Friday, May 28, 2010

Memorial Day

The ritual was one that she had performed since childhood--filling the car with whatever flowers happened to be blooming in the yard on Memorial Day,"Decoration Day," weekend. She wasn't sure why she still did it--all the other relatives who cared were long gone, but, then again, maybe that WAS why she did it. Driving up the rutted gravel road to the old cemetery brought back childhood memories.

Most of my father's relatives were dead before I was born, and they were held in greater esteem than any of the living relatives. My great-aunt was adamant that we know that these dead people had lived greater lives than we could ever hope to, and in a time that was much greater, simpler and harder than ours. The family matriarchy was the dominion of the iron-fisted, acerbic sisters, my grandmother and great-aunt Nellie, her younger-by-only-two-years sister. From the time I was about four, several times a year, but most importantly on "Decoration Day," they would load their gardening tools, my cousin and I into the old Buick and head to the Oddfellows Cemetery to tend the family plot.

We would wander through the cemetery for a while, but eventually our attention would be called away from our morbid grave games to pay our respects to the dead relatives. The would come the stories. Detailed, sometimes vivid descriptions about how each of these people came to be here that fascinated me and horrified my cousin. She didn't do well with things like that. While I thrived on hearing the stories like the one about my grandmother's brother Ralph, who, it was told, had an operation and died from the ether. My poor cousin would turn pale and rush to the car, escaping into the safety of the backseat. Ether, I was told, is what they used to knock you out so that the operation didn't hurt. I imagined that operations took place somewhere like the Frankenstein's labratory I had seen in the movies. While my grandmother told these stories in her matter-of-fact manner, my great-aunt seemed amused and almost delighted in seeing us squirm.

The trips were never described as "going to the cemetery," but as "going to see Mama and Papa," or "going to visit Ralph and Ester." No one in the family questioned it, or seemed to think it was the least bit odd that we going to see dead people. Sometimes the sisters spoke to them, filling them with the latest family news and gossip. Although I never asked either of them about death, my sense of death, as a child, was htat it was a temporary situation, and that, in time, they would get over it.

My peculiar sense of the dead continued at home. Home was my grandmother's house where I lived with her and my father. A big old house that had once held four apartments; we lived mostly downstairs in the space that had once been two of those apartments. When I would ask my grandmother about my grandfather and my father's little sister, she would tell me that they were with the man upstairs. I thought she meant upstairs in the unused apartment, so I sneaked up the stairs to look for them. I could use someone to play with. I wasn't supposed to be up there, and when she caught me, my explanations were met with silence. I thought it was pretty neat that we kept dead people in our upstairs and I told all the kids in my kindergarten class about them.

In another part of the house, my father had mounted the head and horns of a deer over the doorway. Unfortunately it was between me and the bathroom. I just knew that the deer wasn't really dead, but just marking time on our wall, and that it might come back to life just as I walked under it. After I had peed my pants a couple of times, someone figured out that I was afraid of the deer and took it down.

Many years later, when I was a young bride, the news came that my father had died. I went to his house, my grandmother's house where I had grown up and before anyone else arrived, I checked the apartment upstairs, just in case.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Hispanic Barbie

In the previous post, you might have noticed the picture of the pretty salsa that I served on Cinco de Mayo. Behind the salsa in the photo is something I bring out of the closet once a year, but has come to mean a great deal to me. I call her "Hispanic Barbie," but she is actually a barbie head and arms atop a styrofoam tortilla warmer that is covered in ruffles and lace to form the senorita's dress. She was a gift several years ago from the wife of one of our employees who knew for my love of Mexican food. I was speechless when I was presented with Hispanic Barbie. What the heck was I going to do with it? It vaguely reminded me of the doll heads with crocheted dresses that were intended to cover a spare roll of TP and sit on the toilet tank at Grandma's house. Although I can't recall the woman's name, I do remember the sparkle in her eye when she gave it to me, the "jefe's senora"(boss's wife). I thanked her in my pathetic college spanish and resolved to find a way to display the gift.

If you've been to my home, you might have noticed that I like to decorate the dining table for the appropriate season/holiday, etc. My daughters will tell you that "like" is an understatement and that my fascination with it borders on eccentric. Heh. I own tablecloths, placemats, napkins and rings, and centerpieces for practically any occasion. Hispanic Barbie would be a centerpiece for Cinco de Mayo! It's a great holiday to haul out my brightly colored table linens and my much loved vintage Fiestaware.

So once a year I haul out this wonderful centerpiece and remember the love with which she was given. It is a nice feeling.

Super Secret Kick Ass Salsa

I haven't often shared my salsa recipe, partly because it has developed over the years and I have never really written it down, and partly because I get lots of compliments on it and am being kind of selfish :) But I have been giving it out quite often lately and it seems that I write it down a bit differently each time, so I thought that I would post it here and then just direct people here when they ask for it. So here it is!

This salsa is pretty quick to make and it is easy to have the ingredients on hand all the time in case you have unexpected company or a really big snack attack! This and a bag of tortilla chips are also my mainstay when invited to something potluck-like and I get asked to bring it quite often. A few years back I went on a houseboat vacation with 9 of my closest friends and we made a gallon of this salsa, chopped entirely by hand because we didn't have a processor. We consumed every bit of it and could have eaten a lot more! But be forewarned, some people have not been able to recreate my salsa, probably due to the haphazard way I cook! Adjust the heat to suit yourself--I make it hotter at home but tone it down a bit when I take it somewhere. I'll also soon be posting some other recipes, one for pineapple salsa and another for Chipotle Salsa (burn your eyebrows off HOT!!!) But in the meantime, here is Twylla' s Super Secret, Kick Ass Salsa! Enjoy!!!

1 large can diced tomatoes--I like to use organic--and when you have ripe tomatoes in your garden, use them either by themselves, or added to the canned

1 small can chopped green chiles

2 or more chipotle chiles in adobo sauce (buy a can in the Mexican foods section, use what you will and store the rest in a ziploc in the fridge or freezer until next time you need them) These are dried, smoked jalepenos and give the salsa its zing and smokey flavor

1 bunch green onions, cleaned and cut into 1 inch pieces

1 bunch cilantro, stems cut off

Seasoning salt, or sea salt to taste

2t-2T sugar

Place all the above ingredients in a food processor (I like to place the fresh vegetables in first with the rest on top so that they process better) Process until you get the consistency you like.

Make sure and taste it before you take it out of the processor so you can adjust it if you want to.