When all else failed in Ciudad Juárez…

to appease my fear while we had to stay indoors, I cooked.

While the streets were tormented by the cartels vying for drug territory and young women disappeared in daylight only to be found later raped and mutilated, I cooked.

When Manuel, the apartment super, arrived before I downed my first cup of coffee, newspaper flattened under his arm, I groaned.  He knew not to share the gruesome details with me, especially in front of the boys, but he insisted we not go out. When would I understand, he’d frown that I didn’t look Mexican, not even one from Sonora. I fumed, but relented and cooked.

It didn’t matter that the cooling system and fans circulated warm air or that the boiling pots and simmering pans would unmercifully raise the temperature inside our apartment. I cooked.

I’d consider my Oaxaca recipe for rich, dark mole that involved all day to concoct or my friend’s cream cheese flan recipe that included slow and meticulous browning of sugar and water baths for baking.

I’d play music to drown out the sirens even with the windows closed, and I’d cook as my sons played, ate, fought, made puzzles, watched videos, and napped.

When despair threatened to unleash my frustration, I turned to my  favorite meals from home, recalling my mother at her helm. One in particular, my mother’s Picadillo recipe, a savory stew with a tart kick from a handful of green olives.

I’d start by dicing a medium onion and when my oldest noticed my tear drops plopping on the chopping block, I had a built-in excuse. I’d sigh long and deep while I chopped a large plump tomato, taking my time, pretending my sons were cooking critics. I’d smash and mince two pungent cloves of garlic then toss it all into a large pan heated with oil that sizzled and splattered all over the stove.

My sons knew to step back while I stirred and let the trilogy wilt and meld into an irresistible fragrance then I’d turn the heat down low. I showed my oldest how to use the potato peeler and we celebrated when he carefully peeled and rinsed his first potato in ten minutes. A half hour later, I diced three small potatoes and added them to the pan set on medium heat with a shot of more oil.

I stirred for a long time until the potatoes turned a golden brown and fed hand-cooled nuggets to the boys. Then I added a pound of ground beef, using a wooden spoon to break it up into morsels that turned from red to pink to brown.

I lowered the flame, pulled out a jar of green olives stuffed with pimentos and methodically chopped a dozen of them into eighths while the boys popped one into their mouths, scrunching up their faces with delight. After I tossed in the olives, I finished it off with a few tablespoons of olive brine and let the stew simmer while I reheated frijoles and the boys set the table.

We’d say grace, savor our meal and I’d be thankful we’d used up hours of our time creating memories and traditions instead of letting fear rule our world.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s