, family focused weekends since summer. Road trips are standard for summer break, but unplanned weekend road trips are a little extra—everything.

I went outside my comfort zone only to find myself in another one.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021