Thursday, August 27, 2009

Farmer Squirrel's Orchard

Do squirrels have green thumbs? The one that lives in the tree behind my house does. I can hear him humming 'We are sowing, daily sowing' through the open window on nice autumn evenings, and in the spring and through the following summer, I see the evidence of his busy agricultural pursuits.

That evidence is filbert seedlings. Tiny hazlenut trees. This critter travels half a block down the alley to the nearest filbert tree and brings home nuts to plant in my flower pots.

Now, I want to tell you that I have tried to sprout at least a dozen avacado pits--you know, stick it with toothpicks and suspend it half in, half out of a glass full of water.

All I got for all that effort was one spindly, anemic plant that I finally put out of its misery. Death by garbage disposal.

Another time, I tried to sprout a coconut. I had a friend who had a wonderful palm growing in her living room. I coveted that palm and even contemplated buying one until I asked how much it cost. I bought a coconut instead, intent on doing what my friend had done: grow my own.

She said I should find one where the eyes were bulging, plant it half in/half out of damp potting soil, put it in a sunny place, and keep it moist.

I got the bulgiest eyed coconut I could, planted it, and dutifully watered it for months. When I finally gave up, it was too big to put down the disposal, so I threw it in the garbage and forgot about it...until I started pulling these little 'weeds' out of my flower pots and found, stuck on a root, a split-apart filbert.

Where did these come from? I finally figured it out one day when I was going into a well-landscaped building and saw a squirrel on the lawn, holding a filbert in his mouth and digging a hole. Sitting close by, by the way, was a crow, salivating as he waited for the squirrel to leave.

Do you think, if I were to plant a dozen filbert nuts in the fall I'd get a dozen seedlings the next spring? Not a chance. But this little squirrel has an amazing success rate. It makes me smile every time I find a seedling, and I give them away when I can talk someone into adopting a 'volunteer' nut tree.

I've left one growing in the pot because I don't want to discourage my little farmer. And besides, it lifts my spirits each time I find a new filbert sprout.

If I still had the farm and enough years left in my life, I'd devote a plot of land to Farmer Squirrel's seedlings and see how big the orchard would get. I might even have him help me with my next try at an avocado pit. Or, maybe I'll leave a coconut lying out in the yard. One with bulgy eyes.
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Friday, August 21, 2009

New Mexico Style Enchiladas

Are there any Lyle Lovett fans out there? In his evocative song "This Old Porch" he sings:

This old porch is like a steamin', greasy plate of enchiladas

With lots of cheese and onions

and every time I hear him sing it I think, he may be a Texan, but he's singing about New Mexico style enchiladas.

I was born in south central New Mexico in a small town hunkered along side the Rio Grande. Though my family traveled around, we still ate lots of Mexican food. I remember, living in Alaska in the 1950's, there weren't many hispanics, so grocery stores didn't carry fresh tortillas. However, Old El Paso vacuum packed corn tortillas in cans, and mother found a grocery store that carried them so we wouldn't suffer from enchilada and taco withdrawal.

I was outraged when I moved to Arizona at age 15 and ate enchiladas at a church pot luck. These weren't enchiladas! They were rolled up like a cigar. And they had meat in them! Didn't people realize that real enchiladas were flat and stacked up?

Well, I finally learned to go with the flow, but I lost my taste for enchiladas, especially when people quit frying the tortilla before rolling it up. It wasn't 'steamin' greasy' any more.

So, here's my promised posting on how to make New Mexico style enchiladas. They're great for vegetarians because there's no meat.

You're going to need:

Grated cheese--I use longhorn or medium cheddar or Costco's Mexican blend

Chopped onions

Canned enchilada sauce (red chili)

Corn tortillas (2 or 3 per person)

Chopped lettuce

Eggs to fry (1 or 2 per person)

I'm going to tell you how I used to do it and how I now cook a healthy alternative.

In a saucepan or skillet (bigger in diameter than your tortillas) heat a can of enchilada sauce.

Used to
: In another small skillet, put about an inch of oil in the bottom and heat to medium-high frying temperature. Drop in a tortilla and let it fry just a moment. You don't want it to be crisp. Remove from the grease with a slotted spatula and drop in the saucepan of chili sauce.

Healthier: Heat a griddle to medium high. Spray with Pam and put a tortilla down on the griddle. Spray the tortilla with pam, and when it just starts to bubble, turn it over for a moment and then lift it up and put it in the chili sauce.

Take the tortilla out of the sauce and put it on the plate. Sprinkle it liberally with cheese and onions and repeat with another identical layer of tortilla, cheese and onions.

Put the plate in an oven set at 250 to 300 degrees, and make the next enchilada. (You can build them on cookie sheets, too, and move them over to plates when you're ready to serve.)

When all the enchiladas are built, fry the eggs. Light eaters will have one, heavy eaters will have two. I cook them on my cast-iron griddles that have been sprayed with Pam. If you cook them on medium to low heat, they'll turn out nicely.

By now, the cheese on the enchiladas should be melted.

When the eggs are done, put them on top of the enchiladas and cover them with enchilada sauce--you'll probably use about 1/4 cup for each.

Put chopped lettuce around the enchiladas and serve immediately.

Here's a variation on this recipe--Liz-Mex Enchiladas:

I like salsa better than chili sauce, so I make the enchilada the same way, only I put salsa, cheese and onions on top of each layer and put chopped avocados and sour cream on top of the egg.

So now, I've kept my enchilada promise. Stick around, because I'll do sopapillas soon. And I might even blog about how to make your own flour tortillas.

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Friday, August 14, 2009

A Reason to be True

When I was a child, David O. McKay was president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormon church, my church. He had a kindly face and a mane of white hair and was a benevolent presence in my life. I remember a poem he used to quote--well, I don't really remember the whole poem, but I can quote a couple lines:

You ought to be true for the sake of those
Who think you are true

Or words to that effect.

I thought of this poem often as I learned the job of parenting. I found one of the easiest ways to institute some good routine in the home was to teach the children that this was the right thing to do. For instance, every Monday evening, Mormon households around the world have what is called Family Home Evening. It's a wonderfu concept. The family meets to play games or have family council or listen to a lesson on honesty or sharing or some other character-building principle.

A great concept--in theory, but hard to carry out week after week. After week. After week. There were lots of Mondays that I felt I just couldn't do Family Home Evening. Life was complicated and Monday was here too soon, and just this once, what would it hurt if we didn't have Family Home Evening?

Whenever I wavered, the kids would set me straight right away. They felt Family Home Evening was important. It was where we were supposed to be on Monday evening. Because I had taught them this and they believed me, I'd sigh and carry on, being true because they thought I was true.

Literature is replete with stories of people who have been redeemed by the process of someone believing they were better than they were, though I can't think of a one right now. Let's see...what about "On the Waterfront"? Marlon Brando's character did the right thing because the people he looked up to believed he would, or at least could.

And on the opposite side of the coin, I don't think there's anything so devistating as to find that someone you look up to talks one way but lives another. Think of a Sunday school teacher caught in an adultrous relationship or a coach arrested for driving under the influence. The damage these acts do ripples out far beyond the immediate family. It happened to me once or twice as a young person, and though I've grown more realistic as I've matured, it still hurts when someone I believe in turns out to be false in ways I thought they were true.

What about it? Can any of you jog my memory about another story in literature where someone is redeemed because someone else believed in his better self?

Or, better yet, does anyone remember David O. McKay's poem. Can you quote it and tell us who wrote it?

This is a post script: One of my readers, Shea, posted the poem in the comments section. It's an Edgar A. Guest poem, and it goes like this:

You ought to be true for the sake of the folks who think you are true.
You never should stoop to a deed that your folks think you would not do.
If you are false to yourself, be the blemish but small, you have injured your folks;
You have been false to them all.

I might have got the line length wrong, but the words are as I remembered them.
Thank, you, Shea.


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Thursday, August 6, 2009

How to Make a Green Chili Burrito

Sometimes, what I blog about depends on what we’re having for supper that night. Tonight it was green chili burritos, so I thought I’d post about how I make them.

I was born and spent many of my growing-up years in southern New Mexico, but I never ate a burrito until I went to college in Arizona. Where I came from, flour tortillas were used to scoop frijoles from the plate to your mouth.

As I said, I learned about burritos in Arizona. There was a little hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant not too far from ASC campus (now NAU in Flagstaff) that served them, only they were called burros. They were hand-held food, not huge knife-and-fork creations like I saw later in California, and they weren’t dolled up on the outside with guacamole or sour cream. They were more like what Taco Time now styles as a ‘soft taco’. (And don’t get me started on that! Growing up in New Mexico, a soft taco was a corn tortilla fried so it was soft, not crispy.)

Okay. Back to green chili burritos. Here’s my process:

Get a cheap roast and put it in the oven at 350 degrees and cook it until it’s done. Say, 25 minutes to the pound. A four-pound roast you'd cook just under 2 hours. Roast it uncovered so that, when it’s done, you’ll have some nice brown drippings in the bottom of the pan and your roast will be brown, too. Tonight I used a beef roast, but it’s even better with pork.

Set the meat aside to cool and put water in the roasting pan to dissolve the brown stuff sticking to the bottom of the pan. This is what makes your burritos good. I usually cook the meat the day before, or I use leftover roast and gravy from another meal.

When the meat is cool, cut it into ½ to 1-inch cubes.

Put them in a pot, add the drippings and extra water until the meat is even with the water. Add a can of chopped green chili for each 3 cups of meat. Salt to taste, and simmer until meat is nice and tender and the liquid is about half gone.

Remove meat from the broth, and thicken the liquid with cornstarch (probably about ¼ cup) dissolved in ½ cup water. When the gravy is thick, add the meat back in, and you’ve got green chili burrito guts!

Heat a tortilla on a griddle. Take it off, put it on a plate, and add shredded cheddar cheese, onions, salsa and sour cream. (Notice the ziplock bag of sour cream by the plate. I cut a tiny hole in one corner and use it to pipe the sour cream on. It avoids the mess of trying to get it off the spoon. If I don't use it all, I just stick the baggie in a plastic container and keep it in the fridge until I need it again.)

When you're putting your burrito together, be careful not to use too much of any ingredient. You don’t want a blow-out. Fold it like you’d swaddle a baby in a receiving blanket: first the bottom comes up, then one side folds over, and then the other. You eat it from the open top.

Whenever I go away on a book tour or to teach a workshop, I always leave a pot of burrito guts and a package of tortillas, and my husband survives very happily until I get home.

I always buy mild green chilis, but you can use hotter salsa if you like more zing.
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Saturday, August 1, 2009


I found this picture while looking for something else today, so thought I’d share it with you. It’s a picture of my mother and my grandmother, on their way to Hot Springs, New Mexico from Seligman, Arizona in about 1934. The saddle and bedroll belonged to my Uncle Curtis, who was traveling with them on this trip.

Uncle Curtis is the cowboy whose life I shadowed in my most recent book, Counting the Cost. If you check out the book cover on the left hand side of this blog, his picture is on the front, along with a picture of the woman he married.

I remembered this picture of my mother and grandmother when I wrote the passage below:

Shadow rode in just as Heck was tying up his bedroll. He dismounted and stood holding his horse’s reins as Heck carried the bedroll out to the car and tossed it atop the things in the rumble seat. It stuck up above the roof of the car, even when Heck cinched it down as tight as he could.

Ruth called to him from the car, where she still sat with her head resting against the doorpost. He leaned in closely, since her voice was so faint. “What’s in the rumble seat?” she asked.

“That’s my bedroll,” he said.

“Tom Mix just uses one blanket. I’ve seen him in the movies.”

Heck smiled tenderly, glad that she was feeling well enough to tease him. “The ground’s a lot softer in the movies."

Heck stuck his saddle blanket, bridle, and spurs behind the seat and stood looking at his saddle. There was no room, but without his own saddle, he was unemployed. So, he threw it across the hood of the car and tied it down with a short piece of rope. He took the quirt that was hanging on his saddle horn and approached his young friend. “Evening, Shadow. I’m pulling out now.” He nodded toward the car. “Miz Reynolds is going with me. I think she’s feeling too bad to say goodbye.” He offered the quirt to Shadow. “I made this the other week. I’d like you to have it. I sure enjoyed working with you. I know you’re going to be a mighty fine cowboy.”

Shadow’s eyes went from Heck to the car, where the battered face showed through the windshield. He swallowed. “Thanks, Heck.” He had to make a second try, because the words didn’t come out right the first time.

“I’d be obliged if you’d take Spook to Mike. Tell him I want him to have ‘im.”

“All right, Heck.”

Heck reached in his pocket for the sugar and walked to the corral. Spook trotted up and took the sweet morsel from his hand. Heck said softly, “You treat Mike right, you hear? I’m sure gonna miss you. Never been a pony like Ol’ Spook. Goodbye, old fella.” He patted Spook on the neck and turned away, feeling all of a sudden very weary.

Shadow watched as Heck got in the car and swung it around, waving to him as he went past. But, he couldn’t wave back. He just stood there, holding the quirt in both hands as he watched his hero drive away with someone else’s wife.


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