Month of February: “Truly Mexican” Recipes: Carnitas and Frijoles Simples

“What happens in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it.” Gabriel Garcia Marquez

It’s not by accident that I am working from the Mexican cookbook this month. Abby spent a few Februarys over the years with her family in Isla Mujeres and the Yucatan. One year she invited me to join them and for reasons I cannot remember now, I was unable to pull it off.

Abby and I met while traveling and we had many adventures together within the US but never overseas. As far as I know, Abby traveled to Canada, Ecuador, Columbia, Jamaica, and Mexico on the Gulf and Caribbean side. I went to Mexico on the Pacific side, Canada, England, Bermuda, Scotland, Ireland, India, Belize and Puerto Rico. Looking over this list, I see that North America was our geographical common denominator.

When we first met we fantasized about traveling to Africa. At that time I remember having a crush on a physician I met in Rochester in between my visits to my hometown and back to Wisconsin. He wrote me a letter from Monrovia, Liberia where he had set up a medical clinic in the bush. Abby found that quite amusing and was plotting and planning ways we could get ourselves there. In an email from 2016 she wrote, “When I was young I saw myself as a strong woman living alone, going on grand adventures, exploring, doing research in remote places, flying airplanes, writing about my adventures. I thought you would be there too. We should have gone to Africa. Damn HIV for ruining my life!” Keep in mind this was the early 80’s she is referring to.

Looking back on all those younger years, there are regrets, no doubt, that we did not explore more on our own terms when we had the opportunity. In our last years before Abby’s death, we had tons of ideas for future trips since our children were launched and independent. These plans never came to fruition and we never will make it to Africa. But our friendship, with all its ups and downs is a rich lasting legacy, not loaded with shared passport stamps but chock full of precious meaningful memories. In the end those memories are what I will remember and hold near and dear to my heart until my last day traveling in this body on this earth.

Frijole Simples (basic beans)

Ingredients: 1 pound dried black or pinto beans, 9 cups of water, 1/2 cup chopped white onion, 3 garlic cloves peeled, 1 teaspoon fine salt.

Put all ingredients except salt in a 3-4 quart heavy pot and bring water to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 1.5 hours until beans are tender. Cooking time may take longer if beans have been sitting on grocery shelf for a long time. Add more water as needed. Stir in the salt.

Carnitas (braised and fried pork)

Ingredients: 4 pounds fatty prok shoulder cut up into 2 inch pieces, 3 cups water, 1 medium white onion, thinly sliced, 1/2 orange cut in 2 pieces, 1/4 cup pork lard or vegetable oil, 8 garlic cloves, 3 bay leaves, 1 tablespoon sweetened condensed milk, 2 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano, 2 teaspoons fine salt or 4 teaspoons of kosher salt.

Put all ingredients in a wide 6-7 quart heavy pot and bring water to boil. Don’t worry if pork is not completely covered. Bring to a boil and skim as necessary. Lower the heat and simmer vigorously, stirring occasionally until liquid has completely evaporated, about 1.5 to 2 hours. Discard the orange pieces and bay leaves. Preheat oven to 450F. Transfer the pork and fat to an ovenproof dish and brown the pork, uncovered, for 20-30 minutes. No need to stir.

Serve with corn tortillas and salsa.

Abby and family at Ek Balam, an archeological site in the Yukatan, Mexico

One Reply to “Month of February: “Truly Mexican” Recipes: Carnitas and Frijoles Simples”

  1. Hi Rebecca, I’d love to get together but it will have to wait til March. Halli had her baby a few days ago-a girl, named Ori Justice. Ori means “my light.” It apparently was a really rough labor with her getting stuck at 8 cm for so long they had to give her an epidural to calm things down. We got a blow by blow throughout the night. Anyway, we’re going down there this week for probably 2 weeks. It feels very surreal to have a grandchild and not be able to see her or hold her. They are not forthcoming with pics or facetime either but I know I’ll melt when I get to hold her. This is going to be one more lesson in patience since our daughter-in-law calls all the shots and will be a tough gatekeeper… (Meanwhile, Halli texted me a few days ago that she wasn’t sleeping but staying up to watch “the bachelor” whom she thinks is adorable.) How are you? Andy? Is his Bp still labile? Any hope you get take your trip to Florida some time soon? My dear friend Eve from Westchester just had to cancel a Caribbean trip due to a stroke a few days ago. Out of nowhere.

    This blog doesn’t need editing. (Though it may be chock full rather than chuck). I keep looking at that pic of Abbie’s family. Could you tell me who they are? Especially the woman with the long white shirt. She looks so self-contained. They all look so relaxed and happy. That’s what the sun will do, huh? I’ll call to set up a March date. Looking forward to seeing you, sweetie. Love, E

    >

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