Step aside octo mom: we have the duodecimal mom

30 Jun

This was a post that I co-wrote with my dear friend Levi Vonk, of  Viva La Vonk fame, about our Cuban house mother.


Many people share a name with a country, state or other geographical site and the nickname we have given our Cuban mother places her among those people. We call her La China, or for non-Spanish speakers, The China.

This is not because she is of a diminutive stature (she is) or because she has dark hair and eyes (she does) or because we can’t understand her (we can’t).

It’s because, like China, you can get everything you need from her.

We hired China to cook and clean for us during the week but little did we know that along with a Thanksgiving feast daily, we would also get her remarkable ability to get anything you could want in Cuba.


When we say anything, we really do mean anything. She outfitted our apartment with the necessary pots, pans and accoutrements and knows the best and cheapest places to buy five dozen eggs at one time. She comes into our house with bags of meat that are as mysterious as any meat you’d get from a Chinese restaurant and somehow got us an entire rum bottle of local, raw honey for less than $3.  Not going to question how she acquired this.  Might be a murder involved.

However, if we ever try and engage in these back-alley dealings ourselves, we get the full force of La China’s rage, all four feet and 11 inches of it.

No es sanitario! No sabes como lo hacen!” she will shriek when we come in proudly brandishing a turron de mani, a bar of mashed peanuts and sugar that are sold on the street.

“That’s not sanitary! You don’t know how they make it!”

Right China, because we know exactly which person’s backyard you strangled that chicken in, and for all we know, we could be eating one of the hundreds of stray cats that wander the streets.

Not sure how sanitary this stuff is either. I've seen rats running around on the produce before. True story.

Not sure how sanitary this stuff is either. I’ve seen rats running around on the produce before. True story.

But whatever the mystery meat du jour is, it is pretty tasty. Tasty in the way that Sunday after-church picnic food is, made with recipes from the 60s that call for enough butter, mayonnaise, and spam to fuel a small diesel-powered tractor. La China’s meals always follow the same basic formula: A bottomless pot of rice, sometimes peppered with vegetables, beans or bits of cut-up hot dog; a “salad” of shredded raw cabbage, tomatoes and on lucky days, cucumbers; and some form of over-salted mystery meat.

China doesn’t give us chewable Flinstones vitamins- she has a better method of dosage. She throws whatever fruit we have on hand ( usually guava, pineapple and papaya) in the blender with a healthy pound of sugar and voila—Vitamin C and type two diabetes.

Levi scavenging for ingredients.

Levi scavenging for ingredients for one of China’s infamous meals.

She’s a crazy, sassy bustling ball of energy. Like all moms, she can be exasperating and critical. One of the girls in our group painted her nails and China asked her if she painted them during the earthquake in Haiti. If you don’t clear your plate and go back for seconds, she threatens to stop cooking for us. She busts in the door in the morning, throws off your covers, slaps you in the face with one hand and hugs you with the other.

But the truth of the matter is that without her, we would be as emaciated as runway models and living in a pig sty. So we deal.


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