Apartment 1G - from "Where We're From" by Angelique Imani Rodriguez
Editor's Note: This project is still in progress with the intention of future publication. In other words, STAY TUNED!
Where We're From is a short story collection of flash fiction that revolves around the residents of Ventana Court, a fictional apartment building in the West Bronx at the start of the new millennium. Each story provides a unique glimpse into the lives of the people who live in the building, painting a vivid picture of their hopes, dreams, struggles, and triumphs. In Apartment 1G, an aging mother passes on a culinary tradition to her daughter, who uses the wisdom to save her own life.
WRITER'S BIO ON HOME PAGE
RECIPE POSTED AFTER PIECE!
Fried Eggs and Rice Writing Prompt: In Angelique's flash fiction piece "Apartment 1G" from the collection Where We're From, Amalia Torres and her daughter Catalina use pastele making during the holidays as a way to save themselves. Think about something you had to learn to save yourself: this does not have to be food-related and can be anything that comes to your mind. In your preferred genre, write a piece about the learning.
from Where We're From
by Angelique Imani Rodriguez
Amalia Torres pushed her cart down the street as she walked to the vegetable store, its vinyl awnings shading crates of produce and flowers, its insides smelling like salted codfish, garlic, recao. The Asian woman who ran the store nodded and smiled at her as she walked in, familiar with Amalia’s face.
Amalia smiled in return, turning her attention back to a massive yautia tuber she was holding. She stood over each crate examining the items she needed to make pasteles with a meticulous eye. Amalia was admittedly a little mañiatica about her pasteles but she was a quick shopper and soon left the store, the cart heavier with her picks. There was already a pot of seasoned carne simmering on the stove that Amalia had left her daughter Catalina watching. She couldn’t wait to get home to teach her daughter how to make pasteles, the heirloom ritual of it.
First, you prepared all the elements: seasoned and cooked the carne, ground root vegetables and green platanos into thick masa, made the homemade achiote oil, set up the string, the parchment paper, and the bright green banana leaves. Then you’d line everything up on the kitchen table, layering a leaf over a sheet of parchment paper, a spoonful of rich red oil, a larger spoonful of masa colored with achiote, some carne, a chickpea, a pitted olive or two stuffed with pimientos, maybe even a raisin if that was your thing. The art was in the wrapping, boating the parchment so the masa sat even in the middle, folding so it curved around the puddle of it, smoothing as you folded and tying the bundle so no masa would leak out when you boiled them.
No one made pasteles like Amalia Torres. This was clear in the stacks of cash she had been making for years selling them during the holidays at Ventana Court. Amalia had learned with an assembly line of tias and cousins around her in her mother’s kitchen and now the act of making pasteles was second nature.Though it was just her and Catalina nowadays, the nature of the process remained the same. Amalia felt it was time for Catalina to learn that making pasteles was a way to survive, a chance to make extra cash, and ensure the new year started with a cushion of green. She had saved her and her daughter for years with pasteles.
As Amalia approached her apartment, she could smell bitter smoke and knew her daughter had forgotten to watch the pot of carne. Infuriated, she jammed her key into the lock and ran in, leaving the cart propping the apartment door open. She tossed water from a sitting mop bucket onto the burning stove. The small fire blackened the wall but died down in a hissing sputter. It was the incessant ringing of the fire alarm that made Toni from 3G open their door.
“Amalia, señora…are you okay?” they asked, stepping into the sooty kitchen, the smoke rings around their heads like wreath crowns.
“Catalina should’ve been watching the carne when I went to the store. Catalina, ven aca! Ay Dios mio, now I have to go back to the store to get more! Catalina, ven aca!” Amalia yelled, frantic. Toni made sure the fire was completely out. They helped Amalia bring in the cart and empty it onto the kitchen table, their face twisting in confusion as they opened the fridge.
“I’m going to call Cat and tell her to come help you,” they said, backing out of the kitchen. “Don’t leave until she gets here, okay?”
Amalia nodded and sat at the kitchen table, the window open, smoke billowing out into a sunset purpled like a bruise.
It had been four years since that fateful day in July when Cat found out the truth about Mami’s health. She hadn’t meant to be gone so long, but time just slipped away. At some point, life had become a carousel of working, paying bills, calling her mother every so often to check in. Things seemed normal. Routine.
When Toni tracked her down that day, she was confused. Mami said she was supposed to be there making pasteles? It was July, so the thought seemed laughable. Mami forgetting Catalina had moved out and had lived an entire lifetime out of Ventana Court? Forgetting it wasn’t Christmas?
When she arrived at the apartment, Catalina gagged at the acrid smell of the burnt kitchen, noted the piles of guineos and yautia on the kitchen table. She hugged her mother whose face was perplexed.
“Mami, what happened? Why are you making pasteles in July?”
“Catalina, where have you been? I was going to teach you how,” her mother said with watery eyes.
“Mami, you taught me already. Are you okay? Let me get you some water and we can talk more,” Catalina walked to the refrigerator, swung the door open and was greeted by stacks and stacks of perfectly parceled pasteles. Tucked in the fridge doors, piled on the shelves, shoved into the vegetable bins, overflowing in the freezer.
That’s when Cat knew Mami only remembered how to make pasteles. The one thing that had saved her for all those years couldn’t save her failing brain.
Catalina soon placed Amalia in the nursing home and took over the repainted apartment, deciding she’d continue selling pasteles during the holidays, each year following the same ritual her mother had taught her. Four years later, Amalia buried and gone, Cat was still selling them, despite her idiot boyfriend, Mark’s protests. After a year of jealous arguments, loud yelling, and constant black and blues, Cat prepared for that holiday season with a plan to save herself, to cushion her next chapter in green cash money. As she wrapped orders of pasteles, she could hear her mother’s voice, clear and confident.
“The beauty is in the hands that make them, mi’ja. It’s a recipe you’ll never forget. And that money? It can save your life.”
Pasteles de Masa (Puerto Rican Pasteles)
Many families make pasteles in their own way and style.
Click HERE to see a great Instagram Reel from @cooking_con_omi showing the basics.