CHILES THE HEART OF THE CUISINE


Red chile sauce floated into California from Mexico as on a chile river. Discovered by the Spaniards when they rode into the Valley of Mexico in 1521, they filled their pockets with seeds and dropped plants along the way through California, Arizona and New Mexico. The beloved chili came in all shapes and in all degrees of heat.

Chile heat may not be to everyone’s liking, but it is an essential ingredient in Mexican cooking. Where would our beloved enchiladas and tacos be without red chili sauce?

The smell of roasting peppers is addictive, much like he smell of roasting garlic. I roast them over an open flame before stuffing with cheese for chile relenos. The kitchen is filled with the good smell of cooking, and it says that dinner is not far away.

As Californians we understandingly eat a lot of Mexican cuisine. and their are plenty of Mexican taquerias around if you don’t want to cook. Years ago we hosted a couple of teenage boys from Kodiak, Alaska for several days. Knowing the appetites of teenage boys, I prepared a large tray of enchiladas and another of make your own tacos plus a big pot of pinto beans. They ate sparingly, and after dinner they asked to be taken to the nearest Kentucky Fried Chicken store where they purchased several dinners to bring back home. I had not taken into consideration that they had never eaten Mexican food. I guess unless you are raised in the chile river realm, a plate of good old fried chicken is the best bet; after all what’s not to like?

On my first evening in New Mexico, they asked if I liked chiles. Until that time my relationship with chiles was in a pot of beans, which I liked very much. When dinner was served I was surprised to see a large bowl of stewed chiles set before me. I remember drinking a lot of Kool-Ade to cool me down. In New Mexico large strands of chiles are strung together and hung beside the outside door to dry. You just pick one off when you need it.

It’s interesting to find the use of chilies in cooking is world wide. My friend from Jamaica grows the pretty and very hot Scotch Bonnet pepper. Asian cuisine claims other varieties of pepper, and the Middle East uses still another. Chile heat fills your nostrils, makes your eyes water, feels like your mouth is on fire. So why do we love it? Search me; I think it’s just because it’s good.

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A ONCE IN A LIFETIME GUY


I always knew that I had to write about Uncle Henry; one of those uncommon men who enter your life quietly and remind you that goodness abounds in unlikely places.

Uncle Henry married my mother’s sister, Aunt Corrine, in Saudi Arabia sometime in the 1950’s when both were working for Aramco. It was a fortunate union for both of them.

During the 1950’s I was involved with family and work, so I missed most of the good stuff as I like to call their life over there, but later, when they returned to their native soil after 30 years overseas, I caught up.

Henry Alisch was born in New Jersey to a German-American family, and whose cheerful Bavarian mother was often ill. Henry, much like his mother in personality, was her loving caregiver.

Late in the 1920’s when he finished high school, he and his best friend met a man who gave them his business card and offered them jobs in the movies if they wanted to come out to California.

Saying goodbye to family and New Jersey, they hopped a train and came to Hollywood to become movie stars. When they presented the business card to the person at the gate of the movie studio, they found that their benevolent “producer” no longer worked at the studio.

Friendless and out of cash, they quickly found jobs as bell boys at one of the hotels in downtown Beverly Hills, where they were paid 25 cents plus tips per bag to carry them up to the rooms. Both boys being good looking and personable, they amassed a small stash of extra cash.

Lindbergh had already made his flight across the ocean in the last decade, and the barnburners were on each corner offering flying lessons for $5.00 each to eager young men. Feeling brave and optimistic, Henry, or Hank as he began to be called, took a few lessons and got his pilot’s license.

The war had started in Canada, and Hank’s friend went off to join the Royal Canadian Air Force. Henry’s eyesight prevented him from joining up, but he spent four years in MATS, Military Air Transport Service, ferrying planes to Europe during the war. Being highly intelligent, he became an expert in airplane maintenance.

In 1946 the War was over and Henry saw an ad for Airplane Tech, top pay, overseas. Knowing he was qualified, and looking for new adventure, he stepped off the DC-3 and onto the hot tarmac in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia into 124 degree heat. Wishing him well as they picked up their suitcases and stepped onto the waiting airplane were two young men on their way back home.

Aramco, or American Arabian Oil Co. had a few planes, and Hank was in charge of their maintenance. Dhahran had an American community where he met a beautiful blonde secretary who had arrived in 1949. On a two year contract with Standard Oil of California; this was my Aunt Corrine.

For the next 30 years they lived an exciting life while traveling around Europe for work and pleasure. While Aramco had very few planes when Henry arrived, through the years that number greatly increased. They went often to the Rolls Royce factory in England, and to the Hague to KLM Royal Dutch Airline to check up on engines and parts for the Aramco planes.

During their travels, my Aunt, who had extraordinarily good taste, was able to collect first edition books in England, lovely Persian rugs, handmade furniture in Copenhagen, and china wherever she found it.

Children were only allowed to stay until they reached high school age, and my cousin went off to school in Cannes, France. Years later, while shopping a younger woman remarked on my gold bracelets. When I mentioned Saudi, she immediately said “Oh, Aramco!” I asked where she had gone to boarding school and she had been sent to London.

In 1953 Corrine and Henry’s son Kendall was born. Kendy was Henry’s first born child, and with Down Syndrome it was apparent that he needed help. Henry’s early skills as a caregiver kicked in and through the years he devoted much of his time lovingly trying to give Kendy a happy life. While my Aunt was frustrated much of the time, Henry never tired of taking care of Kendy before he went to live in a school in California.

Years later, after they had moved to Brookings, Oregon, Henry looked at his computer and saw a puzzling message from a long lost and nearly forgotten friend. “Hey, are you the same Hank Alisch who went out to California from New Jersey and learned to fly?” His boyhood friend had found him on the internet.

There are things a born caregiver knows that the rest of us don’t. They know if you need your pillow plumped, or a bite of out of season fruit, or whether you want to talk or just sit and stare at the empty TV. Henry Alisch knew all that, and when each of my parents became ill, they were living next door to Henry and Corrine in Brookings, Oregon, he was able to give them care which I could not while living in California. Later on, after their passing, my Aunt needed someone kind and loving to help her through the days, Henry Alisch was there. They both passed at the ages of 98 and 99. I’m glad I knew you Henry Alisch, you helped me through the pain of losing my parents and were a kind and altruistic friend.

MATY Kate’s Journal


Swirls “The Colors of Our Lives” watercolor by kayti sweetland rasmussen

As the artist, it is within our power to change the name of a piece of art whenever we choose, so the original name of this painting just got put up on the shelf.

People, as well as paintings, flowers and sunsets. bring color into our lives. Life would be a pretty dull place if that were not so.

When I was recovering from pneumonia last January, the family council decided that the old girl needed someone to look out for us. That was when Maty came into our lives, bringing the brilliant sunshine of Mexico.

We decided that I could help her with English while she polished up my Spanish. My first new word shortly after Maty came, was “escolera”, when she needed a ladder to reach the top of the bookshelves. We frequently get stuck in our own language, but she is quick to check the translator on her cell phone.

She likes to visit the Thrift stores in town and color coordinates all her clothes, including her shoes and jewelry. Along with all this, she actually sings while she works, something I never did. Perhaps that is why things are so much cleaner since Maty came. She is like a colorful hummingbird flitting around the house.

Since my leg surgery, she has become a stern taskmaster, ordering me to sit down, elevate my leg, and stop trying to help.

You can hardly live in California without eating and cooking Mexican food, and until Maty, I have always prided myself on the cooking of that culture. We have reached the stage where we are exchanging recipes as old friends do. She has taught me that most of my Mexican cooking was not the same as hers , and who am I to argue! Last week she made at least 100 tamales both chicken and vegetable. I think we need to throw a party and soon!

Maty has enhanced the colors of our lives, and we are so blessed to have her.

I’M BACK!


I’m back and please don’t tell me you didn’t know I was gone. Christmas arrived with great hope which soon disappeared into a miasma of hopelessness. For some reason, through no fault of my own obviously, pneumonia struck Christmas Eve, and put me into the hands of the good folk in the local hospital. It was a grand experience to say the least. It is very disconcerting to find that you cannot breathe. But I am home again and on the way to becoming my usual annoying self.

I found renewed appreciation and gratitude to all the medical people who kept me going during my stay in hospital. I learned that there are “travel nurses”, which I never knew of. I had heard of Doctors Without Borders who go from country to country, but these girls who sign on to be a travel nurse, sign up with a company, some of whom allows them a choice of numerous states including Hawaii and Alaska. They come for a period of 13 weeks, and there are some nurses who decide to just travel; no home base, no ties, just keep traveling and seeing the country.

The two travel nurses I had were from the East Coast, one from Upstate New York, the other from Kentucky. They are skilled in many different disciplines, and give a great sense of security.

They get a housing stipend of about $3700.00, and find their own living space, and when the 13 week contract is over, they get a nice bonus. I asked why they had chosen California, and they both said Northern California pays the most in the country.

I came home to find half the wall in my dining room filled with oxygen tanks, and a cable tether which allows me to travel all over the house. I don’t plan to stay tethered for long, but in the meantime, it’s very nice to say “I don’t want to do anything today!”

Two close friends met at our front door bearing chicken soup the day I came home. I am more grateful than I can say for all the loving care of these “visiting angels”. They gave such hope to a dear husband who at nearly 90 has never mastered the preparation of food, and finds it difficult to do even minor clean-ups! Mothers, take heed; teach your sons how to live alone and like it.

It appears we will need some help around the old place for awhile, and so a lovely young woman is coming next week to see if she likes me and if I like her.

Life should always be filled with new experiences, and we can always learn. Remember: You only have to know one thing; you can learn anything.

AND SO IT BEGINS:


EPISODE 1:

Southern California 1928 — 1938

As in every story, mine begins at the beginning.

I sit her trying to decide what was important to my life and what was negligible, and I realize it was ALL important; every stumble or achievement, as well as all the people who contributed to it.

The grandparents who influenced my life the most were Jim Black and Nellie Kendall. Jim was a high school track star who came down from Montreal, Canada to compete in Nellie’s high school in New Hampshire. They married the day she graduated, and moved to California with their two little girls in the early 1900″s.

Young, and with no money but with the pipe dreams often associated with youth, Grandma made a bee line to Beverly Hills, where she rented a large home next door to Harold Lloyd, an early comic movie star with large horn-rimmed glasses and an acrobatic bent.

The next problem to come up was how to pay for all this posh lifestyle, so she did the only thing she felt she was good at; she rented out rooms and made hats for society ladies at premium prices. I don’t know how the celebrity neighbors felt about all this, but they didn’t live there long before they moved on to another rented house in Los Angeles, bringing their paying guests with them.

Grandma could be an overwhelming presence and she overwhelmed Jim and soon divorced him, leaving her to weather the storms of single motherhood, and Jim to love her forever after.

Nellie was an excellent seamstress and an excellent cook, the only skills she had learned as a daughter of privilege, and instead of merely renting our spare bedrooms, she elevated her paying guests to boarders.

The money Nellie made often didn’t stretch far enough, so my mother and aunt made sure the boarders ate while Nellie went out and got whatever job she could as waitress or hostess at hotel or restaurant. This was an additional skill she had, since she had often waited tables in the large resort her father owned in New Hampshire.

Plump and pretty, accompanied by a sense of humor, grandma was a magnet for the boys, and loved dancing and parties, though she allowed no drinking or smoking. No one ever dared do either in any house she lived in. She was married four times, and her last husband did both, so it was incredible to see her happily sitting at his feet with his pipe smoke drifting in swirls over her head. She had married him at the age of 76 saying she would marry “the devil himself if it would keep her from being a burden” to my mother. I guess there’s a reason behind every rhyme.

Though the two sisters were always close, Grandma and Georgia were opposite in every way. Auntie was taller and lean, and quite plain. Both Yankees, Georgia typified the usual definition of a strait-laced New Englander, though she possessed a wry sense of humor.
Auntie taught me that “Lips which touch a cigaroote shall never park beneath my snoot.” And that “Whistling girls and cackling hens always come to very bad ends.”

Nellie’s closet was always bursting with pretty clothes, while my recollection of Auntie’s small closet contained one “nice” dress, one or two everyday dresses, a pair of dress shoes and her everyday shoes. It would never have occurred to her to want more, though by my childhood evaluation, they were the “wealthy” part of the family. Later, after the Great Depression had begun to take its toll of every family, I remember asking my grandma if we were poor. She assured me that rather than “poor”, we were broke. We were broke for a very long time.

Nellie’s sister Georgia had chosen to go to normal school and became a teacher before she married Uncle Phil and moved to California. I mention this because Auntie was one of the great influences on my life and whose home sheltered me more times than I can remember.

A MILD SHAKEUP


Charlie Fireplace

Charlie is a brave soul who shies away from stepping into the Pacific Ocean, and lives comfortably with the various wildlife sharing our garden. Though he was bred to destroy rattus norvegicus wherever they lived, he insists that our garden variety rat is a potential friend, and only gives them a bark or two.

However, the sudden action of an earthquake sends him into paroxysms of angry terror as it did in the early hours of the morning today. We were all nestled comfortably in and on our bed when the house shook and crashed. Dr. A slept soundly until Charlie announced the event, and then sleepily groaned “Naw, that wasn’t an earthquake.” The morning news showed it was a 4.0 quake right beneath us, though with no visible damage. Some so-called experts say that animals show nervousness when a quake is on the way, but that has never been the case with our animals. They simply take them as they come.

We in California are used to the earth shaking now and then, and even sometimes wonder if it will give us a bit of excitement when the weather remains warmer than usual. They predict that sometime in the near future, the San Francisco Bay Area will experience what they call the “Big One”. Since we have about as much control over the weather as we have over the fury of a terrified Jack Russell Terrier, we may as well go back to sleep.

AMAZING GRAZING~~~~Chicken and Pea Enchiladas


Jardins2

This time of year we sweep the patio, bring out a few more tables, make sure the outdoor lights work, drag a few more umbrellas out of the shed, polish up the bar and hope it doesn’t rain. I think Spring is finally here. With all the warm weather we’ve been having, who can tell? We have lost a few plants during this weird weather, and Dr. A is playing catch-up with them trying to replace.

The last big party we had was the 65th Anniversary. I must admit it becomes harder and harder to cook for a crowd as we age, but the good intentions remain and since we still like good food, I make smaller amounts. I refuse to see a good recipe and not try to cook it.

Mexican food is always top of my party list for a crowd. It’s easy, you can make it early and put it in the freezer, most people like it, and after all, it’s California! Trays of enchiladas, a big pot of beans, rice, and a really big salad are all you need. Sometimes I will do a tray or two of baked chilis relleno as well. Normally, I fry the chilis, but for a crowd you can coat them with bread crumbs and bake them. A pitcher of Margaritas or Sangria and a tub of ice with cold beer and soft drinks for the kids make it a party. Dr. Advice loves my carrot cake so there is dessert, and it too can be put into the freezer to wait for the big occasion. This cake has chopped macadamia nuts, coconut and pineapple in it and trust me, it will knock your socks off. I made three large cakes for our 65th anniversary when there were 65 people.

I am a great fan of freezers, and there are very few things you can’t store in the freezer—one friend of mine always answered her husband’s query of “What’s for dinner?” by saying “Whatever falls out of the freezer.”

chicken & pea enchiladas

A big thank you to chef Josef Centeno and his great-grandmother Ama for whom he named his restaurant, Bar Ama, in Los Angeles.

Don’t wrinkle your noses and decide you would hate the mashed peas in this recipe. Josef Centeno’s great-grandmother knew what she was talking about. I made it and gave it a gold star.

CHICKEN AND PEA ENCHILADAS

1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breasts, roasted and shredded (I used a rotisserie chicken)
Heat 2 Tbs. oil in saute pan over medium heat. Saute 1 large carrot, diced small
1/4 med. onion diced small, and 1 med. potato peeled and finely diced, till fork tender. Stir in 2 minced garlic and cook abut 2 min. Turn off heat and stir in 2 Tbs. chopped cilantro, juice from 1 lime and salt to taste. Set aside. In a small pot of boiling water, blanch 1 1/2 cups frozen peas 2-3 min. Transfer immediately to colander and run cold water over to stop cooking. drain well and pat dry. Using a potato masher or fork, lightly crush peas. Stir in 20 chopped mint leaves, shredded chicken and 1/2 cup crumbled queso fresco. Salt and pepper to taste.
Gently warm 1/4 cup oil and dip a corn tortilla and cook until puffy. Repeat with 8-10 tortillas.
Assemble enchiladas: Spoon 1-2 Tbs. chicken-pea filling down center of each tortilla. Roll tortillas up around filling to form tight cigars, then transfer enchiladas to a serving platter and top with sauteed carrots, onions and potatoes. Top with garnish of chopped cilantro and 1/2 small red onion finely diced, and more queso fresco. Serve with sour cream on side.

You can make however many you need of this recipe. I found that this amount served 8-10.