Cooking With Myra: Enjoy family, good food and culture

By Myra Starkey
July 23, 2013 at 2:23 a.m.

Green chile tacos

Green chile tacos

We arrived home late Sunday evening to sweltering 99-degree weather. Taylor and I spent a week in New Mexico celebrating his parents' 60th wedding anniversary. Taylor's dad, John, grew up in New Mexico and has fond memories of the state during his youth. He had suggested Santa Fe for the celebration. John was a star basketball player in high school and received a scholarship to play basketball for Baylor University in Waco. He met L'nell there. They fell in love and married in 1953.

They raised five kids who have each been married for at least 25 years. The 12 of us descended upon Santa Fe for a celebration of marriage and family.

The weather felt like fall. It was dry, with temperatures in the 50s at night and up to the mid-80s in the day. It never seemed hot unless you were standing out directly underneath the sun. We would wake up every morning and sit around and visit while we sipped coffee and ate breakfast. We would all discuss our plans for the day in the 400-year-old city. We would then go tour museums, shop, visit art galleries or just sit in the central square to watch interesting people.

We probably should have looked more and shopped less. We would meet for long lunches at outdoor cafes beneath cottonwood trees and eat green and red chili-covered enchiladas.

These leisurely meals together, full of conversation, deepened our relationships. By the evenings we would all meet back at the house for another meal together.

Taylor's parents had rented a house in the hills north of the city. It was perched on a hill and we could see 50 miles into the distance and watch rainstorms roll across the Rio Grande Valley.

At night, we spread out on the decks beneath the stars with only a shadow of the mountains in the distance and the moon above. A half moon appeared every night slightly tipping its contents into the night sky. John told me the "old folks" used to say that meant rain. July is the rainy season in the New Mexico mountains, so at least for now that was true.

The storms would drive us inside where we would continue our conversations. I could see how happy it made Taylor's parents that all their kids and their spouses all seemed to enjoy being together.

When I was making preparations for the trip, I Googled, "What's going on in Santa Fe" and found good news. The International Folk Art Market was to be that weekend. This was the 10th anniversary of the event.

More than 15,000 people generally attend the event over a two-day period. There are about 650 artists from 80 different countries with sales of more than one million dollars. The artists take these earnings back to their countries to improve the lives of their families and their communities.

The organizers of this event actually travel the world to look for the craftsman who are invited and are very selective of whom they bring to Santa Fe. Many of the artists are from extremely poor areas and have likely never traveled far from their remote villages before being recognized for their excellence.Taylor and I arrived early Saturday morning because I thought the best things might sell quickly and I knew it would be cooler and less crowded then. We shopped for several hours before stopping to watch the highly entertaining native dancers from Africa.

I spent most of my time looking at the different textiles from across the world. There were weavers from several countries who had their looms set up and were demonstrating their technique of weaving with silk of brilliant colors.

One of these weavers was from Uzbekistan and could speak English. Rasulijon is a fifth-generation weaver. He showed me silk worm cocoons and told me of the arduous task of extracting the long fibers from the cocoons and the process of spinning them into fiber they could use. I asked how quickly they could weave the yards of silk fabric, and he told me only one meter per day.

Many of the crafts people speak no English so there are interpreters to open the lines of communication for those attending. It is not just about shopping but also trying to understand the individuals, their methods and their homeland.

I went to the booth of Pan Yuzhen, who represents the Miao tradition of silk floss embroidery on handwoven cloth died with indigo and other vibrant colors.

She is a petite woman with graying hair and a powerful personality. Her daughter could speak English and began to explain the process while the mother brought me piece after piece to demonstrate her techniques of batik and embroidery. She works with 180 other women in a cooperative who produce these textiles.

Their work is mostly sold in Beijing. I could sense the pride she has in her craft.

Next I moved to the women of Bolivia who were making small bags that they use to collect native herbs and roots. One of the women, probably no older than 30, sat on the ground and offered a spot to me.

Although I could not understand her words, she demonstrated the stitching using the fibers of the garbata fino plant, a type of grass which is gathered by the women and made into the bags.

She excitedly pointed out several bags that she had made and demonstrated their strength. I could not resist buying two of them.

Her interpreter told me that a Bolivian ethnobotanist had taught the Ayoreo Indian women how to replant the grass so they would have a steady supply for their bags since their source was over harvested.

The art is passed from mother to daughter and is a part of their daily lives. They depend on this craft to feed their families. Each vendor had a story.

Within an hour, the crowds increased to the point that conversation was almost impossible. I walked among the booths and soon caught up with Taylor breathless to show him the amazing Uzbekistan tapestries.

Zarina Kendjaev learned her type of embroidery work from an old woman who was one of the last people who knew the particular technique. She now runs a weaving school that teaches this lost craft to other village women so they can improve their lot in life.

I was lost in a sea of colors and languages, of smiles and songs. Each of these people dressed in native attire had come to New Mexico to show us what hundreds of years of perfection of a craft had produced. I was amazed by the beauty of these things and the techniques handed down from generation to generation.

In a world that is so fast-paced, full of plastic and disposable items I realized that this art matters. It tells a story of the people who make it and the generations that preceded them.

I realized the world is a big place, but people all around the globe are not so different from me. We all derive great joy from creating beauty. There is satisfaction in working with your hands. Providing for one's family allows a great sense of fulfillment. Those are universal truths.

When I returned, I prepared some green chile tacos for a snack one evening. The taste of the chile reminds us both of the great time we had in Santa Fe.

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



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