I don’t know how we went from me teaching you about salsas to blogging about my mother’s death, but hey, we’re evolving. Plus, I read one of those inspirational quotes today that said “do things that nourish your soul, not your ego…” so I was like, FINE, UNIVERSE, I’LL GET ALL VULNERABLE.
Some of you kind souls suggested that I take the night off, but the sound of two children sound asleep after 3 nights of coughing and fevers and approximately 12 minutes of sleep is like a gift from the heavens! It gives me the opportunity to fly into internet land: Pinterest for the wedding, research on baby food, Googling about the marble sized lymph-nodes behind my ear… just QUIET that allows me to not think about anyone but me and my stuff (don’t worry about lymphs… mine do that sometimes!). So this is when I write.
So here I am, with both kids asleep in my room, by the way. I have no intention of walking all the way into anybody else’s room in the middle of the night. Dad is in LA and they need to be within arm's reach for a quick pacifier-plug or handing of a sippy cup with water to get them right back to sleep IMMEDIATELY. Also, I sleep better when we’re all in, like, the same room. Dad, dog, big brother, babies… yeah, it's happened. And it’s my favorite.
Anywho, my mom. The medical part of it is too complicated and I don’t think she’d love me talking about it, but suffice to say she’d been sick for a while. I remember at least a decade of coming home from school to find her sound asleep under the covers with the fan on. How I hated to see her asleep in the middle of the day, knowing she wasn’t feeling well.
Okay… this is hard. The week before she died, a week after she’d been admitted into the hospital for an array of seemingly unfixable problems, I was sitting outside the hospital on a bench with two-year-old Fau (she asked to see the babies as much as possible). I knew it was serious, but I never thought she’d die. I remember telling Fau: "we’ll be home soon… she’ll be fine." And he said, sure as he had ever been about anything, that she was dying and she wasn’t coming home. My heart sank all the way to the bottom of my stomach with that feeling you get when you know something is true but you don’t wanna hear it. How'd he know?
It was a grueling week, but the doctors assured us she’d recover. Enough so that they gave my brother the green light to fly to Mexico City for 24 hours for a meeting (he was a congressman at the time). Carina (my sister) and I would take turns staying with her. She was never alone... not for one minute. My dad was there every second of the day. My aunts, my cousins, her friends, my friends, my sister's friends… she was so loved. We lived in Tijuana at the time and, on the last day, my dad and I drove home across the border to shower and re-pack for the coming days.
Then, right as we were entering Tijuana, my sister called and urged us to come back because my mom’s condition had suddenly worsened. She didn’t have the heart to tell us over the phone that she’d flat-lined... that she was gone. It took us 30 minutes (thank God) to get back across the border and to the hospital. I was driving and I flew.
What happened next is kind of a blur, but when my father and I walked in, she came back. She said she had to say goodbye... that she’d seen her father, a nephew we lost, her mother… and that she was ready to go. That she’d loved her life and us. My dad couldn’t say goodbye so he just stood behind me and my sister. I made her promise that she’d guide Fau from where ever she went. I just begged her to help me with Fau from far away because she’d helped me so much when she was here that I couldn’t fathom her being gone. My sis had her requests. My dad finally said goodbye. She said she had 3 requests; 2 of them will always be held close to our hearts, but the third, which I’ve shared in the past, was that my brother, my sister and I had to watch out for each other until the day we died. That we had to make sure that each of the others was okay, not needing anything. That we had to make sure that each other’s kids were okay. That we would always love and respect one another. That we'd protect one another, at any cost. Then she closed her eyes and off she went.
Not quite sure how to end this, or how the hell to circle it back around to food, specifically the mole recipe that I promised you... especially since the mole my mom made always started with Doña María. Yeah... call the police! I do have a great recipe for Mole Negro. But when I created this recipe for my first book, I wanted a shortcut version to the flavor of her even-shorter-shortcut version and this recipe was born.
I'd need 365 nights and a thousand pages to tell you about my mom. She didn’t give a shit about what anybody said or did. About anything. Ever. She followed her heart. She made it her life’s mission to help the less fortunate, specifically the vulnerable children of Tijuana. She was a matriarch, a warrior. She called me her shadow because I’d make any excuse to go see her. She helped me raise Fau. There was absolutely nothing that woman wouldn’t do for us, her children. A cousin recently reminded me that at her mass there were literally hundreds of people overflowing from every door of the church. She was loved. She is missed. She left some ginormous shoes to fill and here we are, the three of us, doing our best to make sure she stays proud and happy.
And I feel her here in this house every time I see a hummingbird in the garden or when my hands make it into a photo - mine are exactly like hers. And to be completely honest, she’d probably hate my mole. She’d go buy a jar of Doña María and doctor it up to perfection. Ha! She was gangster. No sugar coating. She made us stronger for it, though.
So, Amá, here’s my mole. Be nice. I miss you. I will be forever grateful that you were allowed to come back and say goodbye. My request is still the same, keep guiding Fau and add in D and Nanna…
Gracias, Gorda, aquí le seguimos dando.
Easy Chicken Mole Tostadas
5 pasilla chiles, stemmed and seeded
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups chopped onions
2 cloves garlic, minced
5 1/2 ounces Mexican chocolate, such as Ibarra, chopped
1 3/4 cups chicken broth
3 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon crumbled dried oregano
2 corn tostadas, torn into pieces plus more for serving
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 rotisserie chicken, shredded into pieces
Toasted sesame seeds, for topping
Cilantro, for garnish
To make the mole sauce, soak the chiles in 1 1/4 cups water for 15 minutes. Drain well and discard the soaking liquid.
Heat the oil in a large heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and saute until translucent, 5 minutes. Transfer to a blender with the chiles, chocolate, chicken broth, peanut butter, sugar, oregano and tostadas and blend until very smooth. Transfer the sauce to a saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the rotisserie chicken pieces and stir to combine. Place chicken with mole on a tostada.
Garnish with sesame seeds and cilantro.