The smell of food drifted in through the back door of my aunt and uncle’s house. I had spent countless months with them before. I had practically grown up in their sand and concrete backyard, surrounded by numerous cats and the occasional cousin. Judging by how pervasive the smell of fire-grilled chorizo was becoming, lunch was quickly approaching. As if on cue, more aunts and uncles started appearing. Cousins from the other side of Salvatierra were showing up. Tupperware containing carnitas and salsa were paraded through the house and straight to the backyard. They dropped off the drinks they brought in the kitchen so the 106-degree heat would not get to them. This was a normal Sunday. 

Laura Quintero's Food Story

The Function of Food

Laura's Carnitas Michoacanas Recipe

Ingredients:

1 kilo of pork 

400 to 500 ml of soft/mild olive oil or sunflower oil

300 ml of warm water

1 orange well washed

1/2 lemon 

1/2 onion

5 cloves of garlic

4 bay leaves

Pinch of oregano

Pinch of thyme

Pepper and salt to taste

 

Directions:

  1. Cut the meat into cubes and add salt

  2. Heat all the oil in a deep saucepan

  3. Add the pieces of meat once the oil is hot 

  4. Cook the meat over medium-low heat for 25 minutes. Keep an eye on the meat and stir as needed

  5. After 25 minutes have passed, add the onion, the spices, and the lightly crushed garlic 

  6. Stir for 5 minutes.

  7. Add the squeezed lemon and orange juice followed by the water

  8. Let it cook over low-medium heat for an hour and a half.

  9. Strain out excess oil at the end of the hour and a half cooking time.

My cousins, my brother, and I spent the moments leading up to the gathering chasing the cats and pestering the uncles who sat on the bench. They seemed content to fend off the heat with two ice-cold glass bottles of Coca-Cola, reminiscing about the ‘good old days’ as children ran around them. Occasionally, one of them would get called over by their wife to bring plates and other utensils, leaving the other to fend for himself. Eventually, he feigned sleep, the announcement that the food was ready, the only thing that shook him from his ‘slumber.’

Food topped the table with food. Salsas of various colors and spice levels were arranged accordingly. The carnitas had been divided among four large plates for easy reach. The chorizo waited by the grill to be divided evenly amongst the family. Tortillas were brought out from the kitchen, the true indication that lunch had begun. The initial flurry of motion that comes with meals primarily consisting of carnitas came to a lull once everyone had finished off their first or second (overstuffed) taco.

 

The sudden lack of chaos allowed for conversation. Siblings who had not seen each other in years spoke of the events that had filled those gaps. Those who stayed in touch more often spoke of upcoming plans. Compliments were thrown back and forth about the food. Questions on who had made what and how they had gotten the spice and flavor to complement each other just right.

Food, in my family, always meant family time. Meals are rarely eaten alone. The action of purposely eating alone is a sure sign of something being wrong: an indication of an argument or sorrow. The role food has always played in my life is one of connection and comfort.