(by Sophy Mesa Bejarano)
Another day of sports training after school. From Monday to Friday, my schedules are set by my teachers and coach; there is always more and more swimming to do. Staying late at the pool to be ready for Nationals championships means following a healthy diet. Arriving back home at 4 p.m., I run to the kitchen and open the pots on the stove to discover the flavors of the day. I turn on my favorite telenovela while my spoon is digging into the plate. I’m ten years old, and most every day is the same story.
Later, I can hear my family arriving home. “Where is my baby?” says my mother. She is referring to me. I’m still a baby for her. My brother asks, “What’s for dinner?” and my mother opens the fridge. “Mmmm, okay,” she muses, “I can do a little improv with what I’ve got here.”
She calls to me: “Darling, come help me. Please peel the green plantains.” That’s an order, and I’d better do it quick. Tonight we’re having patacon: fried plantain, one of my favorite companions for almost any dish. Happily, they’re abundant in Ecuador. While she is at the stove, my mother asks me, “Have you memorized the multiplication tables? Let’s start with the table of number six.” And so I begin: “Six times two is twelve....” It’s a bit hard to concentrate because of the delicious aromas, from red beans to “cocolon,” the Ecuadorean term for the tasty, crispy rice that’s left at the bottom of the pot.
Each day my mom will go into the kitchen, and I will follow her with my little book. An important part of my childhood was in the kitchen, with my mother helping me memorize my lessons while she cooked. Growing up in a house where Latin dancing and food are as important as getting a job, where we mix studies with kitchen duties, helping Mom get dinner on the table is what defines our culture for me.
Patacon (Fried Plantains)
Peel the green plantains, and cut into thick slices.
Heat some oil in a large pot, and fry the plantains until crispy.
Drain on paper towels.
Smash each slice with the bottom of a skillet or other flat surface, and salt to taste.
Enjoy with rice, red beans, and grilled meat.