How does what you eat reflect who you are? That’s a question 11th graders at Capital City Public Charter School were asked for a recent writing assignment. Together with 826DC, students compiled their mini memoirs into “A Spoonful of 2016,” a collection of their fondest food memories ($7, available at 826DC or by emailing jweller@ccps.org).

Following is an excerpt from the book by Mariana Encinas, a 16-year-old Takoma resident.


With the exception of the occasional groundings, I’ve never really had a problem with my parents. I think that’s because I didn’t really spend too much time with them growing up. When my brother was born, my parents hired a baby sitter to watch us. Ligia was a middle-aged Colombian woman who had an opinion about everything.

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Ligia, or Gigi for short, would cook, clean, change us, take us to school, pick us up, watch us while we were sick, walk our dog — the list goes on. There was nothing she couldn’t do.

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She was around so much that we began to pick up her customs. For example, we would only speak Spanish because that was all she spoke. After every meal, we would have to say, “bendito sea Papa Dios” (bless the Lord), and at night we would all sit around the TV to watch her Colombian soap operas. The day could’ve been filled with complete chaos, but everyone knew it was time to get serious as soon as the clock hit 7:30 p.m., to catch “Betty La Fea.”

Over time she grew closer to us. She was more than just a caretaker; she was part of the family. The first meal she made for my mom and dad as a way to show how grateful she was to be living with us were arepas. These golden patties of deliciousness were a piece of home she chose to share with us.

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I remember watching her make them. I would stand on the other side of the counter on my tip-toes in order to get a clear view. My eyes would barely make it over the counter, and she would laugh at me every time she saw me try to sneak a piece of the queso duro she would add to the arepas. Gigi would feed them to us for as long as we could chew, and they taste better every time.

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Gigi is the adult I spent most of my life with. She is a part of the family, and even though we joke about her being annoying and loud, we love her. To this day, she gives me guidance and unconditional love as if she were my second mother. I hope everyone who tries her arepas thinks of her and feels all the love and good intentions she puts into this recipe.


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What’s 826DC?

826DC is a nonprofit writing resource in Columbia Heights (3233 14th St. NW) geared at students between the ages of 6 and 18. It’s also home to the Museum of Unnatural History gift shop, where sales of Unicorn Burps and Future Mold support the organization’s programming. Express’ dining editor, Holley Simmons, is an 826DC volunteer and helped mentor students for “A Spoonful of 2016.”

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