Early on in Coyota in the Kitchen Anita Rodriguez suggests that "not only painting but good eating and fine storytelling are art forms," describing her book as a combination of those three art forms. This multi-artist is a self-declared "packrat," not only of stories but also of images, and, I add, recipes. She has picked through her stash and combined the findings into one long, interesting and tasty story.
Today she writes from the city of her birth, Taos, New Mexico, where she has returned after a life of many locations and more adventures—including a long stint in Mexico where she journeyed seeking her roots and finding a home.
As a youngster in Taos she began telling stories as a defense against her classmates and cousins, who laughed and cruelly taunted her as "coyota, coyota, coyota." In her childhood, "coyota" designated—and not kindly in this Spanish-heritage society—a girl who was half Spanish and half Anglo. Rodriguez was a coyota.
Her socially prominent mother came to Taos from Austin to study art and fell in love with more than the city. A young Spanish pharmacist in the city captured her heart and her life. Their unhappy daughter retreated into a world of imaginary coyotes who made her part of their pack. Grandma Coyota comforted her by suggesting that they howl at the moon. Grandma Coyota was a "cross-cultural omnivore who urged me to 'eat anything.'"
The child and later the woman stuck to that advice. Recipes from many traditions appear throughout the text of Coyota in the Kitchen, reinforcing the many stories. Mint Juleps appear only a page away from Eggs with Fried Grits and Green Chili.
A quick reader's thank-you to the author: The recipes appear in the context of the story unfolding throughout the text. This is great for the casual reader, but when the reader-cook decides it's time for Sweet Potatoes with Coffee ("Now, where was that recipe?") she can find a listing of recipes by type and name just after the table of contents. And another thanks for the glossary of Spanish words at the end of the book. I kept a book mark there and used it often.
I can't review a book with recipes without trying a few. The Sweet Potatoes with Coffee are interesting and likely to be repeated. Macho Bananas with Spinach? Yes, it works, and works well. Best of all—so far—is the Mexican Chutney. It has become a family standard; I'll be happy to honor the many requests I've gotten for a repeat.
The one recipe I wanted to try but haven't is the Rabbit with Sweetened Condensed Milk and Cornflakes. I'm not quite ready to snare my own (like Rodriguez) with a strand of barbed wire, so I'm searching in the meat section of my city supermarkets. So far, I haven't found one but I'll keep looking. When I find my rabbit I may add a postscript to this review.
Read an excerpt from this book.
Anita Rodriguez paints, writes, cooks, tells stories and enjoys life in her home town of Taos, New Mexico. As an enjarradora—a plasterer and finisher of adobe buildings, one of the first women ever to attain this recognition,she is the mistress of yet another form of art. You can meet the author and see her tell one of her stories on YouTube. Visit her website.
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