Becoming Abuela

In the kitchen with Abuela Palma

Growing up, there was no place filled with more visceral love than my grandmother’s table. Abuela Palma’s love language was food. She was a ready and eager hostess, who was inexplicably able to provide food at any hour of the day — as if she were waiting on you the whole time. No frills, no tablescapes, just delicious home cooking and her undivided attention.

No frills, no tablescapes, just delicious home cooking and her undivided attention.

Then I graduated from high school and did the unthinkable — I moved away. And, a few years later, I committed the ultimate sin…I stayed away. Coming from a close knit immigrant family, one doesn’t simply “stay away.” But I did it anyway. I was creating a life that made me happy and was enjoying all the American-style freedoms for which I yearned.

With time, I realized I yearned for something else — Abuela’s cooking. But Abuela was no longer down the street, she was hundreds of miles away. So I did what I had to — I learned how to cook. For the next few years, I gobbled up cookbooks and I tried technique after technique, often subjecting close friends to my experiments. I not only wanted to cook like my grandmother, I wanted her effortless generosity, too. I needed to eat, but I wanted to eat well.

I needed to eat, but I wanted to eat well…

Eventually, I got into a groove with my cooking. I’d come a long way and was pretty happy with the food I could make. Then I had kids, and my whole notion of cooking got turned upside down. I was steadfast that I would not raise my kids on a diet of “kid-friendly food”. I breast fed, I made my own baby food, I paid through the nose for organic. But I was also a working parent. I had long hours, a hectic schedule, and was trying to also be an example for my children by having a life!

So, like many parents, I fell prey to convenience. On most nights, dinner was semi-homemade at best. With time, I realized I was disappointed. I wasn’t following through with the goals I had for my family around food and nutrition and I was bored to death of my own cooking. It was time to shake things up.

The year I took over the reigns of Christmas Eve dinner, with Abuela’s blessing.

After some research I figured out that meal planning was going to be the best way to feel proud of the food I put on the table, while still finding room for balance in my own life. So, instead of stressing about dinner each night on the way home, my family and I salivated throughout the day excited for what was to come.

I spent less time shopping and more time enjoying cooking and eating. My kids started requesting meals and asking me to help in the kitchen, helping me in the planning. Dinnertime became family time, not just eating time. We were able to unwind, relax and catch up with each other over food. It was exactly what I had wanted for all of us.

Dinnertime became family time, not just eating time.

Later, I widened the circle by cooking more elaborate dinners on Sundays and invite friends to join us. Some even started to come over for unrelated reasons around dinnertime. Ours became the home where people came to eat. And nothing gave me greater pleasure than providing nourishment, body and spirit, to those I loved.

One evening, my husband took a satisfied deep breath after taking the last bite of dinner, turned to me and said, “You know, you’ve become your Abuela.” My eyes welled up instantly.

It remains the best compliment I have ever received.

Families who eat together, stay together.