Almuerzo con mi Apa

Once again I’ve been stirred by my niece, Cassi Maria to write about mi apa, her Tata. Claro que si!  She didn’t have to twist my arm, it’s always a comfort to me to share these memories. Reader, do you know the cancion que dice “Rosa Maria se fue a la playa”?  When Cassandra was a wee little girl I loved singing that to her, por su puesto que I changed it to Cassi Maria, she recently told me that she believed it was my own created melody, confession is good for the soul. 

Tata and Cassi

When Cassi visited her Tata and me, she always loved to watch me prepare breakfast for him.  She said that he got ‘special treatment’. Pero, I will clarify that at the time I didn’t believe it to be special, it was simply the way he liked to eat. He loved a nice hearty breakfast, which almost always included frijolitos bien fritos and tortillas. Sometimes I added meat, otras veces just blanquillos. The eggs would either be scrambled or fried, this did not impress Cassi. Pero, when I made a torta de huevo with all the fixings her eyes would light up as she appreciated my handiwork and she was happy for her grandpa.

I would scramble a couple of eggs and pour them over a hot skillet with oil. Luego, I’d cut up the egg patty, give it a quick and gentle stir fry with slices of onion and simmer it in a roasted tomato and dry chile sauce that mi ama taught me to make. Sometimes, if Cassi came in just as I was simmering la torta de huevo,  she’d inhale the spices from the sauce; el comino, the garlic and pepper and the chiles all made her hungry for Tata’s breakfast. 

As I’m writing this, I’m picturing my apa at the table, hands laced together, patiently waiting for his almuerzo. First his orange juice with Metamucil mixed in and his pastillas. He would always count them, and say, “Tantas pastillas?” In reality, he actually took minimal medication, compared to most 90 year old people. But still, he eyed me suspiciously. While I filled his plate with the beans and eggs and served his coffee, Cassi chatted with him and watched me, then chatted with me and turned to him.  My apa was always one to appreciate a pretty face, and his eyes always lit up when he saw Cassi, almost always saying to her “que guapa” and Cassi would blush and smile. At that stage in his life, dementia did confuse him. The conversations circled in the same questions. He wondered about Cassi’s connection to him, then he’d be surprised that “Chicha” (my youngest brother) was her dad. This might be a good place to explain that cultural habit we Mexicans have of using quirky nicknames. We create funny names and stick to them, maybe it’s just my family? Here’s one version of that conversation:

Cassi: Hola Tata como estas? (Hug and kiss)

Tata: Buenos dias! Que guapa! (my apas eyes always had a teasing twinkle in them) 

Cassi: Gracias Tata, si te acuerdas de mi? (remember this generation doesn’t know much about the proper use of “usted” so in Spanglish fashion she wanted to make sure he knew who she was.)

Tata: Parece que tu eres la Senora del Chicha? 

Cassi: No Tata! Yo soy la hija del Chicha (doing everything to restrain her indignation at being called her dads wife and not daughter ☺)

Tata: Su hija! A pose deveras que ando mal! (embarrassed that he made such a blunder, he’d blame his memory loss)

Cassi: It’s okay Tata (and Cassi would quickly forgive him)

When breakfast was served, my apa always waited til we were all seated so he could pray. I can still hear his wonderful prayer resounding in my ear like a sweet melody:

Gracias te damos Señor por estos alimentos que no nos hacen falta…”

En Conclusion:

Hijole! Now I see how right Cassi was, those breakfast days with my apa were muy especial

This Easter weekend, I am reminded of the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, for without his sacrifice and gift of salvation I wouldn’t be able to see him again. 

Have a beautiful Easter y que Dios los Bendiga! 

Learning To Cook With Your Mexican Mama

Learning To Cook With Your Mexican Mama, Or With Your Mexican-American Mama

Since Christmas time is a wonderful time of different holiday dishes and traditions, I thought it would be a good time to tell you about my learning to cook “journey”. (Anyone outside of the Mexican-American circle would call it a roller coaster!)

I’ve been cooking since I was barely a teenager. (As a young roommate I never shared the ‘wealth’ of my knowledge with my roomies, since I believed knowing how to cook meant following recipes) I cannot say I love cooking, especially the way I was inducted into the kitchen, but my ego is strutting; bien culeca when someone says “Oooh are those Rosies enchi’s?”.

It all started when I was almost fourteen years old, the summer before high school, when my whole life would turn upside down. My older siblings were all going off to work with mom in the grapevines of Coachella Valley, but I was not old enough to get a work permit. However, I was old enough to cook all by myself in the hot kitchen and so began my culinary journey.

Cooking class in my Mexican mother’s home was very informal. (I just felt my daughter roll her eyes at the obvious truth) Chores done and laundry continual, Mom would pull out some meat and say, 

“When this defrosts, go ahead and cook it and serve it with frijoles de la olla today. No need to refry the beans today and don’t forget to make the tortillas first, they’ll stay warm” 

“What?! Ok, Wait, what do I do with the meat?” 

Without even looking back at me, she’d say,

 “Con cebollita picada y pimienta. Ah, y un poco de sal. No se te pase!”

“That’s it? Some diced onion, pepper and salt? How do I know if I have enough salt or too much in it?” 

She’d put down the laundry basket, look at me and say,

“You have to taste it Rosalba. If you need to add a little something, check the fridge, maybe some diced jalapeno, or garlic. There’s comino in the cupboard.” 

She’d go right back to the endless laundry.

“Dad’s gonna be here just after noon, so be ready to serve” 

That was the lesson. After staring at the meat, which was seeping blood, I wondered how I was going to create something delicious like Mom always did. I had no choice but to go for it and cook.

I cut the meat into small bites, I could not get all the fat out and that worried me. Still, I seasoned it with a dash of pepper, salt, and a sprinkle of cumin. Then, I just tossed it all into the pan with diced onions. That fat that I struggled to cut off, simmered and blended with the onion. As it continued to cook down it blended with the meat juices and created a gravy.  It looked tasty, hmmm. I added a dash more salt, and let it simmer.

Mom came by and stirred the simmering pan, tasted, and added a dash more pepper and cumin. She lifted the towel my warm flour tortillas rested in, (I forgot to mention that making dough for tortillas had perhaps been my first lesson in the kitchen, a constant practice, since in our home we had fresh flour tortillas everyday) she covered them again and keeping a straight face she walked toward the door where the laundry waited.

“You’ll definitely have to practice rolling out your tortillas, round is the shape we’re aiming for.” 

Dad came in, washed his hands and sat down to be served. I held my breath as I brought his plate to him. He uncovered the tortillas, lifted it up high and smirked.

“This looks like the seat of your bicycle” (rolling tortillas was not my constant practice a whole different struggle)

He rolled it and bit into it and took a fork full of meat and beans to his mouth. He ate everything on his plate, then took the last bicycle shaped tortilla and cleanup the gravy, and spoke.

“That was good. Thank you”

After that, I felt like I was a culinary graduate! (after all my apa had just approved me, every daughter’s dream) Now, I could conquer any belly, taste bud or picky person. Of course, I quickly realized that for basic training in my amas kitchen, the first lesson was that it was not as scary or difficult as it seemed, and it was nowhere near impossible. I would have to watch very carefully as she taught me to make the other Mexican essentials of her kitchen, the refried beans, the Mexican rice, the salsas, the sauces for the meats and on and on.

(My daughter in-law also says that she has to keep a really keen eye on my hands as I work in the kitchen because all of a sudden, “Le voy a echar un poquito de este” But I neglect to tell her what the “este” is beforehand or how much of it I added, making her learning experience much like mine)

Although cooking is not my favorite thing to do, I truly enjoy when others enjoy my cooking, then I see its value and love it.


Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com