I called my grandmother Lita. All the kids in our neighborhood called her Lita. The adults (all of them) called her Mama. I was practically an adult before I ever heard anyone address her as Maria. She loved all of us and she fed all of us.
When I was in grammar school, Lita lived in the lower level of our 2-flat. I came home from school to simmering frijoles and freshly warmed tortillas. Sometimes we nibbled on Nilla wafers or (her favorite) Windmill cookies. When I was lucky she let me help peel boiled potatoes (always when they were hot) for her fantastic potato salad. I knew from the back door if she had baked one of her more-than-a-pound-of-butter pound cakes. Her food looked better, tasted better and satisfied me more than any other. Of course, it was made with love.
Best of all, she would make me pretty much whatever I wanted. What I wanted more than anything was her guacamole, which she prepared exactly the same way every time she made it. No cans or machines or packet seasonings, always fresh. I don’t know how or where she found the perfect avocados, given that she lived without a car in suburban Chicago in the 1970s, but she managed.
All those afternoons while she diced and mashed, we talked. Her broken English met my broken Spanish in perfect harmony. I don’t think she set out to teach me anything, but I learned anyway. Her patience was limitless – “No Mija, not yet. Momentito.” She respected the ingredients, “Like this, mija. Cut, no crush.” She always made enough to share, allowing her generous nature to shine. Who knew how many classmates would follow me home or which uncle was dropping by for dinner? Her first words were always, “You hungry?”
Since she was insecure about speaking English, feeding people was her way to communicate. I understood that she loved my husband the first time she met him. She watched him eat tostadas by the plateful, winked at me and whispered, “Is good. He like eat.” I needed no other seal of approval.
To this day, I feel my Lita’s love every time I make her guacamole.
3 perfectly ripe avocados (soft, not squishy)
2 juicy limes
½ white onion, finely diced
1 small tomato (ripe) finely diced, with juice
1 good handful of cilantro, roughly chopped
Dice avocados into a large bowl. Add the juice of one lime and some salt. With the back of a dinner fork (no mashers or mixers) gently mash, leaving it kind of chunky. Add onions. Stir gently. Add tomatoes (with juice). Stir gently. Add cilantro. Stir gently. (I’ve discovered it’s all the stirring that makes it so creamy – no shortcuts.) Taste and finish with more lime juice and salt as needed.
Serve immediately or cover tightly with plastic wrap pushed onto the guac to keep it from browning.
The Lita touch: Serve with the avocado pits embedded. She swore it tasted better that way.