In those days, the Bushwick section of Brooklyn was changing. White people were moving out because black and brown people were moving out.
Sitting on the porch, Maria and I watched moving trucks carrying the belongings of our Polish, German, and Italian neighbors. We didn’t know they were leaving because families like ours were moving. We watched them leave.
María’s mother raised the window on the top floor, looked out and shouted: “Come eat!”
“I have to go eat,” said Maria. She and her sister entered the building. But after a moment, I heard Maria’s mother again.
“Tell your friend she can come eat too.”
I took the stairs two at a time, into the world of Maria’s mother’s kitchen: a small, sunlit room where pots bubbled and steamed. Under the guidance of Maria’s mother’s skillful hands, the orange dough circles were turned into meat-filled pastries, deep-fried, golden, and crispy. I sat at her Formica table with its cushioned yellow chairs and tasted the food of a new world, a world that in the decades to come would become as much a part of me as my own name.
As that first day turned into years, Maria and I became best friends and ran to her apartment for piles of mofongo with chunks of chicken, yellow rice and red beans with cubes of pumpkin and fried plantains, both the sweet like salty. -the submerged greens. As my mother’s cooking skills improved, Maria began eating at our house and our pre-dinner question became, “What are you eating?”
In the summers we would take our dinners to Maria’s stoop and trade: foil-wrapped plates of fried chicken, cornbread, and mashed potatoes (lumpy, but Maria didn’t care) swapped for her mother’s stewed chicken. , a thick stew of chicken, tomato, olives and onion served over white rice.
Although it has become my all-time favorite dish, I have yet to prepare this stew like Maria’s mother did: the spices meld perfectly with the broth, the chicken almost melts in the mouth, the olives are a part so important of the dish. and still maintaining their own space. Still, every time I take out the ingredients to start a new batch of sofrito, I think, This time I’ll make it!