1988 – Aguada, Puerto Rico. Sun-blazing, scorching hot asphalt. Twelve-thirty afternoon. A beautiful young woman, in jeans and a white shirt, unrolled the rainforest green velvet fabric over the white table. “How many yards do you wish to purchase?” She asked the client, but before the seamstress could respond, the woman in jeans assertively said: “I think I’m having the baby today.” Her husband, the manager of the store, immediately called his mother and his mother-in-law and hurried to the hospital. Five painful hours later, I was born.
The times were tough and although my dad did not get a college degree, he worked extra hours to support our home. My mother juggled between college, her job, my dad, and of course, me. I remember that while my mom went to college, I was left with either of my grandparents until late in the afternoon. During this time, early in life, I became aware of the joy and satisfaction of cooking… and eating.
My grandparent’s contrasting backgrounds, though were born in Puerto Rico, allowed for very different cooking styles. From my dad’s side, having lived in Chicago and Florida during the 60s and 70s, my grandmother embraced American classics and a few Italian and Asian dishes too. Every dish, however, incorporated a Puerto Rican element. She would make spaghetti with a tomato-based salsa criolla, instead of your classic marinara and trimmed pork chops plus seared chicken breast dices, instead of meatballs. Little changes were applied to barbecued ribs, arroz chino, lasagna, and all sorts of delicious foods. Perhaps that might sound weird to you, but if you want to give it a try, I’d gladly forward you her recipes of fused goodness. =)
Now, from my mother’s side, things were quite different. My grandmother had seldom left Puerto Rico, but my grandfather worked as a cook in the military and at a hotel in Atlantic City. Most of the time you could smell the Puerto Rican staples like white rice, red, pink, or garbanzo beans with a beef stew bubbling away at 11:00 AM – sharp. Christmas dinners were usually set around grilled and roasted meats, with signature sides like rice and pigeon peas, all sorts of salads, and pasteles – Puerto Ricanized tamales. Every now and then, though, my grandfather would whip up some, fish n’ chips (he says he grew quite fond of British dishes, except tea) or some roasted protein that would make the neighbors drop by to ask for random marital advice, only to leave very quickly as they had some of our food at home and to go.
As it turns out, not much has changed in the way both sides of my family cook, and I doubt it ever will. Since there’s a lot of food and experiences to go around, I’ve decided to make some space to share some culinary goodness, with some minor modifications.
My best to you and yours,
NOTE: For questions or permission to use my personal photos and/or recipes, please email contact me via the comment box in the recipe or photo of interest.