my latest for food & wine: "Empanadas, Rice, and a Dream Built My Family"

Oh, hey.

Over on Food & Wine, I wrote about how I've connected with my family's legacy with food on my journey to master my grandma's famous empanadas.

When I first expressed my interest in studying the empanada arts, my grandma told me I would need to be prepared to spend a good chunk of time, possibly two days, with her to finish them. Meat on one day, dough and assembly the next day.

“I take my time with my patties,” she explained. “I can’t stand up all day. And I don’t buy my dough at the store.”

The small, mighty meat patties have been a staple of family and community gatherings since long before I moseyed onto the scene. Grandma began baking and selling them in her early twenties, after watching women in her community in Colón, Panama prepare and profit from the crescent-shaped beef-patty-adjacent delights. Since then, they have been the star—backed by Miss Ruby’s hot pepper sauce and legendary beef, chicken, and shrimp fried rice—of countless receptions, anniversary galas, Gold Teeth Clan reunions, and any occasion where “The Electric Slide,” or “One Cent, Five Cent, Ten Cent, Dollar” by The Soca Boys would be appropriate. But the process that produced them was always a mystery to me.

After convincing her that I was capable of identifying, purchasing, and bringing the correct type and amount of beef, she scribbled a list and said to come by early with the meat log, two big yellow onions, tomato sauce, yellow peppers, and other things she lacked. I still carry that scrap of paper in my wallet. She doesn’t measure when cooking, so when I told her I wanted to capture the recipe in writing, she got out the measuring cups and spoons to scoop and level her way through the ingredients, reminding me with every dump that she never does this and that this was, in fact, slowing her down. 

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