When I sit down and start to think about the people around me and the experiences we’ve had together, it always comes back to the kitchen.
The common thread that ties most people together in my life is the kitchen. We spend afternoons sitting on countertops, our toes dangling in the air as we taste sauces and sip lemonade. Different hands dicing, chopping, and sautéing. Someone new will pop in here or there to steal a spoonful of mushrooms or dip their finger in the homemade bolognese sauce that isn’t quite ready yet.
The time he made me lobster capellini with a leek-tarragon sauce after mother had died and we listened to Andrea Bocelli until two o’clock in the morning. The days we tracked sand through the house while we hastily prepared Frijoles de la Olla and Carne Asada tacos. We chopped onions until we cried and had days we quietly sat sipping tea at the table while the bread was rising. There’s always a different stove and reason to come together, but it’s here that we reconnect.
A dear friend went through a phase where he had a new woman in his kitchen every month. They were all wonderful cooks. One was Spanish — she taught us how to make albondigas and croquetas and jamón ibérico. She’d sing ‘Mi Razón de Ser’ and ‘Nada Valgo Sin Tu Amor’ while she danced through the kitchen. She was light on her toes, only drank Spanish wine and pulled his face to hers while they cooked to call him ‘amor’. I remember the time they got in an argument and the poppy colored lamp he loved so much ended up in ceramic shards on the living room floor.
New faces bring fresh perspectives, unique flavors, and an encyclopedia of stories about travel, culture, and people. It’s in the kitchen that we expand our repertoire and bond with those around us. In our home, food and family are intertwined and I can’t seem to untether them.
I’ve fallen in love in the kitchen. Wearing a sundress. Dicing tomatoes. Drinking a cold beer on the days when we leave all the windows and doors open. Mashing blackberries. The scar on his hand from a boning knife. Flour dusted hair. Eyes watering in the corners from laughing so hard and dicing jalapeños. I wouldn’t exchange the nights I sit in a thin t-shirt and underwear on the kitchen counter, drinking red wine and slurping ramen out of a bowl with him beside me for anything.
You create your own traditions while cooking. The kitchen is one of the most intimate and treasured places in a home because it takes thoughtfulness, time, and energy to prepare food. Each meal has a different story to tell. The late night, half-drunk attempt at making fried rice can be equally as important as the hours spent tending to a brisket or hand crafting a traditional meal for a house full of people you love.
Once a year around Christmas time, we join our ‘extended’ family in their home to make tamales. We were adopted into their lives many years ago and cherish the memories we have together as children, running through the cul de sac barefoot playing hide-and-go-seek and lighting fireworks on the Fourth of July. Making tamales is a tradition that has been in their family for generations. The masa is made from scratch and the ingredients are always the same. The house echos with laughter on this day when all the women (and sometimes a few men) sit around the kitchen together, carefully preparing each tamale by hand in an assembly line fashion. My own family’s heritage is not rooted in Cuban or Italian tradition, however, we always look forward to the opportunity to be part of this experience with them.
I’ve spent countless days in their home growing up. With sticky fingers, we talk between mouthfuls of Cuban pastries from Porto’s. Papa Rellena, Pastel de Guayaba, Empanadas, and Pastel De Carnes fill pastry boxes across the kitchen table. Culture and food share a special bond that brings everyone together and makes a house a home.
For my own family, birthdays and holidays are always a time of celebration with tables full of food. Carrot cake with buttercream frosting like his mother used to make is always my dad’s request. When we were little, my sister and I would lean against granite countertops and wait patiently for my mom to hand us each one of the beaters so we could scrape away every last bit before washing them. Months later, B’s birthday would roll around and my Grandma would prepare her infamous rolled ice cream cake that he loved so much. She always made sure to top it with warm chocolate fudge and dinosaur sprinkles, no matter how old he got. For A — her request never changed. Manicotti with New York Cheesecake. My aunt would painstakingly prepare it each year and we’d sit around the worn wooden table in my Grandma’s dining room sharing it together.
Food takes on sentimental value as we create rituals around it. We associate dishes with certain faces and memories and this alters our perception of them. My mother’s lasagna will always be my favorite because it came from her kitchen. I know my grandmother’s scalloped potato recipe by heart. These ties to food strengthen our relationships and traditions, allowing us to stay connected to our heritage decades later.
I cherish these moments in the kitchen where I find myself with wet hands, chopping cilantro, and talking about that island in the Caribbean we’d love to make it to this summer. Or the days where I sit perched on the countertop drinking a Syrah and tasting the Sugo di manzo sauce she’s working on perfecting for the last half an hour. Our next chapter will come from a different kitchen and a new stovetop.