Culture

When My Father Was Diagnosed With Cancer, He Worked Hard To Make Sure My Sisters And I Learned How To Make Them

Food has always had a significant place in my family’s traditions. It was the center of every gathering and what connected us despite whatever differences we had. Whether it was a BBQ celebrating a birthday or trays of Mexican food at a quiñceanera, food was the common denominator. No event combined food, family, and tradition better than our tamaladas.

My dad was the host of our tamaladas.

Photo provided by Samantha Chavarria

Truthfully, he was the orchestrator of most of our family meals. Someone who had already been cooking for other people all his life, my father put himself through culinary school while my sister and I were small. Working two to three jobs while going to school, he was a man fully committed to making a better life for us. Ever the doting Latino son, family was everything to my dad. As such, he also helped provide for his parents and younger siblings on top of caring for his young family.

His investment paid off and he was eventually able to become an executive chef. However, food wasn’t just my dad’s profession. It was his passion. Even when he retired, he was still the head chef of every holiday meal and family gathering. He even cooked at my wedding; baking and decorating my cake as well as preparing an asado to feed our guests. Food was his gift. His recipes were forged by his senses.

His dishes were the highlight of these life moments. They had the power to bring his family together and that was a responsibility he held in the highest regard.

Then he received his cancer diagnosis.

My dad had been sick for a while but the cause was a mystery. Still, even before doctors could pinpoint the cause for his waning health, my dad was certain it was cancer. My family didn’t want to believe it. I didn’t want to believe it. My dad was clearly just thinking negatively. A man as strong as my dad— a man whose personality was always larger than life— couldn’t be that sick. Doctors hadn’t found anything for a reason. We couldn’t allow it to be a possibility.

Soon we learned it wasn’t just a possibility, it was our reality. My dad was finally diagnosed with pancreatic cancer; a cancer with an only a 7% survival rate past 5 years.

It didn’t seem real. Personally, I rotated through a phase of straight out denial and painful grief. There was no reconciling it in my mind. My dad handled it much better. Even knowing the survival rates, he wasn’t willing to give up without a fight. He wanted to live and, more than anything, he knew his family needed him.

Still, he knew he was on borrowed time. His diagnosis came right before the holidays so he was deep into his first round of chemotherapy by the time Thanksgiving arrived. My dad still made all of his signature dishes, though the occasion felt strained. There was a certain realization that we were trying desperately to ignore. These holiday meals were my dad’s domain and the thought of this holiday season possibly being his final one was overwhelming.

Halfway through December, my dad decided to have a tamalada.

Photo provided by Samantha Chavarria

Some of my aunts and cousins had wanted to learn his recipe for tamales but this could only be learned by making them alongside him. There was no recipe. The consistency of the masa was the guide. It was measured by the scorched fragrance of the ancho chilis. There were no written directions that could properly explain how to spread and roll the cornhusk hojas.

So, in the house owned by my family since my grandfather’s father first purchased it, we held our tamalada.

I knew what my dad was doing. Watching him instruct his sisters in mixing masa and setting my younger cousin to single-handedly prepare multitudes of pan de polvo, I understood his intent. He was passing the knowledge on to those who would be around to use it the following years.

Anger was added to my mixture of grief and denial. I didn’t want this. These secrets were his and, as long as they stayed his, he’d have to stay here to pass them on another day. Sharing them with others felt like he was acknowledging that he wouldn’t be around; that there was a time limit that he was tied to. I didn’t want to admit that.

I had long ago learned these techniques from him. Years of making tamales alongside my dad as we talked and laughed had taught me.

Still, I wish I had paid more attention to his fast folding fingers. I wish I had been more present on the day of the tamalada instead of trying to swallow the bitter combination of my feelings.

My dad died in August of 2018. It devastated my family. I’m honestly surprised to be as functional as I am so soon after his death but I’m still utterly wounded by the loss. My dad was my best friend. He was my teacher. He was the keeper of my secrets, our family history and the recipes that filled our bellies during times both tragic and triumphant.

It hurts, but I finally see that last tamalada for what it was. Yes, it was an attempt to pass those techniques down to their new keepers, but it was something even more significant. It was my father’s attempt to give us final, beautiful memories that would keep us warmly wrapped in his love throughout the coming years. When we wouldn’t have him any longer, we’d have his memories.

When I look back at that last tamalada— past my anger, grief and denial— what I see is truly priceless.

Photo provided by Samantha Chavarria

I see my dad, watching his family create something that would live beyond him. I see him sitting, arms crossed with a tired yet satisfied smile on his face. In my memory, he’s smiling at me; his grin silently telling me, “Mija, it’s going to be okay.”

This year, we will gather in that same house that my great-grandfather bought. In the house my father spent his first and final days in, we will cook the chilis and mix the masa. We’ll shimmer the pork and roll the hojas. My family and I will tell stories about my dad as the tamales cook. We’ll laugh and cry and drink too much café con leche in my dad’s honor.

It’s never going to be the same, but it’ll be okay. My dad taught me that, too.


Read: My Abuela’s Distaste For Cooking Taught Me To Appreciate The History And Taste Of A Good Mole

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A Mexican Artist Is Making Pancake Art That’s Too Beautiful To Eat

Culture

A Mexican Artist Is Making Pancake Art That’s Too Beautiful To Eat

Social media is where people can show off just about anything they create. This includes art in any and all media, like pancake art. Claudia, the creator behind Nappan Pancake art, is the latest artist watching their art reach the masses.

Claudia, the artist behind Nappan Pancake art, got her start because of the pandemic.

The artist first started to play around with pancake art last spring break when the pandemic forced businesses and schools to close. Claudia wanted to get more creative with her kids’ breakfasts since they were now always at home.

“I started experimenting with making Pancake art,” Claudia recalls to mitú. “At first I only used the color of the natural dough and a little cocoa. At first, I just used the ketchup dispensers and little by little I learned.”

Claudia uses her pancake art to honor some truly iconic people.

@nappancakes

Responder a @detodoun_poco233 Cepillín ✨🥞✨ en nuestros ♥️ #parati #fy #HijosAdopTiktoks #adoptiktoks #viral #foryou @cepillintv #pancakeart ncakeart

♬ La Feria de Cepillin – Cepillín

Cepillín recently died and the loss was felt throughout the community. He made our lives joyous and fun with his music, especially his birthday song. Some of the creations are done for fans who request to see their faves turned into delicious pancake art.

The artist loves creating the edible works of art.

The journey of becoming a pancake artist has been a fun adventure for Claudia and her children. The more she has practiced, the more she has been able to do.

“Sometimes I scream with excitement and I go to all the members of my house to see it,” Claudia says about her successes. “Other times it’s just a feeling like “disappointment could be better” other times it just breaks or burns and then I just cry but it usually feels very satisfying.”

You can check out all of her creations on TikTok.

@nappancakes

Responder a @reyna100804santoyo siii🥞✨ díganle que me adopte 🥺 @ederbez #adoptiktoks #hijosadoptiktoks #parati #foryou #viral #fy #art #pancakeart

♬ Little Bitty Pretty One – Thurston Harris

With 350,000 followers and growing, it won’t be long until more people start to fully enjoy Claudia’s art. Her children can’t get enough of it and she is so excited to share it with the rest of the world.

READ: Spicy Food Lovers Have Reason To Celebrate As New Study Says Eating Chilies Could Be Secret To Longevity

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Viral Video Of Overworked Texas Dominos Workers Burdened By Snow Storm Goes Viral

Things That Matter

Viral Video Of Overworked Texas Dominos Workers Burdened By Snow Storm Goes Viral

Texas’s current power crisis from a devastating storm has disrupted power generation and frozen natural gas pipelines. The is historic storm has driven electric demand higher than the state has ever seen, but it’s not just electric energy being overextended as a result. It’s physical and mental human energy as well.

Recently, an image of two exhausted Domino’s Pizza workers went viral for showing the extreme exhaustion workers are experiencing.

In a post shared to News4sanantonio.com’s Chime In page a user by the name of July DeLuna explained “This Dominos in San Antonio. Working during this crisis. They had a weekend worth of food and it was gone within 4 hours. This team helped those that needed help. These are the essential workers that need recognition. They were the only pizza place open. Every pizza place was closed but dominos stayed open to help those in need.”

Little else is known about the exhausted workers in the viral image but it did rack up over 8K comments within hours of being posted.

“Dominoes better pay them for the shifts they’ll miss while they don’t have any ingredients. With this practical free advertising it’s the least they could do. Otherwise these kind people worked themselves out of already bad hourly pay,” one user commented.

“,As someone who works in the food service industry, the thought of selling out of all product in only four hours and how much work goes in to preparing that much food is unfathomable levels of nightmare fuel,” another noted.

In another response to the image, a Reddit user wrote “I cannot express to you how upsetting it is to be the only food source open during hard times, to still be open and show up to do your job with higher than normal levels of orders, and still get yelled at by management for not having orders out within a window of time.”

Images of overworked and stressed is nothing new of course.

Fast-food workers are often burdened by their field’s daily challenges. In 2020, food industry workers are being forced to endure customer abuse at even higher rates. Last year a TikTok video of a Subway restaurant falling asleep while in the middle of making a sandwich went viral.

“This is actually really sad. I can’t imagine how underslept she is. Not to mention the wage people get paid at Subway… She deserves better,” one TikTok user by the name of Monique Emilia commented at the time. The skincare influencer Hyram also commented writing “Poor thing… Can’t imagine how underslept she is, we’re too hard on service workers.”

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