New Moon: Reclaiming the Kitchen Fire and Loving the Soil that Nourishes us Now

Mama Marcela in her milpa.

I come from a lineage of healers. Women and men who tended their kitchen fire daily. My ancestors not only taught me how to take care of the Self. They also taught me the importance of sharing the responsibility of taking care of one another as a family and toward our community. I learned this through contemplation. My teachers’ mama Marcela and mamita Virginia taught me with actions. They expressed their unconditional love through the process of tenting to the soil of our cornfields, frijolares, and hortalizas. They enacted love through the kitchen fire by cooking with so much joy, power, and creativity. Even when the food shortage was our reality, I noticed that mama and mamita kept finding ways to warm our stomachs and spirits.

This summer, my teacher Raeanne Madison who is a birth keeper and decolonizing educator, taught me in her Postpartum Healing Lodge Course, more about the importance of our lineages to tend to the kitchen fire. In her Ojibwe and Mexica traditions, it is sacred to cook each meal for the birthing person and family during the postpartum process with compassion, love, and respect as sacred rituals. Food is healing medicine. The process of preparing homemade food is also a powerful ritual that I learned at a young age while being raised in Chalatenango, El Salvador. I am grateful to continue reclaiming these traditions. 

Since moving out of my village I’ve felt a disconnection with the processed foods encountered in every place I’ve lived. This year, my intuitive Spirit has been at the cellular level longing so that I can tend more deeply to my kitchen fire. Reclaiming is a process.

My sister Ruth, one of my teachers, has a lot more experience tending to her kitchen fire as she has been away from home longer and abundantly rooting her family in the new home they are building. A few weeks ago during our two-hour long conversation, she reminded me of how her family reclaims the kitchen fire in the privacy of their home. Ruth is a powerful resilient human who inherited the cooking creativity from our mamas. In our journeys of border crossing because of the inherited systems of colonization, our inner-power remains rooted in radical unconditional love.

My sister remembers the process of growing our food, picking the vegetables from our hortaliza, preparing the woodfire, and smelling the smoke coming out of the seeds of cashew. For example, first, we would make a fire pit on our patio,  then we roasted the seeds in an old pan we had. We collected the seeds as we ate the cashew fruits. Once we had enough seeds, we the siblings, and neighbors came together to share. It was a playful process. Ruth even remembers when we burned our tongues because we took the seed right from the pan to our mouth and how exciting that moment was. The burning of the fire, the burning of the spiritual powerful sensations when the raw roasted cashew seed touched every corner of our mouth.

Cashew fruit and seeds.

Nowadays as we continue to adapt, these processes of reclaiming, ritualizing, and prioritizing specific moments of togetherness with family are crucial for decolonizing our wellbeing. I call this process “Ritualistic Sacred Act of the Mundane”. We celebrated el día de almas difuntas, a very sacred day on November 2, as in El Salvador it is spiritually important to honor the Spirit and memories here on Mother Earth of our ancestors. And tending to the kitchen fire is part of the whole process. Mayita, my niece and teacher, shared with me how important it is for her to reclaim these traditions. The other day during our mindfulness conversation she shared that food makes her happy, and that food connects her deeply to both of her lineages and traditions. She loves that food brings her and her family together at the table.

When I asked Mayita, do you have any foods that are very special to you? she told me with a lot of excitement “I love pupusas, tamales, pastelitos, and Salvadoran quesadillas” and then she continued, I especially love the pupusas made at home by my mom Ruth because she knows that I am vegetarian and so she makes them without meat for me. Then, she enjoyed that her tía Erika (me!) introduced her to the Salvadoran quesadillas, a traditional dessert that mama used to bake in her artisanal oven for almost all of our holidays, birthdays, and simply to apapacharnos while growing up.

Then, Mayita stated that she also honors the foods from her Chinese traditions. She was excited to share that the process for making dumplings and pastelitos, even though the dough is different, for the latter is corn flour, the process to make them is similar. Her smiley face said it all, the kitchen fire warmth her body and Spirit. Then she paused for a moment. She looked at me and said, I am grateful for my mama Angel, my grandparents, and aunt from that side of the family as well. In general, Mayita stated, it is those moments when family comes together that food taste more delicious, and the laughter, fun moments of cooking together, for me is through those moments that I learn more about where my ancestors come from and how to honor and respect them and their traditions.

Salvadoran quesadillas made by mama Marcela.

During my recent visit to my sister Ruth and her family, we felt the need to tend to the collective kitchen fire as well. So, we reached out to Melisa, a friend of ours who is also from El Salvador who now lives with her family in Vermont. We did an impromptu trip to visit them. We were inspired to learn about Ananda Gardens, a diverse, small-scale farm, located 10 minutes from downtown Montpelier. To learn more about how Ananda’s Gardens works you can visit their website by following this link: Go Ananda, Melisa, Patrick, and Munay!

This was a sacred visit, in which Maya got to make new friends, learn about the sacred complex process of growing food, see some chickens, and observe her tía Erika jump of fear when a worm said “hello, there!”, in a surprising way while drinking hot cacao with the family outside in their patio. Melisa welcomed us to grind the corn as we reconnect with our tradition of preparing the corn flour to make tortillas from scratch, a process our ancestors call nixtamalizar —nixtamal is a word that comes from Mayan traditions in Mesoamerica.  This moment was powerful, for us who have been away from our land and traditions for a long time, touching the molino was a sacred moment!

Melisa and Erika grinding maíz.

After walking around the gardens, asking so many questions to Melisa and Patrick about their work, joys and challenges of growing food to provide at a small scale to their Montpelier community, we all tended to the kitchen fire, made fresh tortillas, which we ate with bean soup, rice, salsa, cashew sour cream, and ended our beautiful visit sitting around the fire-pit in their patio, telling stories of how the respective partners have met and continue to tend their families as they continue to reclaim their traditions and honor a home rooted in love and practices that bring them aliveness and joy!

In January 2021 I will facilitate the Reclaiming Home Ancestral Program Spanish version, an 8-week group coaching online course designed for Black, Indigenous, and people of color of the Global South. You can join my e-mailing list HERE to receive more information soon.

How are you all tending to your kitchen fires within the privacy of your homes?

What are the traditional foods in your lineages that support you feeling rooted in radical love?

How are you reclaiming your ancestral home through homemade cooking now?

Copyright © 2020-2021, Erika Murcia | Todos Los Derechos Reservados

Sacred Cacao: a bittersweet process that makes me feel rooted at home

I love cacao’s flavor. I love the raw dark bitter cacao sabor. I was introduced to its taste while in the womb of my mother, and during the first forty days after birth through the breastfeeding period.

In Indigenous traditions, a person has to drink hot cacao for the first forty days after giving birth. Its antioxidants and anti-inflammatory components support the body’s healing process. It also connects to an emotional need for warmth and connection. 

Cacao was a beautiful treat and one of the very first traditions mother and grandmother introduced and taught our family. One of the underlying lessons was that when feeling sad, there are ancestral home rituals for comfort that I can do to support me to feel apapachada within. 

Mother and I shared this bonding time [second lesson] while doing the process together, I call this a circle of deep love. I recall one weekend on my routine trips from college where I visited her at our village. I was feeling down because one of my professor’s teaching styles was very challenging and I was afraid of not passing the course. 

Mother knew me very well, so she used her spiritual wisdom to find ways to support me. She didn’t experience that type of challenge as she was not financially able to attend college, but she knew how to be compassionate and caring with my siblings and me so we felt that no matter what, she loved us unconditionally. 

That weekend, she went to meet me in Chalatenango city so we could go to the market together. We bought a few essential goods and one of the most important parts of this was buying cacao beans. We both loved the exquisite flavor of hot cacao drink. We rode the bus together for about an hour. When we got home, we prepared a meal together. Afterwards, we knew we wanted to talk but to get to that point, we needed to follow the process that made me feel rooted. 

We began by carrying wood to the Adobe kitchen stove where we made the beautiful fire. Hum, I can still smell that smoky scent filling our home with the dance of the wind and fire elements fused. Once the wood seemed to be burning, we would get un trapito, wet it in water, and use it to clean the comal de barro. The latter is a very important cooking tool as part of Indigenous traditions in Central America [with capitalist influence, this ancestral tool is commercialized as a metal skillet nowadays]. 

Once the comal was at a specific temperature, we would put the cacao beans to roast. Mother and I would talk while moving the beans and letting them roast to the specific taste we wanted. Hum, I take a deep breath in now, as I remember how all these smells filled the kitchen with a deep sense of home. She would ask me “how are you doing?” and I would sigh and respond “not so good mami, college is really hard, college is not a system that supports people like us from the rural communities”. Then, she would come closer and hug me, then I would cry in her regazo as I surrendered.   

How are you doing mama?” I would ask, and she would tell me about the various struggles going on in the community, and her frustrations with some of the leaders. Then, I would come closer and hug her, she would then surrender and cry. We both would sit in the discomfort of our respective struggles while we continued to roast the cacao beans. The next step was to bring two chairs to the patio under the cashew, mango and coconut trees as we peeled the cacao beans together. She would hold the huacal with the roasted beans and I would hold the huacal with the peeled cacao. Our fingernails got black and rusty from all the peeling. 

Mother would begin singing and I would tag along. Then, we would start sharing stories in which collective resilience was at the center, sharing so much laughter. Bien juntitas we walked to the molino to grind the cacao while mixing it with some brown sugar cane, and cinnamon. We would cover the huacal in which we carried it with a manta embroidered with so much love. On our way back home we would greet every person we encountered “buenas tardes”. 

When the moment to make hot cacao drink  arrived, mother would place a pan with water to boil and then add the cacao mix, she would stir and stir until it thickened, she would always point out that the amount of cacao should be more than the amount of water so the result of this magic process brought an intense flavor: bittersweet

Once it was perfectly cooked, she would serve us both a cup. In this ritual we both loved sitting next to each other on the hamaca while holding hands and talking. Cacao was not only our treat, it was the process of an unspoken language of love, an active unconditional love. Cacao was our way to open up our souls and lift each other up emotionally and spiritually. Mother supported me with her wisdom which in turn she received from her mother. Today I am humbly grateful for all those sacred moments together. Mama, thank you for your spiritual visit last Sunday, thank you for whispering this story on mother’s day.

May Mama Marcela’s spirit rest in power

May Mamita Virginia’s spirit rest in power

May all the womxn in our lineage before them rest in power.


Copyright © 2020-2021, Erika Murcia | All Rights Reserved