Te Sirvo Mas?
I’m not sure my ama ‘loved’ to cook, but having a family of 10 and growing exponentially as the grandchildren arrived she spent a lot of time in the kitchen. It was here that she was very comfortable and, I believe, confident. When visitors came over they would eventually be sitting at the kitchen table eating some of her comida casera. “Te sirvo mas?” She delighted in serving a second helping. After meeting my flaco for the first time and seeing his need for “fattening up” She approved of his zeal for her good cooking as she put in front of him a second, then a third serving of her comida Mexicana. At the end of that visit mi ama concluded that maybe our mixed marriage would do well, after all she had taught me her ways in the kitchen.
Finding My Way in the Kitchen:
Before I got married I was so intimidated by the beautiful pasta meals my roommate put together. Her stuffed shells were beautiful, she used ingredients I never heard of, like ‘ricotta cheese’ something the ricos used. Then she’d make a colorful green salad that accompanied the pasta, hijole, it was so ‘chef like’ that I hated messing it up by cutting into her delicious presentation. Seeing her meals convinced me that I did not know how to cook, so I said that, until I got married. When I did marry my flaco, those words accused me “I don’t know how to cook”. Imagínate, how relieved I was to receive for a wedding gift my little paperback Better Homes and Gardens “New Cook Book.”.
Ahora si, I felt equipped to cook for my gringo. I figured he needed his kind of food. I worked really hard at following the recipes…really, really hard… my greatest obstacle was sticking to the recipes. I’d hear my amas words “Pruébalo, si necesita sal o chile, échale más” Did it need more salt or chile? Eventually I mastered some basic recipes. I discovered basic drop cookies, and learned that making cookies wasn’t too hard and much tastier than the store bought. I learned how to make white sauce, and the different variations, just like a pro. This Mexican American girl even made Quiche Lorraine, muy profesional! Asi es, every time it came out of the oven so nice and dark golden I was so proud of myself. Oh those unenlightened days before cell phone cameras, I couldn’t even show off! Ben’s lack of a reaction was always a mystery to me.
Just Like my Ama
I spend a lot of time in the kitchen and eventually I’ve made my way back to my mothers way of cooking, testing and tasting. I took those recipes I learned and I shaped them into my own stilo: a tweaked recipe and my amas way. I work with what’s in the cupboard. I remake a leftover dish into a whole new meal. I stretch my food to feed my unexpected children and grandchildren and rarely do I make the “favorites” exactly the same. It keeps my daughter in law on her toes. Just as she has mastered something she learned from me, I change it.
She comes to visit and finds me in the kitchen, after a brief interruption of hugs and kisses from my little loves and Jeremiahs sweet greeting mixed with a kiss and a “Hi ‘Ma.” She sits at the counter to chat while I cook and sure enough she notices I’ve done something new to the Mexican rice I taught her to make or the mac n cheese that her girls absolutely love. They say, “our mom makes the best mac n cheese.” I can’t resist telling them that I taught her how to make it. Of course it doesn’t phase them, their mom is the best mac n cheese maker in the world! As it should be. A standard conversation Denise and I have which usually starts with my back to her as I’m adding an ingredient while she tries to peer over my shoulder from the counter.
Denise: Wait! What are you adding to the sauce? I don’t remember you telling me to add that?
Me: What? Oh, yea.
Denise: Have you always added that?
Me: I have before. I don’t know if I always do.
Denise: Man! I wish I had a hidden camera here to watch you cooking and get those secrets.
Me: I don’t have secrets, I just work with what I have.
If my son Thomas happens to be home, he would add his spice to the conversation.
Thomas: Yea, whenever anyone asks mom for her recipe, she is never never sure what she added this time! I love her experiments.
Back to the Directions:
Recently I’ve been thinking that I need to “learn to cook” with recipes again. It’s needed. It teaches discipline. Just as I’ve convinced myself to use my cookbooks again, my little 5 year old Rachel made one comment and my resolve has tumbled to the ground.
Rachel– “D’ma I wish you douldn’t have tollowed the directions so that the pancakes dould have been delithish” Her lisp always makes this strong Latina woman melt.
I was focused on making pancakes for my little overnight visitors. I was reading the directions from the Bisquick mix but of course I was tweaking it so that I would make just enough and waste food. I hate wasting food.
Me: What? Don’t you like these pancakes?
She mumbled something, but I couldn’t understand her. I chuckled, my brain received her comment as a compliment.
I like to think that I’m like my ama when it comes to cooking. I enjoy feeding others. I work hard to prepare good food and love it when others eat it up. Thomas has established an unspoken rule. After you’ve tasted the food and your tastebuds rejoice, you must tell the cook her food is good. It boosts her confidence and keeps her cooking. “Good cook Ma”