This next Apron Strings Mother’s Day blog post was written by Mary Luz Mejia. Mary Luz is a Colombian-born, Canadian-raised writer who is passionate about food. She’s also a researcher, presenter/speaker, food event curator/organizer, non-fiction documentary producer and cook.
1972, Medellin, Colombia. Mary Luz’s favourite photo of herself with her mom.
Agustina joined our family before I was born. She was twelve when my mom took her in and taught her how to run a household which of course, included how to cook. This was Medellin, Colombia in the 1960s and Agustina came from a disadvantaged home. Her ability to earn a modest living that offered room and board in a decent family home was seen as a Godsend to many. By the time I came along in 1970, Agustina was my nanny.
When friends or relatives would ask, “Mari, how is your mother?” I’d innocently respond, “Which one?” I loved them both.
Agustina excelled at cooking. My mom Mary Laserna, tells me that as a toddler, I could always be found with Agustina in the kitchen. I’d tug on her dress to pick me up so I could see what she was doing at the stove. Mom would walk in saying, “Agustina- put her down. You’re frying platano (large tropical bananas) and she might get splattered with hot oil.” I’d be put down, apparently only to insist I be picked up as soon as my mom left the room. Poor Agustina was torn- but she always indulged my two-year old self. And this included frequently making my very favourite thing in the world back then, a smoothie bursting with Moras Andinas (Andean Blackberries). As soon as I’d see her washing the fruit and hear the clink of ice cubes hit the blender, I’d jump around the kitchen.
When we immigrated to Canada, sadly leaving Agustina behind, I missed her and her gentle ways more than my three-year old self could have imagined. Gone were the rituals of the kitchen, replaced by two hard working parents pulling double factory shifts to make ends meet and two teenaged siblings trying to get accustomed to a new life. My mom says that when I was four, I walked into the bedroom and woke her up- she’d had maybe three hours of sleep. “I’m hungry,” I pleaded. Exhausted, my mom dragged herself out of bed and fixed me breakfast including a Colombian arepa with scrambled eggs- a favourite to this day. Sitting down at the table with me, head resting in her hands she murmured, “What’s wrong? Breakfast is ready, eat.” It saddened her when I replied, “I’m sorry mommy. I’m not really hungry, I’m just lonely.” She stayed up and played with me that day. I even got to put her make up on her while she took a nap and she didn’t say a word other than “Look at my pretty blue eye shadow!” when she woke up.
1996- Barranquilla, Colombia. Mary Luz and Agustina on her front porch. At that point, they hadn’t seen eachother for 23 years!
Over the years, my folks made a point of keeping in touch with Agustina. As I got older, I realized that whenever my parents could, despite our own humble circumstances, they had been sending her money for years. She married, had five children of her own and moved to the tropical city of Barranquilla. In my twenties, I went to visit Agustina. “Mi Niña!” (my little girl!) she beamed when I walked through the door in a flurry of hugs. And there, waiting for me at her kitchen table were all of my childhood favourites including a frosty Mora Andina Smoothie. To this day, one sip takes me back to the sun-drenched courtyard of my early years, complete with joyous afternoons spent sitting in the lap of two of the most special women I have ever known.
My Favourite Blackberry Smoothie
- 3/4 cup of freshly washed, ripe blackberries (it’s hard to find Andean Blackberries here but sometimes you can find them frozen- unsweetened)
- 1/2 cup of ice cubes
- 1 cup of milk (or almond milk if you prefer)
- ½ banana
- Dash of pure vanilla extract
- Sweeten to taste with unrefined cane sugar – start with 1 tbsp and work up from there if necessary
Add all ingredients, starting with fruit, followed by sugar, ice, vanilla and milk into blender. Blend on high until smooth, pour into a tall glass and enjoy with your favourite person.
Sip slowly or you’ll give yourself some serious “brain freeze” which could explain why Agustina and mom would always say “sip slowly.”