Hey, all. Apologies for not posting much lately. I’ve been living the stay-at-home, physical distancing life for more than a few weeks to the point where I haven’t even cared to write about politics, or anything, much. Our federal and state leaders are failures, but we’ve known this about republinuts forever. Our local leaders are doing the best they can while dealing with failed leaders above them who only want to appease their wealthy buddies and nutjob supporters. Still, I know the local leaders are trying despite those who attack and whine in order to score political points, rather than save lives. Kudos to County Judge Lina Hidalgo, especially, for leading instead of showboating.
Still, being at home means worrying about tasks that must get done–for work and for home. We need to stay healthy and survive by flattening the curve. It’s especially scary for folks I know who are immune-compromised, elderly, or uninsured. The fact that Republican leaders like Trump, Abbott, and Dan Patrick are hell-bent on putting these groups at risk is disturbing. And it’s also risky for everyone else. A few “no death” days are not enough to re-open the economy, but if the curve is starting to flatten, it means stay-at-home and mask orders actually work.
I know we’ve been told to support our restaurants and their new “to-go” business model, but, other than to pick up a few things at Kroger or Aldi’s, I’ve stayed home. The future for restaurants is dim as reports about closings and future closings increase. That said I can’t say I’ve done my part to help the restaurant situation, but things are uncertain all over, including my own livelihood and small business. So, I’ve been cooking a lot more than usual.
Yes, there have been lunches comprised of frozen pizzas and some processed meats during these last few weeks, but I’ve taken to making good meals right here at home, too. Why? Because it’s a money saver! (Sorry restaurants!) I don’t know how long this disaster will last, and Trump and his ilk have been complete assholes when it comes to saving peoples lives and even beginning simple mitigation early on. Their continued corporate giveaways continue to prop up the wealthy who aren’t going to do anything to create or save jobs. So, I’m staying home and I’m making my own meals for the foreseeable future.
I swear, it’s the spirit of my mother, Flora, that seems to overtake me every now and then. I was always good at cooking breakfasts. Whether it’s papas con huevo or chorizo con huevo, I’ve fed my siblings good breakfasts whenever called to do so, so cooking for myself isn’t anything new. But it’s happening on a daily basis, now.
There’s a good chorizo (the Cacique brand in a tube that costs $1) that Kroger sells that is hardly greasy (by Chicano household standards) and with fewer fillers than most. Or, get a big Russet potato for 68 cents, chop it up or even slice it up and then fry it in a little bit of canola oil (even better with bacon grease and Tony Chachere’s to spice it up) and the papas con huevo come out pretty damn good, too. For all those who say their first trips post-lockdown will be to Tex-Mex restaurants, why wait when you can DIY at home today! Add a pack of HEB flour tortillas or La Banderita corn tortillas and you’re set! (Salsa made from serrano peppers, tomatoes, and a bit of garlic and onion and you’re really set!). It’s great with coffee on a Saturday or Sunday morning.
During the first days of this disaster, I couldn’t find any bags of pinto beans to make at home on one of my excursions. My last trip to the HEB on North Gessner (Spring Branch) had me buying up some cans of HEB branded refried beans with jalapeño. They’re actually pretty good and they are made with lard (HEB really does know their stuff!). Kroger has the cans of Ranch Style pintos, too. Here’s a tip: Fry up some bacon and then throw the refried beans in there to make some tasty frijoles refritos with the grease and bits of bacon. Great side dish! Add some cheese in it and make some amazing bean and cheese tacos. It won’t replace making the beans yourself in an olla, like Flora did all her life, but at least you won’t go hungry for Tex-Mex.
For a few days, there seemed to be a bread shortage, too. Even the $3 per loaf kind! The Kroger’s sugar free one which I prefer was also missing, although, it’s there, now. So, I walked around looking for some flour–nothing! But there were two bags of wheat flour and packets of yeast, so, I brought them home. I was proud of myself for baking a simple, easy to make sugar-free wheat bread. It reminded me of my mom and dad making a pan loco in our fireplace (because the oven didn’t work) during those cold, winter days. Panic buying be damned, I thought! I can do this!! I did find some regular flour a couple of weeks later, too.
During Week 2, I was hit with the cooking bug again and thought about my Mom’s Mexican arroz. Fry up some white rice on a thin coating of canola oil until it browns. Add some chopped onion so it gets toasted, too. Add some salt and a can of tomato sauce, chicken broth and a bit of water and let the stuff boil, then simmer for 30 minutes or so. Then you fluff it up so it doesn’t stick and add some filler (meat!) to it. It is no longer just a side dish, but a meal! I had never tried to make it because I try to avoid complex carbs and knowing that I can make it could lead to a bodily disaster again; still, it came out pretty damn good. All those years of watching Flo in the kitchen paid off on this one.
On a Sunday, my newsfeed alerted me to a Catholic mass being livestreamed from my hometown of Crystal City. Sacred Heart Church was the one that I avoided as a kid–at least the indoctrination (Catechism) classes and all the sacraments. Still, I had a Mom who I joked prayed more than the monjitas (nuns), so, I still feel some weird connection to the church. Anyway, Sacred Heart’s priest, Father Silos, provided some extremely comforting and hopeful words at my mom’s memorial service in 2016. I knew he had something good for this Lockdown Sunday homily and so I watched it, listened, and even felt it. That dude is good!
I felt pretty good afterwards, which for someone who avoids religion (and church) religiously was a bit shocking. Suddenly, I felt the spirit of Flo envelop me. I took out the flour, the baking powder, some salt, and canola oil (sorry, no lard) and mixed up the dough and came up with a dozen homemade flour tortillas. Yes, memories of Flo and Pop did appear as I sifted the ingredients, added the hot water, kneaded the dough, and made the testales (dough balls) before rolling them out.
I hadn’t made tortillas in years. And recently, I’ve begun making corn tortillas using the Maseca Nixtamasa since they’re healthier and even better when they’re homemade. These flour ones, though, they complemented the baked chicken and frijoles refritos I made for lunch. I saved up a few tortillas to have with melted butter as a snack, too. When I made them back in the day, I’d get my Mom’s goat by telling her that mine were as good as hers only to make her begrudgingly agree as she added, “Ya te puedes casar.” (“Now, you can get married.” In other words, “Get outta my house!”)
Honestly, this current disaster we’re experiencing has revived all sorts of memories for me. Experiencing an overtaxed supply chain today is no different than growing up poor in South Texas in the 1980s. Back then, there was plenty of supply, but not enough money to buy it. But we survived it all–as a family. And I can’t forget those who are going through this today–those who have suddenly lost jobs and income. Those who work the gig economy. The musicians and fellow DJs who are suddenly livestreaming on social media with their Venmo links in full display. It’s painful and brings up memories of struggle that are both sad and happy.
When Pop’s disability check would arrive, we would stock up on flour, beans, rice, eggs, fresh bacon from the Benavides family’s store so we could save the bacon grease, lard, and ingredients to make salsa. Every now and then, we’d get a good cut of round steak to cut up and to mix into the Mexican rice or fideo my mom would make. All the stuff we bought, Flo would make it last. And one cooking session would amount to two meals, sometimes. This was especially helpful at the end of the month. I think I learned well from my Mom and Dad, except, instead of surviving poverty today, it’s about staying home to avoid crowds and avoiding COVID19. But I can’t forget those who are with nothing, and therefore, give a few bucks that I can to the Houston Food Bank. Either way, it’s about survival. And it’s still about making sure my family stays fed and healthy by physically distancing from the world as much as possible. A month in, we’re not out of the woods, no matter how much Trump and Abbott want to pretend it is from their well-secured, taxpayer-stocked cocoons. We must stay home, and if we go to the store, wear a mask and gloves.
I’ve noticed many of my social media connections doing a lot of restaurant pick-up, margaritas to-go, and I think I even saw someone picking up horchata-flavored cold brew to-go. (That’s too damn fancy! And weird!) And that’s great. The restaurants and their workers need help. And if you’re able to afford it, go for it! As for me, I’ll keep on cooking. And I’ll keep on stretching my pantry and my dollar because the future really is uncertain at all levels of society. And if it brings up some cool memories about survival that were made during an equally uncertain period in your life, then you’ve just reminded yourself that you can make it through this period, too!