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My Grandma's Kitchen: My Unprocessed Memories

Crackle. Sizzle. Pop.

The chicken breast in the frying pan smells fragrant in the small kitchen where my mother’s sisters laugh and talk loudly with one another in Spanish, their native language. The kids are in the other room waiting impatiently for dinner, peering inside the kitchen often to check on the cooking food. My grandmother’s classic white stovetop is cooking four meals at once, including her famous Arroz con Pollo and Sopa de Sancocho. No measuring cups are used in her kitchen, only the measurements of “handfuls” and “a little bit of this” are what these recipes call for.

These are the earliest memories I have in my grandma’s kitchen. I loved watching her cook the recipes her grandmother cooked for her. It was the only connection she had to her distant homeland which seemed to move closer as the sounds of the knives chopping the vegetables synchronized with the shake of the Adobo can.

Holidays always meant cooking with my extended family beforehand and cleaning the piles of empty dishes afterwards. It was an experience not sold in the freezer isle of your local grocery store or broadcasted on television commercials. My way of identifying with my Latina cultural heritage was my own, and it was something that could not be conveniently bought anytime I wanted.

Arroz con pollo - let your r’s roll and accent the double l’s. This dish is the basis of my Latina heritage and a recipe I will always associate with my grandmother’s cooking. A combination of yellow rice, peas, corn, shredded rotisserie chicken, and her secret ingredient (peanut butter) makes this dish one-of-a-kind. I first learned this recipe around Christmastime. I find it hard to believe that one dish of food can connect so many people through memories and tradition.

The flavors made inside my grandma’s kitchen can not be crushed up and packaged inside a bottle of commercialized seasoning. My grandma’s spice cabinet proudly displays the colors of her country – the original Goya Sazón, the bulk bottles of Adobo, deep red paprika and woodsy brown nutmeg. Her recipes include personalized secret ingredients and a combination of unusual spices. Companies like Mrs. Dash famously market their products as generic seasonings of flavors, which would normally take a combination of my grandma’s different spices to perfect. One bottle of Mrs Dash’s “Chipotle Seasoning” is an injustice to the authentic flavors curated in a Spanish kitchen.

Shopping trips before cooking a meal always meant taking a trip with my grandma to the local bodega, where the owners were more friends than business owners. CASH ONLY signs served as a reminder to just how personal this shopping experience was. We exchanged single dollars for fresh mangoes, handfuls of plump green grapes, bags of different colored spices and seasonings, and a stock of whatever vegetables we needed for that night. The bodega visits are just as much a part of the cooking experience as the cooking itself.

The “Latin Spice” served to you in microwavable burritos and frozen quesadillas are commercializing the moments I spent with my grandma reading recipes and learning through her teachings. When my grandma is no longer able to make her famous dishes, I want to be the one to teach my children and their children the tastes of our culture, without the help of Mrs. Dash.

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