What's Cookin'

Proof Positive That Food And Family Are Inseparably Linked.

By Brendan Doherty

Flora's Kitchen, by Regina Romero (Treasure Chest Press). Paper, $10.95.

FOOD AND FAMILY are inseparably linked. And many of Regina Romero's fondest family memories have been captured in this mix of colloquial, western New Mexican cooking lavishly spiced with the pictures and stories of her pioneering ancestors. Each recipe begins with a story of the particular family member most strongly associated with the featured dish, and each seems to leap from the page, staring at the reader with hungry eyes begging for chile colorado con posole, calabacitas, and hot tortillas.

One imagines himself at her grandmother's kitchen table mixing dough--or in Romero's own kitchen, many years later, arduously trying to channel and translate abuela Flora's "pinch of this" and "handful of that" into the culinary equivalent of a resurrection. Because much of New Mexican, and indeed most of Spanish Colonial-based cooking, is done with simple, inexpensive ingredients, the real secret of superior food lies in its careful preparation. This is where Romero excels.

To bridge the fading past with the fast-paced future, Romero and her sister sought to keep the culinary traditions of her grandmother, Flora, for her daughters. Together they tried for years, over Thanksgivings and holidays, to replicate their grandmother's kitchen-based alchemy which turned dried frijoles and ristra-dried chiles into nurturing, heart-warming meals. Having tasted and tried more than a few times to replicate New Mexican sauces, it's apparent from the clear, easy directions and precise proportioning in Flora's Kitchen that other regional cookbook writers have either been misguided or withholding some key step to culinary perfection.

Reminiscent of Like Water for Chocolate, this not-quite-cookbook, not-quite-biography, is charming without being overly sentimental; and makes for an accessible and inspired rendering of ancestry and culture. It's both fun to read and a pleasure to cook from. TW

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