Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: In-Law(s) (05/08/08)
TITLE: Bessie's Kitchen
By Leticia Caroccio
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To say that my mother-in-law was a good cook is to say that Luciano Pavarotti was a good singer. To say that she knew how to put a meal together is to say that Frank Lloyd Wright could draw nice houses. Well, Luciano Pavarotti was no ordinary singer, reaching heights in his career that only a few singers can boast of. Frank Lloyd Wright was no ordinary architect, either. He was so much more. He was also an interior designer, writer, educator and philosopher.
Bessie, my mother-in-law, was no ordinary home cook. She performed beautiful culinary symphonies in the kitchen, always to great applause. We’ve even given her standing ovations, crying, “Bravo, bravo, always wanting more. Bessie was a culinary genius, who could design a meal for any occasion, no matter how small or large the group. And she, too, had her own philosophy, “Keep it simple, use fresh ingredients and put all your love into it”. She lived by this rule in the kitchen and in her life.
My mother-in-law was an amazing woman and she didn’t know it. Even if you tried to tell her how awesome she was, she would walk away leaving you standing there with your words hanging in the air. She was born in the late 1920s in Puerto Rico, coming to New York as a teen. She always considered herself the dark horse of the family. Her complexion was darker than anyone in her family and this always made her feel different. They made her feel different. The way I see it, she stood taller than all those who did try to oppress her.
Truthfully, she was different. She was tough and outspoken at a time when women were supposed to be soft and seen. And she could cook like nobody’s business. She could make her pots sing in three part harmony. People would knock on her door under the pretense of saying, “Hello”. Instead of making eye contact with her, their faces were always turned toward the wonderful aroma of blended island spices coming from inside. Plumbers, electricians, and mechanics alike, all would do extra work for just a sampling of her food. She would serve them a heaping plateful along with a side order of attitude. As she served them she told them about treating their wives better, about dressing better and just about being a better person. And they loved every minute of it. And she loved watching them as they consumed her food, along with delightful groans.
I was fortunate enough, as her only daughter-in-law, not only to get recipes, but a few lessons along the way, too. One year for New Year’s, Bessie decided to make a monster pot of paella. Though she had no plans for the New Year but to have a quiet evening at home with her husband, she decided to cook. My husband and I were living upstairs from her and could smell the food. We decided to stay for dinner before going out to enjoy the festivities. My sisters, who had plans that fell through, came by to see what we were up to. They could smell the food from the sidewalk. They too, decided to hang out with us for dinner. Well, we all decided that Bessie’s was the place to be that night. We pulled back the couch and created a dance floor. We danced and ate paella all night long.
Bessie, my mother-in-law passed away nine years ago. She has left behind quite a legacy of expertly cooked food and of being a strong lady in the face of adversity. Her son, my husband, has inherited her gift and love of cooking, minus the attitude. When he cooks, he speaks of her often, thereby, keeping her memory alive. His food, too, comes alive. It is an amazing thing to watch the faces of those who eat his meals transform from normal to looks of wonder. He is definitely her son.
Now, during the holidays and special occasions, Bessie is not forgotten. We talk about her food and her attitude. We talk about our favorite recipes. We eat and we laugh. And we remember Bessie in her kitchen.
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