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Back In My Day: Part 3 – Improvised Cuisine With Conversation

Many of us are familiar with the saying “born with a silver spoon in your mouth”. In short, it is a saying to represent a person born into a wealthy family.

However, you may not know the history behind that saying.

In the 1700s, it was common for individuals to bring their own spoons to the table. Having a silver spoon conveyed your social class, and at times was a way to identify land- owners from slaves. Hence, silver spoons were linked to wealth.

In the mid 70s, I came into this world with a plastic spoon in my mouth.

My teenage, runaway parents were penniless, pinched for money, down-and-out, flat broke…

But according to my dad, my mom and him were poor, but proud. They were determined to make it, on their own.

Back in my day, we didn’t have much, but we were resourceful and appreciative with what we had.

We were so poor that when I was four years old and my sister was two years old, my mom moved most of our belongings in a groceries cart to the new apartment on 54th and Marshfield.

Picture a 20 year old woman with two toddlers walking down the street with a grocery cart filled to the top with their belongings.

Sounds kind of outlandish. But, this was our reality.

At the time, we had one junky car – a beater – that my dad used, to go to work. My mom being the woman she was – capable, strong, and tenacious – took matters into her own hands and commenced the moving process with the grocery cart.

We were so poor that I can vividly call to mind a destitute moment in our lives.

I was five years old at the time, my mom, 3 year old sister, and I just finished shopping at the grocery store on 54th and Ashland.

After walking three blocks, and up a flight of stairs with her arms filled with groceries purchased with food stamps, my mom was greeted to a paper on our door.

She put the groceries down, glanced at the sign – that most likely looked like gibberish to her,  since she was illiterate – and proceeded to unlock the door. The key wouldn’t work.

As I looked up at my mom, I can see the despair in her eyes.

She then clearly understood the circumstance – the letter was an eviction notice, and the landlord had changed the locks.

But, being an able-bodied woman, she brushed it off, and told us we were going to visit her parents.

She grabbed my sister and I, and proceeded to walk the five blocks with bags of groceries in hand.

We were so poor that a few days before the first of the month, (which was when the government sent the food stamps), the refrigerator and pantry were bare.

I can recollect many dishes my mom and/or abuela (grandmother) would concoct due to the empty pantry. It was improvised cuisine at its best.

At my grandma Maria’s house we ate a lot of harina de avena (oatmeal), almidon de maiz (corn starch), and arroz con leche (rice and milk).

The arroz con leche didn’t contain cinnamon sticks, carnation milk, and evaporated milk. It was a more simpler recipe- boil the rice with water, drain the water, add milk with a pinch of salt.

At my house…

For breakfast, we usually ate eggs or pancakes. My mom would cut a hotdog in four pieces and cook it on a skillet and that would be our side. Sometimes, we would have a slice of bacon or ham, or a sausage link.

Her sunny side of egg and slice of ham sandwich was such a treat!

For lunch, we ate a lot of sandwiches with salami or bologna. If we ran out of cold cuts, miracle whip with bread would have to do. Sometimes we ate Chef Boyardee and Campbell soups.

Her homemade cheeseburger and french fries were such a treat!

For dinner, we ate a lot of pork chops with arroz con gandules o habichuelas rojas (rice with pigeon peas or red beans), and if there weren’t any beans, my mom would supplement it with spam, weiners, chorizo, or plain old ketchup.

Her arroz con habichuelas guisadas y bistec con cebolla (rice with stew beans and steak with onions) was such a treat!

My mom usually took my grandma to do her groceries.

By far the best part of the first of the month was the yummy sweets my grandmother would purchase- Goya Maria cookies, Royal Dansk Danish Butter Cookies, and my all time favorite- Florecitas Iced Gems Cookies.

There was no doubt about it, that woman had a sweet tooth, which my mom, and I graciously inherited from her.

I couldn’t wait to get back to her house and have one of them with a cup of coffee. Of course, my coffee mostly had milk and sugar.

Back in my day, it didn’t matter what we ate, because we ate it around the table with a whole lot of conversation.

And that my friend is what life is all about…

This entry was posted in: Blog


Rosabel Sanchez is a woman who loves God- serves Him with great humbleness, loves her family and friends- serves them with great love, and love life with such a great appreciation for all that she has been blessed with. She, her husband and 4 children lead two churches on the southwest-side of Chicago, where they all live. As I embark on this new journey, I pray and hope I can become a part of one of your daily practices- your morning inspiration, your afternoon break from the world, or your evening cool down. So join me with a cup of your choice- coffee, tea, chocolate- and you will be blessed with encouraging words to warm your heart & soul.

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