Digesting A Truth

When something is hard to comprehend or difficult to explain, then it is a “bitter pill to swallow.”  Disappointment is a feeling not often expected. We do things to avoid disappointment, but when something doesn’t make sense, then it becomes that tough pill to swallow.

This blog post has been floating in my head for the past week. I want to share an aspect of my life, but I want to word it perfectly so that the bulk of what I’m saying is written out precisely.  The last blog was about the dynamic of my family changing with the arrival of my niece. This blog too is about change, yet more to-do with age and reversal of roles.

My Grandma still to this day stays active in the kitchen. Even though she is retired and getting older, she still manages to stay sharp in the kitchen, perfecting her old recipes and trying new techniques she see’s on the food channel, taking notes like a student. She didn’t really teach me how to cook, but she did make many of my meals growing up. She might be my favorite cook, although I myself as an adult want to impress her with my cooking skills, return the favor for all those wonderful meals she made for me.

I was her first grandchild and she has always encouraged me to finish school. On the weekends or during the breaks I’ll go over to her house and have some of her cooking. That hierarchy of preparing meals has always been my grandma cooking for me and then I’m left feeling grateful. It can stay that way until she wishes, but I do sometimes want the role to be reversed, me cooking and my grandma enjoying the meal. I’d even to go further and say that if my grandma likes the dish or meal, then she can give me a pat on the back and praise the meal for being so dang good. Easier said than done.

A few weekends ago I made a stew using garbanzo beans. My mom wanted garbanzo beans one Saturday so I got the pot ready and started to make it around noon-ish. I added onions, carrots, cabbage, corn, and stew meat with whatever seasonings we had in the cabinet. I kept adding water and stirring till we were ready to eat later that evening.

My Mom and I were the only ones home to eat the stew, and it was good to my taste buds. My Mom was impressed and very satisfied as well. We both had seconds and talked about how the stew would be perfect in the winter. When it’s freezing outside and you need to wear a jacket just to go out, this is what you want on the stove boiling when you come home from a long day.

We made a lot of garbanzos bean that night. My Mom had made plans to eat dinner at my Grandmas that next day. She had told her that she would bring the leftover stew for her to try. I did make a good amount, so I didn’t want it to go to waste. This was a perfect opportunity for me to show my grandma my cooking skills and return the favor or show my gratitude via my cooking, not exactly as I had it planned in my head. I thought my Grandma would sit down and have a bowl in front of me. Then tell me that it was delicious and that she wanted to know my secret but life is never what you expect. We drove to her house that next night with the stew.

Now my Grandma is really into the NFL and it was a Sunday when we went over to eat. She had made her very fulfilling masa enchiladas with beans and rice. Of course it was the food worth dying for. The food you eat and eat; even though you are full, your hands are still putting food down your mouth. The food she made was that good. As soon as we got there, she told us that we took too long, and she got hungry and already ate. And like us after we ate, she was still full. She was in the kitchen warming up the chili and at the same time looking at the TV to see the score.

She was too full to try my stew, and I would rather eat her food than mine. So we put the stew to the side and got full off the enchiladas.

It was weird because my grandma and I didn’t have that moment I described. And that’s why I didn’t know how to write this post because it seems that my feelings about my cooking are very sensitive regarding my grandma’s opinion. I respect her but, is it too much to ask for her to say she enjoys my cooking? But then I started to think well maybe my cooking isn’t as great as I thought. That last sentence was my tough pill to swallow because I want to be great at cooking. Having my Grandma’s taste buds be intrigued validates my ability in the kitchen, all in my delusional head of course.

We left later that night and went home. We did leave a container of the stew for her to try whenever she got hungry. My Grandma called later that night to tell me that she tried the stew. She said it was good and that she liked it.  I guess her approval is what I wanted, but is it wasn’t exactly how I thought it was going to be.

Nothing good comes easy. The things we truly want in life take hard work to attain. I think this philosophy applies to the kitchen also. If I want to get better or want to be the best then I need to work at it. Everyday is another opportunity to get better. I know my Grandma likes my cooking, but in all fairness I started this blog-post not realizing whether my meals are even on my Grandmother’s level.

I made good stew one night and I expected a gold star from the best. I can’t even hold a candle when it comes to her cooking. Not yet there. So the response I may have wanted from my Grandma may be impossible at the moment, but I truly think it depends on how good my cooking can get in the future. But in the end. I am okay with knowing that my cooking will never be as good as Grandmas.

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Food The Facilitator Of Love

In the last blog I talked about how we would all sit around the table as a family and share how our day went. That was during the time when we were all in school. Since I graduated from high school we aren’t has consistent when it comes to eating as a family. We got out of the habit and our schedules are all complicated. Eating together became something to do at holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas.

This post should be taken “with a grain of salt.” Meaning these points I make should be carefully considered. As for everything else I write, be skeptical about what I say. I’m writing about the way I see things and sometimes the things we read should be not taken so literally. The saying “with a grain of salt” can be applied in a lot of situations. I’m writing from a real place but that doesn’t mean I’m incapable of saying something you may disagree with. Not everything I write is the absolute truth, but I do have very good reasons for including it in the blog. If I lie or distort the truth, then there is a good reason for doing so.

The dynamic of my family changed two years ago. My brother’s daughter Elexis was born and I became an uncle. I wasn’t just a brother and a son any more. I am the uncle now.  I have a role.  It’s more about preparing my niece for the big world. Teaching her all I know at my own discretion of course. Yet it’s fun to show her new things. I already want to take her to the beach and the movies. Show her the good films and let her hear the good music.

Elexis is already two years old; she loves me and in and a matter of a couple of years our family has been changed forever. And it’s beautiful how a child being present can clean up your behavior and living, in my case setting my own needs aside to create a bonding atmosphere. And that’s the weird thing about it because I’m connecting with not only my niece but also anyone else present at the table.  When I’m cooking that feeling is very warming because life is hard. But I can still feel a closeness with people that care for me in that moment I prepare dinner. I really don’t know if this is a universal feeling. But I believe it has everything to do with Elexis coming into our life and reminding us that dinner needs to be made, the table has to be set, and somebody needs to get the drinks. It’s a structured time for all of us to share our day. We mainly just look at E-girl and talk about how crazy she is.

The aspect of eating as a family was lost as we got caught up in our own lives. Myself included, but that’s life. It’s a balance for me when going after my individual goals but also still not forgetting about the structure that made my family what it is. The meal was like a reevaluation of everything, having your closest people near you to share a meal or a moment, just hoping that E-girl eats and enjoys the food.

Funny though now that E-girl is getting older, we are more aware of how she perceives us (her family).  We started to eat as a family again. It just makes sense. It takes coordination, cooperation, and communication.  We want to appear more like a family to her. Maybe we just want to eat when she’s eating. There’s never a dull moment with Elexis around especially for being two years old. She is like a hummingbird looking for Waldo. Having her sit down and eat a meal gives us time to hold her down and examine her, ask her about her day. She already knows about Netflix. This pasture of emotion calms me. When it involves my niece and family and eating as a family; I get excited.

So build food relationships with your family, or whomever you want. Cook for strangers. Food can be way more fun if more than one person is involved.

Family Aroma

Who doesn’t like to spice things up? The cook or chef has so many decisions and options when preparing a meal. The people with whom you eat with are special people. There is a realm you enter when you sit at a table with others to share a meal. It’s very intimate. Family and friends are those I eat with and usually I cook for them. Ironically, the way I got into the position was by not knowing how to cook.

Since I started the blog I am trying to be more analytical about the way we eat as a family. Well, I think I should paint a better picture of the cooks of my family. My Grandma is a good cook. She makes a chili that will warm your soul with flavor. My Mom on the other, hand, is not the best cook but claims that as a kid she was given the job to clean. So she never got the recipe to the famous chili.

My Mom knows how to cook but her expertise isn’t really affiliated with the kitchen. Sorry Mom. When my brother and I were still in elementary school, my Mom decided to finish her college education. It was my brother and I who did a lot of the cooking and preparing of the meals. Even though we were all busy with school, we all sat together and ate dinner every night as a family and talked about the day.  Sometimes the dinner was all the time we got.

We took on new recipes, as we got older and the meals got better. I start to think about all the meals we had over the years. And I can’t remember all the tastes but I do remember being loved or at least all of us being fed and happy. It’s interesting because even though my mom wasn’t some top chef, she made it our responsibility to learn to cook. I never thought of it like that before.

Knowing whom your cooking for makes the preparation more personal. So the people I mainly cook for are family members. Over time I have learned about different spices and techniques for my meals when I’m in the kitchen. Nothing too fancy. Keep it simple.

The dynamic of the way a family runs is different for everybody. But it’s fair to say there is at least one person working on the meal. In the case of my family it’s whoever can cook and that is all of us. It has become the responsibility for everyone in the family. “What are we going to eat?” is the question. We also instituted “Make-your-own-damn-dinner-night” when it’s every man for himself.

The Uncle I Never Had

This blog is somewhat forming but I want to start this post off by examining another saying involving food. This time I wanted to explore the saying “food for thought.” A very popular one, but one that is not particularly speaking about food directly. It makes perfect sense because food nourishes, rejuvenates, and energizes our bodies with new foods or fresh foods.

The saying “food for thought” just refers to a mental concept to further think about. The mind is figuratively dissecting thought-out food. It has a philosophical foundation to it. Our bodies need to be rehydrated and replenished, so do our minds. This blog is allowing me to digest these certain moments in my life that involve food. It’s really interesting because food is an element inescapable. Whether its food for our hunger or food for our thoughts, we thrive on what we put into our beings.

I moved to Tempe when I graduated from high school to attend college in 2005. Life expectations of how things should be never quite add up to how things really are.  Sorry to be so bleak but I’m trying to make a point about the idea of living and learning from those experiences years after they are over.

I ended up having to work a second job because the cost of living in Tempe was high and plus I was young so I didn’t care. I lived near a Japanese fast-food place which had a drive thru, and several combo meals. The food was actually really good. The manager at the time who hired me was a very intriguing person who liked to talk. No disrespect but she was just so friendly that she wanted to interact with you. She had a story everyday, and she hired me really fast.

I am not full Tohono O’odham. My Mom is actually half Tohono O’odham, half Mexican. She never knew her Mexican father’s side of the family. So her and my upbringing has always been O’odham. I never met any of my grandfather’s relatives. I could not quite relate because we were always brought up to be Tohono O’odham. I bring this up because I never needed to know them. But that doesn’t mean there’s not still a connection.

Somehow my upbringing relates to the story I want to tell about this job at the Japanese fast-food place in Tempe and how food came to be something that connects people. So I started to work as a cashier/server. The main chef who worked the day during my shift was a Mexican guy by the name of Mario who was hilarious. But his kitchens skills were also very impressive. He really didn’t speak English fluently. The majority of the time he spoke Spanish. And his helpers and the boss spoke Spanish also. I knew some Spanish and could have mini conversations with him on our down time. At first we couldn’t quite relate because I wasn’t allowed to be in the kitchen. My job was out in the dining area and the register, especially if the boss was there. It wasn’t till a few months in I started having to be in the kitchen.

There were days when the main manager couldn’t come in and they had this younger manager come and hold down the fort. He was very lenient. I had thought this was a normal day. I spoke to Mario through a small window and usually all he would want to ask me was if I could refill his soda, Pepsi. But this one day when the main boss wasn’t there he asked me to come on back.

Kyoto Bowl had its down times, so long spaces of time can make a man hungry. And what better to satisfy that hunger than by doing it in a commercial kitchen. Mario always cooked me things but they were always from the menu. So I walked back into the kitchen. And it was Mario, the assistant boss, Mario’s helpers, and a big frying pan that contained some of the best chorizo and eggs I had ever tasted.

Mario handed me a bowl and pointed to the stove. In the deep fryer where we cooked the egg rolls Mario had deep-fried some tortilla shells. I must have had like four bowls. It was delicious. Whatever he had put into it really made you want more and more. Maybe it was because I was always hungry. I was just satisfied being welcomed to eat with co-workers like I would my family if we were working together.

Prior to any of this happening chorizo was never a favorite of mine. I would eat it but it was what we ate when we were kids. As we got older we learned to cook it. It was what we served at breakfast. Sometimes just plain with bread. Add some eggs but not too much. But tasting it the way Mario prepared it gave it a new meaning. The chorizo was how Mario made it and it was inviting because it made me think of chorizo and eating it back home.

That day was a fun experience because even though I still wasn’t fluent in Spanish, Mario and I still used food to communicate. In the most odd way Mario was like some symbolic uncle being away from home. It’s funny that for me being home means that there’s someone they’re to feed you. It’s really a symbolic gift of life to give someone a meal.

From that time on Mario and I developed a pretty close relationship. We would read the paper, English and Spanish. Mario thought it was the funniest thing when I would read the entire article in Spanish not knowing what I was actually reading. He would just laugh and point to another article to read. We we’re able to use food to relate and because of that, any kind of language barrier wasn’t even a problem. Food for thought.

Not Knowing Where To Begin

This is just the beginning of something not yet to be fully comprehended. I write for myself in the end. But I also feel that my writings could offer something through this blog. As an assignment for our Folklore class, we are given the choice to do a project involving or relating to Food.

I thought I could do a weekly blog involving food and how it relates to everyday living. I am Tohono O’odham, but I am also a 25-year-old male attending the University of Arizona. I lived in Arizona my whole life, on and off the Rez. I feel it’s important to learn where you come from and to know your culture. However I also am just a poor college kid trying to be successful. My perspectives are all over the grid.

My brother took the picture.

The assignment we were given is pretty much what we choose. I have always had a fascination with food. Well don’t we all. But I noticed that the way we acquire food now is not quite the same as our ancestors did in the past. Even growing up food was such a large chunk of my life.

Through the semester I think it would be fun to tear apart these clichés that are related to food. For example “You are what you eat.” Does this saying still make sense? From my point of view it still holds up. I can honestly say that what you eat can be a reflection of yourself.

Food has a history before it reaches your mouth. That history is yours to embrace or neglect. Whether you grew it in your own garden or it was harvest by some field worker in Mexico, the choice to know where your food is from is very much a reflection of the knowledge of what you take in. So the saying, “You are what you eat” makes sense when it applies to being aware of what you put in your mouth.

Food influences our well-being and how I wanted to use this blog was to capture these moments in my life when food is involved, the part food plays in my life. I want to dissect these times and really see how food influences the way I live.