When Spices Fly: A Cooking Mission

briana alfaro, when spices fly

Briana, on the donkey, and her family on el rancho, Zacatecas, Mexico 1987.

By Briana Alfaro

When I first moved back to San Diego last year, my dad shared his early memories of life in Mexico, on el rancho. His family grew their own vegetables, raised animals for food and foraged for mushrooms. As an old-fashioned girl in love with the simple life, I wanted to go there.

My last visit to el rancho was 20 years ago. Most of my memories have something to do with food. I remember running around with chickens, trying to spoon masa onto corn husks for tamales and drinking limeade on the-hill-with-the-church, La Bufa, above the city of Zacatecas.

I always wanted to return, but life provided opportunities in Europe, Ecuador and around the States. A couple of years ago I quit wandering to enjoy life in the California countryside. I planted a vegetable garden, I canned tomatoes and I cooked.

briana alfaroI spent entire days cooking. Iʼd pick the sweetest, ripest tomatoes and simmer them for hours with fresh onions, chiles and herbs. Iʼd make tortillas, then fill them with veggies sautéed in cumin and paprika. I would assemble all of these into my version of enchiladas. Everything I made had to be fresh and it had to taste good.

In the midst of this food-centric life, I considered attending culinary school. After reading through a few brochures and visiting campuses, I decided I didnʼt want to work in the finest restaurants or learn the latest-greatest techniques. What I really wanted was a more traditional education, from another generation.

I wanted to cook with old ladies.

Iʼm now working on a book, When Spices Fly, that will take me on a journey through Latin America. I want immersion. I want to cook with my aunts. I want to speak Spanish.

Iʼve always known enough of the language to get by, but my español is accompanied by long pauses, lots of hand gestures and a “como se dice…?” or two.

The mission of my project is to cook with viejitas from Mexico to Argentina and to compile a book of stories, recipes and photos. Growing up in California, I missed the opportunity to cook con mi abuelita. She never left Mexico and she died a few years ago. The next best thing is to find other Latin women to teach me the craft of cookery.

I have arranged for the opportunity to cook with a handful of women in Guatemala, Colombia and Argentina. And with my family in Zacatecas.

I donʼt imagine my dad ever thought heʼd have an old-fashioned daughter that wants nothing more than the simple life he lived as a boy on el rancho.

Briana Alfaro writes about food, travel and gardening on her blog, Breezybum.com. Learn more about, and support, her Kickstarter.com book, “When Spices Fly,” by visiting,
http://kck.st/KDDxlV before June 30.

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By Contributor on June 25, 2012 · Posted in the habla habla

9 Comments | Post Comment

Bren @ Flanboyant Eats™ says:

Great story of homage and maturity. It’s great that she realized her true lesson from come from cooking with older generations. Sounds like it could be great book.

Posted on June 25th, 2012

Cristina-Una colombiana en California says:

I love your story and I’m glad that you already started to achieve your dream. I can’t wait to read your book. Good luck! :)

Posted on June 25th, 2012

Alba Garza says:

I know hoe you feel. I never learned how to cook from my mommy, abuelita, or aunts. All my family is in El Salvador. My mom always was working. Have fun!

Posted on June 25th, 2012

Unknown Mami says:

Brilliant, brilliant idea for a book. Wishing you much success on this venture.

Posted on June 25th, 2012

Rachel says:

This is such a sweet story. I think Briana is genius in wanting to cook wih viejitas cause thats where so much wisdom lies.

Posted on June 25th, 2012

Peru Delights says:

Briana had the greates idea! What a beautiful journey. I wish I had the opportunity to cook with my grandmother, but she never allowed little girls in the kitchen. Can´t wait to read her book.

Posted on June 25th, 2012

vianney says:

How cool!! I had the chance to cook with mi abuelita, she taught me to make empanadas and thanksgiving gravy. These are some of my favorite cooking memories. I wish you well in you journey and best of luck with your cookbook.


Posted on June 25th, 2012

Pattie @Living Mi Vida Loca says:

What a great idea for the book – and I love the title! I remember visiting my grandfather’s ranch in Mexico too and having to run around catching chickens and pigs to cook for dinner. Crazy, right?

Posted on June 26th, 2012

Sujeiry says:

This is such a great project and so exciting. Congrats and good luck on your travels and cooking with viejitas!

Posted on June 26th, 2012