“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 oddly never overseas. As far as I know, Abby traveled to Ecuador, Columbia, Jamaica, Canada and Mexico on the Gulf/Caribbean side. I went to Mexico on the Pacific side, England, Bermuda, Canada, Scotland, Ireland, India, Belize and Puerto Rico. Looking over this list, I see that North America was our surprisingly boring geographical common denominator.
When we first met we fantasized about traveling to Africa. A few years later, I remember having a crush on a physician I met in between my visits to Wisconsin and back to my hometown. 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 dating 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, those damn regrets keep rearing their ugly heads. I wish we had explored much more on our own terms when we had the opportunity. In our last years before Abby’s death, we had tons of ideas for extended future trips since our children were completely launched and independent. The year Abby died we were in process of planning a Caribbean Christmas together. These plans and so many more never came to fruition and together we never will make it to Africa. But our friendship, with all its ups and downs is a rich legacy, not loaded with shared passport stamps but instead chock full of precious meaningful lasting loving 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 and who knows, maybe even beyond.
Abby and family at Ek Balam, an archeological site in the Yukatan, Mexico
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.