The two forms in the distance grew closer, and as they neared shore, their splashing lessened. The larger of the two easily swung the little boy over his shoulders, carrying his wriggling form over his shoulder, like a hunter would a deer. The little boy hooted, struggling to get off. The young man let go, and the little one fell with a splash in the water at the pond’s edge. The woman smiled at the sight, but still she made no move. Gasping, the little boy surfaced, and when he stood, both his parents laughed out loud. He was covered in mud and grass from the bottom of the pond, and the look of indignation on his face was most comical.
His father gingerly held his hand and took him to a clear side of the pond, and together they went under, surfacing again and again until all traces of mud were gone. The little one clung to his father’s neck of his own accord, and together they came out to join the mother.
Luisa walked with her little family to their small hut a few yards away from the pond. This was land that had belonged to the Tzib family for generations, and she had never left it, preferring to stay and work the land, alongside her husband Elias. At eighteen, they were both very young, but they were happy. Surrounded by the fertile green mountains, and ensconced in their little thatch home, with their chickens and pigs, and very friendly neighbors, Luisa’s five sisters and two brothers and their wives. Luisa and Elias’ little three-year-old boy Angel completed their unit, and they were happy to sustain themselves on what they grew.
Their home was small. A hammock hung in the living space, and a small area for provisions, with a rustic table and three chairs, divided the entire home in half. The other half was their private room, marked off with a large fabric curtain. It contained a bed for Luisa and Elias, and a smaller hammock for Angel. It was a simple home, and it was perfect. Outside, the kitchen was a large fire hearth, with space enough to roast large pieces of meat when the men went hunting for deer, or armadillo, or sometimes even peccary. The thatch above it was blackened with soot, from all the smoke that rose from the meals cooked below. There were even a few hooks hanging from it, where special meats were cured and smoked for when the family got together. A small table stood next to the heart for when Luisa prepared her dishes.
It was in the kitchen that Luisa spent a lot of happy hours, making breakfast, lunch and supper. Elias worked hard in the farm, growing corn, tomatoes, watermelons, and even beans. Behind the kitchen was a cleared area where Luisa also grew her own treats, with tomatoes and beans for the house, sweet peppers, okra, cho-cho, chaya, habaneros, bird peppers and some herbs. The rest of the sprawling property had giant avocado trees, and craboo, a variety of plums, tamarind, coconuts, mangoes, star apple (caimito), bananas, plantains and closer to the ground, pineapples, ginger, cassava and more.
This evening, Luisa had plucked some fat juicy tomatoes from the vine, and with a bunch of fresh cilantro, a few shallots, a couple of hot bird peppers, she knew she had a feast on hand. With a gas lamp for brightness, she grabbed a few eggs from the kitchen, plus a bowlful of water to wash everything, and headed back outside to start her family’s supper. Angel and Elias were rinsing a bit more in the outdoor bathroom (four walls and no roof – on the other side of the hut), and she knew they would be hungry after their evening play.
She blew the smoldering coals, puffing until a small tongue of fire leapt up. She added some more firewood, building a good hot fire for the hardboiled eggs. She raked a few coals on the side, and the washed tomatoes were placed directly on them. They sizzled instantly, searing and sweetening with the heat. Luisa looked at her offerings, and knew she had to add something. Back to her garden she went, a flashlight in hand, and soon she came back with her hands full of crisp green okra. Those too were rinsed slightly, and after Luisa had lopped off their tops, were placed in a pot of water as well, and added atop the fire. After the tomatoes had sizzled some more, she plucked them deftly from the coals, and placed them on the grate to stop them from burning. Her masa (dough) waited to become soft fluffy corn tortillas, but still Luisa prepped. The pungent aroma of fresh cilantro filled the night air, mingling with the sweet scent of charred tomato skins. Shallots were diced as well, and their sweet perfume joined the cilantro’s. Cilantro and shallots met in a large bowl on the table, and they were soon joined by the tomatoes. Luisa took the eggs off the fire, and after carefully draining them, put them in the leftover cold water to cool. She could hear her husband and child laughing, and soon they came around the corner, heading straight for her as she cooked.
Elias sniffed the air, and Angel mimicked him. They were excited for dinner, and as they leaned in to see what was cooking, they smiled - their favorite. Every day was their favorite. Luisa shooed them inside, after asking her husband to clothe their child.
She began patting out the tortillas then stopped herself as she realized she forgot to put the comal (griddle) on. She blew the fire some more, trying to make it bigger, and hotter. As soon as the flames leapt up and licked at her face, she grabbed the shiny blackened comal and placed it over the fire. The griddle had been passed down to her from her sisters, as they bought new ones. She treasured its blackened surface, and it seemed that everything cooked better on it.
She removed the okra from the heat as well, and placed the pot on the table to cool. Everything but the tortillas was ready, and those soon would be too. Quickly, deftly, she patted out several rounds of masa, and they hit the comal with a satisfying sizzle. She flipped them as soon as she saw some steam start to rise from them, just like her mother had taught her. If she let the steam continue to evaporate, her tortillas would be hard and tough. Soon, they rose up like plump little pillows, not even needing her to press on them like she sometimes had to. She smiled with satisfaction, pleased with those little round delicacies. Dinner would be good.
As the pile of hot steaming tortillas grew on a towel lined platter, she checked the tomatoes in the large bowl. They had cooled sufficiently, and would be ready for her soon. With a large pile of tortillas ready for consumption, she placed the hot bird peppers on the comal to roast as well. Rinsing her hands in the water that the eggs had been cooling in, she then turned her attention to the tomatoes. Using her hands, she squeezed the sweetened roasted tomatoes, juicing them directly into the bowl, and mixing it with the cilantro. A delightful soup formed, and into that soup, she added some of the hot okra. Using the back of a spoon, she smashed the okra slightly, popping them to mix in with the tomato, cilantro and shallot mixture. She sprinkled some salt, and added a quick squeeze of fresh lime juice to it. She tasted and adjusted, until it was just right. She took the bird peppers off the comal by their stems, and wrapped them in a hot tortilla, saving it for her and her husband.
Luisa then peeled the hardboiled eggs, dropping them into the bowl of delicious soup she had created. She rinsed again, and walked in with the soup to where the boys sat at the table, bathed in lamplight, and smiling eagerly for their meal. Angel’s eyes grew round as he saw the eggs, and he clapped his hands with glee. Elias simply smiled, dishing out a plateful of dinner for his son. Luisa returned with the platter of tortillas, having raked the coals and turned off the flames.
The little family of three then sat down, and feasted on their simple meal. The sweet tomatoes and shallots mingled well with the verdant okra and cilantro, scooped up in a hot tortilla, with the savory broth warming their insides for the night ahead. For added heat, Luisa and Elias dropped a pepper each onto their plate, and along with a hardboiled egg for protein, they were soon full and sated.
After dinner all three of them sat in the hammock, singing and playing with Angel, swinging slowly, until soon, his head drooped, and it was time for his own hammock.
The couple closed their door and windows, after they had rinsed their dishes, and they too, turned in to bed shortly after. The night cooled, and so they held each other through the night. They awoke as they had slept, ready to face the new day.
Recipe: Serves 4
4 large tomatoes (heirloom or beefsteak are excellent), 1lb okra, 4 eggs, sprig of cilantro, two shallots, lime and salt to taste
Wrap each tomato in foil (to avoid stains), and place on a hot griddle. Turn tomatoes and let sear all over. If you have a fire hearth – sear tomatoes on coals (but you probably don’t need me to tell you how to cook this delicious meal if you have your own fire hearth!)
Cook eggs. Use your preferred method, or follow this trick: cover eggs with cold water and bring to a boil – remove from heat and let sit for 15 minutes. Remove from hot water and place in cold water to cool down enough for peeling.
Wash okra then remove the tops. Cook okra in slightly salted boiling water, till they split slightly. Okra can be removed immediately from the water and placed in a large bowl.
By now the tomatoes will be seared and ready, so remove foil with tongs or two forks, and drop tomatoes in bowl along with the okra. Using a potato masher or large fork, smash the tomatoes and okra, then add lime and salt to taste. The soup will be thick and hearty.
Chop shallots and cilantro then add them to tomato-okra mixture. For heat, roast an habanero using the same method as for the tomatoes, and always handle with care, especially when removing foil from the hot peppers. (Peel away from face!!) Place habanero in a small dish and let the brave add to taste in their own dishes.
Ladle the soup into four separate bowls, add an egg, and serve with hot tortillas (corn or flour).
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