My day began with a chocolate memory that made me smile; and as I reminisced, I felt overwhelmed with gratitude for the years of a special friendship…
For about a decade, during the late 1990s and early 2000s, we spent a lot of time with Ken and Loretta. Their three bedroom home was on the third floor of a condo, maybe 30 meters from the sea. A bank of floor-to-ceiling glass windows ran along the front of the unit, and from about 2 o’clock onwards, wind gusts would rattle them with such force; I wondered how they didn’t shatter. But the eerie howling going on outside didn’t faze Ken and Loretta; not even when a worrisome pinging would start bouncing off the stressed panels.
Always, when the four of us were together, we listened to music, all kinds of music, played at high volume in order to compensate for the gale raging around us. Art they picked up on their travels, popped out from a bright orange accent wall, rattan chairs that Loretta made comfortable with pillows, a towering statue of a giraffe and tidy piles of books made their seaside apartment look like an artist’s studio. The aroma of Loretta’s fabulous food cooking on the stove, and the mellowing affect of Ken’s signature margaritas, melted away any cares I might have brought with me. We probably spent hundreds of afternoons together, and the memory of their home’s sounds, sights and smells wraps comfort around me, like a Mexican rebozo.
Loretta was always a stimulating conversationalist, and Ken, an unparalleled listener. Jorge and I never knew what the focus of our repartee would be, but without fail, it proved to be just what we wanted to talk about that day. Our opinion on most topics was sufficiently in sync with each others’ to be friendly, and opposing enough to be lively.
And then there was Loretta’s skill in the culinary arts. Oh my, some of the most superb meals I’ve had in my life floated from her little kitchen. She had worked as a food writer and restaurant critic at a big San Francisco daily; so she knew her stuff. While living here, she wrote a cookbook about Yucatecan cuisine. The current coffee table book by David Sterling is a work of art, but for content and authenticity, Loretta’s “Yucatecan Kitchen” certainly holds its own. (BTW it is available on Amazon)
Her teacher and mentor was “Adelita”, an accomplished cook from Chicxulub, the beach community where they lived. This lovely woman came every Wednesday to cook with Loretta, and she taught my friend about more than cooking. Adelita, a Mayan grandmother, used to say: Una comida sin frijol es muy triste – A meal without beans is very sad. I asked Loretta if she knew what that implied. “Oh I do,” she said, “Adelita knew terrible hunger during several periods of her life.” Indeed Loretta understood her teacher’s soulful respect and gratitude for food.
Although Loretta and Ken eventually moved away from Yucatan, our friendship remained intact. We visited each other and have shared some of our happiest and saddest experiences with them. Ken passed away several years ago and Loretta lives in Florida now; she has become an accomplished, prize-winning ceramicist. And why you may ask did I feel the need to share this particular story today?
Since the COVID-19 virus arrived into our lives like an army of storm troopers, I think we have all turned inward; we find refuge in memories. Quite frankly, mine are all that’s keeping me sane right now. This morning on facebook, Loretta wrote that in her isolation, she is pursuing old cookbooks; she had an amazing collection of both books and file cards with favourites passed on by friends and family.
Today she posted one from “Ruth”, a southern belle who knew a decadent rich dessert recipe when she saw it. Jorge had us doubled over with laughter when he described it as a “happy ending”. Later I asked if he’s understood his double entendre. He just smiled.
Baked Fudge or Lava Cake
Preheat oven 325 F.
You will need a baking pan for a Bain Marie and 8 to 10 baking cups
Beat four eggs with 2 cups sugar. Add one cup (2 sticks) of melted butter.
Sift together 1/2 cups flour and 1/2 cup cocoa and add to egg-sugar-butter mixture.
Stir in 1 tsp. Vanilla extract and 1 cup chopped nuts, if desired.
Pour. Mixture into 8-10 custard cups and set in a pan of hot water. Bake at 325 F. for one hour or un til it’s crusty on top. Serve warm with a scoop of French Vanilla ice cream or creme anglaise.