Making Tortillas, Passing on Cultura
I was walking into the grocery for a quick stop when I whipped myself around so fast, I am lucky I didn’t trip on the work tacones.
“Cubanos!” I basically yelled at the two men who were standing outside talking — and gesticulating.
“Guau! Los conoci por el acento!”
“Si, por mi Mama.”
“Guau! Mira ‘pa eso!”
I recognized you by the accent, I told them. The so-very recognizable fast Cuban sing-song.
Now, listen, if this exchange had taken place in Miami or West New York, it would have been completely ridiculous. But, this was in a suburban grocery store in Nashville. I am allowed to get all overly excited about running into my people.
On most days, my kid isn’t exposed to her roots, her people of origin much…My spraying Violetas in her hair doesn’t really count and a quick encounter with strangers in a grocery isn’t enough..
So, I often attempt to connect her via the way Mamas and Abuelitas have been doing for millennia: Food.
Together, we’ve made flan, arepas, tres leches cake, guava pastelitos, paletas, dulce de leche and ice cream with turron. The flan is the big winner. She says I make the best flan in the universe.
The latest culture clincher: Corn tortillas.
There are no tortillas in Cuban cooking, but on a beautiful Saturday morning we went to the Latin grocery and bought the tortilla press and comal. We strolled the aisles as if the little market was a museum. We sniffed spices, read labels in Spanish. I bought her a giant Mexican cookie.
At home, we mixed and rolled the masa.
She stood on a stool next to me, rolled the masa into small balls with determined hands and watched as something as simple as ground corn and water turned into something warm and delicious.
It took us a long time to get through the double batch. We talked and laughed and ate hot tortillas as they came off the cast iron comal. No doubt we repeated a domestically perfect scene played out a million times in other kitchens.
In the end, as we served the heaping platter of tortillas during a Build Your Own Taquito Pot Luck, she told the kids who came over that she made those delicious tortillas.
There was pride.
My Latin-flavored kitchen adventures with my daughter count among the most memorable moments of my parenting experience.
As we make caramelo, cut guava paste, roll masa I hand her customs she may one day pass on to her own, or at least make her capable of throwing one hell of a dinner party.
But best is giving her a connection to a culture of people whose rich traditions give life good sabor.