James Lopez teaches writing composition at Compton College. He writes short fiction in his spare time and is a resident of San Pedro, California. ________________________________________________________________________
Some of my earliest and fondest memories pertain to food in some way—not only of eating my favorite foods, but also cooking at a relatively young age. I still have vague memories of being a toddler munching on a bolillo or an empanada at various times throughout the day. I remember going to the supermarket, or sometimes a bodega, with my mom on numerous occasions and being fascinated by the produce section (which was usually our first stop when we would shop for groceries). I would get really excited seeing all the different varieties of fresh fruits and vegetables. I would reflect very happily on the ones I enjoyed eating (such as onions and grapes—separately, that is), but I was also very curious about some of the ones that my mother never seemed to buy—it wasn’t until I was in my teens, for example, when I would finally get to try papaya, which was a rewarding, if somewhat stinky, experience. I used to accompany Mom in the kitchen as she prepared many delicious dinners that kept the Lopez household alive and well for many years. She would show me the many different ingredients that would comprise whatever meal she had planned for the night, and she would walk me through the various steps it took to make what I always considered to be a miracle at the very end. It truly amazed me how the various vegetables, grains, and meat items came together to present themselves in new forms, whether it be as baked chicken and mashed potatoes, or enchiladas de queso, or a number of soups and stews that my mom would prepare for the Winter. I don’t remember precisely how old I was when I cooked my first meal (5? 6?), but the first thing I ever cooked on my own was a cheese omelet. That started something that would last a lifetime; in fact, one of the places I am most comfortable at in my own household is the kitchen.
I cook. I serve. I eat. And I smile.
Cooking and serving is one way in which I show love for people, and it gives me great pleasure to cook for any and all honored guests. I would also never deny food to anyone; even people whom I personally despise are welcome at my table. It is through my mother that I established a very close and enduring friendship with my kitchen. Thank you, Mom.