No Rice For El Cucuy

 He was a son of immigrants who succeeded in reaching his life's ambitions. But, ignoring the lessons of his honorable, but poor, father, he used every advantage of education and charisma--plus a bit of intimidation and shady dealings, to enrich his pockets and gain undue prominence. Captivated by his dark good looks and overwhelmed by the force of his personality, she let herself be taken in by him.

Her mother, though, saw past the suave veneer, beyond the carefully cultivated image of the upstanding citizen: she saw only arrogance and rapaciousness, which caused him to forget compassion and good principles. In Mexico when she was young, she knew of men with the same easy laugh and wolf-like eyes, alert to any petty vanity of a poor little cook or maid, and using it against her to flatter and allure her until, like a little bird, she was caught in a cage of disgrace and humiliation.

Sooner or later that man would discard her precious daughter like a basurita--a little piece of trash. Please, she begged her, don't leave with ese cucuy de traje—that devil in a suit. "El Cucuy" was nothing if not amused when he heard his new nickname, for he thought it fit him as well as he wore Armani. As for her now stubborn as a goat daughter, she left without saying goodbye one sunny morning, leaving the front door wide open as she marched out with her suitcases in her hands, throwing them in the backseat of her convertible, and driving off with her long hair flapping in the wind.

So, esa santurrona--the sanctimonious old bag thought he was a bad man. That mattered nothing to him. He was confident that he would eventually win over the mother as surely as he had seduced the daughter. In reality, the thought of una pobretona de vieja—some poor, but respectable, older woman—looking down her nose on him, rankled his well manicured feathers. When he had her feeding out of his hand, he would teach her a little lesson in respect.

Too bad for him that he never got that chance—because la pobretona's daughter finally understood that she had become the plaything of a man who made it perfectly clear that he cared nada for her, except to amuse him until the day he tired of her. Why worry about your honor now? You should have thought of that when that hypocrita of a mother of yours sold you off, he told her with his mouth twisted into a cruel little smile.

She responded by leaving him for good the next day.

She headed to the dusty south end of town, with its taco shops, swap meets and chile vendors who lined the streets selling large bunches of hot dark red New Mexico chiles. To a place where people polish their cars in their front yards drinking beer, not champagne, while listening to Norteña and Old School music blaring from stereos. A place she had hoped never to return to, ever.

Pulling in front of an old brick house with a rose and cactus garden, she noticed that her mother had planted some tomato and chile plants. Soon her mother would use them to make a fiery salsa that no one could stop eating. An old mesquite tree provided the only shade from the hot Arizona sun. Inside the dark house the air conditioner was roaring, but the kitchen was hot. She smelled the red spicy molé her mother was cooking for that day. Then she saw her little round figure at the ancient stove frying some rice with onions and garlic in a wide pan. Her mother heard her voice as she came through the door, but pretended not to notice until she stood right at her side. She did not turn around.
"So, you left him." Both face and voice were devoid of expression.
Pouring fresh tomato purée into the fried rice, her mother then started frying it until it was a little burned.
"You know I never liked that man."
"I know that."
Her mother had not looked at her once, but continued cooking. Coming here was a mistake, she thought to herself. She wants to have nothing to do with me. Her tight dress felt uncomfortable in the stifling heat, her tongue was swollen from thirst. Neither spoke for a minute or two.

"I suppose you want to stay here." This can't be my daughter, her mother thought as she caught the sight of her daughter's stilletos. She looks like she just stepped out of a telenovela [a soap opera].
"Only if you let me," she replied with a humility that was at odds with her appearance, "but even if you don't, I'm never going back to that place."

The hardness in her daughter's voice surprised her and made her hesitate, but she did not say a word as she poured the chicken broth into the rice. Then, above the hissing sound of the liquid meeting the hot pan, her mother peered over and demanded, "And what do you have in those suitcases, all that basura—trash—that sinvergüenza--that shameless no good--bought you?"

"Nothing, only my self-respect . . ." she heard herself say. "Only my self-respect," she repeated tonelessly as if she were on autopilot. Only then did she realize that she was still carrying her suitcases, clutching them so tightly that her arms and fingers hurt.

Her mother finally turned to look at her daughter for the very first time since she entered the house. Regret over her harsh words cast a shadow over her features. She bowed her head to wipe the perspiration from her forehead with the edge of her apron. When she looked up, her daughter's dark eyes, so much like her own, met hers, and in that instant they spoke in that silent language that only a mother and daughter understand—of estrangement and reconciliation, of hurt and forgiveness, of shame and redemption, of a love that no hombre malo—bad man—could ever undo.

"Mamá," her daughter cried, finally letting the suitcases drop to the floor.

There are many things you can learn from your mamá, one is spotting a cucuy from a mile away. Another is making Arroz a La Mexicana for the day when you make it for someone who really loves your cooking—and you.
Mexican Rice--"Arroz a la mexicana"

(Or, How to Make Bad Rice)
To make bad rice all you need to do is to cook it in a cheap, lightweight pot with a loose-fitting lid. But, if you want to make great rice, here's what you do: use a heavy-bottomed pot or wide pan (preferably) with a tight fitting lid. (Place wax paper or aluminum foil under the lid to insure a tight seal.) Prior to cooking, rinse the rice many times until the water runs clear. Dry with a clean towel.
What you need:
1 ½ cups of white long grain rice
2/3 cup of chopped white onion
1 or 2 large garlic cloves
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 average sized tomatos, the juiciest you can find; OR, an 8 oz. can of tomato sauce; OR, 2 or 3 canned tomatoes with some its juice

Dash of dried oregano, or to taste
Pinch of cumin, or to taste
2 ½ cups of chicken broth
Salt to taste

Coarsely chop the fresh or canned tomato and purée in the blender. Set aside. Rinse the rice as instructed above. Heat the pot or pan over high heat for a minute or two. Then add vegetable oil. When the oil is very hot, but not smoking, add the rice. Turn down heat to medium. Sauté rice until it is golden. Add garlic and onion. Continue to sauté until the onion is semi-transparent. Add tomato or tomato sauce.

Continue to sautée until the tomato purée forms into a paste and is slightly "burned" (you will see that the sides of the pan are golden brown). Add the chicken broth. Bring to a boil. Cover with lid and lower heat to a low simmer. Continue cooking for about 25 minutes or so.

Variation: add ½ cup of peas, or a little bit of sliced cooked carrots when adding the chicken broth.

Tip: If you find that after cooking time, the rice is still not completely cooked, but the chicken broth has completely evaporated, add a little bit of boiling water. Replace the lid and wait a few minutes.


Anonymous said...

loved it!!

Anonymous said...

When I read this tale of the prodigal girl I actually got choked up. The love that a mother has and the smell of the kitchen on her apron are truly irreplacable. Bravo!!!

stephany38 said...

I finally was able to see your blog and I am so impressed! I will be returning often. Thank you for visiting me at the Town Center Gallery and providing your blog address. Stephany Andrews.

Clementina said...

Hola, Stephany!
So nice to hear from you again! I can't wait to see your artwork again! Please take care, and beware of Cucuys in sheep's covering!

Emily said...

This recipe for Mexican rice is to die for. I have made it several times and it has such incredible flavor! (I feel guilty because my mother-in-law is Mexican American and I used to make her recipe, but now I make this one.) By the way, I just tried it for the first time using brown rice, and to make that substitution you just have to increase the chicken broth to 3 cups and cook the rice longer (about 40 minutes). Delicious. Thank you so much! Love the painting on your blog, too.

Clementina said...

Hola, Emily
Thank you very much, not just for your kind words, but for that tip on cooking Arroz a la Mexicana using brown rice. Purist that I am, I've been a bit slow about cooking it with brown rice, but I will try it.
One way I love to serve brown rice with Mexican food:
Cook your brown rice as usual. Set aside. In a skillet, saute green onions, minced garlic and finely chopped fresh jalapeno (optional)in a bit of butter and olive oil until it smells deliciious. Stir in the cooked brown rice Add salt and pepper to taste. Then sprinkle fresh-chopped cilantro on the rice just before serving. Love it!

Carmen Vera said...

Wow, what a beautiful writer you are. I don't think I have ever seen the word "sinvergüenza" typed out, I couldn't even imagine how it was spelled, but I can hear my mother saying it in my head. I am so happy to have found your blog and I look forward to reading and trying your recipes!