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A Weekend In La Esperanza, Part Two: Cooking Italia Cucina!

My hostesses had asked me to prepare Italian food for dinner (cena). I was very nervous after looking at Doña Mina´s kitchen(which was apparently the only working kitchen in the place). Her kitchen consisted of a table, a few battered chairs, and two stoves. There was a gas stove, but only the burners worked..and the other stove was like something I might have used in pioneer days..It was made of cement, with a metal plate on top, and a door on the side to put the wood in(Yes, you read correctly-wood!). It was kind of like cooking on a fireplace.

I had decided to make four kinds of pasta: Linguine with cream, pepper, eggs, cheese, and bacon; Spagetti with tomatoes and pesto; Canneloni with ricotta cheese; and elbows with fresh peas, cream, cheese, and parsely(I know, you are hungry just reading the list, right?!)
To prepare all the ingredients took the entire family..and I mean everyone! Oh, yeah, except the men and boys..who never cook here! I enlisted not just the help of the family, but also little girls in the neighborhood, who turned out to be incredibly handy with the very dull knives(Girls here cook for their families at age eight-all the meals for the family-while the parents are out working or whatever.) It took us about four hours to prepare everything…which was amazing, considering I couldn´t not translate what I needed people to do into Spanish.

Mina was making tamales outside, and kept poking her head into her kitchen to see what was going on. She was very curious and found all the goings on hilarious, especially how many dishes and pans were required! We ended up asking a neighbor woman to come over and wash the dishes as we cooked and prepared, as there was a limited number of dishes and not enough for the task.

The only pasta the family had ever had was Guatemalan style spagetti, which is basically alot of spagetti with some tomato for color-so this was an eye widening experience for all. The dictionary I had brought was pored over as everyone wanted the recipes, and as we created each dish, we all tried to come up with ways to recreate the dish in the future in a way that would taste similiar but not use such expensive ingredients.

In Guatemalan cuisine, timing is not neccessarily important. Neither is the temperature that something is served-lukewarm is fine. This partly due to the cooking conditions and the altitude. These two things were the most difficult for me, because when I cook, timing is everything. Once again, I had to let this go and embrace ¨Guatemalan time¨,which is of a different order entirely.

I suppose the other different-but not neccessarily difficult thing was the animals. The crazy dog from the night before, Simon, had taken a liking to me, probably because I smelled like cheese and onions and garlic, and had become extremely amorous towards me. Everyone began joking that we were in love, because I kept feeding him scraps(and this is not usually done here) from what we were preparing. Mina was watching him, and told me from this point on, I was her daughter in law, as Simon was in love! Simon kept trying to eat the food off the table that we were preparing…so I had to watch him like a hawk. Also wandering in and out was the new tiny puppy, Duke, and numerous cats and chickens.

When we finally all sat down to eat, everyone was ravenous. The family was there, as well as many neighborhood children that Alma and Anna feed as they are hungry. It was very interesting to see what people liked and didn´t like…here they cook vegetables forever, so the idea of slightly crisp peas were a whole new concept. Actually, peas were a new concept, as they cost too much for people to buy, and the family thought they were young black beans!

The ultimate test was Mina. She came out last out of the smoky kitchen, on her plate a tiny bit of each of the new foods she had never had. We all watched her-it was alittle bit like that Kix ceral commercial: Will Mikey like it?!-and watched her as she polished off plate after plate!
There were good feelings all around, and much hilarity and congratulations!

I was really proud and happy it all went so well, having never cooked over fire before and not speaking enough of the language to explain myself, just miming alot of directions.

An absolutely amazing experience of a life time.


11 responses to “A Weekend In La Esperanza, Part Two: Cooking Italia Cucina!”

  1. matt archibeque says:

    Hi GG
    Sounds great I’m just catching up on your blog. Sound like dinner in la esperanza should be made into a short play.
    lots ov love a good thoughts

  2. Jim says:

    What? No minestrone? lol. That sounds like it was far beyond amazing.

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