My mother is selling her bed. It’s an adjustable bed with a massage setting. Since her husband passed away the huge expanse of mattress is too much for one small individual so she wants to downsize to a full. I ran an ad for her on-line. During my last visit I took pictures of both the bed and the controls. Being the one who usually handles these things, I listed my cell phone as a reference number. As these beds are really pricey if purchased new, we got a huge response from the ad. I now have ten people on the waiting list and my voice mail keeps filling up. I removed the ad after the fifth call figuring one of the five would take it, but people who jotted down the number when it was first published are still following up. The last call in was from a gentleman who spoke very little English. I explained slowly there were people in front of him waiting to see the bed but he kept yelling excitedly, “I come now!”. Sigh. Finally, cremating my first batch of caramelized onions trying to explain, I said I was sorry but I had to hang up. Normally I’m not a rude person, or try not to be. This reminded me of people who would call the house when my children were little. Our housekeeper, Carmen, hailed from Guatemala and spoke little English. “Hello, thank you, and our names”, were all I ever heard her actually say in English. Secretly, I believed she understood far more and probably spoke much more, but this was her repertoire when we were present.
My mother is not, nor never will be a linguist. Besides bastardizing Spanish beyond recognition, no matter how many times I explained to her Carmen did not understand a word she was saying in English no matter what speed she chose to say it, Mother would continue to speak ever so slowly into the phone if Carmen answered leaving a detailed message. Always the message was passed on to me as “Su madre llamó por teléfono“, or loosely translated, “your mother called”.
Every Friday night we drove Carmen to the bus station. Saturday and Sunday’s were spent with her son and his family in L.A. I used to admire the bravery this took on her part with no command of the language, but somehow she and her little duffel bag with the bright pink and yellow flowers returned to us in tact every Sunday night for three years. At first it was odd having someone else living in our house, more so for the fact we couldn’t communicate. I found my high school Spanish sadly lacking, as “Yo voy a la biblioteca”, or “I am going to the library”, really had little impact when I was trying to explain how the burners on the stove worked.
Once we climbed the first hurdle, communication, cohabiting came much easier. It was interesting to learn about her life in Guatemala, certainly not an easy one, and her escape with her young son to the States. From what I could glean her husband was in the military police. Not a man of much humor, it seemed, and prone to spending many hours at the local “barra”. Spurned on by cerveza, he often came home and took his frustrations out on his wife and child. Carmen explained there were holes for windows in her small house but no glass. Floors were raked dirt with small rugs thrown on top. Clothing was washed out in a large metal tub and hung on a makeshift line to dry. With no way to keep them out, flies would buzz around her head while she cooked over the small stove. Flies or not, she was an excellent cook. Beans, or a pot of bits of this and bits of that which would become beans, were always cooking on the back burner in our house. My daughter remembers them fondly. Homemade tortillas were created on a small round grill, the best I’ve ever eaten.
Often she would try what I cooked. It was fun to watch her face as new flavors were introduced to her taste buds, sometimes well received, other times not so much. Her cooking was far afield from what you might find in a Mexican restaurant here. Black beans, not pintos and a delicious savory rice with vegetables. Yum. One she asked me if I could get yucca. Didn’t think so, as I believe harvesting yucca in California is illegal. In fact, I know from first hand experience, it is. When in high school my friends and I “harvested” one from a state park. The only way we could fit it in the back seat of my VW bug was to hang part of it out the window. Exiting the park we were pulled over and our contraband confiscated by a park ranger. In my defense, I did not know taking a yucca was an offense, and fortunately this guy was on his third cup of coffee and didn’t fine me. My track record with my parents for serious offenses was already teetering on the brink.
Often I wonder where Carmen is now and hope she’s doing well. During her stay with us I learned to appreciate how fortunate we are to live where we do and to try different foods cooked in different ways and not always settle for what is familiar. I find it interesting to explore new foods and new people. Since meeting my other half, I’ve definitely expanded my food choices. Being from Egypt, he definitely has different ideas about food preparation and ingredients than this Canadian.
Anyhow, I’ll leave you with this totally “white bread”, as he calls it, dish. It is full of cheese and gooey potatoes and terrible for your waist line. I even eat these the next day for breakfast. Cya soon.
Bleu Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes
3 large russet potatoes, scrubbed and sliced very thin
2 onions sliced very thin
2 cups half and half
1/8 tsp. prepared mustard
1 cup crumbled bleu cheese
1 cup mozzarella cheese, grated
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup asiago cheese, grated
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Heat oil in large heavy skillet over med.-high heat. Add sliced onions and cook about 5-6 mins. until beginning to brown. Reduce heat and continue cooking 12 mins. until lovely golden brown color. Set aside.
Whisk together half and half and dry mustard.
Place sliced potatoes in bottom of deep saucepan. Pour half and half over the top. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
Spray 2 quart shallow baking dish with cooking spray. Place 1/3 of the potatoes on the bottom of the pan using slotted spoon. Reserve half and half in pan. Top potatoes with 1/2 of the caramelized onions. Sprinkle with 1/3 of the bleu cheese and 1/3 of the mozzarella cheese. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Add another layer of 1/3 potatoes, 1/3 onions, and 1/3 bleu and mozzarella cheeses. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Top with last layer of potatoes and finally last 1/3 of bleu and mozzarella cheeses. Pour reserved half and half over all. Top with asiago cheese. Sprinkle lightly with paprika. Cover with tin foil.