Food Memories Part I.
Finding Ways To Remember
Growing up in a Latino household food was always front and center in my life. As a child, I was invited to the kitchen at the crack of dawn to have a cup of strong espresso with my grandmother. I drank the piping black liquid with more sugar than what seemed humanly possible to consume. I still remember the taste and feel of the sugar granules on my tongue to this day. Since then I remember memories more often if they are related or tied to food.
I often reminisce about memories and try to trace back the moments through what was consumed. I find this to be the case in terms of remembering my late mother who has been gone for almost half of my life now. When I look back on how I became obsessed with food I truly believe it was because of her. The woman knew how to eat and was a foodie before the popularity of the term.
She loved fancy food. She loved junk food. She loved weird food. She loved it all. My mother was the kind of woman who in the middle of dead winter was up for a lengthy walk to our local Haagen Daz for an ice cream cone. We both agreed winter was the best time for ice cream because it didn’t melt as you walked. My mom was all about putting in the effort when it came to a possibly damn good meal. As a kid, I remember her inviting two male friends over to our apartment to make Dominican dumplings. The men brought with them a ginormous caldero that looked on par for a witch’s cauldron. I remember them slaving and stirring for what seemed hours. I still wonder to this day was it worth all the work? Was it delicious?
One of her top favorite things to make was melted grilled cheese. She would take a single slice of American cheese (preferably just sliced from the deli counter at the supermarket) and would let it sit on a hot pan until the cheese melted and blackened on one side. The cheese was then scooped out of the pan and eaten like a cheesy crunchy cracker. Seriously, try it. She was a genius and you will not be disappointed.
I relish to remember her personality and find that more often than not my memory is filled with her munching on things. Either salt and vinegar chips, pork rinds, a chocolate bar, or Ben + Jerry’s Chunky Monkey ice cream. She taught me that you should crush potato chips in your vanilla ice cream and that soda floats weren’t a special once in a while thing. You should have it whenever you want.
My mother was a robust woman with thin soft hands and mostly wore a melancholy half-smile on her face. As much as she loved everything about food, I believe it was her coping mechanism for depression and possible deep-seated trauma that never came to light while she was alive. My current livelihood is a direct result of my mother’s survival of trauma.
The clear difference between us both is that I don’t eat or cook to ease the pain. I cook to connect. I eat to remember. I reminisce often so that I don’t forget. I want to remember the tastes, the smells, and her deep laugh when the food is just too damn good to believe.
Mom + Me in Central Park right before heading to Prom