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En la cocina con mami (In the kitchen with mom)
Liberty Foodie
Arroz con pollo cooking on the stove. - photo by Patty Leon

My mom had a pretty good health scare last week. It scared the whole family actually. There is nothing that makes your heart sink worse than getting a phone call from your brother saying they are headed to the emergency room.

Mom looked weak, pale and fragile.

She had severe pneumonia and the added stress also led to a mild heart attack. She was placed in ICU but within three days, moved to a regular room for one night and then released.

I was planning to visit mom and dad for Memorial Day weekend anyway, but the call ramped me into full gear and soon my three dogs and I were Chattanooga bound.

My parents are up there in years, both 89, and up until this incident mom was relatively healthy. Dad too. Luckily the fact that they eat well and live right meant my mom was soon on the road to recovery. My dad and I learned to monitor her medications, prep the nebulizer treatments and make sure her oxygen lines were clear and everything was running smoothly.

But mom said she was bummed that she got sick before my visit. She wanted to make my favorite meals for the weekend.

“Well I guess it’s time you teach me how to make them and I’ll cook for you,” I said.

It’s not my first cooking lesson from mom. Throughout the years she has taught me how to make several Cuban dishes that allow me to indulge when cravings hit. But for whatever reason I had not learned how to make arroz con pollo (Cuban chicken and rice). We sent dad out to get some beer. Of course he was happy to fulfill his mission.

YEP! This recipe includes beer and we also need to make sure the chef was well sauced too.

First we marinated the chicken (mom uses chicken thighs) in mojo. Then I cut green, red and yellow bell peppers and onions.

My mom pointed at the cupboard and started telling me what spices to pull out. Bottles of oregano, cumin, paprika, garlic powder, red pepper, turmeric, sazon, olives, capers, Worcestershire sauce and wine were soon sprawled out on the counter.

The chicken, cut vegetables and all the spices were in a pot. Everything comes to a boil and then simmered. About 45 minutes in, dad opens the wine. He pours a glass of wine and hands it to me.

“Awesome, thanks dad,” I said and take a taste. Then he tells me that was for the recipe.


He pours me another glass for the mix and then one for himself and refills mine.

Ten minutes, mom checks the pot. All is going as it should and we add 2 cups of rice. That continues to simmer and dad hands me a beer.

“Is this for me or the recipe,” I ask.

“La comida (the food),” he replies.


Of course a little later dad and I did have a beer together. We sat with mom in the dining room which adjoins the kitchen to catch up on old times and write down recipes. Mom brought out some old photos. They were pictures of her dad, my grandfather, whom I’ve never met.

Soon the timer went off and I lifted the lid off the pot.

“Smells good,” mom said. I set the dinner table and prepared a plate for dad and mom. I got a plate full for myself and waited anxiously as mom gave it a try.

Mom smiled at me and dad gave me the ultimate award.

“Oh man,” he said. “This taste just like your mom’s arroz con pollo.”

YES, folks we have a winner!!

The next day we repeated the process this time making my other favorite tamal n cazuela (described as a tamale casserole but I would describe it more like a thick stew or pork porridge).

This recipe was time consuming and one that requires constant stirring, like when making grits or polenta.

It was a workout from hell for my arms. And between that and my daily walks, was the only exercise done to burn off the beer and wine chasers from cooking.

The dish was another success and I got to bring left overs of both home.

It felt great to be a caregiver to the woman who has done that and more for me for the past 52 years. This experience also made me realize we shouldn’t wait for a health scare to reminisce, slow down and disconnect from our electronic era and do things the old fashion way — by talking to each other.

I learned new things about my family and have already made plans to go up in the summer. Dad is going to show me how to dig out and make a pit to roast a whole pig. I’ve always seen him to do it but it’s my time to learn and carry on the tradition.

If you want the full recipes for these to two tasty meals send me an email at:

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