Easter – Dia De Las Pascuas

Spring is in the air, and with it Easter. I love Easter Time, the traditions, activities with my grandkids and most of all the sacrifice and resurrection that it represents.

Easter Memories 

I started this post thinking that I did not have too many memories from childhood connected to Easter, but I do indeed! I don’t recall a crescendo of traditions that culminated on Resurrection day and I didn’t experience the  Easter baskets, egg hunts, the Easter bunny or ham dinners. Chale, not  in my world. We experienced fish on Fridays and rosary on a weekday evening, mass on Easter Sunday and sometimes communion.

I wonder if Easter didn’t rank high in the SEO of my memory because of all the ridiculous frilly dresses and white buckled shoes? Of course, they had an accessory hat and sometimes a little white purse. My little girl self rolls her eyes at those visuals. 

Hamburgers 

En mi Rancho, my limited world recognized the season as cuaresma. Lent was always such a sacrifice. For me, it meant no meat on Fridays! Me oyes? Every Friday for six weeks we had to say no to meat. Of course at school the cafeteria would always serve hamburgers! Hijole! That was brutal, a whole bunch of Mexican Americans who rarely enjoyed a burger, had to sacrifice their rare opportunity. Every week, I resolved to not eat meat. Every week I dreaded the temptation. My cafeteria burger, calling me, the skinny patty modestly covered in buns.  

“Just eat it, all the other kids are” said the diablito on my shoulder.

“No, don’t do it. You must resist” said the angelito on the other side.

Sometimes I would give in because it seemed like all these good Catholic kids were ignoring the edict to abstain from meat. They seemed to remember the fast only after they’d bite into their hamburger. “Hay! Se me olvido!” Pausing long enough to regret their forgetfulness. Then proceeded with caution as they finished what they started. Ya ni modo. Oh well, it’s what I said a few times too, praying that my ama wouldn’t ask me anything. 

Fish on Fridays

Then, I would walk home after a hard day of basketball practice. I was hangry. Fish smell is what I’d walk into. Ugh! Thank God for arroz y frijoles. Can’t go wrong with a bean burrito. Mom would either make tortas de camaron, little shrimp patties in a red chile sauce or fish soup. I have a vague memory of pescado frito also, but what isn’t vague is the strong smell of fish that invaded the house and pounced me on Friday afternoons.

Rituals

During Lent season, we recited the rosary. Mi ama always interrupted our Carol Burnett show and called us to the room for rosary time. Marina usually responded first, always without any grumbling. Then ama would begin to summon us: PATRICIA! ROSALBA! MANUEL! Usually I responded after a couple of calls. My sister Patty, always held out til the threats began and my lil brother always had to get the manaso before he obeyed. In the room we had to kneel and be ready to respond according to the order of the beads. It never failed that my brother would do something to bring about a deeper need for penitence. He would have to kneel with a bean under each knee. We attempted to put on a solemn face as we watched him work hard at not putting his weight on those beans. Rolling our eyes in self righteous disapproval we repeated the prayers.

Easter Egg Hunt

On Easter Sunday we would go to the 10:30 mass, sometimes they’d have an Easter egg hunt, but I don’t recall ever participating. I do have this vivid image of the little girls in the barrio all frilly in their Easter dresses and me looking out from our kitchen window, almost as if I were hiding lest I picked up their sissy lala frilly germs!

Capirotada

There was not a big meal at home waiting. But, mi ama did serve Capirotada at Easter. It might be one of the traditional Easter marks of a Mexican home. The image of mom working on this very humble dessert is clear and beautiful. In my young mind it was kind of weird, but I always enjoyed it when she served it. Capirotada was what mom brought to the table as her tribute, from her own mothers traditions.

I went on a google search to see what others said about it. I asked my sister in law Sandra if she even knew what it was. I asked another sister in law; Mary, if her mom made capirotada. She knew what and how my mother made it! I was glad and mi ama would have been so happy to hear that her daughter in law cherished that memory. 

Easter Dessert

Capirotada has been compared to bread pudding, but my mothers capirotada was nothing like what I’ve seen. During my hunt for capirotada on the world wide web I did learn that it is a very old tradition with original religious significance. It is definitely a peculiar combination of ingredients; piloncillo, canela, clavo. The sugar, cinnamon and cloves are boiled together to make the syrup that covers the layers of the other ingredients. Corn tortillas, bolillos, peanuts, ciruelas, cheese. Day old toasted bread, pitted prunes and a white cheese which did not have a very strong flavor. Hijole! I’m glad that this isn’t a food blog, porque pues, me sacan a patadas! I’d be booted from my own blog.

It was a sweet and salty flavor that mingled nicely. I liked it, and I was so grateful that my sister inlaw brought me home to Delta street last weekend. When she offered me some capirotada and in my heart I hugged her and loved her more.

That was my Easter experience as a little girl. When I stepped into adulthood my multicultural lifestyle converted all those traditions. Easter Sunday is a glorious celebration, where I can lift up my voice, use those inherited vocal chords that my ama left me and sing at the top of my lungs; He has risen! Just imagine my victory as I sat in our Easter Sunday service before covid and shared in the beautiful ritual of communion with my apa.

Easter As Mom

As a young mother I was peer pressured into the Easter baskets. “Rosie did you buy or make your kids Easter baskets?” Que? In a panicked state every year since I became a mother I put together baskets and chased the community egg hunts, frazzled until just very recently.
Their tia Sandra introduced them to the egg coloring tradition and I happily sat out for that activity. Those dreaded frilly dresses were back with a vengeance. They mocked me as I shopped through the racks of pompous dresses that my little girl loved wearing. Now my three granddaughters are very regal in their princess dresses.  

Thankfully, Easter Sunday is a celebration that I am resolute about through the year. I am so very grateful for all that Jesus has done for the world and more specifically for me and my familia.
Have a wonderful beautiful Easter celebration

Celebrate with Pozole

What is Pozole?

As simple as it is, Pozole is our go to festive food. If you live in border cities, or states, like California with a high population of Mexicans and Mexican Americans, you will be surrounded, entrenched in Mexican food. With the popular meals like tacos, burritos and the comfort foods of Mexican traditions; like tamales and pozole. Let me make it clear, pozole is a highly celebrated holiday tradition. Pozole for Christmas, pozole on birthdays, and pozole to ring in the New Year!

Is it a soup?

What is pozole? I hate to call it a soup, but Wikipedia and a few others sources called it soup or a stew?!! I feel that judgment from all of those people who put pozole high on their list of  special occasion foods. How could I even write it? There’s more. Out there in the world wide web, I saw it described as a Mexican corn soup (Oh My Goodness! SMH)

(I remember, my son’s teacher warned him about where he got his info, and every time I search I can almost feel her disapproval at my source. Maybe I’ll just stick to my wealth of experience as I write about pozole)

Un Caldo

Pozole is made with either pork, chicken or beef (My friend Inez taught me her recipe that combined all three meats, I do enjoy that three meat pozole, but traditionally most people stick to one meat per pot).

I’m looking around me, a little worried that someone’s gonna catch me as I write, because I have to succumb to that description of pozole, caldo (is that better than the English version; soup?) What would you call pork and grano, that’s the hominy, simmering in a dry California chile sauce and meat broth, sprinkled with spices? It is not a thick sauce, it’s soupy. (Yea, that’s why I’m settling with the soup description) It is another one of those humble meals that goes a long way, our families tend to be big and Mexicans love to feed everybody! 

Tamales y Pozole

Many of our feasts are tamales and pozole (has a nice ring huh? I can almost hear my sons coming up with a little jingle. “Tamales y pozole, tamales y pozole, and a happy new year!) Pozole has a nice aroma as it’s cooking and the sauce, which is a soup apparently, has a nice spicy flavor, garlic and cumin enhance the flavor.  

Still, it must be garnished properly for the full effect. A nice bowl of steaming pozole topped with finely chopped cabbage and cilantro, diced onion and sliced ravanos; something about the after bite that radishes add to the pozole makes them a nice garnish. Sprinkle on some limon y sal, pass the tortillas, y “Entrale!”

Then go back for seconds, mi Ama would have it no other way.

A Well Balanced Tamal

Wrapping up 2020 with another tamal post. ‘Tis the season is it not?

How Much Masa is enough?

Recently my focus on tamales has heightened since it’s Christmas time. One of the great debates about tamales is the masa to filling ratio. While tasty masa is important to the overall quality of a tamal, too much of it can drown out the flavor and spices of the filling. I find myself in a quandary; do I acknowledge the reasonable argument that equal portions lends to a well rounded tamal experience, or do I stay loyal to the tradition of my Ama: Tasty chubby tamales with a savory filling.

California Tamales

I grew up eating my mothers “big fat” tamales that had to be tied at each end to keep them together. Huge tamales with a thick layer of masa filled with chicken cooked in anaheim chiles and strong spices of comino and pepper seasonings. They were embellished with a carrot and potato stick, a sprig of cilantro, a jalapeno strip and of course a green olive embedded somewhere in it. (Try tying one of those Fattys with the wet corn husk ties, my fingers just got stiff with the memory)  l’m not sure if it’s a California, or a Baja California thing. I think it was more like a metamorphosis, as my mother settled first in Mexicali, Baja California from Jalisco Mexico. Then, after thirteen years and four more kids the family came across to the Imperial Co. California. However it happened, so long as the masa was tasty, I didn’t mind the huge tamales, especially the next day and mi ama would fry those tamales in oil and let them simmer until they got a little crunchy. She’d serve the crispy tamal with fried eggs and refried beans. I would top them with her salsa or maybe some jalapenos. This might not sound too healthy, but my taste buds are swelling with delight and my mind swarms with the images of my sweet mama serving her family on Christmas morning.  

A Different Tamal

You can imagine the stiffness I felt as my cunada, an “out-law” (as my husband’s family likes to call all of us in-laws) schooled me on the technique of a thinner layer of masa . She gently informed me that people actually preferred a skinny tamal! “The trick was just enough masa so as to not overpower the delicious meat filling.” 

Of course, in my struggle for loyalty to tradition, and to my mother, I resisted the idea for a time. Could people who made skinny tamales be trusted? Were they not cheating the tamal lover out of the tasty masa? Or worse! Maybe, they didn’t want to bother with making nice, smooth masa?. 

Masa to filling ratio is “just enough tasty masa” to be able to stand alone if it happens to face those taste buds first. Along with the fact that most tamal lovers want to cut into a tamal and see it filled with their delicious filling.

Tradition lives on!!!

I’ve accepted the technique of spreading the right amount of masa and recognize it as a legit method. I appreciate the lesson from my cunada, a true tamalera, who has expanded my horizons as far as making tamales goes. However, my loyalty to mi Ama is fixed. Tradition bids me to also make my tamales gorditos with flavorful masa that has good texture filled with a delicious savory chicken; estilo mi ama. 

As they get eaten, I am glad that my mom’s tamales live on.

Tamale Conversations With My Dad

Good Memories are essential

One beautiful sunny San Diego afternoon, I took Dad out to get his vitamin D; sunshine and fresh air. My apa is 96 years old and suffers from dementia  and needs full time care. This day he was enjoying the birds and the garden. Right there, in the midst of the birds and the butterflies,  all of a sudden, it hit me that I knew nothing about my father’s tamal experiences!

(Ya se, Ya se! I know you’re wondering why tamales are so important. Well because, tamales have become quite relevant to me lately as I’ve discovered “purchasing tamales” I feel your SMH disbelief, for this Mexican American girl, but I’ve become acquainted with Texas Lone Star Tamales, and I’ve tasted and enjoyed the luxury of eating delicious tamales that I didn’t labor over.)

 I had to know something about mi apas tamal experiences. How was that possible? Maiz, masa, tortillas, these were an important part of my dad’s daily life. I’m sure there had to be a tamal story in all those memories.

Traigan los tamales!

I threw the tamal conversation out, pushing dad to unwrap those memories.  

“Apa do you like tamales? Did your mother; mi abuela Rosario, make them?” 

Of course, I knew she had to make tamales, I felt silly to even ask.

 Dad drew his eyes away from the chirping birds to answer the obvious. 

“Yes I do, and she did.” 

He turned his head back to the singing of the birds, I could tell tamales didn’t start up the engine of his memory train, he needed another boost.

“Apa, what was it like?” 

He looked at me like I was from Mars. Didn’t little boys or young men pay attention to the details of making tamales? (Probably not) Weren‘t tamales a big deal in his world? Of course they were! Maiz was an essential necessity for survival still, 1930s in Mexico was exceptionally difficult for raising a large family. (Maybe he just forgot the conversation?)

“You know, what was it like when your mom made tamales? Did you help?”

 “I don’t really know. I remember she was busy. When she made them, she was up and down, kind of everywhere. Look! Those look like crows, chattering away, busy trying to get their meal. Do you hear them?” 

Now what? That was it? If that was the whole tamal story it was pretty bland. What exactly went with all of the busyness he saw during tamal making? Where were all the details? I kept envisioning my own memories, my mother leaning over the olla filled with masa, a huge pot that she was almost too short to stand over. Stirring and kneading as she prepared it. Did the smell of cooking meats fill his mother’s cooking area? 

Tamales Blancos

“Mmmm, what kind of tamales did she make?”

Dad stared at the birds with regret, sad as he remembered his ama.

 “Pork. Well, I don’t really know, maybe chicken, yes there had to be chicken. Definitely she made pork though.”

Now we both listened to the singing of the birds getting lost in those tamal moments.

 “You’re probably right, but maybe she  made chicken tamales like my mom did. Which ones did you like best?”

Now, he seemed to be rebooting those long term memories, evoking those images of his mother making and serving tamales.

Tamales Blancos (Does that mean gringo tamales?)

“ Well, I’m sure they were all very good. But the ones I remember clearly are those tamales blancos for sure. 

Yes! I struck gold! Oooh, my abuela had her own special tamales.

“Oh yea? White tamales. They didn’t have any kind of chile sauce huh? 

My father’s usually serious face lit up with a smirk on his face and a twinkle in his eyes.

 “That’s right. No sauce. No meat. Just the masa, (Wow! What would those “masa to filling” ratio police say to that?!) kneaded and prepared with a perfect amount of salt!”

What?! These were mi abuelas special tamales? These are the ones he remembered most?

“White tamales; plain salted masa salted wrapped in the corn husk. Why did she do that?”

The smile remained on his face as he explained.

  “Those were the ones mi ama made for us kids, a lot of mouths to feed.”

With nine children to feed and wanting to be hospitable to her vecinos she had to stretch the wealth, Ah! my abuelas tamales blancos, were a practical meal that kept everyone fed.

“ Did you like them?” 

Dad looked around and lowered his voice.

 “Not really, but I made the most of it. After all, that was what was offered. She would have us line up to get our meal; in this case our tamal, and we’d go off to eat it”

I was kind of feeling sorry for him, imagining that I probably wouldn’t have eaten them.

  “Doesn’t sound too exciting to eat a cooked ball of masa.” 

“She served them with coffee. (There it is again, coffee for the kids, yikes!) It was the only way I could get it down.”

“Wow dad! So you never had the meat tamales she made?”

Dad’s eyes sparked with mischief and his eyebrows danced as he remembered those tamales. 

“I did. A la desquidada, on the sly, when she wasn’t looking I’d snatch a meat one. It was easy since there were eight other kids distracting her for a tamal. Those were the good tamales. Si, they were pork and I didn’t need coffee.”

Manuel Zepeda (December 1924 – December 2020)

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
1 Corinthians 15:55 KJV

Long Live Tamales at Christmas Time

Well, I did it! I opened the conversation to what we Americans of Mexican influence love to talk about, food and fun! Especially food and Christmas. Tamales have been part of our traditions for ages and the creativity only increases with every generation. I grew up eating tamales at Christmas and I was part of the work crew in making them. Who would have thought that such a simple food could stir up such wonderful family traditions?

A pot of hot tamales will not necessarily lure a person, cooked maize, masa wrapped in a corn husk, is quite unassuming. Even served on a plate, still wrapped, with its ends tied or folded and looking awkward and bulky, there is no inciting of taste buds yet. But if you get close enough to an unwrapped tamale just out of the steaming pot. Suddenly, that tamale will grab you. Its savory filling reaches your nostrils; pulled pork cooked in red chile sauce and spices embedded into that masa, now it will draw a person in. 

Tamales: the original social influencer?

A social influence is someone or something that can affect a social environment. You know those people that have a way with words and can draw a crowd. Or that “thing” that is so incredible that everyone must have it? Well, it’s been my experience that tamales are definitely social influencers. They are a platform we use to “tamal” or wrap a beautiful memory in and strengthen the cords of a good relationship or secure a knot in a new friendship.

An Ancient Mexican Tradition

The tamal tradition has been around for hundreds of years. It is a very humble, useful meal that has tenaciously clung to families and societies. Tamales wrapped themselves around las Americas. Out of Mexico and into Central and South America and eventually back into North America again; in the United States. Tamales have been central in celebrations and holidays. In ancient days when corn was essential for survival, they influenced religious rituals. According to Nate Barksdale  “Teocintle was the name of a maize god” and indigenous societies paid it homage. There it is, my wealth of knowledge on tamales of old, now I can share just how influential tamales were around Christmas time in our house growing up.

Tamales were the focus of our Christmas dinner and celebration, the tradition of tamales wrapped itself tightly around our family.

From the start of the Christmas season, Mom would gather her ingredients. For weeks dried corn husks were piled onto the kitchen counter, while the aroma of the various kinds of dry chiles drifted out of the cupboard, their scent created anticipation of our tamale feast. She would pull out her huge pots for soaking the corn husks and cooking the meats. 

Christmas was in the air! Mom was up early in her fresh apron, cooking breakfast and cooking meats for tamales. So many scents pulled me to the kitchen. I know that if you are a mom you know how busy she must have been, but as a little girl, I took all that multitasking for granted. I would eat and run out to play while she cleared up the breakfast dishes. Then, I would run in for a drink and there was mom roasting chiles and soaking them (The smell of roasting chiles always grabbed at my throat) I would run out again as she was deep into kneading the masa, it looked like a full body experience! Now, as I look back at all the activity one woman could make in the kitchen, I am floored at her superhero capabilities. What can I call her? I think Mom describes it best, instead of a cape she wore an apron. 

The veggie sticks were nicely cut (As a kid I never understood why we needed veggies mixed in with our meat in the tamal, but mom said it was necessary) She also had made a nice big stack of strips out corn husks for tying the tamales. Now she was ready to assemble the troops; Bellowing our names from her kitchen; “MARINA…PATRICIA…ROSALBA…”. Since I was quite busy at play, it usually took her a couple of gut calls before I would come running in. (My kids would say that I must have inherited her vocal cords) Marina, she was second to the oldest helped spread masa onto the husks, Patty added the veggies, making sure to add the green olive into the filling. My job was to tie each end of the tamale as it came down the line. In my opinion it was the hardest part of all! Getting my fingers to get those wet corn husk ties around each end of the tamal was quite a task. I would tie one end and before I knew it, the other end would slip off! 

We all started strong, making perfectly proportioned tamales. But truly, it was tedious work, and many times mom had to respread our masa since we were padding it on thick to finish faster. Maybe, us kids are the ones that gave California tamales the bad rap of “too much masa.”

 We would tire out midway through the day, but mom endured through the day and into the long steamy night as the tamales cooked into a nice solid consistency. Keeping an eye on her tamales, she made Mexican rice, refried beans and salsa, nice embellishments. Mom also made sure to make a huge pot of champurrado; the traditional hot thick chocolate maiz drink that was essential to complete the ambiance of our meal. It was cozy, comfy and delicious. A nice accompaniment to her simple sweet tamales. 

 When the church bells rang for midnight mass, mi ama was ready for the festivities. Midnight Mass was a blur since we had to be pulled out of bed half asleep to go sit in the church pews. (this was perhaps the only time the priest saw such exemplary behavior, quiet children sleeping in the pews :D) When the mass was over, people slowly and quietly filed out of the church. All of a sudden, we kids were alive and bustling with energy, it was time to gather back at the house. My older brothers with their families would fill the house, bringing gifts and sweets and lots of giddy noise. Mom walked in immediately slipping her apron back on. During the chatter around the dinner table mom made sure everyone was served and satisfied. Beautiful memories, amidst the empty corn husks. In the wee hours of the morning, we opened our gift and ate more tamales, eventually we would crash and for us Christmas day was quiet. Maybe it was not quiet, but it was a regular play day, with the kids sharing their new toys mingled with the old. (It was not until I left home that I realized that we Mexican Americans celebrate Christmas Day, the day before!) 

Networking

Christmas day was when the ladies in the neighborhood began their great tamal exchange, all of them sharing tamales from their personal recipes. (Remember, recipes the Mexican American way) We kids were the messengers, running across the street or up two blocks bearing tamales. My older siblings took some home and connected mom through her tamales to their neighbors and friends, a whole social network booming as tamales were enjoyed. And tamales did their great work of influencing families to gather.

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Learning To Cook With Your Mexican Mama

Learning To Cook With Your Mexican Mama, Or With Your Mexican-American Mama

Since Christmas time is a wonderful time of different holiday dishes and traditions, I thought it would be a good time to tell you about my learning to cook “journey”. (Anyone outside of the Mexican-American circle would call it a roller coaster!)

I’ve been cooking since I was barely a teenager. (As a young roommate I never shared the ‘wealth’ of my knowledge with my roomies, since I believed knowing how to cook meant following recipes) I cannot say I love cooking, especially the way I was inducted into the kitchen, but my ego is strutting; bien culeca when someone says “Oooh are those Rosies enchi’s?”.

It all started when I was almost fourteen years old, the summer before high school, when my whole life would turn upside down. My older siblings were all going off to work with mom in the grapevines of Coachella Valley, but I was not old enough to get a work permit. However, I was old enough to cook all by myself in the hot kitchen and so began my culinary journey.

Cooking class in my Mexican mother’s home was very informal. (I just felt my daughter roll her eyes at the obvious truth) Chores done and laundry continual, Mom would pull out some meat and say, 

“When this defrosts, go ahead and cook it and serve it with frijoles de la olla today. No need to refry the beans today and don’t forget to make the tortillas first, they’ll stay warm” 

“What?! Ok, Wait, what do I do with the meat?” 

Without even looking back at me, she’d say,

 “Con cebollita picada y pimienta. Ah, y un poco de sal. No se te pase!”

“That’s it? Some diced onion, pepper and salt? How do I know if I have enough salt or too much in it?” 

She’d put down the laundry basket, look at me and say,

“You have to taste it Rosalba. If you need to add a little something, check the fridge, maybe some diced jalapeno, or garlic. There’s comino in the cupboard.” 

She’d go right back to the endless laundry.

“Dad’s gonna be here just after noon, so be ready to serve” 

That was the lesson. After staring at the meat, which was seeping blood, I wondered how I was going to create something delicious like Mom always did. I had no choice but to go for it and cook.

I cut the meat into small bites, I could not get all the fat out and that worried me. Still, I seasoned it with a dash of pepper, salt, and a sprinkle of cumin. Then, I just tossed it all into the pan with diced onions. That fat that I struggled to cut off, simmered and blended with the onion. As it continued to cook down it blended with the meat juices and created a gravy.  It looked tasty, hmmm. I added a dash more salt, and let it simmer.

Mom came by and stirred the simmering pan, tasted, and added a dash more pepper and cumin. She lifted the towel my warm flour tortillas rested in, (I forgot to mention that making dough for tortillas had perhaps been my first lesson in the kitchen, a constant practice, since in our home we had fresh flour tortillas everyday) she covered them again and keeping a straight face she walked toward the door where the laundry waited.

“You’ll definitely have to practice rolling out your tortillas, round is the shape we’re aiming for.” 

Dad came in, washed his hands and sat down to be served. I held my breath as I brought his plate to him. He uncovered the tortillas, lifted it up high and smirked.

“This looks like the seat of your bicycle” (rolling tortillas was not my constant practice a whole different struggle)

He rolled it and bit into it and took a fork full of meat and beans to his mouth. He ate everything on his plate, then took the last bicycle shaped tortilla and cleanup the gravy, and spoke.

“That was good. Thank you”

After that, I felt like I was a culinary graduate! (after all my apa had just approved me, every daughter’s dream) Now, I could conquer any belly, taste bud or picky person. Of course, I quickly realized that for basic training in my amas kitchen, the first lesson was that it was not as scary or difficult as it seemed, and it was nowhere near impossible. I would have to watch very carefully as she taught me to make the other Mexican essentials of her kitchen, the refried beans, the Mexican rice, the salsas, the sauces for the meats and on and on.

(My daughter in-law also says that she has to keep a really keen eye on my hands as I work in the kitchen because all of a sudden, “Le voy a echar un poquito de este” But I neglect to tell her what the “este” is beforehand or how much of it I added, making her learning experience much like mine)

Although cooking is not my favorite thing to do, I truly enjoy when others enjoy my cooking, then I see its value and love it.


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