For me, food is never about fuel. I wasn’t raised that way. I come from a home where food is a mode of self-expression. Food provides the means to convey what you’re feeling. You must watch your mood when in the kitchen. When cooking in a bad mood, that negativity is absorbed directly into your food, and anyone else who eats it will absorb that energy too. Always cook when happy, for you are what you eat.
My mother left her family in Latin America at age 22 to venture across the Atlantic, to start a new life with my British journalist father in the U.K. She said goodbye to the life she knew in Nicaragua for the new hue of London. She described London as “just like the black and white films, but a lot colder,” although she was pleased to realize that it was not quite as grey as in the movies. One of her earliest memories was experiencing snow for the first time. The gray palette of London was enlivened by the brightly colored clothing she loves to wear, complimenting her bright and warm personality.
Mum didn’t speak a word of English when she moved; she was barely an adult herself, and the following year would become a mother, to me. She didn’t know how to cook back then, and although she came to appreciate fish and chips or cottage pie, it was the connection to her roots, the memories, tastes and smells, that brought all her grandmother’s recipes to the fore. She never knew her own mother, who died when she was two, and was mainly raised by her grandmother. I was her first real lens of motherhood. My brother and I, as I have come to realize, were her world. She gave us everything—her time, energy, guidance, and love.
Any career ambitions were postponed until we were both in middle school. Mum was always there, cooking every meal, while my dad worked late of an evening. The kitchen was her domain, not in the traditional sense, but in a powerful way. Her dishes brought the family together. We’d sit at the table and talk about our day over beautiful meals, made from the heart. It’s one of the reasons I’m so passionate about food now, wanting to experiment with flavors and ingredients from around the world.
Whether an elaborate party favorite like sea trout with rosemary roast potatoes or a weekday classic like beans and rice, each meal was divine—“because it’s made with love,” she’d say in her witty accent. It was only via friends remarking at Mum’s accent that I came to understand how she does sound quite different to everyone else, which sometimes invoked prejudice towards her. Once, while at the doctor’s office, the receptionist acted as if she couldn't understand Mum, despite her speaking clearly. That's when I started to understand the judgment of others. As someone of mixed heritage, I treat all people with respect.
It’s only now, in my early 30s, that I truly appreciate what my mother put into every meal. My own cooking doesn’t seem like equal currency, and I sometimes feel like a fraud, despite how thrilled she is whenever she samples any of my creations.
She taught me how to love, without words, and for that I am eternally grateful.
Gabriella Weekes is an actress from London and founder of Art Eats.
Mum's Refried Beans
1 lb. pinto beans
4 T. olive oil, divided
3 - 4 c. basmati rice
salt and pepper to taste
1 small onion, chopped
2 avocados, sliced
cheddar or Red Leicester cheese, grated
hot pepper sauce (Encona Original preferred)
Soak beans in water to cover overnight.
Bring a pot of fresh water to boil, and simmer beans for approximately 30 - 40 minutes until softened.
Drain, reserving a cup or two of the cooking water.
Heat 2 T. oil in a large pot, and add the rice to coat.
Cover rice with water, add salt, and bring to a boil.
Simmer over low heat until water is absorbed.
In a large frying pan, heat remaining 2 T. olive oil, and sauté the onion until golden brown.
Add the beans to the pan and mash with a potato masher.
Add some of the reserved water to moisten.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve beans with rice, avocado, cheese and hot sauce.