This success story is close to home. My parents-in-law.
They celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary on Saturday!
Yea, I know what you’re thinking, looking at that pic. Bea and I already anticipated that when I was chewing on the idea of posting about it, when that pic came in as we were having cocktails and dinner in advance of a movie.
“They’ll think they got married at 12!” she told me.
OK, so I have to tell you that Sam is 84, and Lucia just turned 80! So, no laws were broken—man’s or God’s—in connection with them starting a family that spanned having and raising six kids—the oldest of whom is just shy of 60.
These two people are very special to me, and in ways I find futile to attempt explanation—on a blog with over 3,600 of my posts on it, no less. I’m going to tell you that it’s personal, many facets, and that I love to give Lucia as much shit as possible…because she’s such a good sport and just tosses it right back at me to complete the circle of love.
…As the story goes, Sam met Lucia once and when he got home, emptied his pockets into the piggy bank. And he didn’t stop saving money until he had the confidence to ask her to marry him.
He enlisted in the Air Force and was trained in air traffic control. He got out and then spent about 3 decades as an air traffic controller for the FAA, much of the latter years in tower supervisory and management roles. He’s a very smart man. One of his sons, “my biatch” Steve, recently retired as a trans-oceanic ATC. And his son, Jr.—Sam’s grandson—has just begun his ATC career.
So to what do they owe their longevity and vitality? Good food. Good Family…mutual love and respect, with low-drama and low-stress downside effects. They’re not “Paleo” or anything like that, but Lucia’s cooking, primarily, has always been about simple good food. Think they have a bowl of cereal for breakfast? I’ve never seen it in over 15 years a single time. I see Mexican-style pinto beans, fried potatoes, eggs, tortillas and salsa—and a plate of fruit. (Over the years, I have had success in convincing them to use butter, not be afraid of fat, etc. I get emails from Sam now and then: “Did you see that ‘xyz’ show? Same thing you’ve been saying for years.”)
Lunch is more often to be a sandwich from leftover turkey, chicken or even meatloaf than anything else—unless they make burritos with leftovers, with meat as the mainstay. Lucia likes thick sliced baloney sandwiches. Me too. Mayo, mustard—on white bread. Toss on some iceberg lettuce for crunch.
Dinner? Home cooked pot roasts, meat loafs, pork chops, ribs, chicken…and even liver. Why do you think my wife loves liver? She grew up on it because it was the least expensive, and everyone knew: the most nutritious. Lucia doesn’t say “inexpensive,” by the way. She says “cheap.” She always cuts right to the essence of things with no fluff.
Sam has been a type II diabetic for about 40 years. He manages it thoroughly, and still eats his carbs—but they are mostly Real Food carbs: rice, beans, potatoes, fruits.
And sure, they like the odd outing for fast food, order up a pizza, pie as dessert after breakfast—just like anyone does, but they’re old school in that regard. It’s not done every day or even close…and it’s second best to a home cooked meal. It’s simple, folks. Real Food. Most. Of. The. Time.
Sam is an accomplished cook in his own regard. Try out his chili verde. Seriously. I’ve done it dozens of times and it’s been a mainstay around here since the very first time I had his.
Sam’s original chili verde:
- 3-4 lbs. of cheap fatty pork chops with the bones
- 4-5 large tomatoes; alternatively, a couple cans stewed or diced tomatoes, with or without the spices some of them contain, and one or two fresh tomatoes
- 1 small can tomato sauce
- 5-6 cloves of fresh garlic, crushed
- 2 medium yellow onions, chopped finely
- 6-10 medium jalapeño peppers, depending on the level of heat desired, chopped finely with or without seeds; again, depending on the heat.
Cut up the pork chops and brown them in a pan. Then take the garlic, onion, and peppers and lightly sauté, just a few minutes; no need for the the onion to become translucent. Place all this in your cooking pot, add in the tomatoes, tomato sauce, salt & pepper if you like, a little water if you need, bring to a boil and then cover and simmer for a couple of hours or so, until the pork falls off the bones and will easily fall apart.
That’s the recipe as it was. I do a couple of things different. I drain a couple of cans of medium black olives and add those. I also cook it low and slow in a crock pot. I prepare in the evening and turn on the pot (low) when I go to bed. Even turning it on at 12 a.m., it should be ready by 6 or 7. If there’s any rubbery feel to the pork, it’s not done yet. It falls off the bone when done.
Now, the classic Mexican version is done with tomatillos (the “verde” is the chili used, not the color of the dish—it would be “colorado” if it were red chilies). I have done it with tomatillos many times, however. Just roast them in the skin (like 400F for 20 in the oven on a sheet) and then juicify them in a food processor or blender. My take is that I prefer Sam’s tomato version for breakfast (our most common meal for it, by far) and the tomatillo version for a dinner.
And why not another?
Well how about his Caldo De Res? Here’s the post from December 31, 2008, one of the dozen-posts-in-a-day marathon I did back then.
I emailed Sam a while back for the recipe; so, verbatim:
- Short ribs, beef shank, ox tails, and soup bones
- Carrots, corn, cabbage, celery, onion, fresh garlic, zucchini, potatoes, fresh mint
- Salt and pepper
Boil all meat for approx 1 & 1/2 hours. Skim and salt boiling meat water as needed. When through skimming, add chopped celery, whole or halfed onions, and chopped garlic.
While meat is cooking, chop or cut up veggies.
When soup is ready for vegetables, add to the meat and water in the following order to avoid overcooking: carrots, corn, potatoes, and mint leaves.
Just before the meat and veggies start to boil again, add quartered cabbage scattered over the top of everything and add the cut up zuchinni on top of the cabbage. Cover the pot. As soon as the the soup starts to boil again, turn off heat and allow it to sit for 10 minutes. Serve with care to avoid having zuchinni or potatoes dissolve.
“Caldo” is somewhat of a family tradition, as a way to bring everyone together on some afternoon when everyone—or enough of everyone—is in town. “Dad’s making caldo.” And people show up. Heard it a million times.
The entire family has special things they cook and it brings everyone together. My brother-in-law, Damien? The most amazing grilled carne asada you’ll ever have, served up with lime wedges, fresh corn tortillas, cilantro and chopped onion—and cervezas! Bud does menudo and tamales with real masa. Sometimes, he buys them from other home cooks. My favorite is always hot pork, and some months ago he brought a batch down south to Sam & Lucia’s. So hot, you’ll feel it for hours. I showed off by eating one without the beans, rice and salsa diluting elements. …Then there’s my sister-in-law—high-powered attorney for Apple; family from Peru, not Mexico. Best damn guacamole on the planet. Here, try it out, along with Damien’s carne asada.
I don’t use fixed quantities but do it to taste, each step along the way. In this case, all 4 avocados, two of the tomatoes, half the onion, two cloves of garlic, two medium jalapenos, about a half cup of cilantro, lime juice & salt to taste.
Step one is to mash the avocado with a potato masher. You want it chunky, not a puree, so don’t use a processor. Mash it by itself so as not to crush your other chunky ingredients. Next goes the finely chopped onion, to taste. I chop more than enough, add most of it, stir in and add more bits until just right (judge for crunch, too). Next goes the garlic, crushed and finely chopped. Then the peppers, seeds removed, very finely chopped and with a bit of a crush from the side of the knife. Do one pepper first, stir in, let sit and taste in about five minutes. Add whatever portion or all of the 2nd pepper, or more if you like. I like it pretty spicy and should have got a 3rd pepper.
The tomatoes are coarsely chopped, seeds & mush removed. For the cilantro, I like to chop up both leaves and stems in about equal portions from both sides. Be careful. It’s pretty powerful and can overpower the other flavors. Last is lime juice & salt to taste. As mentioned, I recommend going a bit liberal on the salt.
But I couldn’t get a hold of ‘sis-law’ before I made it, so:
I have a sister-in-law who makes awesome guacamole. I couldn’t reach her yesterday to confirm the particulars of her recipe or method, but this is what I imagined it might be close to. The jalapeno is the essential ingredient — other than the avocado, of course.
I never checked up with her after, but it tasted pretty damn close so I hope I did her inspiration proud. But I can’t know for sure. She’s tough as nails.
And last, but not least, Bea makes terrific Albondigas. Whips ’em up in a jiffy, too, and nice & spicy.
…Moving on. Sam is an accomplished singer and it’s a huge family thing, including in-STRUM-ents; picking at ’em too. Sam sang at our wedding. One day some years back, Bea got a CD in the mail from her dad with some recordings they’d converted. Next time we were down there I said to Lucia: “break out the shoe box!” Then I went to work snapping pics of pics and tossing them into iMovie. As recorded by Los Tres Hermanos Fabela: Sam, Fred and Trini.
Mananitas a Mi Madre (Serenade to My Mother), with 40,000 Views on YouTube by now.
Here’s the other one I did: Surfro Tu Ausencia (I Suffer Your Absence):
So, indeed, I have a private life outside of blogging. Much of it is too personal to share often; because just as often, I’m at a loss for words.
I was fortunate early on in life to realize the importance of a good family behind your mate. So essential. You have to love and adore the family. You have to be anxious to be around them. It does not matter how good she may be or appear to be; if you don’t love that family: run away, and fast. Took many years to do, but I found Beatrice, and her family. I simply could not settle for less.
…Ha, I’ll bet you want to know Sam & Lucia’s terms of endearment for each other, don’t you?
He’s Sammy. She’s Lu.