I’ve seen all those “Chicken Soup for the Soul” books and as great as they are, I can’t see myself in them. I could get into why, but that will derail the point of this whole post. So I’m writing my own, Asopao de Pollo the reluctance of a chef cooking and grieving for a deceased parent while also being a medium-ish . (this might be long so feel free to skip to the bottom for the recipe!)
I don’t know when it started, and for sure it was before 2003, but I kinda just hate my birthday. It’s probably deep rooted in something from my childhood. Possibly the fact that I associate my 10th birthday with what I want to say was the last time my parents were together, happy, in one house. I can’t really remember, in fact, I can’t remember much about their divorce (well they weren’t married but together forever, or what felt like it to me)
There are tons of pictures to prove that my mom busted her ass and went all out to celebrate me and my day. Even now as an adult I almost always manage to somehow show up at her place or she at mine and we just hang out over cake and a meal. No huge fuss, just comfort, she gets me. I can’t blame her at all for any of my weird feelings. ( seriously, I always had a cute ass dress, everyone came over, the food was great, the cake, epic, but that hair… what a shame!)
Could it have been the few years in my first marriage where days before the fifth we would get into some sort of weird fight where then I’d just be upset and there would be no reason to celebrate, or presents? We were young adults, children really, and yet, no fanfare that children enjoy.
The last year we were together my ex husband suggested that we stay married but live apart, on account of my heathen practices. I remember it being October 3rd. I remember the floral bed cover and I remember laughing, ignoring the conversation and saying in my head “There it is!!! You can forget about having a good time now!”. Can I blame him for being young and not knowing any better? No. He was also going through some things during that time and it was just apparent that I couldn’t help. So although that memory sticks as part of my top 3 worst birthdays, I can’t blame him for my weird feelings.
I was newly hired at Tavern on the Green, it took me a whole month to get the folks to stop hating me, and some of them still did, but leave it up to the pot washer and porters to move past all the bullshit and show out for you. God/dess Bless those humans who break their asses for you to enjoy your fancy dinners!
The lead pot washer got folks together and the bakery department to make me a cake. RIght in the middle of “being in the weeds” , the last push of the lunch shift, they come out with a cake, loud ass music and “Happy Birthday” over the expediter mic, while Mr. Nye played his trombone. Seriously, I don’t know where he kept it, but it always came out for random occasions! ( in my very pregnant times at the station, later that year, he would sneak me prime rib, mash and green beans, for the bebe. He would play for me too sometimes, usually after midnight cause it was super dead)
Anyway, I was totally shocked, mostly because the hate was still real, yet it was super cool, and I was happy! One for the books! I told myself and then… I got a phone call. My mom wished me a Happy birthday and casually mentioned that I should stop by her house on my way home.
I was newly married, 20 yrs old and felt I was passed that need for mothering ( how stupid was I) I didn’t want to upset her but I knew I would be tired and folks were waiting at home. I tried to get around it, and again, she insisted a little more.
At that moment, it clicked. “What’s wrong?” I asked. There was a pause, and I asked again. She said she would rather tell me when I got there but said my father was in the hospital, he was calling out for me and it didn’t sound good. I said, ok, I’ll stop by.. At least I think I did, or something like that and I hung up.
I started plating cheesecakes when the tears streamed down my face. I covered them and set them in the fridge, grabbed a stack of clean plates to keep going when I couldn’t see anymore. One of the porters came by, “hey Drea, you ok?” and I collapsed into his arms, or he caught me, because the news finally hit me. “My father is dying” I said to him. “How do you know?” he asked. “It’s my birthday, and he’s in the hospital, I just know.”
Fast forward to me leaving work, I don’t know how I got to my mothers, or if I even got there first, but I did get to the hospital, went through some more trauma and 7 days later he was officially gone. Honoring his wishes he was taken off life support and I never forgave myself for being the worst child in the world.
Can I blame him for being sick and dying? Maybe, and I know that sounds wrong but that’s a story for another time. Can I blame him for my weird feelings about my birthday? No, but this is the number 1 reason I would prefer to let it slip past me, quietly.
Where’s the recipe carajo?! It’s coming!
Fast forward through several life changes, a second marriage, a dog, growing child, several career moves, many birthdays and lots of spiritual work, I thought this year would be good! Ochun last year asked me to really leave the guilt behind, I’ve had plenty of dreams with my Dad since it happened where he’s like, I’m good! This year I was advised to do something a little extra special this year and then the plague hit.
What the actual f*ck.
I won’t talk about the “rona” right now, it’s too soon, too much lost and I can barely hang on as I write this piece so TBC on that. I had a really special dream with my dad during this, and it felt like deliverance finally. So why can’t I move past the guilt? The grieving never ends, not truly and I feel like I’ve moved past that, just knowing he’s not here but still present in his spirit ways but the guilt. That shit is forever.
While I should be making all these cool fall and Samhain recipes and posts on the Gourmet Witch page, I’ve just been taking care of my mental health. The rona really did a number on me and I think I just needed time away from pushing the machine. Do I want to finish my damn cookbook? Sure. Can I push till I fall over, just to put out something mediocre? Sure. I won’t though, because that’s not me. I am rebuilding myself here, and I’m almost done. Done in the way that I can stand freely without the “scaffolding” so stay tuned for all that too!
I have a cool new backdrop for my Ancestor Offering pictures that I never took, HAHA! I thought, well if I can get one out, then I’ll be happy. This is where the Asopado came in, to stir the grief pot and finished with a little bit of healing.
The recipe is about to be born here!!
I got into the kitchen and pulled that magic up through my feet. I was making this dish for my father, specifically for him, which I’ve done but never this way, it felt different. All the Altars were lit and doing their thing ( a usual practice here but I think it added to the espooky) I grabbed the biggest pot, and set it on the stove.My garden is still giving me things ( global warming is real and scary folks!) so I ran out, picked a few peppers, grabbed a scallion, some cilantro and came back in. I chopped them up with 2 red onions, peeled a few cloves of garlic, washed the cilantro well then into the pot. I added my chicken and left it alone to simmer into a delicious broth, the base for my dish.
Once that was done, I strained it, kept what I needed for today and froze the rest ( don’t ever waste broth!) I asked Isis to come out and help me shred this chicken while I continued to work on this dish. She never got to meet her grandad, I got pregnant later that year that he passed and it’s also something that eats me up with grief, and honestly, rage, but I digress!
I chopped more onions, peppers, scallions, garlic and cilantro sprigs ( waste not, want not!). I portioned and washed out the rice, set it in a bowl. Grabbed the frozen peas and carrots, also into a bowl, at the ready. Wooden spoon in hand while the other reaches for the oil and then…
“Get the good stuff.” I chuckled to myself and opened the refrigerator door… on the top shelf, sitting in a ziplock bag is the golden ambrosia, the elixir of life, the beginning of anything delicious in my mother’s kitchen…. Achiote
Funny thing about mediumship is you never know how it’s going to manifest in your life. Everyone has their way, their journey, it’s very unique. I get pictures, voices and feelings. Sometimes I can see a fully manifested being, sometimes not. All I know, is that this is part of me, my life and spiritual practice. I don’t try to bargain with it, I just let it do its thing. This was the voice of a familial spirit that hangs out when I cook, especially when I’m “doing a thing.”
I grab the little jar that my grandmother carefully curated, from the selection of Jams in either her fridge or mine. I try to always buy the coolest ones I find, because she loves them. While she was here last month she made me some achiote oil, in the very special achiote pot she got for me when I finally had my own place. Please know, I never use it, and only let her make it for me, because grandma knows best! ( my mom makes it too but you know, it’s grandma!)
So I take it out, grab a napkin and place it under the lip of the jar as I pour liquid gold into the pot. Kinda how bottle service was for wine at a fancy place ( circa 1990). Once it’s hot, in goes the sofrito and boy does that hit you in the feels. Cooking with purpose, with magic, is a different experience. Veggies are sweating, and then it happens…
I get a quick flash to the mason jar in the back of the fridge. Aliño.
Everyone has their signature seasoning, the way they shake jars and put their touch on things, their stamp. Aliño is my mother’s signature. In her most recent visits, she has brought some with her, particularly to make Isis favorite meals. It’s something I grew up loving and hating ( because she made it in the blender at 6 am on a saturday! At least that’s how it felt when the roar of the machine woke you up!)
I paused again, and I felt that nudge once more. He was asking me to add it.
I got all weepy eyed, but swallowed the golf sized lump in my throat, walked to the fridge and added it to the cooking veggies. This seasoning is super special, I hardly use it, and honestly I never add it to a stewed dish, this usually goes directly on meat but a request is a request. I am his daughter, but my mom…. Even though he was the absolute worst to her, I want to believe that she was the love of his life, and in that moment, he wanted to feel her through this meal. Am I the Whoopi Goldberg in this moment??? that’s so sweet yet gross at the same time! ::Insert crying emoji while rocking back and forth::
In goes the rice to toast quickly in the oil and spices, followed by the peas and carrots combo, the shredded chicken, a packet of sazon and 1 cubito de pollo . Add 10 to 12 cups of broth, throw in a few cilantro sprigs and it’s done!
I go back to the fridge for the olives and quickly put that jar back. “La nena” I heard. Talking to the air, I said “So? I’m making this for you! She can pick them out” and immediately felt that head shake, no. I sighed, brought the pot to a boil, then lowered to a simmer.
25-30 minutes later and it’s ready to eat. I get it out into a bowl and stare at it. It’s ready for the picture I planned to take. I go back to my set up and start fidgeting with the props. I go back to the kitchen and look at the dish, I go for the leftover avocado and pickled onions.
I don’t actually know much about my father ( hence the guilt). The things he really liked, I know a few but really not a lot. I could ask my mom but it immediately makes me want to cry so I don’t, and finish fixing the plate.
My mind wanders, and I start talking to his spirit. “ I think you would have liked this better if it was shrimp. I know you loved seafood, remember when you left me in the park?” I laughed out loud because I may not remember much but that definitely sticks out. “Even if you would have loved the shrimp, you’d be too scared because Isis is allergic, so I get it. I hope you like avocado, but I know you love Mami’s Encebollado.”
“Well, I hope you do, because it’s going on this! Also, I feel like you would have put tabasco on this, I don’t have any right now, but here’s some Sriracha! Careful, its spicy.” I use the bottle as a prop now, and it throws off the whole aesthetic but this isn’t for me, and I’m ok with it.
“ If you were alive, I’d have taken you to eat sushi. I don’t think the raw fish would have been your favorite but I don’t think you would be able to resist the soft shell crab! Spider rolls are my favorite. They remind me of you. ‘Member when I almost stepped in a tub full of crabs? The ones you and Ingrid ate and I was terrified to come out? I know – she misses you too.”
I take my photo, place the dish with a candle in the ancestor area of the house then serve everyone else. The TV is on, everyone is eating and Im having my own private dumb supper, if you will. I go through all the feelings, some old, some new, and the list of grievances. This is the “these are all the things you missed and should have been here for” list. My grief quickly turns to anger in a heartbeat, but I dial it back, this is supposed to be a good thing…
I finish eating and settle into my thoughts again to process some other creepy feelings. The anger comes back because I believe that if he took better care of himself, then he would be here. If I had moved past my pride and weirdness, maybe I would have caught him slipping. I also know he was a grown ass man, who even freestyled to the doctors about his issues and I dont know if he would have been transparent with me. Lastly, he was the parent, not me.
That’s the part that bothers me the most. It’s the part that I struggle with now. Being present in my daughter’s life as a pillar of security but also letting her see the human parts of me that I don’t really like. I don’t dump it on her, but she is old enough to know if I’m not ok, there is no need to pretend, in that way, she gets to know me. I try to share all my good memories with her, try to make them too! It’s important that she see ME and not just Mom. It’s important for her to know that as a woman, she will be many things to many people but that she should be accepting of her truth, whatever that is.
I am learning to accept my father’s truth. He is gone, so it’s hard to reconcile this with random spirit visits which are more like just stopping by and not a moment to really work through trauma. Where he is, is not like here. What he “remembers” is more of what I remember about him, spirits forget what feelings feel like. They don’t understand time the same, or a lot of the things we find pressing. As a direct descendant, I’m sure it’s a little weird for him too, as the gap of time is so small between us.
I hope on his anniversary, that he sees past my morose demeanor and sees that I’m happy. I have a beautiful child that keeps me on my toes, who is developing hopefully more than mirroring. A beautiful path laid out under blue skies and sunflowers because she is loved, by so many, and has her guardian angel grandad looking out for her.
A dog that is the equivalent of a toddler and a messy confidant who speaks in fuff’s and sneezes but I understand the shade clearly, I think I learned that animal language from my dad too.
A partner that sometimes wears the vestige of the departed who loved me, especially when he is laughing. Someone who will paint the inside of an umbrella so that the sun will always shine on me, even on those rainy days and who makes my coffee just right.
Dad, your death was a terrible loss, one I didn’t even realize the impact of until many years later, I’m clearly still hung up about how it all happened, while also knowing this is how it had to be. Your loss also bridged a lot of things for me, that I didn’t realize needed it. I am trying to honor your memory in the way I feel you would enjoy best, with food, music and drink but it’s hard. I can’t not cry. So for now, you get some food full of memories and magic, a beverage and a smoke, which is a step up from avoidance, then a guilty beverage offering.
I hope that in your spirit travels you’ve met my father-in- law, we’ve interacted a few times, and I think he likes me! I hope it happened at Coney Island amongst the clam shells and salsa music blasting through bluetooth speakers and I hope that together you can both be proud of your children. You live on in our blood, in our stories and in our home.
Asopado (Asopao) de Pollo
- 2 Tbsps Achiote Oil store bought, freshly made
- 1 large red onion
- 1/2 medium green pepper
- 2 ea scallions
- 2 ea garlic cloves omit if using alino
- 1 Tbsp Cilantro stems, chopped
- 1 tsp Alino minced garlic, oregano, cumin, salt
- 1 1/2 cups long grain rice, washed
- 1 cup peas and carrots, frozen
- 3 cups chicken, shredded
- 1 ea sazon packet
- 1 ea cubito de pollo
- 10-12 cups chicken broth
- extra cilantro sprigs
- Salt and pepper or Adobo as needed
- 1 ea avocado, sliced or chopped optional
- hot sauce optional
- In a large pot, heat achiote oil over medium heat. Add Sofrito ( onions, peppers, scallions, garlic or alino, cilantro sprigs) sweat vegetables until soft and translucent. Add rice, and toss , toasting slightly, add peas and carrots, chicken, sazon , cubito and broth. Bring to a boil then reduce to a low simmer. Cook until rice is tender, more on the softer side than usual, about 30- 35 minutes. Add more broth if too dry. Season with salt and pepper if needed or a sprinkle of Adobo. Serve hot with avocado, limes, pickled onions and hot sauce!
- 2 large onions, large diced
- 1 large green pepper, large diced
- 1 bunch scallions, chopped
- 3 ea garlic cloves, whole
- handful of cilantro stems
- 1 whole chicken, or chicken parts ( preferably with bones, skinless)
- In a tall pot, add 1 1/2 gallons of water, all the vegetables and chicken. bring to a boil and quickly lower to a simmer. If using a whole chicken, let simmer for 2 hours. Remove chicken and return all bones, and carcass to the pot, continue to simmer and additional 2 hours. If using parts, remove after 1- 1 1/2 hours and return bones to the pot. Strain, cool and refrigerate or freeze.