Kitchen CultureBy Denise Castañon

I’m not fluent in Spanish, and I don’t watch novelas or listen to salsa. But I am still a proud Latina and want to pass my heritage along to my daughter and son who are bi-cultural. So for me, the easiest way for me to make that connection is through food. I grew up cooking in my grandmother’s kitchen with my Aunt Esther. Whenever I think about my childhood, mint-green counter tiles and a large olla of beans simmering on the stove pop into my head.

I made everything from albondigas soup to tamales to buñuelos in that kitchen. Our culinary adventures weren’t limited to Mexican dishes, but I remember the traditional foods the most — even as I child I knew there was something special about them. Although I did turn up my nose at the tripe in menudo and nopales with eggs. But I scarfed down plenty of crispy chicharrones and gorditas hot off the griddle.

From the time my kids started eating solids, they loved food — just like their mama. And that makes me so happy. I was especially thrilled when I saw my baby daughter’s chubby little feet joyfully kicking away as she chowed down on the pureed pinto beans I’d cooked from scratch.

There’s a whole world of food I’m going to share with them. But we’re going to pay special attention to the foods I grew up with. Christmas will mean tamales and steaming mugs of thick, chocolate champurrado. For New Year’s we’ll enjoy sweet, cinnamon-sprinkled buñuelos for prosperity. Summertime will bring sweet corn roasted on the grill and pico de gallo from the tomatoes we grow. We’ll chase the cold, gray days away with warming bowls of chile verde and homemade tortillas. A Saturday morning may call for a special treat of pan dulce. A quesadilla for the perfect after-school snack. And of course, my favorite comfort food. Pinto beans simmered with garlic and onions — straight from the olla.

As much as managing editor Denise Castañon loves cooking, she also gets excited about visiting the city’s best restaurants and food carts with her husband, 3-year-old daughter and 1-year-old son. She lives in Southeast Portland and cannot wait until her vegetable garden starts going into overdrive and she can eat fresh salsa every day.
Denise Castañon
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