She grew up in Texas on the shores of the Gulf Coast, in a small shrimping town called Port O'Connor. There, I learned to love seafood, living among Mom's Texan Vasquez familia.
Her father was a shrimp boat captain on the warm Gulf waters. So, while we couldn't afford steak, we had all the fresh caught seafood Big Daddy would skim off the top of the catch. Shrimp season was short, but blue crab and oyster season followed soon enough.
Mom had looks (like a young Elizabeth Taylor) and smarts, and a scholarship to college if she wanted it, but had no extra help from her parents. So after high school graduation she was soon swept off her feet by my dad and married. I arrived on the scene, followed by my brother Berry and sister Brenda.
My Dad was in the military so we moved around, but eventually Mom and us kids (I'm the lower left one in photo below) settled back in Port O'Connor after a divorce - Dad was the life of the party, but he was a little too profligate in the alcohol consumption department.
Port O'Connor cuisine was a mix of fresh seafood with a Tex-Mex twist. We grew up on Pinto Beans & Rice with Shrimp, cooked with tomato paste, and served with fresh grilled flour tortillas. We also had a lot of cornmeal-coated fried oysters and shrimp (again), plus baked whole flounder and fat fillets of redfish.
For breakfast it was often scrambled eggs mixed with leftover mashed pinto beans (recipe here) with, of course, more fresh grilled flour tortillas. Simply delicious Southern cuisine made with a lot of heart, using locally caught seafood.
Scrambled Eggs with Refried Beans
After a few years Mom remarried to Ken, and my youngest sibling was born (check out my younger sister Denise's Eggplant Recipe, video here.) In a few years we soon moved to Louisiana, where I enrolled in East Ascension High School. There she picked up a whole other way of cooking, Cajun-style.
My high school daze were spent in Gonzales, Louisiana, the self-professed Jambalaya Capital of the World. So you know this town is serious about chow.
Click here to see a culinary video tour of some local Cajun cuisine at the weekend Flea Market, including: Crawfish Pie, Boudin Balls and, of course, Jambalaya.
And here's our first video we made together (in my Los Angeles kitchen.) You'll get a kick out of her rockin' the cast iron kettle. I make her Cajun Jambalaya more than any other recipe - it's simply delish. And be sure to watch to the end were my other favorite lady, my lovely wife Amy, makes a rare appearance - and, by the way, her birthday is the day after Mom's!
Here is a link to her Jambalaya recipe with text and yummy photos. This recipe is dry and based on what I grew up with. Most Jambalaya recipes are New Orleans-style, that is, the dry ingredients are simmered in tomato sauce.
Mom takes a star turn with her next video recipe, her popular Chicken and Sausage Gumbo.
It's a traditional Southern dish and its cheap, too. Just chicken, sausage and the Cajun veggie trinity of bell pepper, celery and onion. What gives Gumbo it's unique taste is a dark brown roux, which is flour cooked in oil until chocolate brown.
Just watch the video below and Mom will take you though the steps. And, as an added bonus, my older sister Brenda makes a nagging appearance a few minutes into the cooking demonstration.
Click here to read all about making Gumbo, from roux to rice!
Mom attracts a kitchen-full of hungry relatives, when these pies come hot out of the oven. And it's a miracle they were done right, because this Chef de Shutterbug was shoving a camera in her face (and a hot oven) during the whole procedure. We butted heads a few times, but fortunately it all turned out fine.
I even came up with a way to dodge the high prices for pecans - so check out the video below to learn my budget secrets.
And click here to see Mom's Mini-Pecan Pies recipe with text and tasty photos.
The recipe is a traditional one made with simple ingredients. The pumpkin came from a can and the crust is handmade with wheat flour.
All the easy to follow steps are written out here, and with delish photos, too.
In Louisiana there are fast food drive-thru's serving slushy Daiquiris. I don't know how the heck they get away with it. Every time I go back to visit my Mom and Sis, I am reminded about this quirky Cajun roadside icy, thirst quenching, to-go cup.
Now, there are rules to this. Louisiana has an open container liquor law. So, when you get your Daiquiri, as both Mom and Sis reminded me several times: "Do not put the straw in!" That is a DUI violation if you are stopped. However parched you are, resist plunging the straw through the drink top -- until you get home. Fortunately, Mom's house was less than 5 minutes away.
Check out my last video below, and ride along with my sister Brenda and Mom for a cool beverage on a hot Louisiana summer day.
Happy Birthday Mom -- I love you !