Garlic and Olive Oil
Three marriages, two children, and one grandson ago, I was a newlywed in a strange new enchanted land. As a young, transplanted New Yorker, I quickly learned that in the Southwest, one was either “Hispanic or English” — or — (here, my new friend apologized before adding) “Mexican or white.” Growing up in New York, I was embarrassed by my ethnicity, my multi-syllabic last name, my school lunch boxes wreaking of garlic and olive oil from eggplant parm sandwiched between two noisy, crusty chunks of pane italiano while my more Americanized Irish friends ate baloney (not bologna) and Taylor ham on white bread. Now, here was a young Mexican-American, excited about my French-Italian heritage, asking me to share my ethnic recipes.
He asked if I might share some of my Italian grandmother’s recipes in exchange for his Aunt’s Posole recipe. I readily agreed, because I have always found eating to be an extremely social, albeit, religious, experience. As I dictated Grandma Dearie’s recipes for “The Gravy” (New York Italian for sawce), Eggplant Parmigiana, and Chicken Marsala, my friend stopped writing, looked up, and asked, “Do all your Italian recipes begin with garlic and olive oil?” Short of cannoli and ricotta cheesecake, I couldn’t come up with a dish that didn’t.
As I learned to cook Tex Mex, even my hispanic friends asked me to make the chicken enchiladas, the sopa arroz, the New Mexican-style chile stews and posoles. They couldn’t quite understand why my food tasted better than their abuela’s.
Little did they know, life tastes better –life feels better — when one begins with a little fresh garlic and EVOO.