Monday, December 14, 2015

This is a post about food. And life and death.

This post is about food. But more importantly, it's about my grandpa. My Pawpaw departed from his earthly body on December 12, 2015. He was 92 years old. 

If you're reading this, you probably know that I recently moved to New York City from Beaumont, Texas. From Big Money to the Big Apple. I've been ruminating on blog topics since I arrived, feeling the urge to share my journey with whoever feels like reading. 

And then Pawpaw went and had a stroke and decided it was his time to go. 
So, to begin my journey of sharing about my journey, I will start with where I came from.  

René Castillo was born and raised in Chile. He moved to America when he was 22, married and had 5 children, one of them my lovely mother Rosemary.

My Memaw Joan, Pawpaw René, Uncle Ricky and baby Rosemary (aka Mommy). I would've fallen for him too, Memaw! What a good looking family!
Fast forward 40-something years. The summer I turned 20, my Pawpaw and I traveled to Chile for 2 months - just him and I, granddaughter and grandfather. 

Pawpaw (AGE 77)  and I (AGE 20) in the airport on the way to Chile. Note the Chilean flag on his shirt. It is often mistaken for the Texas flag, haha! And my Beaumont t-shirt and cowgirl hat. 
The viaje (trip) was incredible, and also a turning point in our relationship. Traveling with someone is a very revealing experience, and we came to see each other as real people, not in the idealized way most grandchildren and grandparents see each other.

One way in which we bonded was our mutual passion for the delicious Chilean cuisine, especially the fresh bread. In fact, on his deathbed, during a Skype session with him and my family, when he was semi-conscius, I mentioned the bread to him and he practically smacked his lips!

As life would have it, there just so happens to be a Chilean bakery within a 15-minute walking distance of my new residence in the neighborhood of Astoria, New York. IMAGINE THAT.

So to celebrate my Pawpaw and my Chilean heritage, the day after he passed, I did exactly as he would have me do, and I ate some of our favorite foods.

Logically, I started with dessert. Té con leche (tea with milk, plus some sugar) and a cookie, know as an Alfajore. It is a crisp, not-too-sweet cookie, layered with dulce de leche. Also known as cajeta, this caramel-like spread is used in Chile as much as we use peanut butter in the US.

During another Chile trip, Pawpaw notoriously snuck Alfajores like this one when he was forbidden to do so because of his diabetes. He was a rebel.

Here's a recipe very similar to the one I enjoyed yesterday:

And for the main course - a Chilean hot dog and an emapanada de pino, followed by chicken cazuela, all enhanced by a fiery, blood-red pebre sauce.

A completo (Chilean hot dog) and empanada, with a side of the house pebre.
I am sure that Pawpaw would have enjoyed their version of the empanada de pino as much as I did. This iconic Chilean delicacy is filled with chunks of tender beef, onions and raisins, an olive and a piece of boiled egg.
I don't know if he would have approved of the exact recipe, but I know Pawpaw would have appreciated the spice level of the pebre. It was hot!

I ate the whole thing.

In a freshly baked bun, this Chilean completo is topped in the sterotypical Chilean street-style: with sauerkraut, diced tomatoes, mashed avocado and mayo.

And last but certainly not least, the chicken cazuela.

It's hard to pinpoint Pawpaw's favorite food. He loved to eat. But he was constantly talking about soup. That it was hard to find a good soup in the US nowadays, that the poor people knew how to make the best soups, using what they had on hand. He obviously held the Chilean cazuela as the soup of all soups. And it's easy to understand why.

This hearty Chilean sopa has a boiled potato, a piece of pumpkin, chicken and corn on the cob. My grandmother and mother are both expert cazuela makers, and this version was spot-on.
This post is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to describing my connection to my Pawpaw. He lived an adventurous life, rich and deep, full of the lightness and darkness of the human experience.

Our relationship as well was unique, very layered and complex. His passing at this time, at the beginning of this phase of my life, is no coincidence. I know I have much to learn from our mystic connection, about unconditional love, the true value of family, and of grace. 

Thank you René Castillo, for being my Pawpaw. 


  1. Well done, Grace. Excellent read.

    1. Thanks for the feedback and thank you for reading, Paul!

    2. Sorry for ypur loss. It really just strengthens the bond. I shared this with my El Salvadoran mama i law. She enjoyed the food pictures!

    3. Sorry for ypur loss. It really just strengthens the bond. I shared this with my El Salvadoran mama i law. She enjoyed the food pictures!

  2. An excellent remembrance. What a wonderful way to remember your grandfather by eating his favorite foods.

    Interesting, Grace, the roll food plays in the emotional response of the expatriate. I know personally how that connection with the food-ways of south Louisiana has bonded me more deeply with both family and the history of the family. You will find yourself experiencing that for yourself in NYC trying to recreate the tastes of Texas.

    Your cousin,

    1. Brian, I concur completely. Food is very special, and I can already see how what you are saying is active in my consciousness, as far as looking for those familiar tastes in an unfamiliar place... Thank you for reading and replying, cousin!

  3. Hey Grace!! As I was reading this, I Look To You by Whitney Houston was playing on my Pandora and I found it to be particularly fitting. How wonderful for you to have that relationship with your grandpa and your family! I know you'll take his spirit with you, while you're on this new journey. Good luck, friend. Much love. <3

    1. Jessi, thank you for reading and for the sweet reply! I am looking up that song right now :)

  4. I really have missed your writing. Sorfy for your loss.