November 8, 2018
It’s no accident, our vacations are food and wine centered.
My first and fondest cooking experiences can be attributed to helping Mi Mama in the kitchen at age 5 or 6. She taught me how to feel comfortable in the kitchen at an early age; teaching me all the safety rules and long list of basics; I knew how to make scrambled eggs, warm up beans, warm up hand made flour tortillas, (she had lovingly made), how to make hotdogs and warm up soup, by age 6. And if all else failed I knew how to make cinnamon toast and hot chocolate. Shortly after my repertoire expanded to french toast, easy pasta or simple dishes like fried potatoes with hamburger meat and how to bake or fry a chicken. Fried chicken was a favorite of ours with her buttermilk recipe, accompanied with mashed potatoes or tons of French fries I had to cut. She also taught me how to cut up a chicken (an essential kitchen skill). Since chicken was cheaper if bought whole. I recall watching Mi Mama make fideo (Mexican vermicelli). I wanted to please her and thought I will make fideo for her and my siblings, by the time she returns home from the fields. I remember my first attempt was a mushy mess. I knew I had done something wrong, I just wasn’t quite sure what. Once Mi Mama arrived home from a hard day of laboring “in the fields.” She was thrilled I had made the attempt. And, proceeded to explain that I had not allowed the fideo to fry in the oil first. After that, we had fideo often. All through my youth I cooked for my siblings.Through all of my cooking experiences and growing up in the San Joaquin Valley…..I was taught a very important lesson; to respect what Mother Earth “birthed” and be Grateful to the land for the food it provided us.But, it’s much more than that it has to do with the connection to the land my ancestors worked with their hands.
I also recall whenever my college Amigos wanted homemade cooking they would seek me out to cook for them; chile verde, menudo, pozole, tacos, enchiladas, steak a la chicana, and even goat heads on one occasion, etc. I had no idea how to cook them, but a quick call to Mi Mama remedied that situation. I did a dry rub on them and tossed them in the oven. They did not have a lot of meat, but we chugged them down with beer. Interesting how we were poor struggling students, but always managed to gather enough money for a case of cheap beer!! I enjoyed it and these gatherings turned into “pachangas.” It worked for everyone, as a struggling college student; they purchased the food, I cooked and ate.
It was the mid 90’s I can recall an early experience with Patricia Ballard at Sycamore Farms in Paso Robles. It was so long ago I forget the menu, but I recall she taught us how to make several appetizers and pate.
In Cortona we took a cooking class with my cousins Henry and Judy Garza (it was so much fun) which explored Tuscan cuisine; preparing a ragú, homemade pasta and tiramisu with Alessandra Federico’s Cucina Cooking School.
Another unstated element of these intimate cooking classes (usually 6 persons)is the people you meet. Inevitably you bond with most people you eat and drink wine.
In Cabo San Jose, Chef Gabriel at Huerta Los Tamarindo’s shared their organic farm and restaurant with a beautiful outside kitchen terrace built in stone walls and wooden ceilings. We strolled the gardens and picked what we would be cooking and eating.
In Cabo San Lucas Donna taught us how to make molé negro (the créme de la créme) of all molés, with over 30 ingredients, at Casa de Colores.
We had not been to Europe for 10 years. Most currently, November, we just returned from Europe. With two enriching cooking experiences at Taste Algarve Cooking School in Portugal. Where we learned how to make Octopus Cataplana and two other dishes. (See pictures). We met several couples, one lovely couple we cooked next to was Julian and Nina Verklas. Secondly, we experienced an authentic meal with Milagros and her daugther, Maria in the mountains of Andalusia, Spain. When we departed several hours later it was snowing lightly. Truly a magical experience.
I feel most comfortable and happiest in the kitchen. I enjoy feeding people, it gives me great joy. Feeding people feeds me! I feel it is my God-given gift and am so grateful to my Lord. I am filled with Thanksgiving. Can’t await where my next cooking experience will take us.
Thank you Father