My dear friend Bonnie Cisneros is an amazing mother, author, scholar, teacher, community creator, fashionista, DJ, and history preserver. Her presence in my life has been profound, and most recently I have been participating in her Altar-ing community course, held by the Latino Collection and Resource Center of the San Antonio Public Library. Our local library system is amazing for many reasons (that's another blog post!), and I will be its biggest fan forever. The ability to attend this course is another reason why I stan. In our second gathering together we were told to examine family recipes and different smells that incite memories. I realized I didn't have a recipe that had been passed down for generations, maybe because I haven't asked. But this recipe was the first to come to my mind in embodying family, healing, love, and comfort. It is also something that is uniquely shared between my mom and me besides our eyes and silliness. So in the spirit of our Altar-ing course, and because so many of you wanted this recipe outside of Instagram stories, here it is with an annoying blogger story you can scroll past to get to the recipe y todo.
I caught a nasty sinus infection when I was 14. If you live in San Antonio it's kind of inevitable during cold allergy season. My mom suggested we go to Jim's for their chicken tortilla soup. I loved it so much I craved it nearly every day after, and especially when I wasn't feeling well. Crunchy chips, melted cheese, chicken, spice, SOUP! My mom and I found a recipe online and decided to try it with some tweaks. We've since edited this recipe to fit our preferences. We like it with more onion, garlic, and spice from the serrano peppers. We crisp the onions a little for more flavor. We never wrote down measurements, and I like to think my ancestors tell me when enough salt is enough: "Ya mija!"
I make this soup every time someone is sick. The serranos always clear out any congestion or nasty head fog. I make this soup to show people I care about them especially. Since meeting Anthony, and using his food products for nearly everything I cook, using Adelita's tortillas is the only way to make this soup now. The fresh ground corn flavor has elevated the body of taste that makes it somehow even more delicious, and the thicker fried tortilla strips don't get soggy sitting in the soup. If you don't like spice that much you can always use a jalapeño instead of a serrano, but please use one or the other for flavor. I have considered making a vegan version, and will post it if I get bored enough here in self-isolation to experiment.
This recipe is mine and my mama's, one I will pass down to my (hopeful) children and theirs. It is one of maybe 3 or 4 things I know how to make off the top of my head and from my heart. I hope it comforts you as much as my mama does me, especially during these confusing times. Much love and hugs to you all!
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes total
Feeds 2 comfortably if we each get 2 bowls. 1 bowl usually fills me up!
*This soup also somehow gets better sitting in the fridge. Make double this recipe and save some to heat up quickly in a small pot the next day.
1/3 cup of vegetable oil
1 pack of Adelita's corn tortillas (10 count is fine for this recipe, but buy more for other meals!)
- cut tortillas into 1/2" strips
3/4 cup white onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic (the larger the better!), minced
2 serrano peppers, 1 diced, 1 sliced into rounds
- (or substitute 1 jalapeno, de-seeded if you don't like spice!)
1 can of fire-roasted tomatoes (HEB has my favorite one)
1 - 32oz box of chicken broth
1 bunch of cilantro, chopped
1 - 7 to 8 piece pack of boneless, skinless chicken breast tenders
In a soup or stock pot, bring vegetable oil to heat over medium high heat. Once heated, fry your corn tortilla strips until they are golden brown and crispy. Reserve them on a plate of paper towels to drain.
Season your chicken strips with salt and pepper. Put a teaspoon of vegetable oil in a frying pan and cook your chicken for about 15 minutes or until MOSTLY cooked through. We will later add the chicken to simmer down with the soup and it will fully cook there.
Once all tortilla strips are fried and resting, fry the onions in the same pot. You can fry them until they're softened (about 2 minutes) or fry until they get crispy edges but not burned - this is how we like them! Toss in garlic and diced serranos, fry those with the onion. Once cooked down or a little crispy, add your can of fire roasted tomatoes and MOST of the 32 oz of chicken broth. (I say MOST because I don't have an exact measurement of how much chicken broth I use. I pour most of the box in but leave a little at the bottom so the soup isn't thinned out. Use your best judgment.) Add the sliced serranos if you like spice. Add about a tablespoon of salt. This is where my ancestors tell me, "Ya mija!"
At this point your chicken should be mostly cooked. Take it off the pan and shred with 2 forks. (I always save a strip or 2 for my dogs. Sosi likes catching the chicken if I drop it from up high.) Put all the chicken into the pot and bring to a boil then reduce to simmer for about 15 minutes.
In the last 5 minutes of the simmering process, add your bunch of chopped cilantro and stir. Let it simmer for the remaining 5 minutes.
In bowls, put some cheese first, ladle soup in to your liking, and top with lime wedges, avocado slices, and your crispy Adelita tortilla strips. Enjoy!
Say It Isn't So: Bill Miller's
I saw the meme last night before bed. I "wow" reacted and went to sleep. I woke up hoping it wasn't true, but saw it was and sat with the information: Bill Miller's former leader gives as much money is federally possible to a president who keeps babies in cages and incites racist violence as seen this past weekend in El Paso. Disappointed, but not surprised, is a common feeling for me lately.
A few days ago before this meme broke many San Antonio hearts, I tweeted wondering why Bill Miller's doesn't have a rewards program. The tweet resonated with several people. To say I'm a frequent customer is an understatement, and I'm sure it's true for many San Antonian's. I've eaten something at Bill Miller's at least once a week for most of my life, and that's really not an exaggeration. We regularly eat tacos from Bill Miller's at work. Two days ago I happily brought home a 10-piece box of chicken (including jalapeños, of course) with a big bucket of sweet tea. When I took out the bread loaf I reminisced to my partner how my mom would stop at Bill Miller's for a loaf of bread so we could feed the ducks and mean geese at Woodlawn. It's probably really silly to many, but many of us understand supporting this administration in any way is inexcusable, and it's weird battling our morals versus comfort food.*
As the meme goes viral, lots of San Antonians are coming to terms with this easily accessible, public information. (I repeat, donor lists are readily accessible public information.) Lots of folks have valid questions and most boil down to: Why does this matter? Is it really that serious?
Boycotts and Strikes
According to Brittanica.com, a boycott is defined as a "collective and organized ostracism applied in labour, economic, political, or social relations to protest practices that are regarded as unfair." (Read more about boycotts here.)
Most people think we vote once every few years. We vote every two for City Council. We vote every four for President.
We truly vote every single day with our money. Every time you spend a cent you profess this business/service is worthy of my money.
Famous boycotts and strikes include the Montgomery Bus Boycott and San Antonio's own Pecan Sheller's Strike for workers' rights. Boycotts work when many, many people agree together to demand justice. In the Montgomery Bus Boycotts, Black folks recognized segregated seating in public transportation is wrong and dehumanizing. They also knew they made up most of the riders. The boycott lasted 381 days before the US Supreme Court upheld the federal court decision: racially segregated seating on buses violates the 14th Amendment. (The 14th Amendment was adopted following the Civil War and guarantees all citizens - regardless of race - equal rights and equal protection under the law.)
Emma Tenayuca led thousands of pecan shellers to walk out of their work and demand just treatment as workers. Many were poor, Mexican women living in the west side like my great-grandmother. Pecan processing was the biggest industry in San Antonio in the 1930s, yet workers were paid poverty wages averaging $2 a week. They worked in abysmal conditions with hardly any ventilation. If you grew up cracking pecans, you know the shells often give off a fine dust and often dirt. This dust was regularly inhaled by the workers and many got sick. Together, the shellers walked out and demanded more. They eventually went into arbitration with their employers, and the strike is largely considered a success for what it was able to achieve. The federal government soon after instated the federal minimum wage of 25 cents/hour and the pecan industry largely went mechanical.
Spending With Your Conscience
If I earn $15 an hour, and I paid for a $7.50 meal at lunch, I essentially spent 30 minutes of my day to purchase food at one particular restaurant. If the owner of the restaurant donates part of the profits to put an atrocious person (and all of their atrocious cabinet) in power, why should my money, and my time, be pipelined this way?
For the most part I am of the personal belief that what people do with their money is their business. However, I also believe people should recognize our power of voting every day with our dollars. I hope our community is aware of how business and politics are inextricably linked, and our roles in giving each of these organizations power. Vote with your dollars every day, and vote for candidates who aren't taking money from businesses or industries doing more harm than good.
*I'm not going to debate anyone over whether Bill Miller's is "good" or not.
To Those Of Us In Public Service
I consider myself a servant leader. My main purpose in life is to serve others and use my privileges, resources, and power for the betterment of my communities. I know many, many people like me who seek to be the change they wish to see in the world. And like me, most of these people burn out at some point in time. My family constantly worried that I was doing much for others but nothing for myself, and I know many of you can relate.
"Denise, but how can you keep helping if you're not helping yourself? How long do you think you can keep this up before you crash and burn?"
A few years ago while I was more heavily involved in activism, I had a health scare involving my uterus and ovaries. I was diagnosed with a semi-advanced level of endometriosis and had an orange-sized cyst on my right ovary. As someone who has always wanted to be a parent, and someone who had been relatively healthy, I was extremely scared. I had surgery to have this large cyst removed so it wouldn't erupt in my body and cause further issues. I was forced to rest for the first time. After years of working three jobs, plus running my organization for activism work, my body told me to slow down, and I finally recognized how burned out I was.
Since my surgery, I have been forced to care for myself in different ways: healthier eating habits (I don't put salt on my barbacoa anymore, ok!), working out and not hating it the whole time, and prioritizing my spiritual and mental health.
Thankfully, I now have ONE job where I'm paid to serve some of the communities I love so much. I have my weekends back and I can afford to see a therapist. I am fully cognizant not everyone has these resources readily available or accessible to them. I tried to Google "mental health of public/social service workers," and could only come up with hiring information related to social workers who specialize in mental health care or what roles social service workers play in helping those with mental health issues.
What about those of us who help all kinds of people from all backgrounds and situations every single day? How is being empathetic and action-oriented with little to no outlets for ourselves affecting us and our health? (Yes, compassion fatigue is a thing.)
(Side note: I wonder if data collected would show a clear trend reflecting women as the majority of those in these positions and feeling these effects.)
Following my wake up call, I now frequently consider the "airplane attendant" model of self-care my family tried to impart: put your mask on first before you can help those around you. Basically, how helpful can we truly be if we're not caring for ourselves first? Trust me, I know how hard this mentality can be to center, and I often experience guilt associated with feeling extremely selfish.
Because my job is hyper-focused on working directly with individuals and families to aid or solve their issues with local governmental resources, I find myself not having any energy left to expend on socializing or connecting with others for fun like I used to. This is a new symptom of this work I hadn't anticipated fully.
I initially thought maybe my want to isolate and stay at home was a sign getting older, but as I've further examined my feelings and patterns, I feel like I give all of my social energy away at work and save none for my friends or the communities I was inextricably a part of. Often, the thought alone of willingly socializing exhausts me further. When I do try to socialize I feel like I'm performing as myself versus fully showing up and being present. Of course this is no benefit to anyone, especially myself. Lately I've felt extremely isolated and disconnected from all of the things I used to love about being a social person, as someone who genuinely enjoys connection with others.
After I purposefully skipped out on yet another interesting social event, I reached out to my online community who also have heavily people-centered jobs. I asked what they do to restore their energy. A few responses shared they spend time with their pets, and many shared they spend time in nature. Some helpful advice was completely disconnecting from being online and scheduling time to be completely alone. It personally helps me to spend time in bodies of water, read a fiction book for fun before going to bed, journal, and dance. A lot of these were things that brought me joy as a child. (This is topic which I will expand upon in another blog in the future.) I did more reserach about "social fatigue," and have found many resources relating to the symptoms and solutions. In many ways it's comforting knowing I'm not alone, but I also can't help to reflect how sad it is so many of us continually operate this way.
While we have ongoing conversations on how the disease of capitalism has once again caused an ugly symptom of a culture that ingrains working until we get sick and/or die, I hope we can have more conversations on what we can all do for ourselves to take care. I hope we can continue to have conversations on what community cares looks like and how it can be implemented for all people.
To those of you in public service jobs - where our compensation will likely never match our effort and care to make this world a little bit better than we left it - I see you and I am you. This is as much of a note to me as it is to you: take care of yourself because all of us need all of us to build a better tomorrow for all.
Keep up with my musings about political chismé, life, my relationship, food, San Anto history, my dog, and everything in between.