Old family recipes written on yellowing note cards can be easily forgotten, never to be cooked again. Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack didn't want that to happen to the recipes of her mother and grandmother, so she decided to write them down. But her small family cookbook grew into a larger project that caught the interest of a publisher, and now her family is sharing recipes with the whole country.
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Marquez, who is originally from El Paso, Texas, has been living in Highlands Ranch since 1998. One summer she got a visit from her mother, Evangelina Soza, and together they cooked dishes Marquez remembers from her childhood, like tamales and albondingas -- a meatball soup. "All these things are more special-occasion type of dishes, so we didn't have them often, but they have great memories tied with them," Marquez says. "I was just really excited about having my mom here and cooking them, and my daughter was really enjoying it because she was helping us."
Her daughter, who was eight years old at the time, was actually the one who gave Marquez the idea to write the cookbook. "[She] said, 'So, when I got to college, are you going to have all these recipes written down for me?' That's when it really hit me that we don't have any of these recipes written, my mom made them all by memory. "And I felt, 'If I don't write them down, nobody will.' So that's kind of what inspired me."
Marquez got to work with her mom and her sister, Veronica Gonzalez-Smith, on a self-published book. As they began posting photos of the meals on Facebook, their friends began to ask for the recipes. Marquez would personally email recipes to friends, and her friend Jeanine Thurston, who is a photographer, took notice. She told Marquez that she should start a blog and turn it into a cookbook, and offered to be the photographer. "That's when I was really motivated," Marquez says.
Their Muy Bueno blog began in 2010. "I didn't really know anything about blogging, so I just went into blind and kind of started, just hoping I would get some people interested in our recipes," Marquez says. People did take interest, so she eventually decided to approach a publisher. They made a deal with Hippocrene Books and the book became a reality.
Muy Bueno: Three Generations of Authentic Mexican Flavor compiles recipes from the sisters, their mother, and their grandmother. "The first generation are recipes from our grandmother. She was born in Chihuahua, Mexico. The second generation are recipes that we grew up with my mom making," Marquez explains. "The third generation are recipes from me and my sister that are more modern and Latin fusion, so a lot of Latin ingredients but made in a healthier way, or making easier recipes for entertaining like appetizers and cocktails."
You don't have to be an El Paso native or an expert to learn the recipes. Marquez says they get constant feedback on how clear and simple the recipes are. "We use ingredients that you can find anywhere," she says. Some ingredients, like piloncillo -- refined sugar in the shape of a cone -- can seem hard to find, so they offer a substitute in the recipe. But Marquez says she has even bought it at a local Safeway. "I think Mexican food or Latin food in general has become so mainstream that a lot of these ingredients that weren't available before are now available at your local grocery store."
After writing the book, Marquez heard comments from vegetarian friends that they appreciated the many meatless options in the book. They hadn't realized that the book would be so vegetarian friendly as they wrote it. "We grew up eating red enchiladas every Friday, and they just had cheese and onions," Marquez says. "We didn't grow up with a lot of money, and if we ever had meat it was ground beef, that was as fancy as it was growing up." Many of the recipes can also be modified to fit meatless diets.
The feedback that Marquez and her family love the most is to hear that readers feel connected to the stories and memories associated with each recipe. "Even people that are not Mexican say 'these stories are beautiful because they remind me of my culture, and cooking with my grandma and my mom.' So even if it might not be our recipes, our stories are really touching people, and that's what we like about our book," Marquez says. "It's more than just describing what the dish is, it's what our memory is with that dish."
Muy Bueno can now be found at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Tattered Cover. The family is currently touring through California and El Paso, and will return for a book signing at the Lone Tree Barnes & Noble on December 8. For more information, visit their website.
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