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December 16, 2012 – 3:09 pm | 17 Comments

Childhood memories are vivid, almost indescribable in their detail, and impossible to forget. A Christmas memory I have is that of a black velvet dress  a family friend gave to me for my seventh Christmas.
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When Spices Fly: A Cooking Mission

Submitted by on June 25, 2012 – 6:53 am9 Comments
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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