Those of you who have followed my blog since its inception know of my great and abiding love for the works, and for he himself, the late, great Chicano author Rudolfo Anaya, and particularly, today’s literary choice of Zia Summer. Rudy, as he was affectionately known, was not only someone I admired greatly, he was also a dear friend and mentor and inspiration. But I’m not alone in feeling like this. Many people here in my hometown of Albuquerque loved Rudy and considered him a mentor and a friend, as evidenced by this gorgeous mural of him right off Historic Route 66, or Central Avenue, as we ‘Burqueños call it.
I’ve written previously about how I came to know of his books through my father David, who was also a huge Anaya fan as well as being a Brown Beret and very pro-minority rights, as was Anaya himself. But I started reading Anaya as a young girl, and the way he wrote so eloquently about our home state of New Mexico, the magical way he used language to evoke feelings of familiarity and at the same time strangeness, and particularly the way he described the words and the way of speaking that people like my own grandparents spoke, was just so incredibly wonderful. It’s hard to explain, but reading in an actual published book about our way of life was just so unique because I had never previously ever read a book that was set in New Mexico, nor had I ever read a book that so accurately described the rhythm and meter of how English and Spanish were spoken in my state, how they intermingled and almost created its own unique language.
When I grew older, I really became fascinated by his work and by the man himself. I remember the day I actually met him in person. It was at a book signing in a small local bookstore and there was wine and cheese and I remember feeling so very grown up, chatting with him about literature with a glass of red wine in my hand. We became friends and he mentored much of my own writing and encouraged me to apply to graduate school. He remained a touchstone in my life and each time I would see him, it was always such a joy because he himself exuded joy and an almost supernatural sense of serenity. Hard-won, in his case, because he went through so many hardships in his own life, including a horrible accident that left him in a body cast for a year and chronic pain throughout his adult years; the death of his beloved wife, various illnesses that debilitated him physically, and a very difficult addiction to alcohol. But throughout it, he remained a dear and beloved friend to me. I always used to joke that if we had met 40 years earlier, I would have married him.
Zia Summer is the first of four books in his Albuquerque series of books featuring the Chicano detective Sonny Baca. Sonny is your pretty typical macho New Mexico man. He doesn’t want to settle down with just one woman, he loves to dance and drink and have a good time.. What makes him unique is his connection to the spirit world. His neighbor, Don Eliseo, is a pretty paganistic old man who greets the sun each morning, and calls the spirits the Lords and Ladies of the Light. Or in Spanish, which is much more lyrical and beautiful, Los Señores y Las Señoras de la Luz. He begins to teach Sonny the ways of “La Luz” as Sonny becomes embroiled in a murder investigation. His beloved cousin Gloria has been killed in what appears to be a cult-related death, and as Sonny starts to look deeper, he finds cattle mutilations in the East Mountains, a possible conspiracy involving nuclear radioactive waste, some of the highest powers in the state of New Mexico, and a charismatic man named Raven, who is in many ways, the shadow side of Sonny’s search for light and serenity.
Sonny is an interesting character for certain, and I absolutely adored his three elderly neighbors, or “vecinos” as we say in Spanish. Don Eliseo, Don Toto and Doña Concha provide hilarious comic relief as they constantly ask Sonny about his sex life, tell him what to do, and provide amusing running commentary on all the things going on in their neighborhood. I didn’t care much for the character of Raven, as I thought he could have been fleshed out a bit more. However, and this is nothing against you, Rudy, may you rest in peace, but I found the female characters a bit wooden, falling too much into that old Madonna/whore trope. Sonny’s longtime girlfriend Rita is just a little too perfect. Sonny’s cousin Gloria, though we get to know her only in flashbacks, provides the typical sort of “bad girl” with her youthful running around and her gruesome death. And this is just a personal pet peeve, but I absolutely loathe and despise the names Gloria and Rita. They are like nails on a chalkboard to me when I hear those particular names. I was just glad that there wasn’t a Barbara in the book. Those three names: Gloria, Rita, and Barbara, are just the worst names in the world. They always remind me of three old, gossipy ladies who love to trash-talk everyone else and spread malicious gossip. No offense if you’re a Gloria, a Rita or a Barbara. 🙂 Anyhoo, I digress.
I blogged the second book in the series Rio Grande Fall a couple of years ago if you want to check that one out. Sonny is good company to spend a few hours with as he finds himself in hilarious scrapes and situations. Specifically in today’s book, one of my absolute favorite scenes in any Anaya books is when Sonny, in the course of his investigation, stops to have breakfast at Garcia’s Kitchen. Garcia’s is a mainstay in Albuquerque, one of our classic and well-loved New Mexico restaurants that serve our typical cuisine. That’s the other part of this book that is so pleasurable – reading about all these locations that I know by heart and envisioning them as I read. Such a pleasure! Sonny is about to order his favorite Garcia’s breakfast when he is hit upon by a tourist, a sexy blonde who is obviously looking for some Nuevomexicano adventures.
“What’s the usual? “the woman at the table next to him asked. Sonny turned to look into a pair of bright blue eyes that smiled invitingly. She sat alone, wearing a bright blue summer dress, her blond hair teased up, her complexion white and smooth. Sonny guessed she was in her thirties. An adventuresome tourist, Sonny assumed. Her kind didn’t often stop for breakfast at Garcia’s. They usually stayed at the Sheraton where they felt ‘safe.’ This lady was obviously out for a real taste of Albukirk. “Huevos rancheros,” Sonny smiled. “That’s what I’ll have,” the blonde said to Rosa. “A ranchero with huevos.” Rosa bit her lip to keep from laughing. “Yes ma’am.” She smiled, glancing at Sonny. “You want him over easy or scrambled?” she asked, and the blonde said “over easy” as Rosa hurried away to tell the cooks that the blonde had just ordered a rancher with balls.
Now, come on. If that passage didn’t have you cracking up, you’re beyond hope. And what else could I have possibly made in honor of this book than huevos rancheros? So I did.
1 cup roasted green chile, peeled and chopped, and seasoned with salt, garlic and olive oil
1/2 red onion
1/2 pound lean ground beef
3/4 cup of water or beef stock if you have it
1 cup refried beans (you can used canned if you don’t have any fresh stashed in your freezer as every true New Mexican should)
Salt and pepper to taste
Oil for frying
Peel and dice the red onion, and cook it in a large pan with salt and a bit of oil.
While that’s cooking, dice the potatoes into small, uniformly-sized cubed and start cooking them in a cast-iron skillet.
When the onion has softened and slightly browned, add the ground beef and some salt and pepper for taste. Break the ground beef down, mix well and let cook but don’t let it burn.
In a third pan, heat the refried beans and taste for seasoning. They don’t take long to rewarm.
In yet another pan (did I mention you’ll be doing lots of dishes afterward?), heat about 2 tablespoons of oil and lightly fry the corn tortillas for about 4-5 minutes, flipping once or twice, so that they are pliable. In fact, this was an excellent opportunity for me to try out the fancy stove in my new house that I bought back in February. See how nice it is and just how much cooking you can actually do on it?
Check on your ground beef and if it’s cooked through, add in the green chile and the water or beef stock. The idea is to have a green chile sauce so you want it somewhat liquidy but not too soupy. Let that cook for a few minutes so the flavors mingle.
Check on your potatoes and season them with salt and pepper. Cover with a lid so they steam as well as cook.
Lay the corn tortillas on a plate and spread the refried beans atop each one.
Using the same skillet as the one you fried the corn tortillas, heat again and crack in two eggs. Let them cook 5-6 minutes or until “over easy.”
Add some of the fried potatoes on top of the beans, then spoon over a generous amount of ground beef and green chile sauce. Add the rest of the potatoes to your plate.
Top each tortilla with the egg and spoon some more green chile sauce on top. Garnish with some avocado slices.
Enjoy! It’s a very substantial breakfast, not something to be eaten very often unless you are one of the ranchers after whom this dish was named. It’s a delicious treat to be had occasionally, on a day you’ve walked 3-4 miles before breakfast and don’t mind washing a shitload of dishes afterward. Well worth the effort, however. So if you do make it, I sincerely hope you enjoy your “rancher with balls!” Though hopefully not blue balls. That would be bad, wouldn’t it? Anyway, see you next time!