Saturday, July 26, 2008
La Casita de Carmencita
Here is one of the best falling-in-love stories I’ve ever heard: A woman and a man were at a party. Not together. They were both just there. Fate put them there.
The music blasting a rhythmic salsa, pisco sours being passed around, the part is rip-roaring. The woman, stunningly beautiful with almond-shaped eyes and jet black hair, ducks into the kitchen to escape the din of the chatter. In the quiet kitchen, she finds a man with skin the color of caramel, slicing raw fish. He seems at home among piles of lemons and limes, red onions, salt, hot peppers, and pale yellow cancha, Peruvian corn with kernels the size of nickels. He hums while he works, a lock of black hair falling over his furrowed brow, lined with tiny sweat beads.
He is making ceviche, which happens to be the woman’s favorite food. She is instantly smitten. They have been married for almost thirty years, now.
I love this story because the man and the woman are two people I have come to adore for the past seven months. They are my boyfriend’s parents, Hugo and Carmen, and food remains an important part of their marriage and family now, just as it was the catalyst that brought them together.
Every time I go over to Mama y Papa Alejos’ house in south Florida, I leave full. Very full. We usually wake up to the smell of Italian sausage sizzling in the pan, and stumble to the dining room, where we can see Hugo making omelets in a prehistoric black pan, one he refuses to give up, so warped that its smooth surface has been replaced with grainy black bumps – one for each omelet that has come out of the pan. The coffee on the table, is Folgers, but for some reason, it tastes like a fine French Roast from all the love that has been brewed right in. I’m a croissant and espresso girl, usually content to eat enough to quiet my hunger until lunch time. But in their house, I fill a fluffy slice of Cuban bread with as much sausage, egg, and hot sauce as I can muster and chow down. Inevitably, Hugo will consider what we will have for lunch while we’re at the breakfast table.
Since I’ve been dating Cliff, I’ve been to a plethora (yes, a plethora) of Peruvian restaurants between Orlando and Miami, but the food that Hugo and Carmen put on their table is better than any dining establishment. Chunks of slow-cooked beef or chicken is simmered in thick, verdant cilantro sauce to make a seco. Shreds of chicken swim in spicy yellow aji pepper paste. And of course, there is ceviche. Half of the oval serving plate is for Carmen, a notorious hand-smacker if she sees one of us reaching for too much of her favorite dish, the other half of the dish is for the rest of us to fight amongst ourselves.
I always admire the way the family sits around the able for every meal. Not once in the dozen times I’ve been there has anyone eaten in front of the television, in their room, or on the porch. There are always jokes, stories, and laughter around the table. An atmosphere that I’m used to, and though my grasp of the Spanish language is pathetic at best, I can always laugh heartily with the rest of the family and exclaim, “Que rico!”