Advertisements

Como aqua para chocolate…mom, yes my mom, and her cooking

Como Aqua Para Chocolate was on cable recently and I watched the entire movie for like the 50th time.

This movie is rich with symbolisms that extend beyond Mexican history but its central focus lies with the preparation of food and most importantly how emotions can influence cooking. Mom, my mom’s, cooking is a testament to this influence and although I never had a dish that sent me into sexual arousal (see the movie to know what I referred to) of the most high kind, her food, yes her food, is the comfort of what comfort food is suppose to be about.

Margarita, who is my mom, does not use measuring cups or follows a rigid routine when it comes to preparing her foods. She does not possess the latest food processor or the expensive knives that fit neatly in a wooden block cured with olive oil. No bread maker or Keurig decorates her counter tops. Forget Starbuck’s, Bustelo with cinnamon brewed in a sack is her preferred method of brewing coffee which is done the old way, traced back to her homeland of Honduras where purchasing and brewing coffee in a sack is as common as ordering a Grande latte thingy ma Jing at Starbuck’s.

At times, the cooking is prepared while laughing on the phone in deep conversation or humming a favourite outdated tune from the 50’s.

In earlier years, she sang.

In earlier years, when she sang, her food would leave you speechless.

Nowadays, the food with the humming or the endless talking on the phone leaves you satisfied and questioning if what you ate wasn’t the best ever version of what you dreamt it to be, along with the angels whom blowed their trumpets to announce how good the food made you felt as it made its way to your stomach via tu Corazon.

I refuse to patronize Spanish and Jamaican restaurants.

No food prepared in these restaurants can compare to my mom’s arroz con pollo, cerviche fish, dumplings, coconut beans and rice, pigeon peas, tostones, oxtails…okay…I stop here.

Margarita is a cook from whose heart the cooking stems.

A five- star restaurant cannot compete with that kind of cooking, because home is where the heart is and when the heart involves itself with food the competition to satisfy the stomach is intense. In the home of Margarita, in the kitchen where the food is prepared, there are no underpaid cooks for hire, where the cheapness of the salary is transferred to the animosity felt when preparing the food for the public.

The heart rules and lavishes love freely.

So in honour of my mi madre, Margarita, whom I’ve often taken for granted, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for being who you are and keeping your youngest well fed with food prepared that will forever linger en mi alma.

Margarita's pot rack

Margarita’s pot rack


Coffee

Coffee


Knives

Knives

Advertisements

My Cousin is hurting…

Sacramento-driving home to NYC

Sacramento-driving home to NYC

My cousin is hurting and I feel so helpless

He needs a kidney because the two he has are bad, bad and bad
There are no kidneys available for him
He is on dialysis 4-6 hours twice a week

My cousin is hurting and I feel so helpless

He flew to California to drive back to NYC with me, car and a rabbit in tow
He moved to California a few years later while I, still, am, here
He has six dogs and I have two

My cousin is hurting and I feel so helpless 

Mi primo aka GI Joe

Mi primo aka GI Joe

He inspired me to write “GI Joe and the Betty Crockers” (short story)
He is my childhood friend and former nemesis
He is mi primo, who brought home cabernet and chicken wings on Friday evenings after work
He is mi primo who’d go out to get a second bottle after we drank the first while reminiscing about the elders-the McCallas-who have a way of attracting so much trouble and producing so much emotional drama

My cousin is hurting and I feel so helpless

I am afraid of his illness, of confronting it, dealing with it, flying out there to take over, to take care of him-mama’s illness took a huge chunk of me out of me and the scar tissue that covers what was once the me is thick and crusty

 

Celebrating a b-day with mom, my mom and his Tia, his aunt

Celebrating a b-day with mom, my mom and his Tia, his aunt

Mi primo está sufriendo y yo estaré allí para él.

(My cousin is hurting and I will be there for him)

At this moment…

January 30, 2013

At this moment, I find myself in the midst of transitions of the most unexpected and most gentle kind.

At this moment, I overheard mom talking to her half-sister over the phone. Another McCalla, Victor McCalla, my mother’s brother died. Death is usually the only reason a McCalla would contact another McCalla. The drama of he said, she said and there will be no burial, cremation, and the ashes will sit on the living room shelf until someone goes to Honduras mantra starts after the death announcement.

If I remained a Walsh, my reaction to this news, the mantra not the death, would be comic relief but since I became a McCalla my reaction to the mantra remains, trying not to react. I always cry at the news of death.

Mom’s side of the family is dysfunctional and I believe Webster honoured them with the definition. Mom’s family is also large. Out of ten children, only four are presently alive and only two communicate maybe once a year. Two are on the east coast, two on the west and east does not speak to west.

All the McCalla’s (except me…sigh) were born in Honduras, when Belize was British Honduras. Some were born in Tela, others in Roatan while La Ceiba claimed another. Some were born with Indian hair soft as silk, while others had coarse wavy hair that refused taming with VO5, while yet others had the kinky cotton kind of hair which only  a lye relaxer could control. The relaxer ruined the hair passed down from their ancestors. The hair from Africa by way of Akan, Bantu, Igbo, Fon or possibly Yoruba, way before Scotland via Jamaica than onto Honduras and mixed with a bit of India saturated the blood.

Mi Tío could not stand his African hair. He could not stand his last name either and changed it to Mangroo. It sounded more Indian, which he longed to look like but did not. Mom's brother045

His kidneys could not stand his body for they failed. His weekly battle with the dialysis machine was just that, man against machine and of course, the machine was in control. As the machine cleansed his blood of waste, it also cleansed his alma (soul) leaving it bitter and in disarray.

Was I close to my uncle?

No.

I did not like him. He favoured my light-skinned sisters with Spanish lessons and his version of Indian history. He was mean to me and spoke harshly to me and about me. He once accused my mom of jealousy towards her sister’s kids, for they were born with the wavy hair that refused taming with VO5. I was born with the kinky cotton kind of hair which mom coated with lye relaxer to control.

I hope my uncle, mi tío, is in a better place now. A place where there are no dialysis machines, where he does not have to endure living in his house with an ex-wife and her boyfriend because he refuses to sell and pay off the ex, where skin colour has no meaning and speaking Spanish is irrelevant. I hope the angels are soothing his soul or that karma will take pity on him when he returns.

Once, I could not stand my African hair and yearned to look Indian like my mother with her Indian features and Indian hair, soft as silk. But, God gave me what I was born with for a reason and I am grateful for his gentle everyday reminder of who I am and where I come from.

“You talk too much…”

You talk too much, you worry me to death.
You talk too much, you even worry my pet.
You just talk, talk too much.
—Joe Jones

You know who they are and avoid them whenever possible but most times, AVOIDANCE IS FUTILE. Imagine having one as a colleague who must be worked with in order to close that lucrative deal. Or worse yet, you live with one and the connection cannot be easily severed and frankly, you can’t complain about this because you knew about the talking too much beforehand.

A person who talks too much is self-absorbed and fixated upon expressing thoughts and viewpoints, listening only to their voices. At times their words are harmless fluffs of letters and vowels. Other times, their words, especially the words which begin with capital letters are fueled by hate, feed off unhealthy gossip and revel in criticisms of the MOST NASTY KIND. Attempting to get a word or two in is impossible because a person who talks too much has an overwhelming amount of words to expel. Overdosing on one’s own words is possible although I have yet to witness it.

After a hardy session in the company of a person who talks too much, when my ears are finally free and able to breathe, compassion sets in. I realize loneliness instigates the need to be heard. To be lonely and not heard is emotional damage. I make a thought promise to give more of my listening ears next time, knowing in truth, I will avoid that person at all costs. And I should know better.

As a KID, I was a person who talked too much.

Refusing to subscribe to the ‘children should be seen not heard’ train of thought, my mouth rambled on producing coherent and incoherent words which flowed from morning to night. Only sleep afforded my mouth rest. My demand to be heard was carried out regardless of feedback or television volume turned high.

Granted, I was annoying but my motivation for talking too much was the result of abrupt life changes: parents’ separation, siblings marrying and/or moving out, and cousins moving to Jersey. These changes left empty slots on my social calendar. Social verbal exchange was greatly reduced-in other words, no one to hang around with or annoy. No one to spy on to later retell the events to another with acute attention to details while munching on a bag of Wise potato chips.

As an ADULT, I do not talk much (I don’t) and maybe that is the reason I attract persons who talk too much.

“Sorry seems to be the hardest word…”

1. feeling regret, compunction, sympathy, pity, etc.: to be sorry to leave one’s friends; to be sorry for a remark; to be sorry for someone in trouble.

2. regrettable or deplorable; unfortunate; tragic: a sorry situation; to come to a sorry end.

3. sorrowful, grieved, or sad: Was she sorry when her brother died?

4. associated with sorrow; suggestive of grief or suffering; melancholy; dismal.

5. wretched, poor, useless, or pitiful: a sorry horse.

What does it mean to feel  Sorry, to say you are Sorry or to write you are Sorry?

 If I say I’m Sorry do I admit guilt, admit I’ve done wrong? Am I trying to correct a grave mistake or pacify hysteria? Does it matter if Sorry is said immediately or two years later?

Sorry is said for loss, for someone else’s loss or when a physical or verbal slight is unleashed. I bump into someone accidently, I say sorry. I bump into someone on purpose, I don’t.  I feel sorry for abused and/or neglected animals. I do not feel sorry for those who did the abuse and/or neglect.

When I say I am Sorry, it seems as if redemption takes hold, the negative vibe releases and closure is complete. When Sorry is said to me, I forgive automatically (at least I convince myself I do) even though the residue of the slight lingers.

Sorry can be complex or simple.  One may have to repeat it several times for its effect to take place while others undo the damage in one take. “I’m sorry- I’m sorry too.” Did you say sorry because you meant it? Or out of an automatic response like in “I love you- I love you too.

How about the “I’m not sorry” which opens up a new level of writing possibilities filled with vengeance and strife, great for a blog piece but not one I care to venture into-well just a sample.

 ‘Yes I ate the last piece of cake and I’m not sorry because you ate the last piece of sausage I was saving for breakfast and in order to feel better about that offense for which you have yet to apologize, I in turn, ate the last piece of velvet cake specially ordered with organic ingredients,  from,  Dean and Deluca. ‘   

 

Little Earthquakes

August 1998

My belongings were stuffed, prodded and cursed into my 1991 Honda Civic Hatchback . Once the goods were loaded, I pushed and prodded my cousin (primo) who had gained considerable weight over the years into the car. Seven years spent in California. Seven years of struggle, frustration, immense joy and gratification with my commercial still life photography business and it took only one year, to realize it was not working. Financially drained and emotionally barren, my career was over. Running back home was not an option, but a necessity. It was time to drive east, back home to NYC.

 Little Earthquakes                                            

September 11, 2001

While en route to work, close to the World Trade Center, I witnessed black smoke coming from Tower One of the Twin Towers and immediately thought, ‘Oh Boy, Con Edison messed up big time.’

Along with many others on the sidewalk, I stopped, watched, made small talk and questioned the scene. Then…

BANG!!!!

The sound of the explosion (which later turned out to be the impact of an airplane hitting Tower Two) was overwhelming.  A bang; followed by silence. Not a bang from a hand hitting a wood table or a fire cracker exploding. The bang not belong in NYC. It was ominous and it pierced my heart. It was reminiscent of a Hollywood action movie where explosives try to obliterate the bad guys-sometimes.

From the bang emerged a fireball, horrific, with vibrant colours of yellow, orange and red. The flames billowed and flowed from the middle section of Tower Two.  It was now 9:20am.  I was late for work but instead of walking towards the job I squatted down to the ground, called my mom, and hyperventilated into my cell as she turned on the TV news for information. Unlike an etch-a-sketch where a gentle turn erases the etching in its sand-like plastic structure, the image of the tower engulfed in flames permanently engraved itself in mi alma (soul).

Little Earthquakes

 

 

 

 

 

July 31, 2009

7:00am appointment-July 31, 2009
Colonoscopy and Endoscopy @ NY Cornell-Weill Presbyterian Hospital with Dr. Crawford

Mom, my mom endured months of anemia, fatigue and going from 136lbs to 120lbs in less than two months without dieting. Although diagnosed as anemic the site of the blood loss was untraceable. Unable to walk up steps and sleeping most of the day, mom gave in to her primary care physician’s suggestion to have a colonoscopy and endoscopy.

The day before the scheduled 31st  appointment began with the “prep”- Miralax and 64 ounces of clear Gatorade, chased down with two Doculax tablets. The combination produced the desired cleansing needed for a clear colon track. Mom’s nickname during the procedure was “Shitty-Bottom”. Washington D.C. has its “Foggy-Bottom and now mom had her “Shitty-Bottom”. The nickname supplied the laughter needed as mom ran from bed to toilet.

The following day, the 31st, we took a cab from Brooklyn into the city. The cab driver maneuvered through the Brooklyn Bridge unto the FDR Drive during early morning rush hour simultaneously driving with one hand while yelling into a cell phone. The colonoscopy day, the following day began with the check in. Mom changed into a blue gown with non-slip padded bottom socks. She joked with the nurses as she lay on the procedure table waiting for the Dr. Crawford who arrived and explained the procedure and risks. Mom signed a release form absolving the hospital of procedure liabilities. The nurses nodded at me, signaling my time to leave the room and I kissed mom. As I went through the doorway, I turned back and was relieved to see mom relaxed and ready. She was 82 years old.

A week later, Dr. Crawford diagnosed mom with colon cancer as I cried hysterically in the consultation room. Uncomfortable, and affected by my reaction, he spoke softly and stated his father died of colon cancer. My crying stopped. Three weeks later I met the oncologist, Dr. Popa, who whispered to me, while mom was distracted and laughing with the medical techs, words that forever changed my life: Stage 4- Sixty percent survival rate.

I was numb, no tears this time but a tremendous surge of strength which shut down all emotional reactions and released a hyper-drive of analytical thought and rational action. Sixty percent was better than fifty. I was determined not to lose my mom that summer. It was internet research time geared towards mom’s survival; time to fight, dig, claw, scream and PRAY to get what needed to be done, done.

Four bags of blood transfusions, meeting with a cardiologist, stress tests, sonograms,  CBC’s, EKG’s, CT’s, family medical history, hot chocolate and beef patties (mom drank the hot chocolate, I ate the beef patties) mom cried only once and it was not due to the cancer but to the five hours confined to a chair receiving the transfusion. Her daily routine of soap operas, napping and futzing around the house were curtailed and she realized normal routines were not normal anymore.

During the initial consultation where the surgical procedure was drawn on paper to help mom understand, Dr. Lee inquired about setting the surgery date. I replied, “next week”, expecting his response to say in a month’s time. He scheduled the procedure for the following week. Dr. Lee performed the laparoscopic colon surgery  on mom and she was fortunate to have this doctor, who along with his colleagues created the particular procedure she would undergo. There was no apprehension towards mom’s age and Dr. Lee talked proudly of his success with the same procedure performed on a patient in their 90’s.

                                                                                 Little Earthquakes

Dr. Popa, Dr. Lee and Dr. Crawford-mom’s cancer team, saved her life and were kind through my aggressive behavior, internet research, and questions on every test, chemo coctail, port procedure, white blood cell count, CBC’s, mom went through. Mom, my mom survived the operation and endured the special diet which followed. She also handled six months of chemo coctails administered through a port inserted into a major vein near the heart, hair loss and weighed 110lbs when it was over.

During mom’s eight-day hospital stay, I did not leave her side but slept on a chair near her bed and hallucinated during the day from sleep deprivation. Some family members assumed limited responsibility towards helping mom through her recovery but the help was at their convenience while others continued onward with their lives buried in self-absorption.

Three years later, Mom, my mom now weighs 140lbs and is in remission and I am finally receiving the much needed help in calming the Little Earthquakes.

Little Earthquakes, while associated with war veterans is also linked to less severe exposure to trauma which may produce similar symptoms in various degrees.

**Mom continues at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center in NYC for all her medical needs.

Foods we once ate…and in some cases continue to do so

Oh, food the family ate, back in the day before the pyramid guide and nutrition hysteria.

Here’s a sample of what was:

Curried Lamb-made with the cheap curry found in A&P

Curried chicken with Perdue Chicken before chickens were put on a so-called healthy grain diet

Curried beef-I guess at this point curry put on just about anything

Carolina white rice smothered in Heinz ketchup or was it Heinz ketchup with a dash of rice?

Devil’s Underwood spread on Wonder bread

Chef Boyardee-spaghetti and meatballs or ravioliEgg salad-saturated in mayo- the Hellman’s kind

Uneeda biscuit crushed and placed in a bowl with milk added

Beer with pep milk and sugar- I found this combination quite strange-maybe it’s a Jamaican thing

Olive loaf and spiced ham on Wonder bread, lathered in mayo-the Hellman’s kind

 

Oxtails in gravy with Lima beans

Pigs feet with white beans in sauce

Scotch bonnet peppers pickled in vinegar

Bread pudding

Fried cakes (Johnny cakes) with ketchup

Whole wheat bread lathered with mayonnaise, American cheese and tomatoes

White bread toasted, buttered and sprinkled with sugar

Raisin bread, lathered with mayo-the Hellman’s kind, American cheese and tomatoes

Canned sardines in tomatoes sauce with a side of Carolina white rice

Canned sardines in oil on top of Saltine crackers

Liver, fried and smothered with onions

Cow foot (YUCK!)

SPAM slices, fried with eggs over easy

What foods did you or your family eat?

Previous Older Entries Next Newer Entries

%d bloggers like this: