Developing Culture Through Food
My grandmother would often surprise us with a knock on the door early Saturday morning when I was a kid, bringing with her a carload of bags filled with deliciousness. Steaming bags of barbacoa (a deliciously spiced shredded beef), tamales, beans and rice were accompanied by salsa, cilantro, chopped onions and lemons. Of course, corn tortillas were needed to be warmed, and the most wonderful tacos could be made. I loved it. In spite of my parents grumbling over the early hour of the morning, usually 7:30 a.m. when they were still in bed, we all made it to the table for this fabulous feast. To go with this meal was a lovely dessert. No Saturday morning meal was complete without pan dulce or Mexican pastry.
Many of my favorite memories surround special feasts, and I think this is true for many of us. Who doesn’t have favorite foods during special holidays, occasions or weekends even? Sunday in my house means there will be a lingering smell of cooked bacon all day, and that’s because Sunday we cook together (all four of us – kids included), lounge on the sofa together, and watch football after eating too much. I wouldn’t change a thing. These are the kinds of details that can add depth to a character and paint their picture with more clarity. Who do they eat with, if anyone? Do they have special meals with people they look forward to seeing, or are they alone, staring at a bowl of $.49 Chinese noodles rehydrated with hot water and powdered chicken broth? (Not to say I don’t love those quick noodles when I’m trying to get out of the house in ten minutes.)
Like Water for Chocolate, written by Laura Esquival, used food to introduce each new chapter of the book, which was wonderful. It was somehow always related to something happening within the scene. In The Godfather it was always interesting that these frighteningly violent mafia guys would all cook together, treating the food with great care when they treated their enemies to a blood bath. The juxtaposition added depth to who they were and what was meaningful to them. Family. Tom Hanks’ character in Turner & Hooch spends most of the beginning part of the movie alone. We see him cooking and eating very perfunctorily, nothing special, all by himself. It helps us to sympathize with him.
One of my favorite scenes in my new book Dreams of a Wild Heart is a family party near the beginning. Ceci, my main character has been looking forward to this meal all day. The celebration is for her parent’s thirtieth wedding anniversary. Chiles rellenos is one of the special dishes on the menu, and for anyone who has ever cooked them, you know why. They can be labor intensive. You have to brown the outside of the chile in order to be able to peel it off. Then it’s stuffed with something delicious, either meat or cheese, and baked with a wonderful sauce and cheese over the top. Quite wonderful. It’s during this party that different characters who have been part of Ceci’s life all come together, showing us more of who she is and where she comes from.
Thanks so much for taking time with me. What are the special dishes you look forward to eating with family and friends?
Dr. Cecilia—Ceci— Bradford at your service.
I dance, rock climb, and have mastered MMA, because just being a twenty-six-year-old doctor isn’t enough. It doesn’t keep me from remembering the terrifying night my life changed, the night my true love died. I was nearly seventeen.
Life goes on, but the secret I keep is that I still talk to him in my dreams. That was getting me by until Tabron showed up—or, more specifically, until the six-foot-two brute of a Viking whisked me off to another planet because his leader is dying. And the joy didn’t end there. I’m being forced to choose a mate. The Brausa are facing extinction.
Tabron has no need for a mate, himself, and he’s told me as much. Multiple times. What he does have are hands and wicked lips that stir feelings I thought lost forever. Choosing him (just to play along until I can find a way home) seems to irk him and I find this surprisingly fun. But surviving a hidden conspiracy and the dangers of this alien place might be more difficult than I could ever imagine…
There were vicious elbows being thrown, shoulder slams when the ref wasn’t looking and very questionable slide tackles that took out several players. Clearly, the other coach had taught his team to play dirty, but even so, no one could touch number twelve.
The tough-ass, hardcore soccer player wowing the crowd with trick moves and fierce determination was this cute little ten-year-old girl wearing a pink hair ribbon and sparkly pink cleats.
My heart ached a little as I watched her run. This was the kind of kid we would have had, Carlos and me. She was kicking butt and making no apologies, taking the hits, hitching the ball up at just the right moments, jumping over outstretched feet, fighting past the obstacles and punching through the attacks. This kid had guts and a will of steel. I would’ve loved to have a little girl just like her.
It was clear that the coach on the other team was about to have a coronary, his face tomato-red, his body heaving in start and stop sprints up and down the field while screaming at his team to Cover her! Cover her! She’s just a little girl! What’s your problem? You gonna let a girl beat you? He’d obviously expected his mostly boy team, with the few girls on the team being sat on the bench, to have a shutout. Wasn’t happening. The game was tied.
My grin was mocking. Served him right. Schadenfreude to the max.
My pink-cleated girl flashed by in a sudden breakaway move that had everyone jumping up from their chairs.
Her long legs tore down the field. She dribbled the ball left, then right, juked one player, then another. She broke through the group of defenders, to the gasping dismay of parents on the other side of the field, and raced full speed for the goal. No one could stop her. The group of ten-year-olds desperately chased her down the field amid the excited shouts of nerve-racked parents.
Oh my God! How did she do that? My own shout mixed in with everyone else’s as I clapped and hooted.
Go, Jolene! Go! Go! Go! her coach shouted. Don’t hesitate! Take it all the way! Go, go, go! He bounded after her along the sideline.
Damn it! Get ready, Colby! She’s coming! Stay on your toes! the opposing coach shouted.
Take the shot! Take the shot, Jolene! You’ve got this!
The goalie waited. He was a young, shaggy-haired blond boy with knees bent, legs quivering as he balanced on the balls of his feet to see which way the wind was going to blow. Sweating under the hot noon sun in the middle of a November heat wave, he could only watch as she drew back and blasted the ball. It flew low to the far corner. He dove for it. His gloved hands reached out to block.
Missed it by a mile. The net stopped the ball.
Hands cupped to my mouth, I shouted, Great job, number twelve! Way to get the job done!
Piercing whistles, excited shouts, and clapping came from my side of the field while teammates high-fived the girl. Pink-cheeked and glowing with pride, a satisfied grin split her cheeks. She accepted back slaps and trotted back to join the lineup in the middle of the field for the next kick-off. It wasn’t to come. The ref blew the whistle signaling the end of the game, and the little girl’s team cheered, excited to have won.
I’d want my little girl to be just like that. Just like that. The unbidden thought whispered wistfully across my mind once again, but I shook it away before it could cause any major damage. I wasn’t going to have kids, so it was pointless to ponder it. With a flush of self-consciousness, I glanced around, but no one was paying me any attention. I had to remind myself they couldn’t actually see me.
Hey there, Tiger.
Ahh. This was why I was here.
I smiled at my hated childhood nickname and responded as I was expected to. I spun around, gave him a good shove. Jerk. Don’t call me that.
Carlos laughed, not the least bit rocked by my actions, probably because I hadn’t actually been trying to hurt him. He was my forever best friend, confidante, first and only boyfriend, best...everything, and had been since day one. He pulled me in for a quick squeeze, where I burrowed my face into my favorite spot on his chest, before he leaned back to look down at me, dark eyes twinkling with mischief. His black hair had a stubborn lock that liked to droop over his forehead. I brushed it back for him. He definitely had a Benjamin Bratt thing going on.
He winked at me. The little girl reminds me of you.
Me? I studied the little girl, who was grouping up with her teammates to do a 2-4-6-8 chant in appreciation of the other team.
Carlos smiled. You were just like her at that age. Don’t you remember? Absolutely fearless.
Fearless? I scoffed, but he wasn’t kidding.
Seriously. Nothing kept you from trying whatever the hell you wanted to. Always confident, like you knew things were just supposed to work out for you. He paused. They usually did. You were a force to be reckoned with.
You make me sound like a superhero.
I’d meant it as a joke, but he furrowed his dark brows. You kind of were. You acted like nothing could stop you. It was always balls to the wall with you. I wanted to be like that. When we were growing up, you would piss me off and make me proud at the same time with the way you took risks. But of course, it always worked out and usually in a big way.
I gave him my smirky eyeroll. I think you’re exaggerating.
I don’t think I am. He shook his head for emphasis. You were always ready to not just win, but kick ass if anything got in your way.
Where was he going with this? He was being so uncharacteristically insistent. I gave him a covert, assessing look, like I would a patient who seemed...off. He looked the same as usual—handsome, friendly, gentle—but still, his attitude took the edge off the warm memories we were sharing, and I felt my grin sliding as he continued.
Don’t you remember? No one could keep up with you. You’d just get this look on your face, set your chin in a particular direction and anyone who got in your way would be toast. He pressed in a little, and I almost stepped back.
But this was Carlos. My Carlos. I shook the strange feeling off and chuckled at his description of me, trying to just enjoy the feeling of contentedness, warmth and love that I always felt when he came to my dreams. I cocked my head coquettishly and smiled. You managed to keep up with me.
By the skin of my teeth, and not even half the time. My ego suffered.
But you handled it.
He took a moment, studying my face. At the point when it started feeling weird again, his intense expression relaxed into a smile. The best I could. He tweaked a lock of my long, black hair. Calling you names and pulling your pigtails.
We were on track again. You’re going way back in time.
For some reason, I catch myself remembering lately. Times when we did our homework together. Times when we went riding our bikes around the neighborhood, scavenging whatever you were certain we needed for your next project or adventure. I remember calling you bruja.
My look was pointed. What about froggie and...something else. Tom, short for tomboy. I didn’t appreciate that, as I recall. I nudged his arm.
His laughter was immediate, filling the cold, sad places inside me with remembered warmth. I didn’t even mind when he shook his finger at me and announced, You deserved to be called froggie. I got in trouble because of you over that little episode. You told everyone it was my idea. My mom wouldn’t let me go out for a week after that stunt, and it was summer. Do you remember how much that sucked? You still owe me for that.
I tried to look outraged, but couldn’t keep from giggling. But itwas your idea to make a lily pad garden in the backyard with that blue, plastic kiddy pool.
Yeah, but my idea was to use make-believe frogs and grass and leaves from the yard. You were the one who insisted we walk over to Bailey Canyon and find actual lily pads and frogs.
I was doing my part to make it authentic.
He raised his eyebrows. Yeah, well, as I recall, the look on your mother’s face was one of authentic horror when the bucket tipped over on her beautiful hardwood floors and frogs were jumping everywhere.
I snickered. Everyone was suddenly jumping after the frogs. My mom, your mom, my dad, me, you, the dogs...it was mad, chaos. Frogs everywhere. Even a few days later, we found frogs behind the furniture. Unfortunately, they were dead and resisted my valiant efforts to revive them, though I did, very appropriately, try CPR. I’d forgotten about that.
See? Like I’d proven his point. All of us moving to the beat of your drum. You were hardcore, this little girl with a larger-than-life point of view. Keeping up with you was a full-time job. You’re the only girl I ever let give me a black eye.
I shot him a snarky look. You didn’t “let” me do anything. I was tougher than you.
That new, thoughtful expression, the one I was starting to dislike, reemerged. Was it something I’d said? He searched my face for a quiet moment, then nodded, like he’d suddenly realized something.You’ve always been tough. You never needed...anyone. Not even me. You were sure of yourself. You helped me find that for myself. I want you to know I appreciate that.
I didn’t need him? Where was this coming from? It almost sounded like a goodbye. Silly. Where would he go? I brushed a prickle of fear away and managed a smirk. Good.
No really. I mean it.
The kids lined up on the field so they could shake hands with the opposing team.
He held out his hand. Walk with me?
Always. I clasped his hand and made the promise with a warm smile. It’s been too long. I’ve missed you so much. There was no one in my life who could take his place. Certainly not any of the guys I’d tried dating. Being on my own, having my medical career and these visits from Carlos, this was the best I could expect now. You used to come more often, and we could spend time together. Now you only come every other month or so, if that, and our time seems so much more limited. You barely give me the news that someone needs help, and then you’re gone. Why not more often?
He frowned for a moment, then squeezed my fingers gently. How are things?
I let it go. It wasn’t the time to push this. I never knew when he was going to get pulled away from me. So much has happened between the times when we meet that I can’t remember where I left off last time. My family is good. Your family is good.
How are the wicked seven?
I laughed at his description of my cousins. We’d all grown up together, more like siblings. We were all black-haired with the same shade of green eyes, inherited from our mothers and grandmother. This was where bruja had come from. Witch. When we were kids, Carlos had insisted that anyone with black hair and green eyes was a wicked witch, and he’d teased me with that unmercifully for years.
Everyone seems happy and satisfied within their own predictably dysfunctional world. Stephanie is close to being married, Cassie is likely on her way to her deathbed—according to her own self-diagnosis using WebsmartMD—and Amanda’s finished her credentialing to teach. She’s looking for a job now. Oh! Your brother went off to complete a sabbatical in some distant corner of the world where he could study the customs of some obscure native tribes. Not sure of the details. Your mom told me the last time I saw her, which was last week, I think, when we ran into each other at the grocery store.
His smile changed, sort of went heart deep and introspective. He looked down at the ground as though seeing the image within the square pattern blocks of cement. I’ve seen my brother. He’s happy. He’s going to be okay.
Leaving the park, we walked companionably through a suburban neighborhood, the kind you’d find at the beginning of a Steven Spielberg movie, like E.T. or Poltergeist or something like that. Kids were out playing in the street, adults gardened in fashionably strange, floppy-looking hats, and there was a sense of safety and peacefulness. Of course, if this were a Spielberg movie, in the next scene, the shit would hit the fan.
This was the nature of our relationship now. I never knew where we would end up when we dreamed together.
Carlos leaned into me affectionately with a light shoulder-to-shoulder bump. How’s the doctoring?
I love it. The energy of the trauma ward is like nothing else. It’s always go, go, go. Stay on your toes. Be alert. Take charge. Every day is something new. Someone comes in ready to die, and I can fix them, send them back to their loved ones. Every day, I can see the difference I make in the world. The feeling is amazing. Cars drove by, taking carloads of kids from the soccer field. A few days ago, I actually got to do a heart massage, which is unheard of in the ER
You had to pump a guy’s heart?His squinty-eyed wince said it all. There was a reason not everyone became a trauma surgeon. Carlos had never liked the sight of blood.
Yes. It was an amazing moment, having someone’s heart in my hand and pumping it to keep them alive.The remembered excitement of that day had my blood surging with renewed adrenaline, and the story tumbled out. This guy was brought in, barely breathing, and he goes into arrest on my table. So I’m going through the checklist wondering what the hell is wrong with him, right? He looks young and healthy. There was no other sign of major trauma, abdomen was soft, so I could tell he wasn’t bleeding internally, and because he was turning blue, it had to be something with respiration.
Remembering gave me that wired feeling again. Problem-solving at that level of intensity was the best kind of drug. I figured it must be some kind of pulmonary embolus, some kind of blockage between heart and lungs, which was the only thing making sense. We hit a point where even with heart compressions, we weren’t getting a pulse. By then, I’d called a cardiologist, and it was do-or-die. We decided we had to crack his chest and pump his heart manually, which got a pulse going long enough to get him to the OR, where he had an eight-hour surgery to remove some nasty blockage by his heart.
When I finished, Carlos had a funny smile on his face.
What? I asked. Did I lose you in there?
No, I managed to follow.
Why the smile?
You’re living your dreams. I’m proud of you. You kick ass, Ceci. You always have. You’re going to be okay.
Okay? I guess I was, but it seemed weird for him to say it, again like it was some kind of final proclamation. I could agree for the most part, that I was okay, living out some amazing career dreams. The silence stretched while I studied the handsome face I’d memorized long ago. It was a reminder some things were never going to happen. Not all of my dreams will be lived.
He shook his head before I could even finish my sentence. I wasn’t a dream. I get that now. We were just kids, Ceci. You have to know that.
What was this about? We had plans, Carlos, remember?
He shook his head impatiently. We made childish plans. What were you, sixteen? Seventeen?
They weren’t childish to me! I was counting on them. I worked my ass off to finish school early so we could go to college together. Remember? Get our degrees, get married... We’d talked about places we were going to visit together, things we wanted to do in life. Take time to travel, maybe go to Costa Rica.
His look turned stubborn. If you want to go to Costa Rica, you should go.
That was our plan! My irritation was turning to fear. We were going to be all bohemian, remember? You and me. Together. Why in the hell would I want to do that now?
He took a deep breath, but his eyes never left mine. You were counting on life happening. So was I. We don’t always get what we want.
I know it. Every day of my life I know it. I live it! My voice was rising, but I couldn’t help it. The horror of that day came back—the screams, the terror, the sobbing, the sound of the ambulance, the helplessness I swore I would never feel again, the blood so thick and warm, tacky, coating my hands, soaking into my jeans in that deep, deep red arterial color, the color of a deep bleed. There was nothing I could do, and all because of a stupid argument... My eyes burned with shame, but I fought back the moisture. Too hard to think about it.That was the worst day of my life. I’ll never forget.
You aren’t the only one that lost on that day. A surge of anger flared in his dark brown eyes. It faded quickly, but this time I knew I’d seen it.
What? What was that for?
What? He looked off toward the mountains with a neutral expression, not making eye contact.
The look on your face.
Cut it out. You know what I’m talking about. Stop playing dumb.For the first time ever, I felt a crack in the connection I shared with him. There was distance between us, like he was closed off to me. Like he was pulling away.
He tried giving me a quick smile, but it wasn’t a real one. I knew what his real smiles looked like, each kind he gave. This one didn’t touch his eyes at all. He gave my hand another quick squeeze and let out a sigh. I’m fine. I don’t know what you’re talking about.
Yeah, you do. I couldn’t help the sullen tone of my voice. That was a blow-off response if I’d ever heard one.
I’m here for a reason, remember? I don’t get much time to do what I need to do. I’ve got something to show you.
I know, I know. It’s always all business now.
Something was very wrong. There had never been a time when he hadn’t shared what was on his mind. It got my back up and the stubborn child inside of me decided to pout. If he didn’t want to tell me, then I didn’t want to know. He could sit and stew with it. Jerk. Except who knew when I’d see him again?
Yeah, fine. Show me. We’d turned a corner and hit a more rundown neighborhood. The houses had bars on the windows, grass grew in the cracked sidewalks, and fewer kids were out. A feeling of oppression seemed to cast a dark shadow over this neighborhood. It was enough to make me want to back the hell out and find that nice Spielberg neighborhood again.
Look. He gestured to the house in front of us. Somehow, it was even worse than the rest on the block. It was a puke green with falling-down shutters on the front window, a broken screen door that yawned crookedly, and grass so overgrown someone could hide a body in it. It was on a corner, slightly separated from the other homes.
Carlos turned his soulful eyes on me, and I knew it was going to be bad.
Tell me. I braced myself.
She lives here. Our little soccer player.
Irritation with Carlos forgotten, I looked back at the house. No way was that little girl on her way to pizza.
A woman’s scream split the air. A crash. A man’s voice yelling. Another crash. The sounds of violence erupted so suddenly my heart jump-started. A child’s cry bled through the walls punctuated with, No, no! Leave her alone! Don’t touch my mommy! No!
This was a nightmare. I looked to Carlos. What the hell?
There’s nothing you can do. They can’t see us.
The hell there isn’t. I sensed the girl’s desperation and felt a rush of panic. I tried to push through the gate, but I couldn’t grasp it. I had no substance. A frustrated growl came from my throat. I couldn’t even kick that damn fence.
Soon. He caught my arm and held my gaze.
Sudden intuition made me pause. She’ll be coming in?
That can only be bad. There was another sound of crashing, and then quiet weeping punctuated by low moans. To stand there and hear the ugliness was painful.
It’ll be bad, but you’ll take good care of her. The intensity was back on his face. And one day, she’s going to want to be a doctor just like you.
I accepted that responsibility with joy in my heart. Part of the girls-kick-ass club. Good.
What was she going to look like when she came in?
The worry fled as soon as it arrived. Carlos was fading on me, about to become one with the ether. He pulled me in for one more tight hug, and the pain of separation hit me as it always did when the blackness smothered us and pulled us apart.
Traveling back through the layers of consciousness, I wondered when I would be able to dream him again. The feel of him faded until I was alone, waking up with the early morning gray and a sense of loss that was always a part of me.
About the Author:
Danube Adele wrote her first romance at the age of seven when she penned the story of her dogs falling in love and having puppies. She’s been dreaming up romantic tales ever since. A lifetime resident of southern California, she spends time playing at the beach, camping in Joshua Tree National Park, and hiking Mammoth Mountain.
Always a lover of adventure, she and her husband took their sons on a cross country road trip to Florida and back in an old VW Westfalia, that had no A/C, in the month of July, and still, it continues to be the best trip they ever took.
Extensive travel and trying new things has kept the creative spark alive. Danube lives in Claremont with her biggest fans, her loving husband, amazing and wonderful identical twin sons, and a teddy bear of a Rottweiler.
Her debut novel, Quicksilver Dreams, Book 1 of the Dreamwalker series, was released January 6, 2014, and Dreams of a Dark Summer, Book 2 of the Dreamwalker series, is set for release June 9, 2014. The next book in the Dreamwalker series is set to come out in December, 2014.