In the Kitchen With Maya
The day after we arrived in suburban Atlanta, the cooking for the dinner party commenced. From across the kitchen, my sister-in-law issued my instructions. "When you get done with that cilantro, I’ll need two cloves of garlic, half a tomato and half an onion, finely chopped,” she said.
“Yes, Chef,” I playfully replied, drawing a warm laugh from her.
I quickened my pace at the chopping board, but moved slowly and steadily enough to keep all my fingers. After a few minutes, Maya asked, “You doing all right over there? It got awfully quiet.” I apologized and replied, “Just making sure you get exactly what you need, Chef.” That garnered more laughter, because the first time I made dinner for Hailima, I confused two heads of garlic for two cloves. She shared that with Maya, and I’ve never lived it down — never will.
Two of the evening’s five sauces, the Colombian Aji Picante and Peruvian Aji Verde, were nearly complete by the time Hailima walked into the kitchen. She, too, loves cooking, which she learned from her mom and grandma. Hailima repeatedly has told me, “It didn’t matter if it was a holiday or if everyone just had a day off — we’d get together and cook.” Hailima also will say she enjoys eating even more. Believe her. She once quit a job to attend a family barbecue.
Rashaan arrived 20 minutes later, decked out in red earmuffs with antlers and a Christmas sweater as exuberant as his personality. A filmmaker, Rashaan focused his attention — and his camera phone — on his auntie first, as Hailima sliced strawberries for the Chilean borgoña, a festive cocktail. Next he shot video of Maya, who mixed the berries with sugar and then inundated them with red wine. “Pour it slower, Mom! Slower! Perfect! Just like that,” he instructed. Maya immediately assigned Rashaan to line cook duties, and he joined Hailima and me as we chopped onions, peppers and parsley.