Love at first sight takes Monica from California to Whitehorse
Monica and Wyatt fell in love at first sight as well. He was a young U.S. Marine, originally from On The Trees on the Cheyenne River Reservation, stationed at Camp Pendleton, Calif. They have been married for nearly eight years.
“I just knew he was the one,” she said, “So, needless to say, I do believe in love at first sight.”
A second-generation American of Hispanic descent with firmly established California roots, she moved halfway across the country when Wyatt’s mom became ill. Monica has embraced life in the tiny village of Whitehorse and a new job at the Mobridge Tribune/Bridge City Publishing as a sales associate with the same unbridled optimism and enthusiasm – and maybe a bit of culture shock. Named for a Native American chief, Whitehorse, population130, lies on the banks of the beautiful Little Moreau River.
“In the spring with the native wildflowers in bloom, it is absolutely gorgeous,” she said.
The youngest of four daughters born to Manuel and Zenaida, Monica grew up in Hayward, Calif., in the San Francisco Bay area, a melting pot of many cultural and ethnic culinary influences.
From her mom, Monica learned to make authentic Mexican cuisine. However, her first attempt in the kitchen was, literally, a flaming disaster.
“I remember I was helping my mom prepare some sort of dish that required flavored liquor,” she said. “Instead of measuring it into a measuring cup and gently pouring it into the pot simmering on the stove, I grasped the bottle and poured the whole thing into the pot. It burst into flames, scorching the ceiling above.”
The next time she was whipping up a dish for an assignment in French class, she did a trial run.
“The recipe called for two egg whites,” she said. “’Which part was white,’ I asked myself. The egg’s shells where the only white part that I could see. So, without even cracking them I threw them into the batter.”
Was her mom surprised, she said, when she served the cake for company dessert and discovered not one but multiple shell fragments. The cake was both moist and crunchy!
She was enrolled at the University of California at Davis when Wyatt was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps. They decided he should follow his dream to become a diesel mechanic by attending college on the G.I. Bill at Denver Automotive and Diesel College at Denver. He received his degree in 2005. About this time he was called home to be with family as his mom was very ill.
Monica’s culinary skills have improved with time, she said, and she particularly loves to prepare authentic Mexican and Italian cuisine.
“Appropriate uses of spices make a huge difference in any dish you prepare,” she said.
Coriander and the judicious use of garlic are some of her favorites. The leaves of the coriander plant, reminiscent of the flavor of “jawbreakers” from our youth, are excellent in pea and chicken soup, roasts, and essential to Indian or Mexican cuisine. She also incorporates saffron, the golden orange stigma of the autumn crocus. It’s quite rare to find it in local groceries and is pricey. Just a tiny bit adds a delightful flowery flavor to everything from soups to breads.
The family loves doing anything together with camping being one of their favorites. Embracing the culture, Monica is learning to sew traditional attire as Astraea is beginning to participate in powwows in the fancy shawl dance and Wyatt Jr. participates in the grass dance.
Astraes and Wyatt Jr. are learning much at the knees of their elders.
“We have all learned so much from the elders of our community,” she said.
MONICA VARGAS’ RECIPES
1/2 cup white rice (cooked and cooled)
1 lb. hamburger
4 potatoes (1 finely chopped, 3 cut into bite-sized chunks)
4 carrots (1 finely chopped, 3 cut into bite-sized chunks)
3 celery stalks (1 finely chopped, 2 cut into bite-sized chunks)
1 Tbsp. cooking oil
salt and pepper to taste
Corn nib lets, any other vegetable including cabbage, squash, etc., cut into bite-sized pieces
1 capful Mrs. Dash
Boil 4 qts. water in deep pot. Salt water as desired. While waiting until water boils, cut up vegetables and set aside. Mix with hamburger. Add eggs, oil and seasonings. Mix in cooked white rice. Make meatballs about a quarter size in diameter. Only add meatballs when water reaches full rolling boil or meatballs will fall apart. Add meatballs carefully to water along with potatoes, carrots and corn pieces. After 30 minutes, skim fat off the top of water and add celery, cabbage, squash, and eggs. Boil for an additional 15 minutes. Meatballs are done when no red meat appears in middle. Season to taste and enjoy with warm tortillas. Garnish with lime and cilantro for a more authentic taste. (Note: “Soup is best when all seasonings mentioned above are added. Salt can be reduced or left out entirely and added individually to taste.”)
Fettuccini Alfredo with Sautéed Shrimp
Fettuccini pasta (cooked according to package directions)
Defrosted shrimp (according to package directions)
1 Tbsp. butter
1 clove garlic
salt and pepper (to taste)
Following shrimp package directions, defrost in cool water and drain. Melt butter over garlic and add finely minced shrimp and garlic to melted butter. Turn shrimp over after 3 to 5 minutes, total, or shrimp will be rubbery. Be careful not to burn garlic. Salt and pepper to taste and serve over warm fettuccini pasta.
Fresh Alfredo Sauce:
1/4 cup butter
1 cup heavy cream
1 clove garlic (crushed)
1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium low heat. Add cream and simmer for 5 minutes. Then add garlic and cheese and whisk quickly, heating through. Stir in parsley.
Chocolate and Orange Macadamia Nut Shortbread
1 1/2 cup butter (softened)
1 cup sugar
4 Tbsp. grated orange peel or 2 Tbsp. orange extract
1 tsp. vanilla
3 1/2 cups flour
4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups finely chopped macadamia nuts or pecans
1 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips
Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar with electric mixer on medium speed until combined. Beat in orange peel and vanilla on low speed. Beat in flour and salt. Stir in nuts and chocolate. Divide dough in half and shape into 2 flat disks. Wrap 1 disk in plastic wrap to keep cool in refrigerator. On floured surface, roll unwrapped dough 1/2 inch thick. Cut into 2 1/2 inch circles with plain or fluted (or other shape) cookie cutter. On ungreased cookie sheet, place cookies about 1 inch apart. Repeat with second disk. Bake for 15 to 19 minutes or until edges begin to brown. Remove to wire cooling rack.
(“A great cookie to enjoy for dessert with tea or coffee. Even in the summer, I’m keeping extra dough handy to bake anytime I want a light, yet full of flavor, cookie. Yum!”)