To steal part of a line from the late Lou Gehrig, I consider myself to be a lucky guy.
I’ve neither won a lottery nor learned that I was the sole heir to a long-lost billionaire relative’s fortune. I’ve only picked the exacta once — it was an off-track quarter-horse race. And I’ve never come out ahead on hardways bets. Yet, I’m still lucky.
And so are a lot of other people.
‘When you think things are bad,
when you feel sour and blue,
when you start to get mad…
you should do what I do!
Just tell yourself, Duckie,
you’re really quite lucky!
Some people are much more…
oh, ever so much more…
oh, muchly much-much more
unlucky than you!’
Dr. Seuss — Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?
As I read to first-graders this past Friday — during Read Across America Day — I was reminded of just how lucky I really am.
I still recall the first time I felt … unlucky.
On June 9, 1976, Ware Elementary School had been out for summer for more than a week. But, the invitations to my birthday party were passed out with plenty of time to spare.
The lawn at 1100 Berry Lane had a fresh cut. The games — inside and out — were set up and ready to be played. The green frosted chocolate cake made a nice centerpiece … surrounded by goodie bags for the guests. My 6th birthday marked the first party I ever had and I was the man of the hour.
Then, it didn’t happen.
Neither did some sort of catastrophe nor violent early June thunderstorm result in a cancellation of the festivities. The cake didn’t collapse. The ice cream didn’t melt. Rather, it was the passing time. Start time came and went. So did wrap-up time. No one from my class showed.
Woe was me
Feeling unlucky was a regular thing with me during my childhood.
I regularly felt down on my luck when my peers went on long vacations — and took jet airplanes to get there. That they’d come home wearing puka shell necklaces with stories about emerald-green water and helicopter rides only made me feel less fortunate. After all, our family only traveled to South Padre Island — by car. And my annual getaway with my dad was a mere hour’s drive to Tyler State Park, where we’d fish, ride bicycles and cook on the Coleman stove.
I vividly recall my father parking his old car near the Lions Club to pick me up from Judson Middle School in the afternoons. I’d asked him to remain out of sight, since we weren’t lucky enough to have a new car. He obliged me.
More than once, I felt cursed because we had burgers on the grill, or homemade fried chicken — while my peers’ parents were taking them through the McDonald’s or Kentucky Fried Chicken drive-thru.
And then, there was our swimming pool. Oh, it was nice. But, I had to help clean it. I also had to mow and trim the soft carpet of St. Augustine grass that surrounded it.
Yeah, right. Woe was me.
‘Be grateful you’re not in the forest in France
Where the average young person just hasn’t a chance
To escape from the perilous pants eating plants
But your pants are safe, you’re a fortunate guy
You ought to be shouting how lucky am I’
Lucky. All of us.
Before I began reading to the class, I introduced myself and posed a question.
‘So, how many of you are going somewhere during spring break?’
The hands all went up.
‘I’m going to Dallas to help my auntie … and shop … and have fun,’ a little pigtailed girl said, with a smile.
‘We’re gonna go to the swimming pool down the street,’ a little boy told me.
‘I’m going to sleep a lot,’ a young man named Jamaal announced.
And then I told them of my plans and how my own children feel … unlucky. My spring break will be at home with the family. I plan to prepare the gardens, replace a rotting soffit board overlooking the front porch and write. Maybe I’ll read too.
‘You ought to be thankful a whole heaping lot, for The places and people you’re lucky you’re not!’
I also mentioned that we might go camping for a day, or two; wash and wax my 10-year-old truck; and maybe invite my dad over for homemade hamburgers on the grill.
And continue feeling quite lucky.
Several years ago, we were looking for Mexican (or Tex-Mex) food in New Jersey and the closest thing we found was a spot in Middletown. Their specialty — Shrimp & Scallop Chimichangas. After moving back to Texas — Tex-Mex Mecca — I realized just how good that New Jersey restaurant really was. This is my attempt at recreating my favorite dish there.
Seafood Chimichangas w/ Ancho Cream
1 lb – Extra Large Shrimp (16-20 ct.), peeled & deveined, tails removed
1 lb – Sea Scallops
2 TB – Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 – Large (or 2 small) Avocados
1/4 cup – Cilantro leaves, chopped finely
1 TB – Meyer Lemon juice
1 tsp – Kosher salt
5 – Burrito-sized flour tortillas
5-6 – Small Ancho chiles, stems and seeds removed
5-6 – Fresh Cilantro sprigs (stems and leaves)
2 TB – Mild Salsa
2 – Garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp – Ground cumin
1 tsp – Mexican Oregano (Italian Oregano may be substituted)
1 tsp – Kosher salt
1/2 pint – Heavy Cream
Vegetable oil spray (I use EVOO in a pump spray device)
1 lb – Mexican melting cheese (Asadero, Queso Quesadilla, Oaxaca, Manchego), shredded
Prepare the Anchos
In 2 cups of hot water, soak Ancho chiles until softened, about 20 minutes. (Reserve the soaking liquid.) Place softened anchos, cilantro, salsa, garlic, cumin, oregano and salt in a blender or food processor. Add about 1 cup of the soaking liquid and process until smooth. — Mixture should be thin and soupy. Add more soaking liquid or water, if necessary.
Place mixture in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. The mixture should reduce somewhat.
Prepare the Chimichangas
Preheat oven to 400ºF.
Dice avocado(s) into small chunks. Toss with lemon juice, cilantro and salt. Set aside.
Heat a large skillet to high. Add olive oil. Add shrimp and scallops (don’t overcrowd pan); Cook for about 2 minutes. (We are not cooking the shrimp and scallops all the way through at this point.)
Line center of flour tortilla with seafood mixture and avocado chunks. Fold in the sides of the tortilla, then overlap sides by folding up the bottom. Roll until sealed. Repeat.
Place chimichangas, the sealed side down, in an oiled baking dish (or large cast iron skillet). Spray the top and sides of each chimichanga with oil (to promote browning and crisping).
Place in preheated oven for about 20 minutes.
Make Ancho Cream & complete dish
Ancho mixture should be reduced by about half by now. If not, raise the heat slightly. Once reduced, remove from heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes, or so. Add heavy cream and mix well.
Remove chimichangas from oven and place, sealed side down, on plates. Top with a handful of shredded cheese and Ancho cream. (The heat from the chimichanga and Ancho cream will melt the cheese nicely.)
Makes 5 Seafood Chimichangas.