When the leaves begin to fall my mind often goes to my friends towards the east. During my “construction years”, as I always think of them, my feet didn’t allow much grass to grow beneath them. My saga began in California, took me first to Washington state, and brought me back full circle through Arkansas, Alabama, and twice through West Virginia. Was I to describe my time on the road in written form I believe I would capitalize my adjectives, as it was the kind of experience warranting a little extra attention.
Not a lifestyle fit for everybody I’m sure. Packing up and moving at a moment’s notice. Reaclimating at each turn in the road to a new environment and new people. We referred to ourselves as snails, carrying our homes on our backs. My ex-husband was my travel companion during those years. Born in Arkansas and raised in Texas, David was built for the life. By twenty he could be found most days working on the oil rigs lining the landscape outside of Odessa. When not drilling for Texas gold he hit the rodeo circuit riding the bucking broncos or straddling or straddling an occasional bull. Looking for all intents and purposes like the Marlboro man he suited the rough and tumble life he’d chosen. Accent his physical attributes with a smooth southern drawl and an extra ounce or two of charm, and the man cut through life like a hot knife might slide through a stick of cold butter.
While in Longview, Washington, which as I said previously was to be our first stop on our journey together, we met the Cole Family. The Coles were headed up by Oscar and Teddy. A warmer group rarely graced the planet. We were absorbed into their midst as one might be sucked into a vat of melting marshmallows. The family, a tight one on the worst of days, traveled together. Three of their four children, two girls, and one boy, all grown with families of their own moved from place to place like a caravan of gypsies changing schools and locations like most people change underwear. Parties at their house were generally food oriented and always boisterous. Women usually gathered in one or the other’s kitchens, sitting around the table chatting or preparing food at the counters. Being an only child myself, it was nice to be part of a large family unit and included in the fun.
The Cole women were generously cut, as they would tell you themselves. This I would suppose could be contributed to genetics on one hand and their absolute love of food on the other. Before long Cindy, the second oldest of the daughters, and I became the best of friends. With her mass of curly red hair and abundance of freckles Cindy looked like Rebecca of Sunnybrook farm and had a way with the soil that would have made her well suited for the role. In West Virginia our homes were situated a mile down the road from one another. Ours was a three bedroom rental, while Cindy and her husband Nicky rented a farm-house large enough to accommodate the two of them, their two children and two large hunting dogs answering to the names Dumb and Dumber. Most of the crews rented while on the road. There was no point in signing up for a mortgage as odds were you wouldn’t be there long enough to put a dent in the principal. Included with their house came five acres of fertile land which they quickly put to good use. A large patch behind the barn was cordoned off for Cindy’s vegetable garden. I love to garden. Certainly I’m not going to teach any classes on the subject, but I grew a prize worthy crop of okra once (not my favorite of the vegetable clan) and made my own pumpkins one year while living in Alabama. Cindy, however, had the touch. Walking among the huge stalks you might look down inside a leaf to find a cauliflower staring back at you, or see a bunch of broccoli protruding from curly leaves.
Along with the prolific vegetables she produced, the trees on the land were heavy with apples, plums, peaches, and apricots which I spent many a day gathering in baskets to help her put up in preparation for the cold winters in the state.
Around Halloween one year the three Cole women, Teddy the matriarch of the group, Cindy, and her younger sister Melissa, asked me to attend a Halloween potluck at their church. They all drove trucks so the obvious vehicle of choice was to be my 1979 Thunderbird having the most room. The T-Bird was built the year Ford decided to make a massive vehicle out of the formerly smaller model. Long in the front, it had bench seats and plenty of extras. It was vintage at the time. A polite word for old. Perhaps I shall take to calling myself vintage. Much nicer. David spent his time off sliding in and out from beneath the engine trying to encourage it to keep on running. We had already replaced the transmission and most of its working parts but it got me from Point A to Point B so I wasn’t complaining.
We decided to all go to the luncheon as cast members of the Wizard of Oz. I was to be the witch (a little type casting). Cindy was Dorothy. Instead of Toto lurking beneath her gingham napkin in her basket she tucked one of her delicious apple pies to share at the potluck. Teddy was the scarecrow and Melissa the Tin Man.
Outside fall had swooped down on the state with a vengeance. Brilliant leaves carpeted the area with a blanket of riotous color. The trees so beautiful they took your breath away. We took the back route that day, probably more because we looked somewhat ridiculous, than to save time. The road wound through farms with rows of corn standing at attention waiting for the last harvest.
Going up a steep hill the car began to gasp. One final breath led us to the side of the road. We had passed the last farmhouse about two miles back. Not knowing what else to do, we popped the hood and looked beneath it. Why we did this, as none of us would have recognized a problem, is beyond me.
With no cell phones at that time after much debate we sat on a rock by the side of the road, Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Wicked Witch, and the Tin Man and each ate a piece of Cindy’s delicious pie. A farmer came by in a beat up old pickup truck about an hour later. With room for only two in the cab the scarecrow and I (appropriately as the bed was filled with remnants of hay) rode in the back with an enormous dog who looked at me as if I was the daily special. At the farmers house we called for a tow. Never made the party. Not sure if we didn’t have more fun where we were.
Cindy passed away six years ago from cancer at 48. I look back at my times with her like this one and smile.
I have a long recipe and a short recipe for carnitas. These are for my friend who hates to cook who asked me for the short version. They are delicious and easy to put together.
Crockpot Carnitas 4 Layer Burritos
For the Carnitas
3 1/2 lb. boneless pork shoulder
1 onion, sliced thin
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. lemon pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 orange, cut in wedges
2 containers hot chunky salsa (or less if you prefer less heat)
1/2 pkg. Lawry’s taco seasoning mix
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
Spray 6 quart slow cooker with cooking spray. Place sliced onion in bottom. Rub pork with salt, peppers, and garlic. Place fat side up on top of sliced onion. Place oranges on top of meat.
Mix together salsa and Lawry’s seasoning mix. Pour over top of meat. Cook on low for 10 hours. Shred meat with fork. Return to juice in pan. Add cilantro and mix well. Discard oranges.
1 large ripe avocado
salt and pepper
8 flour tortillas (burrito size)
2 16 oz. cans Rosarita green chile and lime refried beans
1/2 cup Mexican style cheese, shredded
Mexican Rice (arroz)*
Peel and core avocados. Mash with fork. Add salt and pepper and squeeze 1/2 lime.
Heat beans in microwavable dish for 3 mins. Sprinkle with cheese and return to microwave for 1 min. on high.
Wrap tortillas 2 at a time in paper towels. Heat for 1 min. in microwave on high.
Spread 1/8 of the beans on each tortilla to within 2″ of outside border. Top with shredded pork, rice, and avocado. Tuck in ends and roll to form burrito.
Top with salsa and sour cream if desired.
You will have meat leftover. Freeze for future use or use in tortas.
*For the rice try this link. Also, http://www.mexicoinmykitchen.com/2009/03/how-to-make-mexican-style-ricecomo.html