Cooking With Myra: Baked redfish, making new friends
By Myra Starkey
April 23, 2013 at midnight
Updated April 22, 2013 at 11:23 p.m.
Most of us live in a world of friends and family. We may meet new people occasionally but typically feel most comfortable around those we know.
It is an uncommon occurrence when we meet a stranger and invite them for dinner. Although there are millions of folks who live within a few hours drive from us, we are most comfortable when we are sharing time with those we know and love.
But if you think about it, even your closest friends were strangers to you before your first encounter. The bottom line is that it takes effort to become familiar with someone new.
Last weekend, Taylor and I had an opportunity to spend the weekend with total strangers. It was a young couple, Javier and Ruth, and their 3-year-old daughter, Layla. I worried that we wouldn't know what to say or have enough to talk about, but my fears were never realized.
They are friends of a friend and were visiting in our area. They both grew up in Puerto Rico and have been in the United States for about four years. Fortunately for me, they both speak English because my ability to speak Spanish is poor to horrible. So we were able to communicate well.
For those of you who are geographically challenged, Puerto Rico is a large island in the Caribbean. It was claimed for Spain by Christopher Columbus in 1493.
It has been a territory of the United States since 1898 when Spain gave it up after their defeat in the Spanish-American War. There was a recent election or referendum there and the majority of Puerto Ricans did not want to be just a territory but rather a full-fledged state with the complete rights and benefits that entails.
The unfortunate thing is that this would mean that there would be 51 states and there is simply no good way to arrange 51 stars neatly on Old Glory.
Javier and Ruth love the coast because they grew up around it. Javier is a physician in the army, and they are currently stationed in El Paso. That is a little far from the ocean breezes, greenery and salt air they enjoy. After giving them a tour of Victoria, which they found delightful, we headed south to Rockport.
They were a cute and easygoing, young couple, and Layla was really well behaved. They seemed immediately at ease with us and loved our two dogs. We are in the phase of life known as empty nesters without grandchildren.
It is like the freedom of being adrift at sea, having young adult children with no great desire for supervision, yet without grandchildren to worship and spoil. So our companions are our dogs. Lola and Hazel are big standard poodles and stand thigh high. They love to sit in the back seat of Taylor's truck and look out the windows.
That is why his rear windows are constantly smeared with slobber. Their little daughter loves dogs, too. She called them "happy best friends" all weekend. Layla and the "girls" wore each other out chasing and barking and eating far too many treats (all of them).
Layla and her mom had never been on a boat, so we took ours out and gave them a ride down the Intracoastal Canal and looked at birds. We later rode the ferry into Port Aransas and then had supper at Shells, my favorite restaurant there.
It has been a very long time since I was around a 3-year-old, but I conjured up all my grandparenting skills and poured out my affection on her. We walked hand in hand along the beach looking for shells.
I had pocketed a few from my collection back home, which I threw down in front of her and exclaimed, "look," and she would run ahead and excitedly scoop up the treasure. We all walked down the beach as the sun set and the moon began to shine.
It was the end of a wonderful day together. Layla fell asleep in her car seat on the way home, tightly clutching her dolls. She reminded me of my daughter, Hannah, when she was a little girl 20 years ago.
One thing I had forgotten about little kids is how they eat or rather don't eat. At a restaurant we would all order our meals and Layla's parents would try to figure out what she might be willing to have.
"Spaghetti" or "Pizza," she would squeal in delight, but once it arrived she would have lost interest and not eat more than a few bites. It is a wonder that kids ever gain weight.
Layla and I got to do other fun things together. I had old saltines, which we crumpled and threw into the air to attract hordes of squawking seagulls. Later, while her mom and dad were resting, Layla and I made chocolate chip cookies. I asked her to add chocolate chips until she thought we had put enough in.
She took her small measuring cup, dipping it into the bowl of chocolate chips and added scoop after scoop until the cookies almost had equal parts cookie dough and chips.
She then squatted down and looked with great wonder into the window of the oven to watch the cookies bake. After that, she wanted to play "fairies in the flowers" with her Barbie-type dolls and beckoned me to join her.
Layla referred to Taylor as my dad, which I interpreted to mean she thought he was much older than me and perhaps thought of me as an older playmate. I keep telling Taylor I look young for my age, and an honest and innocent young child finally confirmed it.
Later, I sat down with her mom, Ruth, and we talked about our kids. I looked at her with a 3-year-old and another baby on the way and thought about myself at that age. I can hardly remember being so young and as bright-eyed about the future.
We had such a great time with them, and though we started as strangers, we left as friends. I know our paths will cross again soon. I am always amazed at the people God brings into our lives and the richness of relationship that follows.
My friend and co-worker Jennifer and her husband, Steven, went fishing in Rockport and brought me some redfish, or red drum. They gave it to me cleaned, filleted and in a Ziploc bag. That's as good as it gets. I prepared it simply with lemon juice and butter, and it was divine hot out of the oven.
Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901 or email email@example.com.