Lately, I am uncertain if it's the autumnal change or what, but I've been feeling melancholic and craving time with my mother and siblings. Longing for simpler times when life was less hectic and perhaps, I am romancing the stone a bit but I've been missing times when I worried less and enjoyed more freely.
Sometimes I yearn for dishes that I can only taste in my memories, made by my Mother's hand and therefore, unreplicable. Dishes like Gazpacho de Bacalao with a loaf of fresh Italian baked bread, or Patitas de Cerdo con Garbanzos, or Gandinga, that cannot be ordered from a restaurant or entrusted to just anyone.
The other day, searching for a Carne Guisada (Puerto Rican Beef Stew) recipe that seemed similar to my Mom's, I came across an old blog favorite, Platanos, Mangoes and Me. Norma dedicates the post to her mom and you can clearly feel the love and loss in this post. It's interesting how a food or an olfactory sensation can trigger such powerful memories and feelings.
I started making the recipe and from the instant I started seasoning the cubed meat to let it marinate, I was taken back to my mom's kitchen, sights and sounds.
Instantly, I was sitting on the counter in our old tenement, East Harlem apartment kitchen, legs so short, they dangled off the counter, watching my mom, carefully adding, tasting and stirring - Every once in a while, giving me a taste or having me help with a small task. That's how I learned to cook, watching my mom, make ordinary things into spectacular dishes that often spellbound even our neighbors. My mom's cooking was and still is legendary.
I called her up to ask if it was okay to substitute sweet potato instead of potatoes or yautia and had a good chuckle when she told me, "no way." I happily trekked off to the supermarket wound the corner and came back to work on my stew. Once I browned the meat, I threw the rest of the ingredients in and just left the frozen peas and carrots out till the end. I simmered it for 3 hours all the time, captivated by the smell wafting through the house. It was like I had conjured, literally conjured my mom's spirit and brought her to me.
When my boyfriend came home, he was elated the minute he walked through the door and exclaimed how good it smelled. I felt my heart swell because I, too, remember vividly, coming in from the cold walk back from school and being engulfed by the lovely, decadent smell of my Mami's cooking.
The stew which I served with steamed multi-grain rice was delicious, according to my boyfriend and official taste tester, who went back for seconds. I thought so too.
Here's the recipe I used and a photo below.