Eat, Darling, Eat: Stories of Moms & Meals

Nearly everyone’s got a story about moms and food. There are the glowing memories, about how your mother made the world’s best latkes or the town favorite chili. But there’s another side to that coin, too – maybe your mom was the worst cook in the world but set the best take-out table this side of the Mississippi. Or maybe your mom tried to teach you a beloved recipe only to have you fail at successfully reproducing it – over, and over, and over again. Things don’t have to be all Normal Rockwell to be a story worth telling. At least that’s the motto over at Eat, Darling, Eat, a community of women exploring the mother/daughter relationship through the universal language of food. The website is a treasure trove of stories, not always about perfect meals or perfect families but rather about complex ones. So often truths about food illuminate truths about much larger things.

 

Food so often goes hand in hand with family – but it’s a pivotal piece of culture, too. Many people use food heritage as a way to connect with their own ancestry or to connect with other’s. So we’re excited to be partnering with Eat, Darling, Eat for a live storytelling event that will explore that intersection between food and heritage! In March, storytellers will take the stage in our historic sanctuary to tell their tales of family, culture, and the kitchen. Which means that right now, we’re looking for submissions. Do you have a story you’d like to share? Submit by sending it to info@EatDarlingEat.net – put “From Wontons to Waffles” in the subject line. And don’t worry about stage fright – if you’re selected, you’ll work closely with us to get your story, and you, ready for primetime.

 

At the Museum’s annual Egg Rolls, Egg Creams and Empanadas street festival, cultures mix as visitors from around the city make and taste food from Jewish, Chinese and Puerto Rican traditions. [Photo by Kate Milford]

 

Need some inspiration? Here’s a story by restaurateur Carla Perez-Gallardo. Her tale of immigration, assimilation, and food-as-love is a time honored one. You can find this story and so many more in the Eat, Darling, Eat archives. The entire collection is even searchable, so if you’re in the market to only read stories about spaghetti, or delivery food, or cakes, you’re in luck. Enjoy Carla’s story and get thinking about your own!

 

Three Mothers

Carla Perez-Gallardo

 

I was brought up by three women: my abuela Ines, my tía Lucia, and Monica, the mother who bore me. They raised me lovingly, differently, simultaneously. It’s all knotted together, their magic taking different shapes, their power woven into me. It is from them that I learned to taste, to eat, to host, to cook.

If you ask my mother Monica where I learned to cook, she’ll always say from my grandmother and my aunt, never giving herself any credit. I wonder if she sees her effect on my path to becoming a chef. She speaks of her own cooking as utilitarian, and always in comparison to my grandmother and my aunt’s food–the measuring sticks of her culinary skills. It probably didn’t help that at a certain age, I started rejecting her recipes for those of my grandmother, and began vocally comparing notes on what her own dishes needed: less salt, more acid.

My aunt and my mom were into macrobiotic cooking in their late twenties. They hosted parties at my mom’s downtown loft, welcoming friends with a pot of brown rice and kidney beans stewed with wakame (seaweed) and sprinkled with gomasio (a sesame condiment). For the first six years of my life, I ate only the cleanest foods–no sugar, meat, or dairy, and my favorite childhood snack was steamed watercress.

By second grade, when lunchtime became a measurement of social capital, I envied the Lunchables my classmates brought to school, their silver Capri Suns and sliced salami somehow reigning over my delicately hand-rolled sushi and miso soup. At the time, there was shame attached to my “weird” vegetarian Japanese food, but today I count my blessings.

My grandmother had arrived in New York as a young Ecuadorian immigrant and worked her way to becoming the private chef for a prominent Jewish family. When she retired after more than 35 years, the Newhouses still requested her cooking for their High Holiday celebrations, and she happily agreed, year after year. Eventually, she began asking me to help her execute these elaborate, glitzy functions; it was an honor to be her sous-chef and trusted accomplice. In my family, she was known for her comforting traditional Ecuadorian dishes such as llapingachos (soft and gooey potato and cheese pancakes) but she was equally renowned for her matzo ball soup.

I started cooking professionally a couple of years after graduating college, working my way from dumbed-down French bistro food and re-imagined Spanish tapas, until meeting my creative partner and carving out our own space where food, art, and community could co-exist. It hasn’t been until recently that I’ve connected the dots between my strict early childhood diet and the choices I make in my restaurant now, introducing earthy ingredients like umeboshi, hijiki, and burdock, and​ mixing them into our vibrant palette of tropical comfort foods.

When I ask my mother for a recipe, she calls my aunt. Their food memories and practices are often slightly different—a shift in order of operations, a preferred style of slicing a vegetable. It goes without saying that if my aunt is the teacher, my grandmother is the master. I see my mother’s view of herself as floating between two higher culinary powers, deferring her abilities to her two elders. But it was my mom who made my rice milk, who steamed the bok choy to perfection every time.

As I write this, my mother is in the hospital for open-heart surgery. It is my turn to offer care. I call my tía Lucia for her macrobiotic recommendations, her deep knowledge of healing foods. My abuela and I bring my mom containers of lovingly prepared broths, which I spoon-feed her while my grandmother stands watch. I’ve always considered myself to be a caring person, but this is my first time care-giving in a direct, intense, and dire capacity. I bear witness to myself doing what my mothers did for me: cooking to provide comfort, laboring to offer love.

When my partner and I opened our restaurant, I could feel my mothers’ pride, as if finally they understood where my strange artistic pursuits in life had taken me. My grandmother cried when she saw her name on our menu: “Abuela’s Flan, Ines’s secret recipe.” My mother offers critiques at every turn, on the service, the cleanliness, the flavors. My aunt just quietly observes it all behind wise eyes. My matriarchs. It has been one of the most gratifying experiences of opening my own space to watch them taste and respond to my experimentation with their homemade classics. Llapingachos are on our menu, but we serve them with a peanut salsa, pickled pineapple, and herbs.

But I suppose that’s what we do, how we explain what we know, where it all came from. We learn and imitate our elders, the women before us, who stirred the pot and stirred it well.

Carla Perez-Gallardo is the co-owner and chef of Lil’ Deb’s Oasis in Hudson, New York.

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