Myra: A taste of home

April 20, 2010 at midnight
Updated April 19, 2010 at 11:20 p.m.

Chunky Pecan Bars

Chunky Pecan Bars

By Myra Starkey Recently, I sat on the back porch at a friend's house. The porch was screened and separated us from all the flying, crawling and buzzing insects.

There was an audible hum in the air, which could be heard over the rustling of the wind through the palms and grasses. The bees buzzed, drawing pollen from the thousands of yellow flowers in front of us. The yellow was deep and rich, as if a dollop of sun had plopped itself before us. The breezes of that April day were brisk for a moment then only a whisper and then brisk again, having lost their March aggressiveness. The breeze had still a coolness that makes one forget of the heated corruption that occurs by summer.

We sipped sweet mint tea (my southern contribution) and talked. At some point in the conversation, I heard music carried by the wind and it sounded just like the Dixie Chicks. Was it my imagination? I closed my eyes for a moment and strained to hear. It was gone, and I only heard the symphony of buzzing bees, birds singing, distant laughter, wind rushing to places I cannot know, the soothing voices of friends and the muffled clinking of ice cubes in the tea glasses. It was a song of fullness and contentment as sweet as any I've heard.

I missed Taylor. He was gone for the week on a medical mission trip to the remote villages in the northern desert of Mexico. Cell phones don't penetrate the place, so it was as if he had just disappeared. I had warned him about the drug cartels and he simply smiled, totally ignoring my pleas to stay home. Perhaps I worry too much, and he worries too little. Still, it gives me little reassurance for him to say that he will not let his life be crippled by fear. I hoped I wouldn't have to hire a team of ex-military commandos to bail him out from some opportunistic kidnappers.

He is part of a team that conducts health clinics for poor villagers. These people have no running water, no electricity other than from solar panels, only outhouses, and live on a simple diet of rice, beans, tortillas and a little chicken. There is no refrigeration. There are no billboards, malls, televisions, or current issues of newspapers or People Magazine. There are no dollar stores or mini-storage units. They don't own a lot of stuff, so aren't bothered by having to maintain, repair or pay for it. They build their houses by making adobe bricks out of mud and straw, stacking them on a simple concrete foundation, adding store bought windows and doors and then finishing with a roof of timbers, then river reeds, then a layer of mud mixed with concrete. Although these materials are plentiful and cheap, they don't seem to have a desire to have more than a total of two or three rooms in their homes. Taylor often speaks of how joyful, patient and content these people are, and he says he is unsure of whether he or the people he visits are most helped by the trip. I know he seems changed each time he returns.

He finally called me Sunday afternoon from the slow moving line of cars they were in on the International Bridge, between Piedras Negras and Eagle Pass. He was home again that evening. One story he related was of a memorable meal at the home of one of the families. The wife cooked chicken in a spicy dark mole sauce, accompanied by refried beans, rice, tortillas and fresh watermelon. Everyone ate until full and sat under a porch enjoying the cool, dry desert wind and the view of the clear, blue skies with the mountains to the east. Kids played with a ball in the dirt yard, chickens pecked for bugs and the donkeys looked about while turning their large ears this way and that, as if trying to tune in to a distant station. The Americans in the group and the Mexican villagers all seemed to enjoy the moment in just the same way. The moment seemed complete, and no one was in a hurry to get up and do anything else. There wasn't anything else to do other than wash dishes, and that could wait.

My memories of growing up in Louisiana is of crawfish boils and fish frying on the patio, oyster shucking, and chicken and dumplings at Maw Maw's house. We ate roast, rice and gravy on Sundays after church, homemade ice cream and apple pies, shrimp Creole with homemade bread and the list goes on. There is a taste we all associate with home. Generally, the foods we had as a child evoke memories of comfort. As we grow older, we reflect upon those days as the good-old days and hold them in our hearts as memories we intend to make with our own families. Some of us change our food preferences, only as our physicians or tightening clothes force us to. It seems some of these comfort foods may not be the best things to eat.

I ran across a cookbook lately that may be the best of both worlds. It is called "The Taste of Home Comfort Food Diet Cookbook." Some of you may already be familiar with the Taste of Home Magazine or some of their popular cookbooks. I have many of them on my shelves, and from time to time, I prepare a dish and say, "This is just like my mother made." Who among us doesn't remember a clove-studded ham at Easter, served with halved pears and a spoonful of mayonnaise and a cherry?

On May 4, the Victoria Advocate is sponsoring the Taste of Home Cooking School in Victoria. I will be there as a representative of the Victoria Advocate and as an interested cook. I am looking forward to this event to learn more recipes to share with my friends and family. I hope to see you. The Chunky Pecan Bars recipe is from the cookbook, "Taste of Home Comfort Food Diet Cookbook."

Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901, or e-mail



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